Just The Facts

Facts are the foundation of a free society

Sunday, September 10, 2006


KABUL, Afghanistan, 11 September 2006 --This will be my third September 11 in Afghanistan. It’s not an easy place to live or work. Two days ago, a murderer killed two GIs and 17 innocent Afghans by driving a car full of bombs into a Humvee. I’m scheduled to fly down, in a heavily protected Chinook, to the provincial capital of Helmand province, an area that produces almost 50% of the world’s illegal opium poppy. More than a score of brave UK soldiers have been killed in Helmand in the last month. In the eyes of the islamofascists who killed them, their crime was trying to protect a fragile democracy in one of the world’s poorest nations.

Electricity in Kabul is on about six hours a day and more than 80% of the population doesn’t have regular access to clean water. Illiteracy is at 70% with more than 85% of the women unable to read or write. Life expectancy is around 45 and the infant mortality rate is the highest in the world. I’m 7,000 miles away from my home and family, work at least 10 hours a day, six days a week and haven’t had a good Italian meal in months. It’s dusty and hot, except for the winter when it’s freezing, wet and miserable.

So why am I, a 59 year-old PR guy doing here? I’m here because of Jacqueline Lee Genovese. Jacqueline Lee just turned five in May. She is the daughter of Steven Genovese who was 37 when islamofascists murders killed him on September 11, 2001. Steve finished speaking to his father just seconds before the first plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center where he worked at Cantor Fitzgerald. I never knew Steve, nor do I know his daughter or widow but I think I can imagine some of the loss this innocent little girl will feel.

I know that no matter how hard she tries, Jacqueline will never really remember her Daddy. Even if her mother Shelly re-marries and her new husband loves her as much as Steve did, she’ll still have that void in her life.

In the past five years we have not read, heard or seen much about the families of the 9/11 victims, those nearly 3,000 innocents who were coldly murdered by members of a group that want to kill those of us they consider infidels. While we are inundated with stories about Abu Ghraib, Pvt. Lynndie England, and “Giitmo” we never hear anything about SFC Paul Smith. We rarely talk about islamofascists pledge to kill us and their continuing atrocities such as Madrid, Bali and London. Rather we “debate” whether we treat islamofascists killers and their cohorts with respect, always looking for ways not to offend.

I don’t think that way. Instead, I think of Jacqueline Lee Genovese and the loss she must live with for the rest of her life. I think of the horrible decision that innocent people had to make that terrible September day, whether to stay in their office and burn to death or jump from a window to certain death.

I don’t want any more little girls to grow up without their Daddy because some islamofascists murderer decided to kill some innocents. I don’t want to have anyone’s son or daughter have to decide whether to burn or jump to their death. I want Jacqueline to live a full and happy life without fearing that she will be killed because she’s not wearing a burqua. I never knew Steven Genovese and I probably never will meet his daughter. But I’m here because of them.

Friday, November 04, 2005

South Asia Survived Genghis Khan; It’ll Survive Another Year of Me

ENROUTE TO PAKISTAN, October 21, 2005—As if South Asia hasn’t suffered enough, what with G. Khan invading, Osama and the Taliban setting social policy, and having cricket as its major sport, the benighted area will now have to suffer my presence for yet another year.

Having spent the last year helping Afghanistan rush madly into the 11th Century, my next assignment will be in its neighbor, Pakistan, helping the President and Prime Minster communicate their policies to the UK and USA. I’m sure you are all aware of how well the President did on his last visit to the US. It probably didn’t come as a surprise that his dinner with Gloria Steinem and Susan Estrich, with Gloria Allred serving, had to be cancelled.

I have been to Islamabad a few times and found it to be Ottawa without the soul. Actually, it’s a very pretty city, some fifty years old, marked by broad, tree-lined boulevards and stunning public buildings. In fact, I believe the PM’s secretariat is the nicest public building I’ve ever been in, certainly much better decorated than jails and police stations or so I hear.

While there is apparently only one restaurant in the city of 1.5 million that serves drinks with dinner, I’m sure that in no time I’ll find my own little “D Block,” my former boite at which I spent so many Afghan Happy Hours. I am a little concerned that the selection of The Vintners Art might be a little lacking, but sacrifices are inevitable as we fight the Global War on Terror (GWOT.)

Actually, this duty will be a far cry from my past fourteen months in Afghanistan. Perhaps the best news is that I will no longer be a State Department employee. My experience as a State Department employee is worth a separate tome, similar in vein to the Grand Guignol. Let me say, while I met many dedicated Foreign Service Officers, my general impression of State was it combined all the sclerotic elements of tenured positions, government employment and a strong union.

I’ll no longer be living in a 20’ x 8’ shipping container, having secured a very nice three-bedroom house in Islamabad, furnished with all the elements, TV with remote and a 500 channels, a high-speed Internet connection and staff to serve my every culinary wish, needed to make it a fine place to live. The TV is very interesting. While I have hundreds of channels the only English language ones are the BBC, an execrable, anti-western bastion, a porn channel and some Christian religious channels. I find myself watching the BEEB, getting furious, changing to the porn channel, then, since I’m too old to appreciate it, changing to either a Christian channel or an Arab religious channel with either preachers or mullahs chanting and exhorting their followers to do something. I guess among the three options the porn channel is the most honest!

Since the lovely Cindy will be joining me, it will be a little different than the locked down hootch living that made the Kabul experience so ….memorable. While there are some downsides, the odd earthquake for instance, I look forward to a nice living arrangement, though I’ll miss all the nights outside D-20, drinking to excess and listening to the great stories of my friends and colleagues in Kabul.

I also won’t be encased in an up armored, bullet-proof SUV when I take to the streets. (I think that’s a plus.) Rather, I’ll have my own car and driver and he won’t be packing heat! I’ll also be able to walk outside, on real sidewalks without having armed guards following my every move. Sounds like a little bit of heaven to me.

As for work, I am, for the fourth time, getting a check from my long-time employer, Hill & Knowlton. I’ll be a one-man outpost in Islamabad, working closely with the Prime Minister and President and their respective staffs, making certain that the efforts they are undertaking in building a moderate Islamic nation while at the same time being the USA’s strongest partner in the GWOT are communicated to western audiences. For all of you who know my commitment to the GWOT, I assure you that I have been assured by the senior members of the US government and military that Pakistan is our ally in this war and is doing all it can, under difficult domestic circumstances, to help us. I am also convinced, after speaking directly with the PM and the President, that their vision of a modern, moderate Islamic state in South Asia is rational and achievable. As with much in South Asia, the journey will be long, arduous and not without setbacks. Though Pakistan has far more natural resources and a much stronger economy than Afghanistan, it still is beset with sectarian and religious violence, an almost feudal system in some areas and other problems endemic to South Asia. Perhaps the earthquake relief effort, which brought Pakistan and India together if even for a short time, will help move the country forward. I certainly hope so.

Stay tuned.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Rush-bo and I at Afghan Minster of Defense Wardak's home for dinner.

Rush was as knowlegable and charming as I expected. A great evening.

A Three-Legged Goat Should Never Stand Outside In The Winter

KABUL, Afghanistan, Friday, August 12, 2005 -- Here we are in the midst of a good old-fashioned Kabul summer. You know the kind, where the aroma of rotting sheep fat wafts delicately out from some of the City’s best butcher stalls. Or where the pungent odor of a six-camel caravan softly drifts across the night making us gasp for a breath of the searing hot Kabul air.

Ah, summer in Kabul. The rise in temperature is matched by the rise in dust and dirt in the air. No humidity, no trees, no water, no breeze. Not that there isn’t any wind. As a matter of fact, each afternoon around 4:00, a searing wind picks up from the west, or the east since I’m not real good on compass points, and blows a day’s accumulation of dirt, dried feces and other even worse elements across the city and into the world famous CAFÉ compound where our intrepid band of Embassy staff spend more hours than you could ever imagine. We are together under trying circumstances but spend it with a great deal of humor and savoir faire, though I don’t know if that is really the phrase to describe our Executive Protective Detail (EPD) guards.

These are our “shooters” the guys who protect State department employees when we venture into the wilds of Afghanistan. They are a mixture of former Marines, Special Forces and Rangers. Some of them were street cops before they took the opportunity to make big money as a shooter in one of the world’s dangerous places, Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, nations under threat from Islamic terrorists.

Their humor, which tends to be a bit rougher than that found in the salons of the Bel-Air or the Upper West Side, is honest and direct. Their stories, honed by years of sharpening in barracks and bivouacs around the world, usually touch upon three subjects; beer, women and running away from cops. Or chasing someone who was running from a cop. So far the best story was about a three-legged goat who died of exposure while drunk. When told by “Top,” a decorated Ranger 1st Sergeant and the dead goat’s former owner, is hysterically funny, even if his most heavily used word is “frikin,” an all purpose word used as a sop to good taste that fools no one.

Virtually every night a group of the shooters, “Top,” Hunter,” “Big Country,” “Pyro,” (whose real name is Cannon Ball!) and others in the ever-changing cast of Embassy characters open their lounge chairs and beer coolers, invite every woman who lives in the CAFÉ to join them, and set up shop in front of my hooch. They then tell stories and drink beer until the very wee hours of the morning. An old guy like me usually leaves around 11:00 PM, but most of them stay until 1:00 or 2:00. Amazingly the next morning they are up, loaded with M-16s, 9MMs and armored vests and ready to move.

Another amazing thing is that we never have fights either of the fist variety or with guns. Now you have to understand that we live in a guarded compound and are not allowed to leave it on other than official business, a term that has taken on a very elastic quality these past few months of lockdown. The shooters have never been allowed to enjoy what little life, restaurants, private parties, etc., that Kabul has to offer. So the situation at the CAFÉ is made up of equal parts boredom, cheap and plentiful booze, testosterone laden shooters, all armed, and just the right amount of starry-eyed young women who still think big guys with guns are cool to inject a note of volatility that in most situations would inevitably lead to trouble. Here, in part because it is a dangerous situation and in part because most folks are fairly bright, nothing untoward has happened. (Though we did institute a No Guns Allowed rule in our bar.)

We doubt that we will have any lessening of our rules until at least after the September 18 election. As we approach the final weeks before Afghanistan’s parliamentary election Islamic terrorists are doing all they can to disrupt it and to kill as many innocents as they can. Today, for instance, they blew up a bomb in a women’s market. Brave folks these terrorists.

These are the same type of terror bombings taking place in Iraq, most of which are aimed at police stations, schools or election organizations. A question for each of you; Do you remember before the 2003 war a number of western peace activists took up positions in front of Iraqi industrial and military locations in order to prevent the US from bombing them. How many “peace” activists have you seen take up posts in front of election locations, schools or mosques in Iraq or Afghanistan the last two years, locations that symbolize democracy and freedom? Locations that are targeted by Islamic terrorists, crueler and more deadly that the KKK

So the question must be asked, if “peace activists” are really concerned with peace and freedom why won’t they stand in front of these very real facilities of freedom? Perhaps you can ask if you bump into one of them at a “peace” rally back in the States.

I know we could use some folks in addition to the soldiers and Marines who now lay their life on the line each day to protect democratic institutions here and in Iraq.

I’ll be heading home for most of the month of October. I hope to see you then.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Me and some of The Boys from the Mez 'hood
Posted by Hello

A Great New Year Awaits

Kabul, Afghanistan, January 5, 2005 --Greetings from a cold and, I hope for tomorrow anyway, snowy Kabul. It’s Christmas Eve 2004 and I, along with about 70 other State Department employees and some 24,000 US and Coalition forces are getting ready to celebrate the Birth of Christ in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan! When we read news reports from the States about the growing controversy over the very name of this Holiday, we all have to laugh. Here, in an Islamic State, Americans are allowed to put up Christmas decorations, sing Christmas carols and celebrate Christmas without fear that the Afghan version of the ACLU will demand that we call them "Holiday decorations" or force us to deny the existence of Santa Claus. My Afghan friends, who universally wish me "Merry Christmas", just shake their heads when they read stories about a Virginia 7th grader who was asked to leave a school dance for wearing a Santa Claus outfit! So those of us here in an Islamic state will just keep talking about Christmas while you in the States choose you words carefully to make certain the no hint of "Christmas" escape your lips in a public place.

So how goes our effort in this land of high mountains, deep valleys and harsh plains? I think the sight of three PR guys copying and stapling reports at 11:00 PM provide a microcosm of what is happening in Afghanistan. December has provided a perfect picture of what is going right in Afghanistan and also, sadly, on what could possibly cause the country to revert back to its old terrible days as a one of the world’s poorest and most backwards nations.

The good we hope, to paraphrase The Bard, oft-times outlives the bad, so let’s start with the good. On Tuesday, December 7, Hamid Karzai was sworn in as Afghanistan’s first freely elected President after receiving more than 55% of the vote of the both the men and, for the very first time, the women of Afghanistan in the October 9 national election. Both the election and the inauguration, each of which were threatened with violent, terrorist acts by remnants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda took place without any real disruptions. That they did were tributes both to the Afghan people and the many members of the "international" community that came to Afghanistan and paid a price in both gold and blood to keep to free the country and its people from more than 25 years of war and repression.

I think any of us who have been in Afghanistan as the events of the last few months have unfolded, the election, the successful conclusion of the UN kidnappings and the violence-free Presidential Inauguration, and this week’s announcement of a cabinet that reflects all elements of Afghan society, including women, are pleased at how the people of Afghanistan have taken the opportunity given to them by the US and Coalition forces and made great strides in building a free and functioning society, As I walk and drive the streets of Kabul, Mazur-al-Sharif, or Bagram, you can sense the renewed energy and drive as more and more Afghans open new businesses from the insides of dilapidated shipping containers selling everything from old car bumpers to freshly butchered sheep and goats. Traffic dominated by drivers who acknowledge no traffic laws including one-way streets, center dividers or sidewalks, rivals Bicycle Coalition Fridays in San Francisco as more and more people find work and make the terrifying commute each day. All these are elements of a burgeoning economic sector and the benefit of the decision of the Afghan government to adopt a free-market philosophy to business growth. All this bodes well for the future of Afghanistan.

However, what could put a stop to the growth, which if it increases by double-digits each of the next ten years will still only result in an average per capita income of $500 by 2015, is the complete lack of ability or desire to plan and the almost preternatural belief in the phase "Inshallah" or "If God Wills it." Going to an Afghan business meeting is almost like a trip to a nursery school. Every man at the meetings is willing, welcomed and involved in the discussion. In fact, most times too many are too involved to get anything done. One of the amazing factors in an Afghan meeting is the sheer number of attendees. I’ve been to meetings where there were more than 20 Afghans in attendance, most of whom had nothing to do with what was under consideration. When you add to the mix the tea and sweet servers and the constant ringing of cell phones, (apparently it is an Afghan custom to answer every cell phone call and never to turn it off in a meeting,) it is extremely difficult to stay on subject and get anything accomplished. When combined with the lack of an agenda and no attempt at assigning responsibilities it is pretty easy to see why things don’t get done very efficiently.

The other factor that contributes to the incredible inefficiency is the notion among most Afghans that saying "No" is not acceptable, even if one has no intention of doing what is asked. For instance, as we were planning a recent National Counter Narcotics Conference, we asked our Afghan colleagues about supplying busses for the participants to go to lunch. For two weeks we were told "no problem," though no one would acknowledge who, actually, would supply the buses. Not surprisingly, one-hour before lunch none had appeared. That’s when I took over as the "interim" Minister of Buses and Transport and conducted a full and frank discussion with an Afghan official that led to two things happening. The buses miraculously appeared and I was threatened, for the third time in my life, to be declared persona non grata in a sovereign nation. (I don’t think anyone with any knowledge of the real situation would call my leaving Guyana abruptly the "third time." I’m only counting Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.)

The other situation we see is the lack of real desire to get things done, back to that "Inshallah" mind set. And that’s were the example of the three PR guys copying and stapling at 1100 PM comes into play. The night before the afore-mentioned Counter narcotics conference at which the newly-inaugurated President was to speak, my two colleagues, one US and one UK, all of whom are fairly senior in our posts, were frantically copying and stapling Dari and Pashto versions of the next day’s programs. (We had done the English version earlier.) We were doing this mundane labor because our Afghan colleagues had not finished the translations until late and, this is the essence of my concern, had no intention of sticking around or working late into the night to make certain that the material was ready for the next morning’s event. So it was left to three Western guys to make certain the work was finished. (Some of you may be wondering why one of the crack State department admin assistants wasn’t able to help us. The State admins I have worked with, for the most part, should all have tattooed on the forehead "Don’t even think about asking me to do something, I only have 13 more years to retirement." But that’s a story for another time.)

What is troubling about the Afghan attitude is the sense that someone else should do the work. Or that some work is beneath them. I notice the syndrome late in the evening when most of the Embassy folks, though not the admins, are working and not a single Afghan is around. It gives one pause, and also, says a great deal about why the US and Western civilization are where they are and why Afghan, and other 3rd World countries are the way they are. As the noted social commentator and Combat Speechwriter CDR Mike Nyilis says, "Countries are poor, dysfunctional and poverty stricken for a reason."

I am finishing this missive on New Years Eve 2004. Since I’ve been flat on my back for the past five days with a form of what is commonly called the "Kabul Krud" my celebration of the New Year will be severely limited. A bit of dinner in the mess hall with a few friends, followed by a dose of Ny-Quill, the best friend an American can have in Afghanistan. It’s a snowy, windy night with more bad weather in the forecast. Nonetheless, looking back at the past year I think the pluses in Afghanistan far outweigh the minuses. Three years ago the United States of America led a coalition of forces to free 26 million people from a cruel and oppressive regime that killed and tortured with impunity. This year that sacrifice paid off when a President was freely elected and, in front of panoply of world leaders, was inaugurated. We should all be proud that we as a Nation had the courage to take action when action was needed. We should also look forward to January when Palestinians, under Israeli occupation, and Iraqis, under US and coalition occupation, become the first two Arab peoples to hold free elections. Let’s hope that when the newly-elected leader of Iraq is sworn in he remembers the words of President Hamid Karzai upon his Inauguration on December 7, 2004, words, by the way, were never printed in most major American newspapers

"Whatever we have achieved in Afghanistan--the peace, the election, the
reconstruction, the life that the Afghans are living today in peace, the
children going to school, the businesses, the fact that Afghanistan is again a
respected member of the international community--is from the help that the
United States of America gave us. Without that help Afghanistan would be in the
hands of terrorists--destroyed, poverty-stricken, and without its children going
to school or getting an education. We are very, very grateful, to put it in the
simple words that we know, to the people of the United States of America for
bringing us this day."

Happy New Year

Election Day In Kabul

Kabul, Afghanistan, October 9, 2004 --I went to a number of polling places in Kabul today and watched as Afghan men and women voted for a president for the first time in their history. The lines were orderly and the voting process that I witnessed was calm and thorough. The pundits, and self-appointed arbiters of what is right with other people have already started their bleat about non-indelible ink or some other minor point. I was on the ground in Kabul. I witnessed the vote in three precincts and my colleagues witnessed the vote in more than 40 others. Not a single one of our observers saw anything other than minor problems. One of my colleagues, whose real job in being a Judge in Florida, said that this process was more orderly than what he saw in his home state!

When you see CNN, the BBC and other mainstream media talk about “chaos” they are lying. Pure and simple. Don’t believe what they say. This is a proud day for Afghanistan.

John Spann was the first US serviceman to die in combat in Afghanistan. According to records, some 130 servicemen and women have died in the war against terror in Afghanistan. Their sacrifice freed 26 million people. Today that freedom came into being. I salute Johnny Spann and all the men and women who have served. This is a note I penned for distribution to our Embassy staff.

Three years and two days ago, American troops came to Afghanistan to free a people who had been subjugated by a cruel and vicious oppressor. Today, I witnessed what their sacrifices and efforts, and those of other coalition troops, the international community and my colleagues at the US Embassy had helped to win:


I visited three polling places in Kabul today and saw Afghan men and women lining up to exercise, for the first time in this nation’s tortured history, the freedom to select their leader.

I watched as men and women, who been warned by the violent remnants of a defeated oppressor that exercising their freedom to vote would result in death, defiantly come to polling places to cast their votes.

I saw women, who had been not allowed out of their own homes under the old regime, walk freely into the voting booths and cast their ballot for their choice for President.

I saw today what freedom looks like.

The Afghan people are to be commended for their courage and determination to vote no matter what the forces of oppression threatened. They are to be commended for exercising their freedom in a responsible and dignified manner.

And we, those of us who have left our homes and our families to come to this far away land to help bring freedom to the Afghan people can take a moment to reflect on what we have helped accomplish. Each of you should keep this day, and what it means, in your memory. Because of your efforts and your sacrifice the 26 million Afghan citizens can take their place among those who proudly call themselves free.

Kabul, Afghanistan, July 30, 2004 --Greetings from beautiful, downtown Kabul, where some of the worst of the modern world, Rocket Propelled Grenades, (RPG), Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) and Music Television (MTV) are mixed with the worst of the medieval world, beheadings; a feudal social system wherein women are treated as chattel; the caste system and tribal rivalries; and prohibiting cocktail lounges to serve hor d’oeuvres at Happy Hour. (Actually, Happy Hours aren’t allowed either, though that may be because no cocktail lounges, bars, liquor stores, or anything else smacking of booze or Happy is allowed.)

So here I am, safely ensconced in a palatial 1/3-wide cargo container, watching the 4:00 AM MTV special, “Snoop Dog, the Man and the Myth” and preparing for a trip to Ghanzi to mark the opening of a new road. The commute shouldn’t be too bad ‘cuz I’m going via helicopter. For my first day on the job, it should be pretty interesting.

The trip here was, I am happy to say, uneventful, at least until I arrived for an overnight stay in Baku, the capitol of Azerbaijan, a former member of the USSR. Though the Evil Empire has crumbled some of its legacy is apparent in its former member nations. Take for instance customer service. As I entered Baku immigration, I, and all the other westerners, stood in the Passport Control line figuring that Passport control would, well, control our use of a Passport to enter the country. Not quite. In fact Passport Control was only a way station on our path to entering the country. In true Soviet fashion, we waited in a line for a while before ending up in front of a uniformed bureaucrat who stonily informed me, after spending a good amount of time perusing my newly issued passport that contained nary a entry or exit visa, that I needed to go over to the station behind where I stood, and stand in another line, to receive my entrance visa. Soviet style efficiency at its very best.

After spending the night in a very nice suite at the Baku Park Hyatt, I made my way to the Baku airport for my very first ride on Azer Air, the national airline of Azerbaijan. As I approached the Tupolev 154, I could only imagine how the Russian soldiers who boarded the plane on its first flight during the Crimean War might have felt getting on a brand, new airplane. As I entered the plane, I was heartened to see that my question might be answered by one of the flight attendants, who apparently worked that first flight. Alas, I was unable to get their attention during the flight so I was unable to ask any of them. Perhaps next time.

More later.

Saturday, September 18, 2004


Kabul, Afghanistan, September 5, 2004--Much like the Mongol hordes that wreaked havoc on the Holy Roman Empire as they swept their way from the cruel plains of southwest Asia to the effete and ill-prepared society of Western Europe, I made my trip from Baku, Azerbaijan to London, wreaking havoc and destruction on all around me. In my instance, however, the havoc I wreaked wasn’t in the form of defenstration, disembowelment or crucifixion. Rather, it was in the form of, and there is no delicate way to put this, projectile heaving as the result of a batch of bad caviar that I ate while dining in Baku. From the shores of the Caspian to bustle of Heathrow, I ruined the day of virtually everyone with whom I came into contact at airports, departure lounges and on airplanes. Then, after landing in Blighty, I fell into the arms of Morpheus and slept all the way back to San Francisco. Suffice it to say, I ain’t eating no stinkin’ caviar in the near future.

The trip back was really the only bad experience I had in the first phase of my Afghan journey. The three weeks I spent in the severe, dusty climes of the war-torn country were the most exhilarating of my career. The work was fascinating, and my State Department colleagues, the Marines who guard the Embassy, the ex-pats and the Afghans were universally optimistic and dedicated to their missions.

I also found out that, contrary to my fears, Happy Hours do exist in Kabul, and in fact, there is a great deal of happiness, tempered by a sense of anxiety over what might come as the nation’s first presidential elections approach, elections that the Taliban remnants, Al Qaeda elements and various warlords have vowed to disrupt. Even with these threats, the people of Afghanistan, who have endured an almost 25 years of uninterrupted war, are generally optimistic about the future.

In spite of murderous attacks on election workers and Afghans who have registered, more than 90% of the adults who are eligible have registered to vote in the October 9 election. In addition to the overwhelming registration results, more than 2 million Afghan refugees have come back to their nation, one of the largest returns from a Diaspora in modern history.

A little about our living and working conditions in Kabul. First, we live in converted ship containers, fitted out with TV, a DVD player, Internet connection and a phone. It isn’t The Ritz, or even Motel 6, but it’s better than living in a tent as so many of our soldiers and Marines are doing in Afghanistan and Iraq. We also work in containers, outfitted with computers and all the accoutrements of a big time office, except for two things. We have neither fax machines nor scanners. Of course there are 11 brand new scanners in their original boxes in the supply room of the Embassy. However, since an inventory control number isn’t on the boxes, because the clerk whose responsibility it is to put the number on the box can’t be hired for another month, we can’t have the brand new scanners! That situation is a perfect example of the sclerotic bureaucracy that runs the State Department, certainly the most inept group of admin, supply and HR people I have ever encountered. This is the same organization that allowed some of my health records to lie on someone’s desk for three weeks because they couldn’t figure out that Raymond Raleigh and Jeffrey Raleigh, who had the same Social Security numbers and birthday were the same person! What a crew!

Despite the inept bureaucracy, I was finally sworn in as a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) on Friday, August 27. It actually was a fairly impressive ceremony held in an Ambassador’s office at the State Department. So, some 33 years after I took the Foreign Service exam, and I might add, passed it, I finally became a FSO. Those of you who know me, and know my commitment to being a shy, retiring type, who is loathe to voice an opinion, are probably shuddering that I am now a full-fledged diplomat. I guess I can’t do much damage since I’m going to a war zone anyway.

Then on Monday, after receiving my diplomatic passport, I boarded a flight in DC with stops in Frankfurt and Baku, to rejoin my comrades in Kabul. I would be arriving in a city that was reeling from a car bombing that killed three Americans and five others. Nonetheless, I was happy to get back to Kabul to resume the work I started on my first trip. This tour, which is scheduled to last a year, was to start out working on the first Afghan national election in its long and storied history. And though the forces of evil, Al Qaeda, the Taliban and HiG are planning to do all they can to disrupt and intimidate the Afghans who, in the face of enormous hardship and fear, want to vote.

We, the Americans and forces from more than 35 other nations, are doing all we can to help the Afghans as they make this tough journey to democracy. Our hope is that the evil, as epitomized by the monsters that massacred Russian children, who blew up Israeli bus passengers and Russian airplane passengers and are threatening to kill any Afghan who exercises his or her right to vote, don’t prevail. If they do, we will find ourselves in an age that makes the Dark Ages look like The Renaissance.

More later.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Spicoli Goes To Iraq

I’ll admit it. When I first saw the blurb on the San Francisco Chronicle today noting that Sean “Spicoli” Penn had been given space in the paper to report on his latest adventures in Baghdad-By-The Desert, (as opposed to Herb Caen’s Baghdad By The Bay,) I did what any normal, red-blooded American male would do. I laughed, shook my head, and mused about the Chronicle being a mouthpiece for self indulgent, anti-Bush celebrities who have no sense and no perspective about good and evil.

Then I took the time to read his article.

Guess what, while it is does exhibit an inordinate amount of Sean, it also is a thoughtful, honest and, ultimately, positive report Iraq. Believe me when I tell you, I am surprised. Really, can you think of a worse combination than the Chronicle and Sean Penn? (I guess maybe the Chronicle and Madonna or Rosie O’Donnell, or Sharon Stone and the Chronicle!)

I’m not going to go over the whole article, that’s one of the wonders of the blog – you can do that for yourself and make up your own mind, but I will say this. I was impressed by a number of points he made. I especially liked his comments about his family’s reaction to his announcement that he was going back to Baghdad. His wife and daughter just rolled their eyes, just as mine would have. His son’s was more poignant and touching. Very real and personal, much like his acting.

His commentary about Iraq was not the expected rant against Bush and the US. Instead, I found it to be informative and reasoned. All in all, a good read.

I must also admit that I do respect that he is not afraid to spend his money in support of his beliefs. While I thought the two full-page newspaper ads he bought last year were puerile and simplistic, I admired the notion that he cared enough about his beliefs, misguided as I think they are, to spend a fair amount of his own change.

Read his reports in the Chronicle. We probably disagree about every political issue you can imagine. But he seems like a good husband and a caring father and a thoughtful person. I think that Sean Penn is a fine American. I’m glad our society produces people like him. And, he’s a hell of an actor.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

A Terrible Quagmire, I Tell You!

Quagmire. It’s an adjective used almost to the exclusion of all others whenever Democrats, Frenchies and NYT writers, except for John Burns, alphabet news media (ABC, CBS, NBS, NPR, etc) and most other mainstream media types when describing US efforts in Iraq.

You know the meme: “Why can’t Bush and Halliburton, Vice President Cheney’s former company, get anything done over there? What a quagmire! Just like Viet Nam, which, by the way, if the Texas right wingers hadn’t killed him, JFK would have pulled us out of there as soon as he dumped Lyndon Johnson and made Adalai Stevenson his VP after he raised taxes and fed the poor.”

As usual, they ignore anything good that’s happening.

Did you know that since May 1, 2004 these things have happened in Iraq:

Since May 1...the first battalion of the new Iraqi Army has graduated and is on active duty*

Since May 1... over 60,000 Iraqis now provide security to their fellow citizens.

Since May 1...nearly all of Iraq's 400 courts are functioning.

Since May 1... the Iraqi judiciary is fully independent.

Since May 1...on Monday, October 6 power generation hit 4,518 megawatts exceeding the pre-war average.

Since May 1...all 22 universities and 43 technical institutes and colleges
are open, as are nearly all primary and secondary schools.

Since May 1... as of October 1, Coalition forces had rehabbed over 1,500 schools - 500 more than their target.

Since May 1... teachers earn from 12 to 25 times their former salaries.

Since May 1...all 240 hospitals and more than 1200 clinics are open.

Since May 1...doctors' salaries are at least eight times what they were under Saddam.

Since May 1...pharmaceutical distribution has gone from essentially nothing to 700 tons in May to a current total of 12,000 tons.

Since May 1...the Coalition has helped administer over 22 million vaccinations doses to Iraq's children.

Since May 1...a Coalition program has cleared over 14,000 kilometers of Iraq's 27,000 kilometers of weed-choked canals. They now irrigate tens of thousands of farms. This project has created jobs for more than 100,000 Iraqi men and women.

Since May 1...we have restored over three-quarters of pre-war telephone services and over two-thirds of the potable water production.

Since May 1... there are 4,900 full-service connections. We expect 50,000 by January first.

Since May 1...the wheels of commerce are turning. From bicycles to satellite dishes to cars and trucks, businesses are coming to life in all major cities and towns.

Since May 1...95 percent of all pre-war bank customers have service and first-time customers are opening accounts daily.

Since May 1... Iraqi banks are making loans to finance businesses.

Since May 1...the central bank is fully independent.

Since May 1... Iraq has some of the world's most growth-oriented investment and banking laws.

Since May 1... Iraq (has) a single, unified currency for the first time in 15 years

Not bad for a quagmire, huh?