Solving the War on Terror and the War on Drugs with "Enfranchisement"

The truly American Way of solving problems -- Enfranchisement -- is now being eroded by political- and media- fear mongering

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright September 2006


In September 2006 I returned to the US following a year-long stay in Korea. I started my return in a hotel room, and ate the "free breakfast" daily. As I did, I watched Fox News on the lobby TV. It was a pretty dreary sight: not only was there little news, but the editorials indicated that the American Media, and probably the American people, were still missing the point about what was happening in Iraq. The Media is arguing even harder than ever about ways to "win" the War on Terror, and not one of the pundits was saying, "Lets reexamine if this is really a military problem, or not."

This is vital, because Terrorism is not a military problem, and can't be solved with a military solution.

The Pickpockets in Istanbul

The solution to the War on Terrorism came to me as I reflected on a personal "terrorist attack" I experienced in Istanbul in 2005. The terrorist attack was having pickpockets take stuff out of my pocket as I was walking down Istanbul's most popular shopping street: Istiklal Caddesi. The attack began with a man distracting me with some very odd behavior -- punching me lightly in the stomach with his elbows as he walked in front of me -- and as a result I was aware that the attack had happened within seconds of it happening. Alas, my legs are not those of a twenty-year-old anymore (which had a lot to do with why I was picked out, I'm sure.) and I could not catch them, but I did get pictures of them as they crossed Taksim Square, the large park at the east end of Istiklal Caddesi.

What happened around me, as people responded to this attack, was the part that is relevant to the War on Terrorism. My companion of the moment, Gurkim, a college-age Turkish student, was aware of what happened almost as quickly as I was. As I chased the pickpockets in my feeble fashion, he looked for policemen. Amazingly, he found two within a minute, and the three followed me as I followed the pickpockets. The policemen did take up the chase... but stopped when it became clear that the men they were chasing would get out of the open park and into a warren of streets before the policemen could catch up with them. The policemen stopped. "They may have friends." was their reason for not chasing them into the built-up area.

"They may have friends." Hmm... In other words, the pickpockets may travel to a place in Istanbul where the standard rules of law and order don't apply, and the policemen themselves could get attacked.

Hmm... Wow! It took time, but thinking about this incident opened up a whole new way of thinking about various social problems. And the heart of the issue that came out of that thinking was what I will call in this essay, "Enfranchisement."


Enfranchisement is the state when the people of the community fully feel that the community they are living in is "their" community. This means certain specific things that are relevant to the Wars on Terror and Drugs:

Enfranchisement is not a black-and-white thing. It is very much a shades-of-gray thing. A community can feel very enfranchised, or just a little enfranchised.

An example of strong enfranchisement comes from my youth. In the 1960's America was "freeway crazy" -- the Interstate system was being planned and built. The State of Ohio freeway planners proposed a freeway that would follow Tinker's Creek, east of Cleveland, and the in process wipe out a wonderful series of parks that were built around it. I had just gotten my driver's license, and I thought it would be a wonderful idea to have a freeway exit next to our driveway, but my parents said, "No! It's a terrible idea." They, and my other adult neighbors, said it not just to me, but to many other people that mattered in Cleveland government and Ohio State government, and that chunk of freeway never happened. The moral: our neighborhood had a lot of enfranchisement.

Another example of Enfrachisement, from

Neighbors concerned about strange van
May 7th, 2009 @ 6:03pm
By Sam Penrod

PROVO -- Provo police are investigating a bizarre incident this week: a van parked in a residential neighborhood with a sign on it, reading: "free candy inside."

It turns out, police believe the sign was harmless. But for neighbors who live in Provo's Grandview neighborhood, it raised serious concerns with them that a child predator could be targeting kids on the street.

The white van was parked on a neighborhood street in front of a home. No one on the street knew who the van belonged to, and the neighbors were worried about the sign posted in the back window.

Adults looked inside and did not see any candy, but they did see a mattress and some clothes in the back of the van. Police were called and investigated.

Officers tracked down the van's owner, who is a college age student. He told officers he put up the sign a few days ago as part of a prank with his friends.

Police credit the neighbors for watching out for their neighborhood. "With this sign possibly enticing children to a van, your worst case scenarios come to mind. So, it was good, a good example of someone in a neighborhood watching out, not only for his own family, but the whole neighborhood," said Capt. Cliff Argyle, spokesman for the Provo Police Department.

Note that the neighbors were empowered. They noted something wrong, and they took action. Note that the police were supported by the neighbors, and their role was not to be intimidating, but investigating.

Examples of weak enfranchisement are legion among folk stories and folk songs, and they are at the heart of every modern chronic cultural crisis... the list is too long to bother enumerating.

(Note: Disenfranchisement -- the lack of enfranchisement -- and poverty are often considered synonymous, but this is not the case. A people can be dirt-poor and still be enfranchised. An example of this is Stone Age tribes living in places that interact very little with civilized communities. Another example is closed religious communities which have taken a vow of poverty. Poverty is important, but enfranchisement is very important.)

Laws and Enfranchisement

Laws are designed to settle arguments.

Laws are written and passed by legislatures when people of a community are having an argument over what is the right way and the wrong way to settle a matter. As an example of something that is vital, but not a legal matter because there is no argument about it, consider breathing. Breathing is important, it's vital, but there is no argument about breathing, there are no social crusades that we should all remember to breathe, there are no laws that say we must breathe. We don't have the laws and social crusades not because breathing is not important, but because there are no arguments over how it should be done. Compare breathing to eating and drinking. What to eat and what to drink are things people do argue over, so there are thousands of suggestions and hundreds of laws about eating and drinking.

A good law settles an argument, and the community falls in line behind the decision wholeheartedly. An example of a good law is deciding which side of the road people should drive on. It doesn't matter much which side is chosen, what is important is making the choice.

A bad law does not settle an argument. It simply pushes the argument to informal venues, and it disenfranchises dissenters. Spectacular examples of bad laws are Prohibition, War on Drugs and War on Terror. The War on Drugs and the War on Terror are still contemporary issues and still filled with moral heat, so lets examine Prohibition.

In the 1700's mankind learned how to make distilled spirits. Distilled spirits, such as gin and whiskey, are drinks with much higher alcohol content than their fermented predecessors such as beer and wine. By the late 1800's the distilling process produced not only strong alcoholic drinks, but cheap ones as well. This low cost and wide availability was creating new alcohol-related social problems, and temperance movements evolved to combat them.

In the social turmoil of the early 20th century, of which WWI was a part, many European nations enacted Prohibition laws, and so did the US.

The problem was, like Bush's decision to go into Iraq, no one who enacted these laws had thought much about what would happen to the millions of people who were about to be disenfranchised by these acts. And, in both cases, those disenfranchised people did not curl up and blow away on the next breeze. Instead they stayed put, and acted like disenfranchised people. They worked to get around the law, and in the process brought violence to the community.

"I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you."

"I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you." This third of the three most famous lies is really about enfranchisement. (The other two famous lies are: "The check is in the mail." and "My wife doesn't understand me.")

If someone comes in from the outside and orders a solution to a community problem, that person is going to anger at least one party to the problem, and more likely, all parties to the problem. What is happening is a disenfranchisement. The community did not solve its own problem, so, even if the solution is wise and good, it will disrupt the community. This problem of disenfranchisement when an outsider orders a solution is why this action is on the Three Famous Lies list.

In the case of Iraq, the US came in with a big agenda, and a tiny resource base. (The Bush Administraton "peace budget" for Iraq has always been a trifle when compared to the war budget.) The US has applied sufficient resource to disenfranchise the old way of governing Iraq, but never close to enough resource to replace that old way with a more US-compatible image. The result of this quick-and-dirty, half effort at nation-building has been severe disenfranchisement of the Iraqi communities.

The Prime Symptom of Severe Disenfranchisement: Violence

Ancient Rome had its Mob, Occupied France had its Resistance, Prohibition had its Gangsters... the list of severely disenfranchised communities and their supported violent groups goes on and on. This is the phenomenon that America is up against in Iraq. In Iraq, it's not about terrorism, it's about enfranchisement.

How does the violence end? It ends by reenfranchising the disenfranchised. This is not an easy process, but it is necessary. Reenfranchising means that the disenfranchising group must recognize that they are not going to "win" with their current tactics. What will happen instead is the harder the disenfranchisers push, the more violence the disenfranchised will support. Instead the disenfranchisers must back off and come up with a new solution to whatever problem got the disenfranchising started. The disenfranchisers must find a way to reenfranchise those who are doing what they despise. This is never easy because strong emotions are always involved.

The most common tactic for reenfranchising a community is to unite people behind a Big Challenge. This is the new leader speech which calls for people of the community to, "Lets put our differences behind us, lets come together and solve our big problems." in some fashion. Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." is a widely quoted example of a leader calling on the Big Challenge tactic for reenfranchising.

Comparing the Military Solution to the Civil Solution: Warring versus Franchising

The problem with the military solution is that it is inherently and deeply disenfranchising. When the military "solves" a social problem, it is actually laying the seeds for a deep disenfranchising.

The Military Solution

Lets take a look at the steps for arresting a terrorist in Iraq.

Problem one: find out where the terrorist is.

Solution: Catch some other terrorist and "interrogate" him until he "confesses" the location of another terrorist.

Problems with this solution:

a) limited resources: military intelligence must find the majority of terrorists, not civilians.

B) Lots of error in this process, and very few ways to discover what information is erroneous.

C) In practice the people being questioned are questioned for years and years. Their information is stale.

Problem two: catch the terrorist

OK, someone being interrogated finally gives up a "name" that sounds reasonable. Now military intelligence must find that person.

Since this is a military operation, the military will surround the suspected neighborhood, and begin searching. In the process of searching, they are going to step on community toes, and break up some community property. The first time they do this, things may go well, and they actually catch the person they are after. But very often things will not go smoothly: the person is not caught, and lots of community neighbors are insulted by the military tactics. Worse, a lot of wrong people are caught, and the military are seen by the community to be arrogant idiots.

What has happened to the neighborhood?

What has happened is the neighborhood was violently disenfranchised: It didn't ask the military to come. It didn't ask for doors to get broken in. It didn't ask for good neighbors to be lead away blindfolded and handcuffed. It's no longer in control of it's own destiny.

And... severe disenfranchisement brings on... violence. "A terrorist wants to live in our neighborhood? Why not? We don't care anymore." This is why Iraq is more violent today than it was under Saddam. And this is the real problem with "Gitmo solutions" to domestic terrorist problems. If the solution is outside the law, it is deeply disenfranchising, and it is spawning violence.

The Civilian Alternative to the Military Solution

Problem One: find out where the terrorist is

Hah! This is easy: If the community is enfranchised, there are no terrorists!

Well... that's the right answer... but not the answer you wanted to hear.

OK... some one person is a disenfranchised wacko, and starts to build a truck bomb. Unless this person is very careful, his neighbors will spot what he or she is up to and report them to the police. Problem solved. In practice this happens a lot in the US.

Note that the "intelligence resource" in this case is the whole community. It's a lot more resource than just a few soldiers, and it doesn't need a previously caught terrorist to start the process.

Problem Two: catching the terrorist

Judges, lawyers and policemen do the catching, not soldiers. The process does not disrupt the community, so the community stays enfranchised.

That's it, and that's the beauty of keeping terrorism a criminal problem, not a military problem.

Experiencing the Military solution: the Riot at MIT


My personal experience with the military solution came in 1973 when there was an anti-war riot at MIT. In that period, MIT didn't have much anti-war demonstrating. Big, sometimes violent, demonstrations were something that went on at Harvard, Boston University, and other more liberal institutions. But one day, late in the school year, a violent riot came to MIT. I happened to be there, and in the right places at the right times, to watch this event evolve.

It started about noon, when some people from another demonstration that was being broken up came over to the MIT campus, and moved a Dipsy Dumpster from behind a building on to Massachusetts Avenue, the main street going through the MIT campus. (I know this because I was listening to a radio scanner that was monitoring police radio bands as I made arrangements to rent a moving van, and I saw the people when I came out.)

The college/police response was to send about forty cops to stand in front the stairs to the main building. It was a huge response... especially considering the guys that moved the Dipsy Dumpster ran off right after they had done so, and other people moved the Dipsy Dumpster back where it belonged five minutes later. But, the response was "interesting", so about a thousand students poured out of the dorms to find out what was happening. And thus began the "riot."

For the rest of the day not much happened, both sides stood there and watched. The students were not there to cause trouble, or demonstrate, they were there to see what would happen. What did change, a bit, a couple hours after the start of this riot, was the police got reinforcements, including dogs.

Sometime in late afternoon, the police made a show of force. They launched tear gas into the crowd (which was standing in a large field) and they marched slowly forward halfway across the field, and then marched back to the stairs. The students loved it. They got a chance to run away instead of just standing around waiting, they got to smell a bit of tear gas, and the bright ones got out their cooking gloves, picked up the canisters and threw them in the nearby pond. (Water neutralizes tear gas.) When the police got back to the stairs, the students went back into the field to watch and see if there would be more fun.

Finally sunset came, and it was time for the policemen to go home. Rather than simply march away, which is what they should have done, they decided to have one more charge at the crowd. This time they weren't nice. They ran into the crowd and caught people, and beat them up (there were several student injuries, the worst a broken arm.) and they launched tear gas into several of the nearby buildings, including the woman's dorm. In short, the police made asses of themselves.

That night, there were no police on campus. At first I was surprised, then I thought and realized, "Ahh... if I was policeman wandering MIT tonight, I would worry about getting beaten up by angry students." So that night, after the riot was over, was when most of the property damage happened. I remember walking by a couple of guys who were uprooting parking meters. I yelled at them, "Hey, stop that! I have to live here tomorrow!" and they did.

But even as I was yelling at those guys, I was thinking to myself, "If those riot cops come back tomorrow, how can we screw them over?" I was not the only one, and MIT is a campus full of very inventive students.

The good news is, the riot cops did not come back the next day, or the next, The Riot was over.

What is the moral of this story?

The moral is that this "military intervention" did not bring law and order to the MIT community. It was, instead, very disruptive and very disenfranchising. Had it been repeated, it would have gotten a lot more violent, and it would have been even more disenfranchising. A military solution should not be applied to civilian dispute unless the civilian dispute has already turned hopelessly violent.

Comparing Mr. Bush's War with Mr. Hitler's War

One of the parallels in history that is coming to light is between Mr. Bush's War on Afghanistan and Iraq, and Mr. Hitler's War on various European nations (better known as World War II). In both cases the military phase of the war went spectacularly well, but the following peace went spectacularly poorly. In both cases, new legions of "terrorists" sprang up behind the military successes. In Mr. Bush's case, those terrorists are call Insurgents. In Mr. Hitler's case, those terrorists were called The Resistance in western Europe and Russian Partisans in eastern Europe.

I propose that in both cases, the heart of the failure was that the conquerors failed to rapidly enfranchise the people they had conquered. They conquered, they occupied, then they did very little to bring these people "into the system" -- whatever the system was to be.

Compare the reactions of the French and Russian communities to German occupation with the reactions of German and Japanese communities to Allied occupation. In the Allied case, great pains were taken to set up new governments and new social systems that enfranchised the occupied communities. Because of this enfranchisement, these communities rapidly became peaceful, prosperous and terror-free.

It is the plan for enfranchisement that has been sorely lacking from the Bush Agenda since 2003.

What does the Future hold?

There is no saying when a disenfranchised community will reenfranchise, and the violence will end, but it usually takes decades. South Vietnam was disenfranchised for twenty years. Northern Malaysia was disenfranchised for fifteen. America's War on Drugs started with Richard Nixon in the 1960's.

But at some point, the people who are sustaining the disenfranchisement decide they have paid enough, and they back off. This backing off usually happens because something else becomes more important to the mainstream community than listening to "the prescriptionists" (people who are prescribing how other people should act) who are energizing the disenfranchisement, and the rules that caused the disenfranchisement are slowly and quietly changed. As they are changed, the violence subsides.

This backing off can occur within the existing community structure, in which case the Establishment has "won", or it came come with a change in community structure, in which case the Rebels have "won." In either case, the scars of the conflict -- crazy laws and customs that make no sense a few decades later -- will last for generations. The crazy quilt that is drinking laws around the US is a scar from the Prohibition disenfranchisement period, the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution -- the Right to Bear Arms Amendment -- is a scar from the American Revolution disenfranchisement period that is now an integral part of another "chronic argument" in the US, the Gun Control argument.

As I have noted in other Editorials on the Iraq War: as big as the Iraq War is in the US conscious, it is much bigger in the Middle East conscious. Mr. Bush as unwittingly cast himself and the US Army as in-your-face heavies in this Middle East drama, and the scars from that image will last at least as long as US memories of the 9-11 Event that started this whole drama. (here are my thoughts on the 9-11 Event.)

Wow! We are sure living in interesting times.

-- The End --