Will More U.S. Troops Make a Difference?
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott. More U.S. troops are arriving in Baghdad today to help Iraqi security forces quell growing political and sectarian violence. The reinforcements arrive on a day when more than 25 people were killed, including mourners struck by a suicide bomber at a funeral. Military commanders in Washington this past week warned that Iraq is headed towards civil war. The situation in Iraq is no surprise to two former U.S. Army officers who've been working closely with Iraqi troops as well as Iraqi tribes and religious leaders. Dave Scholl and William McCallister shared their thoughts from Iraq with NPR's Jacki Lyden.
JACKI LYDEN reporting:
William McCallister is a former Army major with extensive experience in special operations in conflict zones from the Balkans to Baghdad. David Scholl is a former Green Beret, Arabic speaker and veteran of the first Gulf War. Among the many things on his resume, he trained the new Iraqi Army's non-commissioned officers in the summer of 2003. But these tag lines don't embrace the diversity of the former soldiers' combined experiences in Iraq. What David Scholl really has been, and it has often put him at odds with his Army brethren, is a total immersion operator, a cultural translator who's adopted an Iraqi identity. Dawud is Arabic for David.
Mr. DAVID SCHOLL (Former Green Beret): In much of Iraq I'm known as Dawud Al-Baghdadi(ph). The name and the character which I developed as this alter ego is actually still out there today. There's still rumors about Dawud Al-Baghdadi being seen here and down there, and so he still lives.
LYDEN: William McCallister, who has partnered with Scholl on many of his projects, was a military advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority, or CPA. Ambassador Paul Bremmer was the head of the CPA. McCallister was responsible for reaching out to the tribes and he quickly got frustrated with the Americans. In 2003 he tried to set up a meeting between the CPA and a powerful Shiite ayatollah from the South.
Mr. WILLIAM MCCALLISTER (Former U.S. Army Officer): He was looking for a padrone, and the padrone was the Sheikh of Sheikhs, which was Ambassador Bremmer.
ELLIOTT: The Ayatollah offered to bring 400 key sheikhs into the fold who had pledged their loyalty to the CPA if Ambassador Bremmer would just say we're here to be friends with you.
Mr. MCCALLISTER: They were seeking to establish a relationship that is very normal to how business and politics are conducted here in Iraq.
ELLIOTT: The day was set, the table laid, the flags flying. McCallister had the sheikhs, their representatives, their representatives' representatives. He had a number of imams in attendance, and of course the Ayatollah. He lacked only one thing, the CPA representative. McCallister was furious.
Mr. MCCALLISTER: I confronted that individual and at that point the individual responded to me very seriously that, well, you know, this was never going to happen because, we are here - and this is a quote and it's tattooed on my brain - we are here to emancipate the individual from the oppressive tribal system.
ELLIOTT: McCallister retired from active duty, but both he and Scholl vowed to learn the tribal system to the best of their ability. As for the, quote, emancipating the individual from the oppressive tribal system, McCallister points out that in Iraq it is the tribal hierarchy over the group and the group over the individual that defines Iraqis, something he says the U.S. military has never fully grasped and all too often responded to with force. Iraq, says McCallister, is a skein of dominant tribal systems and sub-tribes dating back centuries, predicated on the harsh conditions of land and water and grazing rights and trading. Personal standing is paramount for negotiations to take place.
Mr. MCCALLISTER: In this country, it's a zero sum game. We can't make the pie bigger. There are only so many grazing areas in a desert or rocky area. There are only so many water sources. There are only so many assets that a tribe can gain and that's one of the functions of the tribal sheikh, is to be able to gain access to patronage.
ELLIOTT: And that is why, says McCallister, that the traditional counter-insurgency doctrine of winning hearts and minds doesn't work. McCallister favors something even more basic: understanding a cultural concept he calls shame and honor and respect. These concepts have a different meaning, he says, in Iraqi tribal culture. The concept of shame and honor is as important as land and water.
Mr. MCCALLISTER: Shame and honor in essence is a finite resource. It's a coin, it's a currency, and it is traded as such. Whereas we in the West will talk about baking a bigger pie. There's always more to go around. That's not the case here. So if I, by giving a soccer ball, by building a new school, the way I am interpreted by an Iraqi is that I am gaining honor because, look at me, look at what I am doing. I'm going honor at his expense, so I am giving him some of my shame, in return taking some of his honor and adding it to my store of honor. And if we understand that, maybe we would not focus so much on hearts and minds and focus more on shame and honor, and from that, tolerance.
ELLIOTT: From his part, David Scholl claims to have gone to extremes. At least as Dawud Al-Baghdadi. He speaks of having been beaten in Iraqi detention and then having tea with his captors. He says he's bartered for compensation for the U.S.-caused death of an Iraqi teen and then being treated by the family as a son. But for all the investment of U.S. time, military might and money, says this former Special Forces soldier, he says it's too late for the U.S. military to act this way.
Mr. SCHOLL: It's not getting better because the situation three years ago, two years ago, and maybe even a year ago, doesn't exist today. When we started, we were the occupier and we were in charge. As time transitioned, what the Iraqi people think of when they look at Americans and who they think we are, it's all changed dramatically, and we don't have the prestige or the promise. We don't have the carrots and we don't have the big sticks. The mission is different, the threat is different. Everything about today is different, but winning honor and respect with the Iraqis, that's not really a job for the military anymore.
ELLIOTT: And if the opportunity for the military to affect the outcome of the war has passed, Scholl hopes that the ancient art of negotiating still must have a chance for success. Not on American terms but perhaps on ones Iraqis understand and value.
Mr. SCHOLL: They tell us how it is to negotiate with them, how to be successful, what they want and what they don't want. We didn't listen. We came in with a different set of rules, coming in and talking about a utopian democracy that's going to point the way for a new Middle East, things that had no basis in reality whatsoever. If we would then and if we will now understand the society that we're dealing with, we will be able to understand that we're not in charge here. The problem in Iraq today is not the fault of the United States military. It's not going to be resolved by United States military. We're not in control, but we are a player. Once we understand the situation, we can play effectively toward an outcome which is better for the Iraqi people, better for the United States, and will help us in the very near future in this war that we're facing on the horizon.
ELLIOTT: David Scholl is a former Green Beret and independent contractor in Iraq. William McCallister is a former U.S. Army Major, currently a senior security analyst for an American company. They spoke from Iraq, where they have largely been these last three years. Jacki Lyden, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.