FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Why They Throw Rocks

Last week, suicide car bombings left around 200 Shiite pilgrims dead and scores more wounded in Iraq. How did the locals respond? By blaming the Americans. U.S. troops, including medics who were trying to help the wounded, found themselves attacked by stone-throwing mobs. Similarly, in Haiti, when gunmen opened up on a demonstration by Aristide opponents, the locals blamed American Marines for the casualties.

What gives? Neither the American soldiers and Marines on the spot nor American citizens at home can understand why we get blamed when Iraqis or Haitians kill each other. After all, we didn’t do it.

The answer gets at what the state is all about, or should be all about, and why the state is failing in so many parts of the world: order.

As Martin van Creveld writes in his important book, The Rise and Decline of the State, the state arose, in Europe starting in the 15th century, to bring order. Not freedom, not capitalism, certainly not democracy, but order. Between the decline of the High Middle Ages and the rise of the state, Europe was plagued by disorder, often in the form of roving bands of armed men looking for employment as soldiers. Being skilled in the use of arms and semi-organized (and not having much to lose anyway), if they saw something they wanted, they took it. That meant not only money but the food a family had stored to get it through the winter, along with their warm house; women; boys and young men, to fill up their ranks; horses and other livestock; in short, anything. What they did not steal they destroyed, just for the fun of it. And seeing how long they could keep someone alive under torture often provided an evening’s entertainment. Life was Hobbesian – nasty, brutish and short – for anyone without a castle.

The state promised to restore order, and in time it did. As the state spread throughout the world, usually in the form of European colonialism, it made that same promise good beyond Europe. While the state added qualities beyond order as it developed, its legitimacy still depended on upholding its first promise, maintaining order. And it still does so depend.

That is why, in countries such as Iraq and Haiti, the locals blame us when order breaks down. As the occupying power, we are responsible for maintaining order. That is true under international law as well as in the eyes of the local people. We are the state now in those places, and when order breaks down, we – the state – have failed.

Why do we fail? Any battalion commander in Iraq can easily answer that question. We have far too few troops to do the job. We do not have, and for the most cannot get, effective human intelligence. We do not understand the local culture. “Force protection” keeps us isolated from the local population, and effective policing, which is what keeping order requires, demands integration with the people. As a state military, we are designed to fight other forces like ourselves. Our own rules of engagement keep us from simply hosing crowds with machine-gun fire, and when that happens anyway, it just creates more enemies. There is also the legitimacy problem: because we are a foreign occupier, many locals who want order nonetheless feel compelled to resist us.

But these local answers do not address the whole problem. It is not only “over there” where the state no longer brings order. In developed countries, including Britain and the United States, the state has also broken its contract. It no longer effectively provides order on its home soil. In Britain as in the United States, one of the fastest-growing industries is private security. Gated communities are the new castles. My own office on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., is in an area plagued by high levels of crime. The city that wants to rule the world cannot maintain order one thousand yards from the U.S. Capitol Building after nightfall.

The state’s growing inability to maintain order, in Baghdad or in Washington, is a primary cause of its intensifying crisis of legitimacy. The remedy is not to be found in new techniques for our troops to use in Iraq or Haiti, or for police to use here at home. In the end, it requires not just new people at the head of the state, but a different kind of people, people who genuinely see themselves as servants of the state, not as racketeers gratifying their own vast egos and enriching themselves, their families and their supporters. That, unfortunately, is a tall order, in Haiti, in Iraq or in Washington.

WILLIAM S. LIND is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.

 

 

More articles by:

WILLIAM S. LIND, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.

June 18, 2018
Paul Street
Denuclearize the United States? An Unthinkable Thought
John Pilger
Bring Julian Assange Home
Conn Hallinan
The Spanish Labyrinth
Patrick Cockburn
Attacking Hodeidah is a Deliberate Act of Cruelty by the Trump Administration
Gary Leupp
Trump Gives Bibi Whatever He Wants
Thomas Knapp
Child Abductions: A Conversation It’s Hard to Believe We’re Even Having
Robert Fisk
I Spoke to Palestinians Who Still Hold the Keys to Homes They Fled Decades Ago – Many are Still Determined to Return
Steve Early
Requiem for a Steelworker: Mon Valley Memories of Oil Can Eddie
Jim Scheff
Protect Our National Forests From an Increase in Logging
Adam Parsons
Reclaiming the UN’s Radical Vision of Global Economic Justice
Dean Baker
Manufacturing Production Falls in May and No One Notices
Laura Flanders
Bottom-Up Wins in Virginia’s Primaries
Binoy Kampmark
The Anguish for Lost Buildings: Embers and Death at the Victoria Park Hotel
Weekend Edition
June 15, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Dan Kovalik
The US & Nicaragua: a Case Study in Historical Amnesia & Blindness
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Yellow Journalism and the New Cold War
Charles Pierson
The Day the US Became an Empire
Jonathan Cook
How the Corporate Media Enslave Us to a World of Illusions
Ajamu Baraka
North Korea Issue is Not De-nuclearization But De-Colonization
Andrew Levine
Midterms Coming: Antinomy Ahead
Louisa Willcox
New Information on 2017 Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Deaths Should Nix Trophy Hunting in Core Habitat
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Singapore Fling
Ron Jacobs
What’s So Bad About Peace, Man?
Robert Hunziker
State of the Climate – It’s Alarming!
L. Michael Hager
Acts and Omissions: The NYT’s Flawed Coverage of the Gaza Protest
Dave Lindorff
However Tenuous and Whatever His Motives, Trump’s Summit Agreement with Kim is Praiseworthy
Robert Fantina
Palestine, the United Nations and the Right of Return
Brian Cloughley
Sabre-Rattling With Russia
Chris Wright
To Be or Not to Be? That’s the Question
David Rosen
Why Do Establishment Feminists Hate Sex Workers?
Victor Grossman
A Key Congress in Leipzig
John Eskow
“It’s All Kinderspiel!” Trump, MSNBC, and the 24/7 Horseshit Roundelay
Paul Buhle
The Russians are Coming!
Joyce Nelson
The NED’s Useful Idiots
Lindsay Koshgarian
Trump’s Giving Diplomacy a Chance. His Critics Should, Too
Louis Proyect
American Nativism: From the Chinese Exclusion Act to Trump
Stan Malinowitz
On the Elections in Colombia
Camilo Mejia
Open Letter to Amnesty International on Nicaragua From a Former Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience
David Krieger
An Assessment of the Trump-Kim Singapore Summit
Jonah Raskin
Cannabis in California: a Report From Sacramento
Josh Hoxie
Just How Rich Are the Ultra Rich?
CJ Hopkins
Awaiting the Putin-Nazi Apocalypse
Mona Younis
We’re the Wealthiest Country on Earth, But Over 40 Percent of Us Live in or Near Poverty
Dean Baker
Not Everything Trump Says on Trade is Wrong
James Munson
Trading Places: the Other 1% and the .001% Who Won’t Save Them
Rivera Sun
Stop Crony Capitalism: Protect the Net!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail