Friday, July 20, 2007

In Allah We Trust

Michael Yon's 7 Rules, 1 Oath describes a meeting attended by the Iraqi Army and former insurgents presided over by an American officer. Its purpose: to discuss a series of practical and philiosophical princples and draft an oath under which parties who were recently united in fighting against al-Qaeda, but who had differences of their own, could live. Yon describes the discussion around one point: Taking an oath of allegiance to the Constitution of Iraq.

Now it got interesting. One Iraqi said that even under the Saddam regime, bad as it was, the constitution still kept them together. He made no mention of the wars against the Kurds or Shia. But he went on to say that the current constitution tended to divide Iraq. No serious arguments were put forth on this today, but it was clear that fourth rule could lead to months or years of debate. After all, our own Constitution remains a work in progress, having been amended more than two dozen times. Each time that Americans bring this fact to forefront, it seems to assuage some of the “Constitutional-angst” among Iraqis, but that doesn’t change the fact that their government is about as solid as fog.

Strangely enough the discussion meeting that Michael Yon is describing is an operation of war. Maybe not the sort that immediately comes to mind, but perhaps all the more important for all that. Personally I was struck by the atmospherics. Although it was a peaceful assembly, in constitution it consisted of a brotherhood of warriors. Some of the Iraqi Army, some who were lately insurgents. Another who was the representative of the US military. They were all gathered to create a mini-constitution or at least draft the ground rules for their little patch of turf. It was scene that might not be out of place from the American frontier during the French and Indian Wars. The smell of gunpowder, rather than the diplomatic accreditation or academic distinction, seemed to be the coin of entry into the room. And I wondered how a traditional diplomat or aid worker would fit into this setting? Badly, is my guess. Yet maybe these types of situations represent the real challenge to the diplomats and development specialists of today. Because traditional representation based on liaising with the foreign ministry in the national capital may inadequate in a region ablaze with the flames of the Jihad and where small armed groups play such a large part in politics.


Blogger herb said...

Often we hear the plaint of the pacifist that there is no romance in War. I tend to sympathize with that opinion; and yet, . . and yet, I hear my friends who are combat veterans talk of the excitement and the thrill of it (and the fear and the pain). But then a story like this comes along where an officer in the United States Army is there midwifing the Birth of a Nation and you have to grasp the idea of true glory.

Col Townsend is a mid level officer in the Army. He’s in the position of making or breaking this war in this time and in this place. He’s maybe 40 years old. In a civilian job he’d be reporting to somebody who wasnt interested in his ideas for his job or the corporation, just his production against some irrelevant metric.

God bless Col Townsend and all who serve with him. They will be the saviors of this country and Iraq as well, given the opportunity

7/20/2007 06:58:00 PM  
Blogger Derek Kite said...

When I read Yon's account I thought that americans are crazy, and as a result are probably the only ones that could pull this off.

The second thought I had was this is an example of narrative, and it shows the immense power that comes from setting the narrative.

What, 3, 4 months ago these players were shooting at each other.


7/20/2007 07:50:00 PM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

The concept is extremely old. Caesar and Alexander and generals even as recently as McArthur combined politics and warfare into one continuum. War was a narrative punctuated, its true, by bullets, but it was a narrative all the same.

Advances in communications since the Second World War allowed diplomacy to be centralized in the world capitals. And this worked well during the monolithic superpower Cold War days when commas and semi-colons and inflections in voices were critical to conveying messages in a nuclear age.

But now the circle has turned again. Washington and diplomats can't reasonably be expected to follow the twists and turns of politics in Anbar and such exotic localities. So it has to be left up to a field grade officer, or maybe in certain distant places, to a sergeant and lieutenant or whoever else happens to be standing on that patch of ground to decide things on the spot.

7/20/2007 08:04:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

God bless Col Townsend and all who serve with him. They will be the saviors of this country and Iraq as well, given the opportunity.
Yes, God bless them. I felt like I was in the room as real men decided how to best govern themselves...We the People. I teared up when I read the last line.

7/20/2007 09:27:00 PM  
Blogger Nate said...

This story actually shows a return to the decentralized diplomacy that the military was trying to do immediately after the invasion. A story out of Cobra II: a town in southern Iraq gets liberated by The Few and The Proud, and immediately the field grade officers want to start organizing elections, get the civil servants working, etc., when the civilian functionaries put out an order from on high to cease. They would be the ones in charge of such things.

Thus democracy in Iraq languished while men of action were ordered against acting, and men of words merely talked.

If the State Dept is ever going to be relevent again, they are going to have to do two things:

1) Duplicate the diplomatic power of the military - i.e. have diplomats that are willing and able to work in austere environments with people who have de facto power, vice the de jure power of the national capitols.

2) Get over thier inherent fear of working with groups other than nation-states. The nation-state is certainly on its death bed in many parts of the world, and the charade Foggy Bottom keeps up is not productive. Why not send diplomatic missions to the myriad warlords of Afghanistan? Collectively they have much more power than anybody in Kabul!

7/21/2007 05:02:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

It way indeed be that war is too important to be left to the generals...

...but it is damn certain that politics is too important to be left to the politicians.

You often hear the anti-war types say that we should rely more on "diplomacy" - but they clearly have no idea what that really means.

7/21/2007 12:11:00 PM  
Blogger Cedarford said...

herb - Col Townsend is a mid level officer in the Army. He’s in the position of making or breaking this war in this time and in this place.

Unfortunately, the breaking was done long ago - in the absence of any post-war plan or ability of the US to secure the country, then insisting on Democracy as a way of cementing radical religious Shiite control of the Central Government.

That leaves the poor colonel trying to establish a small local island of stability which may help kill a few Jihadis with 100s of thousands willing to take their place tomorrow if they could get to Iraq, and maybe abating the worst of the upcoming civil war until a ruthless military strongman can take over the whole place, or 2-3 strongmen can establish order over the three separated parts after the necessary cleansing is done. ( The Kurds might hang on to a democracy if they don't provoke the Turks into invading, and the Shiite part might soon transition from a military leader to an Islamic democracy like Iran.)

Against the macro forces at work, the great divides between ethnicity and religion, the Shiite-American Constitution and the era of the noble purple fingers looks to be in the past.

7/21/2007 02:25:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Our field commanders are the salt of the earth. Really.

7/21/2007 03:53:00 PM  

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