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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