Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Adam Garfinkle on Mali . . . and what we fail to learn

Adam Garfinkle

In "Mali: Understanding the Chessboard" (E-Notes, January 2013), Adam Garfinkle has some kind words about a prior American counterterrorism policy in Mali formulated by policymakers oblivious to its ethnic complexity and the implications of inadvertently favoring one ethnic group above the others:
Speaking of full-frontal ignorance, . . . the U.S. counterterrorism training mission in Mali made the stupefying mistake of choosing three of four northern unit commanders to train who were ethnic Tuareg . . . [W]hen the Tuareg rebellion in Mali gained steam after the denouement of the Libya caper, greatly stimulated by the return of heavily armed Tuareg brethren from that fight, these three Tuareg commanders defected to the rebels, bringing soldiers, vehicles, ammunition and more to the anti-government side. Anyone who was surprised by this is at the very least a terminal ignoramus. And anyone in the U.S. military who failed to understand the ethnic composition of the country's politico-military cleavages, such that he let U.S. Special Forces training be lavished on Tuareg commanders, was clearly insufficiently trained to do his job. And believe me, that's about as nice a way to put that as I can summon.
See? I told you he was being kind. He put his criticism as nicely as he could manage. He also has some kind words about the American assumption of Enlightenment universalism:
How do things like this (still) happen, after what we should have learned from years of dealing with Iraqis and Afghans and others on their home turf? I happen to know someone who teaches in the U.S. military education system, and this person happens to be a field-experienced Harvard Ph.D. in anthropology. This person tries very hard to clear away the thick fog created by the innocent Enlightenment universalism that pervades the American mind -- the toxic fog that tries to convince us that all people, everywhere, are basically the same, have the same value hierarchies, the same habits of moral and tactical judgment, and mean the same things by roughly comparable translated words.
I think I know the anthropologist he's referring to. Garfinkle's right that our military is still naive, but as he also points out, this merely reflects a larger American ignorance of something that Samuel Huntington tried to drum into our heads, namely, that the world is not as Francis Fukuyama expected at the 'end' of history, a triumph of bourgeois democratic values. Instead, there will be blood -- over clashes of values. But there's hope that we Americans might still learn, for the unnamed anthropologist keeps trying:
Sometimes this person senses success, because the Special Forces officers in class who are still climbing the promotion tree tend to "get it." They "get it" because they have collected personal experience -- whether in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Somalia, or Pakistan, or the Philippines, or even in Mali -- so that what they are learning in class corresponds to the realities they know. I have been to this person's classes on several occasions to guest-teach, and I agree: A lot of the guys (and the few women in the spec ops field) who have been on the ground do "get it." But it seems that a lot of their senior officers don't yet get much of anything at all. It is almost inconceivable that we could screw-up so badly, since understanding basic Malian circumstances isn't rocket science, as they say. So why did this get so thoroughly botched? I'm trying to find out; patience, please.
One thinks that 9/11 should have taught us that some groups don't even come close to sharing out values, but too many people still don't "get it." I'm all for Enlightenment universalism, bourgeois democratic values, and basic human rights, but I'm not naive. I know that a lot of cultural, religious, civilizational groups out there in the world are not for these things.

Some of these groups, such as those represented by the likes of Al-Qaeda, are even violently opposed to anyone anywhere holding to Enlightenment universalism, bourgeois democratic values, and basic human rights.

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At 10:55 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Once again, thanks for these very interesting insights into the international scenarios. I happened to read some articles about the situation in Mali, and from different standpoints, but this side of the problem was not mentioned. Now I get it! :-)

At 7:41 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

There are always consequences -- especially to ignorance!

Jeffery Hodges

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