Saturday, January 20, 2007

NY Times: "Ambush Kills an American Teaching Democracy to Iraqis"

I'm deeply saddened this evening to learn of the deaths of not just one but four persons affiliated with the National Democratic Institute, in an ambush in Baghdad on Wednesday. Ironically, they were gunned down after teaching a class in elemental principles of democracy to Iraqi political leaders—the very sort of work everyone hopes will help bind up the country's deep wounds.

The tragedy is especially poignant for me personally, inasmuch as my daughter Lauren served in Baghdad until only a few weeks ago, in a capacity not unlike the victims'—living and working outside the so-called Green Zone and attempting to help Iraqis put their battered country back together again. Thank God she is now safely returned home.

One of Lauren's friends in Baghdad who knew three of the victims personally forwarded to her a moving tribute composed in their honor:


A question is always raised in such an occasion as how to best commemorate the memory of our fallen or departed. (I have never met Andrea so I cannot touch on this topic.)

Due to the war in Croatia there is a well defined military protocol for just such an incident. I do not believe these protocols would correctly reflect on the lives of Rassim, Janos and likewise for Zeljko. We live on a day to day basis and I believe the following verse would better reflect their lives.

Croatian soldiers before their deployment would often sing together sorrowful songs which would bond them together in a spirit of hope. They knew quite well that shortly on their missions they may face peril. These songs are now rarely sung as they slowly remitted once the war had ended; as a result I never learnt these songs except for one verse which rings in my mind. These songs where sung as prayers before such deployments and Zeljko knew these songs. The verse which as I can recall that Zeljko had sung before was as such:

“my life was short and passed as a dream,
and if I could wish for but one thing,
I would wish that I could live for but one more day”

When I remember my following three comrades, colleagues, and companions of mine I am filled with fond and happy memories of all of them. It still hasn’t dawned on me that I will never see these friends again. I am sure that shortly this reality will be indomitable. It was only upon reading about Zeljko’s death in Croatian script that my stomach churned and brought home the sadness and reality of losing Zeljko and my other two friends.

The best way by which we can commemorate such friends is by keeping our memories of them alive. For those who have met Janos, Rassim and Zeljko before I wish that you may keep your memories of them as they where.

For those that did not know the fallen I testify:

Janos I knew the least as I only meet him for a period of a few months. It took me at least one rotation to distinguish between Jan and Janos as they both did not drink and where very rarely seen in the Bunker. Janos was rotated into our team after coming off Venue Security. He was a very quite and pleasant person who had difficulty in communicating in English but tried immensely. There was talk of having Janos dismissed due to his lack of English. Ivo had faith in Janos and took him into to his team as the SAP car commander. When Wessie was traveling with this team he did not recognise the voice over the SAP radio and upon enquire was quite shocked and impressed to hear how well Janos had progressed in ‘command and signals’ English usage. I have had the pleasure to work with Janos on several occasions.

Rassim was like a friendly elder brother to me. A man who I always treated as an equal and always showed respect to his seniority. He spent twenty years in Saddam’s army and worked in the Iraqi consulate for three years in Belgrade the result of which he could speak Serbian. He and I would joke continuously on the issues of the world in hybrid languages which no one could understand except the two of us. We have always worked closely together and I have always taken on his advice. I have never raised my voice at him as there has never been fault to do so. Rassim has taught me many valuable lessons of life and human nature. We have shared personal discussions on family matters and other intimate topics. I will miss his counsel. He leaves behind a widow and two sons. His brother a mechanic was also unfortunately brutally executed.

Zeljko I first met in the army as an instructor. Zeljko was respected amongst the candidates as he was considered to be a decent human being committed to always improving the present state. My impression of Zeljko was that he did not want to waste any ones time. In the future we would end up in the same unit of the air troop, in the same squad. Zeljko was disappointed in the military and discharged and tried his hand at de-mining in Croatia. As this job was full of internal problems he also left this calling instead to provide security in Iraq. Zeljko and I arrived on the same plane inbound for Iraq. We eventually ended up in the same team where I learnt from him and respected his opinions and views on low profile tactics. We would often discuss in detail the innumerable possibilities during convoys. We would never be in disagreement, argue or conflict. We have never been on ill terms and he is a person who I could openly confide in. Zeljko had his own unique sense of humor which can never be misinterpreted as sarcastic or disdainful but rather realisitic. He has contributed much to the Cedar team and was an admirable team leader.

The team that got hit was my former team and I will miss the departed all dearly as will others. As I did not know Andrea this does not make her passing any easier and I am sure that she will be appropriately commemorated.

Least we forget!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

"Getting it Right in Iraq"

My good friend and highly respected colleague Curt Jones has argued for more than a decade that our strong-arm approach to Iraq and Saddam Hussein was fatally flawed. Now it appears that even President George Bush has come to the same conclusion, although he hasn't given up hope entirely that one more "surge" of American troops might salvage his policy. Curt Jones, who spent a good part of his professional life in and around Iraq as a U.S. foreign service officer, believes Bush's eleventh hour attempt to impose peace and democracy on Iraq through military force is doomed to fail. He summarizes his reasons as follows:

American policy for the Middle East (northeast Africa and southwest Asia) has long suffered from pathological aversion to compromise, and mistaken reliance on unilateral coercion. Some of the more egregious examples:
  • Overthrow of an elected Iranian Prime Minister in 1953.
  • Failed attempt to buy a coup in Syria in 1957.
  • Logistic and intelligence support for Iraq against Iran in the 1980’s.
  • Engagement on the Israeli side of the Lebanese conflict in 1983.
  • Black Hawk Down in Somalia in 1993.
  • Invasion of Iraq in 2003.
  • Political and logistic support for the Israeli campaign against Lebanon in 2006
  • Current support for the Ethiopian intervention in Somalia.
American interventionism has been facilitated by construction of a hypertrophic base structure across the area, anchored by Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain, Centcom’s air base in Qatar, an expansive staging area in Kuwait, and unpublicized bases in Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Iraq.

So far, at least, the culmination of American militance was the invasion of Iraq. In November 2006 the American electorate gave evidence of general recognition that that enterprise has failed and should be terminated. The Bush administration seems determined to press on, and its dedication to an American solution is still winning endorsement in some academic circles.

Foreign Affairs of January/February 2007 carries Thomas L. McNaugher’s review of War Made New by Max Boot and Finding the Target by Frederick W. Kagan. McNaugher joins those two authors in a discussion that seems to focus on military solutions to problems that can be remedied only by political means. Aside from Kagan’s observations that “planners should start with a vision of the political outcome they want to achieve,” and that if they had done so for Iraq, “the very operation itself might have been called into question,” the argument ascribed to Boot and Kagan, as encapsulated by McNaugher, ignores the all-important political aspect of the equation. We are invited to infer that the secret to winding up our business in Iraq and winning the “war on terrorism” lies in reforming American military structure and strategy.

This approach falls short in at least three respects:

First, it conflates two unrelated problems (pacification of Iraq, suppression of Islamist subversion) that require separate policies.

Second, although the future of Iraq will probably be determined by military conflict, the only relevant forces will be indigenous – presumably Iraqi. There is no valid role for any partisan foreign force, except for the obligation on America – having made the mistake of intervening -- to withdraw in a manner best calculated to minimize the risk to its troops and to Iraqis identified with them. Washington will have to abandon the conventional view that its forces have some ethical or national-security responsibility to try to calibrate the outcome.

Third, Islamist subversion is not susceptible to a military solution. “Fighting the enemy over there so we don’t have to over here” makes no sense. Elimination of bin Ladins and Islamist bases is a palliative. The solution to anti-American subversion is remediation of the intrusive and/or exploitive policies that generate it.

Former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft joins the discussion in an article in The New York Times of January 4. His assessment that “we can’t walk away from chaos in Iraq” sounds like a timid paraphrase of “stay the course.” The nonpartisan Iraqi troops postulated by Scowcroft do not exist. American withdrawal may precipitate full-scale civil war, and possible intervention by neighboring states, but these contingencies are the inevitable hazards imposed by the longstanding regional power vacuum, as distorted by past British and American interference in Middle Eastern affairs.

We can hope that the Iraqis will hit on a miraculous formula for national stabilization. The responsibility is theirs, not ours. American troops will not be in Iraq forever.