I am not obsessing on the courthouse in Anah, but since I spent nearly two days trying without success to get there, I wanted to follow up with a picture of our accomplishments. I would have liked to be there to see the opening, but the place opened w/o me and I understand a good time was had by all. The Marines were there and the Marines with CERP (commander’s money) did most of the renovations. Our PRT funds just put on some of the finishing touches and all I really did was sign the papers. Of course it is good to have official civilian participation (i.e. me) at these sorts of events, so I still am sad to have missed it.
Free Trade Zones in the Middle of Nowhere
This is the potential free trade zone (FTZ). It looks the same no matter which way you look. Lots of room for expansion & nothing to stand in your way. BTW – This land has not been cleared. This is more or less what it looks like in its natural state. About 1/2 mile from here the landscape turns green near the river; beyond that nothing grows. The change is very abrupt.
I thought that we were to look at a potential free trade zone at or very near the POE. The Governor of Anbar and the Mayor of AQ had other plans and perhaps better ideas. They showed us their choice for a future FTZ some twenty-seven kilometers to the east of the POE along Hwy 12 outside the village of Karabilah. Please see the nearby map.
They understand that a FTZ need not be right on a border (Brazil has a FTZ located in along the Amazon River very nearly in the geographical center of that vast country, for example.) and that it is more of an administrative concept than a physical infrastructure. In other words, it makes much more sense to locate the FTZ where it makes business sense rather than next to the POE just because there is a POE. The Governor and the Mayor were thinking right. This FTZ is currently a large area of nothing but dirt and sand, but this pile of dirt and sand has the advantage of being near roads, the railroad, water resources and electric power lines. The governor envisioned at least three stages of building the FTZ, correctly pointing out that there was room to expand should expansion be required. Like everyplace else around here, there is plenty of free parking. We will be getting the details of the FTZ soon, such as the number of hectares and the precise location. An important question beyond these technical ones would be, “what do we envision being made in the FTZ?” Most FTZs are home to assembly industries, where value is added to imported materials and finished products are exported. This particular FTZ does not have access to abundant supplies of inexpensive labor or raw materials with significant potential for value added. The principle local industries are cement & phosphate production along with various types of agricultural enterprises, especially sheep. These products are not highly processed.
There was some discussion about specialty agricultural products, such as cut flowers or high quality vegetables that could be processed in the FTZ and then shipped fresh to markets in Europe or the Middle East. (Fresh cut flowers are profitably shipped from places like Kenya to Amsterdam on a daily basis.) Iraq certainly has the soils, water and climate (complementary to Europe’s) to support such endeavors. The infrastructure piece missing from this equation is a good airport. These high value perishable items are usually shipped via air transport.
It looks bleak now. In fact it makes me wonder why we call it REconstruction. There doesn’t seem to me me “re” here. But things take time and all accomplishments require someplace to start.
Shrinking the Vastness
The picture is me waiting for my ride. Notice the coat and gloves. It is cold around here in the mornings and colder still up in the air.
Vast – that is the adjective that usually comes before Anbar. The province is not really so big. It is about the size of North Carolina, but it is vaster because it lacks infrastructure. Vastness is really a time/distance/hardship equation. You can drive from Wilmington to Asheville in a few hours and expect to find plenty of restaurants and gas stations to help you along. Driving across Anbar is just not practical at all and there are places where you just can’t get there from here. We are trapped by the vastness of Anbar and Iraqi leaders are in a worse position than we are. So we help them with a program called “helicopter governance.” We provide air assets that allow the governor and his staff to travel to meet local officials and the people of the province. When the governor of Anbar went to Al Qaim, I got to go along, since AQ is in my district.
The governor seemed a decent sort who wanted to help the people of Anbar. Local officials in Al Qaim, many of whom I know and respect, are also decent sorts. When they got together, they got along and cooperated. The governor promised to fund projects and address many of the concerns they voiced. It looked like a productive town meeting. It went as it was supposed to go. But I have doubts about the whole system.
Sometimes things fail not in spite of our best efforts but because of them. You always have to look to the whole, to the systemic solutions. Good intentions, good individuals & even good particular results do not suffice.
Everything was reasonable, but many of the things requested should not be in the purview of government. They are the business of private business. Maybe this is just an earlier stage of development, which they will pass through. This country is still recovering from years of socialism, after all. The other problem was “earmarks.” In the U.S. we complain about earmarks. This session was about nothing but earmarks. Every one of the requests granted represented a specific earmark. The program was working, but the system was not.
Our goal as a PRT and as USG officials in Iraq is to help the people of Iraq develop systems that will make this heroic sort of political display unnecessary. Priorities should be addressed through prosaic & routine governmental procedures. It should not require special interventions by government officials to get normal services. We take so much for granted in the U.S. In most places in our country we have reasonably competent & honest officials, but more importantly we have systems in place to make it possible for them to do their work and to a decent extent let us do ours. We complain about it, but when you see the alternatives ours doesn’t look so bad. The current Iraqi system reminds me of the goat grab I described in an earlier post. All the food is in the middle, available, but you have to be there to grab it.
The governor regaled his colleagues with a great and wonderful thing he had observed during a visit to America. He sent a box from Texas to New York. He did not require a special request to get into the post office. Even more surprising, the box arrived in New York completely intact. Whoddathought the post office was so wonderful. We take a lot for granted.
Below is the town hall meeting. Notice the TV camera. No matter how vast a place is, you cannot escape the TV cameras.
Getting Traffic Moving
I was back at the POE at Husaybah for the first time since I attended the opening about a month and half ago. Last time I was here there no commerce flowed through the POE. There is still not much. The trade coming through consisted of bongo trucks (short flat beds) and vans piled so full and high with produce and goods that their bottoms scrap against every high point in the pavement and a particularly high speed bump could present an impassible barrier.
The big rigs, eighteen wheelers, are still not coming through. We thought it might be for security reasons, but the we were assured that the guys at the POE were ready, willing and able to handle them. For now, the Syrian side seems to be holding up the big truck transit. I could not find out the ostensible reason but it seems to be a minor or a technical issue rather than a policy statement. As of now, it doesn’t make much of a difference. There was not a line of trucks waiting to come over. The POE on both sides is small and the roads narrow, which leads to another POE problem.
The POE in Husaybah is currently like a roach motel for big trucks: they can check in, but they cannot check out. The roads leading from the POE to the rest of Iraq are too narrow. Big trucks can drive along them, but if they do nothing else can move in the other direction. The solution to this problem seems simple: widen the road or – preferably – build another as a bypass for the heavy trucks. Of course, the simple solution is not the easy solution because it smacks of effort and costs money, but this will have to happen. The expedient solution, the one that I predict in the short and medium term, is simply for the trucks to force other traffic to drive across the adjacent desert. The desert is flat and has a consistency a lot like pavement anyway. I suppose trial and error will even help identify the best routes for the roads, whenever they are actually built.
The POE manager also complained that he did not have enough room to park vehicles waiting for inspection or secure vehicles that have been impounded or just need to be stored for whatever reason. I am no expert, but this is also a problem I just cannot understand. Much of western Iraq looks for all the world like a giant parking lot. In the short term, all anybody needs to do is put up a fence around a suitable area of it and call it an impound lot. If you didn’t want a fence, an earth berm would probably do the job, maybe even do the job better, since it would be harder to break down and drive through than a chain link fence.
My general impression is that the POE is just too small for the traffic you could reasonably expect to be coming through when peace and prosperity takes firm root in Iraq. Fortunately, along this stretch of the Syrian border topography is very forgiving for procrastinating planners & prospective pavers. Nature has provided acres of flat, hard packed surfaces with few obstacles to block anything rolling across. There are no significant obstacles to making this POE work besides human inertia, lethargy, perfidiousness and plain cussedness. This can be overcome.
The guys currently stifled by the lack of parking and roads across a landscape that is essentially one giant parking lot are the same ones who devise elegant and imaginative solutions to much tougher questions of distribution of the goods and services they want and need. If people want to make this work, it will work.
Thinking About Historical Parallels
I read all of Joseph Ellis’ books except his most recent one, “American Creation”, which I am reading now, so I enthusiastically read his applied history article in the Washington Post about what George Washington would do in modern situations, including Iraq. Since much of what I know about the founding fathers comes from him, I assume Ellis knows more about that subject than I do. But I think he misses the boat on Iraq, where I might have the edge from being closer to the situation.
Whenever I find that someone whose opinion I respect has an opinon that differs from mine, I reexamine my own opinion. I have been thinking about this one all day. I believe Ellis made a false analogy, framed the question in an inaccurate way, which led to an (IMO) inaccurate conclusion, and it occurs to me that this framing issue is at the root of much reasonable disagreement about our current situation in Iraq.
Ellis compares the situation in Iraq to the war of American independence and puts us in the role of the British. “The British army and navy could win all the major battles, and with a few exceptions they did; but they faced the intractable problem of trying to establish control over a vast continent whose population resented and resisted military occupation,” he says. This is true, but it does not apply closely to what we are doing in Iraq.First let me address technical objections. The British were in fact defeated in a major battle with the help of the French. While they could certainly have renewed the fight, it was Yorktown that ended it. There is no conceivable scenario where Iraqi insurgents could trap & defeat an American army in the Yorktown fashion. Beyond that, Iraq is not as vast as the American colonies, especially given distance shrinking technologies available today and most of Iraq is essentially uninhabited. You really are concerned only with narrow bands of territory near the rivers or at a few desert oases. The part of Iraq that is not like this – Kurdistan – is the place where we never faced significant local resistance, which leads me to the second and more important point: the nature of the enemy. The Iraqi people are not the enemy and most of them are not resisting coalition forces. The biggest challenge is not that they are loyal to an insurgency but rather that they are not committed to any side in the conflict. Most people – logically – simply prefer not to be involved at all. They will passively support anybody who seems to be able to provide security and remain sitting on the fence until they have a better idea which side will prevail. In “American Creation”, Ellis himself mentions the analogous situation in Pennsylvania when Washington’s army was freezing & starving in Valley Forge in the middle of one of the most productive agricultural areas in America, while the British were living fat and happy in neighboring Philadelphia easily buying supplies from local farmers who preferred pound sterling to Continental script. He admits the possibly that the British could have won, since most of the countryside had mixed loyalties. It is a less sweeping analogy and perhaps one that could better inform decision on Iraq. Ellis never compares Washington to the terrorists who operate in Iraq, but I feel it is important to address this other incredibly obvious difference. Insurgents in Iraq target civilian populations – ostensibly their own people – even when, especially when, they have no military significance. In other words, for the insurgents civilian deaths are a goal, not an unfortunate side effect or regrettable necessity. A legitimate resistance does not do this. Washington did nothing like this, specifically refusing to destroy American towns even when they were “Tory”. The British also, BTW, did not engage in such acts, Mel Gibson’s “The Patriot” not withstanding. Civilians are killed in any war, but only terrorists make them the unambiguous target. Although most Americans live fairly conformist lives, almost all 300 million of us like to think of ourselves as rebels and dissenters. We view our history as a struggle or of “us” rebels again “them” in the establishment. I will not be able to dispel that myth, but I would point out that 300 million people cannot all be rebels (who are they rebelling against?) and that our constitution was created in 1787 and remains in force today, making it the oldest such living document in the world. Our government is the second oldest continuously functioning government (second only to our British cousins). These are not outcomes you would naturally expect in a country of rebels.
The paradox, the genius of America, BTW, is our ability simultaneously to embrace both change and order. No matter what the reality, our popular culture is sympathetic to rebels and underdogs and some people falsely view insurgents as falling into the same categories we reserve for some of our most revered heroes, although maybe a little tarnished. In fact, insurgents in Iraq are not rebelling against an establishment or an occupation. Rather they are trying to use force, murder and intimidation to dominate and control the people around them. The true rebels, the ones seeking real change, are those brave enough to stand up to the insurgents. They are the ones we should support and they are the ones we are supporting. Ellis implies and I want to say explicitly that somebody like Washington would never be involved with the kind of insurgency we have in Iraq. More to the practical point, there is no insurgency in Iraq that is in any way comparable to Continental Army. For all its fractiousness, there was ONE American’s independence movement, not dozens of little competing ones as in Iraq. While Ellis is one of my favorite historians and I certainly agree with his premise that we can and should use history to inform today’s decisions, I do not believe he has correctly applied it in this particular case. I hope you all read the linked article and will read some of his other books, but in the case of Iraq & the American war of independence we are finding more contrasts than comparisons.
Sorry to diverge from the style of the blog. I am a former history major and I just cannot resist writing the occasional essay. I will return to true action writing tomorrow. BTW – I saw “Live Free or Die Hard” today. Like all such movies, it strains credulity, but is worth watching if you like action. As you probably know, “Live Free or Die” is the New Hampshire motto. I wanted to live up there just so I could have that on my license plate.
Christmas Moon, Aliens, Singing & Saving Kittens
I could not get this picture to come out no matter how I tried to sharpen it. Those little dots are artifacts of the sharpening, not part of the picture. It would be at the edge of the photo. You can see it, but it is nowhere near what I saw. The moon had a very bright halo ring all around it. I have never seen it like that. I stared up at the sky several minutes until I realized that I was cold. It was like you might expect to see in a Sci-fi movie – UFOs, strange aliens etc. Since I wanted to avoid any alien probing, I took a picture and quickly skedaddled into the safety of my can. Who would believe me?
I got a box from Chrissy, which ironically made me sad, since it reminded me that I was not with her and the kids. Alex sent me some wonderful books and I also got some of my tree farm magazines. I suppose it is natural to feel lonely and homesick when you are away on Christmas. I do.
The Marines got together, led by our British Royal Marine colleague, and sang the twelve days of Christmas with Marine themes. It was funny.
I don’t have too much more to write today. I just felt like writing something before going to sleep. Good night and Merry Christmas.
Fatigue Makes Cowards of Us All
Above is me hanging around, waiting for the sand to settle.
I don’t like being in Iraq. I look for small successes and enjoy myself observing the variety of new things around me, but overall the experience is not pleasant. Of course, I am not alone in thinking this. Few of us would stay here if we were not needed but we all need to stay until we are done.
I am writing this in my little notebook as I sit at the ADAC waiting for my flight to Anah. I know my mood is darker than usual. I told you the frustrating story yesterday. Today, so far, has produced no more joy. If do not get to Anah by 1230, there is no point in going. I will have missed the event. That means if I am not in the air by 1130, there is no point in leaving the ground and I will bail out. I regret to admit that I find myself hoping for that outcome. In that case, I can go back to Al Asad and hunker down. I can not do my job and have a perfectly good excuse for my failure. It is only a “sin of thought”, not of deed, but I feel ashamed to think it.
Vince Lombardi said that fatigue makes cowards of us all. He was right. I am tired today. Tomorrow I will do better.
Now is the Winter of Our Discontent …
You can endure a lot of “how” if you keep looking to the goal and remember the “why” of what you are trying to achieve.
I am climbing out of that pit of despair I inadvertently tumbled into yesterday. I had the opportunity to talk with General Robert Magnus, the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps. I have to admit that I am still impressed with meeting important people, especially when they turn out to be impressive and I can learn from being with them. Over breakfast, we discussed our ePRT programs and as I answered his questions about what we had done and planned to do, I remembered our goal and the valuable work we are doing.
Making progress here remains slow and painful. We have more starts than finishes. It takes hours or days to perform some simple tasks that might take minutes in a more benign environment. Sometimes we cannot even get started. I did not make it to Anah yesterday and the ceremony went on w/o me. But for the losses there are gains. Missing my flight yesterday allowed me to have breakfast with General Magnus today, for example. Being trapped in a big dusty waiting room also gave me a chance to think through some management decisions, which I put into effect yesterday. And through it all, we are moving forward. Projects, like the courthouse I did not get to see, are being done. Anbar is becoming more secure & prosperous. It is worth the effort.
The picture is from my backyard when we lived in New Hampshire. I doubt if anyplace in Iraq looks like this, but it is the only Christmas picture I have on my computer.
Yesterday night the temperatures dipped into the 20s and it was even colder with the wind chill. I wonder if it will get much cooler. Yesterday was the shortest day of the year. Now it will start getting lighter and warmer. I hear that February is a beautiful month. March has good temperatures, but it is sandstorm season. It starts to get hot in late April and by June it is again frying pan weather. Winter evidently turns into what reasonable people would recognize as glorious summer in February. It gets warm enough, and then it overshoots the mark moving into unbearable heat, so I am less enthusiastic about the coming of spring that I have been other places where I have lived. Winter is okay with me.
As I walked home tonight, I noticed something about the landscape in the moonlight. I could imagine it as snowy. In the moonlight, the gravel and dirt looked white. The heaps of dirt could be snow banks and the dust blowing in the light near the guard post could have been snow. You are right. I don’t really believe it either. Merry Christmas anyway.
Rule of Law, Purpose of Planning, Role of Chance
I was supposed to be in Anah for the reopening of a courthouse. This is a significant milestone in the march toward the rule of law. A few months ago, nobody could find a judge willing to stand up to the terrorists. Tomorrow there will be a courthouse, the symbol of the rule of law. Our funds helped rebuild and furnish the courthouse. That is one reason I really wanted to go and see what we had wrought.
I was happily in my can at 730 when I got a knock on the door. I had to go to the airports immediately to catch my helicopter flight. This kind of short notice is not unusual. I keep my stuff good to go. Breakfast? We don’t need no breakfast. We picked up Sam, our new and very good translator, an American citizen born in Iraq. This is great because he has local knowledge AND a security clearance, and headed out.
We got there for show time. I made an entry about show time a couple months ago. Suffice to say, show time is not always closely related to departure time. Although we had sunny clear skies, it was evidently sand-storming someplace, because we had a weather alert. We formed up and went to the flight line. I have learned the system, so when I got there, I laid down in the sun and took a nap. The air was cool, but the sun was warm. It was not bad if you can filter out the noise and smells. I have learned that too.
About 20 minutes later, I heard the sound of Ospreys, got in line and walked onto the tarmac. Unfortunately, it was not our flight. Back to the flight line and a few more minutes of rest. Then the “shepherd” comes by and tells us the weather has closed in. We go back to the terminal and sit. I read my book. A very good one about Iraqi history my friend Tim thoughtfully sent me.
It was getting on toward lunch time, so I went to see what the MRE situation was like. It was, sad to say, normal. I had something labeled cheese and what they said was wheat bread. Bread in MREs comes packed with one of those little silica packets you get in the pockets of new clothes. That tells you something about the quality of the product. I am not sure you could tell it was bread in a blind taste test. But hunger is the best cook. I ate two pieces. My colleague Sam asked me whether it was mold or a type of fruit sauce on his desert cookie. I asked him if he thought it really mattered. He said no and ate the cookie.
Our flight was called again. We tramped out and went back to the flight line. I resumed my previous position, now wonderfully enhanced by a warmer sun. The flight shepherd came by and promised the helicopter would be there in 15 minutes. Twenty minutes later he came back and said that he had good and bad news. The good new was that the helicopters were coming. The bad news was that we couldn’t get on them. They were going straight to Al Qaim with no stops. Seems they were late (yes) and making up time. He told us to come back at 2000. We left the flight line just as the chow hall closed.
I went back at 2000. There was no flight going to Rawah/Anah. The guy at the desk told me that I should have been on the flight that left at 930. I explained that I was there for that very flight. It did not actually show up until 1330 and it did not go to Rawah/Anah at all. He looked at the book and said that the flight was scheduled for 930 and his book showed it had gone. Where it had gone in reality was neither specified in the book nor a concern of his. Anyway, my options were to stay there all night and try to get a flight in the morning or go home and come back and try to get a flight in the morning. Which option I chose also was not one of his concerns. I chose option #2. That is where I am today. If you don’t see an entry from me tomorrow, it probably means I was successful.
Of course, if I don’t make it to Anah, I might not write because I will have nothing interesting to report. The MREs will neither improve nor deteriorate. It will likely be cool and sunny tomorrow, as it was today and as it is every day this time of year. I really want to go to Anah. I have never been there. I hear it is a planned city, planned by the French more than 80 years ago. It is supposed to be a pleasant place. That would be a nice change. Take a look at the Al Asad pictures in my last blog note and you may understand what I mean. The French are good at planning cities and complicated meals. Pierre L’Enfant planned Washington DC. Now there is a subway stop named after him. People should do what they are good at doing.
Plexiglas, Tannenbaum, Tatooine, Can, NPR &c.
I have been accumulating short notes but none are enough for a post, so I have glommed them all together in no particular order.
Plexiglas Beats Sandbags
I have Plexiglas in my windows. Everybody else has sand bags. I did too, but once when I was standing near my window some of the sandbags spontaneously fell down, bathing my office in natural light. The Marines thought it was odd that the sandbags fell down only in front of my windows and they piled them back up. I felt like the guy in the “Cask of Amontillado” watching out the window while the sandbags piled higher. The colonel allowed that if natural light was so important to me, I could have Plexiglas. Now I do. The view is not spectacular (as you can see in the photo), but the windows are above me and when I look up I can see the sky. I like that.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum, Wie grün sind deine Bottles
The picture speaks for itself. In some places they use beer bottles, some of which come naturally in green. In this heaven, however, there is no beer. They use Gatorade bottles filled with colored water.
That is the desolate planet where Luke Skywalker lives, or maybe it is Al Asad.
Gettysburg Can City
I just think the name if funny. It sits across from Lima Tent City. They actually are cities where people live (cf Tatooine above) You probably cannot tell from the picture, but that bunch of concrete on the left is Ripper Mall. We have a laundry, little PX and telephone calling center. Parking is free and always available. That “parking lot” you see in the front is not paved, BTW. The desert can be as hard as pavement and is sometimes easier to drive next to than on a road.
I recently got Worldspace Satellite Radio. The antenna is in the picture. It gets very good reception of NPR, BBC, CNN radio etc. I really missed NPR. With Worldspace, I can listen to “Morning Edition” in the afternoon and “All Things Considered” & “Talk of the Nation” before bed. I still download “Dianne Rehm” weekly news roundup onto my I-Pod for time shifting. Now that I also have a TV with AFN, I can watch the “News Hour with Jim Lehrer” just before breakfast. I was worried that I would become uniformed during my sojourn in the desert. Now my only problem is becoming misinformed.
My ears are still ringing from the helicopter ride I described in the post a few days ago. When I sleep on my left ear, it does nearly deaf. I have to tug on it a few times to unlplug it. The trend seems good, however. Persistent dust makes for dry eyes and throats. I am not fond of dust. I read that some Egyptian mummies have symptoms of a sort of black lung disease caused by the dust there. I will not be in the desert long enough to suffer it, but this clearly is not a healthy place to live. The adjective phrase “God forsaken” leaps to mind when looking around most of Al Anbar, at least when you get a short distance away from the Euphrates. You get beautiful lush places across from lots of nothing – a strange blend of heaven and hell.
Goats, Grass & Deserts
Dennis has hopes for a kind of wildlife restoration corridor. I described his grand plan in an earlier post. Goats & sheep are a big impediment. These beasts are very picturesque, but they are desert makers. The land here is arid, but it is barren because of the works of man and his sheep & goats. They eat everything down to and including roots. Where there is rain enough or where pastures are properly managed, this is okay. Neither of these conditions applies in Iraq. The land will not recover until and unless the goats & sheep are controlled. Since this is a problem 4000 years in the making, I do not expect too much. We will try an “ink blot” strategy of protecting small areas as we can and hoping they will expand. This may be the triumph of hope over experience, but even if the sound management does not spread, at least we will have helped some restoration.
In the small victories category, we have identified a source of “gopher wood”. This has nothing to do with the small rodent pests. Rather it is a type of common Mediterranean cypress that grows 25 meters tall and has very durable wood. The story is that Noah used it to construct his Ark. I don’t know about that. What I do know is this cypress was part of the original forest on the upper Euphrates. We plan to give the little trees out when we visit towns and villages. If they thrived once, I hope they can thrive again, even if the soil is a bit depleted because of bad farming practices and goats.
The picture is Van Gogh. The real trees do not look so menacing. Van Gogh had a different point of view. BTW – he had more trouble with his left ear than I do and he wasn’t even in a helicopter.
We have achieved a few other prosaic but important successes that should clear the way for a more effective operation. A team member returned from Baghdad with funds to pay for dozens of QRF projects. We also learned that we will no longer have to send a team member down on the four day trip to fetch funds; Fed Ex will do the job for us. We are also in line to get another team member who help us with business development, something badly needed in western Anbar. As peace returns, prosperity will follow faster if we can help develop local business. Finally, our new bicultural specialist, an American citizen born in Iraq, has developed a plan to help us recruit LES in our outlying districts. We have been planning this for some time, but it is good to get something – literally – on paper with an Arabic heading. Fox News spent a week in our AO and produced several positive stories about western Anbar and about RCT 2. I have video clips which I can share with anyone who wants to see them.