From the Small Wars Council today, a link to an NPR interview and partial transcript:

“Hashim lists about 20 groups of insurgents, including nationalists, former Baathists, tribal-based insurgents and religious extremists. The groups say they want the United States out of Iraq, and they reject the U.S.-backed government, but they don’t agree on what they do want.

“If we were out of the picture, some of the insurgent groups could engage in bloodshed against one another because they have such different and disparate political views of the future of Iraq,” Hashim says.

Hashim, who teaches at the Naval War College, says he was surprised by how little the U.S. military understands about the culture, or “human terrain,” of Iraq. That includes “societal networks, relations between tribes and within tribes, kinship ties… what is it people are fighting for?”… “

Exactly. Not only is communication of the most basic intentions rendered more difficult but observation is profoundly altered by ignorance of cultural norms. How can you “peel off” the rationally aggreived from the intransigent power-seeker and or religious fanatic if you are unable to tell one from the other ?

Of course, some of it is common sense. ” Would you like it if someone did that in your mother’s house? ” as a recent top counterinsurgency expert put it, is a good first question to ask in terms of the message being communicatd.

2 comments on this post.
  1. Lexington Green:

    Ralph Peters has at least three articles which deal closely with this topic, The Human Terrain of Urban Operations and Our New Old Enemies and The New Warrior Class. These ideas have been kicking around for a long time — the oldest of those Peters articles is 10 years old. But the military chose to do nothing about them, and pretend it was going to somehow fight the Warsaw Pact after all, and now it is scrambling to do what it needs to do on the fly.

  2. collounsbury:

    It strikes me that this is effectively the same problem as the human intel problem.

    It doesn’t seem that the US Gov establishment has seriously developed this capacity as a general thing.

    Look at what happened with CPA-Iraq.