Civilian Casualties and Imperial Policy

The U.S. Army is drafting a manual on preventing civilian casualties. Spencer Ackerman:

an official with the Army’s Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute, Dwight Raymond, is drafting a manual on preventing civilian casualties. The manual, formally known as Army Tactics Techniques and Procedures 3-37.11, will provide practical advice for officers attempting to balance the difficulties of battling a shadowy insurgency while keeping civilians out of harm’s way. No such manual has ever existed before in the Army, or indeed across the entire military. Raymond anticipates publication by January 2012.

…“If you have a short-term, short-sighted approach to conducting operations, and you try achieve mission success and you’re haphazard in terms of causing civilian casualties, that over long term jeopardizes your ability to accomplish the mission,” Raymond tells Danger Room. “That’s the key point.”

This actually lends some critical insight. First, it’s quite obvious that very few people in the military or State Department have been concerned with civilian casualties thus far. With, as Ackerman points out, May having been the worst month for civilian casualties in the Afghan war since 2007, this seems a trivial point. While no really good numbers are available, the drone program in Pakistan has surely been causing many more civilian casualties lately, not to mention the drone program in Yemen which has killed 130 people just in these first 15 days of June (and is now being intensified). Indeed, with thousands of pro-democracy protesters killed across the Middle East in the past few months at the hands of client states that use our money and weapons, State Department ambivalence about civilian casualties seems an obvious factor.

Still, civilian casualties are not an aim of U.S. Imperial Policy. Broadly, the aim is to maintain military and economic hegemony. This has manifested quite often in piles of dead innocents, but in an increasingly transparent world with 24-hour news, the decentralized internet, and camera phones civilian deaths are a nuisance to U.S. aims. There are many things to get riled about regarding U.S. foreign policy, but civilian casualties is what most effectively causes people to actively object to it. Over the long term, as Raymond said, this jeopardizes the mission. What is preferred by our overlords is passive, docile acceptance, not mass slaughter and the subsequent attention it attracts.

We can see this in a lot of places. The military, State Department, and intelligence community go to great lengths to lie about and hide instances of civilian deaths at the hands of U.S. soldiers or officials, making it pretty clear that casualties are not a goal of “the mission” Raymond talks about. It’s a headache and when they do happen, there are big efforts to keep it quiet. This is why the Arab Spring has been such an embarrassment for the U.S. Our cadre of clients in the Middle East exist as they do because they are good for business (ensures control of energy resources and maintains military dependence). But if they attract too much attention by committing genocide on their own people, that’s bad for business; we lose our client.

It’s one note of optimism in this domain of generally bad news. The technological revolution currently underway is changing the news environment and is, although with excruciating graduality, holding power accountable. They will continue to scramble to adapt to the change, but I suspect such technology will progress faster than they can maintain passivity and “accomplish their mission over the long term.”

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