Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Revolution

Michael Totten describes the Liberation of Karmah, a town between Fallujah and Baghdad. Here are parts 1 and 2. Although "Liberation" sounds like a grand name, in this case it is particularly apt.

Totten describes the psychological terrain of a counterinsurgency. He reminds us that dysfunctional Middle Eastern polities are infected to their core. In Karmah, for example, insurgents often kidnapped, tortured and killed their own close relatives. "The culture here – they lie, they deceive, they steal, they don't trust each other. In order to survive. That's what Saddam Hussein's era bred in them. If they wanted to survive and do well, they had to go behind everyone's back. After 20 or 30 years of Saddam, they can't break away over night."

It is this dysfunctional culture which is the ultimate redoubt of terrorism. And it is impervious to the passing influences of UN development projects, a few diplomatic conferences, a handful of ceremonial occasions or a few seminars. It impervious even to a ten year American occupation. The only thing which has any hope of transforming it into a semblance of a functioning civil society is the creation of a long-lived democratic society. Then, after the Saddam generation is replaced by a newer one, can there be a new society.

Once this is understood then a realistic expectation of an American victory in Iraq isn't the establishment of a perfect society. A realistic goal is the establishment of a stable, democratic and relatively sane society which can go on to heal its wounds. The sheer magnitude of the task explains why efforts to create a Paletinian State have been so unsuccessful. Until the dysfunction which lurks in the substratum can be healed, the infection repeatedly breaks through each crust of apparent civility that is overlaid. And since that healing can only be accomplished by the people themselves, real counterinsurgencies are really efforts to plant a survivable crop in the devil's own vineyard.

Ultimately the job is too big for any single nation to accomplish unless the idea "catches on". And we should be thankful to people Michael Totten for a glimpse into how, hopefully, it is done.





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17 Comments:

Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Except that Wretchard, all Western societies demand a quick and easy fix. The extraordinary parade of technological progress along with social change in the West demands nothing else. And the change must come fast, quick, and cheap.

There is zilch appetite for any long-term commitment to reordering societies abroad. At best we will simply cede ground abroad and at home, a bit of Sharia here and there, ever growing, until we are backed into a corner and have no choice but to nuke our way out of things.

Heck if Obama were President he'd apologize to Islam were our cities to be nuked. The rot of appeasement and laziness is that deep. The West has had such a run of success, and at it's core does not believe itself worthy, that only if vital interests of the majority of the powerful are threatened, and even then it will be close, would any use of power be countenanced.

4/01/2008 02:46:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

Most of the solutions described as "engagement" by diplomats and aid workers are completely ineffective. I saw the official aid process in action for many years and it is a complete waste of time. It probably makes things worse. If Palestine is any indication, traditional diplomacy is about as ineffective.

When you come to think about it, OEF and OIF didn't take place in a vacuum but in the context of a cumulative frustration with the total uselessness of the UN/Development Aid/Diplomacy combination of dealing with growing chaos in the Third World. Most of the criticisms leveled against OIF are that things were better managed by traditional method. Nobody wants to remember that the traditional methods brought us 9/11.

Even if one were to grant that OEF and OIF are the wrong approaches it does not follow that a return to the traditional diplomacy/AID combination is a panacea. On the contrary, we know from many decades that this combination is pretty ineffective.

So the search should be one for approaches which combine armed intervention/grassroots organizing and diplomacy in one continues spectrum to deal with the sort of dysfunction that breeds terrorism.

4/01/2008 03:49:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

I was struck by Totten's description of the reception they received at the boys' school. I'm used to soldiers talking about kids running out to wave at them, to greet them and to beg, but Totten's description was more like the rapture of groupies for rock stars, or star-struck boys for world-class athletes like Michael Jordan or Mickey Mantle.

I wonder how their parents feel about this adulation, if it's encouraged or frowned upon. And what was the tipping point from youthful but shy introductions to swarming squeals of delight.

4/01/2008 04:13:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

"The only thing which has any hope of transforming it into a semblance of a functioning civil society is the creation of a long-lived democratic society."

Please note that we still have not been able to completely realize this vision in the former American version of the Sunni Triangle, in Chicago, IL, USA, which Sen Obama's own shady past and questionable dealings well illustrates.

Chicago may be a "functioning civil society" today but the ghosts of Al Capone and Mayor Daley still lurk, and lurk with honor.

4/01/2008 04:14:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

I was thinking snarky thoughts while reading the following article in GulfNews today. Poor little Iraqi's bitching about how much better Americans are living life in Baghdad than they are. Well, you know, if you'd quit blowing shit up, and get up in the morning and go to work, and quit stealing everything that's not nailed down ....

* * *

Iraqis resentful of the Green Zone

Baghdad: Iraqis resent the Green Zone, not only because it symbolises the American occupation in Baghdad, but also because it is the only region in Iraq which does not suffer from a lack of services unlike other Iraqi cities and regions.

"My house is on the Tigris River bank and exactly opposite the Green Zone. At nights, I sit and watch the electricity and gaze at the lights because they never black out there.

"I sometimes imagine that I live in another country and the Green Zone is a country completely independent of Iraq and then I ask myself the question why not all regions in Baghdad are like that?" said Khodair Abbas, a resident of Karada neighbourhood in Baghdad which is close to the Green Zone.

...

The region's length is more than ten kilometres. "I worked in Iraqi hospitals inside the Green Zone a couple of years ago; there were complete health clinics for all medical specialties," said Widad Al Qalaji, an Iraqi doctor.

"It seemed as if I was in the United States in terms of health equipment available at the hospitals. This situation does not exist at local hospitals outside the Green Zone which lack the minimum standard of care to help the public in those areas," she added.

Perhaps many people know that the Iraqi Council of Ministers, the Ministry of Defence, the Iraqi parliament and the coalition leadership headed by David Petraeus are all located in the Green Zone. Yet, very few know that it includes recreational and sport facilities, as well as Internet and wedding party halls, mosques, churches and luxurious markets.

Talal Al Abbadi, an officer in the Iraqi army, said to Gulf News: "Due to my job and the duties I carry out, I can wander inside the Green Zone but when I leave the area to other neighbourhoods in Baghdad, I feel sad and sense how morbid the situation elsewhere really is.

"The sophisticated security systems in the Green Zone are so advanced that it would be very difficult to penetrate the area without setting off warning alarms from monitoring devices. In contrast, outside the Green Zone there are booby-trapped cars, bombs and suicide bombers who move so quickly and easily kill dozens of Iraqis. I think applying a small portion of the security system in the Green Zone, would help improve the situation for other Iraqis as well."

With all the rumours about the ease of life in the Green Zone, many young Iraqis often react by saying that the "Americans forbid us from a stable life and at the same time they enjoy it."

4/01/2008 04:24:00 PM  
Blogger Wadeusaf said...

Whiskey 199,

Except that Wretchard, all Western societies demand a quick and easy fix.

What Western societies demand, or should, is something that works. What passes for a fix ofter than not is a placebo.

The jaded just do something for somethings sake and get out approach is reminiscent of the NEA approach to teaching our children. It is the bureaucratic CYA by handing out dollars like donuts and expecting everyone to live happily ever after, or at least until the press lets it drop off the front page. After that it is "someone else's problem, we can't help it if the donuts didn't last.

It is the kind of short term excuse that gets whole people killed.

4/01/2008 05:05:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Wretchard, I would agree wholeheartedly that the "development" model does not work. But Bush has not, nor has anyone else, made the argument that it does not work.

Much of the public would be happy to pour money down that rathole as long as the costs of soldiers lives, "opinion in Europe" and the media's opinion are laid aside or mollified.

No one has thought about what happens if/when a city gets nuked. Even entertainment pondering that has to posit a "corporate" or "US Government" villain instead of jihadis.

The public and elite cling to fantasies of US omnipotence and impotence simultaneously. It's silly. Stupid. But there it is.

Politically there is little support for anything but return to the 1990's, with maybe (and probably not even that) a few missile strikes if we lose a city.

We are probably looking at 3-4 US cities lost before we do anything. Then, the deluge.

4/01/2008 08:13:00 PM  
Blogger Derek Kite said...

RWE:

You are approaching this from the wrong end. Start with the reality of power. It is ugly and bloody, evil even. Pick any time in history, and you will find the rare exception of power exercised in a benign way.

Democracy, even in Chicago, forces rulers to cater to the people. Daly has to satisfy someone to get elected. As much as Obama may be a flake or whatever, he does have a constituency that he caters to.

And if things get out of hand, the bums can be kicked out.

If the US went in and cleaned out the Middle East, and Iraq had a government like Chicago, Saudi Arabia like Louisiana, Iran like New Jersey, Lebanon like New York, and Jordan like California, I doubt that even the New York Times would find it worse than it is now.

Derek

4/01/2008 08:57:00 PM  
Blogger Fat Man said...

A bench mark of political transformation is provided by the Torah, the Five Books of Moses. Under the leadership of God Almighty, the Creator of All Things and Ruler of the Universe, and Moses, the first among prophets, the Children of Israel left slavery in Egypt. The Eternal One Himself determined that they would need to spend 40 years in the Desert before they could enter the promised land.

We are traveling at warp speed in Iraq.

4/01/2008 09:59:00 PM  
Blogger Wadeusaf said...

"We are traveling at warp speed in Iraq." :)

If you must be biblical wouldn't the "unto the fifth generation" exhort be the real measure. About one hundred years for the societal improvements to be passed through and solidified.

Toten's take on sincerity, from the boy stating "America good" to the Marine's "I love America too." is given the exclaimation point by the old guy's smiley, wiley reply about seeing suspicious people..., "No, they all ran away"

That town needs all of that time, and maybe more.

4/02/2008 12:18:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

About one hundred years for the societal improvements to be passed through and solidified.

They want what we've got, now that they've seen what's possible.

They want it tomorrow.

And they want it for free.

That should speed the process up considerably, especially if we're dumb enough to give it to them on a silver platter.

4/02/2008 06:27:00 AM  
Blogger Wadeusaf said...

Freedom isn't free. And what they want cannot be given. What we would offer on a silver platter, they are not foolish enough to accept..., at least not right away.

4/02/2008 08:11:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Wade, don't be silly. They don't want freedom, at least not yet.

They want 24/7 electricity and air conditioning.

They want luxurious markets with cheap stuff from all over the world.

They want an end to violence and car bombs, and everyone working together and trusting each other.

They want American-level medicine and whiz-bang cures and diagnostic machines.

The men all want the equivalent powered guns as our soldiers have, and more than enough bullets so they can continue to shoot holes in the sky.

And I'm not sure that they know it, but what they desperately want most of all is respect. Which they're not gonna get as long as they're lying, cheating, stealing, and blowing shit up ... and whining.

WE think they should want freedom. But how could they, when they have no concept of what that even is.

4/02/2008 09:10:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

Derek:

You appeared to have both grasped and missed my point, a unique achievement.

If Chicago, et. al can still harbor political cronyism and gangsterism some 70 plus years after its heyday, and if those places started out with traditional American values, then how long will it take Iraq to recover from a far more serious malady? As Nahncee says, how could they even conceive of what they want or what it takes to achieve it?

Yes, indeed, getting even to where Chicago is today would be an outstanding achievement in Iraq. For that matter, getting any Arab county to the point where it was as well and decently run as is a typical American fast food restaurant would be a flipping miracle.

But we gotta start somewhere. The alternative ends with “… and then let God sort them out.”

4/02/2008 09:35:00 AM  
Blogger Wadeusaf said...

nahncee,

They want 24/7 electricity and air conditioning.

okay, that is understandable.

They want luxurious markets with cheap stuff from all over the world.

okay, who wouldn't.

They want an end to violence and car bombs, and everyone working together and trusting each other.

Well now about that working together and trust part, lets not get overly optimistic, they have, after all, different needs and goals for themselves and families.

They want American-level medicine and whiz-bang cures and diagnostic machines.

Okay, but first they need to repatriate the Doctors that know how to use the darn things. that doesn't happen over night, especially with no clinic.

The men all want the equivalent powered guns as our soldiers have, and more than enough bullets so they can continue to shoot holes in the sky.

Hey what red or blue blooded man doesn't,? Sounds alright to me.

And I'm not sure that they know it, but what they desperately want most of all is respect.

The only good respect is earned by/from respectable people. The way to earn respect is to earn your freedom. If they don't know that (and I am not sure either, but I strongly suspect they do), someone needs to tell them.

4/02/2008 11:21:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

My guess is they do not know that you need to earn respect, but plan on buying it the old fashioned way, like the Saudi's have been trying to do for years now.

As far as guns and bullets, I think we need to keep them under-armed vis-a-vis American soldiers, just to give them something to aspire to. That respect thing, you know ... they haven't earned the same caliber of guns and number of bullets, and that's demonstrable proof that they need to work harder.

4/02/2008 12:59:00 PM  
Blogger Wadeusaf said...

Nahncee

"My guess is they do not know that you need to earn respect, but plan on buying it the old fashioned way, like the Saudi's have been trying to do for years now." I believe the really sharp ones figure that they will earn respect quicker than the Saudi's have been able to buy their Stairways to Heaven.

Even the rude Arab, loudly overcompensating with weapons for what he does not possess in other parts, understands the concept. No doubt in my mind, it will take more to wrest it from them, once they've earned it, than the Saudi's or Iranian's have in oil. They still must earn it, own it and cherish it.

We'll see.

4/02/2008 04:02:00 PM  

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