Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Michael Totten in Mashudah

Michael Totten has a new dispatch, this time from Mashudah. It is worth reading in full, like all of Totten's Iraq dispatches. Here are a few short excerpts:
He introduced me to the man in charge of the station, Captain J. Dow Covey from New York City.

“Do you know the Weekly Standard magazine?” Captain Covey asked me.

“Of course,” I said.

“My buddy Tom Cotton was just written up there,” he said. “It was pretty cool seeing him in that magazine.”

“What did he do to get in the magazine?” I said.

“He’s like me,” he said. “He’s a Harvard Law grad who joined the Army after 9/11. I’m an attorney.”

“You’re an attorney?” I said. “What are you doing out here in Iraq?”

“I practiced law for three years,” he said, “then got into investment banking. When 9/11 happened I just had to sign up with the Army. Investment banking is a lot more stressful than this.”

“You’re kidding, right?” I said.

“No,” he said and laughed. “I am totally serious.”

[ed: WTF???]
Pride is much more important in Arab culture than it is in the West. Humiliation is therefore more painful. I wondered if this created problems when Americans train Iraqi soldiers and police officers. What must it feel like for local men to be yelled at by foreigners who showed up uninvited and knew their job better than they did?

Colonel Steele insists it isn’t a problem.

“They don’t want to be babied,” he said. “They want to be treated as equals and adults. Their shame culture actually helps. Our new recruits recently complained about having sore feet during a march. When they noticed our female soldiers are in better shape than they are, they never complained again. Also, when we first had them try on our body armor, it nearly broke their spines. They want to be physically capable of wearing it, too.”

[ed: this fear of being made to look bad by American females seems to be a powerful motivator for arabs. What is it about their culture that makes arab males naturally lazy and weak?]
“I am optimistic,” he said. “But only for one single reason. Because I talk to the average Joe in Iraq. I meet the children and parents. Iraqi parents love their children as much as I love mine.”

I knew what he meant. Counterintuitive and contradictory as it may seem, I never felt more optimistic in Iraq than I did when I walked the streets and interacted with average Iraqis. Iraq looks more doomed from inside the base than it does outside on the street, and it looks more doomed from across the Atlantic than it does from inside the base.

Major Mike Garcia said this view of Iraq is typical. “Soldiers who don’t leave the FOB [Forward Operating Base] are more likely to be pessimistic than those who go out on patrol. They’re less aware of what’s actually happening and have fewer reality checks on their gloom.”

...We drove back down IED Alley to Camp Taji. It was 4:00 in the afternoon, and so unbearably hot. The air conditioner in the Humvee hardly did anything. I desperately wanted a shower so I could wash Iraq off my skin.

Nothing exploded on our way back.

Major Garcia wanted to know what I thought. I didn’t know what to say.

“Whether we like it or not,” he said, “and whether we like them or not, they are the future of this country.”


Totten doesn't try to sugar coat the dismal situation in Iraq. That is good. Neither does he present the situation as completely hopeless, like some defeatist bloggers and politicians.

Dealing with arabs is not easy or predictable. TE Lawrence and many other embedded officers of more modern militaries have learned that lesson the hard way. Many more will have to learn it in the future. Cultures are slow to change, particularly cultures such as arab cultures and other tribal cultures.

No comments: