Culture's Mask: War & Change After Iraq
Sepetember 2004
by Dr. M. Vlahos

culture's mask image


What does this war mean? The invasion of Iraq was intended to bring clarity to the nature of the war and America's purpose, but it has succeeded in muddying both. Yet it has also succeeded in accelerating change in, and deepening America's relationship with, the Muslim World, with consequences far beyond what we have surveyed to date. These essays are a meditation on the essential (if essentially untreated) theme of war as the ultimate bringer of change.

About the Author
Dr. M. Vlahos is a member of APL's Senior Staff. Previously he directed the Security Studies program at The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and was Director of the State Department's Center for the Study of Foreign Affairs.

Annotated Table of Contents


Defeating the Gods of War (May 1, 2003)
In Iraq the United States ended the utility of classical war. Demonstrating American "military transformation" ironically ushered in a new paradigm of war in which we can be defeated. Thus the "triumphalism" that succeeded the initial Iraq campaign was premature. The real war was yet to come.

Military Identity in the Age of Empire (June 19, 2003)
Even if wholly successful, total world security management, or "American Empire," would be realized at the expense of the U.S. military's very identity. Military societies serving an empire rather than a republic, acting as enforcers rather than defenders, suggest a terrible irony both to the concept of military transformation and even victory.

"Enemy Mine" (July 29, 2003)
Victory itself has been fundamentally misunderstood. In war the relationship with the enemy and his world defines both the narrative of the conflict and the parameters of victory. In Iraq the United States ignored the centrality of its relationship with the Muslim World and instead reflexively replayed its own cherished story line of World War II. In doing so we are unconsciously participating in—and legitimating—the enemy's story.


The Muslims Are Coming! The Muslims Are Coming! (August 26, 2003)
American strategy fixates on the majority Muslim World, but the future of Islam may be shaped in the minority Muslim World, especially in Western Europe. In France, Italy, and Spain, Muslims may reach a quarter of the population by 2050. This not only suggests the prospect of religious reform, but also the possibility of religious and social mixing that could lead to a new cultural synthesis. A much more Muslim European culture might have important strategic implications for the United States in the pursuit of its long war.

The Six Dilemmas of the Moderate Islamist (October 16, 2003)
The moderate Islamist is ignored—even denied—by U.S. statecraft but the broader movement for change within Islam has a strong and vital element that is pluralistic and non-violent. Its quietude makes it vulnerable, however, to the radical Islamists, who insist that theirs is the only way to defend a Muslim World under attack from the United States. America needs to reach out to peaceful Islamists or risk change in Islam that is wholly radicalized.

The Story of This War (November 6, 2003)
There was once a story, a complete narrative on which the administration had come to rely. U.S. war strategy, including planned campaigns, depended on the proper unfolding of this story. But the American strategic narrative failed, leaving confusion and uncertainty about even a local outcome in Iraq. What happened to this story of the future? What new narrative will succeed it?

Enemies of the Good (December 11, 2003)
The United States has become the bringer of change to the Muslim World. However, rather than appealing to the more moderate and pluralistic change forces within Islam, America has adopted a strategy of destroying the radicals' notion of Islam while attempting to impose the American vision of secular democracy on all Muslims. We should rethink our longer-term relationship with the Muslim World before we usher in the opposite of what we intend.


The Soldiering Ethos (February 19, 2004)
Although America has fought a war for more than two years with a peacetime military, the situation is changing. Effective insurgency in Iraq is just the first step moving our military into long-term wartime. Over the decades that this war promises, an active U.S. engagement in the Muslim World will mean nothing less than a profoundly altered military establishment and military society—not, as assumed initially, a supreme force running the world, but rather a "soldiering" society and way of life.

The Muslim Renovatio and U.S. Strategy (April 27, 2004)
If the Islamist trajectory continues, in its elusive intertwining of violent and non-violent forms, then America's intervention in the Muslim World will become increasingly enmeshed in Islamist issues. The decisive factor in the Muslim future will, in fact, be the relationship between the United States and Islamism. American actions are even now promoting change along Muslim trajectories rather than ours. Thus the United States has set in motion a "world-historical" process that will profoundly affect us as well.

Exhuming the "War of Ideas" (July 19—22, 2004)
American ideas and persuasion—what is now called "public diplomacy" but was once known as propaganda—worked reasonably well in the months after 9-11. Nevertheless,the invasion of Iraq and its subsequent unraveling ruined the U.S. message to the Muslim World. America has once again lost the "hearts and minds" of Muslims and must now struggle even to communicate with them, let alone persuade them. Yet the "war of ideas" is perhaps the key to this war. What is to be done?

Full Text of Culture's Mask: War & Change After Iraq