Friday, April 25, 2008

Social Scientists' Downfall

The DoD's Human Terrain System sets out to "recruit academics whose area expertise and language skills can help the military wage a smarter counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan. These specialists, among other things, are meant to map the population of towns and villages, identify the clans that matter and the fault lines within them, then advise U.S. commanders on the right approach for leveraging local support."

Since its inception, there have been many criticisms against the HTS. Most criticisms have to do with the lack of credintials of the social scientists on the team. For example, of the 19 social scientist on the team in Iraq, only a few are Middle East experts and only three speak Arabic.

Gates response to the criticism was to say that the program is still nascent and that it will--in time--become more effective.

If people are going to criticize the HTS, they should be critical--not of the administration (did I just say that?)--but of social scientists as a whole. It's not that the administration isn't capable of finding the scientists, it's that there are not enough who are willing to participate. On average, the anthropologists receive $300,000 annually plus a sign on bonus, so it is not as if the pay is insufficient.

At the American Association of Anthropologists annual conference last December, Zenia Helbig (a former researcher with the HTS) spoke about her experiences. She explained how she agreed with the idea of the HTS, but that the administration was not properly implementing it. Her remarks:

Having spent four months with the Army, I can’t stress to you the tremendous need for both social science and academic rigor in the military. More particularly... the Army is in need of regional experts, who possess a knowledge of the history, culture and languages of both Iraq and Afghanistan... Yet even HTS, despite its millions of dollars of funding, is proving incapable of delivering those much needed skills to the military in Iraq. HTS has proven unable to deliver because of its own internal tensions, and due to a lack of professionalism, organization, and general competence on the part of its staff, contractors and administrators.

After her remarks, the attendants began to ask questions. One person asked if she was embarrassed that her husband, who was still working for the HTS. The audience started laughing, and Helbig began to cry.

After the incident, Helbig told a reporter, "they just didn't want to hear anything that didn't jive with their conspiracy theories."

Academics need to realize the difference between jus ad bellum and jus in bello. Anthropologists are denying assistance to the US military because they believe that the initial decision to go to war was unjust. I guess, they may also believe that the way the military is fighting is unjust. For the most part, though, this is not true. The social scientists would be helping the Iraqi citizens more by improving the HTS than by allowing the US military to continue its fumbling COIN tactics and strategies on its own.

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