November 24, 2005

"To Americans, genealogy is a hobby. To Iraqis, it is honor..."

I found very interesting an article by Michael Rubin on Ahmad Chalabi in National Review. (You can read the beginning here. But you have to be a subscriber to read the rest.)

...While the CIA has politicized its intelligence products to support its own proxies, its analytical failures go beyond institutional axe-grinding. Most analysts are in their 20s and 30s; recruited fresh out of college or graduate school, few have significant experience in the countries to which they are assigned. Security officers look with suspicion on anyone with too many foreign contacts and too much time spent in adversarial countries. While many CIA analysts gain book knowledge of their subjects, they lack cultural understanding. They study politicians, but have no sense of personalities. Too often, their products reflect mirror-imaging of the analysts’ own thought-processes into their subjects. Cultural equivalence, too, pollutes analysis: Family may be important to Americans and Iraqis alike, but it means much more for Iraqis. To Americans, genealogy is a hobby. To Iraqis, it is honor.

And here Chalabi has an advantage. Chalabi’s grandfather built modern Kadhimiya, a sprawling Shiite town that has since been absorbed into modern Baghdad; his father was president of the Iraqi senate during the monarchy. Genealogy gives gravitas. In contrast, even as Iraqis suffered under Saddam Hussein’s rule, they expressed disdain for Saddam with reference to his uncertain paternity. (In post-liberation Iraq, the CIA’s blind eye toward genealogy has been evident in its embrace of powerful Baathist families — the Bunias and al-Janabis, for example — even as many Iraqis dismiss such figures as déclassé and embarrassing beneficiaries of Saddam’s largesse.)....

....While all the other Governing Council members appropriated large houses abandoned by officials of the previous regime, Chalabi returned to his family’s home — and the symbolism was clear to Iraqis. Ayad Allawi, in contrast, hemorrhaged support after accepting a house in the Green Zone and employing American security contractors. ...
Posted by John Weidner at November 24, 2005 1:52 PM
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