The original idea for yesterday’s post still lingering, I was asking myself why the U. S. strategy in Iraq fails so miserably. Especially, why does it fail so miserably where it succeeded in postwar Germany?
The materialist approach to an answer may, of course, highlight that a lot more money has been pumped into Germany (as opposed to “pumped into conquering Germany”). The Marshall Plan with what would today amount to roughly 100 billion dollars investment in European economies certainly helped a great deal to make people not only view Americans as oppressors. Of course, it is easy to understand why the U. S. cannot spend huge amounts of money wherever U. S. forces pop up, in addition to what the forces themselves cost. It is not quite as easy to understand, though, why all that money is spent on the military and not on saving the common people of the troubled countries of the Near and Middle East e. g. from plain starvation (ref. e. g. here). (And why, if no forces are sent, the money has to go to Saddam Hussein or the Taliban.) This then leads to what I think is even more at the core of this whole disaster, i. e. the psychology of the people in the liberated countries and why they may not feel liberated, at all.
In postwar Germany, the Marshall Plan had that psychological effect of letting people feel that America cared for more than just conquest (no matter how, today, as a leftist you may regard investment as another piece in a supremacist strategy.) That feeling is mostly lacking in Afghanistan or Iraq. And it would take much more determined action to let it grow than in Germany at the time, because there is a huge mistrust rooted deeply in the hearts of the Arabic world. That is because those people have learned through long experience that America is unwilling to accept their different ways of life.
One cannot but wonder if the impression that U. S. strategists completely fail to comprehend that different people are really different and not just misguided Americans was perhaps always valid. Perhaps, when people were making a strategy for postwar Germany, they were also thinking in the boundaries of American culture and it was pure luck that Germans at the time were not so very different. U. S. strategists could understand the psychology of Germans at the time because it was not very different from their own. Psychology and culture of people outside the western hemisphere, however, tend to be fundamentally different. That is something you not only need to know, you need to comprehend it, too. You need to realize that organizing elections may not be all that helpful if the voters don’t even understand the concept of an elected leader and go to the booth to make their cross where their local clanhead told them to. Of course, America is right in propagating democracy as the form of government every country should strive for. But even if that is the common understanding in the western hemisphere, people elsewhere might not share that view. Then they’re wrong, you might say. And while I’m inclined to agree, you don’t teach that to several millions of people overnight. And if you take a few years time and that time is characterized by civil war, the lesson might prove counterproductive. Germans after WWII didn’t much need such a lesson, they had almost gotten there in the Weimar Republic.
Another good example for the fundamental difference of cultures here was the scandal around the Mohamed cartoons in 2005/2006. Of course, it was completely correct for e. g. the German government to say that it could not stop newspapers from publishing the cartoons, even if it wanted to, because of the freedom of the press. Many happy returns for that and thank goodness we have it. But saying that, one should be aware that that may not be enough, because to the average person say in Syria it may not at all be plausible. According to his experience newspapers would probably not even publish anything that might not qualify for approval by the government. And if the government needs to tell an editor to stop something, that would surely have the desired effect (plus probably some additional effects less desirable to the editor.)
Those things you need to acknowledge and take into account when you act in such countries. I am still waiting, no I’m craving, to see the U. S. display that kind of understanding to the world. Here’s something you could learn from the British, who are typically regarded (however justly, I’m talking about psychology) to treat people with more respect. However, I cannot help but be pessimistic about the learning curve, especially in Conservative America. As much as I dislike the term, it seems to hit the mark well describing a completely different kind of America. During the recent discussions about Sam Brownback’s statements around homosexuals in the army, I’ve been told (not only to get on with my life, which I’m trying 😉 ) that 9/11 has changed a lot of things and people just don’t want to approve of homosexuality. Well, 9/11 was a tremendous shock to us all and certainly has changed a lot, but it has not changed “the inherent dignity and […] the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family“. Also, I fail to see why it is so hard to understand that you can tolerate and acknowledge things without approving. Is there no way to tell people you disapprove of something without making them feel disrespected?