Cultural Insensitivity and Institutional Racism

Writing in the US army-published Military Review magazine, Brigadier Aylwin-Foster, the deputy commander of a British program training the Iraqi military, said the failings of the US occupation of Iraq have spurred the growth of the insurgency.

While they were almost unfailingly courteous and considerate, at times their cultural insensitivity, almost certainly inadvertent, arguably amounted to institutional racism… [despite] an unparalleled sense of patriotism, duty, passion, commitment, and determination, US forces are weighed down by bureaucracy, a stiflingly hierarchical outlook, a pre-disposition to offensive operations, and a sense that duty required all issues to be confronted head-on.

I have all the greatest respect for our soldiers overseas. But if our forces in Iraq have much in common with our domestic law enforcement, I can see how this criticism is valid. Not all agree — Colonel Kevin Benson of the US army’s School of Advanced Military Studies said, “I think he’s an insufferable British snob.”

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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6 Responses to Cultural Insensitivity and Institutional Racism

  1. Eddie says:

    Just in regards to our Reserve forces that have served in Iraq, aren’t a very significant number of them “law-enforcement” types back in America?

  2. StrategyUnit says:

    Aylwin-Foster has some valid points. “ does a great review over his article “: and is well worth the read.

    Here’s an excerpt:

    “All in all, I would say that Aylwin-Foster’s comments are very welcome both because of their intrinsic value and because they are coming from someone who is self-evidently committed to a victory for America and for democracy in Iraq.

    Yet interestingly, a number of Aylwin-Foster’s observations bear a striking resemblance to an arch-liberal version of the quagmire hypothesis, which holds that cultural insensitivity and an excess of moral confidence were responsible for our defeat in Vietnam and are responsible for the negative aspects of the war in Iraq. (The more common version of the quagmire hypothesis is that Bush’s incompetence is the real problem in Iraq.)

    Aylwin-Foster himself makes it absolutely clear that he rejects simplistic comparisons of Vietnam and Iraq. Nonetheless, parts of the conceptual framework he applies to the situation almost seems to have been borrowed from the multi-cultural relativists of the academic left.

    Perhaps this is a good thing. There should be some generals on the ground capable of asking whether the academic left’s criticism of the war has any merit. Yet because such generals still have the best interests of the Coalition at heart, they will not presume that such criticism has merit simply because it advances a certain ideological agenda.”

  3. adamu says:

    “Here”: ‘s the article. I haven’t read it yet but it looks very interesting!

  4. The good Brigadier’s comments, being in the nature of constructive criticism from a friend and genuine ally, should accepted in that spirit. Which is presumably why they were accepted, and published, by the U.S. Army itself.

    Part of the reason for our military being as successful as it has been lately is that our version of the “self-criticism session,” which we call variously an After-Action Review (AAR) and “Lessons Learned,” can actually be used constructively to make improvements in future missions and performance. This takes place at all levels, from squad on upwards.

  5. lirelou says:

    What does our intelligence say? Surely captured insurgents are being debriefed, and among those questions being asked are some designed to weed out and identify what motivated the captive to join the insurgency.

    Very good article, by the way, and the Brigadier is to be commended for having the courage to write it. But no judgment or point of view should be accepted (or rejected) wholeheartedly without reviewing some back-up data.

  6. Dusty says:

    It’s an interesting review by Aylwin-Foster and though I am only half through, there are a few of superficial observations I’d like to put out there:

    Re his suggestion of military bureaucracy and it being overly rigid: That’s a tendency in cultures (US) resulting from an overemphasis on equality (see The Death of Common Sense for a primer on this issue). I suspect that this attitude is less severe in Britain. It seems this is also exacerbated by media attention, e. g., requirement to wear body armor, or more perniciously but less relevant to this issue (because I do not have a relevant example at hand), claims of hypocrisy for treating dictatorships differently. Any error also tends to increase rigidity and lengthen CoC, say for example, the Palestine Hotel incident in 2003, as does emphasis on legal input for actions; decentralization of information; and the explosion of accessibility to information as well as communication. The critical issue, in my mind is if there is a trend towards being risk averse for its own sake like, say, that purported hallmark of the Soviet Army.

    Re: US military’s focus on war fighting: I found inclusion of this quote, “Nagl notes that ‘The American Army’s role from its very origins was the eradication of threats to national survival’, in contrast to the British Army’s history as ‘an instrument of limited war, designed to achieve limited goals at limited cost’” could have been more enlightening if they had just described the British Army’s history as the enforcement arm of British colonization. Hello? Wasn’t that the one of main gripes, truthfully spoken or not, that those opposed to US occupation put forward as the reason for their fighting? Not that we should take full account of history when planning and acting in the future, but that issue is to an extent highly insurmountable in the beginning of any Phase 4 operation and often only placated by time.

    Re cultural insensitivity: I’ve always been impressed with the Brit’s more, if you will, international outlook and their ability to balance this in spite of their just as old “The ways of Britain are the way of the world” attitude. Maybe they have mostly shed this attitude and it is we who are going through this phase. In any event, I’d be interested to know the extent that extreme cultural differences contribute in this instance and the adamancy (?) to which an aggrieved party clings to a particular custom, particularly in partisan fashion. So I ask, could it have been any other way? I will note that one of the worst deficiencies, at least in the initial Phase 4, was likely the lack of language skills/interpreters which is something the Brits always had in abundance years ago.

    All in all, I heartily concur with Consul-at-Arms comment.