Friday, February 29, 2008

Tough job- Iraqi interpreter

We're looking at hiring some interpreters for our training site because of changes in our specific situation.

This recent Op-Ed piece illustrates some of the real frustration and anger my peers have felt as they try to do right by the interpreters who have fought the good fight with them here. I don't think he's overstating one bit how difficult it has been for his two friends. I've dealt with some of the same challenges as we looked at ways to take care of our interpreters, and there have been no good solutions.

Thanks for risking your lives, you are on your own. But hey, we paid you well, right?

Shurta Wataniya- The National Police

A couple of news articles on the National Police-

One from the LA Times- this reporter came by Numaniyah quite a while ago- and the article is a few weeks old- I may have cited it in a previous blog, but I don't know for sure. She came on the same day as the National Public Radio reporter that I do know I blogged earlier- back in November or early December was when they stopped by.

And this one from the USA Today is more recent, but the content matter isn't really new- we've been dealing with the "ghost" police for quite a while- I'm pretty certain I've mentioned it in previous blogs about efforts to deal with corruption.

The guy side- gender humor e-mail

Some are funny, some aren't, but I thought I'd put this forwarded e-mail out there- I don't feel as guilty putting them on my page as I do spreading the e-mails, anyway.

The Guys' Rules­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

We always hear " the rules " from the female side.
Now here are the rules from the male side.

These are our rules! Please note: these are all numbered "1" ON PURPOSE!

1. Men are NOT mind readers.

1. Learn to work the toilet seat. You're a big girl. If it's up , put it down. We need it up , you need it down. You don't hear us complaining about you leaving it down.

1. Sunday sports It's like the full moon or the changing of the tides. Let it be.

1. Shopping is NOT a sport. And no , we are never going to think of it that way.

1. Crying is blackmail.

1. Ask for what you want. Let us be clear on this one: Subtle hints do not work! Strong hints do not work! Obvious hints do not work! Just say it!

1. Yes and No are perfectly acceptable answers to almost every question.

1. Come to us with a problem only if you want help solving it. That's what we do. Sympathy is what your girlfriends are for.

1. A headache that lasts for 17 months is a Problem. See a doctor.

1. Anything we said 6 months ago is inadmissible in an argument. In fact , all comments become null and void after 7 Days.

1. If you won't dress like the Victoria 's Secret girls , don't Expect us to act like soap opera guys.

1. If you think you're fat , you probably are. Don't ask us.

1. If something we said can be interpreted two ways and one of the ways makes you sad or angry , we meant the other one

1. You can either ask us to do something Or tell us how you want it done. Not both. If you already know best how to do it , just do it yourself.

1. Whenever possible , Please say whatever you have to say during commercials.

1. Christopher Columbus did NOT need directions and neither do we.

1. ALL men see in only 16 colors , like Windows default settings. Peach , for example , is a fruit , not A color. Pumpkin is also a fruit. We have no idea what mauve is.

1. If it itches , it will be scratched. We do that.

1. If we ask what is wrong and you say "nothing , " We will act like nothing's wrong. We know you are lying , but it is just not worth the hassle.

1. If you ask a question you don't want an answer to , Expect an answer you don't want to hear.

1. When we have to go somewhere , absolutely anything you wear is fine... Really .

1. Don't ask us what we're thinking about unless you are prepared to discuss such topics as baseball , the shotgun formation , or golf.

1. You have enough clothes.

1. You have too many shoes.

1. I am in shape. Round IS a shape!

1. Thank you for reading this. Yes , I know , I have to sleep on the couch tonight;
But did you know men really don't mind that? It's like camping.

Names, I need names!

Now that MSG Timmy and I are over with the 3rd ITB group, we are getting more exposure to other U.S. military folks than we had working over at the training center. One of them has a few funny sayings- one that he breaks out anytime someone is tempted to use an indefinite pronoun for an undetermined third party- if one starts a story with "They say......" or something similar, he exclaims, "Names, I need Names!"

So, in the interest of accountability, here's some real data about what's going on out here- not many names, but at least hard data- only a month old. But my perception is that not much has changed in that one month. I think things are slowly getting better, and there is much potential for pretty much anything to happen- good or bad.

Iraq figures since 2003

By The Associated Press
February 4, 2008

--December 2007: 156,000
--January 2008: 158,000

--Confirmed U.S. military deaths as of Jan. 31, 2008: 3,943.
--Confirmed U.S. military wounded as of Jan. 31, 2008: 29,038.
--U.S. military deaths for January 2008: 40.
--Deaths of civilian employees of U.S. government contractors as of Dec. 31, 2007: 1,123.
--Iraqi deaths from war-related violence: According to Associated Press figures, there were 609 total Iraqi deaths in January 2008 -- the lowest monthly figure since December 2005, when it was 375.
--Assassinated Iraqi academics: 344.
--Journalists killed on assignment: 126.

--Stepped-up military operations are costing about $12 billion a month, with Iraq accounting for $10 billion per month, according to a July 2007 analysis by the Congressional Research Service.
--Total cost to the U.S. government so far is over $490 billion.
--According to a November 2007 report from the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, total economic costs for the Iraq war are estimated at $1.3 trillion for the period from 2002 to 2008. This figure represents the hidden costs of the war beyond the direct budgetary appropriations, including interest costs of borrowing these funds, lost investment, long-term veterans' health care and oil market disruptions.
-- A January 2007 study by Linda Bilmes of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government put the total projected cost of providing medical care and disability benefits to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan at $350 billion to $700 billion.

--Prewar: 2.58 million barrels per day.
--Jan. 20, 2008: 2.10 million barrels per day.

Prewar nationwide: 3,958 megawatts. Hours per day (estimated): four to eight.
--Jan. 22, 2008 nationwide: 3,975 megawatts. Hours per day: 8.7.
--Prewar Baghdad: 2,500 megawatts. Hours per day (estimated): 16-24.
--Jan. 22, 2008 Baghdad: Megawatts not available. Hours per day: 7.2.
--Note: Current Baghdad megawatt figures are no longer reported by the U.S. State Department's Iraq Weekly Status Report.

--Prewar land lines: 833,000.
--March 13, 2007: 1,111,000.
--Prewar cell phones: 80,000.
--Jan. 30, 2008: Approximately 10,000,000.

--Prewar: 12.9 million people had potable water.
--January 20, 2008: 20.4 million people have potable water.

--Prewar: 6.2 million people served.
--January 20, 2008: 11.3 million people served.

--Jan. 8, 2008: At least 2.4 million people have been displaced inside Iraq.

--Prewar: 500,000 Iraqis living abroad.
--Jan. 8, 2008: More than 2.2 million in neighboring countries, mainly Syria and Jordan. .

Sources: The Associated Press, State Department, Defense Department, Department of Energy, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, The Brookings Institution, Iraq Body Count, Iraqi ministries of health and education, U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, U.N. High Commission for Refugees, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, Committee to Protect Journalists, Harvard University, Economist Intelligence Unit, National Priorities Project, International Telecommunication Union, The Brussels Tribunal, USAID, Paul Budde Communication.

AP researchers Julie Reed and Rhonda Shafner in New York compiled this report.

I think we've done an extraordinary job with our cell phone program.

Silly e-mail

From a forwarded e-mail- it struck me as funny, not just because of the children's classic responses, but also because sentence completion tests are often used in various psychometric instruments, so the format is one that is quite familiar to me.

For example,

If you can't handle the truth.......
don't let children complete the sentences.

A 1st grade school teacher had twenty-six students in her class. She presented each child in her classroom the 1st half of a well-known proverb and asked them to come up with the remainder of the proverb. It's hard to believe these were actually done by first graders. Their insight may surprise you. While reading, keep in mind that these are first-graders, 6-year-olds, because the last one is a classic!

1. Don't change horses until

they stop running.

2. Strike while the

bug is close.

3. It's always darkest before

Daylight Saving Time.

4. Never underestimate the power of


5. You can lead a horse to water but


6. Don't bite the hand that

looks dirty.

7. No news is


8. A miss is as good as a


9. You can't teach an old dog new


10. If you lie down with dogs, you'll

stink in the morning.

11. Love all, trust


12. The pen is mightier than the


13. An idle mind is the

best way to relax.

14. Where there's smoke there's


15. Happy the bride

who gets all the presents.

16. A penny saved is

not much.

17. Two's company, three's

the Musketeers.

18. Don't put off till tomorrow what you

put on to go to bed.

19. Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and

You have to blow your nose.

20. There are none so blind as

Stevie Wonder.

21. Children should be seen and not

spanked or grounded.

22. If at first you don't succeed

get new batteries.

23. You get out of something only what you

see in the picture on the box.

24. When the blind lead the blind

get out of the way.

25. A bird in the hand is

going to poop on you.

26. Better late than


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Closer to the end- some funny guys

During my glorious one week up in the IZ, I got to touch base with some acquaintances, some of whom have provided me entertainment during our tour through their blogs-

One of them recently compared our deployment to the 400 Meters footrace.

I've always thought of it as a marathon, not a sprint- and being away from the flagpole, I've had more autonomy to pace myself accordingly- push hard when I need to, pull back when I feel the need, all at my discretion.

His comments made me think of the Kipling quote-

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!
Rudyard Kipling

Another of my IZ colleagues has always had a great sense of the absurdity of some of the things we experience. For example, given the urgency of some demands to create slides, a few of the folks at HQ started to think that maybe, just maybe, the key to winning the war was if every policeman in Iraq had pants.

Thus is born and presented to all the world, the "status of pants report." The possibilities here are endless.... let your imagination run wild with your own continuation of this posting.
If the pants status is any indication, removing the 300,000 of us military and contractors in 60 days, as promised by one of our presidential candidates, is entirely feasible and called for.

Go big or go home- more articulately stated

A bit ago, after spending again too much time reading the Army's "Early Bird News", I wrote some thoughts about how I'd approach Iraq if I were running the show.

I essentially argued we needed to go all in or all out.

Anthony Cordesman had a piece today that I thought did a nice job of articulating some of my thoughts about it- we need to acknowledge the costs either way.

On another note, I continue my efforts to extend my 15 minutes- Matt LaPlante gives me some love in a recent article.

In another effort at finding a silver lining in this now 13 month long experience, I've met or corresponded with so many interesting people because of this assignment. Like Matt, and other media, for one example.

For another example, last week I was tricked into coming up to my headquarters- "office call" they said... it only lasted a week. Oh, dear. But a couple of notes about it that I really enjoyed beyond touching base with so many friends from the deployment train-up that I hadn't seen because of my remote assignment-

1. Got to see National Police leadership in some truly human and personal moments- and it did me some real good to see it. During meetings with the NP Commander and with one of his senior leaders, I watched them interact with some children- getting them some candy, teasing them, giving them hugs, letting them sit on their laps- sincere and loving affection. At my training location, we don't see anything like that- I don't ever see children at our site. So I got to think of my little ones, and remind myself of the humanity of my counterparts.

2. The NP Commander played "the joke's on you!". As I sat in his office, he commented on the great press coverage of the graduation back on the 21st of January. He specifically asked, "have you seen this one?" And then he held up 3 pages of my blog while he sported a huge cheese-eating grin. I wasn't sure whether to be flattered that the commander of the Iraqi National Police was reading my blog, or to worry if my own military leadership would find out, and light me up for something about it that they found offensive. Once I regained my composure, "Sir, how did you come to find that?" He replied that his daughter in America had forwarded it to him. What a small world, huh? And always know- everyone's gathering intelligence in all kinds of ways. :-)

As I work with the commander and his staff, I can only imagine the burdens and challenges they face- I see so much of it, and know it is only a fraction of what he has to deal with. His is yet another job, like General Petraeus', that I have no interest in taking on. But this country needs strong leaders for such positions, and I am thankful for people like him who step up to the plate.

Shukran jazeelen, saidi!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

We're from the government, we're here to help!

As I came back from my break in Doha, I got to catch a glimpse of the Waxman et al Clemens testimony/3 ring circus.

I was heartened to know that Congress had solved all of our other problems, so they had time to dedicate to something that, if illegal, in my estimation should have been pursued by our executive and judicial branches.

We've apparently solved the 2 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there's no budget deficit, concerns over recession or high foreclosure rates because of risky financing packages of questionable mortgages, Social Security and health care systems are both on solid footing, we've completely recovered from Katrina, and so on.

I'm hoping they can soon free up some time for some other high priority hearings- we've got to do something about the parenting efforts of fathers and mothers of young female celebrities! Of course, that has to take a back seat until Congress can solve the whole New England Patriots spygate conspiracy.

I find arguments that only the president is to blame for the U.S. reputation suffering internationally a bit specious- the whole world can see these grandstanding and meaningless spectacles (I got the Clemens photo from a Turkish website). Way to go, elected legislative officials, keep up the good work! There's a bunch of us laying it on the line out here for you! Our families are also glad you're doing a great job of keeping your eye on the ball.

And yes, I was using my outside voice on that.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Republic of Fear, Kanan Makiya

Finished this one during the front end of my 4 day pass.

Learned about Michel Aflaq as a major player in the forming of the Ba'ath party.

I found the author's description of the psychological effects of the actions of the party on the population compelling. In some ways it appears they manifest learned helplessness, or something similar to what is seen in some battered spouses- after a while some stop trying to escape or fix the problem. They act in seeming self-preservation, but they are no longer living in any full sense of the word.

I also found it interesting how the political party eventually became nothing more than an organization by and for the Leader, in this case, Saddam Hussein, who seemed to be the perfect embodiment of the type of person that would and should lead such an organization that worked by and through instilling fear in his country's population.

In short, the book suggests Saddam was a bad man.

There is still fear in the Republic- but it is different. I think in some ways it has changed for the good, in others, for the worse.

I still see no easy answers, but I'm cautiously optimistic that the locals are starting to understand what behaviors are productive or are counterproductive in creating a society and government that will enable them to not only live with the absence of fear, but to thrive and flourish.

A view critical of the author.

Mortimer's take on another of Makiya's works.

An NYTimes piece by Packer in March 2003 discussing Makiyah's activities at the time.

Makiya painted a profile of Saddam, and made an effort to explain the "why" of the Iran-Iraq war. To sum it up and bludgeon his work through paraphrasing it- he did it because he could.

Makiya disputed all political or strategic reasons, refuted all of the types of logical arguments associated with the casus belli other than simply that- because he could. And then I started musing about our current engagement here, and how many of the reasons presented for the war have been discredited, and I personally feel that there are some parallels. I wouldn't take that too far, but it gave me pause.

Anyway, I'm going to take a break from the heavy reading and hit something light next- Benjamin Graham's "The Intelligent Investor". He's already chastised me for being more of a speculator than an investor. I feel shame and horror. But man, stock prices seem low right now! Doh! He chastises me again- don't look at the market, look at the value of a company! Aargh!

Best 4 day pass from a combat zone ever

"Day 1" Camel meat market- doesn't get any fresher...

My children already recognize the trick in my title- yes, I just went on my first ever 4 day pass from a combat zone.

So another Top 10 is in order.

The 4 day pass top 10
1. Water pressure in the showers
2. Electricity- all the time- without the droning of generators
3. No sounds of incoming indirect fire or small arms fire (SAF)- now that I'm back in Baghdad, the SAF is crackling again.
4. An extended "Day Zero"- the day we get there doesn't count- but because we got there kind of late, we were given a "full" day Zero the next day- meaning we got an extra day- woo-hoo!
Day One continues- Iranian style restaurant.

5. City tour- camels, markets, meals, etc.

Day 3- water sports- waiting for the sea-doo

6. Water sports tour- Dhow "cruise", sea-doo, and some hot-dog shaped float that I kept getting thrown off of into the Persian Gulf, and another Arabian-style lunch.

Camels near the sand dunes on inland sea tour

7. Inland sea tour- crazy drive through traffic in Doha, then crazy drive over the dunes, past the natural gas refineries, to an inland sea- volleyball, beach, sand, another Arabian-style lunch. Hmmm. Hummus and lamb kabobs.

At the Copa! Copa-cabana!

8. Wear civvies all you want.
9. No weapons. No motorola radio. E-mail checks at my discretion.
10. Big army chow halls.
11. LDS Church with actual people instead of CDs or DVDs and me as the conductor, speaker, officiator, usher, etc.

Got to ride back to Iraq in a bigger bird than the trip down- the nylon mesh and steel tubes were downright cozy!

It was a very good time. I can't believe I get to do it again in a few weeks. Woo-hoo!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Super Tuesday

Tuesday is super for me because I'm starting the journey that is the 4 day pass when you come from the middle of nowhere. It actually will probably take over a week- possibly even up to 2 weeks because the front and back end are such an adventure.

Today I bummed a ride on a helicopter- hitchhiking Army style, and made it up to Baghdad. Next leg will hopefully get me to Qatar for the beginning of the "real" 4 day pass.

And as for the politics, at this point, no comment.

Sunday, February 03, 2008


A couple of recent sets of stories have been floating around that haven't been connected by the media, but I'd like to take a shot at it (forgive the pun).

One set is about homicidal military personnel returning from deployments, the NY Times article linked here kicking off the discussion.

I was glad to see that Ralph Peters, while I find him a bit too strident in his tone most of the time, noted the relevant statistics. Military personnel are less likely than the general population (age matched) to be involved in violence following their deployments. Apparently, many other conservative bloggers were left howling by the NY Times piece. It appears the NY Times editors didn't make sure the writers did their due diligence on it, or as Peters and others suggest, lacked the objectivity one might desire of such a report.

For those who think that military personnel are bloodthirsty souls, I recommend a fairly thorough treatment on the topic: LTC Dave Grossman's "On killing." We are trained, but for most of us there is no delight in pulling the trigger.

The other set is about increased rates of suicide among military personnel. The article I saw today noted that statistically, the rates of suicide in military personnel is also below the U.S. general population (again age matched). But it is buried in the text of a larger article discussing the dramatic rise in the military's suicide rate since the war has begun.

Social scientists may be crying out at this point (all one or two of them that might be reading this)- "healthy worker effect!" Valid point.

That being said, military personnel are undoubtedly dealing with greater pressures and stressors, and some of them choose to "deal with it" or "express" their reactions to the stress through suicide gestures or suicide itself, or violence towards others. They have been trained in the lethal use of force, and have access to firearms, etc. Where I'm at, there are no easy answers to it other than to work hard with each other to make sure people don't get to that point. We are on our own, and so we have to watch out for each other.

Just thought I'd try to point out some mental health issues facing the military- and our society as a whole.

Concluding, a MacArthur quote, with the acknowledgment that it ignores those innocents caught in the crossfire, or those struggling with unrepaired infrastructure, unstable government, etc:

The soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.

Mistrust, conspiracy theory, and fatalism

Came across a passage in my current reading which captured some of what I've observed as I work with Iraqi local nationals and with the Iraqi National Police.

"Conspiratorial thinking has broad roots in the extreme fatalism and hostility to individualism that may be a characteristic of Islamic culture generally. The idea of submission to the will of God is the passive counterpart of the quest for martyrdom in His Cause. Both undermine the modern notion of people as actors, makers of their own history, manipulators of nature, responsible ultimately only to themselves. Pan-Arabism enriches this legacy by setting up a yawning chasm between its ultimate goals and existing realities. The chasm grows with time creating an even more conducive atmosphere for "thinking" conspiracies.....

-p.100, Republic of Fear, the politics of modern Iraq, by Kanan Makiya

Are people wondering why things are going slowly here? I'm not sure one can overstate the collision of cultures that is going on between the U.S. and western philosophical and political approaches and those of the local cultures and leaders here.