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" 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