Many people more qualified than I have commented on why the war in Iraq has been such a hard slog. I know honest people who believe that the war was at best a terrible mistake and at worst an evil conspiracy. However, I do not believe that the war was a mistake. I still think it was the right course of action. I was in favor of the war before it began and I had no illusions at that time that it would be easy, short, or wildly successful.
Aside from the debate over the motivation and justification for the war, there has been plenty of criticism about how the war has been conducted. Certainly there have been plenty of mistakes and bad decisions. However, realistically there is no such thing as a strategy or plan that can guarantee victory from the outset. Enemies are not automatons whose reactions can be perfectly calculated, anticipated, and prepared for. They are intelligent, creative people who are unexpectedly inventive and cleaver.
Winning a war is in some ways like writing a computer program. No matter how well you think you know the parameters from the outset, it is an ongoing iterative process of constant adjustment, learning, refactoring, rethinking—and it usually takes longer than you expect.
The change in strategy nicknamed “The Surge” that happened in Iraq this year appears to be working. The numbers of both civilian and soldier deaths have significantly dropped for a sustained period. That doesn’t mean that the enemy might not find a way to counter our strategy, but we have reason to hope that we can be victorious.
What has been the central obstacle to stability in Iraq? Thousands of well qualified pundits have analyzed this problem with many different answers.
I would like to offer a very Mormon perspective to that question.
Lately I have thought that the people of Iraq would benefit greatly from widespread reading of The Book of Mormon, not because of its theology, but because of what it teaches about government stability.
The central obstacle to stability in Iraq is the same as in the Book of Mormon: Secret Combinations.
The term “Secret Combination” is probably unfamiliar to non-Mormons. A Secret Combination is “an organization of people bound together by oaths to carry out the evil purposes of the group.”
The Book of Mormon describes one such group this way:
And they did enter into a covenant one with another, yea, even into that covenant which was given by them of old, which covenant was given and administered by the devil, to combine against all righteousness.
Therefore they did combine against the people of the Lord, and enter into a covenant to destroy them, and to deliver those who were guilty of murder from the grasp of justice, which was about to be administered according to the law.
And they did set at defiance the law and the rights of their country; and they did covenant one with another to destroy the governor, and to establish a king over the land, that the land should no more be at liberty but should be subject unto
At least a portion of The Book of Mormon is given to demonstrating how Secret Combinations destroy civilizations and warning against them. In the book, the prophet Moroni writes :
And it came to pass that they formed a secret combination, even as they of old; which combination is most abominable and wicked above all, in the sight of God;
For the Lord worketh not in secret combinations, neither doth he will that man should shed blood, but in all things hath forbidden it, from the beginning of man.
And now I, Moroni, do not write the manner of their oaths and combinations, for it hath been made known unto me that they are had among all people, and they are had among the Lamanites.
And they have caused the destruction of this people of whom I am now speaking, and also the destruction of the people of Nephi.
And whatsoever nation shall uphold such secret combinations, to get power and gain, until they shall spread over the nation, behold, they shall be destroyed; for the Lord will not suffer that the blood of his saints, which shall be shed by them, shall always cry unto him from the ground for vengeance upon them and yet he avenge them not.
Wherefore, O ye Gentiles, it is wisdom in God that these things should be shown unto you, that thereby ye may repent of your sins, and suffer not that these murderous combinations shall get above you, which are built up to get power and gain—and the work, yea, even the work of destruction come upon you, yea, even the sword of the justice of the Eternal God shall fall upon you, to your overthrow and destruction if ye shall suffer these things to be.
Wherefore, the Lord commandeth you, when ye shall see these things come among you that ye shall awake to a sense of your awful situation, because of this secret combination which shall be among you; or wo be unto it, because of the blood of them who have been slain; for they cry from the dust for vengeance upon it, and also upon those who built it up.
For it cometh to pass that whoso buildeth it up seeketh to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries; and it bringeth to pass the destruction of all people, for it is built up by the devil, who is the father of all lies; even that same liar who beguiled our first parents, yea, even that same liar who hath caused man to commit murder from the beginning; who hath hardened the hearts of men that they have murdered the prophets, and stoned them, and cast them out from the beginning.
Wherefore, I, Moroni, am commanded to write these things that evil may be done away, and that the time may come that Satan may have no power upon the hearts of the children of men, but that they may be persuaded to do good continually, that they may come unto the fountain of all righteousness and be saved.
Because of this Book of Mormon theme of Secret Combinations, many Latter-day Saints are predisposed to believe in Conspiracy theories of secret cabals plotting to overthrow the U.S. Government. (I have mixed feelings about such theories. Read my previous thoughts on the subject: Conspiracy Theories).
Some months ago I was reading this excellent article written in June by David Kilcullen , who is a Senior Counterinsurgency Adviser, a civilian position, on the personal staff of American General David Petraeus, explaining the reasoning behind the new “Surge” strategy. I noticed a striking similarity between his description of the actions of the enemy in Iraq and the Gadianton Robbers (who are the primary example of a Secret Combination in the Book of Mormon).
(a.) The enemy needs the people to act in certain ways (sympathy, acquiescence, silence, reaction to provocation) in order to survive and further his strategy. Unless the population acts in these ways, both insurgents and terrorists will wither, and the cycle of provocation and backlash that drives the sectarian conflict in Iraq will fail.
(b.) The enemy is fluid, but the population is fixed. (The enemy is fluid because he has no permanent installations he needs to defend, and can always run away to fight another day. But the population is fixed, because people are tied to their homes, businesses, farms, tribal areas, relatives etc). Therefore—and this is the major change in our strategy this year—protecting and controlling the population is do-able, but destroying the enemy is not. We can drive him off from the population, then introduce local security forces, population control, and economic and political development, and thereby “hard-wire” the enemy out of the environment, preventing his return. But chasing enemy cells around the countryside is not only a waste of time, it is precisely the sort of action he wants to provoke us into. That’s why AQ cells leaving an area are not the main game—they are a distraction. We played the enemy’s game for too long: not any more. Now it is time for him to play our game.
(c.) Being fluid, the enemy can control his loss rate and therefore can never be eradicated by purely enemy-centric means: he can just go to ground if the pressure becomes too much. BUT, because he needs the population to act in certain ways in order to survive, we can asphyxiate him by cutting him off from the people. And he can’t just “go quiet” to avoid that threat. He has either to come out of the woodwork, fight us and be destroyed, or stay quiet and accept permanent marginalization from his former population base. That puts him on the horns of a lethal dilemma (which warms my heart, quite frankly, after the cynical obscenities these irhabi gang members have inflicted on the innocent Iraqi non-combatant population). That’s the intent here.
(d.) The enemy may not be identifiable, but the population is. In any given area in Iraq, there are multiple threat groups but only one, or sometimes two main local population groups. We could do (and have done, in the past) enormous damage to potential supporters, “destroying the haystack to find the needle”, but we don’t need to: we know who the population is that we need to protect, we know where they live, and we can protect them without unbearable disruption to their lives. And more to the point, we can help them protect themselves, with our forces and ISF in overwatch.
The Book of Mormon description of the Gadianton Robbers bears many similarities to the enemy Al-Queda thugs in Iraq: The live in the mountains and wilderness without permanent places to defend, making them fluid. They manipulate the people through attempts to gain sympathy, acquiescence, silence, or reaction to provocation by intimidation, murder, and secret plots. They seek power and wealth, and to topple governments and destroy freedom. These terrorist groups in Iraq are more similar to the Secret Combinations as described in the Book of Mormon in action and composition than anything U.S. Conspiracy Theorists describe.
Like the Secret Combinations of the Book of Mormon, the terrorists recruit among the people. In The Book of Mormon, the leader of the Gadianton robbers sends a letter to the leader of the Nephites that one can easily imagine being written by enemy terrorist leaders in Iraq to the citizens of one of the cities in Iraq, where he declares his cause just, and invites the people to join their combination or be destroyed.
Like the Book of Mormon, the secret combinations in Iraq have members in the various level of Government who use their positions to further the cause of the group.
If we are to be victorious in Iraq, the Iraqi people must recognize Secret Combinations, reject them, and protect themselves from them. The “Surge” strategy appears to be helping them do just that.
This topic could be discussed in greater detail, but this article is too long as it is. So a couple of closing questions:
I suspect that if the Iraqis were to be introduced to the Book of Mormon they would find much in common with the Book of Mormon peoples and their own experience with secret combinations in a way that American citizens cannot understand. Might that similarity someday open the door to introduce them to the Church and the Gospel?
If Mitt Romney were to win the U.S. Presidency, what role would the Book of Mormon’s teachings concerning Secret Combinations play in his approach to Iraq Policy and the War on Terrorism in General? I think that would be a more interesting question regarding how his Mormon religion would inform his policy than what has been heretofore discussed.