About those expert-sounding discussions of Iraq’s politics by Americans…

Sites such as Abu Muqawama often have discussions of Iraq politics (an example here).  One the interesting aspects of these is the confidence of the participants in their understanding of Iraq’s society, in their forecasts about the evolution of Iraq’s politics.  How many of them speak the languages of Iraq?  How many know its history and culture?  Certainly some, but not necessarily the ones with the greatest self-confidence in their predictions.

Contrast that with the similar discussions of US politics by Americans.  How many Americans correctly forecast the winner of the primaries before the first one, only five months ago (New Hampshire on 8 January)?  Accurate forecasts about our own society is almost impossible.  How much more difficult is forecasting events in a far-distant land, whose culture and history are so unlike our own?

Things we do not understand so often seem simple — other people’s businesses, other people’s societies, other people’s marriages.  I described another example of this in A NY Times reporter proves that we still do not understand Iraq

Do we see hubris at work here?  Might this hubris, even arrogance, limit the effectiveness of our COIN operations?  As the saying goes:  it’s not what we don’t know that sinks us, it’s what we know that ain’t so.

Please share your comments by posting below.  Brief!  Stay on topic!  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling)

For more information about the Iraq War

  1. My posts about the war
  2. Important articles about the Iraq War– include some about our use of airpower.
  3. Our goals and benchmarks, and reports about progress towards them  

3 thoughts on “About those expert-sounding discussions of Iraq’s politics by Americans…”

  1. Edward Fenton

    IMHO, Juan Cole’s blog at Informed Comment tells us what’s actually going on in Iraq. And yes, Cole’s an American.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Prof Cole is on the blogroll, and frequetnly quoted here. I agree that he provides useful information, giving one perspective on events in the Middle East. That he is an ur-source, telling “us what’s actually going on in Iraq” seems a bit of an overstatement. He does not hide his biases, and they must be considered when reading his site.

  2. There’s a natural tendency in news reporting and commentary to be there first, get ahead of the story. So people make predictions (guesses) based on incomplete information.

    But this is not bad in itself. We all do it everyday, for example, in ducking off the freeway onto a side road when you think you are seeing signs of a huge traffic jam up[ ahead. Besides this, there is a tendency, especially in far right and far left commentators, to be contrarian. Nothing wrong with this either, since conventional wisdom is often false.

    We are all so inundated with information these days, that often the best we can do is read the signs, guess at the shape of emerging events. The only virtue is in being modest in one’s assertions. But that goes against the primary journalistic imperative of being interesting.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I agree; well-said!

  3. It was quite common, back in the pre-1945 colonial times, to read Western authors telling us “what the natives really think”. The British and French – i.e. the colonial powers – were probably best known for this; read any of Kipling’s later India stories where he stops talking about the British in India (whom he knew and loved) and starts talking about Indians. Almost every actual Indian who has commented on Kipling’s work has said something like “Lovely man, loved India, wonderful storyteller. Knew absolutely jack squat about Indians”.

    I see this as just old ghusl-kana product in new bottles. The Westerners, wise in the Ways of the Orient because they are rich and modern, are inveighing solemnly about things they know little or nothing about. “Things you know that ain’t true”…indeed!

    The difference know is that the assault rifle, the contact detonator, the cable news network and the low Western birthrate have made combined to make colonialism a much more bloody and near run thing. We can no longer count on being able to slay Afridis where they run with impunity. Making the things we know that aren’t true not just difficult but deadly.
    Fabuis Maximus replies: Thank you for this comment! I did not know that about Kipling, but obvious once expained.

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