Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Natural Disasters....

Baghdad is having their own "natural disaster" today, as this report says that 648 have been killed so far in the bridge stampede there this morning.

All of these things, (this, Katrina, etc.) are sad of course, but what is so sad about them is the extent to which they could have been prevented. The tsunami was different, because it was so unexpected. Baghdad was unexpected, but still could have been somewhat preventable by many parties, though this is not the time for me to get into that. Katrina was expected, but many acted too late.

If in some way, it prevents later similar situations, or raises awareness about preparedness, or pulls people together, then in some small way, good will come out of the bad. I'm a firm believer that it always does.

I'll be protesting too...

6 years ago. That was the last time we had an airshow here in Brunswick, Maine at the Naval Air Station. If you haven't been to an airshow, it's rather hard to describe. It may sound boring to some of you, but it truly is a treat to see and in some cases get into the finest our nation has to offer in aircraft. It's an American event, and yes, more so for military members and aviation afficiendos.

We were scheduled for one in September 2001, but it was quickly cancelled after September 11. It's hard to describe, but that cancellation, though of course necessary at that time, felt like a "win" for terrorism to me. Not only were they keeping our planes out of the air commercially, but now the Blue Angels couldn't even fly here, and nobody knew when they would be back.

This year we were gratified to learn that the show would be back in town. And even more so after we learned last week that BNAS was voted to be cut in the latest round of military base closures. So this year a bunch of us are planning on going to the Air Show at the base. There are always lots of military members from various services there, and plenty of vets to thank.

And, it's being held on September 10/11.

So, imagine my surprise today to learn that THIS is what else is being planned for my town on that day.

Oh, what the heck, I may as well share it with you in full:

Theme of Our Protest:
"Stop the Worship of the Gods of War!"

On Sat., Sept. 10th, Maine Veterans for Peace will be joined by other major peace and justice groups (see list of co-sponsors below) in a massive protest:

. to protest the false god idolatry of the Blue Angels Air Show, whose "ooh-&-aah"performances have one purpose: to promote badly-lagging military recruitment to protest the obscene waste of American tax dollars to stage these Blue Angels' multi-million dollar extravaganzas

. to protest Bush's immoral, monomaniacal Iraq war -- nearly 1,800 U.S. and
100,000 Iraqi civilians dead, at a cost of over $300 billion, and still counting

. to protest NASB's complicity with the war machine, providing surveillance aircraft to target ground forces, which in the end cause horrendous "collateral damage"

. to challenge NASB to convert to peaceful purposes, creating good-paying high-tech/industrial jobs, making products that improve lives, not end them

We urge you to join us Sept. 10 in Brunswick. Also joining us will be Kathy Kelly (Founder: Voices in the Wilderness) and Cindy Sheehan (Founder: Gold Star Families for Peace)

I'd like to say I'm above all this, but I don't think I am. I'll pull up in with my combat star sticker in the window, and my "civilian dog tags" on. Combat Star courtesy of my brother in law who is an Army Major training ISF in Ramadi. "Civilian Dog Tags" courtesy of my Iraqi friends, who gave them to me as a token of my civilian service there, and more importantly of our friendship and loyalty to each other. I'll be protesting too. For every Iraqi I know and for every American serviceman who allows me the freedom to be writing this right now.

God Bless America. Aasha Al-Iraq. Long live freedom.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A trip to the Dominican...

I had a discussion this evening with a college student that just returned from a trip to the Dominican Republic for a nursing program that is run there in the villages. I ask you to keep this in mind as you read. This is an American college student. This is our next generation.

We spoke about her patients first.

"I have to tell you that there were these ladies that I took care of, I spent 90 minutes with the one of them one day. She had diabetes, htn, and knew none of her meds.
She also had a nasty ulcer on her foot that was not healing well so I spent all this time with her one day trying to get her set up and then had her come back about 10 days later to one of our last clinics to check up on her. When I saw her again her blood sugar was perfect at 80, her wound was healing soooo well but her bp was still a little high. But they were so excited about her foot because they could see the difference and how it was healing much better. It was one of the best moments of the trip."

Then she and I had a deeper discussion.

Her: We've had a lot of discussions about going back, some of my friends and I, we know we are doing good.
Me: Of course you are!
Her: But then we also ask if we are making the villages dependent on us somehow with them expecting us every 6 months.
Me: Good to have the success story with that lady too.
Her: And then we also discussed the peace corps involvement there.
Me: Not if you teach them how to take care of themselves....that's the key.
Her: It's a funny balance. Yeah that's what I think, I mean education, not just free meds you know?
Me: Exactly, and you can tell the difference, like that lady listened to you.
Her: Yeah it was so great, I wrote down the instructions too which I think helped her a lot.
Me:And hence her blood sugar stabilized and her foot healed.
Her: We had two teams and we were splitting that clinic to give everyone a half day off, but I went down in the morning to see her even though I wasn't scheduled because I really wanted to follow up and everyone was joking with me that I was going way above and beyond, but I was just way too attached to her.
Me: But that's what makes the difference.
Her: Yes.

We talked about her patients, every morning they had a line out the door of the clinic, and it went non stop from morning until night.

We talked about the kids.

We talked about how it feels to help people that need it, to connect with another culture. How incredibly rewarding it is to see some kind of giving that you have done turn into something more. How she wants to go back in two weeks instead of 5 months. How I feel just the same about Iraq. How half of your mind lives there, wondering what's going on with this person or that one? You lie in bed and think of it there, and later you do the same here.

Oh, and this isn't any college kid to me. This is my sister. She's 23 and she could have passed this up to graduate earlier. Instead she challenged herself, and took the road that's brought help to others, and personal fulfillment, and a passion for her chosen profession. And I'm damned proud of her.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Impatience is the Enemy

Everyone is impatient. It’s become a large part of our culture here in America. And while that is good for some things, such as driving ideas in the marketplace, it’s not so good for others.

It’s not so good for Iraq. Iraqis are already impatient. The Sheat that have been held down for years are impatient to gain what they feel is their "rightful" majority rule, the Sunni who have tended to be the more privileged, educated class during the past 30 years, are impatient, as, believe it or not, a large segment of them has become supportive of a secular government, as they have been educated, and seen the prosperity that comes with Westernization. The Kurds are so impatient, marginalized and persecuted for years, they finally took their security upon themselves, and they have, for the most part, already been through what the rest of Iraq is just beginning over ten years ago.

I have been avowing for days in debates, with friends and on the blogosphere that impatience is the largest threat to Iraq today.

Still measured in months, in November, 2004, the borders of Iraq were sealed, so that the operation of Fallujah could take place. This was a smart step by the government at that time, as it allowed the operation a different measure of success than it may have had if they hadn’t closed the borders, though it left some people stranded in Iraq that were outside of it, and some outside that were supposed to be back in country. I was in Jordan at the time, and it was an interesting time indeed. With this already going on, (the Jordan/Iraq highway was closed/as were all flights, which is a BIG deal for a lot of people and businesses there) Arafat died, and Ramadan ended with its usual celebrations taken to extreme with the death of Arafat at the same time. It sure was interesting to be in Jordan when Arafat died. But that’s a discussion for later.

Point being, that Operation was considered as part of the “disaster” that Iraq had become. It was the first time I noticed growing impatience on the part of the American public with OIF.

A mere 2 and a half months later, Iraqis silenced that impatience with their first democratic voting process. All the world saw was ink stained purple fingers, smiles and tears. And a turnout that put our country to shame, in conditions much worse than any of us have to go through to vote.

That calm lasted for a while. But then, in an all out effort, the terrorists scaled up. Starting in May we saw another escalation. I happen to equate this with the fact that elections DID mean that Iraq might indeed become a democratically elected government, or even worse was the fear of neighboring states that it could become a secular republic governmentally. Which would cause great issues for the possibility of Syria and Iran to hang on to their dictatorships long term. Which in turn led to, guess what? Another spike in terrorism in Iraq.

And in the past weeks, after the death of 21 Marines in two days, I saw the American public start to tip over the edge with their impatience. This galvanizes the enemy. Most of us agree that we can’t and shouldn’t pull out of Iraq now, for different reasons, but the most commonly agreed on one is that it would tell the terrorists that “they win.” Please, folks, show the resolve and unity we had after 9/11. When the going gets tough, we keep going. It’s how we are where we are today, it’s why we still enjoy the most prosperous and safe place to live in the world. It’s part of what makes us American.

If you feel impatient, I have a suggestion. Do something to help. And remember, our country wasn’t made in 3 years either. Nothing worth having in life comes too easily.

Remember the example above, and how quickly things can change in a mere 3 months there. Be patient. For after the bad days, the good return. (Iraqi saying)

In regards to: The Definition of Failure.....

I have a couple of new posts coming up. But germane to one that will be titled "The Definition of Failure" is the following required reading:

On trends in military spending.

On the argument of Iraq, why and whether we should stay longer, a comment I posted in regards to this post at Winds of Change, of which the entire post and comment thread is well worth reading if you want a good cross section of thinking on this without the usual "personalized ranting" of fringes on both sides.

Err, and by the way, the Army is already doing planning for 2009 in Iraq. See this report.

Then, soon I'll post the followup, which is a debate that I had with a member of the Navy, and a great representation of the debate that is going on nationwide in respect to this.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Who's an expert on the Middle East...?

Mark brought up in the comments section a question on the latest traveling Iraq post. It was "are you going to write a post about the Iraqi Constitution?" Thanks for asking Mark, because I've wanted to write the post you are about to read for quite some time.

I have a love affair with the Middle East. There's simply no other way to put it. However, I am an American. While I may get to see or hear things that a lot of other Americans don't, the simple truth is that the people there (in Iraq, or Iran, or wherever the case may be), will always know more, and that's the key, listening to them. While I will discuss what I've seen or heard or experienced in Iraq sometimes, it's more of the variety of something I have firsthand experience with. I couldn't offer anything compared to any of the Iraqi blogs on the Iraqi Constitution, so I won't write about it. That's pretty much my test. Do I have something to say that people are possibly unlikely to hear or see elsewhere?

However, when I hear Michael Yon talking tonight about how the Kurdish are becoming more and more adamant about a separatist state, I find myself sitting here nodding my head. Most people don't know how fractioning this could actually become to Iraq. Kurdistan is a huge part of the economy, forget about the fact that Sulymania and the rest of Kurdistan don't exactly see eye to eye. I still believe it is also something that would benefit both areas to keep unity. I understand the Kurdish issue, really I do, as I've stated here previously. But, ARGH, the pride in the Middle East is stifling at times, and so, so, so exhausting to watch. Grudges are held and passed down for centuries, or longer.

I did get to see the beautiful signs along the roadside regarding the writing of the Iraqi Constitution, unfortunately, though the shot I thought I got had never really made it...(need a new camera).

Anyhow, this goes to something bigger for me. I go into a bookstore, here, or in Britain, and I head directly for the History section, and then the Middle East, and yes, usually specifically Iraq. (Here's me crawling around the Borders store down near Ground colleague with me at the time thought it was amusing that I literally crawled around looking at books). One day, my sister took the kids to the movies and I spent the entire 2 hours reading this book in the store, never even knew the time was going by until my phone rang. I was sitting on the floor, tears streaming down my face, couldn't put the book down. Another time I spent a good part of an hour sitting in the Borders at Tyson's Corner in the VA/DC area reading this book.

But what normally happens is this: I go into a store, see 50 books on Iraq/Iran/Middle East by various authors, David Pryce Jones, Edward Said, of course I have read Lewis and Friedman, but now they don't hold the same allure for me. They are more knowledgeable than I, certainly. But are they more knowledgeable than, say, people there? I know enough Iraqis and Iranians now that I feel I have my own historical library if I want it. I'm not so shortsighted as to not realize that this is filtered through their personal experiences, so you still need a cross section of views. But I just can't get my mind around the fact that some American, no matter how well schooled, has any authority on a subject that is greater than the person that has and is living it. And this is where blogs come in. I've always wanted to see, and have talked with some pretty smart folks about, a future where there will be "stringers" from various countries, and translation so that we can hear all of the voices in the way that they are heard on the blogosphere in the US. That day, I think, is not so far off, and I very much look forward to it.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Michael Yon on RKO

I grew up near Boston, listening to WRKO radio, which Michael Yon is on live from Mosul right now.

I have exchanged e mails with Michael, and he's a hell of a guy. I hope I get to meet him, either in Iraq, or here someday. Go hit his tip jar. We need him, Deuce Four needs him, and Iraq needs him.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Life.....American Style

Tonight, I went to our town fair with friends. We went to take our kids (13,9,9,7,and 5) to watch, well, er, a "smash up derby". This is one of those things that I would never typically attend (not my thing, I equate it to a very local level of Nascar in my mind,-that's a prejudice I'm trying to work on), but last year the boys had gone and they had a great time, so I decided to tag along.

I was able to bring my niece along, she's the same age as my boys, and they are loving living near each other for the first time in their lives. The reason they are able to do that, however, is double edged, as her dad is serving in Iraq right now, so they are here to be near family.

As we found a place near the side to stand and watch, the kids talked animatedly about which car they were choosing to win. The announcer stated that the event would begin, and would we please stand for the National Anthem. Tonight was a little different. Usually, when the Star Spangled Banner plays, I don't think, I just feel. Sometimes I get a smile, sometimes tears, sometimes goose bumps. Tonight I just looked from the flag to my niece. I reached out and touched her shoulder. I thought about her father waking up at that time in a tent with hundreds of Iraqi soldiers far away. I thought about how badly I wanted to be there too, and why. I thought about my own kids, and what they might think of the person I am, and have been, when I die someday.

I used to have this idea. It came from my father leaving me as a child. It was that every parent was responsible to their children first. And that if all parents in the world followed that, we wouldn't need people taking care of other people's children. The problem with that is, well, there's no such thing as utopia. People are human. They act in terrible ways sometimes. And other people come along and act in turn in wonderful ways that try to undo the damage of the terrible.

Everyone I know has said to me, "you don't have to go to Iraq...why?" "You aren't in the Armed Forces, you know." Yeah, I know. I also know that they (the Armed Forces) can't do it (getting the country on her feet again) alone. It takes rebuilding the infrastructure as well. Someone has to help them (Iraqis) do it. Someone has to do all of the things in this world that are hard and have to get done. I won't say it's a sacrifice for me, because I love what I do, and I love the people I do it with.

That said, is it my job to not go to places that may be dangerous because my kids aren't yet grown? Or are there hundreds or even thousands that I could affect more? Which is my first duty? I truly try to use the same theory that Michael Yon does, which is taking calculated risks, not stupid ones. I'm still walking that tightrope, holding my boys' hands on one side, and the other loves in my life on the other side.

I'm an American, and to me that means doing as much possible for as many as possible. As I always tell my boys, love multiplies, hate divides. All I can hope is to love enough in my life to cause the multiplication effect.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Hope Springs Eternal...or A Flower in the Desert

First I want to say a big thank you to Blackfive for the very nice post and links, and welcome to his readers that have come here. While I'm at it I want to address something that is important to me.
There was a comment over at Blackfive that was critical of my stating how surprised I was at the beauty of Baghdad. This guy sounded like he’d spent some serious time serving in the worst sections of it. It’s important to me, especially important because I have a family member serving in Iraq right now, for people to understand that most of the military never get to see what I will be describing. They are like police officers that are assigned to Watts, and will never see the South Bay beaches, or they are in the slums of NY, and never see Manhattan. Baghdad is a huge city. Both areas exist, the “hell” of Sadr City, and the beauty of the palm groves. Just as both areas exist, the relative safety of Kurdistan, and the danger of Anbar. Our best hope is that they learn not only to coexist, but to unify for the betterment of the all, for the continued security of those places already peaceful and for those in the places of danger to be allowed a chance to change their existence to one of peace and security as well. Thanks to all who served and continue to serve, this IS possible, and it has happened in many parts of the world.

Like this flower I found in the desert sand in Iraq (above).....when enough are put together, it makes this (below). If I have a fault, it is optimism.

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin'd from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

-Alexander Pope,
An Essay on Man, Epistle I, 1733

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Regarding Islam...and a new generation

There’s a debate that’s been raging for some time now on the Muslim community, a lack of outcry about their fellow Muslims and those that are taking Islam to extreme, the Islamists. To me, the Islamists represent the obvious of what we are all grappling with here. Ask any educated, secular Iraqi, they’ll tell you the same.

But that’s really not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about what I feel is an entirely misunderstood and underrepresented section of the Middle East. I’m talking about the educated 30 year old and under crowd. Largely westernized, if even through exposure to television (ugh), and getting more and more educated, this class knows and despises what extremism has brought to their lives. They also know, thanks in part to the Internet, what else is out there in the world.

Anyhow, here’s what I had to say, with some additions since, in a recent debate on this which had started with some discussion by Europeans and Americans on a board stating we should “just outlaw Islam”:

First of all, you can’t, nor should you, outlaw a religion. Again, there are laws to protect a religion from overstepping its bounds, at least here. This goes to the entire argument of: your individual rights end where they start affecting someone else’s. Also, as I’ve said a million times before, society has more effect on people than governments do, and the Middle East is a prime example of that. Even with the most stringent governments, and religious expectations, trust me, there’s plenty of “bending the rules”. People here seem to think that nobody in these places drinks alcohol, has physical relationships with the opposite sex, breaks fast during Ramadan, etc. I am here to tell you that is simply NOT true, not anymore than “no Catholics use “artificial” birth control”! It’s still hidden, yes, but not so hidden that I haven’t seen it for myself. There was the young 20’s couple working at the hotel sneaking in the back for kisses, coming out disheveled and smiling. There have been so many drivers that have confessed to me that they hate Ramadan, they give up their cigarettes for the first few days, then start sneaking them. I could go on…

Second, having been in a couple of Muslim countries quite a bit this year (Jordan and Iraq), Muslim is used in this group somewhat in the same way as, oh, say Catholic is. What I mean is that though x % of the population is technically Muslim (i e raised that way, or their parents, grandparents still go to Mosque, practice it) they do not embrace it without questions, or without taking the parts that they like and leaving other parts. Sounds familiar, huh? There is a large group of Middle Eastern intellectuals, especially in our generation, and more so in the 20 something one, that are totally disenfranchised with religion in general, and Islam in particular. There are, truly, separate sects of this religion. I mean, it's kind of like trying to compare Opus Dei with your Sunday Catholic, with your Eastern Orthodox Catholic. (I was using Catholic because most people on the board were familiar with it.)

I'll expand on what I feel some of the problems are later that are allowing this to flourish. But I can tell you, honestly, that in places like Jordan I see a fairly stable society, where in some areas, people are dressed and acting as western as can be, and in others they are devout Muslims. And for the most part, they accept the differences and live in a sort of harmony. (Don’t get me wrong, Jordan has it’s issues…(anti-Semitism anyone?)…when at the same time they do a booming tourist business from people crossing to Israel near the Dead Sea.)

Now, if you are strictly speaking about the Muslim communities not issuing harsh statements about terrorism, well, that'd be in many cases because a) they are terrorized, b) they don't even consider those people as part of their religion or c) yes, some secretly support it. Now, here’s where I agree with you, it’s the a’s, b’s, AND c’s that are the problem. Because when the a’s don’t speak up for fear, they don’t realize how large their number is, and they give more power to the c’s. When the b’s don’t bother to speak up because of indifference, they too give more power to the c’s.

The c’s are power hungry, cowardly people that cling for various reasons to their support of extreme Islamists. For some it’s fear of loss of power and a comfortable existence. For some it’s a way of being protected, the years of Sadaam are still in their heads and they strategically choose to belong to one “alliance” or another. For these, as they can’t be in the green zone for protection, then they are taking what they see as the next best thing, cozying up to the terrorists for protection. And yes, for some it is a true ideological choice.

More discussion forthcoming....

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

We won't forget

Steven Vincent murdered in Basra. If you followed his writing, you will know that he was devoted to his interpreter, and I'm guessing that it made it that much more hell for them both when captured at gunpoint.

14 of our finest
were killed today. I have had the honor and privledge of working with some of the Marines in Iraq in the past, and they have a special place in my heart. You will not be forgotten, nor will your sacrifices be in vain. That is a promise.

Condolences to the families of all that continue to bleed from terrorism. We will not forget you.

I'm angry and sad. And that much more determined.