Saturday, December 23, 2006

Violence (5): More "Rules of Engagement"

Herschel Smith provides some of the reactions he got to his post on rules of engagement (ROE) that I quoted in my last post in The NCOs Speak on Rules of Engagement The Captain's Journal 12/13/06.

I was a bit amused at one of his correspondents for accusing him of being a "Jane Fonda" (which in Right Blogostan is a synonym for "traitor") because he was even discussing the ROE.  Smith rightly responded that the guy is full of bull, because he hadn't been using any material not publicly available.  (I say a "bit amused" because the basic intent of the comment was exceptionally nasty, given how the rightwingers use "Jane Fonda".)

This is the kind of thing that war critics have to deal with all the time, though, frivolous accusation of endagering our soldiers, dishonoring the troops, or much worse.  Smith writes, a bit ruefully, "I must confess, I have never been compared to Jane Fonda before."

Mike Rentner in the comments to that post makes a good point about the examples of supposedly overly-restrictive ROE cited in it: they allow judgment calls in the particular situations.  And making the ROE more permissive would still leave an ROE of some kind in place.  And the same problems would occur if a soldier winds up shooting up a car and killing a whole family.  The repercussions would still be largely the same.  I would think the "CNN problem" would be less than the problem of their relatives looking for revenge or at least becoming far more hostile to the Americans.

But one problem I have with the discussions we've been seeing lately in various forums about the supposedly restrictive ROE is that it's almost impossible for anyone not familiar with the specific situation to evaluate them.  Whether it's sympathizing with the complaint or rejecting it.  The ROE are very specific and differ from one setting to another.

Plus, as one of the NCOs quoted in Smith's post observed, the soldiers who have to face those difficult choices like the first NCO you quote here faced in many cases may not even have seen the actual written ROE.  That doesn'tinvalidate these anecdotal complaints.  But it does mean that the particular complaints could have more to do with the unit's commanders than with the ROE as such.  As compelling as these complaints sometimes sound, it really is virtually impossible to make an honest judgment on them without on-the-spot knowledge of the situation.

Unfortunately, these stories are often misused to argue vaguely for being "tougher".

But it's hard to see how these ROE complaints can be an argument for anything unless the person complaining states clearly what their alternative is?  In the case of the first NCO example in Smith's post, is he suggesting it's a bad idea to show a warning sign?  Exactly how would he change the ROE for the type of situation he describes so that the choices would be easier?  Unless we know what he's actually suggesting as an alternative, it's just a complaint that we may find sympathetic.  But it's hard to see how anyone could make a serious judgment about the complaint's validity just based on what examples like these present.

Mike Rentner also begins his comment with a very worthwhile observation: knowing about faults in the ROE - even if we have enough information to make some kind of informed judgment - doesn't really tell you much about the broader conduct of the war.


mikejrentner said...

For the record, the comment was that Herschel was NOT as bad as Jane Fonda for posing on an enemy AA battery during a war, but that his and others' efforts to flame up unwarranted resentment towards the ROE did have a cumulative effect on morale and trust in military leadership.  Herschel misunderstood the remark.

cste609371 said...

Thats a way of looking at it, interesting...