December 28, 2007
Sheikhs' Sure Booty: Your Empire At Work
Finally figuring out what anyone here could have told them years ago, US forces in Iraq have earned at least a B-plus in Empire-Building 101 -- not that that's a good thing, but it can salve a sore wound for an indefinite period. The principle is to use local power structures as your surrogates, basically by bribing them. This USA Today story details it well. (Thanks to a Klaus call, we have a link for the original stick-figure anti-insurgent plan offered by a later-killed US soldier here.)
Tribal sheiks . . . have seats on most of the city councils and the provincial council. . . . Many tribes run construction and trucking businesses and benefit from U.S. and Iraqi government reconstruction projects. The contracts with U.S. forces allow sheiks to hand out jobs, and thus maintain power.
Tammany Hall, meet Lord Cromer:
"The sheiks come together and say, 'These are the projects we want to do,' " says Marine Capt. Clark Mitchell, 33, whose infantry company has its headquarters in a dusty compound amid the cultivated fields and date groves outside Fallujah. Contracts generally go to the lowest bidder, but, Mitchell says, "you see a name and say, 'That's sheik so-and-so's brother.' "
From "How The Surge Really Worked" vol. 1.
Marine officers here spend time sipping tea with sheiks and learning about tribal customs, such as embracing and kissing, which vary by clan. They call it "man kissing."
And they say there's no place for gays in the military.
Officers carry small booklets detailing relationships among the major sheiks, tribes and clans in their areas. . . . A visit to a tribal leader usually takes hours and involves large amounts of food, including kebabs, piles of rice, yogurt and stacks of flat bread.
Empires may or may not be carnivorous, but they're never ever ever low-carb. Cakewalk, anyone?
Posted by Matthew Hogan at December 28, 2007 04:39 AM
Filed Under: Foreign Policy & MENA , Iraq War , MENA Region General , Political Development , Religious Minorities , Society & Culture , Terrorism , US Foreign Policy
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Finally figuring out what anyone here could have told them years ago, US forces in Iraq have earned at least a B-plus in Empire-Building 101
Klaus posted a link to exactly this effect long before The Surge (TM) if memory serves. It was about a (now dead) US soldier stationed in the Anbar province presenting in a humorous way how US soldiers should grow mustaches, wear kaffiyes and grant construction contracts to the tribal leaders to win.
And to use the Empire Building 101 reference seriously, whereas there are no such explicit courses in US universities, there definitely are Organizational Theory 101 in most management schools which would have hinted on how this was needed.
Along the same idea, the magic debaathification order that shortly followed the invasion was such an awful act of illiterate management thinking, it was indicative of the skill pool in charge of Iraq.
Yeah, the Moustaches for Everyone flash movie. It didn't say anything about man-kissing, though. All the US soldiers are going to come home gay, fat and moustached. Breaking the army calorie by calorie.
On a more serious note...I have noticed that American soldiers do not, unlike the other NATO countries, grow beards when the local culture might deem it advantageous. Symptomatic of cultural inflexibility.
Shaheen -- Actually I've been looking for that very link since I did that first Surge entry; it was a very humorous and insightful little presentation. Guess I can't even search effectively the very site I write on.
Santa Klaus, where art thou?
Posted by: matthew hogan at December 28, 2007 09:20 PM
Here, got it, thx Klaus: http://abcnews.go.com/images/US/how_to_win_in_anbar_v4.pdf
Ask and thou shall receive. PDF here.
On a sidenote, 'aqoul is not easily searchable.
Posted by: Klaus at December 29, 2007 01:55 AM
beat me to it.
You laugh about the mustaches but one of the weird obsessions of regular army general officers at CENTCOM a few years ago, who took over control of operations in Afghanistan from SOCOM ( and proceeded to promptly begin screwing things up, was to force the special forces guys to shave ( many had grown full beards) and stop trying to blend in with the locals by adding non-regulation accoutrements to their uniforms.
The regular Army has fought COIN doctrine - and simple common sense for an occupying power- tooth and nail. Only when the Bush crowd grabbed "the Surge" as a political life preserver after the Iraq report did things change on the ground.
And the Army will lobby with all their might to change it back in '09.
Posted by: zenpundit at December 31, 2007 06:57 PM
Not so much the beard/moustache thing, just the for-kids presentation. Thanks for explaining the lack of beards in the US army. Been wondering about that for a while. Do you have a link you could throw at me?
No link but the original reporter was Robert Kaplan, writing in either the The Atlantic or perhaps in his book Imperial Grunts.
Posted by: zenpundit at January 2, 2008 01:45 AM
Actually, Petraeus has been instrumental in bringing in academic anthropologists to a) advise on COIN doctrine and b) act as boots-on-the-ground cultural advisors in Iraq.
As a British (Territorial) soldier who likes to carp at the US' cultural ignorance in warzones, it's quite galling to say that their current strategy is pretty impressive.
Should anyone be interested, this thread gives a good overview of the (British) military perspective on US COIN in Iraq: http://arrse.co.uk/cpgn2/Forums/viewtopic/t=76674.html
Posted by: Rumpel at January 14, 2008 08:35 AM