Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"Prayer this Christmas"

A dear friend of mine, Jill Gooding, recently returned from a trip to Israel and the West Bank, which included a visit to Bethlehem. She wrote this inspiring and uplifting poem that has very special meaning at Christmas. Enjoy and Merry Christmas!

Written after seeing the wall in Bethlehem, dividing Israel and Palestine,
November 2008

They come in teeming busloads
To Bethlehem today
To see the spot of Jesus birth
To find out where he lay.

But -

A wall divides that little town;
Bethlehem’s not the same
As when those shepherds and the flocks
In awe and wonder came.
A wall is there to separate
Brother man from brother;
It tries to say in concrete form
That God is not “our” Father.
A wall just speaks of hate, not love;
A wall is built on fear;
A wall says yes, we are at war;
And shouts, “God is not here.”
But the Bible tells us clearly:

“For He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in Himself of twain one new man (nation) so making peace.”
Ephesians 2:14,15

So may our prayer this Christmas
Be to see our world ‘unwalled’;
Graffiti-less, unbounded, free,
Where everyone is called
To be the royal child of God,
Not hemmed in by a wall,
But one united family
Kneeling at Bethlehem’s stall.

May your Christmas be filled with
the SIMPLICITY of the first Christmas,
the JOY of the angels at that time,
the LOVE that the shepherds brought,
the ABUNDANCE given by the three kings,
and the RADIANCE of that guiding star:
and may true UNITY be felt at your firesides
and in the world.

--Jill Gooding

The pictures are from my past trips to Bethlehem. They include the Church of the Nativity, Jesus' manger inside the church, and various pictures of the wall surrounding Bethlehem. See my previous Bethlehem blogpost for details on my last trip there.

Merry Christmas to all!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

NYT: Iraq May Ban Blackwater

Despite the uproar my Oct. 07 Blackwater op-ed in the Los Angeles Times produced, I am not an anti-Blackwater ideologue. I simply questioned operations like Blackwater whose practices undermine the whole reason for our being in Iraq in the first place. Especially when there were other security firms who were doing the same job but with less of an adverse impact on the daily lives of Iraqis.

There's really no need to ban Blackwater from Iraq, just a definite need to amend its tactics so as not to undercut the "winning the peace" effort. And it seems this is already happening...see the part in bold in today's NYT article below. I'm heartened to learn this, and hope that all current and future security companies will act similarly.

December 18, 2008
Report Says Iraq May Ban Blackwater

WASHINGTON — The State Department’s inspector general has warned in a new report that Blackwater Worldwide, the security contractor, may not be licensed by the Iraqi government to continue to protect American diplomats in Baghdad next year, forcing the Obama administration to make new security arrangements.

The report says that if State Department contractors lose their immunity from criminal prosecution under Iraqi law, as many officials expect, employees of Blackwater and other contractors may choose to leave Iraq or demand higher pay. Five Blackwater guards were indicted this month in a 2007 shooting in Baghdad that killed at least 17 Iraqis.

Unlike some American contractors in Iraq, Blackwater does not have a license, but it has applied for one. Iraqi authorities have allowed it to operate while officials consider the application.

The inspector general’s findings were first reported Wednesday by The Associated Press, and The New York Times obtained a copy of the report.

The report says the State Department “faces a real possibility” that no license will be granted and that the Iraqi government will ban Blackwater. The American Embassy in Baghdad would then face a major challenge; officials said Blackwater’s services would not be easily replaced.

State Department officials have said they will decide whether to renew Blackwater’s contract in April only after the F.B.I. completes its inquiry into the contractor’s role in the shooting.

The report by Harold W. Geisel, the acting inspector general, finds that changes since the 2007 shooting “have resulted in a more professional security operation and the curtailment of overly aggressive actions” by contractors toward Iraqi civilians.

In response to its findings, Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who will take over the Foreign Relations Committee next month, again urged the State Department to drop Blackwater as an Iraq contractor.

A Blackwater spokeswoman, Anne E. Tyrrell, declined to comment because the report had not been officially released.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

UN passes Middle East Resolution

The UN Security Council has adopted a resolution aimed at giving fresh momentum to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, according to yesterday's BBC News report. The text of the article is below.

The resolution describes US-brokered talks between Israelis and Palestinians as "irreversible" and urges greater diplomatic efforts to secure a deal.

The resolution is the first on the Middle East issue adopted by the 15-member council in almost five years.
It passed by 14 votes to zero. One council member, Libya, abstained.

The draft calls on both parties to "refrain from any steps that could undermine confidence or prejudice the outcome of negotiations".

It also urges an "intensification of diplomatic efforts" to build lasting peace in the Middle East.

The US-brokered negotiations were launched at Annapolis, Maryland, in November 2007, with the goal of achieving a peace deal before President George W Bush leaves office on 20 January 2009.

This is not going to happen but, says the BBC's Laura Trevelyan at the UN, the resolution gives the security council's backing for the talks to continue.

Diplomats say the resolution is America's attempt to carry over any progress to Barack Obama's administration.

Polls suggest the hawkish Binjamin Netanyahu could be elected Israeli prime minister in February, however, and he does not want to carry on with the negotiations in their current format, our correspondent adds.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Very Shameful" Shoe-throwing incident

I was stunned by yesterday's news report about an Iraqi journalist throwing his shoes at President Bush, during his press conference in Baghdad. I was chatting with an Iraqi friend online last night and asked for his thoughts. Here's his viewpoint...

Me: Did you hear about the shoe-throwing incident at Bush? What do you think?

Iraqi friend: Very shameful! All decent people are ashamed of it. You should read the Iraqi press and the internet

Me: Well, the demonstrations on the street in support of the shoe-thrower are getting a ton of press, too..

Iraqi friend: The few Sadris? (supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr) Come on...

Me: What's the Iraqi press saying about it?

Iraqi friend: Read the comments from thousands of people on the internet. They are very embarassed and ashamed that a guest has been treated like this. Look at sites like SotalIraq and elaph.com

Me: Why are decent people embarassed? Because it wasn't appropriate? Aren't a lot of Iraqis mad at Bush?

Iraqi friend: Many people are calling Bush a liberator and it was his work and the freedom he brought that allowed this guy to do what he did. Plus, he was a guest of the people of Iraq. Many people are saying that they hated Bush until the incident and now they are embarrassed because this was simply bad manners towards a guest.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Walking from Nazareth to Bethlehem for Christmas

This is so neat. A friend just forwarded me this link to a BBC reporter's online diary, starting today, of his walk from Nazareth to Bethlehem, intending to make it by Christmas. He'll be traveling through military checkpoints and disputed territory in the Israel and West Bank. You can follow along on his daily adventures via video and text here.

Why is he doing it?

(This from the BBC article.) BBC correspondent Aleem Maqbool explains his motivation for retracing the Christmas journey made by Joseph and Mary in the New Testament.

For all the sacred places in this region - Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jericho - it is the land in-between where you can often feel most connected to history.
The hills and valleys have played a part in so many of the stories that still shape the lives of millions around the world today.

Whether you believe Mary and Joseph's walk ever took place or not, most of us became familiar with the story at a young age.

Many of us are even scarred by embarrassing moments acting in school nativity plays - or perhaps that is just me... I once played a sheep.

If it did happen, the journey of around 150km (93 miles), along Roman roads and dirt tracks, is likely to have been an arduous one, particularly for a heavily pregnant woman.

What does not get included in the nativity plays, is the probability that the couple also faced hostility from Samaritans who lived in what is now the northern West Bank.

Complex land

Of course, there are new difficulties today. The supposed route goes through areas of continued conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Army incursions, militancy, and checkpoints manned by soldiers are commonplace, and all have the potential to interrupt my journey.

Still, the notion of a walk from Nazareth to Bethlehem is, for me, a romantic one.

When I have told people here what I intend to do, they have generally seemed quite amused, but understand that it is a vehicle to tell modern day stories along this ancient route.

It will hopefully help me to get to know at least a little bit more about this complex land through getting to hear people's stories on the way.

For carrying daily provisions and equipment, a donkey seemed as practical a solution now as it might have done two millennia ago, and will, of course, be an added connection to the tale that inspired the journey.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

"Life is Good" comes full circle

I often marvel at life's coincidences. Two of my students are currently vacationing in Lake Placid, New York, and they were walking through a shopping center and popped into a Life is Good store. If you don't know Life is Good, they are the laid-back t-shirt and paraphernalia store with the infectiously optimistic mantra and the ubiquitous smile of Jake, their logo.

My students, Hillary Austin and Alyson Wright, pictured left and right, respectively, were browsing the store and came across a notebook of various letters to Life is Good. To their surprise, they noticed one of them was from me while I was living in Baghdad. They sent me this picture holding the notebook with my letter that reads,

Hi “Life is good” crew,

I thought you all would enjoy the attached picture taken in Baghdad, Iraq where I have been for over a year. Playing Ultimate Frisbee with local Iraqis (teaching them the game has been a hoot!) and subscribing to the motto “life is good”, even amidst falling mortars and rockets, have kept us going.

My dear friend sent me a bunch of your stickers, the disc, and a few other things. They are a huge hit here as you can imagine how much people are thirsting for reminders of life (rather than death) and even more so, reminders that life is good. Here we have even started a daily report, the “good news goose”, where we can note good things that have happened to us during the day. It’s all a part of keeping the right focus.

Thank you so much for all you’re doing and for your infectious optimism and enthusiasm. It is felt in all corners of the world!



I find it so amazing how things come full circle...that students of mine with whom I'm sharing my passion for the Middle East would remind me of the time in which my own passion was cultivated. What a cool world. Thanks Hillary and Alyson! :-)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Carter's op-ed in WaPo, "Obama's Human Rights Opportunity"

Carter is the man. He is one of my greatest heroes and I so hoped I would fatefully bump in to him during my trip to the Carter Center earlier this year in Atlanta, GA. Oh well. I at least proudly sport my Carter Center t-shirt and hat. Here's a guy who took "retirement" to a whole new level, embarking on peace-keeping missions, democratic reforms, and health care worldwide. If you haven't checked out his book Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis, it's a must-read. And I've mentioned his Palestine, Peace not Apartheid book before.

Here is his latest op-ed in yesterday's Washington Post, in which he takes his usual clear stand for our values over fear tactics in the name of "security".

Obama's Human Rights Opportunity
By Jimmy Carter
Wednesday, December 10, 2008; A25

The advancement of human rights around the world was a cornerstone of foreign policy and U.S. leadership for decades, until the attacks on our country on Sept. 11, 2001.

Since then, while Americans continue to espouse freedom and democracy, our government's abusive practices have undermined struggles for freedom in many parts of the world. As the gross abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay were revealed, the United States lost its mantle as a champion of human rights, eliminating our national ability to speak credibly on the subject, let alone restrain or gain concessions from oppressors. Tragically, a global backlash against democracy and rights activists, who are now the targets of abuse, has followed.

The advancement of human rights and democracy is necessary for global stability and can be achieved only through the local, often heroic, efforts of individuals who speak out against injustice and oppression -- endeavors the United States should lead, not impede. If the early warnings of human rights activists had been heeded and tough diplomacy and timely intervention mobilized, the horrific, and in some cases ongoing, violence in Bosnia, Rwanda, Sudan's Darfur region and the Democratic Republic of the Congo might have been averted.

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. With a new administration and a new vision coming to the White House, we have the opportunity to move boldly to restore the moral authority behind the worldwide human rights movement. But the first steps must be taken at home.

President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to shut down the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and end torture, which can be accomplished by executive orders to close the prison and by enforcing existing prohibitions against torture by any U.S. representative, including FBI and CIA agents. The detention of people secretly or indefinitely and without due process must cease, and their cases should be transferred to our courts, which have proved their competence in trying those accused of terrorism. Further, a nonpartisan expert commission should be named to conduct a thorough review of U.S. practices related to unwarranted arrest, torture, secret detention, extraordinary rendition, abandonment of habeas corpus and related matters. Acknowledging to the world that the United States also has made mistakes will give credence to our becoming "a more perfect union" -- a message that would resonate worldwide. Together, these actions will help us restore our nation's principles and embolden others abroad who want higher moral standards for their own societies.

By putting its house in order, the United States would reclaim its moral authority and wield not only the political capital but also the credibility needed to engage in frank but respectful bilateral dialogues on the protection of human rights as central to world peace and prosperity. Human rights defenders around the world, whose annual conference began at the Carter Center this week, are eagerly awaiting the Obama administration. In Pakistan, they look for our help in restoring the rule of law that was undermined when the United States sided with Pervez Musharraf as he debilitated an independent-minded Supreme Court. Defenders of the struggling democratic movement in Egypt seek a tough U.S. stance supporting free and fair elections and ending the abuse of opposition political candidates. Throughout the Middle East, there is hope that the United States will move more aggressively and persistently to help orchestrate a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the prism through which the region measures the U.S. commitment to human rights.

In the war-ravaged Democratic Republic of the Congo, rights defenders under daily threat hope the United States will pressure its allies in Rwanda and Uganda to withdraw support from proxy forces that continue to wreak havoc there. All agree that the United States should reengage with agencies of the United Nations to make that body a more effective tool to protect human rights, knowing that this must be a global effort.

The moral footprint of the United States has always been vast. Our next president has an unprecedented opportunity to lead through example by inspiring and supporting those who would reach for freedom and by being tough and effective with those who would impede freedom's march. All Americans must give him full support.

The writer, the 39th president, is founder of the Carter Center, a not-for-profit organization advancing peace and health worldwide.

Monday, December 01, 2008

"Why am I for Obama?" published in Iraqi news weekly

Happy belated Thanksgiving to all! I just had an article published in Arabic in a leading Iraqi news weekly, called Al Esbuyia, or Iraq Weekly, entitled "Why am I for Obama". Al Esbuyia recently made other news by publishing a political cartoon depicting female suicide bombers that provoked the ire of Iraqi parliamentarians.

Here's the link to the article in Arabic, Why am I for Obama?, and the original pasted below in English. Unfortunately, I don't think the poem made it through the final edit, but I thought I'd leave it here for you to read.

As the article points out, most Iraqis I knew supported McCain, and it was helpful to get this note back from an Iraqi friend after he read the article. "Your perspective gives me hope because I hoped McCain would win, but your article shows that Obama will understand Iraq better and hopefully help it while serving the American people. By the way, congratulations on such amazing elections and groundbreaking outcome."

Why am I for Obama?

Unlike for Republican candidate John McCain, Iraq was never President-elect Barack Obama’s lodestar. Obama opposed the US invasion into Iraq in 2003 as well as the troop “surge” in 2007. Even during his campaign, Obama preferred to focus attention on what he considered the real fight in Afghanistan, from which Iraq was just a distraction, and a costly one at that. We “took our eye off the ball” with our myopic obsession of winning the war in Iraq at the expense of catching Osama Bin Ladin, Obama proclaimed in the first presidential debate with McCain.

Does Obama’s lackluster consideration of Iraq make Iraqis nervous? From my informal canvassing of my Iraqi acquaintances, it seemed to. Many preferred McCain because of what they perceived to be his iron-clad determination to stay put until democracy is shored and security restored.

But recent events seem to poke holes in my theory that Iraqis are wary of Obama. The Iraqi cabinet just signed the elusive security pact with the United States, in part because members believed that an Obama administration would actually respect the timetable because it more closely coincided with, and even elongated, his own stated plan of 16-months. There was some distrust as to whether a Republican administration would stick with the notion of pulling out of a country on which it had staked its entire foreign policy (not to mention its grand plans to remake the Middle East)—especially if that country were descending into chaos, disorder, and left an image of leaving with our tail between our legs. An opposition administration would have no problem deeming the whole operation a failure, proclaiming how badly the previous government screwed it up, and making a public vow that they never would have or never would in the future make such poor decisions.

It is true, however, that McCain had visited Iraq many times and took on the issue with much passion and fervor. One could say that he cared much more deeply about the situation in Iraq; he saw Iraqi success and security as inseparable from American success and security, versus Obama’s more flippant attitude. However, prioritization does not ensure right decision-making, or even intelligent policy. Obama, though less knowledgeable and experienced on Iraqi issues, is, as many pundits have pointed out, a very “quick study”, and very comfortable with nuance and complexity, without which one could not even hope to grasp the labyrinth of Iraqi politics and history. McCain, on the other hand, despite his experience, has often confused “Sunnis” and “Shias” and has been criticized as similar to President Bush in his tendency to avoid fine distinctions.

Another reason why Obama might be good for Iraq is his stated penchant for “talking” before fighting. This helps especially with Iran, whose Ahmedinejad already sent Obama a conciliatory overture in a letter of congratulations after his election. Obama’s election—and the prospect of a less hostile administration occupying its neighbor— also might have softened Iran’s opposition to Iraq’s security pact with the United States, according to political analysts. The notion a rising regional power and the world’s superpower engaging in more diplomatic exchanges rather than proxy wars inside Iraq is a heart-warming outlook for Iraqi security indeed.

It’s probably becoming clear where my biases lie, with my intent extolling of Obama’s virtues. But, in truth, I have two biases—I am staunchly pro-Iraq and pro-Obama, (and I’ve been pro-Iraq for longer). After witnessing (and sometimes participating) in the incredible mistakes committed during the first two years of the American program in Iraq, I believe the best thing for Iraq is to have an America in its midst that understands that it has taken a wrong turn somewhere in the past years and that change must happen. This view has been the mantra of Obama’s campaign. He has also stressed that we must not only talk about, but live up to, and act on our ideals, whether that involves repairing frayed friendships, talking to our enemies, closing an ignominy like Guantanamo prison, or leaving a country that asked us to.

Along with the prospect of a changed America that Obama brings with him, the election itself also brought home the example of something so wonderful about America that doesn’t change—the power of democracy. This month’s election showcased the peaceful transition of power and a transparent process that involved real choice, real accountability, and fairness. And the election of the first African-American candidate showed that anything is possible.

This thrilling election reminded me of another election just as powerful—in Iraq on January 30, 2005. At the polling center I visited that day and the Iraqis with whom I spoke, I saw the faces lit up with glee at the “feeling of freedom” and of the opportunity to have a personal say and stake in the future of their country. It was an incredibly moving sight to witness voters who were braving dire and grave terrorist threats to cast their ballots and demonstrate their freedom. As Iraq heads into this tense period before its upcoming provincial elections, I hope the recent American elections remind the Iraqi people of their own in 2005, during which Iraqis banded together to defeat fear, intimidation, and violence. You truly showed the world that anything was possible, and reminded us of that most powerful force—freedom. Allow me to share the poem I wrote on that day.

Badge of Honor

My finger is still purple,
My tears are still wet,
With the feeling of freedom.
My heart is overwhelmed by their joy,
Their hope, their courage.
I am humbled, bowed before them.
They are the lights shining in darkness.
They are the river, the lifeblood of the world!
This is their gift to us, their purpose.
They have not only changed themselves and their country.
Their fight is for the world,
Tipping the balance on the side of freedom.
What could express the depth of our gratitude?
They say we saved them from the maniacal regime;
We gave them democracy.
Little do they know they are giving it back to us,
Giving us their example of freedom from fear,
Of the rewards of courage.
True warriors,
Each ballot a sword brandished against evil,
Each purple finger a
Badge of honor.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

WaPo's Editorial on Egyptian Professor: "Still a Fellow Dissident'?

Today's Washington Post editorial page provides exactly the kind of example of double-speak and lack of consistency I pointed out in my most recent CSMonitor opinion piece. My favorite part is the last line, quoting Egyptian dissident Saad Ibrahim in a recent interview, "Don't give dictators money to oppress us." Our oft-repeated but seldom acknowledged policy of aiding tyrants in the Middle East does not stand in line with our favorite and oft-brandished buzz words of supporting freedom and democracy.

Still a 'Fellow Dissident'?
As Egypt's Hosni Mubarak continues to hound an advocate for democracy, the administration is nearly silent.
Thursday, August 21, 2008; A14

Today, we repost an opinion piece by Egyptian professor and dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim that first appeared on our op-ed page one year ago. This month, Mr. Ibrahim was convicted of seditious libel or "tarnishing" the image of Egypt. For this transgression, the ailing, 69-year-old scholar was sentenced to two years in jail, with hard labor, and ordered to pay a fine equivalent to about $1,500. The prime piece of evidence against Mr. Ibrahim: The opinions he expressed in this newspaper.

Mr. Ibrahim, a dual Egyptian and American citizen, has for some time been living in exile in the Middle East and so may escape this sentence and other potentially draconian punishments. He is still subject to some 20 other legal actions brought against him by allies of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. He is accused, among other things, of grand treason, in part for organizing a forum for Arab democracy advocates and for meeting briefly with President Bush last year after a conference in Prague. A conviction on these charges could subject him to death by hanging.

The fact that Mr. Ibrahim faces imprisonment -- or worse -- if he sets foot in Egypt speaks to the tightening grip of tyranny in that country. It is also testament to the Bush administration's failure to hold Mr. Mubarak to his commitment to further freedom and democratic institutions there.

There was a time when President Bush spoke openly, eloquently and forcefully about his sense of solidarity with Mr. Ibrahim, so much so that the president referred to himself as a fellow dissident. There was a time, only a few years ago, when he withheld millions of dollars in aid to Egypt until the country released Mr. Ibrahim from an unjust incarceration. Now, the administration can only muster an official, feeble "expression of disappointment" through an organ of the State Department as it continues to funnel billions to Egypt, enabling Mr. Mubarak to run an increasingly repressive police state.

A strong relationship with Egypt and continuing financial assistance to the country are most likely in the interest of the United States. But the relationship need not be exclusively with a regime that is on the wrong side of history; the United States should support those many Egyptians who believe in reform. At the very least, it should not continue to freely subsidize a regime that abuses its bravest citizens. Or, as Mr. Ibrahim succinctly put it in an interview this week: "Don't give dictators money to oppress us."

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

NYT Op-ed: Tough Love for Israel by Nicholas Kristof

I really enjoyed this Kristof article from NYT's July 24th edition, especially the way he responded to the various critiques he received about the blog he kept from his time in Hebron. You may have read my own earlier blog posting about my harrowing and disturbing experience in Hebron. It is such a tense, divided place, and here it is remembered for Abraham, the chief patriarch, and the elder whom all Jews, Christians, and Muslims look to as the first prophet. As such, he and the town that is dedicated to his remembrance should be a place around which to find common ground rather than division. We can only work to that end...

Op-ed on NYT site.
Kristof's blog in Hebron

Tough Love for Israel?

On his visit to the Middle East, Barack Obama gave ritual affirmations of his support for Israeli policy, but what Israel needs from America isn’t more love, but tougher love.

Particularly at a time when Israel seems to be contemplating military strikes on Iranian nuclear sites, the United States would be a better friend if it said: “That’s crazy” — while also insisting on a 100 percent freeze on settlements in the West Bank and greater Jerusalem.

Granted, not everybody sees things this way, and discussions of the Middle East usually involve each side offering up its strongest arguments to wrestle with the straw men of the other side. So let me try something different.

After I wrote a column last month from Hebron in the West Bank, my blog, nytimes.com/ontheground, was flooded with counterarguments — and plenty of challenges to address them. In the interest of a civil dialogue on the Middle East, here are excerpts from some of the readers’ defenses of Israel’s conduct in the West Bank and my responses:

Jews lived in Hebron for 1,800 years continuously ... until their community was murdered in 1929 by their Arab neighbors. The Jews in Hebron today — those “settlers” — have reclaimed Jewish property. So I don’t see what makes them illegitimate or illegal. (Irving)

True, Jews have deep ties to Hebron, just as Christians do to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, but none of these bonds confer any right to live in these places or even visit them. If Israel were to bar American Christians from Jerusalem, that would not be grounds for the United States to send in paratroopers and establish settlements. And if Israel insists on controlling the West Bank, then it needs to give citizenship to Palestinians there so that they can vote just like the settlers.

One side is a beautiful, literate, medically and scientifically and artistically an advanced society. The other side wants to throw bombs. Why shouldn’t there be a fence? (Mileway)

So, build a fence. But construct it on the 1967 borders, not Palestinian land — and especially not where it divides Palestinian farmers from their land.

While I do condemn this type of violence, it pales in contrast to Palestinian suicide bombers, rockets and other acts of terror against Jews. (Jay)

B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, reports that a total of 123 Israeli minors have been killed by Palestinians since the second intifada began in 2000, compared with 951 Palestinian minors killed by Israeli security forces.

To withdraw from the West Bank without a partner on the Palestinian side will find Israel in the same fix it has once it withdrew from Gaza: a rain of daily rockets. Yes, the security barrier causes hardship, but terrorist attacks have almost disappeared. That means my kids can ride the bus, go to unguarded restaurants and not worry about being blown up on their way to school. Find another way to keep my kids safe, and I’ll happily tear down the barrier. (Laura)

This is the argument that I have the most trouble countering. Laura has a point: The barrier and checkpoints have reduced terrorism. But as presently implemented, they — and the settlements — also reduce the prospect of a long-term peace agreement that is the best hope for Laura’s children.

If Israel were to stop the settlements, ease the checkpoints, allow people in and out more freely, and negotiate more enthusiastically with Syria over the Golan Heights and with the Arab countries on the basis of the Saudi peace proposal, then peace might still elude the region. But Israel would at least be doing everything possible to secure its long-term future, rather than bolstering Hamas.

If there is no two-state solution, there will be a one-state solution — and given demographic trends, that will mean either the end of Israeli democracy or the end of the Jewish state. Zionists should be absolutely clamoring for a Palestinian state.

Laura is right about the need for a sensible Palestinian partner, and the failures of Palestinian leadership have been legion. At the moment, though, Israel has its most reasonable partner ever — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — and it is undermining him with its checkpoints and new settlement construction.

Peace-making invariably involves exasperating and intransigent antagonists and unequal steps, just as it did in the decades in which Britain struggled to end terrorism emanating from Northern Ireland. But London never ordered air strikes on Sinn Fein or walled in Catholic neighborhoods. Over time, Britain’s extraordinary restraint slowly changed attitudes so as to make the eventual peace possible.

I hope Mr. Obama, as a candidate or as a president, will be a true enough friend of Israel to say all this, warmly but firmly.

I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, www.nytimes.com/ontheground, and join me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kristof.

"Obama's Opportunity in the Middle East" in Christian Science Monitor

Hello Euphrates fans,

I just wanted to share my article that was recently published in the Christian Science Monitor, entitled "Obama's Opportunity in the Middle East". The link and the text are below. Comments are welcome as always!



Article on CSM site.

Obama's opportunity in the Middle East

To strengthen ties, he should not ask 'Why do they hate us?' but 'Why don't they believe us?'

By Janessa Gans
from the July 21, 2008 edition

Elsah, Ill. - Sen. Barack Obama is visiting with leaders in Europe and the Middle East this week to "deepen important relationships and exchange views with nations vital to the country's national security," said a spokeswoman. In short, Senator Obama will seek to repair friendships that have frayed in the past seven years.

It won't be easy, especially in the Middle East, where a thick coat of skepticism and cynicism has dulled the reflection of American aspirations.

I saw this firsthand in May, when President Bush spoke to the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. He preached the virtues of democratic reform to an audience of English-speaking, pro-Western businesses; NGOs; and political leaders. The effect? More grating than gratitude.

If Obama seriously aspires to the title Leader of the Free World, he must speak with a different tone. But more important, perhaps, he must listen for a different answer.

The prevailing question Americans have been asking since 9/11 – "Why do they hate us?" – is the wrong one. The better question is, "Why don't they believe us?"

The good news is that the next president – whether Obama or Senator McCain – won't be speaking from beyond a yawning philosophical divide. When he repeats America's familiar mantra of freedom, democracy, and fighting terrorism, he will be preaching to the choir.

The bad news is that he should expect cynicism; Arab leaders claim that our actions do not live up to our rhetoric. At the WEF I attended, they pointed to our use of the war on terror as an excuse to curtail civil rights and to squelch democracy in the Arab world. When Mr. Bush asserted, "Terrorist organizations … create chaos and take innocent lives in an effort to stop democracy from taking root," Arabs wondered aloud who had created chaos; who was visiting death and violence upon the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.

To improve relations with the Arab world, Obama should strike a markedly different tone from Bush, who came across the WEF participants as disingenuous, biased, and arrogant.

Just days before he addressed the WEF, Bush spoke to the Israeli Knesset and extolled democracy as "the only way to guarantee the God-given rights of all people." He got a standing ovation. Then, at the WEF, he told the mostly Arab audience that Middle Eastern politics too often consists of "one leader in power and the opposition in jail." Some participants, having seen the text in advance, walked out.

Bush's remark wasn't inaccurate. But it was incomplete and, to the audience, hypocritical.

In 2006 the US insisted on elections in the Palestinian territories, then refused to accept the outcome when Hamas, the Islamic militant group, emerged with a surprising, but undisputed, victory. Audience members also noted how many of these "one leader in power and the opposition in jail" autocracies – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, to name three – enjoy unwavering US political, military, and economic support!

The next president should also not dismiss the reforms and significant progress already taking place. "We are improving at a steady, stable pace," Egypt's Al-Ahram Weekly's editor told me at the WEF. He contended that press and political freedom had increased substantially in the past decade and stressed, "We do not need pressure from outside to reform."

During his travels to the Middle East Obama must walk a fine line on Iran, treading between Israel's hawks and Arabs' cautious pragmatists. High-ranking officials at the WEF especially disapproved of Bush's strategy of isolation.

Finally, Obama must bear in mind something so obvious that it often goes unrecognized: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the massive cloud that overshadows all life in the Middle East.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit bluntly declared, "The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the cause of everything. Everything bad that happens in the region is a direct result of this issue." And nearly all Arabs see the US as rubbing salt in the wound with its consistent pro-Israel bias.

To Bush's statement that "freedom is a universal right – the Almighty's gift to every man, woman, and child," officials asked me wryly whether this freedom extended to Palestinians as well. Did they not deserve to be free from oppression and occupation? How can the US in good conscience claim to support freedom and human rights, while uncritically backing a government that deprives millions of Palestinians of those rights?

Tough talk from the crowd, indeed, but let's not forget these are not reactions from our foes in the region but from our closest allies. This disparity between US rhetoric and US policies on the ground is alienating the base of Arab moderates we so desperately need.

If the next president also emphasizes the buzzwords of democracy, freedom, and human rights while supporting undemocratic regimes or essentially nullifying unfavorable elections, he, too, will be greeted with aversion.

Perhaps it's time to ensure that our words match our deeds. Do Americans care more about stability and pro-US regimes, or democracy and freedom? If the former, we should not pretend otherwise. It is better to be accused of realist pragmatism than hypocrisy.

But if we believe that democracy and freedom are absolute American values, we should insist upon their consistent application. If we can't convince even our friends of our commitment to these values, how could we possibly convince them to join with us to defeat our enemies?

Janessa Gans teaches political science at Principia College, and is the founder and executive director of the Euphrates Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to improving relations between the Middle East and the West.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Rabbi Waskow's Letter to Obama on Middle East Peace

A friend just alerted me to this wonderful letter to Senator Obama from Rabbi Arthur Waskow, founder and director of The Shalom Center.

See link for complete source: Newsweek.com

Rabbi Arthur Waskow has been one of the creators and leaders of Jewish renewal since writing the original Freedom Seder in 1969. In 1983, he founded and has since been director of The Shalom Center (www.shalomctr.org). In 2007, Newsweek named him one of America's fifty most influential rabbis.

Peace and Ethics in the Mideast

Dear friends, I am writing this out of personal experience and my own individual ethical concern, not on behalf of any organization or campaign. It comes with Martin Buber's teaching ringing in my brain: that he had no idea what it meant to say that "the ends justify the means," but that for sure the means we actually use will become the ends that we actually achieve.

Or as ancient Torah teaches, "Justice, justice shall you pursue." Why "justice" twice? To teach that just ends can only be achieved through just means.

A lesson for all who work to change society. Perhaps especially for those who profess a religious commitment to do so.

Shalom, salaam, peace -- Arthur


Dear Senator Obama,

I met you at your talk with Philadelphia Jewish leaders in April. It was I who as you entered the room handed you a copy of the original Freedom Seder, which I wrote in 1969, and which bound together the freedom struggles of Blacks and Jews. And during Q & A, it was I who asked you how as President you would deal with the peace-obstructing settlement policy of this and many previous Israeli governments.

I was satisfied by your answer -- then. But since then, I have become increasingly concerned by your words and actions concerning the Middle East and Islam.

I asked that question because one of the advance speakers for your meeting, Congressman Roth of New Jersey, had just asserted that you believe the failure of the peace process has been solely the result of the absence of a Palestinian partner for peace.

"Solely the fault of the Palestinians?" I thought. "Surely he doesn't believe that!" So I rose to say that hundreds of rabbis and hundreds of thousands of American Jews see Israeli settlement policy as obstacles to peace, and asked what as President you would do about it.

Your answer cited the vigorous debate on these questions in Israel -- more vigorous than here; the recognition by most Israelis that for peace to unfold, there will have to be a shift in settlement policy; and your sense that most Israeli know that internal debate would be so wrenching that they want to know there is a partner for that decision before going through the debate.

Though you avoided saying what you would do, I was satisfied with your answer -- then.

I was especially ready to be satisfied because I knew that earlier, when you met with Jewish leaders in Cleveland, you had gone even further, saying:

"I sat down with the head of Israeli security forces and his view of the Palestinians was incredibly nuanced because he's dealing with these people every day. He was willing to say sometimes we make mistakes and if we are just pressing down on these folks constantly without giving them some prospects for hope, that's not good for our security situation."

It would be profoundly important to have a President who understands that! Yet more recently, in your speech to AIPAC, there was no such language. And you slid so far into simply repeating official shibboleths like "Jerusalem undivided" that you had to correct yourself the next day.

No one knows better than I that many of the "official" Jewish organizations would go ballistic to hear a presidential candidate bring such ideas to the fore in, say, a major speech about making peace across the whole region that Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah walked.

And no one knows better than I that millions of American Jews , Christians, and Muslims want exactly that kind of honest talk and vigorous diplomacy. They would support any President who insisted on exactly the kind of broad pursuit of peace you have sometimes affirmed, and the changes in not only Palestinian, Syrian, and Iranian but also Israeli and American behavior it requires.

I know some people who carry a strange mixture of cynicism and wish-fulfillment in their heads -- who think you can, will, and should say anything to calm folks like the AIPAC membership and thereby get elected, and later will work hard for a real peace. I know people who think that you can, will, and should pretend you never met Palestinians and heard their suffering, never got to understand their understanding of their history as you have so eloquently explained that you have heard and understood the Jewish story -- all in order that once you are in office, you can bring your "true" knowledge into policy.

But I don't think it works that way. Not only would that kind of campaign be an ethical failure and a personal self-betrayal, abandoning the honest, nuanced, politics of change that you claimed to represent -- but I think it won't work politically.

First of all, that kind of campaign will greatly weaken your appeal to the passionate supporters you have had -- just like your betrayal of your own understanding that the FISA bill violates the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of searches without warrants. Already, the drop-off of small contributions to your campaign suggests that these people are dismayed. And they are the core of your strength, as you yourself have repeatedly said.

Secondly, it will weaken your ability if you are elected President to take the steps necessary for peace. For it would weaken and delegitimate the millions of American Jews, Muslims, and Christians who seek precisely a policy of peace for Israel alongside a peaceful Palestine, and peace between Iran and the United States. Who would thank God -- literally! -- for a President who would seek to meet the crucial needs of all these peoples while refusing to humiliate or subjugate any of them. There will be many people and organizations ready to attack any President who takes such positions. There need to be people and organizations motivated and mobilized to support them.

To strengthen such a faith-based coalition, you will also have to make clear -- by where you speak as well as what you say -- that of course American Muslims are as much a part of American society as any other religious group. So your unwillingness to speak in any mosque -- presumably for fear that might reinforce the wicked rumors that you are really a Muslim -- simply strengthens the mind-set that thinks to demonize you on the false grounds that you are a Muslim, and any Muslim must be anti-American.

I remember being moved when in your speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, you said, "If there's an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties." That line had no political pay-off in numbers of voters. It was a principled statement, fearlessly swimming against the tide of public opinion. And -- against all "realistic" calculation -- it won vigorous applause from those assembled number-centered politicians!

You owe it to Americans of all faiths, to Jews around the world, to the Arab and Muslim billions - - to treat all these people as part of the world community that must work together to heal our planet from war and eco-disaster.

Just as in Philadelphia you expressed compassion for white working-class anger without surrendering to right-wing policies that ignore Black poverty and despair-so you can express compassion for Jewish fears without surrendering to oppressive right-wing Israeli policy. And in the same new approach to change, you can include Muslims in the body politic and express compassion for some Muslims' anger and fear, without affirming violence and terrorism.

You will need to address these questions honestly if you are not to be caught against your will in years of war and terror that would destroy an Administration you might lead as it did the last one, will damage America at least as deeply as our deafness to others' narratives has damaged us this past seven years.

Just as the racial chasm has haunted and daunted American democracy two centuries and more, the growing chasm between "the West" and "Islam" will haunt and daunt every effort to make peace and heal our planet, if we and you do not address it in all its depth and difficulty.

So just as you spoke in Philadelphia with nuance and compassion about race, I implore you to speak as clearly with nuance and compassion about these questions.

With blessings of shalom, salaam, peace.

Monday, May 19, 2008

World Economic Forum 2008 Day 1 - Sharm al Sheikh, Egypt

Greetings from the World Economic Forum in Sharm al Sheikh, a truly global gathering of nearly 1500 leaders convening to discuss current political and economic issues of the Middle East. I feel privileged to be a participant, as it's quite an impressive group and a beautiful setting. I'm somewhat disappointed I will not have the chance to dip in the Red Sea or lie on the beach, but discussing the very pressing issues of the Middle East trumps relaxation time. Listen in to the live webcasts at WEF ME Forum

Here are a few notes from Day 1.

The opening session consisted of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordan's King Abdullah, and President Bush. Mubarak and Abdullah focused on the Palestinian issue as we just passed the 60th anniversary of the creation of Israel, al Nakba, the "catastrophe" to Palestinians. Mubarak and Abdullah also highlighted many of the economic successes achieved in their respective countries, including growth rates of about 4 percent. Unfortunately, this growth has not trickled down to average citizens, who in Egypt, are increasingly agitating against the government due to increases in food prices and decreased subsidies on food and fuel.

As so often happens in US communication in the Middle East, there appeared to be a disconnect between the US and Arab message. Both sides emphasized justice, freedom, and liberty. For the Arab leaders, that was tied to the Palestinian issue. For the US, it is tied to defeating Hamas, Hizbollah, and Iran. Bush again emphasized and nearly chastised Arab leaders for not doing more to promote democracy, freedom, and human and women's rights. What seems to be lost on our President is that this admonition rings hollow for many Arab leaders, who view the US as supporting suppression of democracy and freedom in many Arab lands, especially the Palestinian Territories, in addition to our favored allied nations.

Day 1: Hot Topic: Iraq's Shaky Progress
Panelists: Vice President Adil abd al Mahdi, Deputy Prime Minister, Barham Salih, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, and Congresspersons Christopher Shays and Jane Harman.

Below are notes:

Rep. Jane Harman (Democrat from CA): al Qaida, although reduced, remains a dangerous threat. Even if quashed in one area, can move elsewhere. But these successes must necessarily change US interests on the ground. The US should not leave precipitously; we do have a commitment and responsibility to rebuild. It was our invasion that resulted in a failed state. Our posture should change, provide assistance to counter terrorism, porous borders, protect our Embassy, and train Iraqis. We should end our combat mission in Iraq and support withdrawing combat troops and by end of 2009 have a different posture.

Barham Salih (Deputy Prime Minister)
The success of the past six months is because of a fundamental change in attitude on the ground in other communities. Delivered a serious setback, but resourceful enemy.

Basra instructive: government taking on other groups, and the US in supportive role. We are not yet able to do it on our own. Progress serious, tangible, but fragile.

Rep. Chris Shays (Republican, Conn.)

If Iraq goes badly, it’s because the US at the very point that it should move forward, we’ve left them. The Iraqis are more effective than the US politicians, when you take into account that they need 70% of legislator approval to pass legislation.
Signs of success:
--new Sec of Defense who is not tied to past policy mistakes.
--surge is working
--tribal leaders effective; Sunnis want to be part of govt.
--political leaders able to work on the issues.
--elections, de-Bathification
Leaders don’t get credit they deserve.
We were wrong. There were no WMD. And then we really screwed it up, but that was then. We are not making progress, and I'm fearful that the American public will drop Iraq at a crucial time. These leaders deserve our commitment. I would risk my election because these leaders risk their lives.

Hoshyar Zebari (Foreign Minister, Iraq): Iran is a major regional player and have to face this reality. Encouraged dialogue between the US and Iran about Iraq.
--addressed concerns to Iranians. Want to keep confrontation away.
-only way to deal with powerful neighbors and influence is for Iraq to get stronger. Also, Arab countries need to help and have so far failed Iraq.

Abdulla-Janahi (Co-chairman of WEF on ME): Iraqis must sign status of forces arrangement with US. Arab countries have indeed failed Iraq. Iraqis also failed Iraq. Much bigger thing than al Qaida. Elites happy to see Iraq bogged down, impoverished, were fearful of democracy. Now it’s been discredited.
--lessons learned: corruption.
--partnership with Iraqis: we only see it from one side, the American perspective. To the US, tell the truth and do better at PR. Iraq PR is abysmal.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

A letter from a Vietnam vet in response to "Five years in Iraq"

I wanted to share with you all a response I received from a friend of mine who is a former infantry officer who served two tours in Vietnam. He sent me this after listening to a podcast of a talk I gave entitled "Five years in Iraq: How did we get there and where do we go from here?" You can listen to the presentation by clicking on the "podcasts" link from this site: Prin radio I found his remarks so heartfelt, interesting, and a serious call to action for all Americans. I hope his comments spur thought about the endeavor in which we find ourselves.

Dear Janessa,

My wife and I finally carved out time this afternoon to listen to your
moving talk at Prin on the 5 years in Iraq. We felt like we were sitting
in the front row!

It was really hard to stay up with your dialogue as my feelings kept
coming out as I pictured my fellow soldiers trying to do the only thing
they knew how to do and then suddenly realizing that it was accomplishing
nothing permanent. No hills were taken; no territory was captured;
no enemy army surrendered. Only death and doubt and frustration day after
endless day. How we find men and women who return there for their
third (and some their fourth) tour, knowing they will make no difference,
yet willing to return again and again, laying their life on the line.

So, you did everyone a service by carrying us back to 2003
and without a bias or an agenda, laying out the facts surrounding 2004-2008 for all to see.
Hearing the letter from your brother regarding one of his Seal Team Five
buddies that was lost was soul crunching. such a waste!

I know that prayer is the ultimate future course of action, for only
through this course can we bring the full power of God to this problem. There is
no human power that can peacefully resolve the problems in the Middle East.

Yet, the politicians, being politicians, and not have their sons and daughters over there,
will look for yet another course of action that preserves
the oil, preserves the administration's reputation, gives the appearance of progress,
and places the blame for failing on the other political party. Insane.

At a CS (Christian Science) Lecture last Thursday evening, Ryder Stevens reminded us
not to expect a quick reconciliation between the Shia and Sunnis as they
have been enemies since the year 620!! If we leave next year, they
will kill each other; if we leave in 2020, they will kill each other. The
difference between choosing those 2009 and 2020 to depart is how many
more American lives and American dollars are we willing to spend to
delay the ultimate killing of each other. It's really a form of insanity.
Forgive the terminology, but in Hawaii, we used to refer to this type of
thinking as "pissing into the waves"...you only get wetter.

So long as we seek diplomatic, political, military future courses of action,
soldiers will be walking the same ground, being killed by the same (or more sophisticated) Iranian IEDs
next year, the year after, the decade after that. I remember on day
on a daylight patrol north of Qui Nhon SVN in 1970, the point man stepped
on an antipersonnel mine which blew his leg off. He was lifted out
by medical helicopter and we continued our mission. Thirty minutes
later another soldier triggered an antipersonnel mine, and the shrapnel
killed him. At that point, the soldiers let me know by nothing but the
expression on their faces that whatever lay ahead was not worth one more life today.
They didn't refuse to continue forward; I refused to command them to do so. We reversed our direction,
went to a safe pickup zone and returned to the base came. We would have
accomplished nothing by continuing on the patrol...would have killed or
wounded another soldier before the day was over.

Wonder if some day, soldiers will no longer get in vehicles and go down
roads knowing that if not today, then tomorrow, they will be blown up
and killed by an IED? Interesting question. Of course when the IEDs
cause us to stop going a certain place, using a certain route, then the
insurgents have won.

Yes, the US people are tired of the war and I'm afraid the government
and the US media do not want the American people to become too attached
to what's going on or they would begin to influence decisions made in
Washington. So long as the public doesn't have to pay for the war with
direct taxes and so long as it is not their sons and daughters dying over there,
they will, like those of 1971, continue to visit Walmart, complain about high
gas prices, and plan their vacation trips as if peace was a permanent given.

I remember in 1971 in Vietnam, the country had almost totally turned
off their TVs and stopped reading any story in the paper about Vietnam.
Yet, each and every hour, we felt we had a reason to be there, we had
daily examples of freeing villagers from Viet Cong oppressors.

But you know, we shouldn't have been in Vietnam either. And had LBJ
not used the fallacious attack on the destroyer Turner Joy as a reason
to execute a massive build up of forces we would never have been there.

So now, as I hear our navy cruising up and down the Straits of Hormuz
taunting the Iranians to send out small gunboats, I wonder how long it
will be before the Iranians launch an anti-ship missile into the side of
one of our ships, and in response our government launches a HUGE
response into downtown Tehran and off we go again.......
Except this time, he war will have to be fought by the air force
and navy ONLY as we have no Army or Marine units to put on the
ground in Iran.

Should be interesting.

I pray you will be watching it from an office in the US somewhere...but I know that
will probably not be the case.

Back to the talk: Years from now as we see how history ultimately unfolds,
the students and parents you have touched with your talk will reflect on that
night when they first caught a glimpse of a huge American diplomatic and
military blunder that could have been prevented had honesty and patience

Looking back at the length of my thoughts about your talk, you can easily see it struck a chord with me.
Humanly, I really feel very small and powerless to do anything about Iraq...Yet, spiritually, there is prayer, and
I know the power of prayer, so I do have a purpose, and I commit to that purpose.


a former Infantry officer who served two tours in Viet Nam

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Baghdad Observer - Rulers of Iraq

I really enjoy the entries on the blog, The Baghdad Observer. Here's one of Ms. Fadel's postings from February 26. http://washingtonbureau.typepad.com/baghdad/

Rulers of Iraq
We walked into the Iranian embassy today to interview the ambassador. It was built 70 years ago and reoccupied by the Iranian mission after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. My translator looked at me as we walked through the double wooden doors to interview the Iranian Ambassador.

"This is the second ruler of Iraq," she said.

I looked at her.

"After Crocker," she said, referring to the U.S. Ambassador. She never mentioned the Prime Minister of Iraq, Nouri al Maliki. She expressed what most Iraqis feel, Iraq is a tug of war for power between Iran and the United States.


Baghdad Observer is written by Leila Fadel, the Baghdad bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers. She has covered the war in Iraq for Knight Ridder and now McClatchy on and off since June 2005, as well as the 34-day war in Lebanon between Hezbollah and Israel in the summer of 2006.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Five years in Iraq--who is the parent and who is the child?

I've been kicking myself for not writing an article on Iraq to be published on the five-year anniversary. Anniversaries prompt reflection, and there's certainly a lot upon which to reflect. Iraq is changed; we are changed; indeed, the world is changed.

Ideally, that change would have been positive, akin to the growth a child experiences in five years, as it miraculously develops its faculties, comprehension, and independence. I had that hope in Iraq in 2003. Many of us felt like mothers in a way-- helping to birth this new nation, a country remade, liberated from a dictator, free to celebrate human rights, freedoms, equality and justice for all. And the Americans weren't alone. The Iraqis whom I met were so overjoyed to be rid of Saddam, so hopeful for the future, and so sure that the superpower had a plan for their country--that soon the streets would be drowning in dollars.

Alas, it's as if we birthed a child only to leave him to the wolves. There was no plan--no post-war (Phase IV) plan, no understanding of realities on the ground, and countless errors of inference. Those early mistakes are well known: standing by while looting engulfed Baghdad, robbing it of its antiquities and heritage, laying waste to infrastructure in government ministries, stealing and destroying an estimated over a billion dollars. In the process, we showed Iraqis that this new sheriff in town was not a sheriff at all, and so new criminals rode into town--al-Qaida, Shia militias, gangs, insurgents.

Add to that the infamous triad of errors enacted by L. Paul Bremer during the Coalition Provisional Authority, that permanently stunted the growth of the child:

--De-Bathification: A CPA order established a commission to prosecute former Baathists and eliminated Baath party members (above Firqa level) from government posts, i.e. the technocrats, professors, bureaucrats with experience and expertise.

--Disbanding the Iraqi army. Despite an estimated 130,000 soldiers waiting in the wings to come back to service, Bremer disbanded the army, without consulting Iraqis or Americans on the ground in Iraq. This instantly put nearly half a million trained, professional soldiers out of work. It's no wonder that an insurgency started developing thereafter, as you had a lot of unemployed, unhappy guys trained to use guns, and who also knew the locations of the unguarded weapons caches.

--Aborting the Interim Iraqi government. ORHA head Jay Garner had been assembling an indigenous group of key leaders to serve as an interim government--moves Bremer quickly quashed as he instead moved the US presence to a legal US-led "occupation", a term not taken to kindly in the Arab world, given the Israel parallel.

So, there we have our child, first robbed blind of clothing through looting, then stripped of its faculties through De-Bathification, abused through disbanding the army, with its independent growth stunted through aborting the moves towards interim government. It's no wonder that the child is confused, conflicted, and fighting to survive.

And what of the parents? Don't we have some responsibility to our child? Do we attempt to redress the errors we committed in its upbringing? Should we plead for forgiveness, pledge to start over, and shower it with affection, the right tools and education? Or, do we give up, and have another one? (Iran, anyone?)

The answer to all of these questions is simple. As parents, we have to realize, that Iraq is no longer a child. In the eyes of the world, she is an adult--a sovereign nation, and free to do as she chooses. Although, like many eighteen year olds in the US who are savoring their legal independence, Iraq seems also conflicted between complete independence and the reliance on parents, however ill-equipped they are. "Do I want to leave their house, (i.e. kick out the Americans), or do I need the security (troops) they provide for a while longer?" As parents, we need to realize the child is grown, that it's impossible to start over. And who would trust us to have another child after the mess we made of the first one? Perhaps the CIA's December 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, which indicated Iran's cessation of nuclear weapon development in 2003, was like showering the mother on welfare with contraceptives.

But who is really the parent here? And who the child?

In reality, the most astonishing lesson of the Iraq war for Americans is that rather than the Mothers or parents of democracy, we are indeed the children being taught the ways of the world. And perhaps, rather than mere children, Iraq is acting out the role of parent.

Iraq is perhaps the ultimate Mother-figure, the historic Mesopotamia, the "land between the two rivers", between whose flows the cradle of civilization was birthed. Iraqis are people with true wisdom--they first established farming techniques, government, writing, mathematics, astronomy. They have persevered, persisted through millenia of conquest, invasion, and upheaval, and are still surviving. In the span of this long lifetime, five years of hardship are but a drop in the bucket.

America, however, is perhaps the child--the rebellious youth bracing against chastening life experiences. We are loathe to learn that we can't always have it our way and that we don't know it all, that we're no longer invincible and innocent. We're coming face to face with our own mortality; our unbridled, youthful strength is weakened; our empire, crumbling. We learn that change does happen, and it's not always for the better.

One hopes that the youth at this point becomes humbled, and realizes that there is so much that he does not know, that he must prepare, do well in school, study and work hard, and earn a place at the table. He can no longer take success for granted because he has youthful strength and an air of indomitability. He must rather doggedly live by his ideals and pursue his dreams. If not, he will not be successful, and must pass the mantle to others. Those who put in the work, who have results to show for it, will become the true leaders, and they will deserve it.