Every relationship has complexities and a uniqueness. When working with someone in therapy, I conduct a clinical interview over numerous sessions gathering information including present, cultural, family, and historical issues. Some ask if this is necessary. It is, because the interview provides a complete picture of the person. Therapy can then be tailored to the individual's specific needs. Additionally, this helps me connect with the person which is integral to the therapy work.
The same should apply in relating to another country. If I were to clinically interview Iraq, a few issues would arise for consideration when it comes time to relate and intervene. For Iraq, you have to look at the people's psychology. The consensus is most Americans regret the 2003 Iraq invasion. The Iraqis generally feel negatively about American intervention, dating back decades.
From the Iraqi mindset, American foreign policy has been troubling. A lack of trust exists which is never good for cooperation. If American foreign policy continues as it has for decades, Iraqis won't buy in and any progress will be at a superficial level. Even if the policy can be successful, it will be met with resentment and hostility due to history. Much like in therapy, if I persist with the same intervention that hasn't been effective with a patient, it's unproductive and potentially harmful.
Motivation does not receive enough attention in the foreign policy world. The two types of motivation, are intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is a desire to do something because it is personally important or appealing to you. Extrinsic motivation is the opposite; the drive for something is due to external factors such as praise, punishment, or money. Studying psychology because you have a natural interest in the subject is an example of intrinsic motivation. Studying so you can get an A on an exam is an example of extrinsic motivation.
When you are intrinsically motivated, you tend to feel more satisfied, engaged, valued, and open to improvement (Wigfield, Guthrie, Tonks, & Perencevich, 2004). Americans are largely dissatisfied with their work which results in the loss of hundreds of billions of dollars to the economy each year (Gallup, 2013). It appears most people are extrinsically motivated to work. People work for money so that they can live. Employers are constantly looking for ways to intrinsically motivate their employees to increase productivity, efficiency, pride, and longevity. In therapy, one of the many techniques used is to cultivate extrinsic motivation to help patients to move forward, with the ultimate goal being to foster an intrinsic motivation for real change.
What does any of this have to do with Iraq? In many ways, a country is like a company and the citizens are employees. The citizens of the most successful, happiest countries in the world scored high on civic engagement, sense of community, and overall life satisfaction. All of these variables are associated with personal goals and intrinsic motivation. These traits are lacking in Iraq at a national level. For decades, the fate of Iraq has been in the hands of dictators or foreign nations, leaving Iraq without an identity. Instead of building a national identity and sense of togetherness, the country has been unstable and most citizens are focused on personal safety and survival.
Leaders of many countries repeatedly champion that all actions that are taken will be in the nation's best interest. When other countries hear this type of rhetoric, what are they to think? These type of statements can only weaken the relationship between two countries, especially if one country openly speaks about self-interests. Imagine two people being in a relationship and one person constantly does things because it is in their self-interest to do so. Does that sound like a healthy relationship?
Foreign policy needs to focus on mutual best interests, not just one nation's. This may sound like a weak stance but in reality it's an empathic, courageous approach. It's also the opposite of the policy that has been failing for decades. The goal of foreign policy should include identity formation, national building from within, and instilling a sense of pride and optimism at a personal level.
Intrinsic motivation needs to be a part of any intervention. If Iraqis don't feel a personal and natural investment in their country, they won't fight for their country because it doesn't feel like their country. How do you nurture intrinsic motivation? Allow Iraqis to have a major role in the decisions and direction of the country. That doesn't mean step back and watch passively, it means allow the Iraqis to take the driver's seat. In therapy, real characterological change doesn't happen if the therapist is providing solutions and giving advice. Fundamental change occurs when the individual recognizes and works for increased awareness and self-improvement. As this therapy process unfolds, the therapist metaphorically transitions from the passenger seat, to the back seat, and eventually into an image in the rear view mirror.
Experts like to talk about historical events as examples to support current policies and interventions. A quick review of Iraq's history shows external interventions and values are ineffective in the long term. Even in America's history, the Civil War was a turning point because it was an organic, intrinsic conflict. Outside forces did not play an active role. Would America be the success that it is today if France or Spain facilitated the Civil War? Americans were responsible for the Civil War and that's why it had a profound impact on the direction of the country. Just like every patient, every nation is different. Foreign policy has to be tailored to each country's needs and goals.
The same model has to be considered for Iraq. Ask the Iraqis what they want to increase their intrinsic motivation and investment in their country. Considering their goals and aspirations. If Iraqis want to isolate and manage the country on their own, so be it. If they want international intervention limited to assistance from bordering countries, so be it. If they want an Islamic state, so be it. With each decision there are positive and negative consequences. That is part of nation building and identity formation. It's important to recognize that Iraq is a country that is less than 100 years old. It takes time but Iraqis have to engage in their future, and that happens by giving them the keys to the car.
Just like therapy and self-improvement, it takes time and experience. Look where America was 100 years after it's founding. Some might say America in the 1870s was similar to Iraq in the 2000s in many ways. It may be messy and even tragic, but if Iraq is going to be self-sustaining and prosperous, foreign policy has to start with the Iraqi people.
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Salmaan Toor is a licensed clinical psychologist practicing in Knoxville, TN. If you are interested in being notified of future posts, you can “like” The Family Center of Knoxville on facebook here or can follow me on Twitter here. Thanks for your support!