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Killing for security

It's good to hear that the U.S. officials in Iraq have realized they need to do something about the lack of security in the country. But authorizing military forces to shoot looters (NYT) is crazy — it's fit for the blackest satire, not actual policy.

I don't actually think it's so terrible a policy in principle. If communicated effectively and used with good judgment and restraint — i.e., if cool-headed policemen safely fired small arms in the general vicinity of non-responsive criminals until they wised up — it could help the otherwise too-small security force now in Iraq bring the situation under control. (If you push me far enough, I will be forced to say, but will admit, Yes, I think the deaths of a minimal number of non-responsive looters would be an acceptable cost of restoring security for the populace as a whole.) But that's not at all what is likely to actually happen.

U.S. officials have established little means of communicating with the Iraqi people, so far as I've read; chances are, Iraqis will learn of the new policy by witnessing it or through word of mouth after it's been put into effect. And those military forces carrying it out have negligible experience or training in maintaining security: Their training is in killing enemies.

In other words, this is any number of disasters waiting to happen. Any number of Iraqis are bound to get killed, and others are bound to not know why, or, even if they do know the official explanation, believe it. The people of Iraq may want security more than anything, but more reports of Americans killing their countrymen, even vandals and thieves, will enrage more than a few. And American soldiers or Marines — some of whom have proven to be overanxious with their trigger fingers already in this conflict — could very well end up killing innocent Iraqis by mistake. It's hopelessly naive and optimistic to think this policy won't prove far more costly than however many dollars it would take to just bring in the right personnel to create a genuine security force in Iraq.

The main criticism of the war plan, when it looked like fedayeen attacks on American supply lines might prolong it well into summer, was that hope is not a policy. Hope isn't a security policy, either. We evidently don't have a sufficient force in Iraq to maintain order, and taking the safeties off our soldier's guns and hoping and praying beyond reason that they only use them wisely is not a solution. Iraqis need a real security force, one that will communicate and demonstrate dedication to their safety and protection, and which will help create an environment for rebuilding and growth. They don't need another callous bully who resorts to violence just because it's convenient.

Update (5/14): The Associated Press reports that "[U.S. officials] said ... they would not authorize a shoot-to-kill policy." (Which of course isn't the question — will they change the policy on shooting in general? And do American soldiers and Marines have either the training or the equipment to use non-lethal force?)

May 14, 2003 1:02 PM

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