Friday, April 27, 2007

Lessons to be learned

Amongst the many blogs which I follow regularly, one has been particularly insightful with it's sharp analysis and commentary on events happening. This blog belongs to a retired senior officer of U.S. Military Intelligence and U.S. Army Special Forces (The Green Berets) amongst many other positions he has held, Colonel Patrick W. Lang. His criticism of the current U.S. administration's mishandling of the Iraqi invasion and subsequent occupation highlights the dissatisfaction that many in the defence and intelligence establishments have with the current state of affairs. A recent article Lang has written titled, "How to Work with Tribesmen" is extremely interesting, not only because it demonstrates the considerable knowledge that some of these experts have of our countries, but also because it tells us something about themselves.

Most Arabs make the mistaken assumption that America is a monolithic entity intent on subjugating their lands and appropriating their resources. To some extent this is true, but it is far from the whole story. Within what we call the "West" there are many different groups and classes amongst which there may be disagreement on the means, but overall a broad consensus on the overall objective. From their perspective, it is taken for granted that U.S. troops are operating with impunity throughout the world as is their support for Israel's right to exist. Israel, in particular, is largely viewed as a close ally and friend of the "West" with which it shares a similar ideological outlook. Lang's article is well worth reading, however, it is clear from the outset what perspective the author places himself and his subject matter within. Interestingly, Lang is also a Knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre (currently down but you can read about them on Wikipedia).

In one section on page 4, Lang demonstrates a clear understanding of the perception that most Muslim's have of the "People of the Book", highlighting the commonalities amongst them all. However, he uses this example as one of the opportunities that American soldiers can use to ingratiate themselves with these tribes, rather than out of any desire to build bridges of understanding.

To take advantage of this opportunity, American soldiers must accept their common theological patrimony with Muslims. The view which is sometimes elucidated in the United States that the God of Islam is not the God of Christians and Jews is a serious obstacle to ever finding workable bonds between our forces and those of Muslims anywhere. Soldiers who find that they can not accept this should consider requesting other duty. American soldiers should not be afraid to show their own religiosity. They will be RESPECTED for it so long as they do not seek to proselytize.

Lang's comment on "workable bonds" between "our forces" and Muslims anywhere tells us exactly where he is coming from in this document. His opinion on his subject matter becomes clearer in the following page within the following excerpts:

One of the most common errors made by American soldiers in trying to work with tribesmen is to adopt the idea that traditional leaders are “dinosaurs” who are an outdated relic of the past. Part of our (American) heritage is the notion that the past is dead and that the future leads onward and upward in a linear path in which we Americans are the model of future humanity. In order to work successfully with tribesman we have to abandon that idea or at least temporarily suppress it. Why? These people, especially the Bedouin Arabs, live in history and legend. For them the past is not dead.

The Arabic language lacks tenses and in so much as language shapes thought, Arabs have a difficult time focusing on how long ago things happened.

Orientalist? Perhaps, but his view is one which is also deeply entrenched within the defense establishments of not only the United States but the "West" in general and Israel in particular. This idea of trying to understand the "Arab mind" or an Arab's "psychology" so to speak, shows how these men and women truly see us: an untermensch that must be shown the way and at times disciplined, unwilling to take the medicine which is good for them. This may or many not be purposeful for Lang, but there are plenty of other's who would most certainly hold such a view, particularly in Israel. The Colonel's views constantly betray an us/them mentality, perhaps because of his military background and this permeates throughout the document. Lang's tone is to the point, neutral and precise when dealing with his subject matter, yet this is not out of any profound respect he has for the "tribesmen" but out of the practical consideration of teaching future American officers how to better deal with the "natives" in lands that they occupy.

Without RESPECT paid to the elders we can never expect to penetrate the tribes as friends and allies.

Lang's use of the words "friends and allies" is misleading. "Friends and allies" do not penetrate one another and the context he uses these words within is strictly in the sense of gaining whatever use is possible out of these tribes for a particular end. Lang himself served in Viet Nam and describes himself as a tribesman of the S'tiengan and Mnong Gar tribes. It is perhaps fitting to remember how these "friends" of the United States fared when it abandoned them in South Viet Nam. The alliance with the yellow or brown man is only a means to an end and should never be taken seriously in the sense that those with say, Israel or Great Britain, are understood. Lang concludes with a warning:

If the tribesmen end by believing that they were betrayed by false friends, they will curse our memory.

I wonder if he speaks from experience?

While armchair Arab nationalists, fanatical Islamists and pimply web agitators would be quick to jump to conclusions, condemnations and empty rhetoric. Those who know better learn and listen carefully. Men such as Lang are principled, highly committed and competent with a deep understanding of our countries and people. Unfortunately they are also dedicated to further subjugating the Arab world under the context of fighting terrorism and fanatical fringe groups such as al Qaeda. It does us no harm in learning from them, but one must also remember where these men and women are coming from, and what they want to do to us.


Golaniya said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Golaniya said...

I have read your post couple times and I have read the guys PDF 6 pages paper, and I have to say that I agree with you on its importance regarding on how American military officers see us and plan to deal with us.
but I think you were very kind to his reading, I do not only think he is orientalist, I think his try to show his soldiers that to respect our traditions, comes from his superiority.
the title itself of the documents reflects that they think they are not dealing with "citizens" as much as they are dealing with "tribesmen".
It is not enough to sympathize with the natives and try to educate his soldiers on how to deal with another culture, but his help in itself is superior and ironically enhancing a though that "they are simple, but still humane". Simplicity here is that they are farmers, naïve and unsophisticated.

I'd like to say finally, that among those who went to Iraq and Palestine to "support" us, is partly because they feel superior to the "poor naïve" people, but we "sophisticated people" are here to help.

Am not sure if I am correct with my reading to this person, or I am too paranoid. But I did not like him :P

PS, FB canceled my account, the zionists, i created another account and i added you.

Wassim said...

That's a great observation, it's true there is a high level of condescension not just in the article itself, but in those high minded "development" volunteers and experts who wish to turn the south of Iraq into Iowa or Sweden. Thanks but no thanks as some would say!

I may have been a bit too kind as you say, but my main goal was to explain what I saw between the lines in his articles, as well as regularly on his blog.

PS. I haven't logged onto that thing for a bit as I've been excruciatingly busy! I think I've lost the password too but I'll dig it up.