The Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man
Austin Bay interviews Dr. David Kilcullen, senior counter-insurgency advisor to Gen. David Petraeus and Multi-National Force -Iraq. Austin Bay says "If [the counterinsurgency strategy] sounds something like a political campaign, that’s because it is –politics, including politics by other means."
Since counterinsurgency is a competition to mobilize popular support, it pays to know how people are mobilized. In most societies there are opinionmakers: local leaders, pillars of the community, religious figures, media personalities, and others who set trends and influence public perceptions. This influence—including the pernicious influence of the insurgents—often takes the form of a “single narrative.” This is a simple, unifying, easily-expressed story or explanation that organizes people’s experience and provides a framework for understanding events. Nationalist and ethnic historical myths, or sectarian creeds, provide such a narrative. The Iraqi insurgents have one, as do al- Qaida and the Taliban. To undercut their influence you must exploit an alternative narrative: or better yet, tap into an existing narrative that excludes the insurgents. This narrative is often worked out for you by higher headquarters—but only you have the detailed knowledge to tailor the narrative to local conditions and generate leverage from it.
One way to restate Dr. Kilcullen is to say 'the enemy has been telling his story. We have not been telling ours.' And that I am afraid, is not the enemy's fault. The wound is entirely self-inflicted. Somewhere in the last forty years the West's favorite cultural activity changed from telling it's story to disparaging it: to mocking its faith, describing its economic system as inhuman, ridiculing the continuation of its family life as bovine. This trend came under many colors: anti-establishmentarianism, sexual liberation, cultural rebellion. It occasionally described itself as avante garde, though whither this advanced contingent was heading no one could say, except that it led away.
And now by some irony, Dr. Kilcullen says that in order to defeat a vicious, backward and ruthless enemy whose primary tool is the narrative that he preaches, we set against it an goal of equal worth. We must rival the enemy vision with one of our own, or perhaps more accurately, one that the Iraqi people can come up with. Our survival must be purchased at the cost of renewed self-belief. Alas, some will find the price too high.
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us -- if at all -- not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.
Blackfive has much more on the Kilcullen roundtable. And here's a less literary allusion to the idea of a Hollow Man.