Some Middle Eastern stuff...

An interesting article on Iraq from Atlantic magazine.

For some time now I've posited that the single largest failure of our efforts in Iraq was not about military strategy. We really did "win" for want of a better word the major military portion of the war, and quite easily for that matter with, in military terms, a very low rate of casualty. Where we have failed is in the cultural part of the battle, failing to take in to sufficient considerations the full measure of the social, political, and religious fabric of the societies where we chose to insert ourselves.

My feeling, and its just an opinion, is that we were very much involved in how to get division a to point b to the extent that we didn't even consider factors such as clan, tribe, religion, culture, and the effect our incursion would have on these relationships. We seemed genuinely suprised when all of the sudden Sunnis and Shiites, freed from the strong arm of Saddam Hussein, would use that freedom to settle centuries old grudges. And wouldn't just a bit of study have quickly revealed that Kurds, and Iranians for that matter, aren't Arabs and may have little in common with "Arabs" even if they shared the same religion? Is there even such a thing as a central casting "Arab" at all? Like Gulliver we are being held down by thousands of tiny threads, the threads of the tapestry of culture, religion, and history we ignored for the "big picture" of our own understandings of how things should be projected on to a part of the world that, despite our hopes, is rooted in understandings of faith, culture, and humanity that are sometimes very different from our own.

Perhaps in the future it would be good for our leaders, thinking about war and peace and foreign policy, to have not just generals and politicians in the loop when decisions are made but also experts in religion, culture, language, and history as well. Had people such as these been given a real voice we might have made different choices about Iraq or not made the mistakes we did in the former Yugoslavia or saved ourselves a world of hurt in who knows what other places where we've acted as world police. Knowing the cultural/spiritual/social map of a place seems to be at least as important as the physical map, and perhaps in the long run, as we seem to be discovering, even more valuable.

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