Herschel Smith of The Captain's Journal weighed in on how Politically Correct Rules of Engagement Endanger Troops on 12/06/06. These "rules of engagement" (ROE) pitches on how to get tougher and supposedly more effective in the Iraq War rely in large part on a slight-of-hand of which war fans are particularly fond. They focus on the individual soldier and equate very specific tactical issues to strategic success in the war.
A lot of civilians probably have only the vaguest idea about what rules of engagement are. US Army Field Manual 27-100 gives some pretty extensive definitions
in Chapter 8 Rules of Engagement. It opens with this definition from the Army's Operations Field Manual:
War is tough, uncompromising, and unforgiving. For soldiers, the rigors of battle demand mental and physical toughness and close-knit teamwork. Between the anxiety of battle, soldiers spend long hours doing routine but necessary tasks in the cold, wet weather and mud, moving from position to position, often without hot meals, clean clothes, or sleep. In war, the potential for breakdown in discipline is always present. The Army operates with applicable rules of engagement (ROE), conducting warfare in compliance with international laws and within the conditions specified by the higher commander. Army forces apply the combat power necessary to ensure victory through appropriate and disciplined use of force. (my emphasis)
Any army has to have some kind of rules of engagement. Otherwise they couldn't enforce discipline under combat conditions. And these are not static conditions. In field combat, one set of ROE would apply. On occupation duty, another would be used. A different set of ROE might be applied in a relatively peaceful area than in a more dangerous area. Manual 27-100 continues:
ROE are driven by three sets of considerations: policy, legal, and military. An example of a policy-driven rule is Executive Order 11850, which prohibits first use of riot control agents and herbicides without Presidential approval. An example of a legal-driven rule is the prohibition, "hospitals, churches, shrines, schools, museums, and any other historical or cultural sites will not be engaged except in self- defense." An example of a military-driven rule is the commonly encountered requirement for observed indirect fires for the purpose of effective target engagement. ROE are not the same as fire control measures. Fire control measures are implemented by commanders based on tactical considerations. An example of a fire control measure serving tactical purposes is the common requirement in ground operations that the artillery tubes organic to a unit will not fire beyond a designated fire support coordination line (FSCL); this ensures an efficient division of labor between fires controlled at one level and those controlled by higher levels of command. Moreover, it helps prevent fratricide by indirect fire.
The purposes of ROE quite often overlap; rules implementing strategic policy decisions may serve an operational or tactical military goal while simultaneously bringing U.S. forces in compliance with domestic or international law. As a result, troops in the field may not always appreciate the reasons why a leader fashioned a particular rule.
ROE must evolve with mission requirements and be tailored to mission realities. ROE should be a flexible instrument designed to best support the mission through various operational phases and should reflect changes in the threat.
There's nothing sacrosanct about a particular set of rules. But, at the same time, a variety of considerations have to go into ROE decisions, from the strategic goal of the army to the very specific conditions in a particular place. So a soldier fighting in Sadr City might have a very valid complaint about one aspect of the ROE at a given time. That doesn't mean the same complaint would apply to Ramadi, or Mosul, or Kirkuk.
It also means that arguments based on very specific situations are very difficult for anyone else not familiar with that immediate to judge their validity. That means if we're being honest, it's difficult to argue about very specific ROE complaints. At the same time, if war fans expect their gripes about alleged ROE problems to be taken seriously, they would have to be specific about what changes they would like to see made in the ROE they complain about. And they would also need to be clear as to whether they're complaining about ROE based on operational issues or strategic issues. Manual 27-100 defines elements that all ROE should include:
Operational requirements, policy, and law define ROE. ROE always recognize the soldier’s right of self-defense, the commander’s right and obligation to self-defense, and America’s national right to defend itself and its allies and coalition partners against aggression. In the Standing Rules of Engagement (SROE) for U.S. Forces, the Joint Chiefs of Staff provide baseline guidance and procedures for supplementing this guidance for specific operations. Effective ROE are enforceable, understandable, tactically sound, and legally sufficient. Further, effective ROE are responsive to the mission and consistent with unit initiative.
In all operations, ROE may impose political, operational, and legal limitations upon commanders. Withholding employment of particular classes of weapons or exempting the territory of certain nations from attack are examples of such limitations. At the tactical level, ROE may extend to criteria for initiating engagements with certain weapon systems (for example, unobserved fires) or reacting to attack.
Instead, what some of the ROE complaints I've been seeing quite a bit lately do is to portray some very specific tactical restriction, e.g., a requirement to put up warning signs at checkpoints, as somehow irrational or inappropriate and then project that complaint onto the entire war effort, claiming somehow some evil civilian or bureaucrat is hampering the whole process. That kind of leap of faith is one only the gullible should be expected to make.
With that in mind, let's look at Smith's complaints about "politically correct" ROE. One of his complaints is:
The military has also tightened rules of engagement as the war has progressed, toughening the requirements before a sniper may shoot an Iraqi. Potential targets must be engaged in a hostile act, or show clear hostile intent.
Okay, so what does Smith want this rule changed to be? A rule that you can't gun somebody down unless they are "engaged in a hostile act, or show clear hostile intent" doesn't seem to be unrealistic on the face of it. It's certainly far more permissive for the sniper than the rules urban cops in the US operate under. What ROE does Smith want instead? Permission for the snipers to just shoot anybody they thinks looks like they need killin'?
In another instance of a vague gripe with no alternative, he quotes an item from the frivolous rightwing Web site Newsmax complaining that "commanders may limit the individual right of self-defense." Again, without knowing something very specific about the alleged problems it's causing in particular situations and what the proposed alternative would be, how can anyone make a resonable judgment about that complaint? Of course there's going to be some limits applied. Otherwise you'll wind up with things like, "Well, that six-year-old kid gave me a dirty look so I thought he was going to attack me and I gunned him down in front of his parents."
Those kinds of things really don't serve any justiable tactical purpose, much less strategic ones. Unless, of course, the strategic goal is terror, in the old-fashioned, French Revolution sense of a Reign of Terror.
After giving these kinds of vague complaint, Smith writes:
I have given the broad outline of a change in ROE, along with four such pieces of anecdotal evidence, and this is only from main stream media reports.
If he gave even a "broad outline" of what alternative ROE he wants, it must have been somewhere else besides that post.
Presented in this form, the supposed complaint about "politically correct" ROE isn't much more than a gripe that we ain't killin' enough a' them thar A-rabs.
Plus, as war propaganda, this ROE-complaint business has a problem. Smith explicitly argues that American soldiers are hestitating to fire in life-threatening situations because of erroneous ROE:
Consider the psychology of the warrior. Even if not a single Soldier or Marine had died as a result of hesitation due to ROE (that is, even if this danger is only potential and has not become actualized), the psychology of fear has set in. Not fear of the enemy, but fear of firing a weapon. This fear can cause hesitation, and even theenemy knows the U.S. ROE and can and has taken advantage of them. Hence, there is increased danger for our troops, and they know it.
What we need are robust rules of engagement. What we have are confused Soldiers and Marines, afraid to fire their weapons. (my emphasis)
War fans normally like to present The Troops as brave and noble warriors, the best of the best, etc. For some war fans, they defend those credibly accused and even convicted of war crimes as being heroes anyway. But here's "The Captain" saying we've got brave heroic soldiers out there "afraid to fire their weapons".
In the absence of any reality-based specifics, though, it's all silly. This is an example of how people arguing in the air can get caught up in their own verbal somersaults.
In fact, training for soldiers as well as cops and anyone else who is expected to use deadly force at times in their jobs involves regular training on when to use force and when not to. Anyone who's not in a total panic or a psychopath is likely to be reluctant to point a weapon at another human being and kill him with it. That's why training focuses on when to refrain from firing and when you're required to fire. And that involves some kind of rules of engagement. No commander in their right mind is going to tell people to go patrol an area and just shoot anyone they feel like shooting.
In fairness to Smith, in a later post that I'll discuss separately, he himself gets accused of being a "Jane Fonda" because of one of the comments he made in a different post relating to ROE.