Thursday, November 03, 2005


As I mentioned below, Digby has a couple of really good posts today.

This one , by the other great writer on Digby's site tristero, particularly caught my attention. In the post, the efforts of Commander James Gavrilis in a small town in Iraq are discussed. With smarts, $3000, and utilizing the Iraqis, Commander Gavrilis made much progress in improving the community, a narrative of Americans really helping Iraqis.

Unfortunately, Gavrilis stayed in the town two weeks and the whole situation went to hell after he left.

The problem is that no matter how good a job they could do, inevitably someone would replace them who wouldn't do as good a good job, who didn't care as much, who wasn't as informed, who didn't have the same combination of street instincts, commonsense, and decency that led to a temporary positive outcome. The main point is this: As Commander Gavrilis himself notes, any positive development was temporary and highly contingent. Because so little can be depended upon in such a volatile, and little understood, situation - be it Vietnam or a town in occupied Iraq - reversals due to incompetence and unexpected problems are all but certain.
I completely agree with tristero's conclusion, but I think it slightly misses the mark on the explanation of why. There's a hint at the real problem and perhaps we mean the same thing. Let me explain.

Any beginning therapist learns of a concept that is always at work in families systems, homeostatsis:
The condition of a system when it is able to maintain its essential variables within limits acceptable to its own structure in the face of unexpected disturbances.
Put simply, any system (like a nation) has a set of values, standards and forces within it's boundaries that are self regulating. When there is an influence from outside the system, change will occur. But without persistent intervention on the system by the "change agent", the forces within will exert themselves with the goal of reversing the changes, returning the system to "normal" or homeostasis.

In psychotherapy it's exactly why a person, or family, can't go to a session or two and get "fixed". Change takes time, committment and a whole lot of reinforcement over an extended time for any changes to be cemented into a new "homeostasis". And even with all that work, changes are highly incremental.

Iraq is a very large, and very complex system with a homeostasis of it's own. When the American commander goes into the village, he disrupts the norms with influence, money, good works, ideas, guns, bombs, and laws. The intervention automatically sets off the counter forces within the community system. If the commander doesn't stay, those counter forces are unimpeded and the old homeostasis is returned.

This concept is precisely why there is an enormous difference in rationale's to go to war. A war to protect oneself is a conflict to maintain your own homeostasis. But a war fought to change another people is a conflict to change someone else's homeostasis, and it rarely if ever works. Homeostatic change virtually always occurs from within. Yes, outside forces can influence change. But the actual change, countering the forces against the change, and maintaining the new structure must occur from within the system.

This was our opportunity in Afghanistan; to maintain a very long term presence in a country sorely needing support, leadership and technology in a somewhat welcoming environment. We've had that opportunity twice in the past 50 years, and are in the midst of blowing it the second time.

Iraq is not, nor has it ever been a welcoming environment. Get rid of Saddam? Yes. But hang around? No way. Iraqis have their own standards and are far more prepared to establish their own societal structure, thank-you-very-much. American's will continue to die there as Iraqis continue to try and get that through America's thick head. And any real movement in Iraq in any direction will have to be self-motivated and self-actuated. And unfortunately, it looks like a theologically based Shiite structure is just what the doctor ordered.


At 1:08 PM, Blogger Lynne said...

Our intervention in Iraq has always reminded me of an officer responding to a domestic violence call. The woman, who was getting the snot kicked out of her a moment ago, suddenly turns on the officer and defends her husband. That's why more officers are killed in DV situations, and why our outcome in Iraq will mirror Vietnam.
If we are lucky.

At 7:39 AM, Blogger Greyhair said...

Wow, what a great analogy. That's exactly what it is.


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