Thursday, 26 May 2011

Lessons from History help Middle Eastern Wars and Constitutions

By Lorianne Updike Toler

It seems constitution-writing isn't the only profession that could stand to learn from history.  According to an article in yesterday's Financial Times, the Iraq war was turned around thanks in part to learning from history.

The article attributed the turnaround's beginnings in Tal Afar.  The army had cleansed the city of insurgents on several occasions who then would return to their desert base.  This allowed insurgents to return and win the locals over.

Yet when assigned to Tal Afar, Colonel H.R. McMaster put his PhD in history to work and did things a little differently:

"[McMaster] was well equipped to identify and implement a variation of successful counter-insurgency tactics that had been used, for example, by the British in Malaysia."

Although criticized and passed over for promotion for doing so, Colonel McMaster applied some of these tactics in bucking standard operating procedure and occupying the city.  This put his men at greater risk in the short run, but his decision proved correct within a couple months as locals were eventually won over by the army's commitment to the city.

Soon, his tactics were shared via unofficial channels--word of mouth, pithy emails, bulletin boards, and Powerpoints.  Then it was endorsed by Petraeus and soon become universal.

Learning from history breeds success.  I believe a similar historical approach would help us turn around current constitution writing practices and processes, which I believe are ineffective, undemocratic, and, for being the law to rule all other laws, hardly a process I would say models (let alone exemplifies) the rule of law.

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