Sunday, February 8, 2009

Not Just Beanie Babies and Soccer Balls..

"I am not come to destroy the law but to fulfill the law." -- Matthew 5:17

Cliff Krieger, author of Right-Side-of-Lowell (linked just to your right), recently sent me this article: The article is titled "The Trust Gap" and it speaks to some of the problems that come from living under totalitarian regimes. These problems, of course, are well-documented, particularly in the aftermath of said regimes when Sociologists and Political Scientists can come check things out.

Of course, it shouldn't be hard to understand why it's hard to trust your neighbor when you're living in some type of Orwellian nightmare. If you're living in constant fear of the proverbial three a.m. knock on the door and a one-way ticket to the Lubyanka, you might have an extra special sort of propensity not to have your neighbors over for dinner, as one little slip-up to the wrong person might set off some *denunciations* that would take you away from those you love.

In Khidhir Hamza's "The Bombmaker," a prominent Iraqi scientist who was shanghaid into working on a developmental nuclear bomb project by Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, but ultimately escaped to freedom via Turkey, paints an excellent picture of the massive, state-wide jail cell created by one man's thirty-year rule.

Afghanistan is an entirely different animal, of course, but it has its own experiences of imposed Communism, seemingly-endless war, and then the particularly ruthless brand of totalitarianism imposed by the Taliban in 1996.

So, as you might imagine, a society that collectively suffers from PTSD because of the extreme daily stress imposed by an inability to trust anyone isn't just going to turn around overnight. The effect it might have on an individual is in some ways irreversible -- just ask any Khmer Rouge survivor to explain their feelings towards police, government, etc., even in a separate continent thousands of miles away with a different language and society.

So, in steps the U.S. I believe that by the actions begun in October 2001 and March 2003, respectively, we have a major commitment to "seeing through" the transition of Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively, towards one where openness and rule of law become the norm rather than the exception. This is going to take a lot of time and patience on our part.

But here's the good news -- there's definitely a way forward. In Robert Gates' recent Foreign Affairs article "A Balanced Strategy" (which, by the way, has been referenced both here and on Right-Side-of-Lowell more than once), SECDEF came out to boldly state, "The United States needs a military whose ability to kick down the door is matched by its ability to clean up the mess and even rebuild the house afterward."

That's why Cliff sent the article over to me in the first place -- besides the many forms of *soft power* and media influence that factor in to the transformation (and are probably underrated or underappreciated for their power to do so, but thanks Chandler and Monica), some of the major implementers of the long-term strategy will be Army Civil Affairs personnel -- what your author hopes to be doing soon for the 26th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade (Camp Curtis Guild, Reading, MA).

So, of course, this won't mean jamming the pointy end of an M-4 in someone's face and telling him to start reading Tocqueville and Locke in a tea house on the Tigris. But it also means a lot more than just handing out Beanie Babies and soccer balls (as some who dismissively view Civil Affairs sometimes seem to think).

It's going to mean subtly influencing these societies in a way that steers them down the road in a direction towards openness, transparency, and, yes, trust of one's neighbors. We'll need to do it in a cooperative, multi-national sort of way -- a big tent is always best for generating *buy-in.* And we'll need to bear in mind everything T.E. Lawrence said about why their "tolerable" is better than our "perfect."

Obviously, there will be costs involved. But the payoffs will be tremendous, even if they won't be understandable in a pomp-and-circumstance-let's-put-on-our-Sunday best-and-sign-something-on-the-deck-of-the-mighty-Missouri.

Because never in the history of history have two liberal democracies ever gone to war with one another.


Anne said...

I would love to meet you! Do you ever come to the Center City Committee weekly meetings downtown? I'll be at the next one, tomorrow (Tuesday) morning 8:30 am at Olive That & More and would love to meet you!

The New Englander said...


Sounds great, but unless I'm taking leave Tuesday mornings are impossible for me...any chance you'll be at the Revolving Museum Thursday? (I just learned that two of my neighbors have photography that will debut there Thursday night at the 7-9 p.m. opening) Or, failing that, any chance you'll be at LDNA this month? (Fourth Monday, meets at the Museum)..? Either way, let me know and I look forward to meeting you and glad you're digging the blog!


C R Krieger said...

The Post mentions the Lubyanka prison, in Moscow.

The question is, "What is the tallest building in Moscow?"

The answer is, "The Lubyanka prison."

"From there you can see all the way to Siberia."

The alternative punch line is that from the basement you can see all the way to Siberia.

The Lubyanka was the headquarters of the KGB before the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Regards  --  Cliff

The New Englander said...


You gotta love gallows humor! Probably second only to vodka as a coping mechanism for living in the totalitarian USSR...