Saturday, April 30, 2005

Thirty years since the Fall of Saigon

BBC News report that Vietnam celebrated the 30th annivesary of the end of Vietnam War. I find the whole celebration ironically sad. The stated goals of the Communist Party then was to fight US imperialism and implement a Socialist system in Vietnam. Sacrifice were demanded for these sacred goals.
Since then, they have completely abandoned and reversed their goals. They invited the US back, offered Cam Ranh Bay to the US 7th fleet. They have reversed their Soviet styled economic policy, admitting that it was a grave mistake, that it caused much suffering. Their victory was a Pyrrhic victory - meaningless and sad. A million and a half South Vietnamese voted with their feet and left Vietnam, risking death and sexual assault. The economy was in completely ruin; civil liberty was non-existent. As neighboring countries were advancing, became the now famous Asian Tigers; Vietnam became poorer. Even after economic liberation was declared, the government was slowed and hesistant in implementing reform. And today Vietnam economic growth is still far slower than that of the Tigers. As neighboring countries achieved liberal Democracy; Vietnam is still ruled by an oligarchy known as the Communist Poliburo.
Then what are they celebrating? Are they celebrating the death of a millions of North Vietnamese soldiers who lives were wasted on a mistake - a fail experiment. Are they celebrating the destruction of an embryonic Democracy. A Democracy that at the time seem flaw, but was a far better alternative to the abomination that followed. Are they celebrating the loss chance of becoming a Pacific Tiger? Was it worth three million Vietnamese lives?

Thursday, April 28, 2005

After the Fall of Saigon: Unwanted Memory

Vietpundit introduced his reader to Nam Dao, a Vietnamese-Canadian writer. Vietpundit brought up a great article by Nam Dao in Vietnamese, "Vietnam, from ghostly shadow to man." (It is my own translation and I appologize if I butcher the title). The article mentioned story of the author own sisters, prior to escaping from Vietnam, took birth-control pills so that they will not conceived when they are raped.
Vietpundit reminisces:
At that time, I knew about the fact that women took birth-control pills in preparation for being raped, but, at that time, I thought it was an acceptable risk. Why? What was life like that made me think that being raped while escaping was an “acceptable risk”? Of course, now I know that it was an unspeakable horror. And you know what else? I am absolutely ashamed to say that until I read about this fact (the birth-control pills) in Nam Dao’s piece just now, I had forgotten about it. I had forgotten about one of the most painful things in one of the most painful chapters in Vietnamese history. God forgive me.
He was not the only one who have forgotten. I have forgotten too and was reminded of it by him. But unlike him, I am not ashame - not at all. Who would want to remember such a thing. Who would want to remember the savegery, the barbarism, the humiliation, the dishonor, the shame, the fear, and the helplessness that befallen upon us. Who would want to remember that once we were so far from Heaven that Hell is not a metaphor but a living reality. Damn you; I curse you ,Vietpundit, for making me remember. I have forgotten and you should have let me forget. We were mere children - too fragile for the world which we were forced to live in, too weak to endure the experience. Yet by sheer luck, we endured. I was only thirteen years old. It is fortunately that our psyche was not completely destroyed and we were not consumed by madness.
Then comes Neo-Neocon's "A mind is a difficult thing to change" series (hat tip to Vietpundit, you are forgiven) - a sympathetic voice, a mind changer. Her latest installment is finally here. It is an interlude piece, not the long awaited final part, but it is very good. Having read her seris, I am now more sanguine. Perhap if people reflex and meditate upon our suffering, maybe others will not have to suffer. Those Vietnamese women were raped and butchered on the high sea. It is done and history - may their anguish souls rest in peace. Maybe something good come out of it. Perhap a lesson; that there are things far more evil than war.

Conversation at Amarji

Ammar posted "Another Inauspicious Lull!" in which he expresses his usual concern:
With its pullout from Lebanon nearing completion, the Syrian regime seems to be about to go into one of its usual self-congratulatory phases, a development that cannot but augur ill for the future. For some of the worst mistakes committed by this regime happened during such phases.In lull times, members of the regime come off at their worst. Not that they are exactly proactive under pressure. But, in these times, they at least freeze, they stop acting, they go into a trance, a blessed hypnotic trance, which restrict their ability to make mistakes. They might even make a few right things, as a result of external suggestion of course, like sealing off borders and pulling out from where they don’t belong and have never been really welcome. But during lull times, old habits sneak up on them all too quickly, and they start fucking up again, which isn’t very hard to do for them: all they have to do is just be themselves, and fucking up will come all too naturally. Oh, may heaven protect us from lull times and natural born screw-ups, and may it grant these unchosen, though terribly begotten, leaders of ours a certain je ne sais quoi, because there is absolutely nothing I can personally think of that will make them any better.
This generate some more conversation amongs visitors in which Rancher said:
Are saying this is good for Lebanon and bad for Syria? Maybe this lull will allow Assad to implement reforms. What he is doing now and what Annie reports are encouraging. Could you even have this Blog if Daddy was still around?
In which I responded:

You stated correctly that "Could you even have this Blog if Daddy was still around?" But it is important to understand that regime such as Baathist Syria changed or opened up because it had to, not because it wanted to. And such a move of the regime should be considerd a retreat, and liberal force should press forward and demand even more change.

Of course the change will be small and incremental but the culmination of these changes will result in liberal democracy. Often the press see a liberal democracy emerge, and they declare that it is a miracle, not realizing many small battles that were fought along the way. Little battle that is being fought every day by our much admired Heretic is never recorded in the annal of mainstream media. Only political junkies such as ourselves follow this small battle.

All and all, it was a very good conversation. Conversation is alway good at Amarji.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The lunacy of opposing outsourcing

I have always been a defender of free market and free trade. But being a novice at the subject, I often have difficulty articulating the argument. Not Russell Robert at Cafe Hayek. Here he exposes the madness of anti-globalists' argument.
As for the call center guy in India, you can always tell he's in India by the accent unless he's an immigrant in Nebraska. But then again, are you sure it's OK for someone like myself who lives in Maryland to be served by someone in Nebraska? Would it not be better to keep all the call center jobs in Maryland? Or better yet, Montgomery County, where I live? Or better yet, maybe I should refuse to deal with companies that hire people other than my friends and relatives for call center jobs. That way lies not just madness, but poverty of the direst kind.

Is bigger better?

The world largest jumbo jet just flew today according to BBC News. Airbus A380 is impressive indeed, 840 passengers, twice as many as Being 747. But is this neccessary better, in term of financial profitability? Already the company has overan its project budget. It already received an order of 154, but it need to sell 700 airplane in 4o years to make a profit. However, the second hand aircraft market, which is much cheaper than the A380 can cut into the company sale.

Boeing, after design a similar plane giant but decided not to produce them. Boeing focus instead on the 787 Dreamliner, strangely even smaller than the 747 with only 250 passengers. "Boeing argues more passengers will want to fly between smaller regional airports, rather than the select giant hubs required to service A380s." (BBC) Beside the 787 has a fuel saving feature, 20% lower than the same size plane.

Is bigger better? Only time will tell. Much is depended on the airline market, not the aircraft market. Regardless Airbus is taking a high risk strategy and Boeing show itself to be risk adverse.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

An Honest Assessment from the Pentagon

According to BBC News, General Richard Myers stated that the Iraqi insurgents have not lost any capacity to launch attack and violence in Iraq is not any lower. It is a honest and realistic assessment from the Pentagon in stark contrast with assessment earlier in the war, when number of insurgent and their capacity was grossly underestimated. It is also good that the Pentagon recognized that the war cannot be won militarily alone, there is a need for a parallel political process. It is good that we are starting to be honest with ourselves.
Since we recognize the insurgency as a manifestation of a political problem, mainly that of Sunni disenfranchisement. One political idea to consider is the amnesty suggested by Talibani. It is a good idea and I hope the US government endorse it. It is reminiscing of the "Chieu Hoi" program in Vietnam which was extremely successful in bringing Communist members back into society. However, for the program to work, some funding is needed. Insurgents will not turn themselves back in simply for forgiveness. That is not enough. They should feel that there is a good future for them if they turn themselves in. It means that they can depend on the government for their living. A small sum of money to start their lives is a good start. Job training and employment opportunity is also important. Intergration into the Iraqi Armed Forces is another option, which would provide former insurgents with employment, and their knowledge can be used against other insurgents.
Beside the stick, the carrot should also be offered.
SIDENOTE: The Astute Blogger has this humourous piece which he said (Hat tip to Chrenkoff):
I betchya that IRAQ - rife with neojihadist and neobaathist terror and nagged by lingering ethnic divisions (between Sunni Arabs, Sunni Kurdish, Shia and the Turkmen), and trying democracy for the first time ! - gets a new constitution before EUROPE does!

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Ba Dinh Square, August 2nd, 1945 (Part II): The socio-economic landscape

(... Continue from the Ba Dinh Square Series Part I: Who is Ho Chi Minh )
From 20's to the 40's emerged a genre of Vietanamese literature known as Tu-Luc-Van-Doan (The Self-Reliance Literaracy Group). It was a break from previous Vietnamese literary tradition by using different medium, such as prose instead of the usual poetry. Another thing that distinguished this genre is its outspoken view against the traditional society. It exposed the inequality among the genders, class and other social ailments. The genre was essentially a social critic literature. Among the things that were criticized was the relationship between the land owning class and the landless peasants. There were numerous pieces of work depicting the lives of landless peasants, painfully showing the misery and destitution of Vietnamese peasants.
And the peasants were truely miserable. Vietnamese society at the time was still mostly agricultural base, particularly rice farming. Yet most of the land belonged to a very small percentage of land owners and the rest were share croppers. The land owners had monopoly of lands and often imposed unjust condition for share croppers. Share croppers often only received a very small part of the harvest, usually not enough to feed their family. Semi-starvation and food shortage was common. The condition of poor children becoming indenture servants for wealthy households was also very common. "Chi Dau" (loosely translated Miss Dau) is one of the famous novella by Nam Cao which illustrated the oppression endured by peasant at the hand of the Vietnamese wealthy land owning aristocracy. The story is heart wrenching, a clear denunciation of the feudal system. Its popularity was due mostly to its realistic depiction. To escape the poverty, many oppressed peasants came to work for rubber plantations owned by French colonists. And the condition of those rubber plantations were miserable too. Readers who are familiar with colonialism no doubt abhor the exploitative condition at those plantations. But if rubber plantations, deplorable and exploitative as they were, offered better alternative to the condition of the villages, the misery in the villages must had been horrific and inhumane. And it was. In addition, despite popular image of French Indo-China rubber plantations, they were not everywhere, not numerous; and they employed very small percentage of Vietnamese labor. Most Vietnamese were still landless share croppers.
French rule in the rural area was remote and inperceivable to the life of average Vietnamese. The French, after the conquest of Vietnam, kept the rural social structure intact, and rarely interfered with village life. Therefore one can conclude that the miserable condition of Vietnamese peasants pre-existed French colonial rule stretching back to Vietnamese Imperial rule. This system was a product of Vietnamese feudal society not French imposition. In fact, this condition faciliated French entry into Vietnam. During the French conquest of Vietnam, The Nguyen Dynasty were concurrently fighting numerous peasants insurrections and resisting French invasion. Because of the numerous and frequent peasants rebellions, the Nguyen Dynasty could not fully use their numberical superiority on a much smaller French expedition force. And Vietnam was easily conquered. After conquest, the French did not dismantle this hideous social order. But instead, they maintained and strengthen it.
Vietnamese peasants therefore blamed their Vietnamese overlords first for their miserable lives. French colonial rule received a distant second blame. An average peasant, unless working in a plantation, would never know what a Frenchman look like, therefore he would not directly attribute his condition to French rule. All of the interaction that directly result in his suffering were caused by Vietnamese. He was oppressed by Vietnamese, exploited by Vietnamese. All the agents for his suffering are Vietnamese. This is not to say that French colonial administration played no part in the suffering of Vietnamese peasants. French rule played a significant part, but its role is indirect therefore a peasant did not immediately associate his suffering with French colonialism eventhough it contribute greatly to his suffering.
This is the very socio-economic environment that Ho Chi Minh rose to stardom.
(Part III is coming)

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Academic Embargo

Came across this BBC piece reports that a teacher union, Association of University Teachers (AUT), decided to boycott two universities (Haifa and Bar-Ilan universities) in Israel because:

"They were complicit in a system of "apartheid" towards Palestinians, delegates at the AUT's council heard... Delegates voted for more dialogue with Palestinian academics and unions. However, they voted down a call by the union's executive to establish contact with a group called the Israeli Higher Education Union. "

The executives of Brittain universities, Universities UK (UUK), issued this statement:
"UUK condemns the resolution from AUT which is inimical to academic freedom, including the freedom of academics to collaborate with other academics."
This was found at AUT website confirming the BBC report:
Israel universities - statement by AUT general secretary Sally Hunt

AUT Council today decided to boycott Haifa University and the Bar-Ilan University. The executive committee will issue guidance to AUT members on these decisions. Council delegates also referred a call to boycott the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the executive committee will investigate the background to this and will report in due course. Council delegates also agreed to circulate to all local associations a statement from Palestinian organisations calling for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions.

Whether the two mentioned Israel universities are guilty of the accusation is beyond the point and irrelevant. It is about academic freedom. [Side note: Even if the universities are guilty of the charge, would it be better and more effective to engage them in dialogue rather than severing all contact]. It is quite obvious that the AUT is taking the side of the Palestinian on the Palestinian-Israel issue. I thought that a teacher union main function is to look out for the interest of teachers who are members of the union, not to engage in political activism. This is an unethical use of membership union due. Of course the larger issue is academic freedom and a free exchange of idea. It may be permissible to criticize Israel, Israel's policy, or even Israel's academic institutions; but an act of boycotting an academic institution is an anathema. The AUT is afterall an organization consisting of educators, for educators, about educators, people who are supposed to be opened mind. I am disgusted, aren't you?
The email address of point of contact for AUT press is David Nicholson. You can email him at . The main email for AUT is .

Friday, April 22, 2005

Ba Dinh Square, August 2nd, 1945 (Part I): Who is Ho Chi Minh?

Ba Dinh Square is a multi-parts post on Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, and the political situation prior to US involvement in Vietnam. Since I cannot blog full time, I can only write one short session at a time. This is good because it is also easier to read and follow.

August 2nd, 1945, in Ba Dinh Square, Hanoi, a speech that styled after the US declaration of independence was given to million of people, cheering and joyous. The man who made the bold declaration was Ho Chi Minh, formerly Nguyen Tat Thanh, and before that Nguyen Cung Sinh (this is the name given by his parent). Who is Ho Chi Minh? This question is extremely important in the context of the French-Indochina War and the later Vietnam War. Is he a Communist or is he a nationalist?

Historians, pundits, and academics have argued that had the US support Ho Chi Minh and Vietnam independence from France, the later Vietnam War would be avoidable. The main thesis for this reasoning is that Ho Chi Minh was a nationalist that was driven into Communist camp by US rejection of Vietnam independence. It is argued that the war in Vietnam later was due to incorrect assessment of Ho Chi Minh and his ideology. Ho Chi Minh could have been a US ally for the duration of the Cold War.

Of the various strains of thought on the anti-war camp, this is a more reasonable one since at least it assume that Communism was reprehensible and since Ho Chi Minh was not really a Communist, he was essentially worth supporting. Often the same strain of thought also has a similar argument concerning Fidel Castro. It is commendable but nevertheless wrong.

Let put aside for a moment Ho Chi Minh career and activities prior to that faithful date, a career and activities that could easily prove his affilation with Third International and the Soviet Politburo. It started with his membership in the Communist Party in France and continued with his journey to Moscow and later his mysterous mission in China. Ho was infact a founding member of the French Communist Party.

But I will attempt to use a different approach, one that rarely argued, to prove that Ho Chi Minh had to be a Communist. In this approach one must look closely at the socio-economic condition of Vietnam during French colonial rule, in particular the inter-relation between the Vietnamese land owning class and the landless peasants. The key question is how did Ho Chi Minh accomplish what many other nationalist groups have failed before. And there were many of them. There were many nationalist groups long before Ho Chi Minh came to the political scene. There was the eary 1900's one such as Phan Boi Chau and his Dong-Kinh-Nghia-Thuc Society, Phan Chu Trinh and the Duy-Tan Movement (Modernization Movement). And there were Ho Chi Minh contemporaries such as Nguyen Thai Hoc of Viet-Nam-Quoc-Dan-Dang, or Nguyen An Ninh. They were all staunch nationalists and they all fail. What set Ho Chi Minh apart from other nationalists? How did he do it? What was his secret ingredient? The answer has to do with the colonial socio-economic condition at the time.

(Part II: the socio-economic landscape is here)

My monologue about the Vietnam War

I have not blogged about the Vietnam War at all in this blog. Most of the blog is about Iraq and the Middle East, my most recent dramatic experience. But as the anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, April 30th, comes around, I will blog more about it. I ran across this piece by Viet Pundit on his opinion of anti-war protester and how it has evolved. He further pointed out to a few blogs by formerly anti-war activists who are now reassessing their position. Here is an essay by neo-neocon. It is part of her "A Mind Is A Difficult Thing To Change" series. I was quite moved. This is a very good start.

I too went through a similar evolution. I myself recently participated in another equally controversial war – the Iraq War – and had not completely digested my experience. The one single thing I have learned from my recent experience is that war is difficult to digest and comprehend. And often the participant is so close to the scene that it is difficult to see the big picture.

As far as Vietnam, what is done is done. Nothing can undo the suffering my family, I, and my fellow Vietnamese have endured. But it is still important to present our perspective of the war, a perspective which was and still is neglected and discounted by academe and society as a whole. And slowly, I hope that the Vietnam War will be look upon with a more objective eyes, and a fair and balance version of it will emerge. I also think it is important to approach those of opposite opinion, not with confrontation, but with understanding. It is easier said than done, and I will no doubt occasionally appear confrontational. It is after all a deeply emotional issue for me.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Madain and its implication

BBC News reports on the Madain incident. Reader who are not following the incident, here is the recap. Last week, Iraqi official claimed that Sunni insurgents took over Madain, a town south of Baghdad and took many Shiite hostages. This week the Iraqi Security force entered in force and found no hostages or insurgents. Interestingly, Al-Zarqawi Group publicly denied that they had not taken any hostages in Madain. It seem that the whole incident was a hoax. Sunni partisans, claimed that it was created by the Shiite dominated government as a pretext to persecute Sunni. Tariq Al-Hashimi, the general secretary said: "Whatever the reasons - so far mostly they seem fabricated and exaggerated -we completely reject the latest escalation in the from of the seige of the town with a view to raiding it." (Al-Jazeera) He warned of a "new Fallujah." Sheik Abd Al-Salam Al-Kubaisi of the Association of Muslim Scholar (AMS) weighted in and said the report was completely untrue.

Later this week, 60 remains were found in the Tigris river, south of Madain, and President Talabani claimed that the incident was no hoax and the victims are the hostages from Madain. However the identities of the victims are not fully identified and no one know for sure if they are victims of Badain kidnapping.

However I find the accusation of the Association of Muslim Scholar and the Iraqi Islamic Party rather weak. Iraqi Shiite do not need this incident as an excuse to exact revenge. There were enough confirmed bombing of Shiite mosques to stir up vengence. But so far the Shiites have been rather restrained. The fact that Zarqawi himself bothered to deny the incident is in itself significant. Zarqawi in the past had no problem admit to the killing of innocent Shiites. He is afterall considered Shiites to be apostates and deserved killing. Why bother to explain his action over some heretics. My take is that the political environment in Iraq has changed and Zarqawi and his ilks came to realize that they are loosing the political battle in Iraq. It is one thing to behead Westerners. But it is now unacceptable to murder innocent Iraqi. Terrorist sympathizers such as the Iraqi Islamic Pary and the Association of Muslim Scholars must have realized it too.

UPDATE: According to a fellow Iraqi blogger, Baghdad Dweller, the atrocity did happen. She even has pitures to prove. The pictures are very good, they show the victims family displaying picture of their kidnapped loved ones. There are even pictures of fire fight.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Realignment of Global Power Part I: China, Japan and Peace in the Pacific

Three recent significant developments in global politic, the anti-Japanese protest in China. US reaching out to India, and United Nation reform, all seem random and unrelated but they all part of the next great shift in global power politic. Massive protests in China against a seemingly minor issue is actually a manifestation of something much more sinister - Chinese ultra-nationalism and Chinese desire for hegemony, in the Pacific and beyond. The visit by Secretary Rice to India and her comment on India as a future "major world power" is an recognition of a realignment and redistribution of power. The reform of the UN is important if not fundamental to the first two issues.

The protests in China is not merely about text book. One prefecture in Japan approved a text that downplay (not deny) Japan misdeed during World War II. Big deal. Why does this seemingly minor insensitivity offend the Chinese so much. Japan have publicly apologized for her past misdeeds on numerous occasions - 17 times publicly and in writting. The protest is not about textbook on Japan past but is about Japan future role in the Pacific. The Chinese, after the abandonment of socialism did not abandon tyranny. China embrace Western capitalism but did not embrace Western democracy. China politically is still the oligarchy of old, but without the legitimacy endowed by the ideal of socialism.

Ruling more than a billion people without their consent is difficult to maintain in the long run - especially when the world is becoming more democratic and the governed are aware of this. The Politburo need a sustainable ideology and like other dictatorial regimes decide to adopt nationalism. This nationalism, like all nationalism, look to the past glory and the desire to relive and revive it. China long to see the reemergence of "The Middle Kingdom," a Chinese hegemony in the Pacific. Japan is seen as a potential rival for this covet role. Further, China resent Japan recent activities when Japan aligning herself closely to the US, on the issue of North Korea as well as sending troops to Iraq, who China consider to be an obstacle to China rise in the Pacific.

As long as the US play a dominant role in Pacific politic and as long as Japan continue to play along side the US, the dream of Sino Imperium will not be realized. The protests were and are not spontaneous display of grass root movement but it was stoked, approved, and encouraged by the Chinese authority. In China, people do not spontaneously protest on the streets. The last time they tried, the Chinese government drove tanks over them. Add this incident to the aggressiveness displayed across the Taiwan strait, the belligerent and bullying attitude concerning territorial water and we have a serious threat to peace in the Pacific. China should be considered a threat, and not because she is powerful, but because she is powerful and undemocratic.

The Politburo play on nationalism is dangerous and has unintended consequence. Nationalism is irrational and dangerous, both to others and the users. Nationalism carry with it the seeds of fascism, xenophobia, and bloodshed. We have seen in the last few decades the devastation cause by it. The genocides committed in Yugoslavia and in Rwanda, the sectarian violent in India are all the consequence of nationalism out of control. Consensus is that the Chinese leadership are pragmatic and merely use nationalism as a tool to improve their domestic standing and to leverage in international arena. But nationalism is a dangerous tiger, particularly dangerous for the rider. The politburo may enjoy riding the tiger now, but they will find that they cannot get off it without being eaten. Pretty soon, it will be the tiger that will dictate the direction of China foreign policy. The prospect of China invading Taiwan is much higher with nationalism than without. It would not even take Taiwan outright declaration of independence to spark conflict. A minor move by Taiwan toward the direction of separation, and the Chinese mass, the same one who protested Japan's textbook, who are indoctrinated to believe in the virtue and righteousness of the "Middle Kingdom," will demand war.

This is why Japan is important if not key in the containment of China's nationalism. Japan is after all a responsible democracy in Asia and an economic powerhouse. It is time for us to expunge all her sins committed 60 years prior. She has been a role model member of the world. And it is time for Japan to step up to the place and share some of the responsibility of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. That is a permanent seat in the Security Council. She after all is more trustworthy of the role and position than that of China or Russia.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

The Year of Discontent: My Iraq Experience

This 9th of April is the 2nd anniversary of the Fall of Baghdad, an event that lead to controversy worldwide as well an internal controversy within me. I have just spent a year in Iraq and it was difficult experience to describe or forget. The experience of having to oscillate between hope and despair was an emotional roller coaster. And here is my story - no sugar coating - just unadulterated truth.

As the talk of war was raking up in late 2002, I knew that I would be involved eventually since I was a reservist. I expected to be called up for the invasion but it did not happen. The invasion went without me and with great success. I was sent in for later occupation, a far less successful event. I was called up for Iraq in 2004, known as Operation Iraqi Freedom II. I remember distinctly crossing the border from Kuwait into Iraq and was hopeful. Hopeful that I would play a positive part in this unfolding drama, a drama loaded with dangers but full of promise. Children waived, adults too. I felt like a liberator. Then we hit the Sunni heartland and for a little while I felt like an occupier. The waives were replaced with blank stares. We were hit with road-side -bombs, better known as IED (improvised explosive device) and rocket propelled grenades. My vehicle was never hit but I could hear it over the tactical radio when other vehicles were hit. One soldier perished on that trip -- the first day he was in Iraq. The memorial service for him was difficult, for me and for others. It heightened my own sense of mortality.

After that incident, my sense of concern I had earlier on the trip became more prevalent. It was clear we did not know how to do an occupation. Reconstruction was far more difficult than it appeared. The cost of reconstruction was high and the pace was slow. Despite our best effort, it was difficult to start a civil project. Security, or the lack thereof, seemed to be the culprit. Projects and those who worked on them were frequently the targets of insurgents. The end result was less willing contractors, less willing workers, and ultimately at a high cost and painstakingly slow progress. The government was in no better shape. The Coalition Provisional Government, commonly known as CPA, was in Baghdad and it seemed like they never left the comfort of the Green Zone, a protected section of Baghdad. The civil government existed in the Green Zone and nowhere else. Everywhere else the US military were responsible for providing, assisting, or constructing the government. One must ask how does an average US officer training prepare soldiers for running a civil government? It doesn’t and it was evident in their lackluster attempts.

To make matters worse, the CPA decided to eliminate the Iraqi government infrastructure through the process known widely as "de-Baathification." This process sought to eliminate all Baathists of certain rank from their government positions, leaving many unemployed and bitter. The disbanding of the Iraqi Army resulted in more unemployed young men, who were armed, disgruntled and dangerous. Iraq became increasingly more violent. In April of 2004, it peaked when four US contractors were killed. Soon, the city of Al-Fallujah openly revolted resulting in Sunni insurgents having control of the city. Soon after, the cities of As-Samara and Ar-Ramadi followed. Then, Muqtada Sadr and his Shiites started an insurrection, effectively taking over Najaf and Karbala. Summer 2004 was the Summer of discontent. And for me the discontent lasted the whole year. We were still driving around Iraq without properly armored vehicles and continued to have no armored vehicles for the rest of the year. The prospect for peace and reconstruction was low.

To get out of the occupation business, late Summer 2004, the CPA turned over sovereignty of Iraq to the Iraqi Interim Government. Things did not get better. In addition to targeting Coalition Force, insurgents began to target the Iraqis who they considered collaborators. And it didn’t take much for one to be qualified as such. An Iraqi who cleaned the Coalition base, civil servants, interpreters, laborers on reconstruction projects, vendors who sell goods and services to Coalition, and anyone who was deemed sympathetic toward the new Government or the Coalition Force. Even Iraqis trying feed and cloth their family were randomly and violently murdered. A string of decapitations --foreigners and Iraqi alike, -- broadcasted over the internet, quickly became a popular format for insurgents to project terror. I and many of my brethren-in-arms were dishearten and desponded. We came to Iraq to make it a better place and it was not a better. In fact no one seemed to know if Iraq was the same or worse. Being in the middle of the chaos, violence, and destitution, I was leaning toward things being worsen. Reconstruction projects were at a stand still. Service such as electricity and water was worse than pre-war level. But the issue that caused much despair was security. Public safety was a great concern for everyone. Kidnaps for ransom were rampant. Frequent highway banditries added to the chaos of the insurgency. Lawlessness was the prevalent condition. The earlier low estimation of the insurgency was overly optimistic if not unrealistic. The number of insurgents was revised from 5,000 to 20,000. It seemed then to be no light at the end of the tunnel.

Toward the end of Fall 2004, the tide seem to shift - and there was a glimmer of hope. Muqtada Sadr's insurgency imploded due to Coalition offensive and unpopularity among the people. The South was again at peace. As-Samara was retaken by Coalition and Iraqi Armed Forces, then Ar-Ramadi. The only city left was Al-Fallujah, the very heart and symbol of Sunni insurgency. It had to be taken prior to the General Election scheduled on 30th of January 2005. The concern for civilian casualties and collateral damage caused wide spread protest worldwide. But the offensive went forward and the city was retaken. The offensive stirred much controversy for the destruction of houses of worships as well general infrastructure destruction. The capturing of Al-Fallujah did not seem to stem the tide of the insurgency. Fighters from Al-Fallujah simply dispersed and brought violence to other cities, notably Mosul. A string of successful attacks against police stations were carried out in Mosul, paralyzing the city. In many police stations, the police units were completely wiped and police officers massacred. Randomly, bodies of people were found throughout the city. And in one single day, eighteen US soldiers were killed when a suicide bomber detonated a bomb inside a dinning facility.

The upcoming election concerned me a great deal. I was not sure if it would go smoothly, if people would participate, not to mention the probability of increased violence. If the election failed, we would have lost. All the sacrifice would have been in vain. But we would not be there for the election. My unit was sent home a month before the election. I was happy to go home but saddened that we accomplished so little - having spent so much time reacting to unforeseen crisis. I was home, in front of my television on January 30th, anxiously awaiting the results. A year spent in Iraq made me cynical. I feared for the worst. The initial result surprised me. People actually came out to vote. But I did not dare to hope for fear of crashing disappointment. But more people came out to vote. And then there were long lines with people waiting the whole day to vote. Those who voted walked out with purple stained fingers and tears in their eyes. The sight of the purple inks washed away all my despair. So it began the Purple Revolution. For more than a year since the day I entered Iraq, I dared to hope. Iraq was saved, not by the 150,000 US soldiers, or billions of dollars on reconstruction, but by purple ink and the courage of average Iraqi taking charge of their future. They succeed in spite of our failures. The credit goes to them and them alone. I turned off my television and it was my first undisturbed sleep in a year.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Where are our Arabic linguists?

I ran into this piece by Fred Kaplan at and glad that someone finally exposed the assanine stupidity at the Defense Department. For a former soldier like myself who is very familiar with the issue, I find myself laughing and crying at the same time. And we have been crying since September 11, 2001. No one understand the pain of bureaucracy more than a soldier who has to deal with it on a daily basis. I was the very reason I left the Army.
On September 11, 2001, there were all together three Pashtun linguists in the entire US Army. Those Pashtun linguist were all native speakers because there was no Pashtun program at the Defense Language Institute (DLI), a place where all US Armed Forces linguists are trained. There were stories of Special Forces soldiers who had to communicate with the Northern Alliance in Russian.

I, who native tongue is other than English, did not have to go through the Defense Language Institute (DLI) in Monterey, California. But many of my peers did. And the large number of my fellow linguists are Russian linguists. Most of my friends who went through the institutes during 1999 and 2000 said that the Russian language program in DLI was the largest program, twice as large as the second largest program. Arabic program was in third place. The year was 2000 and Russian was the largest program in DLI. One would have thought that the policy makers at the Pentagon did not follow current events and did not realize that the Soviet Union had collapsed ten years prior. One must also assume that those genius were completely unaware that Islamic fundamentalism was on the rise, hence the need for Arabic; or that Osama Bin Laden who had carried out at least five major attacks against the US were residing in Afghanistan and that Pashtu should be add to the curriculum.

And it get sadder. According to article, The document name "Defense Language Program Roadmap," which supposed to adjust our language program post September 11, did not appear until November 2002, more than a year too late. The document laid in limbo for another nine months. In the mean time, nothing was being done. In August 2003, as US soldiers were dying on the street of Baghdad, the document was revised, re-drafted and put out again. A study - just a study - to implement the program did not begin until September 2003, two years after the worst terrorist attack. The study took seven months. A recommendation was not made until July and it was not approved until August 31st.

If reader think that the agony ended there and an overdue and much need program was in place. The sadness did not end there, but in fact got a whole lot sadder. In fact, it would cause one to vormit nonstop for several days. The plan had ridiculous deadline for implementation, which supposedly happen in phase. "Publish a DoD Instruction providing guidance for language program management." Not a language program itself, just simply a guidance for mangement it. And the deadline for this guidance is July 2005. And there are deadlines after deadlines. "Develop a language readiness index" to "measure capabilities and identify gaps." Deadline: September 2005. "Conduct a … screening of all military and civilian personnel for language skills," in order to establish a database. Deadline: December 2005. "Ensure doctrine, policies, and planning-guidance reflect the need for language requirements in operational, contingency, and stabilization planning." Deadline: March 2006. "To increase the pool of potential language personnel … ensure the automated Defense Language Aptitude Battery is available at appropriate locations … including recruiters, military entrance processing stations, ROTC staff, and Service Academy staffs, to identify recruits/cadets with language learning potential." Deadline: January 2007. "Establish 'crash' or 'survival' courses for deploying forces." Deadline: September 2007. Develop and sustain a personnel information system that maintains accurate data on all DoD personnel skilled in foreign-language and regional expertise. Work closely to ensure stabilized data entry and management procedures." Deadline: September 2008. All together seven years. And reader should keep in mind that the dealines described are just to set up a management system to improving the language program, not the language program itself. That no one know when it will happen.

For a man who take prize in coming up with "military transformation," the Secretary of Defense take seven years to come up with a simple language program, while our soldiers are continued dying on the battle fields. The shortage of linguists contribute to prolonging the war and indirectly more US casualties. If Bremmer and Gross are the indicators, one should not be surprise that the people who were responsible for our language program did not receive a pink slip or even a reprimand. If anything, they propably got promotions if not awards. Well done, for being unpatriotic bastards.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Karfan the Disgusted

Syria Exposed is the opposite of Ammarji. (Hat tip to Across The Bay). No poetry but satire, nonetheless very insightful. It is an anonymous site by a Syrian who psedonym is Karfan (mean disgusted in Arabic). It is the best political satire I have read. The site started on March 18, 2005 and is fast gaining popularity. It has been called the Salam Pax of Syria. And like Salam Pax in his early blogging career, people have already accused Karfan of being an American propaganda or Israel agent. But I have no doubt that like Salam Pax, Karfan will be proven to be an authentic Syrian with a sharp witty mind - when the Baathists are gone from Syria.
Karfan writting consist of debunking myths concerning Syria or Pan-Arabism. One reader at Syrian Comment said the if Edward Said is still alive, his head would blow up reading Karfan's blog. Here is an sample of Karfan great sense of humour. This one is taken from "Myth No. 2: We Have An Identity."

Not a single person below 40 years old who lives in Syria has a national identity of whatever sort!! Maybe our loosers fathers who invented the Arab Identity that we have been hammered with all our lives pretended to believe in it, but we never did, we never even bothered to pretend. WE, here, means the vast majority of the generations of Syria who were borne after the Happy Revolution in 1963. That is what they call it: A Revolution. Karfan always thought when he was growing up that "The Revolution of 8th of March" was something like the French Revolution, where masses of poor people rose against the awful King. Only later in his youth, he learned that there was no king and no masses; just a group of gangster army officers who forcefully stole the lead from a group of gangster entrepreneurs.

Karfan is especially frank (and funny) toward Arabism.

Karfan is convinced that all those dickheads preaching about the Dying of Arabism in Syria, obviously never lived in Syria. Or as he puts it, never took a stinky microbus from a stinky half-built-house in Eishh Elwarar (an area that is the perfectly precise opposite to Beverly Hills) to a stinky governemental Istehlakya (An ingeniously fucked-up Syrian version of supermarkets, or like..., forget it, you need to see it in order to know what the hell that thing is) and wait for an hour to get a stinky 2kg of rice from a stinky employer yelling in your face. Now, only then tell me if they can find a trace of Arabism in people. They assumed that there was Arabism and they are making a living out of writing bullshit on how it is dying. In light of the absence of the above-mentioned inspirational experience, they base their wicked revelation on two wicked sources:

1. The writings of some Syrian dickheads intellectuals from the "Failure Generation", that is our fathers'. Those people want to give meaning to their failed lives in which they could not achieve what others achieved in even Burkina Faso, not mentioning Asia and elsewhere, so they write shit saying that they ""succeeded"" in: Leaving us the Legacy of Arabism. Yes in deed, they have left us that in books; we have tons of those for lucky falafel makers to wrap their sandwiches.

2. The interviewing of people in the streets by journalists and academics, which goes like this:

Happy western journalist: What identity do you believe in?

Miserable fucked Syrian: I believe in Arabic identity. Oh, and by the way, we ALL love our president. What the fuck do you expect us to say we believe in?

"Kurds in Syria are joining the Baath party": what does Happy western academic 1 make of that? That Arabism is sooo convincing it would make people change their skin and blood.

"Kurds in Syria are revolting": what does Happy western academic 2 make of that? That Arabism is dying.

Karfan never met a single so called "Arab" that has a sense of unity or brotherhood with any other inhabitant of the other so called "Arab Countries". People who really want to fight Israelis are driven by religious animosity toward Jews not by Arabic enthusiasm. People who really want to unite with Gulf countries are driven by the wealth they think they can share not by Arabic enthusiasm. Didn't Iraqi soldiers rape and fuck every Kuwaiti woman and man while still ""saying"" that they were doing the glorious deed of Arabic Unification? (Unless they were taking that word literally). Still, Happy western journalists and academics ignored the deeds, looked at the words, and interpreted that Kuwaiti Fiesta as a product of Arabism. But wait, good news is coming: Arabism is now dying.

Who said that only Hollywood makes stories out of nothing?

It is true that we have been drummed up day and night continuously with Arabism shit, but the only successful result of this policy is that we became conditioned to speak about it. We are Arabs, we love Arabs, Arab World, Urubaa, Blablabla, Just wards! In reality, a person from Tunisia might as well be from Honolulu and it wouldn't make a damn difference for us. Syrians will tell you that they are Arab because:1. It is the only thing we were taught to say we are. What else is to say? We never been taught or allowed to learn anything else, we never knew any other vocabularies to say.

2. It is the only thing we were allowed to say. We all know that we are just Sunnis, Alawis, Murshdees, Druuz, etc to the end of the glorious list, but we are not allowed to utter that. It is the existing truth that no one is permitted to voice. We were not even taught or allowed to say that we are Syrians, as this would be considered a deviation from the Holy Message of our Holy Arab Homeland-to-come. Only recently under the rule of "King Lion the 2nd", God Bless His Dynasty, people were allowed to say that they are Syrians!!

This Arabism might have had its glorious days back at the time of the big idiot Shareef Hussein and his clueless sons, or back in the days of Naser Don Kichote, maybe. But for us, the Happy Generations of Syria who were borne after the Happy Revolution of 1963, it existed in words in books and is now dying in blogs. Poor Arabism!

Monday, April 04, 2005

Amarji the Heretic

Ammarji is the site of Ammar Abdulhamid, a well known Syria dissident currently living in Syrian. Ammar has an unusual biography of moving from fundamentalism to atheism to now agnostism. His blog is sometime political sometime just emotional - Ammar is afterall a novelist. But even his political writting carry poetic quality like this one:

Or has our fate been sealed from the cradle?

American warships are said to be coming our way. But I don’t know what to
expect really: catastrophe or salvation?

But then we are all born soaked in blood.

Other times Ammar writting is full insight, this one taken from "The Thin Heretical Line"

American policies are not set in stone. There have been thousands of document like Clean Break that never amounted to anything but wishful thinking. They were
either shelved in favor of other policy options or were simply overtaken by events. Those in the Middle East who fear the “ominous” content of Clean Break should realize that the implementation of it, no matter how influential its authors seem to be at this stage, could, nonetheless, be seriously undermined through the adoption of a more pragmatic and proactive attitude by the regimes and parties concerned.

Dealing with US policy with a sense of fatalism will only justify the basic claims and arguments of the Clean Break advocates, namely that most ME societies, especially traditional Arab societies, along with the ruling regimes they have spewed and regurgitated over the years, are simply irreformable, irredeemable, unsalvageable, and, in short, incapable of working out their own salvation. As such, external interference is a must even if, on the short to intermediate run, it means chaos. For a chaotic dynamism is much better, from their view, than static nihilism.

The Ammar proceed to lay the blame squarely where it belong.

For instance, all Arab nationalists are willing to condemn American imperialism but none is willing to condemn the Arab imperialist experiment that took placeunder the banner of Islam. We can all understand the special circumstance and context of the imperialist ventures of our forefathers, but we are completely unwilling to fathom the logic behind the imperialist ventures perpetrated against us at any given moment, so long as we remain the victims thereof. This is only natural of course. No one likes to be a victim.

The problem here, however, is that victimary mentality leaves no room for creative solutions, where such solutions are most sorely needed. Complaining about the cold is not going to make me any warmer. While fighting off the cold with my bare skin is not the smart thing to do. This region is going to witness a lot of pressures from the US in the days, months and years to come. Complaining about the perceived double standards and the injustice of it all will not help. While
butting head with the US is simply an exercise in futility, especially when theregimes involved continue to wallow under the dark shadows of illegitimacy and the people are so alienated and powerless.

So, and while America may not be the solution, it is definitely not the real problem, but a mere symptom or a manifestation thereof. Indeed, America would not have had any reason to come here had we been able to fathom and accept the nature of the world around us and its continuingly changing realities, and had we been able and willing to accommodate ourselves to that.

Then to the insightful dianogsis of the root of the decease:

This region has been in a serious crisis mode ever since it was pulled into the modern world from the medievalistic temporal enclave in which it long buried itself, and yet no one has yet attempted to manage this crisis in view of minimizing losses and maximizing potential advantages.

Rather, the political, economic and intellectual elites have, for the most part, busied themselves simultaneously denying and exploiting this crisis to their immediate advantage. Still, let’s not waste any time blaming them here, for in reality they could not have behaved differently. Elites, after all, are but products of their own societies and often suffer from the selfsame problems and handicaps they tend to diagnose and attempt to treat.

One of these problems is that of our self-image which continues to be shaped by medievalistic realities, realities that are no longer relevant today, realities that could never again be relevant, no matter how long we wait or how hard we pray.