Memo to General Petraeus, a Long View about Afghanistan


This is at least the third time this has been mentioned in print, going back to 2006. Moses Sands, gone now since Dec 2006, had a simple, yet effective method of viewing “democracy” and democratic institutions. He saw things from the bottom up and often said that Man’s desire for this kind of democracy is universal. It is the only true building block of a free society. I agree.

By seeing the Arab and Muslim street this way, Moses could see the one thing that could come between a man and the intrusive power of his mullah, the restrictive power of his faith and the oppressive power of the state or tribe in limiting or prohibiting the free exercise of his economic affairs. It is the one thing that will cause a man to kiss all his kindred in the tribal territories good-bye and move to the flat lands and take a job.

This thing is his House, and in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Arab Street everywhere, the House always represented the gate, the front door and the threshold across which no man could come without being invited. It is the one overarching freedom upon which all others are built.

And all these “laws” were first learned in America.

If you can walk, lead or cajole a man to that point of understanding where the interests of his House are in everything he sees, you have permanently planted the seed of “democracy.”

We are seeing this emerge now in the old Soviet bloc of eastern Europe, only twenty years old more or less. And it has been so innocuous and common place as it has germinated, no one noticed. That is how it should be.

And Moses Sands and I helped. We were part of a grand from-the-bottom-up conspiracy to plant the democracy seed in the old Soviet empire and enjoyed every minute of it. The pay wasn’t all that good, but the benefits were stupendous.

It was the House, and attendant jobs, that brought Muslim men to America, just like millions of others, many years before Wahhabism spread, for even the most unlettered of men knew that economic freedom could only be gained by being able to say “no” to the power of others to intrude upon a his House without his permission. It was the House that moderated the scope and power of sharia law in America, for in the end the House is not a House, and cannot be a House if it must yield to a force it was specifically designed by nature’s God to keep out.

As an Eastern Orthodox priest in Bulgaria told me shortly after the fall of communism,

“I would rather get up every day and arm myself to do battle with the Devil than to have another man forbid him to come near me.”

Law: Once it is secure in a man’s mind that he can build, own, and pass on his own House, he will subordinate all other things to that pursuit. And he will, of his own accord, create reciprocal arrangements with his neighbors to protect that process. Once properly understood, the House trumps church and even clan or tribe.

In 20o5 Moses made a “public offering” of the House to the American liberators in Iraq, as a way to build a solid foundation of private ownership in the common peoples of Iraq. They missed that opportunity. Instead of costing billions in infrastructure, it would have cost mere millions, and the external forces acting on the process would have been as subtle and innocuous as a newspaper advertisement.

It’s not for me to say whether Afghanistan can still be rescued, but it is never too late to inject the ideal of the House in the culture of any place. That’s what Moses Sands did for 45 years or so. Moses even believed it could be accomplished in Waziristan, the tribal territories. It just a matter of how to skin that particular cat. “If you can bring the idea of the House to Appalachia, you sure as hell can among the Pathans.”

As Moses would say, “There you have it.”

You can read Moses’ analysis:

“Prospects for Democracy in Iraq/The Middle East”, (revised) 2005

Democracy and the Arab House“, 2006

and my Winning in Waziristan, 2008


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March 9, 2011 2:49 pm

I have only questions. If I pretended to be an intellectual, could I substitute ‘enlightened self-interest’ for what you call your ‘House’? Do you think it took nearly 200 years for America to export not only the goods, but *the good*, because it was all in the cooker cooking all that time? Can you say what event(s) or force(s) worked in opposition to the mission? And why are you so freaking optimistic? 🙂

March 10, 2011 7:21 am

“I would rather get up every day and arm myself to do battle with the Devil than to have another man forbid him to come near me.”

This simple statement, from a man who – I have no doubt – was worn and scarred (figuratively, if not literally) and weary unto death is one of the most poignant and inspiring things I think I’ve ever read. I appreciate your sharing it, VB.