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Dumbest Idea on the Planet

Doug Feith and friends want to send civilians into war zones to do the job the military can’t.

It was a pot-and-kettle event when Gen. Tommy Franks called Doug Feith the “dumbest f—king guy on the planet.” So much blood has spilled down the gutter in our woebegone war on Islamofabulism that it’s easy to forget that Franks was the commander who originally snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

While it’s moot whether Feith or Franks is the most idiotic man on earth, Feith’s recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal confirms that he’s at least in the 99th percentile—and that he’s still one of America’s premier war mongrels.

As Chris Sullentrop noted in a 2004 Slate article, “Not a single Iraq war screw-up has gone by without someone tagging Feith … as the guy to blame.” The cooked intelligence, the lack of postwar planning, the torture, and more were smothered with Feith’s fingerprints. You’d think that the warmongers would be eager to distance themselves from such leprosy, but no. Feith is still one of their top spokesmodels.

Now Feith is pouring Quikrete into the Bananastans quagmire. His essay, “How to Win the ‘Long Hard Slog,’” touts the Obama administration’s assertion that “we need to be better at civilian national-security operations.” Other voices yodeling this mantra include Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who might just be the craziest freaking guy on the planet. (Our new commander in Afghanistan reportedly eats one meal a day and sleeps three hours a night. There’s no word yet on whether he challenges teenage privates to starvation and sleep-deprivation contests the way Gen. David Petraeus engages them in push-up competitions.)

Feith professes that McChrystal’s appointment “is of a piece” with the administration’s desire to establish a Civilian Response Corps and reflects Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s plan to “design operations on the basis of military, political, economic and cultural considerations,” as part of an effort to “transcend traditional thinking.” Gates’s thinking is more traditional than transcendental: soft power has been an integral aspect of military operations since Sun Tzu and Thucydides wrote on the subject more than two millennia ago. But make no mistake. When a foreign-policy action involves shooting people and blowing things up, it’s not an “assistance effort” or “education and training.” It’s a war, no matter how many times bullfeather merchants like Gates and Feith say otherwise.

The purpose of the Civilian Response Corps, Feith claims, “is to line up civilians with expertise in water systems, police training, road-building, judicial administration, and other relevant fields and prepare them for deployment abroad.” Once it’s operational, the CRC “will likely be useful in the fight against terrorism,” and give our government tools for fighting “piracy” and “attacks against friendly governments.”

“Historically,” Feith lectures, “when civilians have not been available for such work, it has fallen to U.S. military personnel.” Actually, such work in wartime has historically fallen to military personnel whether civilians were available or not.

World War II and other conventional conflicts featured combat along front lines behind which noncombatants could function in relative safety. The Third World wars we fight today have no front lines. Noncombatants may be fairly safe in enclaves, but combat forces are required to keep those enclaves secure. If the military can’t supply sufficient forces to protect the civilians we place in combat zones, then we have to grow more soldiers or hire civilian mercenaries to do the job.

This gets at the fundamental flaw in the Civilian Response Corps concept. Fighting piracy and repelling attacks against friendly governments are combat functions. If we’re going to assign them to civilians, why have a military? Noncombat functions like law enforcement, civil engineering, and administration might best be handled by folks who do those things for a living in the civilian sector, but we already have institutions that provide these kinds of personnel: the National Guard and Reserves. If we start dipping further into the private sector for manpower to fight overseas wars, we’ll curb our ability to function domestically. The Chicago Police Department, for example, could do a bang-up job of keeping the peace in Baghdad, but then who would keep the peace in Chicago?

There’s a case to be made that employing part-time civilian labor is cheaper than using military personnel because Uncle Sam doesn’t have to provide the same long-term benefits to civilians that he gives the troops. But that argument is too thin to stop a round of birdshot. If we can afford nuclear submarines to bomb Somali villages with cruise missiles and stealth bombers that get taken down by moisture forming on their airspeed sensors, we can pony up enough to keep sufficient numbers of doctors and truck drivers in the Guard and Reserves.

Feith is not alone in supporting this substance-inspired program. He reports that not only Secretary Gates but Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen are calling for “Greater civilian efforts to counter Taliban influence.” It’s their contention that “our local partners need help stopping the extremists from winning popular support in the first place.”

“This makes sense,” Feith says.

One reels in disbelief. Do Feith and Gates and Mullen and McChrystal and the other gee-wizards not comprehend why “civilian efforts” cannot reverse the conditions that cause the populace to prefer extremists to our local partners? They fear and loathe us for a number of reasons. Foremost is the collateral damage caused by airstrikes intended to take out head assistant evildoers. This cockamamie tactic first back-spattered on us in Desert Storm when we tried to snuff Saddam Hussein’s top commanders with a bunker buster but slaughtered their families instead. It’s been the bad guys’ top recruiting tool ever since. Yet Obama, ostensibly one of the smartest political figures in American history, has approved the continuation of this failed tactic and appointed a new commander—McChrystal—who specializes in conducting these kinds of raids. How dumb is that?

Congress is no smarter. It has, according to Feith, given the Civilian Response Corps bipartisan support. Some legislators, he says, wonder if the Corps should be restricted to security-related missions so that it doesn’t get swamped with humanitarian projects. This portends an interesting role reversal. Humanitarian missions, like last year’s airlift of aid to Georgia, consume a significant share of the U.S. military’s resources. (Perhaps that’s divine justice, as the U.S. military has created so many humanitarian disasters in Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.) If we limit the Civilian Response Corps to security-related missions, we would have civilians fighting our wars and a military that cleans up the devastation they leave behind.

But wait, we don’t need the military for humanitarian missions overseas because we still have the Peace Corps to do that stuff, remember? So the Civilian Response Corps makes perfect sense. We’ll have one civilian agency to blow everything up, another civilian agency to put it all together again, and the military can focus on its core mission: crafting propaganda to justify its budget.

The Civilian Response Corps reflects the moral and intellectual onanism that is accepted by the feckless mainstream media as legitimate strategy-making. There’s no reason to send either civilians or troops to Afghanistan. We can’t deny extremists sanctuary there or anywhere. The only safe haven modern terrorists need to run their operations is a pocket large enough to conceal an iPhone. The Taliban or al-Qaeda might take possession of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, but so what? They’re only slightly more likely to convert them into suitcase bombs than they are to develop a photon torpedo. Arms-control specialist Charles Thornton of the Center for International and Security Studies says the suitcase nuke scenario is “so highly unlikely as to be approaching fantasy.” What the evil ones would most probably do if they got their hands on Pakistani nukes is die of radiation sickness. Still, if we’re really worried about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, we can have our $2 billion bombers and submarines blow them up. Then we can declare victory and bring everybody home to fix New Orleans.

Lamentably, Obama seems unable or unwilling to stop our generals and war wonks from making America the latest superpower to embalm itself on the far side of the Khyber Pass. Look on the bright side, though. Athens produced most of the art and philosophy that defined Western civilization only after it lost its decades-long war with Sparta, so maybe America can yet become Ronald Reagan’s “shining city upon a hill.” If so, we shouldn’t have trouble finding a new generation of strategists who know it’s better to charge down a hill than up one.

You don’t need to be the smartest guy on the planet to figure that out. 


Retired naval commander Jeff Huber commanded an E-2C Hawkeye aircraft squadron and was operations officer of an aircraft carrier. He is the author of Bathtub Admirals, a satire on America’s rise to global dominance.

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