The Human Terrain System is under critique again, and this time not from the AAA, but from a pro-military Congressman who finds that the program was rife with waste, fraud, and abuse. As the Army Times reports, Congressman Duncan Hunter reports “It’s shocking that this program, with its controversy and highly questionable need, could be extended.” Apparently Human Terrain contractors burned through $726 million in the name of providing actionable social science to the military.
So, in the end Congressman Hunter and the AAA end up on the same side of the Human Terrain issue. End result, is likely to be the elimination of the program, the end of battlefield consultation with social scientists. In fact, junior military officers can go back to doing their own cultural analysis, which is what the AAA has always preferred, I guess. For that matter Congressman Hunter, a former military officer who served in Iraq, is quite the expert on Middle Eastern culture. Indeed the Congressman does pretty well on his own when it comes to deep understanding of the Middle East, as reported in the Defense News in 2013:
Echoing other congressional Republicans and conservative pundits, Hunter said the White House and other Security Council nations erred in inking a preliminary Iran deal that allows Tehran to enrich any uranium. Hunter said Iranian officials are “not trustworthy,” then said all Middle Easterners — due to their “culture” — cannot be trusted at the negotiating table.
“It is part of the Middle East culture” to “do anything you can … to get the best deal,” Hunter said.
Asked by a C-SPAN host if he believes all Middle Easterners are liars, Hunter did not directly discount the notion.
As for the $726 million for Human Terrain System across several years, the mind of course boggles that such chump change in the military budget would attract the attention of Congressman Hunter. What’s $726 million spent on Social Science, in a world of billion dollar bombers?
On the other hand the same amount boggles the mind of anyone trying to put together a university budget funding the study of culture, but that’s another story.
Either way, it is nice to see the American Anthropology Association and Congressman Hunter on the same page when it comes to eliminating the Human Terrain System. Perhaps at the next AAA, he can be offered his own panel on why the Human Terrain Teams were such a bad idea in the first place.
In my mind irony is among the things that Social Sciences do best, even when social scientists themselves are the focus of the sharpened pen. The good news is that irony is free. The bad news is that anthropologists need to eat, too.