The Banality of Occupation: The Rand Papers

Recently, the online site known as Wikileaks (which frequently publishes documents from government and corporate think tanks not meant to be seen by the general public) released a Rand Corporation report on Iraq and Afghanistan counterinsurgency operations titled Intelligence Operations and Metrics in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although unclassified, the document is marked “For Official Use Only” and was distributed to various high officials in the United States and other “Coalition” governments. In one respect, it can be argued that this paper, along with a series of three or four other Rand reports, could be considered in the same vein as the Pentagon Papers on their release in 1971. A more accurate appraisal, however, would characterize this 318 page report as a summation of what the US military and intelligence agencies could have done more effectively.

This report is essentially an analyst’s blueprint for perfecting the occupation of a country with the idea that the eventual result will be domination of the locals’ minds, culture and economy, with the domination of the geography of secondary consideration or of no consideration at all. Like the television show Numbers that features a mathematician who works with the FBI by providing mathematical thinking to human endeavors like serial killing, drug smuggling, etc., the RAND study ignores the human and creative face of resistance by reducing ever element to a quantitative possibility with only so many possible outcomes. The numbers it quotes and the classifications it makes hide the true intent and outcome of the imperial military’s actions much like the statistical sheets maintained by men like Adolf Eichmann hid the true nature of the crimes against humanity perpetrated in the removal of Jewish Germans from the fatherland. The report draws from counterinsurgency experiences in Vietnam,Northern Ireland, Malaya, and of course, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The contradiction rampant throughout the report can be best phrased in the words of US Army Major Justin Featherstone who told the report’s writers after his extensive work with the urban population in southeastern Iraq: “Humanity is what it’s about, a genuine desire to do good by the good people, which can sit side-by-side with killing the people [whom you’re there to kill].” In other words, the task is to kill those who don’t want you there and convince the others that they are either better off with the occupier or at least not as bad off as they would be without them. Despite the constant warnings throughout the report’s recommendations to avoid killing noncombatants (without every providing a single definition of who composes this element), the report ultimately returns to this statement:

War, however, is the realm of destruction. Here will be instances in which these men and women will have to put innocents and their property at risk. In such cases, there may be no good outcome, no alternative that promises to benefit all desired ends, but rather one only less undesirable than its alternatives. A pilot might select the alternative of engaging only a few rooms instead of destroying an entire building, with the appropriate airframe and munitions being called on for the task. In lieu of devastating a town, a ground-force commander could find that a limited number of enemy concentrations provide the opportunity to wreak destruction over only a few blocks.

In other words, the occupier’s job remains one that depends on its overwhelming force. Even if the suggestions and lessons learned that are described in this report were to be put into place, the deciding factor in favor of the US occupying forces is their ability to kill with overwhelming force. Naturally, the indigenous population is aware of this–a fact which causes many to go along with the occupier merely as a means to survive. This is not a report about operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and their often bloody results so much as it is a review of the perceived success or failure of those operations. The primary intent of the report is to repeat already familiar lessons about how to construct and maintain an occupation of a country that minimizes the occupiers casualties, maintains domination via fear, cajolery, and manipulation of the personal and tribal relationships of the occupied while simultaneously convincing at least a sizable minority of the population of the occupying nation that their military (in league with the occupier) is working in their interest.

Written in what can best be described as something akin to a technical writing assignment, the report echoes the recent statements from US generals in the Iraq/Afghan theaters and is reflected in the recent decision by Barack Obama to reduce the numbers of US troops in Iraq to 50,000 over the next 16 months and escalate the battle to subdue Afghanistan. If there is one thing that this document makes clear, it is that the Pentagon and its civilian enablers have no intention of leaving Iraq or Afghanistan on their own. Furthermore, it is their intention to take the lessons they believe they have learned in those two countries and apply them to Pakistan and wherever else their manifest destiny compels them to subdue.

This is not the Pentagon Papers of the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations/wars. It is a document that hides the nature of the US operations in those countries behind an emasculated technospeak, rendering the true nature of the killing and destruction done in the name of the people of the US and the west. The contemporary version of the policy discussions that were revealed in the Pentagon Papers about the US operation in Vietnam are not here. Nor are the cables and directives that sent men off to kill and die. Those documents have yet to be uncovered. The usefulness of this report is in its look into the mindset of a modern imperial machine: a machine that never questions its mission or the human misery it causes but keeps its mind trained only on how to carry out that mission as efficiently as possible. The banality of the evil of modern warfare is contained in every neutered sentence of this document and the thousands of others like them. It is repeated in the newspeak of government officials and the sycophantic media that reports their words without challenging their consequences. The circle of complicity is completed when the public accepts the arguments made by those officials and media as being the only argument that exists.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way The Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground and Tripping Through the American Night, and the novels Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator's Tale. His third novel All the Sinners, Saints is a companion to the previous two and was published early in 2013. Read other articles by Ron.

4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. joed said on March 5th, 2009 at 3:03pm #

    Mr. Jacobs, thank you for this fine article.
    I am not sure your sublime last paragraph will have much impact on the “Bachelor” crowd,
    “The usefulness of this report is in its look into the mindset of a modern imperial machine: a machine that never questions its mission or the human misery it causes but keeps its mind trained only on how to carry out that mission as efficiently as possible. The banality of the evil of modern warfare is contained in every neutered sentence of this document and the thousands of others like them.” “…EVERY NEUTERED SENTENCE…”
    hope you don’t mind my repeating your line here.
    another article in which the author, Major Ralph Peters, lets us in on his little secret that “genocide works”. here is the link if interested.
    thanks again for the fine article.

  2. rg the lg said on March 5th, 2009 at 5:36pm #

    Ah, the empire … it muddles on because you and I are complicit in wanting the world the way it is … by refusing to actually, factually act.

    Oh well … we get what we ask for … 9/11 being the prime example!

    RG the LG

    PS — someone asked me if there was anything I was NOT skeptical about … and I said, “Frankly no. I’m even skeptical of my own skepticism.”

  3. mary said on March 6th, 2009 at 5:54am #

    I second Joed’s remarks on Ron Jacobs’ article.

    This Latuff cartoon encapsulates the banality of the killings in these illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    There are others in the same vein on his Gallery.

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain said on March 19th, 2009 at 7:58pm #

    The US imperial project, like the English, the Dutch, the Israeli, is predicated on an intense racism. Those who the White, Western boss wishes to sweep aside to his advantage, are considered a lesser type. The concept of a ‘Chosen People’ ordained by a murderous, patriarchal God, spread from Judaism, via the Old Testament, into the worldview of every European coloniser and imperialist. This attitude has never varied, and probably never will. That it is being maintained now by an ersatz ‘black’ man only introduces an element of tragic irony. I expect it will move into a higher gear as Western dominance is threatened by the rise of China. Nothing is more certain than that technocrats of murder and intimidation are even now studying how to ‘liberate’ 1300 million Chinese from their primitive, Asiatic, ‘Communist’ backwardness.