I did not follow the trial and conviction of PFC Manning very closely. I knew the basic facts: a young solider decided, months into her first tour in Iraq, to leak hundreds of thousands of classified documents about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq along with documents relating to Guantanamo Bay detainees and, perhaps most importantly, State Department cables which had nothing to do with either Iraq or Afghanistan.

I didn’t follow it closely because I was confident the military would fairly try an extremely naive soldier who had more access than she should have. There was lots of blame to go around. Manning was clearly an idiot, but the policies and procedures in place to give this idiot access to a treasure trove of classified information she did need was also not very smart.
I have some sympathy for Manning. She’s struggled with gender issues her whole life and chose the worst possibly place – the military – to try to resolve those issues. But I don’t think she has anything of value to say about the military or the conflicts in the Middle East.
She does, however, have a lot of time to say it, and given her status as a hero to the far left she’s bound to find an outlet. In recent months she’s found at least two: the op-ed pages of The New York Times and most recently The Guardian.
The latter op-ed, “How to make Isis fall on its own sword,” contains such incredibly bad advice that I’m amazed anyone can take her seriously. She starts off with this: “Based on my experience as an all-source analyst in Iraq…”
Sounds impressive right? Let me put it in some context for you.
She enlisted in the Army in late 2007. Trouble started right away and Manning was on the verge of being discharged during Basic Training weeks later. This was highly unusual during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. People commonly quit – drill sergeants encouraged it – but rarely was anyone kicked out.
Manning was forced to re-start basic training in January 2008 and graduated this time, receiving an assignment to Fort Huachuca and more training during AIT (Advanced Individual Training) as an intelligence analyst. After a few months Manning was sent to Fort Drum, NY, after which she completed a training rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Louisiana, and then deployed to Iraq in October 2009.
At this point in her career as an intel analyst, Manning knew absolutely nothing about the war in Iraq.
I don’t say that to disparage Manning. When I arrived in Baghdad in the fall of 2006 I’d had 16 years of military experience in one form or another, had studied the conflict in Iraq for years, learned a bit of the Arabic language, studied counterinsurgency, and had read as much as I could about the history and culture of Iraq.
And after just a few days on the ground I realizedIknew next to nothing about the country.
What Manning lacked in knowledge, she made up for with an agenda: “Bradley entered the Army with a plan. He was going to use the system and not vice versa. The Army would pay for college. He’d ‘get credentials so creepy conservatives can’t attack me.'” And not only did she have an agenda, she passed quite a bit of judgment on her follow soldiers, “The army… threw me in the forests of Missouri for 10 weeks with an old M-16, Reagan-era load-bearing equipment, and 50 twanging people hailing from places like Texas, Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi … joy.” Little wonder she is a hero to the left.
During a counseling session barely two months into her Iraq deployment Manning “overturn[ed] a table, damaging a computer that was sitting on it. A sergeant moved Manning away from the weapons rack, and other soldiers pinned her arms behind her back and dragged her out of the room. Several witnesses to the incident believed her access to sensitive material ought to have been withdrawn at that point.” Add me to the list.
Manning continued on as an analyst, however, and just days after this incident began to download hundreds of thousands of the documents that would become known as the Iraq War Logs. In the months that followed she would download and send to the WikiLeaks website hundreds of thousands of other documents relating to Afghanistan and State Department cables from around the world. By the time she was arrested and charged with the leaks in May 2010, Manning had spent about two years in uniform.
And what did PFC Manning do in her short months in Iraq? She sat at a desk, on a FOB some 40 miles east of Baghdad, and rarely if ever interacted with actual Iraqis. She was likely given relatively simple tasks, devoid of context, and asked to complete them in a timely manner.
A Brigade intel analyst has a small scope of responsibility which isn’t commensurate to the wide scope of access Manning demonstrated. Just for comparison’s sake, the Intelligence (G2) shop for Multi-National Division-Baghdad (MND-B) – Manning’s higher headquarters – was comprised of hundreds of people. Each had specific areas of emphasis and very few fused it all together into the “big picture.”
The professional judgement of a PFC in a Brigade S2 shop is given almost no credence unless his or her work is repeatdly of exceptional quality. This isn’t discrimination, it’s reality. Senior leaders with 20+ years experience and multiple combat tours have very low expectations of Privates in their late teens or early twenties with two months in country for a reason. It’s not possible to spend two months behind a desk reading intelligence reports and come away with a good understanding of the subject matter.
With that history, let’s get to Manning’s suggested strategy for containing ISIS:
“Counter the narrative in online Isis recruitment videos.” This is the kind of line you hear a lot in political discussions on cable news shows. It sounds smart but doesn’t mean anything, and Manning doesn’t give specifics. In fact her last suggestion – she only has four – is diametrically opposed to this one. More on that below.
“Set clear, temporary borders in the region, publicly.” As opposed to the clear, internationally recognized borders that already exist? How will new borders help? Manning says it will “discourage Isis from taking certain territory.” Isis ignores the existing borders, so it’s puzzling how a new set of borders will help in any way.
“Establish an international moratorium on the payment of ransom for hostages, and work in the region to prevent Isis from stealing and taxing historical artifacts and valuable treasures as sources of income, and especially from taking over the oil reserves and refineries in Bayji, Iraq.” Manning is close to a coherent thought here, but she undermines this argument earlier in the piece by ruling out ground troops, saying “when the west fights fire with fire, we feed into a cycle of outrage…” How exactly should we then “work” to “prevent” ISIS from taking all these things by force? Diplomacy? Harsh language? Challenge them to a game of Roshambo? She’s on the right track in her desire to disrupt ISIS’ sources of income, but she’s barely scratched the surface of the problem and its possible solutions.
Finally, she suggests we should “Let Isis succeed in setting up a failed ‘state.'” Remember, her first suggestion was to “counter the narrative,” but a major focal point of ISIS’ narrative is the idea that they have already established the Islamic State and restored the Caliphate. That’s why western leaders are trying to find another name for them to avoid giving the idea of an Islamic State any legitimacy. We can’t counter the narrative while simultaneously letting it succeed.
This is exactly the kind of subpar analysis I expect from a PFC with just a few months in country, so it’s not all that shocking to me. What is shocking is that either The New York Times or The Guardian would publish it.
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