USA Today yesterday published a new piece about the human terrain system. The article, which consults familiar experts such as Roberto Gonzalez and Kerry Fosher, would be completely unremarkable except that it reads almost like the last year did not happen. Reporting no new information, the article fails to even mention many alleged weaknesses in the conceptualization and execution of the HTS idea, weaknesses that have been amply reported over the last several months (see for example John Stanton’s articles, linked to by Open Anthropology). If the article contains no new information, and indeed if it ignores much information that has come to light about HTS, it does feature a sidebar with Montgomery McFate doing a familiar song and dance about the program’s virtues. McFate, who skipped the AAA panel she was meant to be on, is still selling the program. She is perhaps also offering an explanation of why HTS has so far proven a failure:
The need for HTS as a capability was recognized in Phase 4 of Iraq and Afghanistan, when the military identified their lack of socio-cultural knowledge as an operational gap. Building HTS during the war was expensive and difficult because we were reacting to a crisis rather than planning ‘left of boom’. Had this capability been developed and implemented during a Phase 0 pre-conflict phase, policy decision-makers and planners in the Pentagon would have had a much richer and more granular baseline knowledge of the societies in which operations were to be conducted, which would have allowed them to develop more effective policies and strategies. Even more important, these senior officials would have potentially had the opportunity to use this knowledge to deter conflict in the first place.
If HTS wisdom had been incorporated during the ‘Phase 0 pre-conflict phase,’ perhaps the conflicts could have been avoided. Is McFate here saying that more ethnographic knowledge would have stopped the wars?