Maybe Best to Avoid Promotion

You should always be careful what you wish for.  I am happy that I got promoted, but it is expensive.  Because of the peculiarities of the Iraq package, my promotion is costing me almost $300 a pay period.  

Yes, I get paid that much less AFTER being promoted.  It is worse because I am figuring based on the pay w/o the raise that (almost) all Federal workers got in January.  So the bottom line is that I take get almost $300 less than I did BEFORE the promotion took effect and probably around $400 less than I would have if I got the usual raise w/o a promotion.  

Luckily the Senate was unusually dilatory about confirmng our promotions, so I didn’t get the big kick until three months after my promotion was announced.

I get paid the big bucks anyway and I know complaining will do no good, but I have to grumble. Over the course of a year, that is a significant pay cut. 

All in all, I prefer the promotion for the honor of making it to Senior FS and the promise of better things to come, but nobody can ever accuse DoS of enhancing morale of its guys in the field. We got a cable just a couple of days ago saying that we would no longer get Business Class on flights more than 14 hours, as we did when I came over.  It is hard for a medium tall oldish guy to sit in an economy class seat for more than 14 hours, but …

Maybe that retirement plan was not such a bad idea after all.   Anybody got a job for an ex-PRT leader and part time forester?

Just kidding.


I am stuck in Fallujah and hope to get out later today.  In the meantime, I have been reading a book called “Wikinomics” about the changes that online collaboration and web 2.0. will create in society.   (Wiki, BTW, is from the Hawaiian word for quick and a wiki is a form of organization and technology that allows users to create, edit and link information in non-hierarchical collaboration.) This knowledge will be useful in my next job but it is of less here – for now.  Internet connectivity in Anbar is poor, but it is growing rapidly.  We have made some grants to help with Internet hot spots and online newsletters (also available in paper).  I think this will come much faster than we expect and I think Internet will be an important medium in W. Al Anbar before I pack up and go home.

Already many of our good contacts have email, although most do not check it often enough to make it reliable. During the Saddam time there was essentially no Internet out here and the insurgency slowed its early growth, but these kinds of things grow exponentially. 

Internet makes great sense in a large and sparsely populated place like Anbar. It can be a way to communicate and a means for governments to better serve constituents.  But it will remain an elite form of communication for some years to come.  Our biggest challenge is not the technology, but the levels of literacy.   Iraq used to be one of the most literate Arab counties, but Iraqis fell behind during the Saddam times.  The literacy rate in Iraq is only around 74% and it is lower in a rural place like Anbar.  We have some adult literacy programs, but this is a problem long in the making that will require solutions that may take a long time to be effective.

The most modern technology can hit the wall of an ancient problem.  Literacy is one of the first technologies.  It allows the transmission of information over time and distance.  It is so ubiquitous that we take it for granted.  Literature is a type of slow motion wiki (if that is not too much of an oxymoron). The Sumerians invented writing nearby about 5000 years ago.  Pity it didn’t catch on better locally.  

An UnIraq Day

It was a very unIraq day at Fallujah with kind of a misty rain and slate grey skies more characteristic of Eastern Europe (of course there it might be called summer weather).  The animal life seemed out of character too.   The camp (Camp Fallujah) is evidently on an old holiday camp built by one of Saddam’s psycho sons.  I do not know which one. 

I come to camp Fallujah with some regularly because this is where the generals are and because they also have a good big rotunda for meetings and conferences.  I usually don’t stay overnight, but the accommodations are good.  The rooms are pleasant, with real beds and furniture made of wood.  Most importantly, they have computer connections on the desk.

The chow hall seemed very good.  We had carved prime rib and some decent baked bread.  But then the true ghastliness of it all was revealed.  They had no Diet Coke.   No amount of baked bread and prime rib can make up for the lack of Diet Coke.  Lucky I don’t have to stay much longer.  I can embrace the suck, but some things are almost beyond forbearance.

The Meaning of Our Victory in Iraq

This post draws on and fleshes out some my earlier more random thoughts.   It represents only my personal opinion.  Call it my blog editorial.  

Above is the TOA (Transfer of Authority) ceremony, where Regimental Combat Team 2 (RCT2) transfered responsibility to RCT5.   

We are on the verge of achieving the impossible: defeating an Islamic terrorist movement in the heart of the Middle East on a battlefield of their choosing.  Tens of thousands of Takfiri streamed into Iraq for the opportunity to become martyrs and coalition and Iraqi forces obliged them.  Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has been essentially annihilated in Al Anbar, the center of what they boldly declared as their new caliphate eighteen months ago.  Tribal leaders who once fought us are now on our side and former insurgents are giving up and reconciling.

It may take a while for the magnitude of this to sink in.  I can walk around in the same places where heavily armed American & Iraqi forces could not safely walk only months ago.  Here the debate has shifted to providing everyday services such as sewer, water and electricity.  Marketplaces where insurgents dumped headless bodies last year are now crowded with shoppers.  Children are returning to school instead of being abused by terrorists and coerced into deadly activities.  What a difference a year makes!

Sometimes you just have to win. Some conflicts just need to run their courses and some bad guys just need killing.  Nazi ideology was not discredited UNTIL it was defeated on the battlefield.  No amount of peaceful persuasion or appeasement worked.  People thought communism was a viable alternative to the free market UNTIL it ignominiously collapsed.  Massive economic evidence and even the presence of a very large and deadly wall running down the middle of Berlin did not convince the believers to abandon their failed ideology.  Earlier forms of terrorism from the Barbary Pirates to the Bader-Meinhof didn’t go away until they were defeated.  We tried appeasement in the 1930s and we tried ignorance in the 1990s.   These things did not work.  

Ideology is weakened AFTER its defeat.  That is often the direction of causality.  In our recent case, more people are drawn to be takfiri when being takfiri is easier and more beneficial.  People are attracted to success and avoid losers.

The war against terrorism is not won since a final victory is not possible.  This is one of those “eternal vigilance” propositions.   Our nation’s first foray into foreign policy involved fighting the Barbary Pirates; whose behavior – adjusted for the technologies of the times – closely resembled those of today’s territorially based terrorists.  That was in 1804 and obviously the job is never done.  But terrorism can be contained.  As with the Nazis and communists, their ideology is compromised by setbacks and real world defeats.

Media coverage of events in Iraq has moved inversely to our success here and so many American’s perception of Iraq is based on events of 2006.   Journalists like to cover carnage and many of them absent mindedly wander away when the mundane work of reconstruction takes over.  Nevertheless, my brave colleagues’ efforts will be supplying a victory in Iraq and even the media and the chattering classes will soon come to recognize it.  Let’s nor squander it.

Hunchback of Haditha

If you look at the picture, you will notice that I am sitting on air.  I had not planned to be in the picture or even to have a picture at all.  The guy with the scarf asked us to take his picture and then they said that I should be in it too.  I was significantly taller than the guys standing and thought that me standing next to them and the other guys sitting would look odd.   So I tried that expedient you see there to fit the space.  My solution was not optimal.   You could probably call the picture, “Hunchback of Haditha.”  All I need is some bells to ring and the Charles Loughton accent to say, “Why was I not made of stone like thee?”

A visit by the governor is spectacle to behold.  He holds court for local leaders, who ask for help with their various projects and often get positive answers.  The Governor seems generous, but generous politicians are threats to liberty & prosperity, not to mention property.   They can give away only other people’s money and when they do that they create dependency among both recipients and the ones who are footing the bill, creating a layer of bureaucracy and probably corruption in the bargain. Politicians love to give away money and people love to get it, but the analogy is like someone borrowing your watch so that he can tell you what time it is.   We suffer from an outdated paradigm of the “good” ruler, who is generous with his people.   In a democratic age, their largess earns both praise and votes.

The situation is even more dangerous & pernicious in a place that is cursed with the largely unearned wealth bestowed by hydrocarbons deposited underground during the age of dinosaurs.  Governments can easily commandeer this wealth and make themselves arbiters of distribution, buying loyalty and creating dependency almost with impunity.   I think we need to be careful in supporting the politics of personality.   A brighter future will involve the rule of law and even the rule of bureaucrats.  It will mean that politicians do not have need – or have – the personal power to grant such favors.

In a Haditha market piled high with fresh produce, consumer goods and groceries, shoppers and shopkeepers alike waved and smiled.  I talked with a few guys (pictured above.)  They told me that security in the macro sense had improved remarkably in the past year.  Their current complains were petty crimes and burglaries.    I asked a local IP major about what the merchants said.   He told us that he was aware of this situation and that it was being remedied.   The break ins, he said, were isolated events.   Patrols of both the IP and the Marines make it harder for criminals to commit crimes and local merchants have formed a neighborhood watch, which is scaring away the petty criminals.

The major went on that such neighborhood watches had been common before the war, but had fallen into disuse until recently.   He thought that the IP could handle security in the region w/o the Marines, if not now in the very near future.  But he allowed that he wanted the U.S. forces around to continue to help with rebuilding and reconstruction.

We also toured a hospital.   It was much like the ones I saw in Eastern Europe, but not as nice.  It was almost comical to go through the office area where it seemed everyone was smoking.  Someone quipped that this was the smoke-therapy ward.  A pharmacist gave us a list of drugs and materials he said he was lacking.  One of my colleagues with a medical background noticed that they did not have even very simple physical therapy equipment.  The general problem, however, is not lack of equipment but lack of trained personnel to use the equipment that exists or could be provided  Several people told the same story about Iraqis who go to other countries to get medical treatment only to find that many of the doctors are from Iraq.

Journalists in Iraq

Ever since we started to have some success in Al Anbar, most journalists have been as hard to find around here as a cold beer.  I have a conspiracy theory about this, the details of which I will not burden you.  Suffice to say, I think that many of them have already decided that we lost in Iraq and they do not want to confuse themselves with the contrary facts. As a result, the American public perception of Iraq is frozen in 2006, when walking around as I did today in Haditha (see above) would have been deadly for all involved.  Most of the media doesn’t know sh*t about Iraq today, but that doesn’t stop their pontification. 

But we do have one journalist here with us who wants to see for himself.  His name is Tony Perry and he writes for the LA Times.  That is him pictured above (perhaps not looking his best), seems a good guy.  You can read his article here.   I know all those guys in the picture.   I wrote a whole blog note re my talk with Sheik Kurdi.  I think Mr. Perry has it mostly right.  Let’s hope he keeps it up and/or other members of the chattering classes pay better attention.


What if you saw these guys driving down the street in your general direction? These are our allies.   They help protect both us and our Iraqi friends.   We should not judge only by appearances.

We should also be careful with words.   Mujahideen, for example, is a term that to most Muslims means a hero.  The guys in the picture are probably Mujahideen, fighting as they are against the terrorists, who sometimes call themselves Mujahideen.   The more apt word for the terrorists like Al Qaeda, however, is takfiri, which is the bigoted kind of guy who kills Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

All this is more than a semantic difference.   We should not falsely honor bad guys by calling them Mujahideen or Jihadis, nor should we dishonor these terms by associating them with terrorists.  That is what the bad guys want.  If a group of low life Americans took to calling themselves “true patriots” would we feel constrained to use that term ourselves when describing them?

Walking Through the (former) Valley of the Shadow of Death

Above is a fruit stand in Haditha

Marines who were here a couple of years ago told that this was a truly unique experience.   We walked through the marketplace in Haditha.  The same place that had been a no go zone was now a thriving place, where we could just walk around and talk to shop keepers.  Some of the shop keepers complained about petty crimes and burglaries.  A local police commander claimed that the situation was under control.  In any case, nobody wanted to go back to the bad old days – not so long ago.

These guys are watching my colleagues.   We are a curiosity

As I walked through the city, I noticed a lot of people with red hair.  I do not know what explains this anomaly or even if it is an anomaly at all.

BTW – “hadith” in Arabic describes oral traditions relating to the words and deeds of the Prophet.  The town of Haditha has a lot of traditions associated with it and most of what Americans associate with the place is probably bad.   It is not like that anymore.

Just Like the Spiderman Ride at Islands of Adventure

I fly in Ospreys and helicopters around here about as much as I drove in my car back home, so the experience no longer provides many surprises or much excitement.  This time, however, I got to sit in the very last seat of the Osprey.   I was only around four feet from the edge of the open door and a very long drop.  Ospreys take off vertically, but they bank way up and you are pulled out of your seat as it makes sharp maneuvers.  The back of the plane tends to get a more thrilling ride.  I recalled those simulation rides at Universal Studios, but this was real – with real gravity that would have landed me on really hard rocks real far below if I really fell out.   My spidey sense was tingling.

I usually do not pay too much attention to my seatbelt.  This time I checked it twice.

Taking pictures out the back of these things is not easy.  My camera automatically focuses on the objects or people in the foreground and makes the outside an indistinct bright blank, but  I got a couple of decent pictures by using the landscape mode.

This is an unrelated picture, but for animal lovers I thought I would show a working dog.   He smells for bombs.  The dog is the shorter one.  Notice his USMC scarf.


The Mameluke sword is patterned after one given to Marine 1st Lt. Presley O’Bannon during the First Barbary War in 1804.  Maj General John Allen told the story.  We went to Fallujah to present Mameluke swords to the sheiks of leading western Anbar tribes. The Sheiks were delighted with the honor and genuinely appreciated the tradition and the story of how Arab tribes had fought alongside the U.S Marines on the shores of Tripoli in that distant time and hoped the relations would continue offering (in jest?) to help liberate Afghanistan with their new swords.

After recounting the great success the alliance of the Marines and the tribes has achieved in Al Anbar during the last year, one sheik commented that 2008 must be the year of the rule of law.  Rule of law must supersede tribal law, he said, and rule of law must keep Iraqi together as one nation.  I have heard these sorts of comments on many occasions.  The Sheiks of Anbar, with their martial outlook and tradition of defending Iraq, evidently consider themselves the custodians of Iraqi nationality.

A recounting of the heroism of the Al Anbar tribes followed.  They recalled the dark & bloody days of late 2005 when it was not unusual to find headless bodies laying by the road.   They talked about how the push against AQI had started in Al Qaim and then spread east.   That is one reason why Al Qaim is relatively farther along in peaceful development than places in the east of the province.  All the sheiks promised that they would never allow AQI to reestablish itself in Al Anbar.

The sheiks reflected the widespread belief among Anbari that their province has significant unexploited oil reserves.     They wondered when/if American firms would be in Anbar to tap this oil.  They said that they prefer American to European or others, since the U.S. is a reliable partner.

Above is Major General Gaskin, commander of CF in Al Anbar, with sheiks.

All the sheiks appreciate of their relationships with the U.S. and specifically with the Marines.  Local leaders observably feel personal affection for current group of Marines.  However the sheiks understand the transient nature of our assignments and are receptive to new friends.  Social meetings such as this one are one of the keys to success in winning friends and influencing people in western Al Anbar.  

The swords were a nice touch that united the warrior traditions of Al Anbar with those of the USMC.