Thursday, January 01, 2004

The Past as Prologue

The invaluable Donald Sensing links to a Braden post by PsyOps expert Tex DeAtkine, who evaluates progress in Iraq to date. America, he suggests, had no idea how comatose Iraqi civil society was, probably because it was impossible for "White House folks, mostly very young and brash, come in for 60-90 days" to even imagine the effect that pervasive corruption, fear, distrust and passivity could have on a country. The tell-tales are everywhere: Iraqis who will not let Americans pay for their meals, the transference of toadying which Americans may mistake for ordinary courtesy, the persistence of lawlessness in a country where thuggery was for many years a way of life.

DeAtkine is confident that Americans can make things work, but whether the Iraqis can carry the torch after the US has gone is less certain. In the complicated task of leading a former Middle Eastern dictatorship into a constitutionally democratic condition, success in one stage guarantees nothing in the outcome of the next, except the chance to play. The extraordinary level of American industry, with many working to from 0600 to midnight may even militate against the longer-term prospects because the level of social functionality at stage separation, when formal sovereignty is returned to Iraq, will be implicitly founded on a level of performance that few, if any, can match. Everything will be working fine on the last day that Americans are in charge and that will mean nothing. It would almost be as if the 101st Airborne took an Iraqi unit eight tenths of the way to the top of a fortified hill, fighting to within sight of the crest, and then turned to their charges, who with the best will can manage only a fraction of their combat power, and waved goodbye, saying 'see ya boys, I'm sure you'll do fine from here!' Yup. Any engineer should calculate success not on the basis of optimally performing elements, like Americans, but on the assumption of the worst case, with every system element de-rated.

Although much has been said about the lack of planning preceding the occupation of Iraq, less has been said about about the follow-on activities subsequent to the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty. And yet it is more important, not in the least because the mistakes of past cannot be undone while those in the future have yet to be committed. But nothing should blind us to the fact that despite any mistakes much has been accomplished. If the task of building democracy now seems more daunting than before it is only because of a greater knowledge born from experience, an appreciation of obstacles unseen in the Pollyanna days before September 11. It is knowledge that only Americans like Tex DeAtkine now possess in large scale. For despite European pretensions, they have had precious little operational experience outside their borders since 1945. Their knowledge dwindles in the memories of old men in sunny gardens and America alone left to take the field.