Concerning my SWJ Blog post - The MEF Engagement Model and Al Qaeda -- Brian H. comments:
I think the analysis is somewhat overblown and abstract. There are other forces at play, now, in particular the existence of a central government which is selected formally by democratic means. The current compromise with sectarian or tribal blocs is unstable and will gradually or quickly erode under the pressure to actually perform. This provides a kind of power base for the Sattars of the world which is distinct from the traditional system; specifically, the ability to bridge the needs and wishes of a populace and the power levers and structures of a formal central government (and/or provincial government, as elections for those proceed.)
So the dynamics of tribal dominance and power-playing will probably fall into a degree of eclipse as it becomes clear they cannot access resources and make enduring agreements with wider communities inside Iraq. It will be telling if Sattar makes a move to become an "independent" player in the democratic mode. This would signal that evolution is proceeding apace.
As my reply is rather long for the comments section at the original site I'll post it here:
Thank you for your comments and the opportunity to engage you in conversation concerning perceptions and culture. I understand that your comments did not specifically address perceptions or culture for that matter but that is precisely the starting point for this conversation as well as any discussion concerning the conundrum that is Iraq or the global war on terror for that matter. Please accept my response in the spirit intended, specifically to further the discussion. "I would not speak so boldly if it was my due to be believed."
I will address your first sentence directly. You state that "the analysis is somewhat overblown and abstract". Firstly, it is not a stand-alone analysis but a model. The model is intended as a tool; a means to structure our analysis as to what may actually be happening on the ground and why. It is intended to be an abstraction. It is a model and therefore an abstraction of the culture and society we are engaging. You may well be correct in your assessment that the model is overblown so I won't argue that point. I will ask that we might discuss your definition of "overblown" over drinks... I'll buy.
I firmly believe that the vital component of any COIN design is to effectively communicate intent within the cultural frame of reference of the target audience. Your comments lead me to believe that you have misunderstood the intent of the "model" which leads me to further suppose that you may not have actually studied the "engagement model" itself for it explicitly states that we are not talking about "tribes" but a "tribal ethos". The briefing introduces the concepts of "cultural operating codes" and coordinating messages" and how these influence and shape behavior in a tribal society, or stated differently, a society whose behavior is based on the tribal ethos.
The greatest challenge we all face, and many of your comments reflect this challenge, is our reluctance to see the "other" as they are or believe themselves to be and those motivating factors that shape behavior and decisions. Not everyone thinks or behaves the way we do. It is interesting to note that in your case I have failed to effectively communicating intent and will attempt to adapt my approach to fit your cultural frame of reference.
Before I delve into your points at hand I must ask you to "think-outside" your cultural frame of reference box for a moment and enter the Iraqi box. Secondly please take some time and consider the political formula and social contact that governs relationships between individuals, groups, organizations and institutions in the United States. I have my own thoughts on the matter, but I ask that you define these in your own mind. Then I ask you to consider whether the various ethnic and sectarian populations in Iraq adhere to the same formula and whether their actions are governed by a similar social contract. The answer to that question establishes the baseline for further discussion. I submit to you that the various ethnic and sectarian populations in Iraq do not adhere to the same political formula or social contract as we do and it is therefore hazardous to judge, characterize and shape events, whether social, political, economic or martial without taking the Iraqi cultural frame of reference into account. The subsequent discussion therefore is from an Iraqi point of view or at best an appreciation of the Iraqi point of view that an outsider like myself might believe it to be.
Before I address each one of your specific points I must reintroduce the cultural operating codes, coordinating messages as well as the dynamics of the system model as a reference. Cultural operating codes are rules of conduct that define the range of actions and the ideas of individuals and groups within a social system. They determine what to do and what not to do, how to do it or not to do it, whom to do it with or whom not to do it with. They dictate under what circumstances behavior will shift and change. Coordinating messages are culturally-accepted themes that resonate among members within the society and shape their behaviors and decisions. The system model is based on David Pryce-Jones' livelong study and experience in the Arab world. The operating codes and coordinating messages are mine and are based on years of personal study and four years of continuous service in Iraq; much the result of trial and error and adventure learning, especially in regard to my personal interactions with tribal and political leaders.
Power holders do not and can not hold mutual or agreed ambitions and so are in perpetual and violent competition as they test one another. A commitment to one by definition incurs opposition of an ally's rival. It is impossible in practice for a power holder to have an assortment of clients, and therefore parties fluctuate between loss and gain. All members of the system are employing the same tactics of seeking more powerful sponsors, recruiting others and countering potential challengers by all means available such as conspiracy, assassination and murder (assassination is akin to a no-confidence vote and murder an accepted mechanism to maintain a semblance of competing party membership parity). Any power holder will switch sponsorship if advantage can be gained and is vulnerable in turn by an internal challenger whom might switch sides if it benefits him. The system is self-regulating and places constraints on the incumbent and challenger alike. The moment the challenger initiates action and begins to eliminate rivals, he begins to encounter opposition. The stakes increase until failure to deal decisively with a rival becomes tantamount to one's own death sentence. The system/model is not populated with "moderate" actors and is in a constant state of flux. The various actors continuously assess their relative power position in relation to their allies and opponents. They strengthen relationships with select allies, let others lapse; and mobilize new ones to keep their networks operational. Conflict is the norm and an accepted part of the system and serves as a means to activate and evaluate relationships. Leadership in this system, as in the tribal system, is based on the "ability to attract and keep followers" vice "ability to enforce". The social system is subject to its own cultural operating codes and coordinating messages and therefore subject to analysis and shaping.
Cultural Operating Codes
2. Segmentation of tribes
1. "No stability without us"
2. "What have you done for lately...what will you do for me tomorrow?"
"There are other forces in play, now, in particular the existence of a central government which is selected formally by democratic means." I submit to you that the "forces" in play are the cultural operating codes and coordinating messages and not the "existence of a central government which is selected formally by democratic means". Have you asked an Iraqi lately what he considers "democracy" or what he thinks about the democratically elected central government?
"The current compromise with sectarian or tribal blocs is unstable and will gradually or quickly erode under the pressure to actually perform." What are the assumptions on which this statement is based? The system works on establishing patronage/security relationships. Holders of power and their allies in the various ministries such as the Ministry of Health, Education, Interior or Defense for that matter are not beholden to the entire polity but only to those in their respective patronage/security system. The development of a patronage system is the result of the segmentation process that occurs as related groups join or alliances of interests are created. All parties, whether Da'wa, Fadilah, Organization of Martyr Sadr (OMS), Iraqi Islamic Party, Supreme Council of an Islamic Iraq, etc, are maneuvering and establishing their relative power positions in relation to their allies (based on the segmentation principle) and opponents. I venture to say that your comment is based on the assumption that the central government will assume responsibility for the welfare of all Iraq's inhabitants. This is not the case.
The concept of "the people" that is implied when reading between the lines is an American concept...not Iraqi. Secondly, your position that "the current compromise with sectarian or tribal blocs is unstable and will gradually or quickly erode" is too simplistic especially since "compromise" and alliances (expressed in patronage relationships and territorial control) is the very foundation upon which the political system is based. It will experience fluctuations as relationships evolve and alliances are renegotiated but it will not gradually or quickly erode. It did not do so under the Saddam regime nor will it do so now.
"This provides a kind of power base for the Sattars of the world which is distinct from the traditional system; specifically, the ability to bridge the needs and wishes of a populace and the power levers and structures of a formal central government (and/or provincial government, as elections for those proceed.)" I agree that patronage and the leader's ability to attract (segmentation principle) is the foundation of any potential power base in this part of the world, specifically the ability of a leader or leading family to provide for their specific kinship group and affiliated allies and associates. It is even more important to obtain coveted posts such as ministry posts that provide access to "honor, guns and money" and ability to sustain the patronage relationship and retain power. I personally observed meetings between Sheikh Sattar and the Anbar Governor where discussions focusing on access to the levers of power, read access to funds and contracts, were highly contentious. Sheikh Sattar required access to the sources of patronage in order to "attract" more followers and the Governor sought to block his access so as to be able to "attract" followers to his group. This dynamic is played out across the political spectrum at each level of governance whether at the national, provincial, district or local levels. If you like I am also prepared to address the dynamics in play if we wish to discuss "elections" in more detail. Suffice it to say the same dynamic, operating codes and coordinating messages are in play in this field as well as is the system's model available for reference above.
"So the dynamics of tribal dominance and power-playing will probably fall into a degree of eclipse as it becomes clear they cannot access resources and make enduring agreements with wider communities inside Iraq. It will be telling if Sattar makes a move to become an "independent" player in the democratic mode. This would signal that evolution is proceeding apace." I do not wish to sound arrogant or condescending but on what information do you base your comment that "the dynamics of tribal dominance and power-playing will probably fall into a degree of eclipse".
Firstly, the tribal system in general and its individual actors (tribes and sub-tribes) in particular react early to keep any one tribe from attaining tribal dominance. If my four years of studying the tribal system and dealing with tribes in Iraq has taught me anything it is that David Pryce-Jones' model is accurate to a T. Although the western press continues to focus exclusively on Sheik Sattar and the Sahawa al Anbar movement, it seldom addresses the push-back the Albu Risha (Sheikh Sattar's tribe) are experiencing from other tribes in his quest to renegotiate his tribes' relative power position within the Dulaym Federation as a whole. Quoting Gertrude Bell at this point is appropriate "the tribes are at their best when in splendid equilibrium".
Secondly, the quest for "agreements" between tribes (segmentation principle) in their quest for access to patronage/security and control of territory is how the political system works... period... whether we are talking tribes or political parties.
Thirdly, representational government exists in Iraq. It has always existed in the tribal house where all decisions are based on consensus. Majority rule does not govern in Iraq. If seven out of ten Sheikhs agree, no Sheiks agree for ten out of ten Sheikhs must agree hence the coordinating message "no stability without us". A group may seek to impose its solution without the required consensus building if it is —to accept the inevitable push-back from those that were not consulted or included in the decision. Never forget, fighting is a form of negotiation in this part of the word. Sheikh Sattar is not able to become an "independent" player for he and the Albu Risha are dependent upon the constellation of allies that Sheikh Sattar is able to "attract" to the Albu Risha and maintain through a patronage relationship. One of the greatest misconceptions we have is that Iraqi society shares our "cult of the individual" (one of our operating codes). It does not. The tribal ethos fosters a multiplicity of compact groups-ethnic, sectarian or economic-all vying with and suspicious of each other. The focus of each group is to survive and prosper and they can do so only if they preserve and reinforce the corporate pattern. Iraqis do not focus on the individual but rather on the tribe or the community of interest and let the tribe or the community progress as a whole. The Sahawa al Anbar is transitioning into a political party but not in accordance with American norms nor can it for Iraqis are not Americans. I am not sure whether you would agree that this constitutes evolutionary progress, whatever that means, but it is all Iraqi, the good, the bad and the ugly.
Thank you for this opportunity to discuss the model and its cultural operating codes and coordinating messages. It is not my intent to convince you that it is an appropriate tool to study and appreciate Iraq's cultural environment. I can tell you that we are applying the model in Anbar province and it helps us to appreciate the cultural operating environment better.
COIN in a Tribal Society - SWJ Blog
Methodology for Tribal Structure Analysis - PowerPoint Brief