U.S. Failure in Iraq Shows Europeans are Better at Peace Making

Could it be that the Pentagon has failed to properly train its soldiers to handle what comes after the battle is won? According to this analysis from France's Le Monde, American soldiers have a sense of 'moral superiority' and rely excessively on the use of force, alienating them from Iraqis. Some Europeans suggest a change.

By Laurent Zecchini

Translated By Kate Brumback

March 25, 2006

France - Le Monde - Original Article (French)

A French Soldier, on Patrol in Mitrovica.
A Suiting Role Model for American Troops? (above)

American Troops Train With Japanese Forces:
Are U.S. Soldiers Fitting Role Models for Japanese Troops? (below)

A Two-Year-Old Iraqi Girl Hands a Flower to an American Soldier. (above)

A French Soldier on Patrol in Kabul. (below).


Why did the American army lose the stabilization phase in Iraq? After the coercion phase [also known as combat operations] attained its objectives, the U.S. Army failed to alter its methods toward the population, continuing to use force and not seeking public acceptance. It acted this way because the entire culture of the American military, and the training given to each of its soldiers, stems from this logic. This was demonstrated at a recent colloquium held by the Foundation for Strategic Research (FSR) dedicated to the "Quadrennial Defense Review" [RealVideo], the document that expresses the Pentagon’s strategic vision.

Colonel Gilles Rouby, of the French army, recalled the words of the British brigadier General Nigel Aylwin-Foster, who served in Iraq up until November 2004 under American command, and whose testimony was published in the American army magazine Military Review [RealVideo].

To highlight the difference in approach between Americans and Europeans, Colonel Rouby compared the American "soldier’s code" to that of the French soldier. "I am a Warrior and a member of a team. I serve the people of the United States and live the Values of the Army. … I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America … . I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life," says the first. The French soldier’s code is worded much differently: "Master of my strength, I respect the enemy and am careful to spare civilians. I obey orders in compliance with law, the customs of war and international conventions. … I am open to the world, to society and respect differences."

Does this explain why operations in Iraq have failed? For General Aylwin-Foster, the approach to operations by the U.S. Army is one factor that explains the failure of the coalition to make the most out of Saddam Hussein’s collapse. He stresses that, despite operational experience since the fall of the Berlin Wall that has consisted nearly exclusively of operations of stabilization, this mode of action "has never been considered central" by the American military, which continues to organize and train for conventional war operations (not asymmetric, or anti-terror conflicts).

The U.S. Army, Foster said, "reflects the culture of the civil society from which they are drawn: which is characterized, like U.S. domestic society, by an aspiration to achieve quick results," which incites the Pentagon to shoot for military objectives that are disconnected from broader political objectives.

The British officer cites American officers, whose testimonials he gathered, to illustrate this approach. "The military destruction of the enemy is the strategic objective. … Our allies are too reserved in their use of force, which encourages the insurgents to resist and to demonstrate to the local population that we lack determination. … Given that the preeminent role in coercive combat taught and practiced most often by our top soldiers, it was unreasonable and overly complicated to expect them to develop the subtlety and mastery needed to win hearts and minds during the stabilization phase and reconstruction. …  Of 123 pacification operations undertaken between May 2003 and May 2004, only 6% of ops were directed specifically to create a secure environment for the population: there was a 'preference for large-scale kinetic maneuver' and a 'focus on killing insurgents, not protecting the population. … There was a strong focus on raiding, cordon and search and sweeps throughout: the one-day brigade raid is the preferred tactic."

U.S. Troops Patrol the Site of a Suicide
Bombing in Tal Afar, on Friday.


General Aylwin-Foster drew the conclusion from this that action without force is less natural for the Americans than for their allies. He said that, faced with the problems it has encountered, the American Army systematically relies on technology to diminish its contact with the population. He added that "the very strong sense of moral superiority in the U.S. Army, "could serve to distort the collective military judgment."