Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I Hate It When A Theory is Right

One of the basic dilemmas facing academics is when they end up watching world events and find their theories confirmed--when their theories are confirmed by bad things happening.  I am currently working with a co-author on revisions of a paper that seeks to move the debates about intra-state violence (civil war, ethnic conflict, etc) from the absence of the state to the capacity of the state to the danger the state poses.  It is building on a volume I edited a few years ago.

Anyhow, one of the major points of the effort is to focus attention on how governments and their agents can be the sources of not just security but insecurity.  And in the news, it is clear that we are right, but unhappily so.  The Awakening movement (the Sunni-based effort that turned against the Sunni extremists like Al Qaeda in Iraq) that proved so central to the success of the surge and the relative successes in Iraq is now being targeted by someone.  The article specifies former Sunni insurgents as the threat, but my bet is on members of the Iraqi government. 
"We are being hunted down. It has never been worse. I have been targeted by roadside bombs six times in the past four months."
Strangely enough or not, this seems quite similar to the latest accusations against Karzai in Afghanistan.

I will be speaking next week at a conference largely consisting of Canadian and American Army folks, and one of the major points of the talk is that we need to remember that while we need to build up the capacity of the security forces in the countries we are working, we need to figure out ways to build restraints as well.  These security forces present threats to the populace if they are not used only against those who are engaged in violence.  If security forces are used against political opponents, then those opponents will have no choice but to become violent themselves.
"If the votes of Sunnis are ignored and the government is formed according to Iran's interests, and if Sunnis are still denied funds and discriminated against, then they will take up arms against the state." 

The good news is not just that these events make my work more relevant and thus both more publishable and more cite-able, but also help me to clarify my thinking.  Are the events bad news for the folks who live in Iraq and Afghanistan?  Yes, very much so.  Hence the ambivalence of the academic life.

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