Friday, July 07, 2006

Working for the Meltdown

Back in January, I posted about a spate of provisions enacted by Congress that were designed to enable the US Army to counteract the shortfalls in recruiting. The sub-par recruiting numbers, stemming largely from unease surrounding the directionless war in Iraq, are made more pressing because of the effects of that same war: with ever mounting casualties, and over-extended units on multiple-tours, new recruits are at an even higher premium.

After getting the legislative green light, the Army adopted some measures that could be viewed as common sense remedies, and some that defy it. First, they increased signing and re-enlistment bonuses (all around positive: our troops deserve more money regardless - even more than Paris Hilton needs another tax cut). More recently, the Army pushed back the age limit for enlistment from 35 to 42. Then, the Army did something that was slightly more controversial: it lowered its performance requirements for enlistees on the standard aptitude tests issued to all. Previously, only 2 percent of new enlistees could score below a certain threshold. That allotment was doubled to 4 percent going forward.

Fred Kaplan, citing internal Army studies and reports by outside groups like the Rand Corporation, laid out several reasons why this move would have serious negative consequences on the performance of units that reflect the new percentages. He summed it up nicely:

[The new lower standards] would double the Army's least desirable soldiers. These are the soldiers that the Army has long shut out of its ranks; that it is now recruiting avidly, out of sheer desperation; and that—according to the military's own studies—seriously degrade the competence of every unit they end up joining. No, things haven't gone to hell in a handbasket, but they're headed in that direction. Every Army officer knows this. And that's why many of them want the United States to get out of Iraq.

The title of Kaplan's article was, "How Low Can Recruiters Go?" Well, it appears that some recruiters are willing to posit an answer. The allegations contained in this article are simply astounding (via Atrios):

A decade after the Pentagon declared a zero-tolerance policy for racist hate groups, recruiting shortfalls caused by the war in Iraq have allowed "large numbers of neo-Nazis and skinhead extremists" to infiltrate the military, according to a watchdog organization.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks racist and right-wing militia groups, estimated that the numbers could run into the thousands, citing interviews with Defense Department investigators and reports and postings on racist Web sites and magazines.

"We've got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad," the group quoted a Defense Department investigator as saying in a report to be posted today on its Web site, "That's a problem."

One such Defense Department investigator cited had some pretty disturbing findings:

The report quotes Scott Barfield, a Defense Department investigator, saying, "Recruiters are knowingly allowing neo-Nazis and white supremacists to join the armed forces, and commanders don't remove them from the military even after we positively identify them as extremists or gang members."

Mr. Barfield said Army recruiters struggled last year to meet goals. "They don't want to make a big deal again about neo-Nazis in the military," he said, "because then parents who are already worried about their kids signing up and dying in Iraq are going to be even more reluctant about their kids enlisting if they feel they'll be exposed to gangs and white supremacists." [...]

...Mr. Barfield, who is based at Fort Lewis, Wash., had said that he had provided evidence on 320 extremists there in the past year, but that only two had been discharged. He also said there was an online network of neo-Nazis.

Turning a blind eye to neo-Nazis joining the military under any circumstances would be extremely bad policy (that's an understatement). Anyone remember that Timothy McVeigh guy? But doing so at a time when our military is engaged in two separate conflicts in countries whose citizens would raise the ire of neo-Nazis simply on the basis of their culture and the color of their skin is just beyond the beyonds.

Did I mention that we're trying to win the "hearts and minds" of the denizens of those nations? Might make that mission a bit hard when some of our soldiers are harboring violent, racist urges toward the targets of our "liberation." Even if LaShawn Barber thinks these groups are just peachy keen.

Undertaking remarkably demanding counterinsurgency efforts, while under the persistent threat of violent death from faceless enemies that deliberately blend in with the local population is enough to send many soldiers over the edge and into the realm of committing atrocities against innocents - even when they had the best of intentions upon entering the maelstrom. But sending in soldiers with the most insidious forms of in-built prejudices and a priori hatred is just begging for atrocities against civilians.

Makes me wonder about this chilling account of the relatively blase reaction to the Haditha massacre amongst many Iraqis (via Swopa, emphasis his):

Word that U.S. Marines may have killed two dozen Iraqi civilians in "cold-blooded" revenge after an insurgent attack has shocked Americans but many Iraqis shrug it off as an every day fact of life under occupation.

. . . As U.S. commentators talk of "Iraq's My Lai" and wonder if Haditha could have a similar effect as the 1968 massacre in Vietnam on public attitudes to the military and the war, few Iraqi leaders have mentioned the incident in a town 220 km (140 miles) northwest of Baghdad where Sunni rebels were very active.

. . . In Baghdad's bustling Karrada commercial district, Mohammed Jawdaat, 47, offered a typical view at his store, where business selling firefighting gear is booming amid the chaos of Baghdad: "It really doesn't surprise me," he said.

Like many in the city, he can recount an incident in which he says he saw U.S. forces open fire on civilians: "Six months ago a car pulled out of a street towards an American convoy and a soldier just opened fire," Jawdaat said.

"The driver was shot in the head and the person behind was killed too. They were innocents. There were no warning shots and the Americans didn't even stop. The police took the wounded."

Hey, nothing that a few hundred neo-Nazis in US military uniforms can't sort out.

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