14 January 2008

Observing the observations on the observe on observations

H/t to Instapundit pointing out this piece by Stephen Bainbridge while he looks at Andrew Sullivan's observations on 'the surge'. And I didn't read the piece by AS, so the actual ability of myself to stay on-point is questionable, at best! I started to address some things that I have addressed before, and verbiage started to flow.

The comment wouldn't fit in the space provided.

It is not elegant unlike that claimed by Fermat.

So, without further adieu or spell checking of any sort, nor any other organization than on-the-fly commentary, here is my commentary on a piece of observation on an observer's observations of another observer observing:

One need not look only at Vietnam - that conflict was, itself, an eerie mirror of the US occupation of Haiti 1915-34. That analysis done at the USMC Staff College in 1995, points out how failures in addressing civic needs and in having a non-partisan outlook at home towards meeting goals is a requirement for COIN work. We are trying to avoid the mistakes of Haiti, and their dark mirror repeat in Vietnam, by *not* investing everything in National government. If America believes in the concept of 'federalism' (not this three state strangeness supported by Leftists) that inter-accountability of government to other, and more local, government is necessary, then the foundation of Iraq is *not* National government, but provincial and local government. First National governments serve as a framework to allow these other forms to fully stand up and function, and that is something the US missed totally in Haiti, Vietnam, the Balkans and Somalia.
'Getting a lid' on the problem soon becomes the only and over-riding concern and soon the entirety of the object of such a war. It also has a problem: it doesn't work. Part of the wash/rinse/repeat cycle of USMC involvement in small wars became the replacement of one noxious actor with another noxious actor who would favor the US. While we would press forward for democracy, as was done in Haiti, the concept of it by local authorities often differs, and harshly, from what we think it is. Democracy is *not* a top-down system, so starting at the *top* is a holding action after a war if the goal is to get democratic reform and civil society to back it started at the lowest level.

COIN becomes successful when the lowest levels of society are self-accountable (town, village, neighborhood) and are given time to understand the tools of civic protection and management. By helping in *both* realms the local, civil society sees success especially in self-protection against violent killers seeking to destroy their society and impose authoritarian or dictatorial rule. By being the friend of democracy and civil accountability the responsibility for it can be handed off with some minimal supervision and support.

There were very low levels of correlation between Iraq and, say, the Malay or Algerian experience, but a number of worries that showed up when the American political class did not have the tools to understand this. These very same politicians, due to incumbancy, had seen failures in the Balkans, Somalia, Afghanistan (the rise of the Taliban), Sudan and a few of them all the way back to Lebanon and Iran. By not being willing to learn from mistakes previously done, the ability to repeat them became ominous: a cycle of misunderstanding what democracy *is* was leading to a failure in supporting foreign policy to ensure that it spread after wartime.

That is how we got these 'benchmarks': federal level politicians who have faced no real democracy problems in holding their seats for decades now feel that federal, and therefore national level, government is the be-all, end-all of all government. That does not get you democracy nor support of liberty: those things come from self-awareness and self-responsibility to ensure civil society exists at the local level.

The disturbing part is the buy-in by so many to 'benchmarks' at a National level only and the unwillingness to recognize that democracy is *local*. What is up with that? Are we, as a Nation, so unwilling to look at our failures in post-war eras... no, scratch that... are we so unwilling to look at *any* other post-war era beyond WWII and Vietnam that we have gained a myopic view of what democracy is and how it is kept?

We could look at our own Revolutionary period (1775-89) and see that our very first attempt to establish National government via the Articles of Confederation *failed*. A number of States were also in near dissolution due to folks like the Shaysites and the draconian confiscation of farms to pay for the US debt. How about the Philippine-American war experience, a successful COIN operation that, to this day, still has some folks in Mindanao a bit upset at us that they did not get their own Republic out of the deal? How about Haiti, where so much was done right up to the point where things went seriously wrong because we did not establish localized rule beyond the National government? Some lessons learned from these three post-war periods would teach us greater lessons in what to do and what not to do if we had a cultural memory of them. How about the problems of the Reconstruction Era after the US Civil War? There are deep and hard lessons in democracy and culture to learn from that, if we ever bothered to examine it. On a nastier scale how about the repeated inability to deal with the Balkans from 1918 onwards? Well, really, there you have to go back to Macedonia under Philip to understand the problems, but even the modern era examination of the post-Ottoman occupation leaves many valuable lessons in absolutely, positively what *not* to do.

If the US can properly help the people of Iraq and Afghanistan to understand that the roots of democracy are local, and that being able to accomodate begins there, also, and that government is to be held accountable to the people and society, we just might have a successful outcome. And it will point out that the ordinary citizen soldier has a far better grasp of democracy and accountability than our political class... which is not a formula for long term stability in the US. Our performance in these conflicts is demonstrating the trust we place in our fellow citizens and the distrust by the political class at the federal level in those very same individuals who represent the people of the Nation on the battlefield and afterwards.
I can either comment or I can write... and with a bit of luck I can sometimes turn the commentary into something better.

This is not one of those times.

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