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Plan “C” is for Culture: Out of Iraq, Opportunity

July 7, 2007

Recent post-conflict operations in a growing number of areas around the world—Bosnia, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq, to name a few—have shown a need for a new set of cultural insights with which to inform government policies and new cultural skills with which to complement the combat competencies of intervention forces. Marine General Anthony Zinni famously termed cultural awareness a “force multiplier.” Parallel to Washington’s nonmilitary efforts at inspiring reconciliation in Iraq, the Multi-National Command in Iraq is seeking to achieve its goals by boosting the cultural skills of its forces. Some speak of cultural awareness and others of cultural competency, but little clarity exists as to what is meant, how much of it is needed, and how to get it.

In the absence of reliable, evidence-based answers, partial solutions are pursued, without a consistent approach. Ranging from ultra-short language warm-ups to cultural profiling, from the establishment of a special civil-military force to outright bewilderment at the “complexity” of crosscultural equations, the response to the perceived need has been spotty at best. There seem to be few if any places to which governments can turn for trustworthy policy recommendations pertaining to foreign interventions in societies radically different from those in Western Europe and North America, or where military and civilian organizations can acquire the potentially life-or-death cultural skills to help achieve post-conflict objectives in challenging overseas deployments. Traditionally, language schools pay only ancillary and anecdotal attention to the needed cultural questions, their expertise rarely being applied-anthropological in nature.

The small though growing field of diversity training is no good fit either, since it is focused almost exclusively on workforce diversity in Western societies and the practical problems of expatriate elites. Though the acquisition of any local cultural knowledge may be better than none at all, the hitherto haphazard way of pursuing policy and spending public coin is less than promising in practice and less than satisfactory in principle. As argued and outlined below, efforts of a different quality are needed. A new perspective is offered, an impartial and nonpartisan professional 2 proposition for changing the nature of foreign interventions, such that they may offer a platform for constructive social change. After the 2003 invasion and the 2007 troop boost, the time is right for a plan “C.” Focusing less on the central government of Iraq and more on the roots of the rising carnage, it shows a way to help that country build a better future, to assist the world in confronting multiethnic tensions, and to facilitate the reduction of foreign troops, costs, tensions, stigma and violence.