Academia’s Twitter War with State Department over women’s status in Iraq’s tribal society!

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At the State Department a recent award program was held to single out women of courage from ten different countries. One of them was Aliyah Khalaf Saleh of Iraq who in June 2014, hid cadets of the Military Academy at Camp Speicher, and rescued them from being systematically slaughtered by ISIS killers. She did this at great peril to herself and family. She was honored at the State  Department and was insistent upon being photographed next to Melania Trump.  The State Department subsequently put out a tweet below.

In a tribal society where women are often marginalized or forgotten, and sectarianism is generally placed before nationality, #WomenofCourage awardee Aliyah Khalaf Saleh of #Iraq is a vivid embodiment of the message of a common humanity,

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This tweet is one of few versions that had the text from the deleted tweet of the State Department

It was deleted by the State Department after some angry comments that suggested it was insulting to the Iraqi society. The State Department replaced it with the following tweet.

In the darkest hours, she stood in the face of ISIS to save the lives of others and showed the world that bravery and compassion will overcome terrorism. Now a symbol of hope for all Iraqis as they work to rebuild their country.

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The edited tweet that the DOS put to replace the first one above

Now one can easily admit that the latter tweet is more diplomatic and less provocative,  but in fact it sends a misleading message. Most importantly  it diminishes the scale of Aliyah’s bravery.  It was far more courageous and remarkable for Aliyah to  rise above the  Iraqi societal repression of women and sectarian animosity to assert herself where many Iraqi men did not.

Deleting the tweet is a rather cowardly way of submitting to the fiction that women enjoy equality in the Iraqi society.  This is not even vaguely comparable to “equal pay for equal work” or marching in Washington DC carrying provocative signs. This is a society in which the great Iraqi sociologist Ali al – Wardi lamented that women were consigned to the kitchen,  limiting their ability to even watch what their kids were doing in the streets.

Even the limited progress of women in the 1940s and 1950s has been reversed by the  coming of the “Islamic Revival.” A very brief moment of relative freedom granted under Saddam was nullified when he decided he needed Islamic and tribal support to maintain himself in power.

In an earlier era the tribal society did allow more freedom to women but the tribal system under Saddam was corrupted and further corrupted with the ISIS occupation of the tribal region of Iraq.  The  tribal sectarian corruption  is evident in the fact that  the “Caliph” of the Islamic State and perhaps thousands of the ISIS terrorists are hiding among the tribes sympathetic to the sectarian hatreds of the Islamists.

The whole point of the award program was to honor the woman, not her culture or country, and turning it into a political statement on Iraqi culture missed the whole point of the presentation.  The culture did not produce this woman. It was an act of individual bravery and initiative,  but that has been swallowed by political correctness.

A bill in 2017 approved by 40 Iraqi members of parliament proposed to legalize marriage of girls as young as 9 years !!! Earlier proposals  would not allow women to leave the home without their husbands approval and forbid marriage to non Muslims. The latter has not ben approved but it graphically illustrates the direction of Iraqi society.

So why did these mostly academics and Middle East “experts” find the original State Department tweet offensive? Well there are several reasons:  Some are in the pay of  the Iraqi government, some, despite their impressive credentials know little about Iraq  except what “westernized Iraqis” tell them, and a more common issue, one that I have seen over years, is that analysts tend to become advocates.

So it is with so many  Middle East “experts” If war cannot be left to generals it can also be said that our Middle East policies cannot be left to Middle East “experts.”

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Iran and the Experts

iran101My neighbor came over and gave me an article from the periodical Foreign Affairs. He wanted my opinion on the article “Iran Among the Ruins” by Vali Nasr. I thought that was very nice because I do not get many requests for my opinion about anything these days.

Now Vali Nasr is a big name  among Iranian analysts and also as an expert on Middle Eastern Shi’a. I bought his book The Shi’a Revival and found it to be very informative. I refer to it quite often. He usually writes well with a minimum of the usual think tank jargon.

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Vali Nasr

After reading the article  I told my neighbor that  I would not dispute most of the points he made but the conclusion was vanilla pablum,  a “nothing burger”  in modern parlance……   Something about “building” on the “nuclear agreement” and a  bunch more diplomacy…a path followed by the foreign policy amateurs in the Obama administration. It translated into trading Iranian promises to slow down their nuclear program in exchange for the U.S.  giving them carte blanche to do almost anything they wished in the Middle East, not to mention flying in a plane load  of cash. On Iranian promises one should read the “The Adventures of Haji Baba of Ispahan,” recommended  to me by Iraqis as the best analysis  of  the Iranian national personality ever written. Of course it has been branded as stereotyping, out of date, etc. by the usual politically correct suspects, but among Arabs anyway, it seems to carry a lot of weight. It coincides with quite of bit of cultural assessments I have read over the years. No doubt about it, the Persians are the best rug merchants in the world.

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Hajji Baba

Overall the article  written by  Dr. Nasr represents the “Big Name Syndrome,” the affliction of many periodicals, mostly leftish of course, that publish articles by  the movers and shakers  in the field even though they have nothing much to say.  If for instance, someone like  me wrote this kind of conventional boilerplate  platitudes, the periodical would be castigated for hiring high school students to write their articles.

There is another aspect to it of course. Some would say he is overly sympathetic to the Iranian ruling regime.  Not being close to the Washington DC flagpole myself, I really can’t say that is true, but when he writes  that  the irredentist,  aggressive,  Iranian moves and adventures all over the Middle East are simply part of a ‘forward defense,” it does give me pause.  After all that phrase closely follows the “experts” declaring the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 was also just a defensive measure to ensure the safety of the “soft underbelly” of Russia.

One does not need to be reading Top Secret SCI material to know that the Iranians are well represented and connected in Washington. They have lots of money and there are many muddle-headed academics and journalists, who are more than happy to carry the water for them…free of charge.

 

 

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Why Arabs Lose Wars…twenty years later!

The annual ASMEA conference  covering Middle Eastern topics will be held at the Key Bridge Marriott in Washington DC, 1-3 November . I plan to submit a paper on the above subject. Since I wrote that paper, many wars have been fought and are still continuing and it is time to reassess the Arab effectiveness using their conventional forces against mostly internal enemies.

Recently King Salman of Saudi Arabia fired the top layer of his military  leadership for,among other reasons, their inept campaign against the Yemeni Houthi tribesmen, The Syrian Assad regime, with massive outside help,  still struggles against a myriad of Islamist organizations, the Iraqis have seemingly crushed the Islamist  threat but indications of a resurgence are obvious, and the Egyptians are struggling to contain an islamist threat that seems to be spreading into the Western desert.

In the case of the Saudis , we and the British have been involved in training the Saudis since the 1970’s and no doubt the  commanders  of our training contingents have issued  favorable assessments of their progress, year after year. Why with all their expensive equipment and excellent Western trainers are the Saudis still so ineffective?

The Saudis are only one example of the basic issue…culture! We can train people to shoot, move and communicate, but we cannot change the culture.  So it is time to to take another look at the issue ans spotlight success stories, as well as the failures…and why?

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In 1998  I wrote an article entitled “Why Arabs Lose Wars.” It was published in 1999 in the Middle East Quarterly ( December 1999) and had been one of most read articles in the magazine since that time. It has re circulated on the internet to this day. It has been unofficial required reading for American soldiers and officers deploying to train Arab soldiers since  it was published. The premise of the article was that that cultural barriers are the most serious impediment to Arab militaries developing an effective conventional fighting force. I emphasize “conventional” because as I wrote later, Arab irregular forces have been much more effective, again for cultural reasons. ( “The Arab as Insurgent and Counterinsurgent.” Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle East, ed. Barry Rubin, London: Routledge, 2009.)

Twenty years have past and Arab conventional forces have been involved in many conflicts. The Iraqis in three, two against the United States, Syria against the Islamists, Egyptians against the Islamists, and Saudi Arabia against the Yemeni Houthies. The fact that the Arab forces have been largely engaged against irregulars, is not relevant because the Arab forces have fought the rebels using conventional forces in a largely conventional way.

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So in this paper, using sources both published and from my personal contacts, I will analyze these conflicts in the context of the cultural factors I surfaced in the original paper. These include:

Information as Power

Education Issues

Officer and NCO Issues,

Decision making

Taking Responsibility

Security and Paranoia.

I will also examine these cultural factors within the background of American military trainers working with Arab militaries, especially in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, in the latter, working with them since the 1970’s. I will expand on issues I surfaced in my article, “ Western Influence on Arab Militaries, Pounding Square Pegs into Round Holes. “ in the online periodical MERIA, 13 March 2013

Within the cultural factors surfaced, I will also underline the political factors and newly emerging factors such as sectarianism and Islamism, which have always had an immense impact on the overall trends in Arab society, but have become increasingly apparent. As I have always written, it has never been a matter of intelligence or personal bravery but rather a culture, that like all cultures, even Western ones, change very slowly and not always as an advance in societal mores.

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Hollywood and the American Information programs.

Some years ago I attended a gathering of  gurus involved in one way or another examining America’s information program or lack thereof. Our government information ( some would say propaganda) programs have always had little appeal in the  Arab world. On the other hand our movies and TV programs have tremendous appeal.  Our movies are pirated everywhere. This is especially true since Cairo,  the center of Arab movie making,  has declined in popularity over the years. Part of this is the lower quality but another more important factor has been the influence of the “Islamic revival.’  Many themes and comedic effects are now subject to  public censorship, as well as government controls.

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At this meeting the Hollywood  representatives on the panels  were slapping themselves on the back and excoriating  U.S. Government information programs. Their criticism was well founded on the latter,  but not on the former.  In fact the immense popularity of Hollywood  films is one of the main problems in producing a favorable image of America. The  gratuitous sex and violence which attracts many Arabs, especially young men, presents malodorous image of this country. It is very difficult to name a single  program or movie of recent times, at least those released by the  big name corporations, that picture an intact traditional family.  An Egyptian officer who came to speak at my class one day,  said that until he resided in the US for a few months he did not think Americans  had family life. If all you know of this country is what you see in the movies, that is a perfectly understandable attitude. Arabs coming to this country often express their surprise at the religious life in this country.  A  young Yemeni woman told my class that her mother pleaded with her not to come to the US because she would be murdered.  Again understandable.

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Of course Hollywood in the past has often been guilty of portraying Arabs and Muslims as simplistic caricatures,  wearing long robes and riding camels. This was true in the past but with the coming of Hollywood’s new “social conscience”  that is no longer politically correct. In fact now the only safe villains today are Nazis, capitalists, and white evangelicals.  But this new “moral” attitude has not diminished the mayhem and explicit sex that sells mediocre movies.

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When I mentioned the impact of the seedy portrait of American society at the conference, I was dismissed as some religious freak who had wandered into the wrong conference. The elitists who run the entertainment business are unlikely to be persuaded to forego their immense profits in selling trash to the hoi poloi.

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The criticism of the U.S. official information efforts are well taken, however. We try to influence the foreign populations with amateurish happy face films and pictures, I always thought that instead of featuring films about about happy Muslims enjoying life in the America we could influence far more Arabs by showing our military might, economic power,  and life of the ordinary Americans of the Middle states, the “deplorables” in modern political discourse. Arabs are a very cynical people, made that way by decades of lies and cartoonish propaganda put out by their governments. They tend to view everything from the government with disdain.  Happy face presentations are a waste of time and money.oInfluencing  of one person at a time is always the nest method[/caption]

When the old United  States Information Agency ( USIA) was in existence it had very little favorable effect on the Arab populations. The one exception  were the American libraries run by the consulates. But in this age of every American edifice being a target  for bomb throwers, they would need a battalion of guards,  and every Arab entering them would be seen as a “Zionist” spy,  The USIA people in the field were good folks and often did some  good work, but usually it was in obtaining a picture of the local scene and current trends.  One good aspect of the USIA officials was the fact that they spent a lot of time with the local journalists and were much better informed on the local issues than the isolated  foreign service officials inside their heavily guarded  fortress -like Embassies.

One of the things about the old USIA that always dismayed me was the attitude of many of the  Washington staff that ostensibly was trying to frame American  foreign policies in a favorable light. I would take my  Ft Bragg officer classes to the Washington DC  USIA center and my students would be subjected to harangues by the staff  on the evils of our attitude toward the Palestinian problem. Many of the staffers were Egyptian or Palestinian Americans  and I often wondered  how they could cast America in a favorable light given their deep antipathy to  our “Middle East” policies. Like so many academics and journalists they convoluted the Palestinian issue with the entire Middle East, a basic fallacy  chiseled   into stone by ‘experts” and politicians every day for decades.

As I have often said and written, the Palestinian issue is near sacred among the Arab politicians and elite  but the Palestinians, as people are rarely welcome anywhere among their Arab brothers.   A recent  best foreign film contender at the 2018 Oscars called “the Insult,” depicts the disdain most Lebanese have for  the Palestinians, a feeling prevalent throughout the Arab world. The idea that a “solution” to the Palestinian problem, or a reversal of our “pro-Israeli” posture,  would solve American’s distorted  image in the Arab/Muslim world is a chimera. Even in the 9/11 report the “experts” made the same claim, i.e., the Islamist terror was a result of our policies toward the Palestinian issue. It is basically a simplistic approach with the  added attraction of satisfying the anti Jewish attitude of many intellectuals. As historian Paul Johnson wrote, anti-Semitism is  catnip for intellectuals.

In any event the demise of the  U.S.I. A, . was no great loss, but putting the remnants of it under the State Department was hardly the answer either. In short at this point we really do not have much in the way of an information/propaganda program oriented toward the Middle East. Perhaps the most important issue we can continue to underline in our programs  beamed toward the Middle East is the tyranny and dismal state of their political culture,  and  promote democratic ideals without assuming that our current politically correct attitudes popular among the elite are necessarily democratic or even  good for the intended audience. Denigrating Islam as intrinsically  violent, or endlessly blabbering about the “religion of peace,” does not assist the many educated Muslims who are trying to curb the violent aspects of a Salafist version of Islam. The people of the region need to come to the right balance between religion  and civil society, and without preaching we need to assist  in that endeavor.

As a final  note,  having watched a bit of the 2018 Oscar presentations I saw the program as a graphic illustration of the  Hollywood problem in representing American ideals . They deal in  vacuous self-congratulory sloganeering  devoid of  intellectual or spiritual values.

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The Invisible people

I wrote this 15 years ago when I was in Iraq and it is even more relevant  today. It is an indictment  of one aspect  of American culture. We are a great people but not perfect and our transitory friendships are one of the less than endearing qualities. As one cultural guru put it, we form instant friendships and a year later we  can’t remember their name.

An Iraqi friend of mine gave me an example. Her father who went to an An American university roomed with the same fellow for three years but after he returned to Iraq he never heard from him again.

Several times a day I walk past about 30 laborers who for the past month have been filling sandbags and stacking them and I have observed their interaction…or more precisely…lack of interaction with the Americans. One of the important things I have learned about the Arab world in my years living and working here is the vital importance of acknowledging the people. Whether they are the street sweeper or doorman at the apartment, or the minister in his office, one must extend a greeting or some sign of recognizing their align=”alignnone” width=”413″]102_0210  Iraqis protest terrorism in Baghdad[/caption]

During the day the Americans walk by seemingly oblivious to their presence, and vehicles by the score speed by with a pace that gives the impression that they may as well be stick people, sometimes running over sandbags just filled. I often wonder what these people, returning to their ramshackle shacks, tell their families and align=”alignnone” width=”455″]101_0159 Iraqis in Baghdad[/caption]

the Americans they see every day. Despite their lowly station in life, these laborers are perceptive people. I have found the Iraqis, whatever their level in society, to be very street smart, a necessary attribute to staying out of harms way during the Saddam years.

They sweep floors, drain septic tanks, fix plumbing, cook, and basically do everything to keep the Green Zone occupants living in relative comfort. I do wonder why we are unable to do some of these basic tasks ourselves. In Vietnam the officers of my battalion sandbagged their own tents. It was expected, as was basic housekeeping for one’s own area. I must only assume the frenetic pace of the CPA,  ( Coalition Provisional Authority) whether feigned or real, demands too much time.

When I first extended a greeting to these people in my Lebanese–accented Arabic, they first reacted with disbelief as if they were not sure it was directed at them. That was followed with massive smiles and a chorus of hello’s and responses in the many flowery forms for which Arabs are famous.

align=”alignnone” width=”564″]iz arm of hussein The Infamous Arm of Saddam now gone!!

I wondered when was the last time the civilian contractors went down to talk to these laborers, brought them some cigarettes, some highly-sugared tea? Do they ever ask them about their life, how they get to work, how their families are doing, and at the same time build up the authority of their Iraqi supervisor by extolling his leadership or, more importantly, ensuring that the supervisor is not abusing his authority as often happens in this part of the world? Do they have the translators say a few words to the laborers explaining why the authorities need to be protected from the Saddam thugs, rather than the current belief of most that they are simply toiling to make the new colonialists safe and comfortable? As Americans we have always had the notion that our egalitarianism and individual ideas of self-determination put us above the earlier European colonialists of this area of the world. In fact, the British were far more attuned to Arab culture than we are. Our assumption is that if we pay the Iraqis what we consider a decent wage and do not mistreat them all else should fall into place. We have become a people wedded to flow charts, personnel assets, laptop PowerPoint presentations…all of which are meaningless in this world. Quite rightly we speak of the vital importance of winning the respect and “hearts and minds” of these people and yet the ones who are seeing us closest of all, we disregard.

Norvell B. DeAtkine 26 Dec 2003

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Review: Debriefing the President: The interrogation of Saddam Hussein

imageIn this interesting book, the author tells you more about the politics and issues within the CIA than about Saddam.  The author, John  Nixon, relates a number of anecdotes and recollections of his conversations with Saddam Hussein in his prison cell before he was turned over to the Iraqi government.  Unlike some previous  books on CIA operations very little is deleted, redacted, (blacked out) , Which often is intended to give the book  more importance than probably deserved.  I enjoyed the book, reading about a   truly remarkable man in the same sense that Stalin and Hitler were remarkable.  Nixon provides some new information on he inner workings of the rings of security/companions  and advisors around Saddam. The most and probably only trusted one was his own family followed by his tribe members.  The second ring was the Himaya, (guards) his companions who escorted him about his domain.  The third and fourth rings were the  Special Guards and Special Escorts , mostly junior officers seconded from the Special Republican Guards and Special Security Organization.

If one were to sum up the substance of Nixon’s book it would be that Saddam was a monster, but sort of a likable monster,  and that while he was a menace to his own people he really had no quarrel with the U.S. Nixon rather ridiculously makes the claim that Saddam had given up his great power ambitions and had contented himself writing novels. As Nixon writes, “Was Saddam worth removing from power? I can only speak for myself when I say that the answer must be no. Saddam was busy writing a novel. Nixon also writes that this  endeavor was the reason he paid so little attention to the preparation for war with the United States. image Saddam’s last and most famous book Zabibah and the King

Nixon  fills the book with interesting anecdotes about Saddam, his powerful personality,   always manipulative and controlling.  By the way  Nixon  asserts there never was any Saddam double as so often portrayed by the  Western media. He provides insight into why…. as  one guest lecturer who came to my classes said…. that  Saddam was stronger than the State, meaning that without Saddam,  Iraq would fall apart….which to a large extent it did.  We learn from this book that Saddam was more interested in money than running the ship of state, at least toward the end, that there no insurgency planned and he had no part in the one that raged in Iraq for years.

But the portrayal of Saddam as gradually becoming uninterested in ruling does not hold up under historical analysis.   Nixon  apparently did not remember how Stalin kept the  State killing machines working full force while  giving personal detailed attention to conferences of artists and writers,  ensuring  the ideological  and politically correct content  of every piece of “art” and intellectual  work produced.  Hitler kept his methodical genocide running smoothly while discussing architecture, the rebuilding on the “new Berlin” with Albert Speer, and closely reviewing the latest German movies.

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Nixon  skewers the CIA, especially the leadership, branding them  as toadying bureaucrats, sucking up to the administration. In particular, George Tenet, the Director of the CIA is pictured as the consummate organization man, and many of the Bush policy-makers as well as George Bush himself are depicted in a very unflattering light. I spent a couple of years working as a contractor for the analytical branch of the CIA and I can relate to his criticisms. It is a ponderously bureaucratic organization and very political. As an Army intelligence officer ( at that time)  I  attended a number of the infamous  National Intelligence Estimates ( NIE), including the one that forecast the ability of the Shah of Iran to  quell the disorder in his country. I observed the efforts of the CIA architects of the Estimates to take all the sharp edges off the estimate to be submitted to the policy makers.  Their estimates were attended by all the various intelligence agencies in town. The CIA operatives that led these NIE’s had the job of smoothing out the different opinions. Their primary job was to ensure that the  CIA estimate was agreed to ( more or less) by all.  At times it was tolerated for an organization e.g. army intelligence, to put in a differing  opinion by way of a footnote to the text, but this was frowned on.  Generally the end product was vanilla pablum. Nixon in his book rightly makes fun of the CIA slogan “dare to be wrong.” In fact it always followed the line of least resistance.  As a contractor analyst making s predictions I realized that most of it was guess work, albeit by knowledgable people.

This is not always true however . After finishing my  work on a particular Arab country,  (Of  which I was very proud)  I was assigned to do military assessments on a Latin American country I knew  very little about.   I did the best I could with a mass of intelligence reports and when the product came out, it was beautifully edited with impressive charts, pictures, and graphs.  I was amazed by my own work!!!    So a word of warning: an intelligence assessment that looks like a work of art is not necessarily better than those on a scratch pad.

As  Nixon points out there has been a problem with CIA headquarters sending intelligence summaries that had been “dumbed down”. This is the inevitable result of the CIA’s low estimation of the political leadership’s understanding of the complexities of Middle East culture. It is one that I sympathize  with.  I remember one occasion distinctly when a visiting congressional delegation (“fact finding”) translated to mean  buying jewelry  for the wives, girlfriends, and staffers) came to Cairo and one member asked what language did they speak there.

I have to say working with CIA guys in the field I saw some of the most solid, patriotic and smart guys in government service. At the time I was working with them, many were ex-military and very mature, sensible folks without the fake aura of  amateur James Bond wannabees that some of the analytical people seem to take on.   I use to get a kick out of the CIA kids briefing my officer students from The Special Warfare Center, using coy references to conceal their identity……. as if anyone really cared.  They complained  about nosey neighbors wanting to know where they worked and their strenuous efforts to keep it a secret. These CIA guys I knew in the field  were  from the covert side of the CIA, in news media  “spies”. In reality they are more friends, shrinks, babysitters, and shoulders for the real spies to cry on. These CIA guys were handlers.  They were the best we produce. Handlers keep  real  spies, mostly  citizens of the particular  country,   content with the money or adventure,  always trying to convince  the spies that what they were doing was not treason, but for the good of mankind.  To the clandestine folks, analysts were second class citizens. I, that time , (early seventies) respected these analysts as true realistic scholars, but as time went on the CIA became  more politicized. And as the  American army recruiting efforts centered around  the slogan “let the army join you” the consequence of similar efforts by the CIA  to  become part of mainstream society led to diminished  capability ( and prestige). It is a fact lost on the present generation of leadership that  the CIA, like the military, must always, to some degree, remain counter cultural.   Killing and enticing others to commit treason are not part of the American way of life ( thankfully).  Competence, not political correctness and diversity, should be the goals.

My more recent observations of the millennial  working in the analytical field has convinced me that the problem is at the bottom s well as the top. Coming from our new educational and parental environment,  it has  imbued the young with the idea that they are indeed the smartest generation that has ever been on this earth, and that having graduated from some Middle East Studies Center they know pretty much all they need to know. I was assigned as a mentor to an Intelligence cell for six months within DOD and I found out that you can’t mentor people who do not think they require mentoring.  They were all very smart young folks, some had learned Arabic very well,  better than I, (with my artillery ears) after all my years in the Arab world.  They could recite the names of a hundred different insurgent groups, their leadership, their cell phone numbers, but nobody much seemed to know what to do with this massive amount of information.  Where did it go? Could the brightest minds assimilate all this information? What did it all mean? I doubt anyone really  knew.  None of these youngsters had extensive time on the ground nor did they care much for history or cultural studies.millennialsWhy do I have to read all those books and  write stuff?) I get all need  from Google  and Twitter

In terms of on the ground experience that might also apply to the author of this book. He was assigned to interrogate Saddam after only a few weeks in country. He apparently had a number of short visits to Iraq and  one longer one of eight months but as far as I could ascertain from his book  he had  no previous in country experience in any other Arab country, He  took International Studies at Georgetown university, in my politically incorrect view, a bastion of defending   Arab causes and  harboring professors with a very “understanding” approach to Islamism.   So perhaps some of that schooling lingered on in his world view.

As Nixon reiterates again and again,  invading Iraq was a tragic mistake, as he posed no real threat to American interests. This opinion, to anyone who has read the plethora of books and  articles on the Iraqi war, is hardly shattering news: quite the opposite in fact. It has become the mantra of academics, politicians, the usual set of leftist historians, Americaphobes,  and  journalists, many of whom,  spent most of their time in the “Green Zone” interviewing each other and finding the right Iraqis to say the appropriate things.

I did share Nixon’s experience in the “Green Zone” as being one of mostly boredom. I was in the Green zone at the same time as Nixon and during the time of Saddam’s capture. I did think some of his descriptions of the life in the Green Zone a bit embellished. The dining facility  was described as serving mostly “rice and potatoes.” Eating in the same dining hall my greatest fear was becoming fat on the generous amount of  food available. Nor do I remember the medical care as being as primitive as  Nixon described it. He might have also  exaggerated the danger within the Green Zone a bit.resting at psyops compoundDodging missiles and rockets in the Green  Reviewer in 2003.

I enjoyed the book as it brought back memories of my  times in Iraq and the good people I met, both Iraqis and Americans, and it was informative, but unfortunately he apparently deemed his knowledge of the Arab world and Iraq…limited as it was in my opinion,  as  sufficient to justify his broad characterizations of people and trends  in the war and his own organization.

I think it is very unhealthy, but typical of this era, that ex  CIA employees feel compelled to write their memoirs. This one is far less destructive and better than  the book by Donald Laux, Left of Boom, which between diatribes about our Syria policies and operations, laments his romantic problems. This millennial is probably the arch example of the arrogant know- it – all attitude of too many of our younger CIA and DOD analysts and operatives.

I have been involved in the Middle East since 1966 and I learn something new about the Middle East every day. Of course at my age I may have forgotten more than I learned. s. I learned from this book as well.  The Middle East and its culture is so complex that it seems every fundamental belief one develops about the region and its people are shattered by events. I  Just wish our officials would take themselves less seriously when they get outside their area of expertise.

Unfortunately George Bush had few supporters as the war dragged on with no end in sight, the people in his administration began pointing fingers at each other and few if any offered a defense.  Some, especially Bush, early on, also had  a string of incompetent military leaders  who let the insurgency grow without much understanding of Iraq, insurgency, or even basic strategy. Bush himself, offered no strong defense of the factors that led to the war.  Nor did he often and strongly defend the way it was fought.

With the elimination of the Islamist threat, at least for now, Iraq   is slowly mending, albeit with an  overseer Iranian regime that wants Iraq as a puppet state, a trend that will ultimately be resisted by the Shi’a as well as Sunni Arabs.  Iran’s money and miitary assistance  will only buy short term good will. Perhaps in revisionist  history some brave soul will endure the slings and arrows of politically correct history and venture a more positive alternative analysis of the war.

In summary, it is a book I would recommend be read and enjoyed but not likely to shed much light on the war  or its origins. It presents a human view of Saddam, much like Hitler’s table talk, but it does not really have any revelations on his  character or method of rule. There are interesting insights on his hatred of the Iranians, a characteristic held by most Sunni Arabs and his lack of interest in the Wahhabi/Salafi movement and his personal quirks. Saddam lies  continually and alternately bridles and gushes with conversation with his “de- briefers” just as any common criminal would. It is a reminder that thugs  with great strength of will and powerful personalities can inflicts misery on many millions but at the end they are shown to be just the thug they alwys were.

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