Small Wars Journal

9/12/2011- The Next Decade

I walked into the home to meet with the elder.  The air sparked with tension and fractured distrust in anticipation of the mediation and growing frustration over the escalating violence between the families, tribes, sects, and surrounding neighborhoods.  As the elder and I met, our eyes parsed with a sense of posturing selectively sizing up the opponent.  Questions arose in this sense of immediacy.

Can I trust him this time?  What does he want?  Is he on our side?  Should I recommend to the boss that we should assassinate or lock him in prison as part of our kill/capture pacification program?  His security forces killed four of my boys last month.  I want to shoot him now.  My hand tenses in reflection and reaction ready to grab my glock from the holster, point, and fire in route memorization from hours of practice at the range.

Should I bribe him in the hope that he can become empowered within the community to support the US-backed government?  These questions slip along the slope of my own morality and values shifting my set perception of known rights and wrong, black and white.

What is the right thing to do now?  What do I do now?  Can I live with my decisions?  Will God ever forgive me or have I violated the sacred trust and sentenced to damnation?

What the hell are we doing here?

While this excerpt describes my personal experience in one village during one tour in Iraq, it could be attributed to any of the American Army, Marine, Special Forces, Foreign Area Officer, State Department official, or CIA officers deployed to hostile areas in third world countries throughout the last sixty years to shape the United States Foreign Policy. 

In my mind, this confrontation is the moment where the policy and theory meets the practice.[1]

Yesterday, we paid tribute to the men and women murdered in the violent hate crime that was 9/11.  We spent the last decade confronting this evil constantly trying to understand why they hate us.  We exhausted trillions of dollars and countless lives trying to counter this hate.

Today, I would ask that you take some time to consider the men and women out on the periphery of modernity entering the breach in small villages and neighborhoods shaping policy one meeting at a time.  Their tasks range from conflict resolution, bribing, coercion, to influence.  They will stretch and exhaust their own values, morals, and beliefs in these confrontations.

Why do we ask them to take these risks?  Is this the best way?  What should we do better?

I remain convinced that the steps that we take today and tomorrow will determine the real history of 9/11 and the future of the United States. 

[1] Having the opportunity to share these narratives has been my primary drive and blessing in working with Small Wars Journal.  Most recently, Rory Hamlin shared his experience in Afghanistan, Jim Gant is executing his plan to convert One Tribe at a Time, and I’m finalizing a book review on Jason Whiteley’s Father of Money: Buying Peace in Baghdad.  But, we have a long history of these tales that can perhaps provide us with a common understanding.  In Vietnam, we have Robert Andrews’s The Village War, Bing West’s The Village, and Terry Turner (David Donovan)’s Once a Warrior King.




A larger view is needed, I believe, to address your question re: the next ten years.

Herein retired COL Bacevich, in 1998, appears to have shed some light on what America has been doing for the last century, and what it will likely be doing in the current century as well. (Note: This is not the same article from COL Bacevich I sent on an earlier thread.)

Thus, we may need to constantly remind ourselves that our foreign policy goals, and our efforts undertaken to achieve these goals -- yesterday and today -- were not shaped by 9/11, per se. But, instead, by a far larger and much more long-term vision.