Sunday, October 10, 2010

Work the system - but don't kill it!

Three weeks ago I attended a workshop entitled "innovative strategy concepts". Holding the seminar was a professor who teaches at renowned universities in Germany and Switzerland besides doing consulting for international enterprises in all of Europe.

The workshop was full of revealing insights. One phrase struck a particular chord with me: in order for your strategy to be successfull, you have to work ON the system and not only IN the system. We all know that systems are hard to change. They are like a viscous mass, like an avalanche of mud, threatening to crush the individual standing in their way. How can we nevertheless change a failing system?

Let's talk about politics and war now. Would it be correct to say that politics is working in the system and war is working on the system? Certainly according to Clausewitz who said that war is the continuation of politics with other means. When working in the system doesn't achieve the desired results, you intensify the game by going to war, by trying to change the system by force.

How does this play out in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the current theaters of war for the United States (yes, Pakistan)? It seems to me that the US, first Bush and now Obama, tried and try to work on the system without even having tried to work in the system. They went to war against the Taliban in 2001 without having seriously talked to them beforehand. The US success is, by any account, limited at best. It's now not a matter of winning the war but of not losing it - the war, the battle of the media, the face. The outcome of the Afghanistan campaign is clear for quite a while: The foreign troops will have to leave the country, the Taliban will have a share of the government in Kabul and the Afghan system will once again have survived an attempt by outside powers to change it.

And Pakistan? Peace Nobel Prize winner Barack Obama is droning the hell out of the tribal areas in Western Pakistan. Just last week, eight German nationals were killed when a missile shot from a drone struck a mosque in Waziristan. I was anticipating an outrage in Germany, but nothing happened. The usually very critical Spiegel magazine barely reported the incident. Apparently people from abroad staying in Pakistan muss expect to be killed with no questions asked.

Is Obama working IN the system in Pakistan? No, and I guess, he can't, it would be much too complicated to do that. The Pakistani system is a web of feudalism, corruption and islamism, of intelligence services and the army - impenetrable and today not even guided and controlled by the Pakistani authorities themselves.

Is Obama working ON the system? If striking mosques with missiles is considered working on the system, then he is. But what is the intention? The "killing by drone" is of course disrupting the formation and movements of "elements" that one day might become terrorists trying to stage an attack in Europe or the United States. And the daring calculation may be that hitting the Pakistani system on its outskirts will lead to a change at the core. Well, I am not a professor of Kybernetics myself but I have never heard that a large system can be decisively altered that way. This "management by drones" is solely benefitting the European and American systems (if at all) while bringing the Pakistani system one step closer to the abyss and to implosion every day. Do we want that?

But much more worrysome is the change to "my world" in Europe that this policy of "striking people before they strike" is about to bring. Obama is taking the Bush doctrine of 2002 down to the micro-level. Bush stipulated the explicit right to preventive US military intervention when a specific state threatens the US "national interest". Bush was a big business oilman used to dealing with big entities. Obama is a former social worker; his field is the singular human being. He nurtured them in Chicago, now he kills them in Waziristan. His strategy of extra-judicial killings is bringing back the good old CIA days (or is there a difference in quality between killing a president and eliminating a bearded potential militant from Germany? They are both human beings.), his policy of pre-emptive strikes is a way of dealing with this question that not even Bush could have executed better. Whoever told us in Europe that US Democrats are more "into peace" (or shall I say: are less hawkish) than Republicans? It is the same misconception as contending that left leaning people are better people than right leaning people. (How many millions were killed under the communist regimes of Stalin and Mao?)

Our own system is in jeopardy when we keep trying to change the systems of Afghanistan and Pakistan the way it is done now. Extra-judicial killings and striking presumed militants - in short: PRE-EMPTIVE JUSTICE - means the abolition of our justice system and will lead to a further brutalization of our society that will be hard to stop. Where will this end? Will police forces in Paris or New York soon ask for the same empowerment, killing criminals before they commit a crime? Are we nearing the age of "Minority Report"?

Working IN the system or working ON the system? I believe that working on the system from within the system will yield the best results. But this is a long process and people tend to get impatient. And politicians even more so: in a democracy they have only four years, maybe eight years, to prove their value, to build THEIR legacy. But let me quote my professor again: "Every problem that can't be solved in three months is a fact." The war is Afghanistan goes on for nine years now!