Saturday, June 20, 2009

Piling On

Who'd've thought, Starbuck beat me to the punch on this article from the Stars and Stripes about leadership in the ISF and how it occasionally rubs US Forces a little raw. Great post, I'll just through in a couple of random thoughts from a slightly different perspective.
On Inshah'allah: Literally meaning, "If God Will's It," it is used in conjunction with almost every declarative statement of intent by ISF leadership. While I initially had the same view of it as Starbuck does (and he ID'd the SOUTHCOM analogy, too, dammit), my interpretation of Inshah'allah has grown a little since I've been here. The usual American's interpretation, as Starbuck points out, is that the phrase means "maybe it'll happen, maybe it won't, who knows? Only God. But if God wants it to happen, that means I really don't need to lift a finger, now do I?"
Now, I see it as "It'll happen, I'll try to make it happen, but of course only if God wills it." Generally hearing that term is a positive thing. "It's going to happen if I have anything to do with it, but I'm being respectful and acknowledging that God, too, must want this to happen." Kind of like our vestigial pagan phrase "knock on wood." Much less encouraging is when you hear mumkin (maybe) or bukra (Egyption dialect for tomorrow, which does mean the same thing as it does in SOUTHCOM).
-On the rapport building with counterparts: Sometimes, though, we misinterpret Inshah'allah because we're missing the import of the entire conversation. Many times, if he has an option, an Iraqi, or an Arab, won't tell you "no." Many Amriiki's think that they've got great rapport built with their counterparts because they never tell them no, but then that same American will complain about the counterpart's whole fucked up Inshah'allah philosophy on execution, so nothing ever gets done. In fact, the guy never meant yes when he said, "yes, Inshah'alla." He's just too polite to tell you to go pound sand. You, as the requestor, are supposed to be polite enough to realize, after being told "yes" four or five times with nothing happening, that yes means no. Is that clear enough? I got this "yes, but get the friggin' hint" bit of wisdom from Dr. Nydell, when she was my Egyptian dialect instructor, and it has always served me well. I'm pretty sure she didn't say friggin', though; she's a lady. Oh, and all my myriad failures at Arabic linguistics are my fault, the poor Doctor did what she could, but c'mon, I could be the poster boy for a GIECO commercial.
On ISF effectiveness: Starbuck astutely notes TE Lawrence's advice that that it is better that the Arabs do their business in Arabia tolerably than to have Westerners do it perfectly. But it's more than that; although we are orders of magnitude better than the ISF at any type of military operations, the ISF will always be more effective than us at battling insurgents here and making Iraq secure and stable. Commanders who don't get that the ISF is the sole viable defeat mechanism for insurgents and jihadis in Iraq are in denial. This is a hard fact to acknowledge. When you midwife an operation with the Iraqis, you're going to get stuck with an ugly baby. But it's going to be the only kid that'll survive to adulthood, so you better love it. Making the ISF the face of Government of Iraq credibility and legitimacy will mean putting up with a lot of ugly babies, but it's the only option that will work.


  1. Friggin' well said...

  2. And to think, if it wasn't Taco Friday, I wouldn't have run across that newspaper in the john.

  3. I think the word for that is "serendipity."