Like most able-minded people, I think the courageous restraint medal idea isn't a good one. Our troops have to deal with enough ambiguity on the ground already, and even in a counterinsurgency, they need to be warfighters willing and able to kill in an instant. The piling on against this idea, particularly in the blogosphere, has been pretty massive, to include such tactical luminaries as Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin.
While I hate the idea of this medal, and am pleased that it looks to be going the way of the dodo, some of the undertones in the reactions against it have been troubling. The aforementioned military deferment expert Rush referred to it as the "Yellow Heart medal," because presumably, there is nothing courageous about restraint. Any cursory Google search on the topic will yield a litany of cowboy wordage on the subject, essentially proclaiming the American way to be shoot and ask questions later.
Sigh. We're four years into the COIN-era, and **** like this still happens.
(Quick sidenote: A few weeks ago, during a radio interview with shock jock Mancow Muller, I was asked how awesome is it to kill ragheads, or something to that effect. There are few things in this world I detest more than posers. How do people not realize by now that we turned Iraq around by NOT killing unless we absolutely had to?)
First, a good general rule of thumb in any counterinsurgency: the less shooting happening, the better off you're likely doing. This certainly applies in the build and hold phases, while the initial clear phase is totally dependent upon the specific area and situation. I know this doesn't fit into the typical American viewpoint of war, but we've been over this already. COIN is atypical warfare.
Second, I'm not sure why this idea is President Obama's fault, or somehow symbiotic of a PC nation and culture. A Brit, Major General Nick Carter (perhaps of Backstreet Boy fame?) proposed the idea for NATO forces. Blaming 90s pop music seems far more appropriate.
Third, just because soldiers can shoot doesn't necessarily mean they should. I've lived this. Dismounted with 10 of my guys, caught in the crossfire of a firefight between the Iraqi Army and the Sons of Iraq. (Yes, I know they're technically on the same side. The Sons of Iraq were augmented by some ... acquittances who started shooting at us). We conducted a movement a contact behind a creeping Stryker, straight up the gut of the firefight, and effectively ended it. We were getting shot at, but not a one of us returned fire. Why? Because the "battlefield" was an Iraqi neighborhood.
Every situation is different. Had one of my guys felt threatened or identified a positive target, I guaran-damn-tee you he would've iced that bastard. But they didn't start spraying and praying, that's the point. And, just speaking for myself here, it was pretty difficult to avoid that temptation - it's human nature to defend yourself when you're in peril. Courageous restraint does exist - watching Staff Sergeant Boondock all too calmly direct the Stryker in front of us with AK rounds hissing around him remains one of the craziest -and bravest - things I've witnessed. Did he get a medal for such? Nope, he was just doing his job. (And it must be noted, that even were he awarded such a theoretical courageous restraint medal, SSG Boondock wouldn't wear it. He's a Cavalry scout through and through, and all that matters to him is his Combat Action Badge and his spurs).
So yeah, Rush (and others), courageous restraint does exist. (Insert way too easy prescription drug abuse joke here). Let's leave the wargaming and strategery to the David Kilcullens of the world, alright?
To his credit, General McChrystal stated yesterday that U.S. Forces already have "a number of ways to recognize courage," and that "courage in uniform can come under enemy fire in the most traditional ways or if you come under actions that may not be as expected or as traditional and involve killing. It may involve protecting civilians."
Courageous restraint, in certain circumstances, has been and will be awarded by the military, but we don't need a new medal for it. Concurrently though, we don't need the clueless, mongering wannabes spouting off about things they know nothing of, either. The kids will have a hard time enough explaining their experiences to their family and friends when they return home, even without drivel like this out there.