This blog has often argued that US foreign policy community suffers from a deficit of knowledge in the Middle East, but the Times piece both expands on that conclusion in geographic scope and sharpens it. From Gaza to Iraq to Afghanistan to Pakistan, one hears a lot these days about tribe and clan. The US in Anbar province in Iraq and the British in Helmand province in Afghanistan have both seized upon tribal leaders as key allies in stabilizing countries without an effective political center. A deeper commitment to understanding these cultures ensures that the military isn't just talking to the right people, it's talking to the right people in the right way. Quite frankly, one can't have much confidence in the American government on this score when one reads:
Yet, despite calls for a deeper appreciation of cultures far from the mainstream, “the United States government hasn’t been willing to pony up the money to educate” policy makers on “these areas with deep nomadic traditions,” said a Central Asia specialist working for the United States government. The official requested anonymity because he was not cleared to speak with reporters.This is frightening. Moreover, this revelation of ignorance lends an air of the surreal to the Democratic presidential aspirants' debates over hypothetical invasions of tribal Pakistan. (I for one feel that Barack Obama's ship is balanced precariously on the crest of a wave of no mean size after the senator's "robust" defense of his foreign policy credentials).
“It takes a half a million dollars and four or five years to train a specialist in these parts of the world,” the official said. “Even now we hardly have anyone up to speed about the border areas of Pakistan or the tribal politics of Somalia.”