One of the key requirements for success in Iraq is to have a fundamental understanding of the culture in the region. The Coalition has been weak in this important endeavor. While the war and rebuilding process in Iraq are unlike anything the U.S. has engaged in before, they are not without hope. But, stability in Iraq will require many conditions guided by clear quantifiable goals.
This paper will address some of the conditions for lasting peace. It will also address many difficulties Iraq currently faces, discuss the core causes, and will offer a few alternatives. Moreover, while the discussed alternatives are certainly necessary they are by no means comprehensive.
Government Stability and Culture
The Iraqi government faces many seemingly insurmountable problems which have plagued burgeoning representative governments throughout the world in an attempt to establish stability. One of the root causes of government instability within any nation, specifically at its birth, is the decision to implement a system of governance anathema to its culture, mores, and traditions. Iraq is the latest example of this mistake. Instead of developing a government more suited to its culture, Iraq with the influence of the Coalition consisting predominately of Western countries, has decided to instill a representative style government mirrored along Western guidelines. Little thought or debate about the ramifications of democracy, or the results of democracy thrust upon a theocratic culture was attempted before this drastic measure was implemented. The naive West allegedly assumed because democracy worked for Western nations and was suited for Western culture, it could be also successfully integrated by the theocratic cultures of the Middle East. This theory could not be further from the truth.
Democracy was developed and is a result of Western philosophy and culture; and it will only work successfully among a society thoroughly familiar with its precepts, and understands its required sacrifices. It can not exist in a society without these prerequisite foundations already established.
The United States was founded on the premise that ‘All men are created equal’ as stated in the Declaration of Independence, and on the Christian belief of the ‘sanctity of the individual.’ Ironically, these concepts are no where more manifest than in the strict hierarchical American Military. The American soldier demonstrates these tenets when abiding by the policy of “No man left behind.” Many times an American soldier will stand not only beside his friends on the field of battle, but will risk his life for total strangers. During adolescence, many future soldiers were taught in the family, at school, and throughout the community to ardently believe in the sanctity of the individual. This indoctrination is not exclusive to the United States, but instituted in many countries founded upon Western philosophy.
Western culture has its roots in Christianity tempered by the Reformation, and allowed to develop fully during the Enlightenment period. Christianity was founded on the doctrine of peace, the Ten Commandments, and avoiding ‘unrighteous’ judgment. In principle, Christianity is peaceful; in practice it required a ‘Reformation’ to reach the correct level of ‘judgementalism’ necessary to emulate the doctrine as found in the New Testament. The New Testament coupled with the Reformation, provided the stimulant necessary for the principle of the ‘sanctity of the individual’ to grow. This ‘Standard of Liberty’ has been the driving force behind the grand statements of ‘equality’ found throughout many of the founding documents, and has directed many important policy decisions of the United States. The principle of the ‘sanctity of the individual’, and the adage “All men are created equal” are ‘Western’ concepts exclusively, and are by no means found universally throughout the world.
For the United States to dictate domestic and even foreign policy based on Western values, standards, and mores is expected and encouraged. Conversely, to expect a country foreign to Western thought to establish Western values, concepts, and doctrines is unwise. The West must understand its ardent idealism is not believed nor practiced by all societies. Many cultures still profess the belief in social Darwinism and practice this ‘survival of the fittest’ mindset. The Islamic Middle East is just one example of a region still rife with this mentality.
The Middle East, ruled by the Koran which contains its codified laws dictating all aspects of Islamic life to include ethics, government, conduct, religion, and education is not of the Western ‘democratic’ mindset, nor founded upon Western philosophy, but rather directed by an Eastern theocratic system of guidance. Iraq has never tasted Western freedom, but has instead been dominated by dictators, Monarchs, Theocrats, and foreign occupiers throughout written history. The Iraqi people understand force and fear and have never known another lifestyle. For the past 1500 years they have only known a religion which has dominated all aspects of life. Islam is perfectly suited to thrive in a dictatorial, autocratic, and repressive society, but is completely anathema to democracy; a representative style government offering an equal voice to all, and providing a measure of ‘civil rights’ weakens its rigid control and steals its power. Of course, Islam is not the only religion contrary to democracy. Any religion claiming exclusionary rights to heaven, dominated by a central autocratic authority, which discourages questioning ecclesiastical doctrines and precepts, is not conducive to democracy. Religions offering the right to question their stated doctrines, in a sense questioning the ‘word of God’ eventually lose control over their followers and ultimately become weak. For a religion to retain its strength it must prohibit heresy, questioning, and dissent – i.e., it must destroy all acceptance of diversity. Democracy with its foundations in personal freedoms based in reason and logic, and organized exclusionary religion are abhorrent to one another. Yet, throughout history there have been many attempts to test this indisputable point. Iraq is the latest example.
Religion is the keystone of culture. It guides the proclivities, mores, and customs of the people. It allegedly drives the social, economic, and cultural interactions of a nation as well. Unless an exclusive religion or a theocratic culture evolves along the necessary path and tempers the exclusionary nature of its religion, the culture will not be able to understand the virtues as well as the difficulties of democracy or representative government.
Organizing a representative form of government within a theocratic culture is easy; making it stand the test of time is much more difficult, if not nearly impossible. All governments face trials and hardships, but when a culture based primarily on exclusionary religion faces adversity, the people tend to turn to their ecclesiastical leader and religion instead of their elected leaders. Turning to religious leadership in times of crisis deprives government of its authority and influence while making the enemy of government – organized religion – more powerful and influential. Europe learned the lessons of political vs. religious power well, and was plagued for nearly 1300 years with religious oppression until the Reformation period offered alternative avenues for religious thinking. With the mind of man less fettered by religion, Europe was able to progress into the ‘Enlightenment’ period where man was able to more fully contemplate the nuances of democratic politics and nation building, coupled with the ‘freedom of thought’ and a clear understanding of the inalienable rights of man.
All people want the ‘freedom’ to act the way they want and many feel democracy will provide this luxury. But, a ‘democracy’ as a result of a vote, by a society unfamiliar with the foundational requirements necessary and shackled by an exclusionary religion will likely fail in times of sacrifice. Human nature dictates man will turn to that in which he is most familiar, and when a specific culture is antithetical to democracy, the people will likely choose security at the expense of liberty. History is replete with examples of societies sacrificing liberty for security. Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, and Rwanda’s Hutu and Tutsi Parties are a few such cases.
Requirements for Democracy
Democracy is the result of an internal evolutionary process not the consequence of foreign intervention or a vote. Representative government implanted by a foreign power will likely only exist as long as the occupiers remain within the country. But once the occupiers leave, the people will likely turn to the comforts of familiarity. Within a culture dominated by exclusionary religion, the people will allegedly turn to an autocratic style government.
For a democracy to flourish it must have the foundations necessary for its success. It must be driven by a strong vibrant middle class. They must be gainfully employed, educated, and understand the nuances of traditional liberal values such as the irrefutable rights of man, including the right to personal property. The nation must have static national borders secured from foreign intervention; a developed manufacturing based economy conducive to market place competition and economic Darwinism (opposed to an economy driven by a single depleting natural resource); and an internal economic and social infrastructure to support a growing population. Most importantly the people must possess an intrinsic sense of nationalism and civic pride. They must anxiously identify themselves with the nation and be willing to defend it. The listed examples are just a few of the parameters necessary for democracy to flourish and are by no means inclusive.
Government and War
A democracy, or rule of the people, is the weakest form of government during war. It is designed for societies engaged in trade and the free flow of ideas not for burgeoning nations on the brink of collapse. To build a flourishing nation and fight a successful war, a government with more centrally controlled power would be more effective. A more authoritarian based government would not be burdened with politicking to the fickle crowd, but instead would be able to utilize its full efforts into nation building and engaging in a successful war.
Wars are not won by who has the ‘biggest guns’, the most troops, or has the most money. Wars are won by those who believe in their cause most passionately; and are willing to do whatever victory requires. History is replete with examples of the ‘underdog’ ultimately gaining the laurels of victory. George Washington lost more battles than he ever won during the American Revolution but his army ultimately gained the prize. They were willing to do whatever liberty required. North Vietnam was out-manned, out-gunned, and under financed, but through endurance and necessary asymmetric tactics, after decades of bloodshed they proved victorious. Victory truly goes to the most dedicated. The current war on terror is just the latest test of this adage.
Because of its strategic location, alliances, and access to a large amount of the world’s oil, Iraq is in a position of tremendous influence. Iraq’s neighboring countries are led by sovereigns whose raison d'être is swayed by personal aggrandizement, expansionism, and adventurism. To maintain the fragile balance of power in the area, more importantly to establish peace and stability within its own borders, Iraq must have a strong central government whose power is undisputed and is the sole source of authority.
Iraq and Security
Currently Iraq is facing a sectarian civil war in a crude bid for power; it faces enemies crossing its porous borders with illicit material and weapons; its economy is destitute and driven by a single depleting natural resource; its finances are being squandered by corruption and malfeasance; its people are identifying themselves more to their region, tribe, or area than to their nation; and it is currently being occupied by a Western ‘Christian’ foreign power. This is a small fraction of the problems currently facing Iraq. Before a country can cleanse itself of its external enemies it must first clean the inner vessel. To clean this ‘inner vessel’ Iraq must get a firm grip on security, be convinced the occupying foreign power is going to leave, and the internal enemy must be agreed upon and rooted out. Sedition and subversion must be eliminated before a nation can fight a successful campaign against an external enemy.
Identifying the Enemy
Sadly, many do not even know who the actual enemy of the government of Iraq is. All agree al Qaida is among the foes. But, what about the various militia groups which control many sections of Baghdad and Iraq in general. Illegal militias, personal armies, and the ‘spirit of mercenarism’ is ripping at the very fabric of Iraqi society, and threatening to usurp or destroy the fragile government currently in place. Some parliamentary members and government leaders are even members or have sympathies with various groups such as Jaysh a’ Mahdi, Badr, or SCIRI which sponsor militias and violence. Representative government cannot, nor will not exist for long if policy decisions are being influenced through force or fear. If militia influences are left to continue, ultimately the government will evolve into a militaristic regime ruled by whoever controls the largest militia. The influence of the NSDAP (NAZI) party in Germany during the early 1930’s is a case in point. They gained power with the help of Hitler’s personal militias – the SA and SS. Once he was in power, he destroyed the fragile Weimar Republic and its constitution, and turned Germany into militaristic regime ultimately vaulting Germany into another World War, which destroyed much of Europe. Lebanon’s election of Hezbollah members and Palestine’s election of HAMAS and FATAH are a few contemporary examples of elected governments voting in violent organizations, whose agendas are bent on expansion and war. It is likely these governments will evolve more antagonistic, evocative of all societies whose political parties control private armed militias, and as always the people will ultimately suffer.
To avoid the inevitability of violence, and if security is to be obtained, Iraq must identify and outlaw the armed militias. It must collect its weapons and prosecute its leaders according to Iraqi law. The authority of the government and of the militias cannot co-exist. Of course this action is not easy and likely dangerous to those advocating these measures, but if stability and peace are the goals then this action needs to be taken.
Currently the Iraq government and the Coalition have failed to define the problem. Some say the nature of the war within Iraq is a civil war. Some say it is more revolutionary, while others are claiming it is simply ‘criminal violence’ which has gripped the country. Different wars call for different tactics, and one tactic will not work for all conflicts. An allied nation can certainly help defend a country plagued by a foreign threat. An ally may even be able to help quell a revolution or rebellion, although it must pick one side or another to support. If the war is more criminal in nature, police and intelligence agencies must take the dominating role instead of the military. However, if the conflict is a civil war where the nation is trying to determine its own destiny, a foreign power, in theory, should not participate nor influence the outcome according to its own specific agenda.
Within a civil war, a foreign power may be able to stop the violence in the streets given enough force, but will not be able to quell the root causes of the problem, nor stop the resentment from festering. Allegedly a foreign power may only delay a civil war. The resentment will smolder while the foreign power is within the country, but eventually the foreigners will return home, allowing the conflict to flare up once more. A nation gripped with civil war must ultimately determine its own fate even when it requires great effusions of blood. The British understood this lesson well during the American Civil War. Both the Union and Confederates approached Britain for aid, but wisely Britain chose not to get involved. They knew no benefit could come from picking a side and delaying the inevitable; instead they chose to wait and develop relations with the victor once a clear victor was determined.
Peace and stability are maintained by a large effective military and with the threat of force. It is not maintained by the timid but by the strong. Wars are ultimately won when the enemy has been eliminated. Appeasement and negotiations with an enemy bent on destroying one’s nation will only allow the enemy time to regroup and re-supply. Force or the threat of force is the only sure deterrent. For Iraq to stave off its enemies, the Iraqi government, military, and infrastructure need to become self reliant whether through democracy or another form of centralized government.
The mission of the Coalition Forces within Iraq is strictly deemed as a supportive role. The CF is allegedly within Iraq to train, mentor, and assist according to the demands of the political situation. However, due to the threat level of the current counter-insurgency, the ineffectiveness of the Iraqi government, the influences and machinations of foreign powers, as well as a myriad of other supposed reasons for being here, as long as the Coalition takes a dominant role within Iraq, it will impede the spirit of ‘self determination’ necessary to form an effective, stable, and enduring society.
Modern Western society abhors bloodshed, destruction, and war. However, sometimes war is necessary for the greater good of society. A nation plagued with civil war and allowed to fight its own fights, its own way, and determine its own destiny will ultimately become a stronger and more stable society from going through the crucible of affliction. The West has tried many times to subvert or end civil war around the world, either because of the disruption of foreign policy, instability in one nation is believed to flow into other nations, or perhaps due to the West’s inherent belief in the ‘sanctity of the individual.’ Whatever the reason, becoming involved in foreign civil wars usually becomes futile. The Balkans, Palestine, Somalia, and elsewhere in Africa where the West has felt it prudent to get involved has amply demonstrated this fact.
Regardless of the type of conflict afflicting Iraq, the Coalition has visibly chosen to stay and participate in this war. With this strategic decision, the Coalition must determine clearly how best to proceed. Currently the Coalition has been in Iraq for roughly four years, and in that time alliances have changed along with the nature of the war. However, before victory can be achieved, the Coalition and the Iraqi government must establish and identify clear and quantifiable goals. At the present time the Coalition has failed in this important endeavor. A nation cannot fight an enemy it has not identified nor can it achieve goals it has not established.
Many vague and immeasurable goals have been discussed. Some have said democracy within Iraq is the goal; some say security; some say a form of representative government; some profess we are fighting against the enemies of the government; who is right and what is the most effective answer? Clearly these goals are not quantifiable and therefore unobtainable. The clear goals of the Coalition must be identified and the objectives must be measured to be achieved. Once the goals have been identified, a plan for their completion can be transcribed and effective action can be taken. Until that time, confusion and uncertainty will enervate the strength of the Coalition forces as well as the support for the war back home.
Controlling the Media
Once clear concise goals have been identified and a plan developed to achieve the quantifiable objectives, effective action can be taken. Regardless of the efficacy of the plan, one obstruction has consistently plagued modern militaries and fighting democracies – an uncensored press. Throughout modern conflict, the media has played an enormous role toward victory or defeat. Regardless of what politicians say, Western elected officials are extremely influenced by public opinion. Allegedly public opinion drives policy. The democratically elected leader’s job depends on keeping the people content and, at times, distracted. An uncensored press has many times swayed public opinion against otherwise honorable decisions, unpopular foreign engagements, and long-term policy decisions either because they were not privy to all the facts, or simply because of their incessant quest for profit-driven sensationalism. The media, like all businesses is driven mainly by revenue, and many times, the more sensational the news story, the better the ratings will be. The media tends to focus on what is most important to itself; or simply what drives profits, and this is contrary to the ability to wage effective war.
The current conflict in Iraq is like no other. It has the semblance of a religious civil war, but fought by government troops, foreign fighters, unidentifiable terrorists, local militias, and soldiers from nations around the world all vying for supremacy in a cauldron of shifting alliances, special interests, and various agendas. The sheer chaos of the conflict has allowed the media fertile ground to pursue its own interests; which at times tend to undermine the interests of the Coalition commanders and the soldiers fighting in the streets.
Among the requirements for a democratic nation to fight an effective war is to garner the proper support of the civilian base back home. Without their influence, the effort regardless of how honorable it may be is destined to fail. For the military to fight effectively, it must be able to censor the material of the press, or deny them altogether access to certain areas. Essentially, the military must be able to fight an effective information operations campaign, and if the media is not willing to help achieve the Coalition’s goals, they must be restricted for the sake of national security, and to preserve the effectiveness of the individual soldier.
1. Instead of an elusive democratically elected government, Iraq should establish a more centralized form of government. This form of rule would be more conducive to Iraqi culture and circumstances. Then over time, if the conditions are right, the government may evolve inherently toward democracy, but that change must come from within, not as a result of foreign desires. Democracy as a result of a vote does not provide stability, stability provides democracy.
2. For Iraq to succeed, become strong, and become a contributing member of the family of nations, it must be allowed to determine its own destiny according to its own cultural nuances and abilities. Iraq must define its own problems and goals and sacrifice for their obtainment. Even though the Coalition has clearly decided to stay within Iraq, they should at least be aware of the hazards of being too heavily involved within the Iraqi decision making process, as well as fighting against an indefinable enemy.
3. Before victory can be achieved, the Coalition and the Iraqi government must establish and identify clear and quantifiable goals. For the mentoring role of the Coalition to succeed, they must teach the Iraqis not only ‘how to shoot’ but ‘who’ and ‘why.’ The enemy of the Iraqi government must be clearly defined and identified before the training can become effective and produce results.
4. Press reports from the battlefields of Iraq must be able to be censored by the military. Moreover, the military must be able to deny the press access to certain areas according to tactical or strategic decisions. With the press unable to ‘second-guess’ command decisions, troop morale will increase along with military effectiveness.
Understanding the culture of the opposition is a fundamental requirement to effectively engage in war, as well as to rebuild the country. While the war and rebuilding process in Iraq are unlike anything the U.S. has engaged in before, success can still be achieved. But peace in Iraq will require a myriad of requirements, guided by clear quantifiable goals. In addition, while the discussed alternatives are certainly necessary they are by no means inclusive. Still, for the way ahead to succeed they will definitely help.
Matthew I. Degn
Senior Intelligence Advisor
Ministry of Interior – Intelligence Transition Team