US policy in The Middle East is like the Indian fable of six blind men who are led to an elephant and draw conclusions based on whichever part of the animal they happen to touch; i.e. the man who feels the tail says it is like a snake, the tusk like a spear, the ear, a fan and so on. From the outset, many of the people who have been active in designing our role there are not so much Middle East specialists as they are supporters of special interests in the region, always touting their favorite reasons for going to war and their special methods of measuring progress. The current administration continues to operate on the basis of carefully selected intelligence and random strategies for future success.
For example in notes taken by a student at the Naval War College on General Abizaid’s recent speech there, the point is made that out of 18 Iraqi provinces only 4 are roiled by insurgencies, that Iraqi forces are large and growing and that many good things have been accomplished in terms of schools and hospitals built. It isn’t that these statements are untrue but, rather, that they represent a particularized point of reference. As one journalist pointed out on Sunday, 51% of Iraq’s population resides in those “only 4” provinces where violence is most profound. And estimates of Iraq’s military capabilities vary with every report from the field.
Abizaid targets Al Quaeda as the primary enemy and probably most people can agree about that. Unfortunately, Al Quaeda was not a major presence in Iraq before we invaded but has now become interwoven with insurgencies, civil disputes and general unrest. We have helped to create a monster in place of an ousted one, and just what the General warns against – – allowing Al Quaeda to get a hold in any country – – is actually the biggest danger we now face. He suggests that 2006 will be a transition year in which Iraqi forces will take greater control thus allowing American forces to become less of a presence so that a moderate Iraqi government can succeed. It is still an open question, of course, whether a moderate government is what will finally emerge as the defining force in Iraqi society.
Still, goals, however well intentioned, do not represent a framework for success. We continue to be encumbered by haphazard planning and incompetent civilian leaders who don’t seem to understand that propaganda and coherent strategies aren’t the same thing. We are governed by people who, for all their bravado and bombastic pronouncements, are incredibly unsophisticated when it comes to any real understanding of the world and other cultures. They are like the six blind men who grasp only a small portion of their surroundings and call it reality. American poet, John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887) was inspired by the fable to write a poem, a portion of which follows:
And so these men of Indostan, Disputed loud and long
Each in his own opinion, exceeding stiff and strong
Though each was partly in the right and all were in the wrong.
So oft in theologic wars the disputants,I ween,
Roil on in utter ignorance of what each other mean
And prate about an elephant not one of them has seen.
How sad it is that our current leaders provide so little sound leadership but seek to control us by keeping us confused and afraid. Clarity and honesty would bring not only a refreshing change in our political landscape but might provide a more enlightened approach to the problems we face in an increasingly complicated and dangerous world. Unfortunately, we are led by people hampered by a crippling lack of vision – – As my father used to say, there are none so blind as those who will not see.