Michael Ledeen argues that we need a new strategy to win in Iraq. I happen to agree with him that far, although I differ on the practicalities. Ledeen wants to widen the war to Iran and Syria. I want to change the form of the war in Iraq.
Consider this post from the Mesopotamian, addressed to President Bush:
The bones in the mass graves salute you, Avenger of the Bones.Islam is not, as it has become fashionable to call it, a religion of peace. Islam is a heroic epic. The core ideal of Islam is that the Muslim is joined in a great war to bring the whole world under the peace of rule, not according to fallible human rules, but according to the revealed design of God. That is an epic struggle, and the Muslim is encouraged to think of himself as a mujahid, one of the holy warriors in the fight.
Hail, Friend and Ally, Hail, Sheikh of Sheikhs, GWB; Descendant of the Noble Ancient Celt.
It happens that this fits perfectly with tribal culture. The philosophy of the tribe is informal--that is, it is the natural philosophy of mankind. The bonds of family are to be defended; the power of the family, extended. Peace can finally be had only by destroying those outside the family, or by bringing them within the family. This is the mujahedeen's ethic. It is the ethic of jihad. This is why the tribal parts of the Islamic world have been a strong recruiting ground--Baluchistan, for example, and the Pashtun regions of Afghanistan.
It is also why Islamism is appealing to those radical young Muslims who have been educated in the West. In the Western philosophy, they see an abandonment of this older, traditional ethic, this natural ethic which feels so very right because it comes from our evolved nature. That is a core problem that needs to be fixed if we are to achieve a lasting peace.
The road forward, for the West, is to reinvigorate our own tradition of the Heroic Ethic. I have argued this before, in a piece suggesting the outlines of a new philosophy, one that would answer the Islamist writings of Qtub, on which al Qaeda's on arguments are based. The core of this argument is this: a man who has familiarized himself with the Beowulf, the Iliad, the Odyssey, or the Icelandic sagas, knows exactly what he needs to know to treat with Islamists, both tribal and modernist. A man who has learned all of these epics can not only treat with them, but give them better than they ask. He can convert them--not away from Islam, which there is no cause to do, but away from Islamism, and toward the West.
Let us return to the specific example of Bush's Thanksgiving visit to Iraq. What does it mean to be "Avenger of the Bones?" It seems little notice has been taken of it by the administration; they may think it is an honorific, that it means nothing at all. The opposite is true. It is a title, one that personalizes the American effort and brings it within the circle of the tribal ethic. 300,000 dead fill Iraq's mass graves. The tribal ethic of vengeance requires that the families of those dead take revenge as they can. The Avenger of the Bones is a formal, natural ally--a man to whom loyalty and gratitude are owed. If I were the President, I would be trumpeting that new title from the rooftops. It is one that every Iraqi will understand, and very many--the families of 300,000--will feel called, by their own culture, to respond to with alliance.
Consider the "humiliation" issue. We have heard from everyone that our acts are humiliating the Iraqis. It's humiliating to be searched; to have your house searched; to have your women and children searched; etc. All that may be true, but we have no option--the enemy has chosen to use women and children as bombs.
The way forward? Avenge the bones. The humiliation of the living can't be avoided. We can make up for it by showing honor to the dead. By making the identification of bones, and their return to their families, a priority of our operation in Iraq, we can show the dead a respect that we can't affort to show the living. Think on the positive effect it would have on US operations for us to stage ten public funerals every day, with military honors, for the bones of those dead and identified in Saddam's mass graves. For one thing, it would reduce recruitment for attacks on US convoys--you would not know which ones contained a funerary detachment that might be coming to your own home, to return a brother or a cousin. For another, showing the Iraqi dead the honor we show our own fallen heroes can overcome the humiliation issue. We can solidify our position as "Avenger of the Bones," a friend to the dead, an ally in the duty of vengeance.
Consider also hospitality, another heroic duty. What does it mean that there are many areas of tribal Iraq where Americans only travel in heavily armed convoys? CENTCOM ought to be arranging dinners with tribal chiefs. Go and take dinner with the chief of a tribe, in his home. Take your bodyguards as far as his door, but not into his house. Eat his food, and share his water. Then, make it a point to push this behavior down the chain: so that soldiers regularly accept invitations to dine, trusting in their hosts to protect them, and so that tribal figures are regularly asked to dine with Americans in our tents. Do this, and their honor will be concerned with protecting you. Hospitality will fight the war for you: their honor will demand it.
This is what I wrote about in the essay above, under the heading of "frith." There is an Islamic mirror. It is called the "Covenant of Security". This is how you build a state that even the Islamist must feel obliged to protect. Personal honor, and the heroic ethic, alone can do it. They can do it because the ethic is already native to the men and women of Iraq. Nothing need be changed, except on our end.
On our end, the change is easy. The U.S. military is the segment of American society best suited to undertake a renewal of the Western heroic ethic. Very many of them--particularly in the Marine Corps and SOCOM--already believe in it. Even outside of SOCOM and the USMC, the military is disproportionately Southern, and American Southerners believe in the old heroic ethic, and love it. All that is necessary is to explain the particulars: the general standards are present and accounted for.
The heroic ethic will take us forward to victory, in Iraq as elsewhere. It is the best kind of victory--not the one that destroys our opponents, but the one that brings us all within a family. Just as Saladin sent his personal physicians to treat Richard the Lionheart, as he had come to respect and love that man's courage and chivalry, so can we today win the hearts of our enemies. It is time to make right the opportunity missed between Saladin and Richard, who almost concluded a marriage pact that would have joined Islam and Christendom in friendship.
It was only between warriors that such a peace could be made. It is only between warriors that it can be made today.