February 26, 2008


Yep, we're invested.

Sitting on a bunk in Bravo Company's outpost, Staff Sgt. Corey Hollister noted the irony that, even as the debate in America remained bizarrely unaffected by the reality around him, "It's really military personnel and their families who don't want [the Army] to leave Iraq."

My husband is frustrated that he could've spent six months learning Farsi only to deploy to Iraq (where no one speaks Farsi). He would've rather learned Arabic then. He wants to be able to communicate with the people, wants to read as many books as he can about Sunnis and Shiites and Arab culture, wants to get another chance to participate in this war. Not for the killing but for the cultural cross-pollination.

And indeed, there's cross-pollination:

Officers in the Grand Army of the Tigris, as one of its senior officers calls the American force, dine with local elders at "goat grabs," greet them with "man-kisses," and routinely punctuate their own conversations with the casual "insha'allah." The vernacular has even followed the Army home: In the halls of the Pentagon, where nearly every Army officer has served at least two tours in Iraq, officers ask whether this or that official has "wasta"—Iraqi shorthand for "influence" or "pull," though with a slightly more corrupt tinge.

It's the military families that don't want to leave Iraq because they are the ones who've become invested. They're the ones who are getting steeped in this culture and looking for ways to make it compatible with ours. And they're the ones who understand the little picture as well as the big one.

My husband has always said that Iraq has way more than a problem between Sunnis and Shiites, because even in all-Shiite villages, there are still feuds. Between this group and that, this clan and that, this cousin's branch and that, this side of the street and that. Put two Iraqis in a room together, and they'll find something to divide them. So I got a kick out of this:

This much was evident at a gathering of 20 local elders, where a young captain named Palmer Phillips cajoled and corralled sheiks three times his age. "Hey," Phillips admonished the feuding tribal leaders, "There can't be anymore of this Dulaimi versus Assawi action going on."

The soldiers on the ground are working with the nuances and getting physically and emotionally invested in the outcome. Really, really invested. And they don't want to fail. But most of all they don't want to be sent home before they have a chance to succeed.

Read the whole article.


Also read Gordon Alanko's Reconstructing Relationships. "Juggling kittens" indeed.

Posted by Sarah at February 26, 2008 10:49 AM | TrackBack

Interesting perspective Sarah, thanks for the link.

Posted by: tim at February 26, 2008 12:13 PM

I tried to explain this once to a civilian friend of mine, who got annoyed at me. I was telling her that the military and their families are really the only ones that have to sacrifice for this war, and it's never been that way in the past. We have so much more of a vested interest that we stay there until the job is done--because we are the ones who understand what it all costs.

Posted by: Ann M. at February 26, 2008 05:00 PM

"a young captain named Palmer Phillips cajoled and corralled sheiks three times his age"...and when these soldiers come home, and some of them leave the military and seek civilian employment, imagine how valuable this kind of experience will be. An awful lot of business involves leadership and influence, including influencing people over one doesn't have formal authority. I think 6 months negotiating with sheikhs is a kind of learning experience you just can't get in b-school.

I wonder how many companies will be astute enough to realize this?

Posted by: david foster at February 26, 2008 06:21 PM

it's too bad your potus didn't take any interest in their culture before invading. maybe you would have succeeded by now

Posted by: none at February 27, 2008 11:03 AM

This could almost sum up conversations my husband and I have had. He's working with IA this deployment and did on the last deployment as well and thoroughly enjoys the unique experience (and unique challenge) he is part of. I don't talk about this much to civilians because they just don't get it, they aren't invested like we are.

Posted by: Stephanie at February 28, 2008 03:29 PM