Saturday, August 26, 2006

Climbing the Gar

Yesterday morning, we heaed out before dawn, a 0415 link up for a 0500 Convoy Operation. We were about twenty soldiers and civilians heading out on our quest to climb the "Gar" literally "Mountain" in Dari. It is a peak that overlooks all of Kabul, located behind one of the ranges at Kabul Military Training Center. Now, Kabul is alrready high at about 6,000 feet above Sea Level. This peak climbs to about 7,450 at its zenith...the altitude is a Gut Check.

We made it with all of our travellers in one hour twenty minutes. The runners that met us at the top took it in 22 minutes flat. There were a wide variety of members of our team that made the climb. Most of the troops were from the Logistical Task Force, formerly known as 141st Support Battalion of the Oregon Army National Guard. Men and women, young and middle aged, we made the climb together and navigated the knife edge of the peaks...the photos tell the story best. But it made for a great way to start a day...the official weekend of the force.

-out here.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Un adieu aux soldats français d'armée

Tonight we said farewell to our team of French officers and non commissioned officers as they will soon depart the theatre to return home to France. The most prominent of them all, was, of course, Capitain Stephane L'Expert, the task force liaison officer. Stephane has made great friendships in a very short time and made a very formal ceremony of saying good bye to all of those that had touched his task force.

In saying farewell, the commander issued certificates of friendship with those being honored. Many of us also received an honorary gift to remember our time with them. Our Marine Corps Liaison Officer, Captain Sean Forrester, and my deputy Lieutenant Cathrin Fraker had made the torturous climb up "The Gar" with the French weeks ago. As such, they were made honorary members of the French Mountain Regiment, famous for their huge Berets.

I received one of two berets of the French Infantry, which I wore proudly through the night. It was nice to expand our relationships here and to have the acknowledgement that we would see each other again. the french replacement company will arrive soon, but it seems that there will be a gap in the succession.

Finally, as the French First Sergeant was an Artilleryman with a strong appreciation for fellow Redlegs, they induced several of the soldiers fromt he 218th Field Artillery "Portland's Own" into the 40th (French) Artillery Regiment. Led by Major Robert Fraser and Staff Sergeant Don Olson, they were recognized with certificates as well as the traditional garrison caps worn by French Artillerymen.

The French contribution to the Phoenix mission here is academic as well as tactical, much like the American mission. They run the officer's training programs, at both the company grade (Captain's Course) and the field Grade (Staff College). It makes for an interesting variety amongst the trainers at Kabul Military Training Center.

It was a great night and a good reminder of the partnerships we are building across nations. it really is good to see other nations in the fight, working together for a better future of Afghanistan.

Merci et la bonne nuit mes amis,

-out here.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Best Night to Date

I had the most amazing evening of my tour last night. An independent film maker has been filming at the Kabul Military Training Center for the past six weeks, living amongst the Afghan soldiers and shooting video without many restrictions thanks to the access that we have provided him. The young man, Weise Azimi, who is Afghan by heritage but American by birth, has travelled much of the globe thanks to his father's career with the Asian Development Bank and his own zeitgeist for travel. As a thank you for the cooperative relationship we have established, he invited several of us that he has worked with most closely to attend an event at his father's home in downtown Kabul. All we knew was that it would be diner with a likely visit from the U.S. Ambassador. On arrival, Colonel Jim Lyman, 1st Sergeant Don Weber, 2nd Lieutenant Amanda Straub and I, entered behind the walls of the safe house to a beautifully landscaped lawn, decorated with rugs and pillows, a patio filled with world citizens and an atmosphere at once informal and stately in this safe house in a side of Kabul that we have not seen to date. We removed our very heavy gear, to include helmets, body armor, weapons, and, in Amanda and I's case, cameras, in the vain hope that it would help us to assimilate with the audience of State representatives, Ambassadors, Artists and NGO leaders. Immediately , Weise introduced us to his stunning younger sister, Sara, a new graduate of Marylhurst College in Northern Virginia, and the obvious center of the party, as she was soon departing from her summer stay in Kabul to "Trek the Himalayas, visit Thailand and Vietnam before starting my graduate studies at the University of Manchester, my first visit to the United Kingdom." Indeed. Ah, to be 22 and embarking on a world tour.

After a brief tour of the house, seeing the artifacts of a lifetime of travel and collecting, Weise introduced us to his father, our host, Ali Azimi. While I was speaking to Ali, learning more of his career and life, Weise took over the DJ function and shifted the music to Thievery Corporation's collection from the Verve Archives...I was in heaven and in my element.

All I needed was a suit, a martini, and Margaret at my side, and I could have been at any party of a hundred over the past decade in Berlin, Paris, Cairo, Istanbul or Portland. Suffice it to say, it was a Jet Set night to remember.

I surveyed an audience that included the Ambassadors from the United States and India, the directors of several NGOs, the only female General Officer in the Afghan National Army, two professsional photographers that I now plan to work with later this month and into the winter, and several others, a diverse crowd from all ranks.

Of course, with the Ambassadorial presence, there were State Department Security Agents wandering the grounds in the dark of the shadows with MP5s and who knows what other weapons, as well as a big-ass German Shepherd that wandered the garden, loving everyone but those outside the gate.

Once I got into my groove and had befriended the kitchen staff and spoken with several of the guests, many of them started to realize that the guys in uniform were not so strange, we had a wonderful time. The most rewarding conversations I had that evening were those held over a Ginger Ale with our host and the Ambassador from India. We seemed to fall into a smooth groove of concurrence over the tremendous improvement of Afghanistan and Kabul in general over the past four years and ow little the international community seems to notice. With news reports from major American and Western media often coming from editors who have either never visited the city or jump in for a 48 hour wild cruise, during which time it is so very hard to find out the truths of any location. We discussed how vitally important the next three to four months are for Afghanistan, with the U.S. mid-term elections happening in the fall and so much being held in the balance over our commitment to Afghanistan and this region. So much of world opinion is based, in the words of one of us "on information that is clearly erroneous, but which falls upon ears looking for problems and shortcomings rather than success."

From there, Straub and I moved to the rugs in the yard with two photographers to discuss a project that Zalmai, a world-renowned photographer that knew two of the photographers I had already worked with here, planned to commence at the earliest opportunity. We exchanged contact information and plan rto meet up again later this week.

Incredible Afghan food, engaging and intelligent conversation, charming international guests which painted, like I said, a Jet Set ambassadorial class of world citizens concerned for the future flowering of this country made for a memorable evening.

An insanely cool party with way too many relationships established or reinforced.
And all this in a war zone; the parallel unverses of this city and country are sometimes, really, too much.

We started the ritual of replacing our gear, and prepared to, in the words of one of the guests, "Make yourselves back up to look like modern knights in armor," and commenced our journey home, from the Westernized comfort of the city through the desolate streets Eastward through the slums of the East side to the suburbs where we make our home. Changing back from statesman into soldier modes, made the evening seem like an illusion; but an illusion of a better, future Afghanistan laced with hopes that I might someday return to this place with my family, my sons playing with Afghan teens and wandering the shops, drinking tea and remembering that their father was part of a team that helped the people of Afghanistan get to where they are.

That will be nice.

-out here

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The First Afghan National Army Combined Arms Live Fire

So after three very deliberate full dress live fire rehearsals, they did it. The 3rd Brigade of the 201st Corps of the Afgahn National Army executed the first ever brigade level combined arms live fire exercise. the 3rd Brigade just left four months of non-stop combat operations in the Konar province only last month (see An Unprecedented Day) and entering the training cycle, became the first unit of its sixe to conduct a coordinated live fire of this magnitude.

They started with Artillery. The D-30 Howitzers unleashing the hell fire of indirect from five kilmoters away.
This was followed by the progression of a squadron of T-62 Tanks moving their way with the belching smoke of their grinding engines on an even assembly line of order. slowly, they moved across the battlefield while the mounted infantry moved along the nearest flank. Once they got within their proper range, the mortarmen dismounted and set up their positions, continuing the indirect assault on the enemy bunkers downrange. As the tanks continued their movement forward an enormous explosion went off within 100m of the dismounts...two of the mortarmen fell. But our breathlessness was shortlived as we realized that this was all part of the training exercise. Suddenly the M113 Mechanized Ambulance arrived on the scene, evacuated the wounded to the immediate front of the display seating, where the trainers had located the mobile surgical hospital. Once they performed their training triage on the "wounded" the doctors determined that the wounds were too significant to deal with on scene. The Aerial medivac arrived within minutes. HIPP helicopters, one air ambulance and a second for security of the skies, met the M113 ambulance on the ground and took the wounded to safety. meanwhile the attack continued to move forward on the training field. The tanks were eventually reinforced with a pair of that most ominous and threatening looking helicopter of the past thirty years, the HIND-D. As it arrived on the field it surprised even those of us that had expected its arrival.

During the entire exercise, my fellow public affairs officers and I managed what turned out to be a monumental platoon of media from 17 different outlets, twelve of which were Afghan mediabased mostly out of Kabul, but reaching the entire nation. But others were the internationals from Agence France Presse, AP, Reuters, even Xinhua from China. It was unprecendented. Finally, I finished my time escorting the Boston Globe with an interview between Charlie Sennott of the Globe and Lt. Gen. Eikenberry, the Commander of Combined Forces Command, Afghanistan. He is an extraordinary man, who put it all into perspective.

"Five years into this long war, we are winning. but this war is not yet won. five years from now, there will still be challenges, but it will be better."

To witness this level of professionalism on a training battlefield is unprecendented in this theater, but to see it executed by Afghans exclusively gives great hope for a better tomorrow.

The photos on this page were taken by my entire team. The first is mine, but the shot of the HIND and the litter evac are from LT Amanda Straub, our newest team mate and an emerging shooter of some serious talent. the shot of the Press Conference after the exercise was taken by my deputy LT Cathrin Fraker. It is one of the best summaries of what the exercise was, by, of, and for the people of Afghanistan. Cathrin has the eye already. Between these two and Sergeant First Class Tom Roberts, I am spoiled with talent.

-out here

Friday, August 04, 2006

Rugby in Europe

So we got to spend the day of rest in least that is how it felt. Friday is the end of week break here for both the Afghans and the coalition. So we went to ISAF (International Security Assistance Forces) that is the European Command that is part of NATO. They have led the effort here for some time and it was nice to be over at ISAF...

There are trees, bushes and a huge soccer field of real grass. That was great. We played "touch" Rugby for about two hours.
What a smoker. The photos will show that we were actually playing on grass. That, in and of itself, made for a great morning. Other than that, I learned that the goal is to stay behind the bal, not to get in front of it...Wow is this sport different from Football.

During our breaks we shared a taste of home with some of our fellow players from the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, South Africa and Fiji. We had eight boxes of "Kettle Chips" sent to us from the Marine Corps League fo Salem, Oregon. They were a huge hit. "Crisps! Real Crisps!" shouted one of the Brits. They went over very well. Rob Fraser, the only real rugby star amongst us, led the effort by asking for sponsorship from home and "BINGO!" here come boxes of Kettle Chips and Tillamook Beef Jerky. A real taste of home from Oregon, shared with citizens of the world.

After that, we ate in Europe. Again, that is at least what it felt like. We ate real bread with British Fried Cod and Chips with real Vinegar. It was great.

We then went to have our cafe ( was real cappucinos served in real china tea cups) in the park, a rest area filled with trees and tables and chairs, a nice little park like setting for just that...reading the paper and drinking your tea or coffee after lunch.

There had been some little bunnies running around there I guess, but the stray cats have gotten to them, I guess. It was nice to have a day in Europe amidst the high desert of Afghanistan.

We followed our brief repasse with a meeting with ISAF Battle Group leaders focused on getting humanitarian assistance to a village close to Kabul. Met a team of Finnish civil military experts and a regional representative of the United Nations, also a Finn.

Like I said, it was nice to go to Europe for a day.

-out here

Thursday, August 03, 2006

An Unprecedented Day

We started the morning early. I have gotten into the rhythm of meeting two fellow staff officers at a little after 0500 in the relatively well-appointed gym here at Camp Phoenix. Both of them were away from the area this morning, but I still managed a good work out. I finished with just enough time to run back to my room, shower, change and run to get my gear on. I powered down some breakfast and jumped into my vest and helmet and meet the Commanding General at his vehicle.

We were off to the Kabul Military Training Center, just a short drive from our compound up the precariously sort-of paved Jalalabad Road. We were going to witness the “Oathing Ceremony” of the 53rd Afghan National Army battalion to graduate from basic training. Known as Kandak 53, this group of approximately 700 new soldiers had just finished a 12 mile road march the night before. They had had the night to rest and ceremoniously wash themselves of the unclean before the ceremony this morning. It is an important element of this event to have the ceremonious cleaning, for these young soldiers were about to swear an oath of allegiance to the Nation of Afghanistan and the Afghan National Army.

The oath reads in part “I am a brave son of this land, loyal to my country. I swear I will obey all the rules and regulations of my Army and will obey all ranking officers in any kind of condition. I will give first priority to my National interest before all other interests. For this honor, I will sacrifice my life if necessary.”

Each of the men marched up, platoon by platoon to stand before one of approximately 75 copies of the Koran laid out on long tables adorned with weapons of the Afghan National Army. Thesoldiers then stood forward on order and placed their right hand over the Koran, which was in turn beneath a rifle or other military weapon. The soldiers took their oaths with pride and honor.

From there we went to witness another event, the graduation of the first ever company commander’s course, a four-month block of instruction that trained the tactical level officers of the ANA in leadership, tactics, techniques and procedures of how to lead a company of men in combat. When Maj. Gen. Durbin, the Commander of Combined Security Transition Assistance Command, Afghanistan, spoke to the assembled officers, he deviated from his prepared comments, looking at each of the 57 officers before him in the eye, inspired by their courage and the great honor that lay before them.

“It is you that is responsible for the soldiers that you will lead,” he said. “You who is responsible for completing any mission that your company is assigned and you who must rise to every occasion to always do the right thing, regardless of how difficult,” he continued. “It is you that, in recognizing the errors of your soldiers, who must reflect ‘Have I improperly inspired them and how can I properly inspire them to do better?”

Simultaneously, we had another first here in Afghanistan. Today Sgt. 1st Class Jack Martin, NCOIC of our logistics team, re-enlisted for a final term in his Army career. That is special in and of itself, but what makes it extraordinary is that he arranged to re-enlist beside the Afghan National Army soldiers that he trained and served alongside two years ago as an embedded trainer when he was here the first time.

Seventeen soldiers from the ANA, did something that has never happened formally in Afghanistan before, they raised their right hands and re-enlisted into the Army. Repeating the vows they had taken when they first enlisted. They did this because of the pride they feel in being a part of the solution, in being part of the winning team. They did this, I would argue, in part because of the inspiring example shown by men like Jack Martin, men that would have it no other way, but along side his combat colleagues, regardless of whether those comrades were American or Afghan. It is an inspiring example of why we are here and why it is right to be here.

Finally, I want to share something that will take you away from the experience of the soldiers of Task Force Phoenix.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke in my native Los Angeles. He spoke to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. I don’t know, that is probably a big bigger than speaking to the graduating class of UCLA’s English Department (Ha!)

But, having read it several times now, I have to say it is one of the most powerful speeches I have read that was delivered in my lifetime. Likely because it is based on events that I am not only witnessing, but actively participating in.

The British soldiers fighting in the South and West of Afghanistan lost five soldiers yesterday. It is a heavy cost, but not one unnoticed. Read on. I hope you will be as inspired as I was through the course of these words.

-out here

Speech by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, August 1, 2006

Overnight, the news came through that as well as continuing conflict in the Lebanon, Britain’s armed forces suffered losses in Iraq and Afghanistan. It brings home yet again the extraordinary courage and commitment of our armed forces who risk their lives and in some cases tragically lose them, defending our country’s security and that of the wider world. These are people of whom we should be very proud.
I know the US has suffered heavy losses too in Iraq and in Afghanistan. We should never forget how much we owe these people, how great their bravery, and their sacrifice.

I planned the basis of this speech several weeks ago. The crisis in the Lebanon has not changed its thesis. It has brought it into sharp relief.

The purpose of the provocation that began the conflict was clear. It was to create chaos, division and bloodshed, to provoke retaliation by Israel that would lead to Arab and Muslim opinion being inflamed, not against those who started the aggression but against those who responded to it.

It is still possible even now to come out of this crisis with a better long-term prospect for the cause of moderation in the Middle East succeeding. But it would be absurd not to face up to the immediate damage to that cause which has been done.
We will continue to do all we can to halt the hostilities. But once that has happened, we must commit ourselves to a complete renaissance of our strategy to defeat those that threaten us. There is an arc of extremism now stretching across the Middle East and touching, with increasing definition, countries far outside that region. To defeat it will need an alliance of moderation, that paints a different future in which Muslim, Jew and Christian; Arab and Western; wealthy and developing nations can make progress in peace and harmony with each other. My argument to you today is this: we will not win the battle against this global extremism unless we win it at the level of values as much as force, unless we show we are even-handed, fair and just in our application of those values to the world.

The point is this. This is war, but of a completely unconventional kind.
9/11 in the US, 7/7 in the UK, 11/3 in Madrid, the countless terrorist attacks in countries as disparate as Indonesia or Algeria, what is now happening in Afghanistan and in Indonesia, the continuing conflict in Lebanon and Palestine, it is all part of the same thing. What are the values that govern the future of the world? Are they those of tolerance, freedom, respect for difference and diversity or those of reaction, division and hatred? My point is that this war can’t be won in a conventional way. It can only be won by showing that our values are stronger, better and more just, more fair than the alternative. Doing this, however, requires us to change dramatically the focus of our policy.

Unless we re-appraise our strategy, unless we revitalize the broader global agenda on poverty, climate change, trade, and in respect of the Middle East, bend every sinew of our will to making peace between Israel and Palestine, we will not win. And this is a battle we must win.

What is happening today out in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and beyond is an elemental struggle about the values that will shape our future.
It is in part a struggle between what I will call reactionary Islam and moderate, mainstream Islam. But its implications go far wider. We are fighting a war, but not just against terrorism but about how the world should govern itself in the early 21st century, about global values.

The root causes of the current crisis are supremely indicative of this. Ever since September 11th, the US has embarked on a policy of intervention in order to protect its and our future security. Hence Afghanistan. Hence Iraq. Hence the broader Middle East initiative in support of moves towards democracy in the Arab world.
The point about these interventions, however, military and otherwise, is that they were not just about changing regimes but changing the values systems governing the nations concerned. The banner was not actually "regime change" it was "values change."

What we have done therefore in intervening in this way, is far more momentous than possibly we appreciated at the time.

Of course the fanatics, attached to a completely wrong and reactionary view of Islam, had been engaging in terrorism for years before September 11th. In Chechnya, in India and Pakistan, in Algeria, in many other Muslim countries, atrocities were occurring. But we did not feel the impact directly. So we were not bending our eye or our will to it as we should have. We had barely heard of the Taleban. We rather inclined to the view that where there was terrorism, perhaps it was partly the fault of the governments of the countries concerned.

We were in error. In fact, these acts of terrorism were not isolated incidents. They were part of a growing movement. A movement that believed Muslims had departed from their proper faith, were being taken over by Western culture, were being governed treacherously by Muslims complicit in this take-over, whereas the true way to recover not just the true faith, but Muslim confidence and self esteem, was to take on the West and all its works.

Sometimes political strategy comes deliberatively, sometimes by instinct. For this movement, it was probably by instinct. It has an ideology, a world-view, it has deep convictions and the determination of the fanatic. It resembles in many ways early revolutionary Communism. It doesn't always need structures and command centers or even explicit communication. It knows what it thinks.

Its strategy in the late 1990s became clear. If they were merely fighting with Islam, they ran the risk that fellow Muslims - being as decent and fair-minded as anyone else - would choose to reject their fanaticism. A battle about Islam was just Muslim versus Muslim. They realized they had to create a completely different battle in Muslim minds: Muslim versus Western.

This is what September 11th did. Still now, I am amazed at how many people will say, in effect, there is increased terrorism today because we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. They seem to forget entirely that September 11th predated either. The West didn't attack this movement. We were attacked. Until then we had largely ignored it.
The reason I say our response was even more momentous than it seemed at the time, is this. We could have chosen security as the battleground. But we didn't. We chose values. We said we didn't want another Taleban or a different Saddam. Rightly, in my view, we realized that you can't defeat a fanatical ideology just by imprisoning or killing its leaders; you have to defeat its ideas.

There is a host of analysis written about mistakes made in Iraq or Afghanistan, much of it with hindsight but some of it with justification. But it all misses one vital point. The moment we decided not to change regime but to change the value system, we made both Iraq and Afghanistan into existential battles for reactionary Islam. We posed a threat not to their activities simply: but to their values, to the roots of their existence.

We committed ourselves to supporting Moderate, Mainstream Islam. In almost pristine form, the battles in Iraq or Afghanistan became battles between the majority of Muslims in either country who wanted democracy and the minority who realize that this rings the death-knell of their ideology.

What is more, in doing this, we widened the definition of Reactionary Islam. It is not just Al-Qaeda who felt threatened by the prospect of two brutal dictatorships - one secular, one religious - becoming tolerant democracies. Any other country who could see that change in those countries might result in change in theirs, immediately also felt under threat. Syria and Iran, for example. No matter that previously, in what was effectively another political age, many of those under threat hated each other. Suddenly new alliances became formed under the impulsion of the common threat.

So in Iraq, Syria allowed Al-Qaeda operatives to cross the border. Iran has supported extremist Shia there. The purpose of the terrorism in Iraq is absolutely simple: carnage, causing sectarian hatred, leading to civil war.

However, there was one cause which, the world over, unites Islam, one issue that even the most westernized Muslims find unjust and, perhaps worse, humiliating: Palestine. Here a moderate leadership was squeezed between its own inability to control the radical elements and the political stagnation of the peace process. When Prime Minister Sharon took the brave step of disengagement from Gaza, it could have been and should have been the opportunity to re-start the process. But the squeeze was too great and as ever because these processes never stay still, instead of moving forward, it fell back. Hamas won the election. Even then, had moderate elements in Hamas been able to show progress, the situation might have been saved. But they couldn't.

So the opportunity passed to reactionary Islam and they seized it: first in Gaza, then in Lebanon. They knew what would happen. Their terrorism would provoke massive retaliation by Israel. Within days, the world would forget the original provocation and be shocked by the retaliation. They want to trap the moderates between support for America and an Arab street furious at what they see nightly on their television. This is what has happened.

For them, what is vital is that the struggle is defined in their terms: Islam versus the West; that instead of Muslims seeing this as about democracy versus dictatorship, they see only the bombs and the brutality of war, and sent from Israel.
In this way, they hope that the arc of extremism that now stretches across the region, will sweep away the fledgling but faltering steps Modern Islam wants to take into the future.

To turn all of this around requires us first to perceive the nature of the struggle we are fighting and secondly to have a realistic strategy to win it. At present we are challenged on both fronts.

As to the first, it is almost incredible to me that so much of Western opinion appears to buy the idea that the emergence of this global terrorism is somehow our fault. For a start, it is indeed global. No one who ever half bothers to look at the spread and range of activity related to this terrorism can fail to see its presence in virtually every major nation in the world. It is directed at the United States and its allies, of course. But it is also directed at nations who could not conceivably be said to be allies of the West. It is also rubbish to suggest that it is the product of poverty. It is true it will use the cause of poverty. But its fanatics are hardly the champions of economic development. It is based on religious extremism. That is the fact. And not any religious extremism; but a specifically Muslim version.

What it is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan is not about those countries' liberation from US occupation. It is actually the only reason for the continuing presence of our troops. And it is they not us who are doing the slaughter of the innocent and doing it deliberately.

Its purpose is explicitly to prevent those countries becoming democracies and not "Western style" democracies, any sort of democracy. It is to prevent Palestine living side by side with Israel; not to fight for the coming into being of a Palestinian State, but for the going out of being, of an Israeli State. It is not wanting Muslim countries to modernize but to retreat into governance by a semi-feudal religious oligarchy.

Yet despite all of this, which I consider virtually obvious, we look at the bloodshed in Iraq and say that's a reason for leaving; we listen to the propaganda that tells us its all because of our suppression of Muslims and have parts of our opinion seriously believing that if we only got out of Iraq and Afghanistan, it would all stop.

And most contemporaneously, and in some ways most perniciously, a very large and, I fear, growing part of our opinion looks at Israel, and thinks we pay too great a price for supporting it and sympathizes with Muslim opinion that condemns it. Absent from so much of the coverage, is any understanding of the Israeli predicament.
I, and any halfway sentient human being, regards the loss of civilian life in Lebanon as unacceptable, grieves for that nation, is sickened by its plight and wants the war to stop now. But just for a moment, put yourself in Israel's place. It has a crisis in Gaza, sparked by the kidnap of a solider by Hamas. Suddenly, without warning, Hizbollah who have been continuing to operate in Southern Lebanon for two years in defiance of UN Resolution 1559, cross the UN blue line, kill eight Israeli soldiers and kidnap two more. They then fire rockets indiscriminately at the civilian population in Northern Israel.

Hizbollah gets their weapons from Iran. Iran are now also financing militant elements in Hamas. Iran's president has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map." And he's trying to acquire a nuclear weapon. Just to complete the picture, Israel's main neighbor along its eastern flank is Syria who support Hizbollah and house the hard-line leaders of Hamas.

It's not exactly a situation conducive to a feeling of security is it?
But the central point is this. In the end, even the issue of Israel is just part of the same, wider struggle for the soul of the region. If we recognized this struggle for what it truly is, we would be at least along the first steps of the path to winning it. But a vast part of the Western opinion is not remotely near this yet.
Whatever the outward manifestation at any one time - in Lebanon, in Gaza, in Iraq and add to that in Afghanistan, in Kashmir, in a host of other nations including now some in Africa - it is a global fight about global values; it is about modernization, within Islam and outside of it; it is about whether our value system can be shown to be sufficiently robust, true, principled and appealing that it beats theirs. Islamist extremism’s whole strategy is based on a presumed sense of grievance that can motivate people to divide against each other. Our answer has to be a set of values strong enough to unite people with each other.
This is not just about security or military tactics. It is about hearts and minds about inspiring people, persuading them, showing them what our values at their best stand for.

Just to state it in these terms, is to underline how much we have to do. Convincing our own opinion of the nature of the battle is hard enough. But we then have to empower moderate, mainstream Islam to defeat reactionary Islam. And because so much focus is now, worldwide on this issue, it is becoming itself a kind of surrogate for all the other issues the rest of the world has with the West. In other words, fail on this and across the range, everything gets harder.

Why are we not yet succeeding? Because we are not being bold enough, consistent enough, thorough enough, in fighting for the values we believe in.
We start this battle with some self-evident challenges. Iraq's political process has worked in an extraordinary way. But the continued sectarian bloodshed is appalling: and threatens its progress deeply. In Afghanistan, the Taleban are making a determined effort to return and using the drugs trade a front. Years of anti-Israeli and therefore anti-American teaching and propaganda has left the Arab street often wildly divorced from the practical politics of their governments. Iran and, to a lesser extent, Syria are a constant source of de-stabilization and reaction. The purpose of terrorism - whether in Iran, Afghanistan, Lebanon or Palestine is never just the terrorist act itself. It is to use the act to trigger a chain reaction, to expunge any willingness to negotiate or compromise. Unfortunately it frequently works, as we know from our own experience in Northern Ireland, though thankfully the huge progress made in the last decade there, shows that it can also be overcome.
So, short-term, we can't say we are winning. But, there are many reasons for long-term optimism. Across the Middle East, there is a process of modernization as well as reaction. It is unnoticed but it is there: in the UAE (United Arab Emirates); in Bahrain; in Kuwait; in Qatar. In Egypt, there is debate about the speed of change but not about its direction. In Libya and Algeria, there is both greater stability and a gradual but significant opening up.

Most of all, there is one incontrovertible truth that should give us hope. In Iraq, in Afghanistan, and of course in the Lebanon, any time that people are permitted a chance to embrace democracy, they do so. The lie - that democracy, the rule of law, human rights are Western concepts, alien to Islam - has been exposed. In countries as disparate as Turkey and Indonesia, there is an emerging strength in moderate Islam that should greatly encourage us.

So the struggle is finely poised. The question is: how do we empower the moderates to defeat the extremists?

First, naturally, we should support, nurture, build strong alliances with all those in the Middle East who are on the modernizing path.

Secondly, we need, as President Bush said on Friday, to re-energize the MEPP (Middle East Peace Process) between Israel and Palestine; and we need to do it in a dramatic and profound manner.

I want to explain why I think this issue is so utterly fundamental to all we are trying to do. I know it can be very irritating for Israel to be told that this issue is of cardinal importance, as if it is on their shoulders that the weight of the troubles of the region should always fall. I know also their fear that in our anxiety for wider reasons to secure a settlement, we sacrifice the vital interests of Israel.

Let me make it clear. I would never put Israel’s security at risk.
Instead I want, what we all now acknowledge we need: a two-state solution. The Palestinian State must be independent, viable but also democratic and not threaten Israel's safety.

This is what the majority of Israelis and Palestinians want.

Its significance for the broader issue of the Middle East and for the battle within Islam, is this. The real impact of a settlement is more than correcting the plight of the Palestinians. It is that such a settlement would be the living, tangible, visible proof that the region and therefore the world can accommodate different faiths and cultures, even those who have been in vehement opposition to each other. It is, in other words, the total and complete rejection of the case of reactionary Islam. It destroys not just their most effective rallying call, it fatally undermines their basic ideology.

And, for sure, it empowers moderate, mainstream Islam enormously. They are able to point to progress as demonstration that their allies, i.e. us, are even-handed not selective, do care about justice for Muslims as much as Christians or Jews.
But, and it is a big “but,” this progress will not happen unless we change radically our degree of focus, effort and engagement, especially with the Palestinian side. In this the active leadership of the US is essential but so also is the participation of Europe, of Russia and of the UN. We need relentlessly, vigorously, to put a viable Palestinian government on its feet, to offer a vision of how the Roadmap to final status negotiation can happen and then pursue it, week in, week out, 'til it’s done. Nothing else will do. Nothing else is more important to the success of our foreign policy.

Third, we need to see Iraq through its crisis and out to the place its people want: a non-sectarian, democratic state. The Iraqi and Afghan fight for democracy is our fight. Same values. Same enemy. Victory for them is victory for us all.
Fourth, we need to make clear to Syria and Iran that there is a choice: come in to the international community and play by the same rules as the rest of us; or be confronted. Their support of terrorism, their deliberate export of instability, their desire to see wrecked the democratic prospect in Iraq, is utterly unjustifiable, dangerous and wrong. If they keep raising the stakes, they will find they have miscalculated.

From the above it is clear that from now on, we need a whole strategy for the Middle East. If we are faced with an arc of extremism, we need a corresponding arc of moderation and reconciliation. Each part is linked. Progress between Israel and Palestine affects Iraq. Progress in Iraq affects democracy in the region. Progress for moderate, mainstream Islam anywhere puts reactionary Islam on the defensive everywhere. But none of it happens unless in each individual part the necessary energy and commitment is displayed not fitfully, but continuously.

I said at the outset that the result of this struggle had effects wider than the region itself. Plainly that applies to our own security. This global Islamist terrorism began in the Middle East. Sort the Middle East and it will inexorably decline. The read-across, for example, from the region to the Muslim communities in Europe is almost instant.

But there is a less obvious sense in which the outcome determines the success of our wider world-view. For me, a victory for the moderates means an Islam that is open: open to globalization, open to working with others of different faiths, open to alliances with other nations.

In this way, this struggle is in fact part of a far wider debate.

Though left and right still matter in politics, the increasing divide today is between open and closed. Is the answer to globalization, protectionism or free trade?

Is the answer to the pressure of mass migration, managed immigration or closed borders?

Is the answer to global security threats, isolationism or engagement?
Those are very big questions for US and for Europe.

Without hesitation, I am on the open side of the argument. The way for us to handle the challenge of globalization is to compete better, more intelligently, more flexibly. We have to give our people confidence we can compete. See competition as a threat and we are already on the way to losing.

Immigration is the toughest issue in Europe right now and you know something of it here in California. People get scared of it for understandable reasons. It needs to be controlled. There have to be rules. Many of the conventions dealing with it post WWII are out of date. All that is true. But, properly managed, immigrants give a country dynamism, drive, new ideas as well as new blood.

And as for isolationism, that is a perennial risk in the US and EU policy. My point here is very simple: global terrorism means we can’t opt-out even if we wanted to. The world is inter-dependent. To be engaged is only modern realpolitik.

But we only win people to these positions if our policy is not just about interests but about values, not just about what is necessary but about what is right.
Which brings me to my final reflection about US policy. My advice is: always be in the lead, always at the forefront, always engaged in building alliances, in reaching out, in showing that whereas unilateral action can never be ruled out, it is not the preference.

How we get a sensible, balanced but effective framework to tackle climate change after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012 should be an American priority.
America wants a low-carbon economy; it is investing heavily in clean technology; it needs China and India to grow substantially. The world is ready for a new start here. Lead it.

The same is true for the WTO talks, now precariously in the balance; or for Africa, whose poverty is shameful.

If we are championing the cause of development in Africa, it is right in itself but it is also sending the message of moral purpose, that reinforces our value system as credible in all other aspects of policy.

It serves one other objective. There is a risk that the world, after the Cold War, goes back to a global policy based on spheres of influence. Think ahead. Think China, within 20 or 30 years, surely the world's other super-power. Think Russia and its precious energy reserves. Think India. I believe all of these great emerging powers want a benign relationship with the West. But I also believe that the stronger and more appealing our worldview is, the more it is seen as based not just on power but on justice, the easier it will be for us to shape the future in which Europe and the US will no longer, economically or politically, be transcendent. Long before then, we want moderate, mainstream Islam to triumph over reactionary Islam.

That is why I say this struggle is one about values. Our values are worth struggling for. They represent humanity's progress throughout the ages and at each point we have had to fight for them and defend them. As a new age beckons, it is time to fight for them again.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

"To Acknowledge Your Presence..."

The other day, I was feeling a little low. Like so many of my peers deployed far away from home, I was having a hard time managing the independence of my family, off to a summer holiday on the East coast, while I was on the other side of the globe. It is a difficult experience to get used to and while it is sometimes more easily accomplished by those of us who have been around the profession of arms for a decade or two, it is still difficult to be away missing so much of the little things that make up a day in a family.

So I was a little low when I entered into our evening staff call. As I sat down to take my place before the briefing started, my friend and fellow Major Tom Wirth sat in his designated space next to me. I felt his hand on my shoulder and he grabbed my neck and patted me on the back. “What?” I snapped. Not letting his hand leave my back, he said, “Nothing, man. I am just taking a moment to acknowledge your presence as a human being and a friend.”

I could only smile and shake my head, totally dumbstruck. Here was a friend at the exact moment I needed one, saying the exact thing that I needed to here. Just to be acknowledged felt like a blessing. It made me feel better and that the day was going to end alright.

Tom Wirth and I first met over the most difficult responsibility an Army officer can have. Together, we disclosed the loss of a Oregon Guard soldier to a mother and father. Two years ago this summer, the Oregon Army National Guard lost Spec. Eric McKinley. Tom was the casualty assistanceofficer and I was the public affairs officer that managed the media on McKinley's mother's behalf. It made for a challenging way to form a friendship, dealing with the consequences of such grief as we were. But it made me respect him for who he was and is, a citizen-soldier managing both a career in business and one as an Army officer, that then had to stop all of that and become a grief counsellor and family assistant when a family needed his help the most. It made me acknowledge him 'as a human being and a friend.' I didn't realize it then, but Tom helped me to realize it two years later in his words the other night.

All of us are deployed away from home and, no matter how close we are to our peers, at times each of us feels alone. But it is through this camaraderie of arms, this, the oldest fraternity known to man, that ‘unites us and binds us,' that we can some times in some brief moment, realize that we are not alone at all.

It is nice to have a friend. Thanks, Tom.