Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day

When I was in elementary school, I once earned honorable mention in a literary contest for a poem about Memorial Day. I don't remember a word of it, and unfortunately my Mother made me clean my room some time in between the 6th grade and moving out after college, so there is no record of the verse by which scholars can debate its greater significance.

Unfortunately, Memorial Day has taken on a very different meaning for me this year. In addition to Shane Mahaffee, I recently learned another classmate of mine from the MCAC (Mobilization Civil Affairs Course) at Ft. Bragg has also been killed here in Iraq.

So it was with a heavy heart that I attended today's Memorial Day Commemoration at Camp Victory. The ceremony was held outside the Al Faw Palace, which sits on a landfill in the middle of a manmade lake on the Western edge of Baghdad. [Update: I previously had written that the palace was in the middle of the Tigris, which was geographically incorrect. My error.] Against a backdrop of swaying palm trees and the morning sunlight shimmering on the water's surface, Ambassador Khalilzad and LTG Peter Chiarelli addressed an audience of U.S. servicemen (with a few Iraqi generals prominently positioned in the first row).

While fighting back the tears through prayers and renditions of "Amazing Grace" and "Taps," my mind went back to President Lincoln's words commemorating those who had given their lives defending their nation at Gettysburg:
In a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Shane wrote from his hospital bed that he had to get better because "This job is not finished!" Without knowing it at the time, he was the embodiment of what Lincoln must have meant when he said "From these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion."

The friends lost in this conflict will not have died in vain if we can consolidate the tentative victory that democracy has won over terror here in Iraq. Instead of being memorialized in stone, Shane and the others' will have a living monument of a nation freed from tyranny and repression.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

David Interlude (VI)

In honor of the little guy's five-month birthday. Marya recently sent me a DVD with about a half hour of footage of David being David. It is the best care package I have received to date, and there isn't a day that goes by where I don't spend at least 15 minutes watching him play in his jumperoo and coo at the camera. (The scenes where he first wakes up, and laughs through a bath are pretty amazing as well).

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Rocket Man

As I mentioned earlier, about three weeks ago a colleague's trailer here in the IZ was hit by indirect fire. Check out the pictures below.

The round (either a small artillery shell or mortar round) went through another trailer, through two sandbags, through Peter's trailer, and embedded four feet in the ground below. Luckily, it failed to detonate. Peter was not in the trailer when it was struck, although since it came through below his bed he likely would not have been seriously hurt.

Still, it makes the bullet that struck my trailer back in March seem almost inconsequential by comparison.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Two Op-Eds

Two op-eds caught my eye yesterday for vastly different reasons.

First, is Peter Wehner's piece in the Wall Street Journal, "Revisionist History",which dispels several myths about the war that have unfortunately become conventional wisdom. (I wrote a 40+ page "White Paper" on this while at DoD, that unfortunately never saw the light of day).

The second piece is by Richard Cohen on the trial of Saddam Hussein. Although Cohen makes some very good points about the contradictions by those who oppose the liberation of Iraq yet support intervention in Darfur, he buries this insight in a broader rant against the Bush administration's conduct of the Saddam trial.

Cohen writes: So we are stuck with a trial that has become a microcosm of the way the Bush administration planned and executed the war itself. On most days, it has been a sputtering charade, which somehow has managed not to highlight the many crimes of Saddam Hussein but to obscure them. This is an important point, for behind the stated reason for the war itself -- ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction -- was the repellent nature of Hussein's regime. It was no mere run-of-the-mill Middle Eastern dictatorship, like that of next-door Syria or, in its own way, Iran, but a place where the state could murder casually and with impunity -- and often did.

Cohen, of course, blames the Bush administration for the trials shortcomings, even though it is a sovereign Iraqi court that is trying Saddam. I'm not saying that the administration and the Coalition haven't made mistakes in Iraq over the past three years, but to make this argument Cohen has to willfully ignore the inconvenient fact that the trial of Slobodan Milosevic was an equal or greater farce. Each day the Serbian strongman mocked the court, delivered tirades against the West, and tried to call Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Kofi Annan, and others as witnesses. And this was in a trial that was officially sanctioned by the UN at the Hague War Crimes Tribunal. (In other words, it would have easily passed John Kerry's "Global Test.") Fortunately/unfortunately, Milosevic died before he could bring the travesty of his planned defense (he was defending himself) to its culmination.

In Saddam's case, there actually has been substantial discussion of his crimes, only the Western media is more attracted to the spectacle of his tirades than the substance of the case against him. (A surprising exception is the BBC's web coverage.) Cohen also fails to mention the fact that this case is rather limited in that it only deals with the summary execution of 148 Shi'a from the village of Dujail, rather than the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions that he may have killed. Those atrocities, for which it is more difficult to prove Saddam's direct culpability to a legal standard, will be dealt with at another time.

Clearly, genocidal dictators deserve the harshest punishment possible. (And unlike Cohen, I have no problem with executing monsters such as Saddam). But it is sadly the nature of the these trials that allow the defendants to turn them into "charades," not any decision made by the Admininstration.

Cohen deserves credit for highlighting two important issues. Unfortunately, his pathological need to blame the Bush administration undermines his sincere effort to highlight the crimes of Saddam's regime.

Update: When I first posted this, I missed a typo that said that Saddam was on trial for the execution of 14 Shi'a in Dujail. The correct number is 148, and has been edited above.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Even Al Qaeda Says We're Winning In Iraq

Earlier in the month, CENTCOM released a translation of an intercepted letter from "Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia" (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's group) and their associates in Al Qaeda (Bin Laden, Zawahiri, et al). The full translation can be found

A few of the passages merit comment:
"The mujahidin . . . are not considered more than a daily annoyance to the [Iraqi] government. . . . Most of the mujahidin groups in Baghdad are generally groups of assassin [sic] without any organized military capabilities. . . . Every year is worse than the previous year as far as the Mujahidin's control and influence over Baghdad."

And further down:
"The military commander of Baghdad is a courageous young man with a good determination but he has little and simple experience in the military field and does not have a clear vision about the current stage and how to deal with it. . . . The current commander of Northern al-Karkh is very concerned because of his deteriorating security situation caused by being pursued by the Americans."

So what is a terrorist organization to do when its leaders are being hounded, its attacks are ineffective, and its strategic situation is deteriorating? Rely on the Western media, of course!!:
"The policy followed by the brothers in Baghdad is a media oriented policy without a clear comprehensive plan to capture an area or an enemy center. . . . The significance of the strategy of their work is to show in the media that the American and the government do not control the situation and there is resistance against them."

In other words, Al Qaeda has failed in its strategic goal of preventing Sunni participation in the political process and the formation of Iraq's first-ever democratically-elected permanent government. However, because it is impossible to guard every street corner throughout the country, they can still enjoy some tactical successes in detonating bombs against Iraqi civilians. Thus, they are hoping for the equivalent of a buzzer beating "Hail Mary" pass in which the Western media is duped into reporting these limited tactical accomplishments as strategic success, thereby weakening U.S. resolve and leading to the withdrawal of American forces.

This strategy, borne of desperation, closely echoes the strategy successfully utilized by the North Vietnamese a generation ago. In a 1990 interview with historian Stanley Karnow, General Vo Nguyen Giap explained: "We were not strong enough to drive out a half-million American troops, but that wasn't our aim. Our intention was to break the will of the American government to continue to the war."

The media's misreporting of the Tet Offensive (a strategic disaster for the Viet Cong) enabled this strategy to work. Will history repeat itself for Al Qaeda in Iraq?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Two Small Causes for Optimism

Following Shane's death, the last week here has been pretty depressing. The random nature and magnitude of such a tragedy almost seem capable of overwhelming the faiths that lead us to pursue noble causes and to justify hardship and sacrifice.

Yet two recent scenes since that IED attack, as trivial as they appear in the grand course of this conflict, come to mind and allow me maintain my optimism for Iraq, its people, and our mission here.

First, as I noted earlier, two weeks ago I went up to Erbil to attend the inauguration of the Kurdish Regional Government. To get from the International Zone to the Baghdad Airport, we traveled via helicopter over the same neighborhoods I saw from above last year while in Iraq with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. Almost exactly a year later, the raw sewage that had lined the streets in many neighborhoods was gone. Multiple satellite dishes crowded the rooftop of every house and construction on new buildings was visible. And whereas last year there was hardly any traffic on the street, now there was that frustrating indicator of economic activity -- a traffic jam -- visible below. (Sunday is obviously not a holiday in Iraq). In other words, rather than being on the brink of civil war, as so often portrayed in the media, the Western districts of Baghdad appeared to be on the brink of normalcy.

Second, while visiting Shane at the Combat Support Hospital in the IZ, I made a dash back to my trailer to get a pair of eyeglasses for him to borrow so that he would not be blind throughout what was expected to be a short stay in Germany. It was about 95 degrees outside and sunny, and I was sweating profusely from trying to run despite the additional weight of my body armor. On my way back to the hospital, I came across a group of Iraqi soldiers lying on the sidewalk outside one of Saddam's palaces, clinging to its concrete wall for the meager shade it provided. As I huffed past, one of the Iraqis called out to me: "American."

I turned and looked back. He stood up and put his hand over his heart (an Arabic gesture of friendship), and said "Thank you." He didn't know anything about me other than my rank or nationality, and he certainly didn't know that I was running to see a friend for the last time who would eventually lose his life defending Iraqis' freedom.

Neither of these moments will do anything to ease the Mahaffee family's pain, or to justify the apparent senselessness of his (or 2,400+ other soldiers') death. But they did demonstrate that Iraq is making progress despite the continuing violence, and that there are Iraqis who appreciate the sacrifices U.S. servicemen are making.

These moments provide a small glimmer of hope in a week filled with sadness.

Baghdad's Lionel Richie Obsession


There is good news that comes out of Iraq, there is sad news that comes out of Iraq.

And then there is news that is just too weird to categorize either way.

Apparently, Germany has David Hasselhof, and Iraq has . . . Lionel Richie?!?

According to the story linked above, for some inexplicable reason Lionel Richie ("All Night Long," "Running With the Night," "Hello") is wildly popular in Baghdad.

I can just see it now, a bunch of Mahdi Army thugs hiding out somewhere in Sadr City, cleaning their rifles and listening to "Say You, Say Me."

Like I said, sometimes this place is just weird.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


From a recent speech by Senator John McCain. The speech itself wasn't that good, but this passage summarizes the arrogance for which I feel I owe a lot of people in my life an apology:

When I was a young man, I was quite infatuated with self-expression, and rightly so because, if memory conveniently serves, I was so much more eloquent, well-informed, and wiser than anyone else I knew. It seemed I understood the world and the purpose of life so much more profoundly than most people. I believed that to be especially true with many of my elders, people whose only accomplishment, as far as I could tell, was that they had been born before me, and, consequently, had suffered some number of years deprived of my insights. I had opinions on everything, and I was always right. I loved to argue, and I could become understandably belligerent with people who lacked the grace and intelligence to agree with me. With my superior qualities so obvious, it was an intolerable hardship to have to suffer fools gladly. So I rarely did. All their resistance to my brilliantly conceived and cogently argued views proved was that they possessed an inferior intellect and a weaker character than God had blessed me with, and I felt it was my clear duty to so inform them.

Quote of the Day (VII)

Because I can never hope to be as eloquent, here is "Lincoln's Letter to Mrs. Bixby" in its entirety:

"Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

A. Lincoln

Monday, May 15, 2006

Shane Mahaffee

I can't even believe I am writing this message, but our dear brother Shane has passed away. He fought as hard as he could, but he couldn't do it any longer. thank you for all your prayers and thoughts. now, we have to take care of his wife and kids in the way that he would have wanted it.

I came into work this morning and received this email from Shane's sister-in-law Patti, who'd been providing updates on his condition.

It felt like I'd been kicked in the stomach. I'm absolutely heartbroken about now.

I spent four hours with Shane at the hospital, and was the last of the "Dirty Dozen" (our nickname for the group of IRR officers who were at activated at Ft. Jackson and in the SOCOM CA course Ft. Bragg together) to see him alive. Despite the pain, his spirits remained high, and the doctors seemed confident that he would eventually make a full recovery.

Shane was a true patriot who loved his country, believed in the mission in Iraq, and wanted to make whatever contribution he could. Shane was also a natural leader. As a cadet, I once heard that the Israeli Army used to base their promotions based upon how one's peers responded to a simple question: "Would you follow CPT X into combat?" Although this story may be apocryphal, I don't think there was a single officer in those barracks who would not have answered affirmatively in Shane's case. I was at his bedside at the Combat Support Hospital when the MNF-I Command Sergeant Major came to visit Shane. On the notepad provided by the hospital staff, he wrote "I need to get better and get back with my team," and "This job is not done!"

In others, this would have come across as false bravado. In Shane, it was a mark of his true character.

On the surface, Shane appeared to be a caricature of a Chicago criminal defense attorney -- tough, direct, and profane. But he was also be incredibly generous and kind. He never hesitated to help a fellow officer or soldier who had a problem. When he called home and spoke to his two children (a four year old daughter and an 18-month old son) he transformed into something entirely different, assuming a child's voice as he asked "Sweetie, tell Da-da what you did today?" or "Are you trying to trick Da-da?"

As I type these words, I'm looking at a picture of my own son David, now four months old. The highest tribute I can think to share with you is that I believe I could do far worse if I managed to be raise him to have Shane's best attributes, or if I could be as good a father as Shane was to his children.

I can't imagine what Jen and his family must be going through. My sincerest prayers and condolences go out to the entire Mahaffee family.

I'm fine, and still safe, but this really sucks.

I wish I could be more eloquent, but am too overwhelmed just now.


Sunday, May 14, 2006

The New York Times -- Military Geniuses

From the Corrections section of Friday's New York Times:

"An article and a picture caption yesterday about the funeral of Sgt. Jose Gomez of Queens, who was killed on April 20 in Iraq, referred incorrectly to the Army representative who comforted his mother. She was a sergeant first class — an enlisted woman, not an officer. The article also misstated the name of a service medal that a general presented to Sergeant Gomez's mother. It is a Purple Heart, not a Purple Star."

So let me get this straight. Neither the reporter, nor the editors, could differentiate between an officer and an NCO's rank? And they had never heard of the Purple Heart, the oldest military decoration in the American military? (Or, to be kind, maybe they just ate Lucky Charms that morning).

And these are the people we're supposed to trust for expert reporting and analysis on the war in Iraq?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Puttin on the Ritz (Carlton in Doha, Qatar)`

Day Two of my trip with the Ambassador. As always, I can not discuss the substantive details of any meeting. Also, I apologize for not having photos from the trip, but to be honest, I didn't want to look like a tourist while traveling with the Ambassador.

- As soon as we get off the plane in the middle of the night in Qatar, we are hit by a blast of hot air. The Persian Gulf, apparently doesn't enjoy the same cool Spring weather as does Amman.

- It is about twenty minutes form the airfield to the hotel, but even in this relatively short drive I'm struck by the amount of construction on condominium developments and "McMansions" (Middle-Eastern style, of course), I see en route. Doha bears a slight resemblance to Las Vegas, in that out of nowhere in the middle of the desert the lights of a modern city suddenly appear, and everywhere somebody is building something. (The next day I see a sign for "The Family Fun Park of 1,001 Delights" with a roller coaster visible in the distance). I'm told by somebody from the U.S. Embassy that Qatar's growth rate is something like 20% per year.

- Our hotel turns out to be the Ritz-Carlton, Doha. Whereas I only had a normal room in Amman, this time I have two nights in a junior suite that is larger than Marya and I's last apartment in Quincy, MA. (And yes, I recognize that by revealing this I immediately squander all sympathy anybody may have had for me). The lobby is filled with Qatari men in dishashas and kaffiyehs, Western businessmen, and some U.S. military personnel who are attending a conference. There is also a conference "The Future of Palestine" by a group called the Islamic Scholars Association (or names similar to those) whose logo is a map that, of course, does not include Israel.

- Our first appointment of the day is at the Royal Palace, where the Ambassador has an audience with the Emir, followed by lunch with the Deputy Emir/Heir Apparent. What the Jordanian royal palace lacks in ostentatious decorating, the Qataris make up for in excess. We enter the palace into a four-story atrium with a gleaming marble interior, and massive chandeliers. (For science fiction/fantasy geeks, think the royal hall in "Conan the Destroyer").

- Before meeting the Emir, the Ambassador meets with the Qatari foreign minister. The minister is a tall, impressive looking man, wearing a silk robe over his crisply pressed white cotton dishasa. His office is roughly 50'x30', with portraits of the Emir and Deputy Emir on one side, and floor-to-ceiling windows on the other that provide a spectacular view of downtown Doha across the aqualine blue waters of the bay/Persian Gulf. His desk is ten feet long, and a 25'x10' carpet covers the center of the room. About five minutes into the meeting, three servants in white dishashis enter the room bearing golden teapots and pour us shots of coffee. The minister's deputy uses this occasion to retrieve a partially smoked cigar, which the minister promptly relights and smokes throughout the meeting.

- As the Ambassador meets privately with the Emir, we are taken to another waiting room with the Qatari Ambassadors for Arab and European Affairs. At 1245 the Deputy Emir enters, and we are taken into the next room for lunch. The menu at the Royal Palace? For starters, a lobster salad with salmon sushi, asparagus, and greens, supplemented by bread with two kinds of hummus, tabouli, a small Mediterranean salad, and yogurt. The main course is roasted beef filet with potatoes, sauteed pea pods, and yellow rice. For dessert, we have a chocolate truffle pyramid with berry sauce and fresh fruit. To say the least, it was a nice break from the Dining Facility. (Also, there was about one waiter for every two guests, so that everytime I had a sip of water or orange juice they refilled my glass right away).

- In the afternoon the Ambassador is interviewed live at Al Jazeera's headquarters. Although we have the rest of the evening free, I'm busy drafting a speech for Iraqi Media Day the next day, and hence don't get to enjoy all the amenities of the Ritz. We fly back to Iraq the next morning, and by Thursday night I'm back in my own trailer, sleeping on a mattress who's exposed coils poke into my ribs throughout the night. This has to be one of the greatest comedowns in the history of man.

Friday, May 12, 2006

"The Best Mexican in Amman"

Some observations and anecdotes from my recent 72-hour trip to Jordan and Qatar, Part I

- We arrived in Amman on Monday night. We were immediately taken from the airplane to a private terminal while the paperwork for our passports were processed. As we waited beneath two large pictures of King Hussein and King Abdullah, porters came out to serve us cups of tea.

- On the twenty minute drive from the airfield to our hotel, we drove past what appeared to be very old neighborhoods built into steep hillsides, with narrow alleyways or stair cases climbing the hill between buildings. Even the masonry on the modern buildings was the same shade of tan as the granite hills they on which they sat, so as to blend seamlessly into the background.

- The sidewalks were lit by bright lights from shops with Arabic lettering, although some Western stores (i.e. Canon, Popeye's, Benihana's) were in English. The people on the street were a mixture of religious Sunni wearing skull caps and colorless dishashas ("man-dresses" or nightshirts) to working class Arabs wearing flannel.

- We didn't get to eat dinner on Monday night until around 11PM, which was an hour behind Baghdad time, so it was like eating dinner at midnight. On the recommendation from the Foreign Service Officer I was with, we went to "Cinqo du Mayo," which he promised was "the best Mexican in Amman." This probably is less impressive than it sounded at such a late hour. Don't get me wrong, it was not a bad restaurant, and I definitely enjoyed my first margarita in two months. But given that it was my first trip to Jordan, I honestly wished we'd chosen a cuisine a little more native to the Middle East than Mexican.

- The next day we attended the "Rebuild Iraq 2006" Conference, at which Ambassador Khalilzad was the keynote speaker for the morning session. About 400 Iraqi and Western businessmen crowded into a hotel ballroom to hear the panel of speakers that preceded the Ambassador, which included two Iraqi cabinet ministers. Amongst the other things Iraqi leaders need is a course on public speaking. They tended to drone on in monotone voices, reading their remarks as if they were leaning into a strong wind. The interpreters were also not having a good day, as they routinely fumbled the Arabic-to-English translations. (They did better translating from English-to-Arabic, however).

- The Ambassador's speech was received very well. It received some press coverage, which I'll try to link to if possible.

- Later that morning, the Ambassador had an audience with King Abdullah at the Royal Palace. The Palace is a surprisingly unpretentious mansion (there are gaudier houses in McLean or Potomac) accessed by a private road that snakes up a shaded, tree-lined hill. We sat with the Ambassador for roughly twenty minutes in a bright waiting room, the walls of which were covered by plaques, daggers, machine guns, and other paraphanalia from the King's days as a Commander in the Jordanian Special Forces. (Again, cups of tea were brought to us as we waited).

- While the Ambassador was in with the King (apparently I didn't rate an audience, which is okay, I just won't clear my schedule for His Highness the next time he comes to DC) and a lunch with Prince Ali (married to the beautiful former CNN Middle East correspondent Rim Brahimi), the traveling staff went to the U.S. Embassy to wait. Along the way we passed a large building on a hilltop with four minarets, which was described to me as a "mosque slash car museum slash intelligence headquarters." At the bottom of the hill from the King Hussein Medical Center, bleachers sat on the side of the road as if a parade were about to begin.

- I thought that Amman was beautiful, as you always seemed to either be on top of a hill with a panoramic view of the city, or in a valley surrounded by Mediterranean looking towns clinging to the hills. Yet if the city had been flat, it would have been fairly unremarkable. Also, there was a disturbing number of intersections and traffic circles with no lane markings, so driving through Amman felt a little like reverting to a Hobbesian state of nature.

- Between the Embassy and Prince Ali's house (where we picked the Ambassador up after his lunch) we passed a building marked as the "Philadelphia Hospital." (Unfortunately, nobody was able to explain this one to me). Also, atop one hill we saw signs for the "Mecca Mall" with a giant palm tree logo. Along the sides of the main road, barely ten minutes away from the center of Amman, people were farming small fields, using old workhorses to pull plows as buses and BMWs sped past. Update: Upon my return to Baghdad, I had dinner with a friend who has traveled to Amman several times. When I commented on how beautiful I thought Amman's geography was, he said that its hills had the source of comment ever since it was Philadephia, the Roman name for Amman. So that not only explains the name for the hospital, but suggests I need to go back and do some more historical reading.

- Prince Ali's house was a beautiful hilltop mansion. Amman was blessed with beautiful spring weather during the visit, a pleasant breeze (much cooler than Baghdad), and it was still early enough in the year that the grassy hills around the mansion (and the city) were still green rather than brown. This gave the Prince's mansion a distinctly California feel. As we picked up the Ambassador, Prince Ali and Princess Rim came out to wave goodbye to him. The Prince was wearing a blue blazer with khakis, thereby proving that my wife was wrong to say that look has gone out of style!! (But this means it was a good thing I didn't attend the lunch, as I was wearing the exact same combination, including the blue dress shirt).

- In the afternoon we attended a "Matchmaking Event" for 100 Iraqi businessmen to meet representatives of American companies. The Ambassador then was given a brief tour of the large pavilion in which companies (Iraq, Middle Eastern, and Western) were displaying their products. Traveling with Ambassador Khalilzad gives one the impression of what it is like to be a part of a rock star's entourage. Everywhere he went in the pavilion he was mobbed by Iraqis trying to have their pictures taken with him, to thank him and to shake his hand. After he leaves his post as ambassador, he could make a fortune as a product spokesperson in Iraq.

- Across from the pavilion grounds was the King Abdullah Mosque. We passed dozens of mosques during the day, but his one stood out with its giant blue dome and two towering minarets, each of which had sharper angles than usual, sort of reminding me of Isengard from Lord of the Rings.

- We took off that night after a reception at the U.S. Embassy. I saw the small, rotund Iraqi I recognized from meetings in DC and my first day here at the Embassy. He came up to briefly say hello, ask how I was doing, and then ran off to mingle with some of the Iraqi ministers who were present. Unfortunately, I didn't get a card from him, so I still don't know his name.

- We left Amman that night for the almost three hour flight to Doha, Qatar. I'll have the details on that part of the trip tomorrow.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Praying for Shane Mahaffee

I'm back "safely" in Baghdad after a 72-hour trip to Amman, Jordan, and Doha, Qatar, with Ambassador Khalilzad. I'll have much more to write about those trips in the coming days.

I mentioned very briefly on Monday that a buddy of mine from Ft. Jackson and Ft. Bragg, CPT Shane Mahaffee, had been seriously wounded in an IED attack last week. I'd originally written about this as soon as I heard, but after visiting him in the hospital realized that not all of his friends and family had been notified yet, and that some may accidentally find out through this web blog. So the only way you would have seen this post before I deleted it was if you were reading BOM between 0500-0600 EST on Saturday morning (and if so, really, I appreciate your interest and support, but get a life).

However, a friend of Shane's family has been mass emailing updates on his condition for a few days now, so it is now safe to talk about hiim.

Last Friday Shane was in a convoy near Hilla, about 60 miles SW of Baghdad, when his Humvee was struck by an IED with a shaped charge. Two of his fellow passengers were killed pretty much instantly, while another died on the Medevac helicopter. Shane's NCO, SGT Berry, who was also with us in the barracks at Ft. Bragg, lost his arm. Shane was "lucky" in a sense, only taking shrapnel through the back of his shoulder and into his left lung, which subsequently collapsed. Even as he was receiving medical treatment on the scene, he repeatedly insisted that they take care of his soldiers first.

I found out that he'd been transported to the Combat Support Hospital in the International Zone. I went and spent about five hours by his bedside as he passed in and out of consciousness, loaning him a pair of eyeglasses and providing updates to his wife Jennifer back in Chicago. Two other members of the "Dirty Dozen" (our name for the group of recalled officers who moved from inprocessing at Ft. Jackson to the Special Ops' Civil Affairs Course at Ft. Bragg together), Navy Captain Hank Domeracki and CPT Matt Lawton, were there to support Shane as well. (Matt was actually in the rear vehicle of the convoy when Shane's vehicle was hit. He subsequently ran the length of the convoy -- approximately 150 meters -- in full battle gear two or three times trying to help treat the wounded and call in a Medevac. Matt was understandably distraught to have witnessed such horror, but I hope that in time he realizes that he performed heroically).

As of last Saturday, Shane's condition appeared to have stabilized. They performed surgery to remove this shrapnel, and although they had to crack his chest, all they did was remove a part of his clavicle and his "Zeffir Process (sp?)" a small bone at the bottom of his breast plate.

Shane was conscious for most of the time I was with him, and demonstrating the strength of character that endeared him to all who spent time with him in the barracks. He was on a ventilator after the surgery, but still able to write notes. One of the first things he asked was "How are the troops?" When the Command Sergeant Major for MNF-I came to visit him, he wrote "I need to get better and get back with my team," and "This job is not done!"

We read stories of soldiers like this all the time, but it never seems quite real. But I stood there amazed at Shane's selflessness and dedication even as he was swathed in bandages, blood coming out of the tubes in his chest, and a breathing tube down his throat. Real heroes do exist, even if they don't get a fraction of the attention that those scumbags at Abu Ghraib received back in 2004.

I stayed with Shane until he was helo'd up to Balad, and eventually flown to Landstuhl, Germany. However, since then his condition has taken a turn for the worse. He has developed pneumonia and a pulminary embollism (a.k.a. blood clot) in his "good" lung. Although he is making progress and the doctors believe he will pull through, he is still in critical condition.

So I'm asking everybody who reads this to please say a prayer for Shane, as well as for his wife and two small children. Any support we can offer, whether spiritual or physical, is only a fraction of what Shane would have done had the situation been reversed. Thank you, and G-d bless you all.


Monday, May 08, 2006

Nothing to Report . . .

Other than that:
- Last week a friend's trailer in the International Zone was hit by a rocket (luckily, he wasn't in it at the time);
- Another friend was badly wounded in an IED attack (he survived, thank G-d, albeit with shrapnel to the lung that will require six months of rehab; three other soldiers in his vehicle were killed, and another whom I knew lost an arm);
- Sunday I traveled to Erbil to attend the inauguration of the Kurdish Regional Government; and
- As I write, there is a shalal (sandstorm) raging outside. The sky is suffused with a violent orange glow, the tops of 40-ft palm trees are blown almost horizontal, and visibility is less than ten feet.

But other than that nothing is going on.

Friday, May 05, 2006

General McCaffery on Iraq

Check out the link below to a very interesting summary of General Barry McCaffery's recent fact-finding mission to Iraq on The Belmont Club. (And yes, it took me four months to finally figure out how to attach links).

As the author notes, Gen. McCaffery opposed the invasion of Iraq, and was once describe by The New Republic as Secretary Rumsfeld's harshest critic. (He has probably lost this title since then). However, after visiting Iraq again last April, he found among other things that:
- The insurgents have been decisively defeated strategically;
- The Iraqi army has made remarkable progress (unfortunately, the Iraqi police are much further behind);
- For a variety of reasons, the media is doing a poor job of reporting the war, which risks undermining the success our troops have had here; and
- U.S. government agencies other than the military and CIA are for various reasons short-changing the war effort.

Anyhow, read the full report for yourself. It confirms much of what I've been writing at DoD and the NSC for over a year now.