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Thursday, July 02, 2009

Tribalism is the real enemy in Iraq

For someone not a specialist in this area, Pressfield is remarkably perceptive. In this short piece from 2006, he lays out just exactly what we are up against in the Long War. It's not "terror", it's not "islam." The Long War is a struggle between The Enlightenment and its discontents. And until we a) realize that, b) allow ourselves to admit that, we are going to be handicapped in prosecution of the War.

Tribalism is the real enemy in Iraq

The tribe must have a chief. It demands a leader. With a top dog, every underdog knows his place. He feels secure. He can provide security for this family. The tribe needs a Tony Soprano. It needs a Godfather.

The United States blew it in Iraq the first week after occupying Baghdad. Capt. Nate Fick of the Recon Marines tells the story of that brief interlude when U.S. forces were still respected, just before the looting started. Fick went in that interval to the local headman in his area of responsibility in Baghdad; he asked what he needed. The chief replied, "Clean water, electricity and as many statues of George W. Bush as you can give us."

...When we Americans declared in essence to the Iraqis, "Here, folks, you're free now; set up your own government," they looked at us as if we were crazy. The tribal mind doesn't want freedom; it wants security. Order. It wants a new boss. The Iraqis lost all respect for us then. They saw us as naive, as fools. They saw that we could be beaten.

...The tribe is the most primitive form of social organization. In the conditions under which the tribe evolved, survival was everything. Cohesion meant the difference between starving and eating. The tribe enforces conformity by every means possible -- wives, mothers and daughters add the whip hand to keep the warriors in line. Freedom is a luxury the tribe can't afford. The tribesman's priority is respect within the tribe, to belong, to be judged a man.

You can't sell freedom to tribesmen any more than you can sell democracy. He doesn't want it. It violates his code. It threatens everything he stands for.

"As many statues of George W. Bush as you can give us." That totally illustrates the point. Mr. Democracy always says that evrything in Iraq is so personalized. It's always "Bush this or Bush that" or "Obama this or Obama that." They have no concept of impersonal institutions. Everything revolves around the realtions of power amongst individuals within the tribal matrix. Not only do we not understand this, we do not allow ourselves to understand it. We do not allow ourselves to believe that these people think completely different from us - for that would be "othering" them. We have to get off that train.


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