Empty Days

Sunday, April 04, 2004



Iraq - outsider insider view

From that Instapundit flourish of links, here's an interesting one (Belgravia Dispatch) by a guy whose friend is currently one of the CPA negotiators in Iraq. There are excerpts from his email on the state of affairs there and how americans are talking to Iraqi representatives. It's a long "dispatch". The man speaks no arabic ("After three weeks in Baghdad, my Arabic comprehension remains more or less de minimus") and he says he spent three years "advancing democracy in Russia". He probably never learned Russian either :) I have to wonder what he's doing in Iraq but there is every likelihood that there was simply no one more knowledgeable to send.

The man is very self-assured as to what he's doing and how to do it - from reading his email you'd think it's all going just great. But this part caught my eye:
"Of course I know what federalism means," the cleric scoffed, "it comes from the Greek root meaning unitary state." Unclear on the precise etymology myself, I let this slide, and tried to get back to the principle of our discussion. So it's a good thing, I prompted, don't you think? The room erupted again into unhappy murmers, and he stared back at me with a stony look that let me know I'd missed the apparently classic Arab double-entendre. Oh, I continued as if I'd just stumbled on the actual meaning of the word, you mean it's actually a backroom deal, reached conspiratorally, that ensures a tyranny of the minority? His face lit up and his eyes warmed considerably. The growing roar of murmers ebbed back to silence, broken only by the angry footsteps of a Kurdish participant who got up and left. Things were going badly--I should have guessed this by my translator's increasing nervousness and the growing visibility of our plainclothes security staff around the exits of an otherwise sleepy Baghdad auditorium--but I pressed on. Can it really mean both things? Why don't you just tell me what you really think? An impolitic question, sometimes, in the New Iraq.
Heh, it sure looks like there is an almost hilarious lack of communication between CPA and Iraqis at this point. With negotiators who are unclear on the most basic stuff and having to read body-language of their translators to get a clue. Sounds and looks like a bad hollywood movie about some foolhardy american promoting his glorious ideas and body-language in some wilderness to uncivilized natives.

At least you can clearly see just how much respect this guy has for those folks. They probably thought him pretty dumb too - and rightly so. I don't know: can you really achieve understanding and lasting accords without mutual respect? Not in my experience.

Let's just hope it's all nothing but an awkward dab at satire.

***

I recently read something by a western journalist in Iraq who, among other things, mentioned that during the three-week invasion when American troops shot quite a few civilians, full families etc, on the highways because they didn't stop their cars - you know why that happened? Because Iraqis are unfamiliar with the typical western gesture of "slow down, stop"... A little thing that can mean the difference between life and death.

Example: do you know that there are vast regions in India where folks say "yes" not by nodding but by shaking their head right-and-left, which in the West means "no". Ooops. Imagine how you gonna misread that body-language if you go in there without a clue. (I worked in a housing project once and that's where I experienced this first-hand: trying to explain some obvious stuff to a Pakistani Indian guy who obviously understood but kept shaking his head in protest:)

I can't blame the troops - I am so fucking sorry for those young GIas who had to look at the kids they've just blown to pieces. Guess who deserves that particular blame? And it's still going on big time - this same stupidity, and for that particular stupidity you cannot blame the rank-n-file, never.

Peacekeepers are trained in these little things. Because in peacekeeping that's what's important - communication. Americans in Iraq now are very far from that stage - and their commanders and officials are even farther.





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