Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Sirocco wind of change blows across the Middle East

Bahrain Protests
Lybian Protests
Egypt after the fall

Changes are afoot in the Middle East, or are they? As millions of what Professor and author Oliver Roy, has called the post-Islamist generation have taken to the streets to protest and call for immediate change in the governments that for some, have ruled since aniquity. Professor Roy writing in the New Statesman declares what we are witnessing is not an Islamic Revolution that threatens to underpin the West.
Look at those involved in the uprisings, and it is clear that we are dealing with a post-Islamist generation. For them, the great revolutionary movements of the 1970s and 1980s are ancient history, their parents' affair. The members of this young generation aren't interested in ideology: their slogans are pragmatic and concrete - "Erhal!" or "Go now!". Unlike their predecessors in Algeria in the 1980s, they make no appeal to Islam; rather, they are rejecting corrupt dictatorships and calling for democracy. This is not to say that the demonstrators are secular; but they are operating in a secular political space, and they do not see in Islam an ideology capable of creating a better world.

The same goes for other ideologies: they are nationalist (look at all the flag-waving) without advocating nationalism. Particularly striking is the abandonment of conspiracy theories. The United States and Israel - or France, in the case of Tunisia - are no longer identified as the cause of all the misery in the Arab world. The slogans of pan-Arabism have been largely absent, too, even if the copycat effect that brought Egyptians and Yemenis into the streets following the events in Tunis shows that the "Arab world" is a political reality.
Read More:
This is not an Islamic revolution

And along the same line, comes this first of several reports that will be filed by Andrew Exum, whose blog Abu Muqawama, has been a daily read since Andrew was a student at Kings College in London. Today, Exum is a fellow at the Center for a New American Security and is currently in Egypt where he filed this report.
First, there is a sense you get that many Egyptians honestly feel the only thing standing in between the Egyptian nation and greatness was the sclerotic Mubarak regime. Now that Muabark is gone, the military -- and whatever government that follows -- will naturally struggle to meet those expectations.
Second, the Egyptian people have now witnessed a dramatic display of people power: mass demonstrations effectively removed from power a man who seemed immovably secure in his post just one month ago. The incentives are there for every group of people in Egypt with a grievance (which is to say everyone) to now strike or demonstrate to see, in effect, what they can get. The military is growing increasingly frustrated with these demonstrations and has ordered them to cease. But the incentive structure is all wrong: even if you don't think you'll get anything, why would you not demonstrate right now? The worst case scenario is, you get nothing. But heck, you might get something!
One of the sources of the military's frustration leads to my third concern, which is the fact that even if the people have a valid grievance, there is no real authority to negotiate with at the moment. Egypt needs a transitional government of some sort, but right now, you've got people agitating for higher wages, back pay, and more reforms on the one hand, and a military on the other hand that is not prepared in the least to hear these concerns and act on them.

Read more:
Egypt Trip Report Part 1

Report Part II

How this will all play out is transformational history in the making. Will leaders emerge to consolidate the youthful passion and start the Egypt down the long road to connecting with the greater global community? As Exum points out the army of Egypt like our own army in Iraq and now Afghanistan is not equipped for nation building. As a measure of the kind of security needed to secure a country and begin recovery, we can pause and look at the U.S. Army in Germany after World War II. We had two armies made up of 12 divisions from 1945-1948 just in the American Sector. Troop strength in Iraq and Afghanistan were spread to the thickness of cellophane in comparison.

After many wobbly starts Iraq seems to have a functioning government that is counting the days to when the last American soldier leaves. Afghanistan is a horse of a different color and a people historically and socially operating in a different universe that either Iraq or Egypt and any other Middle East country. Afghanistan a country whose fractured mountain ranges make it's people as remote from each other as if they were living on islands.

Two things caught my eye this week about Afghanistan. Bing West has a new book The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan that looks at the war, the people who are fighting and the way out. Andrew Axum from the the previous piece reviewed West's book for the Wall Street Journal.

Bing West's "The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan" is one of the best books yet written on the war in Afghanistan. I disagree with the way Mr. West characterizes the war at times, but "The Wrong War" is filled with both vivid descriptions of the Afghan fighting and sound advice concerning how counterinsurgencies should be waged.
First, the grit. "The Wrong War" contains some of the most compelling descriptions of small-unit combat that I have ever read. Mr. West has argued in the past that the U.S. armed forces have lost their "warrior ethos" and calls them here "a gigantic Peace Corps." But these claims in no way square with what he depicts.
Read more at.
Small Wars Journal

Going hand in hand with West's book is this article from U.S. Army Combined Arms Center's Military Review. Lt. Colonel Michael C. Veneri, USAF wrote this about his tour of duty training officers at the National Military Academy of Afghanistan this past summer. His observations are the basis for what he describes is a metaphor for the U.S. effort in Afghanistan.

I spent a summer as the physical education (PE) mentor to the National Military Academy of Afghanistan’s (NMAA) Physical Education department. My predecessor had recommended that I bring some equipment, so I brought along 30 basketballs, 12 volleyballs, and 12 soccer balls, as well as a few American footballs. Another previous U.S. mentor had provided the PE department with an electric air compressor, one that charges a car battery, has a floodlight, and probably retails for about $50 at any auto store. I used this to pump air into a few balls when I first arrived. About a month later, I needed to fill up a few basketballs for some drills I planned to show the PE instructors. One of the Afghan PE instructors, a lieutenant colonel and the overseer of the air pump, grabbed the balls and began to fill one of them up.
I had been talking with my interpreter for a few minutes when I noticed the basketball was not getting any air. I pulled the pin out and found the clamp at the end of the fabric hose had come loose and some of the fabric had frayed. The pump was pushing air out but, because of the frayed fabric, air was not making it into the ball. The Afghan lieutenant colonel came over and told me it was not broken but that it would take time to fill up the basketball. I told him the pump was broken. He said no, it would take time. The equipment manager, a 47-year-old senior NCO who had been a colonel prior to Karzai’s arrival, came over to see if he could fix the pump, as did the boxing instructor. For the next ten minutes, three men, all 40-odd years old, sat befuddled before this air compressor as if it were some sort of an oracle.
After turning the air pump on and off several times, turning it upside down, and shaking it, the Afghans’ perplexity seemed to diminish when, through my translator, I said the fabric hose was frayed and was preventing a good seal. Ah, they could fix this problem. The boxing instructor knew what to do. He grabbed a role of scotch tape, provided courtesy of the U.S. government, and wrapped the frayed end with scotch tape—not duct tape or maybe even masking tape. While those products may have had a chance at temporarily fixing the problem, such items were unavailable at NMAA, unless a U.S. mentor provided them. In the spirit of the often-cited Lawrence of Arabia—that better they do it tolerably rather than I do it perfectly—I kept my mouth shut, waited, and watched as these three men worked the problem.

Lt. Col. Veneri goes on to discuss a fundemental difference between American and Afghan decision making.

Initiative, as a value, permeates American culture. In every aspect of U.S. society, someone thinks there is a better way; not so with the Afghans. I did not get any sense of a “can do” attitude from the PE department or from any other Afghan I encountered. They readily took what I provided— lesson plans, equipment, textbooks—but when I asked them how they planned on improving their lessons or expanding their curriculum or figuring out a supply system, they had no answers, no notion of how to improve, and no institutional mechanisms to foster improvement. The PE instructors told me I could provide them with improved lesson plans, but they would not do it themselves. I finally figured out that the level above them had to approve every change, which ultimately made the dean the one who determined what was best for the PE department, not the PE instructors themselves. This strict hierarchy prevented any type of decentralization of authority or primary level decision making. It also quashed any initiative from bubbling up from the bottom. While hierarchy is not new to military organizations and is a fundamental trait throughout Afghan culture, it proved incapacitating when I was trying to make changes within the PE department. Instructors could not change their syllabi or their method of teaching without supervisor approval.
Read the whole article
Multiplying by Zero
Major H/T to Kanani at Kitchen Dispatch for sending me this article. She has a major stake in what we are doing in Afghanistan as her "hubs" an army surgeon, just started his second deployment

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