28 February 2011

An Open Letter to Baghdad's City Council

Came across this absolutely amazing article from Reuters about a week and a half ago; but doing the outprocessing dash across post prevented me from posting on it earlier. Fairly sarcastic responses to some of the better quotes; I couldn’t help myself.

"The U.S. forces changed this beautiful city to a camp in an ugly and destructive way, which reflected deliberate ignorance and carelessness about the simplest forms of public taste," the statement said.

Deliberate ignorance? Not sure about that. Most of us weren’t DELIBERATELY stupid; it was far more innocent and unintentional… this I can assure you. However, I do apologize for upsetting your discerning taste for architecture and urban planning by attempting to prevent scenarios like this. Beautiful city? Right, I’m sure it was just like Florence prior to March 2003.

"Due to the huge damage, leading to a loss the Baghdad municipality cannot afford...we demand the American side apologize to Baghdad's people and pay back these expenses."

Ok, I’ll take the bait.

Dear Baghdad, (let’s get this out of the way up front) I am sorry we were ever in your country. Be that as it may, I am sorry we had to set up so many Hesco and concrete barriers to protect you from each other… especially in Baghdad. I understand you are still targeting each other daily throughout most of the country, but we were unable to Hesco your ENTIRE country; instead only the areas we felt were most critical, volatile or dangerous at the time of emplacement. Unfortunately for you, most of Baghdad was akin to a level of Doom 3D and required massive amounts of dirt and concrete to separate one side from the other’s death squads. Timeouts just weren’t working anymore…

I’m also sorry that many of the locations of Joint Security Stations, checkpoints, etc., are right on roads, markets, or right in the middle of formerly volatile and deadly neighborhoods. Many of these locations were directed by YOUR security force leadership, but that obviously does not negate our responsibility at maintaining the pleasing aesthetics of your fair city. Yes it was our money that funded the security improvements to protect not only our warfighters, but yours, but that doesn’t excuse us either. But most of all, I am sorry we did everything we could think of to keep AQI out of the Shia neighborhoods, and the Special Groups out of the Sunni side of town at night. And I am also very sorry that we fortified the building that these politicians were sitting in when the Baghdad city council drafted this absurd statement. Oops, our bad. We’ll come pick those dirt and concrete barriers protecting you up first ok?

As far as a payback goes, great idea, we’ll subtract it from the $50 billion(ish) we’ve already spent there on reconstruction. Now you only owe use $49 billion. Pretty good deal, eh? Or you could just quit misappropriating the wealth from your massive oil reserves and pay for the removal of this dirt and concrete yourselves. Just one of many options.

The statement made no mention of damage caused by bombing.

Really? I seemed to have missed that during all the absolutely ridiculous finger-pointing from the Baghdad city (or possibly beladiyah too?) government. I wonder what the reconstruction bill for AQI or JAM would look like for Baghdad.

The heavy blast walls have damaged sewer and water systems, pavement and parks, said Hakeem Abdul Zahra, the city spokesman.

Hakeem, maybe if you built anything in the last century even remotely close to internationally accepted building standards this would not have happened. It’s a possibility I think we should not throw out. Oh, also refer back to the $50 billion(ish) we’ve already spent trying to rebuild your country and the significant amount of corruption at all levels of government that has seriously degraded our reconstruction efforts from day one.

Baghdad is badly in need of a facelift. Electricity and trash collection are sporadic, streets are potholed and sewage treatment plants and pipes have not been renovated for years.

Much of this statement is true, Baghdad as a whole is likely worse today aesthetically and structurally than it was eight years ago. It definitely does not mean we have not attempted to not only fix what we’ve broken but also modernize a lot of the stuff that was broken before we even got there; especially in Baghdad and even up north in Diyala. But, at least they have the right to voice absurd statements like this one today. And the right to not seat a national government for 9 months, which effectively paralyzed Provincial and below governments (which I experienced firsthand for most of 2010), who were leery of unintentionally crossing whatever master eventually was seated in Baghdad.

Time to take the lead and hold someone other than US Forces-Iraq accountable.

08 February 2011

Moscow's Festering Terrorists

Hard to believe that this came from the same group that made this. Doku Umarov is a master at keeping his cause never-too-far from the headlines. Almost a year ago exactly, JD provided a great rundown of Umarov in his “Who’s Who Terrorist” series. That, along with this profile from the BBC, should be ample primer for the uninformed on the notorious Chechen insurgent leader.

Seems as if Umarov is hoping for a major retaliatory crackdown in the North Caucasus by Russian Security Forces, likely with the hope of reigniting separatist aspirations of the region’s population. I’m not a big follower of the region, but I do think it will be pretty interesting to see how Russia handles this moving forward.

04 February 2011

The Post-Authoritarian Middle East

It has now been over two months since my last post, I’ve definitely been slacking as of late. Between hunting with my Griffon pup Darby, ski trips, and vacations to Hawaii I have been off my writing and analytical game. My big update recently has been the approval of my ETS packet so I will be out of the Army and into the unemployment line within a month. So if you happen to see a 30-ish guy who looks like he just got out of the Army holding a homeless vet sign, that may be me. It’s been an interesting seven years thus far, mostly a positive set of experiences, but it’s time to move on. I won’t bore everyone reading this with the laundry list of reasons for my departure from the military; suffice it to say the cons started to outweigh the pros so I’m hanging up my proverbial hat. I may or may not write a future post on my perspective of the woeful state of my soon-to-be-former branch after I go on terminal leave, I am yet to fully weigh the merits of such a post.

I am definitely looking forward to my next professional challenge, which hopefully will get finalized in the next couple weeks; otherwise you’ll be able to find me on the saltwater flats outside of Honolulu chasing Bonefish with a fly rod or carting my daughter around to her various sport practices (something that “Major Mommy” has been doing very well on her own far too long).

Onto more serious news.

Every warm blooded American Soldiers’ favorite reporter Lara Logan was detained in Cairo. I was ambivalent on the uprising until I read this; now I want whoever is responsible to pay! But seriously, I am still fairly undecided on whether this is a good thing or not. My humanitarian side fully supports the uprising for the good of the Egyptian people. However, the realist side of me is more than a little worried. Not knowing what the next government will look like is an obvious concern. Whoever comes next will undoubtedly not unabashedly support American interests the way Mubarak has, which isn’t necessarily the end of the world; but I do worry our access into Africa and the Middle East will dwindle even more. And for the Egyptian people, I think they are forgetting the lessons learned by the Iraqi people about coming out from under a dictator after an extended period of time. The Iraqis had (and still have) absolutely no idea how to run a government; so hopefully they will not fully disband and fully replace their civil servants. What will hopefully emerge is a moderate government; and they will need trained and established civil servants to reduce lag time for the improvement of essential services.

Then when we consider that Egypt has been the historical leader of the Middle East, things get even more troubling for us. Counterterror operations against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula throughout Yemen, the last known residence of Anwar al Awlaki, will undoubtedly become more difficult when Ali Abdullah Saleh steps down in 2013, or is forced out earlier. Is Yemen bound to be the next Afghanistan then? Will we continue to have a military presence on the Sinai? Will we be able to continue our CT efforts in Yemen?

The Egyptian uprising leaves us with more questions than answers on what the Middle East of tomorrow will look like; and even more about our position in the region we have expended more time and resources in than any other in the past three decades.