Posted by Chris at 5/18/2008 9:08 PM ...
The importance of the "strategic corporal" gets a lot of attention in circles discussing counterinsurgency methods, particularly when it comes to making smart decisions in dealing with civilians and whether to use force in a given situation. There is also a lot of attention paid to the importance of cultural knowledge in our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the importance of showing Muslims that the United States is not at war with Islam. General Petraeus has preached the importance of counterinsurgency, the Department of Defense created the Human Terrain System and hired anthropologists, and Secretary of Defense Gates announced Project Minerva to enhance the connection between the humanities and the military.
And now this.
A United States Army Staff Sergeant, an E-6 for those of you who care, admitted to using a Qu'ran for target practice, writing "Fuck yeah" on the torn remains, and leaving it in the dust.
Luckily when an Iraqi militiaman found the Qu'ran and reported, American officers took the matter seriously, apologized publicly, and presented local clan leaders with a new copy of the Qu'ran. At the very least this shows some appreciation of the importance of acknowledging problems and dealing with them quickly and decisively to show our allies that we take their concerns seriously. With any luck, this unfortunate episode will stop here, and not lead to more violence in Iraq or provide al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups with more propaganda fodder.
There's a bigger issue at play here, though. You can't force soldiers (or any one else) to be culturally sensitive no matter how much training and experience they have, and you can't force them to respect people different than they are. However, you can provide them enough training that they understand that desecrating religious symbols will cause problems, and to at least police up after themselves when they do something stupid. What the hell was this NCO thinking? This isn't PFC or a new corporal with only a few years of experience we're talking about here. This was an act by a career NCO responsible for leading other soldiers and providing a good example for them. If we can't trust these folks to do the right thing in Iraq, how are we supposed to expect that the "strategic corporals" are going to get it?
It's all well and good that Petraeus and other senior officers preach the counterinsurgency gospel, but if the soldiers who have to do the work don't buy in to it, then it won't do any good. While this may be an isolated incident, I think it's time for some serious looks at the training and leadership of troops headed to Iraq.