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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Iraq solution: better advertising

A story in The Washington Post regarding a $400,000 Rand Corporation study about "re-branding" the occupation of Iraq to make it more consumer friendly to Iraqis is one of the most asinine things I have seen lately.
In an urban insurgency, for example, civilians can help identify enemy infiltrators and otherwise assist U.S. forces. They are less likely to help, the study says, when they become "collateral damage" in U.S. attacks, have their doors broken down or are shot at checkpoints because they do not speak English. Cultural connections -- seeking out the local head man when entering a neighborhood, looking someone in the eye when offering a friendly wave -- are key.
Yep, people have a hard time helping you out when they are dead. Good lord.

But the article gets worse:
Wal-Mart's desired identity as a friendly shop where working-class customers can feel comfortable and find good value, for example, would be undercut if telephone operators and sales personnel had rude attitudes, or if the stores offered too much high-end merchandise. For the U.S. military and U.S. officials, understanding the target customer culture is equally critical.
Yes, the "target customer" is important in Iraq. And you can't make this stuff up.

Obviously what we need to do is stock Iraq with cheap Chinese plastic crud and have an old guy stand at the border going "How ya doing?" If anyone tries to join a union we can fly in some executives from Arkansas to have a little talk and rally with free cheesecake and muffins. That should do it.

It just gets more painful. Here Duane Schattle of the Joint Forces Command extols the value of a business oriented approach:
"We want to look at new concepts, new business practices, to see if there are things that we can learn," he said. Since his office was established after the U.S. military issued a new doctrine for urban warfare in 2002, "we've been collecting lessons learned from all over the world," he said. "Not just Iraq and Afghanistan, but places like the Philippines and South America. Wherever there have been fights, we went out and looked at them."
Okay, it's good that the Pentagon studies things, but if anyone seriously thinks that our woes in Iraq can be helped with better advertising, they are deluded. It's not that Pentagon types don't know their jobs, it's that the Bush administration eroded whatever chances we had after the initial invasion by sending political operatives to oversee Iraq instead of career military and diplomatic personnel.

The shorthand for that disaster, headed by Coalition Provisional Authority head L. Paul Bremer, became known in blog circles as "The Young Republican Office on the Tigris." Everything this administration has done domestically or internationally has been in the context of the attempted Rovian "permanent majority." From the Justice Department to the U.S. Supreme Court to Iraq, all they care about is holding power. If they could prove that a flat tax or a stock market scheme or some variant of health care deregulation worked in Iraq, that would teach those dirty hippie Democrats back home a thing or two. Sadly for all involved, especially Iraqis, the entire lunatic plan foundered on Republican ineptitude combined with cultural realities on the ground.

The analogies presented in the WaPo article are all wrong, and strike me as superficial. If Wal-Mart came to your house in the middle of the night, took your sons to prison and then rode through your neighborhood every morning in armored vehicles, exactly what kind of "branding" would it take to win you you over?

People don't like their country being occupied. We learned that during the Vietnam War. That is not to say, as conservatives like to suggest, that all progressives are against military force. But when deception followed by bad execution followed by administration stubbornness has a vast majority of the American people convinced that we need to start planning to exit, it's time for a change.

The Middle East is dangerous, but that's not an excuse for continuing a failed policy ad infinitum. Our Iraq policy may be hurting our ability to deal with places like Pakistan, which at last glance has not only harbored al-Qaeda but also has nuclear weapons and serious internal strife. The United States may possess awesome military power with dedicated service members, but every country has finite resources. We need to focus better.

Real leaders and real political movements adapt to changing circumstances. Whatever the tenuous justification originally was for invading Iraq, those who insist on never, ever changing that policy just to punish the "dirty hippies" in America are doing us a great disservice. If anyone can make a real case for how staying in Iraq is helping either us or the Iraqis, beyond the usual platitudes and useless World War II analogies, they should make it or admit that we need to start planning to leave.

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