Wednesday, October 31, 2007

October War Statistics

Another grim month in Iraq, for Iraqis, U.S., and other coalition forces.
Iraq said it lost 106 from its security forces (up 10 from last month) while civilian fatalities fell by 199 to 593. Coalition losses were 40, with 38 from the U.S.

Six women, five from the U.S. forces, died during October 2007. This is the largest monthly total for the coalition forces as a whole. Two other months -- September 2006 and June 2005 -- also registered the loss of five U.S. service women assigned to Operation Iraqi Freedom. Overall, 89 U.S. and 7 other coalition service women have lost their lives to date.

The U.S. total dead in Iraq in October 2007 also proved not as many as have perished in other Octobers: in 2006 106 U.S. troops were killed and another 96 perished in October 2005. The last time U.S. fatalities were down this far was March 2006 when 31 died. Of the October 2007 fatalities, 29 were from hostile causes while 9 were non-hostile

In addition, four U.S. service members remain missing, and 128 have committed suicide. One British and one Polish soldier were killed in Iraq, bringing the UK’s death toll in Iraq to 171 and all other allies to 132. Total U.S. casualties now stand at 3,844, with four others listed by (source for all statistics) as deceased in the U.S. from wounds received in the combat arena.

Total coalition dead since March 19, 2003 equals 4,147.

U.S. wounded not requiring medical evacuation stood at 19,696 as of October 1, 2007, while aerial medical evacuations for any cause (wound, disease, other non-hostile) total 39,659.

Also during October, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that the UK presence in southern Iraq would be cut in half by mid-2008 and possibly be completely ended before 2009 beings. The Polish government also is reducing the number of its military forces to 900 and i indicating it will pull its remaining troops in 2008. On the other hand, Georgia, vying for a spot in NATO, is increasing its commitment to 2,000.

In Afghanistan, the U.S. has registered 100 fatalities in 2007 while other coalition troop deaths this year stand at 101. Both are yearly record losses with two months still to go. October’s deaths among the U.S. troops were 10 while the coalition losses dropped to 5. Total U.S. service losses since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom are 757 and 120 for other coalition forces.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Gertrude Bell in Iraq

To me, one of the least understood aspects of the wars conducted by the Bush administration is the almost studied dismissal if not outright rejection of any source of information on the experiences of diplomats bureaucrats and politicians.

I was quite familiar with the U.S. government’s various products -- CIA reports and country studies, the Department of State’s country profiles, and the U.S. Army’s huge multi-volume country studies -- on Iraq and Afghanistan. I also was familiar with the U.S. Marine Corps now-famous Small Wars Manual published in 1940.

But the New York Review of Books for October 25 (http:///) carried a multi-book review by Rory Stewart of the life and times of Gertrude Bell.

“Gertrude who?” you might ask.

Bell was a mid-level British diplomat/bureaucrat, one of a small group operating from 1916 to 1926 in the three provinces of the collapsed Ottoman Empire occupied by the British during World War I that eventually became Iraq. As I read Stewart, Bell was not the prime mover and shaker in Baghdad; I suppose that honor would have to go to T. E. Lawrence -- the fabled “Lawrence of Arabia.“ But she was not a shrinking violet, either. Bell was Oxford educated, an accomplished mountain climber, and an Arabic speaker whose reputation in Basra, where Stewart was posted by the UK Foreign Office in 2003, obviously outlived her.

What I found most interesting in Stewart’s essay was not the details of what Bell did but the “how” and the “why” and the “why nots.” In those ten crucial years, the British presence morphed from an army of occupation to a British Mandate under the League of nations (responsibility without power) to an army that suppressed a large-scale revolution by nationalists, Sunni sheiks and Shi’a religious leaders in 1920 to a monarchy. The resemblance to the way events have and continue to unfold in Iraq in the early 21st century is uncanny.
Also of note is Stewart’s passing reference to ten books about Bell, of one book-length report by Bell to the Foreign Office that was read in Parliament, and at least three other books by British Army officers seconded to Baghdad.

Where were all these books, where were all the warnings they contained about an area that had defied the power of the British empire -- before Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and company sent U.S. troops to “bring democracy” to Iraq.

To read but one passage from one of Bell’s letters penned in 1920 is like hearing the sound of some ancient war tocsin warning, echoing down the decades to fade, unheeded, before the incessant beat of the Pentagon’s war drum:

“[In talking to an Arab nationalist leader] I said complete independence was what we ultimately wished to give. "My lady" he answered—we were speaking Arabic —"complete independence is never given; it is always taken."

Friday, October 26, 2007

William Penn

Today is the anniversary of William Penn's birth. FCNL and I have the day off.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Iraq Mandate with Limits?

We have all heard at one time or another -- more likely many times -- the question, “What if they gave a war and nobody came?”

Well, as has been mentioned on this site in the past, there is a new question that, finally, is going to be discussed next week in Baghdad: “What if we gave a war and asked one of the participants to go home?”

That’s not quite the question that members of the Iraqi parliament plan to discuss, but what they intend to do is to develop limitations on activities by U.S. and coalition military forces. These might be geographic limits such as no air operations in urban areas to restrictions on types of activity such as training and border security. There was even the suggestion that a conditiin for renewing the mandate was the development of a withdrawal plan by coalition force

The Blackwater saga and the deaths of 17 and 49 Iraqis, including women and children, in two encounters in the last week seem to have been enough for Sunni and Shi’a in parliament to come together to demand conditions be attached to the renewed UN mandate authorizing the presence of coalition troops in Iraq. That renewal will be considered by the Security Council probably in late November or early December -- unless the Bush administration tries to beat the Baghdad process by seeking a vote on a “clean” resolution in early November.

Of course, should restrictions attached to the mandate not be to Bush’s liking, he can instruct the U.S. ambassador to the UN to cast a veto. Even the threat of a veto might be enough o silence the Iraqi parliamentarians.

The game is called “chicken.”

Monday, October 22, 2007

Paranoia Is Us

Congresswoman Jane Harman has introduced legislation – H.R. 1955: “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism” -- that is expected to be referred to the House Rules Committee for assignment of floor time for debate by the House. This is a bill that is unneeded, unwise, and unfortunately will pass and be signed into law as it purports to be part of the response to 9/11 and the global war on terror.

At base, Harman’s proposal seems to be a direct attack on First Amendment rights. No where is this more clear than in the third introductory paragraph (the “where as” section) introductory paragraphs issues. Specifically, this legislation aims at the unregulated nature of the Internet:

“The Internet has aided in facilitating violent radicalization,
ideologically based violence, and the homegrown terrorism
process in the United States by providing access to broad and
constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda to United States citizens.”

Moreover, Harman is telling the American public, citizens and permanent residents, that they are too dumb to recognize hate speech and are so morally immature that they are not capable of knowing when to “blow off” “terrorists and their messages of hate. and speech designed to incite large scale insurrection.

One also gets the impression that Harman believes that terrorist criminality has become so widespread and the number of people who mentally entertain thoughts of non-compliance with authority so numerous that the country is about to teeter into social meltdown.

But looking at the FBI’s major violent crime trend lines over the past 20 years reveals, if not the opposite situation, at least a wash on violent crime frequency. I‘ve chosen three reference points: 1987, before “terrorism” became an issue; 2001 (with September 11th fatalities not included in the murder rate); and 2006.

- In 1987, the U.S. population was 242.3 million; in 2001 285.3 million; and in 2006 299.4 million.

- In 1987, an estimated 1.484 million violent crimes were committed in the U.S.; in 2001, the total was 1.438 million; and in 2006, 1.418 million.

- In 1987, the violent crime rate per 100,000 was 612.5; in 2001 504.5; and in 2006 473.5. The 2006 rate was the third lowest in this 20 year comparison. Violent crime in the U.S. rose 1.9% between 2005 and 2006, the second consecutive year the rate went up.

About the only statistic that has really gone wild is the number of people sent to jail in the U.S. As of June 30, 2006, U.S. prisons held 776,010 inmates, an increase of 2.5% over the previous June 30, 2005.

I am a bit surprised that more defenders of the constitution have not started a groundswell to ensure the legislation never gets to the floor of the House for discussion. I have already pointed out the First Amendment. There is more. To get to this “more,” it’s necessary to reproduce three definitions contained in the bill.

VIOLENT RADICALIZATION- the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change.

HOMEGROWN TERRORISM- the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily within the United States or any possession of the United States to intimidate or coerce the United States government, the civilian population of the United States, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.

IDEOLOGICALLY BASED VIOLENCE- the use, planned use, or threatened use of force or violence by a group or individual to promote the group or individual's political, religious, or social beliefs.

The key is in the last definition. The history of democracy is that over time, government encroaches so much into the lives of its people that government itself becomes the problem. Consider that in the 1770s, had the U.S. been a country with a law that criminalized the “threatened use of violence,“ every one of the Founding Fathers who participated in the Boston Tea Party or organized into the Minute Men detachments or refused to accede to the British soldiers foraging on private property would have been guilty of “violent radicalization“ and of promoting “ideologically based violence.”

What has become an “extremist belief” in some circles within the government is democracy. Look again at the three definitions. Do they not directly challenge one of the most fundamental rights that many in the U.S. trace back to time immemorial: the right of citizens to bear arms because government with a standing army at its beck and call will always be tempted to seize the weapons -- and the rights -- of its citizens.

Terrorism is terrorism, whether foreign-inspired or homegrown, and is not acceptable morally or legally. There is no logical reason to make this distinction unless Harman has another agenda: to bring U.S. citizens and residents under a domestic version of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Finally, to try to criminalize “radical thinking” is to deny the opportunity for citizens to re-invigorate democracy so that it does not descend into tyranny. In this legislation as drafted, the assumption is made that “radicalized thought” can lead to only one outcome: violence.

“It ain’t necessarily so.”

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Day Late -- Last Part

The main reason that I went to the FPRI (Foreign Policy Research Institute) conference was to attend the afternoon sessions that dealt with topics such as professional ethics, public dissent, and resigning on principle. I’m not sure if what follows advances the argument, but it is how I heard the views that were offered.

Now I have always been wary when someone tries to justify a course of action by pleading conformity to a set of rules that invariably were arrived at some time ago and whose developments have outstripped any efforts to keep the rules updated. It’s a bit like trying to beat a speeding ticket by pleading “I was only keeping up with the traffic flow.” (The rejoinder here, of course, is that in “keeping up with the traffic” the accused party becomes part of the problem in that his automobile contributes to the speeding “flow” and thus is unavailable to be part of the solution. Moreover, in light of the fact that any code of ethics for any profession is written and practiced by people, even if they are the brightest and the best, they could not have provided for every possibility.

So I was a little surprised when the first speaker said that the military is a profession in all respects “except that it has no codified professional ethic.” What it has is the ethic of the greater society from which the military draws – and who among this group it allows to join. This initial focus on character reflects, not a military code of morality, but an orderly, bureaucratic enquiry as to how well the prospective recruit cum professional has adhered to society’s ethical baseline. The primary difference between society’s ethic and the ethos or habit of mind the military expects its professionals to develop is that they will not lie to those with whom they serve or to those to whom they are accountable.

A second speaker took up the overall question of ethics from the perspective of publicly expressing dissent – after first making two tangential points.

First, the military actually is a series of four “professions” (defined as the totality of “expert knowledge” in a given field of endeavor) – land, maritime, aerospace, and, since the Goldwater-Nicols Act of 1986, “joint forces.” Those entering one of these professions are expected to absorb and eventually contribute to developing further the expert knowledge that defines each profession. Moreover, these four are further subdivided into sub-professions, one of which becomes the person’s “primary sub-profession”: e.g., under land forces the sub-professions are major conventional combat, stability operations, strategy, and homeland security.

Second, under ordinary circumstances, the military’s promotion system serves as a “certification” of how proficient each aspiring professional is. But when 98% of the people are approved for the next higher rank (as just happened in the Army on promotion from captain to major), simply because there are so many vacancies, the “certification” aspect is nullified and marginally qualified people are moved up the promotion ladder. And this is where the fundamental trust that is so vital for the maintenance of civil-military relations begins to unravel, for society expects those who control the instruments of state violence to fully competent and fully professional. This breakdown is not so much a failure of individuals as it is a failure to apply the regulatory aspects of the system. The integrity of the system is as important as the personal integrity of those serving, especially when the question of dissent comes up.

Once senior officers start to seriously consider when, how, and why they might dissent, two points are important. The policy that is the reason for dissent has to be vital and central or the dissent will be seen as idiosyncratic or trivial. The second consideration is what form of dissent would have material effect. Here three points need to be thought through. What form of dissent might actually affect the proposed policy as it is seen by the civilian superstructure that formulated the policy? What form of dissent would have the most effect on others in the military – especially among officers of lower rank? When should the dissent be made?

One general officer who did dissent on the Iraq war labored to get the war policy changed before the shooting started. He said that other three star (his rank) and even four star generals and admirals were “shocked an awed” by what the Bush White House and Pentagon appointees were doing. Finally, just before March 2003, he requested retirement, which was approved. After the invasion, he wrote one public article expressing his dissent, and then faded into the background. That was as much as he felt he could do, and even this was done solely because those who pay the heaviest price in war – the enlisted ranks and the junior officers – have no voice in decisions to go to war. In this general’s view, the only time a serving senior officer should voice public dissent is when, after testifying before Congress, he is asked specifically whether he agrees with the administration’s policy.

And this brings me to Congressman Ike Skelton, who spoke after lunch. He recalled in 2005 he was asked what officers should do when they are called before Congress to testify. “Tell the truth,” was the way he answered the question. At which point his interlocutor pointed to the fate of Former Chief of Staff of the Army General Eric Shinseki and asked “And who is there in Congress willing to protect us when we do?”

Skelton said he was stunned. And in the room last Monday, one could have heard, at that moment, a pin drop.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Day Late Part 2

A little more on the conference of October 15 on Post-Iraq Civil-Military Relations.

The peace and justice community has long complained that U.S. foreign policy has been increasingly militarized ever since the National Security Act of 1947 that created the National Security Council, the CIA, and Office of the Secretary of Defense and subordinated the War, Navy, and Air Force Departments to the Defense Secretary.

No question, this has been the effect, but why this happened as it did arguably has less to do with the uniformed military actively and constantly beating the war drums for new missions and more to do with the abdication by non-military departments and agencies of capabilities that they once exercised. One startling statistic involves the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID): in 1970, there were 12,000 men and women working in the Agency. Today the Agency employs 2,000.

I recall during the 1960s up to the early 1990s, along with U.S. embassies and consulates, there were U.S. libraries and information/culture centers in major cities around the globe that served as windows, however tiny, into America. And there were the four-year “American Universities” in key capitol cities.

This is not to say that everyone in uniform ducked for cover whenever the politicians in Washington started eyeing the Pentagon just across the Potomac in Virginia. Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay was prepared to bomb communist troops and countries at the slightest sign of interference – and the sooner the better. The non-existent “bomber gap” and “missile gap” were used just like terror is today: to keep tensions elevated.

One also cannot help but speculate that more than a few presidents reveled in the role of “commander-in-chief.” Probably because he was a general before becoming a politician, Dwight Eisenhower did not fall into this psychology. Yet it was Eisenhower who first transformed the army by placing emphasis on nuclear weapons as a substitute for troop numbers. This opened the first post-war growth in defense industry. Then came the creation and mythologizing of Special Forces. These shifts all required new weapons, which translated into more influence from contractors, some of whom started developing weapons platforms and other military equipment and convincing the civilians and key generals that the Pentagon this product (whatever it was) was indispensable for success and was worth killing for.

Of course, it didn’t help that Secretary of State Dean Acheson, in a speech dealing with areas and countries whose continued freedom was of concern to Washington, inadvertently left South Korea off the list of countries to which the new policy applied. Most historians believe that this omission precipitated the Korean War, the first war that was not a clear win – and one that many considered a waste (e.g., "who wants to die for a tie?" was a widespread sentiment).

As anti-Vietnam, anti-U.S. sentiment spread in the 1960s and 1970s, the culture centers became targets of demonstrations. Many were burned and most were not even considered for reconstruction because of the increased danger of kidnapping or loss of life. Here the military arm served to cripple the diplomatic/informational power of the State Department.

One of the drawbacks of the inter-agency process for setting policy is traceable back to the separation of war from its opposite – in violation of Clausewitz is observation that war is politics (diplomacy) by other means. As a hierarchical organization, the Defense Department knows who is in charge of their effort. But depending on the activity and the non-military departments and agencies that are participating, everyone else has to sort out the command and control arrangements that are to apply. (As the senior executive department, State should be “first among equals,” but State may not have the necessary expertise. And it is sometimes the case that the executive order or the legislation involved specifies whether the military is in over-all control of the effort.)

The real first question should be, “What is policy?” The second should be, “What are the contributions from those participating in the inter-agency process?” And only then should the participants worry about the command and control.

In Iraq, the order of the questions was reversed. Thus the Pentagon under Donald Rumsfeld rejected the plans and the preparations for “post-combat” Iraq and tried to develop its own on the fly. The $18.6 billion for Iraq reconstruction approved by Congress went to Defense, not State. Defense had to create an Office of Development Assistance; Between 2003 and 2005, its share of all money earmarked for development went from 6% to 22%.

And it is a circle that is hard to break: something needs to be done quickly; the hierarchical Defense Department can get on the ground; it gets the money and the program; the next time Defense is tapped again.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Day Late

I went to a day-long conference yesterday on the general topic of Post-Iraq Civil-Military (CM) Relations, intending to do Monday’s entry from my home. Alas, my home computer was off-line and was unresponsive to my commands and indifferent to the telephone “help” line. A cable technician is due to make a service call this afternoon.

Ordinarily, I would not have gone into even this much detail except that my computer problem actually relates to part of the discussion on CM. relations Bear with this for a few paragraphs.

Traditionally, CM relations in the United States focuses on four elements: Who is in control; what is the purpose of the military; who serves; and what is an acceptable level of military influence on non-military social issues?

None of the speakers – whether academicians, press, active duty or reserve or retired officers, heads of veteran organizations, or “think tank” representatives – expressed any doubt that civilian control of the military is so deeply embedded that it is not even an issue in today’s military establishment.

As for the purpose of the military, that too has changed and will continue to morph. This is an additive process; no mission, it seems, ever ends. Thus there is the traditional conventional warfighting mission “over there,” territorial defense, nuclear deterrence (with nuclear war implied if deterrence fails), peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, and a slice of Homeland Security which is primarily anti-terror. Possible new missions include police-type functions such as enforcing quarantines in the event someone uses a biological “weapon” or there is a pandemic.

Who serves is still a sticky question. To undervalue the loss of life, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld did by noting that everyone serving today is a “volunteer” (although many did not “volunteer” for Iraq and Afghan duty) suggests that those who do join are second-class citizens. On the other hand, no one could suggest a system of military or even national service that could not be gamed by the rich or other elites.

As to the final item, this gets to the broader relationship between American society as a whole and the military services that inevitably are a reflection, a microcosm, of that society. What skills in demand for military activities can be found or are absent in society – and if the latter how can military-age men and women (actually before prospective recruits reach that age) be induced to acquire these skills?

And this is where technology cuts in, for the national strategic military culture in the U.S. is overly techno-centric. This has been the tend since the Reagan era, a trend accelerated by 9/11, according to one speaker. The result has been a gross misallocation of resources and funding not only within the military services but also between the Pentagon and other agencies of the government – both those concerned with foreign affairs and domestic priorities (other than Homeland Defense which is also techno-centric).
Moreover, this maladjusted allocation of resources results in fewer good options in foreign policy and more inadequate options Cooperation with allies drops off because they are not willing to spend money to keep up with the technophiles in the Pentagon. And one need only look to Iraq for validation of the allies position: the most sophisticated, most expensive (at least a million dollars each) tank in the world can b destroyed in an instant with an improvised penetrating explosive. This inability to defeat low tech enemies on the battlefield can increase psychological insecurity that in turn points to another anti-humanistic solution: privatizing security and contracting out this “service.” One reason why the U.S. has lost so many troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and why so many innocent people of those countries have been killed by coalition forces is a failure to understand the importance of human networks in insurgency operations, especially when the lack of directed human skills (language, customs, culture) leaves only the gun as the link between soldiers and citizens of another land.

In a sense – and quite obviously trivial compared to the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan and in many communities in the U.S. – the same techno-mentality that governs the military governs my computer. But in the case of foreign policy, the current administration put the Pentagon on a “mission impossible” when it declared “war” on global terror The U.S. has managed to get on a highly destructive treadmill that encourages – “dictates” is more accurate – buying expensive equipment The high-tech military has the capability to respond to a problem while other agencies have minimal, if any, little or no capability. So another mission goes to the Puzzle palace – and with it the money and the talent. The military increases its clout, other agencies stagnate, and the circle spins again.

That works for awhile, especially until the Pentagon itself gets stymied – and its greatest deficiencies today are its lack of balance between human-centric and techno-centric programs. Paying junior officers a $35,000 bonus to extend their time in uniform for three years – after which they could still resign their commissions.

More on Wednesday.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Real Columbus Day

When I was growing up in the Midwest, Columbus Day was always October 12. I can remember that parades were held, and for some reason – I never discovered the “why” of the color – a purple stripe was painted on the street along the parade route. I also can remember being confused one year when it dawned on me that the parade organizers were from the Italian-American, not the (then) Spanish-American, community. The explanation, of course, was that Columbus was an Italian who just happened to find a job with the reunified Spanish kingdoms of Ferdinand and Isabella.

That hardly mattered as every “American” loved watching the parade – except perhaps Native Americans, but they were nowhere to be seen.

October 12, 1492 is the date on which a sailor in the Pinta sighted land in what Europeans would call the “New World.” Three hundred years later, in 1792, the Order of St Tammany (the Columbian Order) held the first known observance of Columbus Day in New York. One hundred years later, President Benjamin Harrison issued a presidential proclamation urging citizens to observe the date by special ceremonies. The “cause” was then picked up by the Roman Catholic fraternal/service organization, the Knights of Columbus. In 1907, the Colorado legislature became the first to make October 12 a formal holiday
Today the parades and celebrations are met by counter-demonstrations mounted by the descendents of the estimated 700,000 who were the indigenous inhabitants of the northern part of the land that Columbus “discovered.”

Many Native Americans see Columbus not as the intrepid explorer who opened a new chapter in European history but as the source of a multi-generational process of conquest and domination – indeed, even genocide – whose effects are still felt widely among the descendents of those who first greeted the three-ship mini-fleet from Spain. In truth, he was both. He was also a man motivated by the stories of the riches that were to be found in the East, a motive shared by his royal patrons.

There had been hope that the issue would have moved from the national level to the broader one of respect for the dignity and the rights of all indigenous peoples. Last month, the United Nations affirmed the dignity and rights of indigenous peoples around the world when the General Assembly, on September 13th, passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that passage of the Declaration “marks a historic moment when UN Member States and indigenous peoples [are] reconciled with their painful histories and resolved to move forward together on the path of human rights, justice and development for all.”

The chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, an advisory body to the Economic and Social Council whose mandate is to discuss indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights, noted that the Declaration explicitly encourages harmonious and cooperative relations between UN Member States and their Indigenous Peoples. It prohibits discrimination against indigenous peoples and promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them.

The Declaration’s goal of mutual respect speaks directly to Native American objections to celebrating rather than simply acknowledging that on October 12, 1492, two worlds previously unknown to each other, collided and altered the course of history of both.

Some histories have been corrected, others have been rewritten, but still others remain unchanged – just as public observances tend to roll along heedlessly year after year. As celebrated by most Americans, all the emphasis is on the “discovery” of a land occupied by “savages.” The effect is to perpetuate the myth that some cultures are “better” or more “civilized” than others. This in turn “justifies” whatever course a Member State decides to pursue with respect to its native population.

Some observers have called for deleting the holiday from the calendar while others suggest renaming it Ethnic Diversity Day, Native American Day, or Indigenous Peoples Day. Another option might be to change the whole debate by switching the date for parades to September 13 to note the adoption of the Declaration by the General Assembly. One could then create a compromise “short title” (e.g., World Ethnic Diversity Observance) that might be the starting point for a harmonious dialogue about potential change.

There’s one fly in the ointment, however. The United States opposed and ultimately did not vote for the Declaration. The measure passed the General Assembly on a vote of 143 in favor, 4 opposed (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.S.) and 11 abstentions

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

WhenGenocide is Merely Killing

“Who talks nowadays about the Armenians?
Adolf Hitler, August 22, 1939

The House Foreign Affairs Committee reportedly approved (27-21) tonight (October 10) a non-binding resolution designating as “genocide” events in 1915-1918 directed against ethnic Armenian enclaves and villages in the remnant of the old Ottoman Empire. Estimates of the number of men (shot, bayoneted, throat slit), women, and children (succumbing to the effects of what some call a death march into the desert: malnutrition, starvation, dehydration, infectious diseases) who died coalesce around 1.5 million, sacrificed to a “caliphate” stretching from the Mediterranean Sea into Central Asia that was the goal of the “Young Turks” who seized power in 1913. The administration -- Bush, Rice, and Gates -- all decried the resolution, contending that its passage now would harm U.S.-Turkish relations and have a very negative effect on the Iraq War.

Why? Well, remember that the Turkish parliament refused to allow U.S. ground forces (4th Infantry Division) to land and cross Turkish territory to form a major front against Saddam Hussein’s military. The damage that would be caused now is the possibility that Turkey would refuse over flight permission for U.S. cargo planes carrying important supplies. Safe storage for stocks of fuel also would be at risk -- 70% of what is used in Iraq is kept in Turkey.

In my years working the military attaché corps in Washington and then in our embassy in London, what happened in 1915-1918 was always a sensitive topic and simply was never brought up in the presence of Turkish officers -- although the Greek attaches were willing to go on at great length.

Like the Holocaust, this is history. There was a hue and cry when Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called this year for more study on the Holocaust, “moderating” what many said was his outright denial two years ago that 6 million Jews, Romas, Poles, and other “undesirables” died at the hands of the Nazis. Given that reaction, why is the administration so dead set against a statement affirming the Armenian event and also affirming that genocide must not take place again?

It of course makes no difference to those who died whether they were part of a genocide, or were simply killed. But then, the judgment is suppose to be for the rest of us and our descendents Once more, principle -- even if symbolic -- takes second place behind political and diplomatic expediency..

Monday, October 08, 2007

Multicultural Counting

As this is the official observance of Columbus Day, it seems appropriate to say a few words about where I was last week -- the 23rd Wisconsin Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies Conference which had the theme “Multiculturalism, Pluralism, and Globalization.

Seventy-one people were on the list of attendees. Forty-two were from various universities and colleges around the nation; two had traveled from Uganda. Three were from the community school district at La Crosse, WI, where the conference was held; they were interested in how universities taught multiculturalism and whether any techniques might be useful at the pre-college level.

One of the speakers drew comparisons between surface and “deep” elements of culture. The latter are the elements on which people build relationships -- those things that people share, that build trust. In other words, what is “beautiful and good is interior.”

In her view, European-based cultures, which include the U.S. and Canada, tend to pay more attention to or even to be obsessed by “surface” elements. Skin color, yes, but more than that -- everything associated with “surface beauty” or, to boil it down to one word: “cosmetics.”

Another common term for this is materialism, which has as its objective (and thrives on) the accumulation of objects rather than on building relationships. And of course, if what is “good” is the acquisition of things, then Euro-centric cultures will also be obsessed with counting things.

On returning from Wisconsin, one of the first things I read was an on-line article which pointed to the Pentagon’s obsession -- despite consistent denials -- with “metrics.” Everything has to be quantified -- boots, bullets, bayonets, bombs, and bodies, to name just a few categories. And where specific numbers cannot be determined, charts and graphs will be made to show “trends” and comparisons without any numbers. There is, it seems, no other way the Pentagon can convey to itself or to others that “progress” is being made -- until the shooting stops and all the armies go home. It is when progress cannot be so defined, as in Iraq today, every bit of data possible is brought forward to justify further loss of life and further loss of national treasure to war fighting.

This I find interesting as in most descriptions war is termed an “art,” not a “science.” The formal title of the senior year study of war at West Point, for example, used to be “History of the Military Art.”

This need to count, to stay on the surface, relieves us of the need to delve into relationships, of the need to deal with others as individuals rather than as objects. It is one of the legacies of the western scientific mindset, for the language of science is mathematics -- the language of counting.

The point of all this, I suppose, is not that either the relational or the numerical culture is “better” but that we understand clearly the limits of each system. If science and counting are indispensable for living, even more so are relationships. Unfortunately, both can prove deceptive, intentionally or unintentionally -- particularly when multicultural settings form the backdrop for conflict.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Gone October 3 and 5

At a conference and may not be able to post entries today and Friday.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Grim Reaper in September 2007

The first case was reported in mid-August, the first death last week. The World Health Organization puts the number of confirmed cases in Iraq -- most of which are in the northern provinces -- stands at 2,758 as of the end of September. The death tolls now registers fourteen. The enemy -- cholera -- is not unknown in Iraq, but considering that the northern provinces, largely dominated by the Kurds, had a dozen year redevelopment head start over the rest of Iraq controlled by Saddam Hussein, the number of reported cases raises concerns for the inhabitants of other provinces and cities where clean water is in extremely short supply.

The monthly statistics for Iraq and Afghanistan are in. The number of U.S. fatalities reached the 3,800 mark on September 28 while overall coalition fatalities reach 4,1000 at virtually the same day.

For the month of September, 63 U.S. military personnel participating in Operation “Iraqi Freedom” died; 41 deaths were from hostile causes and the remainder from non-hostile causes. Three other coalition soldiers, two UK and a Romanian, also died during the month. Of the 300 coalition deaths, 170 were serving in UK units.

The September U.S. total is down by 21 from August and is the first time this year that monthly fatalities have been less than 80. Still, with three months to go in the year and 800 fatalities already, 2007 will easily be the deadliest year on record for the U.S. in Iraq. ( In 2004, 849 U.S. military personnel were killed in Iraq.) Two more U.S. servicewomen dies in September in Iraq; this raises to 64 the number of U.S. servicewomen who have died since the war began and 90 servicewomen across all nationalities in the coalition forces.

As of the end of August the Pentagon reports that 27,767 U.S. military members had been wounded in the war. Total aerial medical evacuations from all causes stood at 36, 943. Four soldiers are listed as missing in action. The number of suicides is 122 since March 19, 2003.

Iraqi deaths during September, based on accounts in the public media, stood at 720 civilians and 93 members of Iraqi security forces. The civilian toll is some 800 fewer than in August, Even dropping the Iraqi Red Crescent estimate of 500 civilians killed in the August bombings in and near the town of Sinjar, a drop of 300 suggests underreporting, particularly since in past years Ramadan has seen increases, not decreases.

In Afghanistan, seven more U.S. and 17 coalition soldiers died in September. Total 2007 fatalities now stand at 89 U.S. and 97 from all other countries. With three more months to go in 2007, coalition nations have lost more soldiers in 2007 than in any other year, while the U.S. total is 10 less than the 99 killed in 2005. All told 702 non-Afghan soldiers have died since October 8, 2001. Again, after the U.S., Britain and Canada have suffered the most number killed -- 81 and 71, respectively.

And the generals want another six months -- at least?