Counter-Terrorism: The Trust Gap


November 16,2008: American Civil Affairs troops are finding that the same problems that produce terrorists, also interferes with improving the economy, creating jobs, and giving young men something better to do than killing each other. Basically, people don't trust one another. It's not just the tribalism (wherein you at least trust members of your own tribe), but also the generations of being ruled by tyrants. The concept of democracy and civil society (everyone working together for the common good) is not unknown, but it is also something few people in Iraq or Afghanistan have experienced. This has tangible, and demoralizing, consequences.

The major problem with all this distrust is the difficulty in getting people to cooperate with each other, even when doing that will benefit everyone. The mistrust is both cause, and result, of the corruption that is endemic throughout the region.

The histories of Europe, China and a few other areas make reference to the establishment of a civil service. But this event deserves more credit than it usually gets, because lack of honest and competent government officials means there will be little economic progress or social justice. One reason democracy flourished in the West was because it was a way to keep officials honest. Thus the phrase, "vote the bum out." Some of the bums are clever enough to get reelected despite their corruption. But that is the exception (that tends to get more ink), rather than the rule.

People in Iraq and Afghanistan know about how much better things are in the West, which is why some many of them try to move there. But many Iraqis and Afghans also believe that good government can, eventually, be developed in their countries. The problem is, no one knows exactly how this will be accomplished. Civil Affairs officers who look for historical examples find that honest government in Europe and China developed under monarchies that simply wanted more efficient government. Democracy came later in the West, inspired by the examples in Britain and Switzerland (where it evolved) and the United States (where it developed even before the revolution against British colonial rule.)

These examples are not encouraging, because they reveal a process that took generations to develop. Iraqis and Afghans striving for the kind of government Westerners take for granted, are confronted by thousands of years of tradition, and armed traditionalists who are willing to kill to preserve the bad old ways.


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