Monday, February 23, 2009
Church watchers have been expecting it. It is finally reality.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee has been elevated to lead the Archdiocese of New York. It is an appointment that will certainly bring a Cardinal's hat to the young archbishop.
Archbishop Dolan is a man of incredible energy. He embodies the dynamic Orthodoxy that John Paul the Great said the Church needed. He is incredibly personable and should be able to reach out across the Archdiocese in a way not seen since the great John Cardinal O'Connor. He improved vocations in the Milwaukee Archdiocese from the moribund levels of Archbishop Weakland and he should do the same in New York. He inherited a diocese in disarray from the heterodoxy of Weakland and has done a great deal to restore the vitality of Catholicism in Milwaukee. For that, Milwaukee Catholics will be eternally grateful.
It is a position of awesome responsibility, but it is a role he will be able to fill. When Francis Cardinal George of Chicago steps aside in a few years, Archbishop Dolan (by then certainly a Cardinal) will step in as the leading voice of the Catholic Church in America. It will be an unquestioningly Orthodox voice, but it will be truly Catholic, compassionate, and pastoral. It will be clear.
God Bless Archbishop Dolan.
For more please read First Things, Rocco Palmo's Whispers in the Loggia, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
One of the biggest missions of the United States in Iraq right now is reconstruction. We aren't just rebuilding Iraq from the damage caused by the violence of the last few years or of the initial invasion to topple Saddam Hussein. Too many people have forgotten, or willfully ignore, the violent past of Saddam Hussein and his conscious choice to ignore his people and deprive them of basic needs. In the early 1980s Iraq was a modern nation with many of the amenities that citizens (males) enjoy in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. In the 1980s Saddam plunged his country into an eight year war with the Islamic Republic of Iran that more closely resembled World War I then war in the modern age.
Following his invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Iraq began to face increasing economic sanctions. Saddam chose to use what money he did have, and the graft from the Oil for Food Scandal, to lavish upon his ruling class and his many palaces. He also used it for his WMD program, though at some point, that program was largely dismantled. The end result, is that prior to 2003, the Iraqi public had faced nearly two decades of conscious neglect from their leadership. That is the real damage that we are working to undo.
One of the key tools in this fight for reconstruction is the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). The PRT is an arm of the Department of State and is made up of economists, engineers, lawyers, and other professionals who seek to mentor Iraqi leaders, improve essential services, and build a responsive LOCAL government that can provide for the needs of the population. They are a valuable ally, though since they are civilians (and State department types), they can be frustrating. However, they offer a lot and good units recognize that and seek to leverage the PRT and ePRT (embedded PRT) to work with the local Nahia (township) and Qada (County) governments.
The PRT is very focused on growing private enterprise in Iraq. They recognize that private enterprise (read: capitalism) is the economic force that has done more to alleviate poverty, increase access to services, and improve quality of life than anything else in history. It is somewhat ironic that at a time that we appear to be turning away from it, the rest of the world is recognizing its importance. As the head of the PRT said about accountability and ensuring successful private enterprise, "If you are a business and you cannot make your payment, you aren't a business, that's welfare". Never a truer word was spoken, but somewhat ironic given that fact that neither our banks, nor our own government can apparently see that. We have higher expectations of the Iraqis, lol. But it is true.
One weapon is building an effective banking system. Capital is what drives economic improvement and the growth of private enterprise. Banking is what gave rise to "modern" western civilization. Too often we think that if we throw money at the problem, we should be able to reap economic success and growth. One idea we are looking at is the concept championed by the Nobel Prize Winning Economist, Dr. Muhammad Yunis, who wrote "Banking for the Poor". Dr. Yunis does not think that poverty is solved by handouts (read welfare). Rather he proposed micro-loans as a means of promoting private enterprise and economic growth. We build banking cooperatives, where individuals are responsible to one another, and pay back the bank on their own, plus the fee, and in the process create capital. Take 5 people and give them $1000. Over the course of the year they pay back to their credit union. After a year that credit union has $5000 plus whatever interest or fee was charged. In an Islamic country one has to use a fee, because interest itself is contrary to Shari'a law (interestingly enough, Shari'a banking has seemed to weather the storm so far, according to the BBC at least). Our credit union now has $1000 (assuming it was $200 per loan fee) to loan back out. Our original recipients of the loans now compose the Board of Directors of the credit union. We have created Capital through private enterprise and accountability. That is far more effective than grants. Micro-grants have a place too, but Micro-loans can help build up an economic system.
It's an interesting situation, but the PRT has a lot to offer and a great deal of benefit to the Iraqi People, even if we are looking at a bunch of academics.
On a completely unrelated note, this is a link for a posting at the Huffington Post that I consider a must-read on reconstruction in Iraq (a surprising source I know). Thanks to the Opinionated Catholic for point it out.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
We are further removed from the recent Iraqi Election and the initial results have been released. If the initial results are any indication, there is quite a bit of hope for Iraq. While many have written off Iraq as a failure, the continued dedication of soldiers during the Surge and their cooperation with the Iraqi people have paid dividends. The initial results have been focused on security with economic gains as well. We are now looking at the potential political end-game.
Imad Allawi is the leader of the National Iraqi List. He is Shi'a, but a secular one and is committed to an Iraqi state for all Iraqis. He was Iraq's first Prime Minister following the liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein. He was picked at the time because of his appeal to Iraqis across the sectarian fault-lines. When Iraq held its first election he was defeated and replaced by Prime Minister Jaafari and eventually the current Prime Minister Maliki. Prime Minister Maliki has been a strong partner who has helped Iraq's security and combated militants on both the Shi'a and Sunni sides. It appears that we are gearing up towards the next election where we will see Maliki and Allawi face off. It may yet be the case that the Iraqi people vindicate the initial American choice for Prime Minister if they select former Prime Minister Allawi. Allawi may be the future of Iraq.
The National Iraqi List fared well in the recent Provincial Election according to initial results. It also appears that the Sunnis have fared very well, especially in Diyala and Nineva provinces, provinces where they make up a significant population, but were under-represented due to the previous boycott (N.B. Boycotting an Election tends to significantly undercut your percentage of the vote). Prime Minister Maliki's Da'wa party fared well throughout the Shi'a south and in Baghdad. In addition, the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq (ISCI), formerly SCIRI (Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq), was elect orally hammered throughout the country. ISCI was an anti-Saddam organization that spent most of the 1980s and 1990s in Iran planning for the day when they could return to Iraq. As their name indicates, it was significantly influenced by Iran's Islamic theology. ISCI offers a possible future for Iraq. As does the Secularist Shi'a National List of Imad Allawi and the Shi'a Nationalist List of Prime Minister Maliki. Unlike under Saddam, Iraq has real choices and real freedom to choose their political future.
It makes for a very exciting time in Iraq, to watch a nebulous democracy struggle to emerge into its own. America had its own struggle between the Federalists and Democratic Republicans and now Iraq will struggle politically for its own future.
Friday, February 6, 2009
Partnership is the buzz word today for what we are currently doing in Iraq. We are partnering with our ISF (Iraqi Security Forces) Brothers to improve the security in our Area of Operations. With the signing of the Bi-Lateral Security Agreement (also known as SOFA) we are partners (the lesser partner) with our Iraqi counterparts. We are here to facilitate their improvement in capabilities, to assist them in operations, and to grow them into a professional military force.
Good units have been doing this in Iraq for years. The 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team (my last unit) was partnered with two Iraqi Army Divisions in Ninewa Province. By the end of the Brigade's time in Mosul, the Iraqi Army was in the lead with CF providing support for their operations. The full implementation of Counter-Insurgency Tactics during the Bush-Petraeus Surge was able to turn around security, partially through the full partnering with the Iraqi Security Forces. When we deployed to Iraq this fall, we continued that strategy and partnered with the local ISF.
When the new Division HQs came in they implemented a new terminology for partnership: "Through,With, By". Those three words govern how we operate within the ISF. Granted, everyone who listens to those words usually will switch the order and also will give you a different definition for what exactly it means. However, it is still fundamentally partnership. We work through the Iraqis, we work with the Iraqis, and we work by the Iraqis. As they stand up (to use the words of former President Bush), we will stand down. That is the definition of partnership. We are working with the Iraqis to assist them. Our Rifle Companies and Platoons have been partnered with the Iraqis for years now, accompanying them on operations and providing tactical oversight.
As a Staff Officer, we haven't had the same level of partnership with the Iraqi Security Forces. That is changing. I've begun holding regular meetings with my Iraqi Army S2 partners. These staff meetings can be very interesting, especially when you consider the substantial language differences. Terps (interpreters) are an incredibly important asset that enable these operations. At times the Iraqi Army Officers get really animated and start talking really fast, and all I can do is sit back for the next 15 minutes. The Terps do their best, but sometimes you completely lose the conversation and just sit there.
Our Joint S2/S3 Meetings involve discussions about security and specific events we are preparing for. Afterwards, the meetings are followed by food. We jokingly refer to it as a "Goat-Grab". The local fare isn't that bad, except when you bother to consider where the water came from. I love the bread, that's a definite high point for me. So partnership does have its definite positives.
We had our first recent BDE wide S2/S3 huddle with the Iraqi Army. It was quite different from previous meetings as we sought to share with the Iraqi Army what we were seeing and what operations we were undertaking. It might have been simpler, but it probably went further into ensuring continued security success. After the meeting, the IA general present took some time to thank us and every American. He said he was grateful for the sacrifice they have made in blood to bring democracy to Iraq. It's something that isn't said enough, but does need to be said. Even if it was part of the pleasantries, it was nonetheless, true.
Our partnership also takes on a level of "Teach, Coach, Mentor". That's a phrase we use for our training back in the states. It's how we develop junior soldiers and leaders through the Teach, Coach, and Mentor program. We now have to do that for the Iraqis. We have to teach them how to do their jobs, coach them on it, and then provide the oversight/mentorship for them. It's all part of our partnership. It’s how we move forward, and it’s how we can return home, having set Iraq on the course for success and security.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
I’ve had the privilege (or the pain) of enjoying two MAJOR elections in the last couple of months. As we are all aware (I hope), the United States had an election. What’s odd is that the Iraqi election (in which I didn’t vote), will probably have more of an impact on me and the current situation in Iraq than the U.S. election. In Iraq, there is supposed to be another election this summer at some point and then again this time next year (I’m trying to find an Imad Allawi Bumper Sticker).
Most Americans are probably unaware that Iraq held an election and many more are probably unaware that it was bloodless and peaceful. The media pretty much stopped covering Iraq once the surge achieved success, and with the stabilization of Iraq and falling bloodshed, the media no longer had the energy to cover it. A “reporter” who writes for the LA Times derided the Iraqi election because it involved checkpoints and screening areas where voters were searched (practices that are used in much of the Global South – Third World), and thus wasn’t free. Fortunately, President Obama took a different view and recognized the historic nature of the recently completed election and congratulated the Iraqi people on their accomplishment.
I’ve heard reports that the election enjoyed moderate turnout. This election was a provincial election. That means that only members of the Provincial Council (Assembly) were selected. The next election will be for local leaders and the one after that will be for the Council of Representatives (the National Assembly).
Unlike in the United States where we vote for individuals, Iraq employs a multi-party European parliamentary system. Therefore, voters cast their votes for parties as opposed to individuals. After extensive calculations, parties are allocated seats on the Provincial Council. There is something like 100 lists in Diyala and 500 some candidates so as one IP Officer said, “The people are confused with so many parties, and no one party can get momentum”. Once the parties are allocated their seats (with ¼ going to women) the PC members select the governor (who doesn’t have to be a member of the Provincial Council). It’s a slower and more tedious process than ours, but it works for them (in theory once before) and does make for an interesting campaign season.
I spoke to an Iraqi Army major yesterday about the election. He observed that in our election, he knew Obama had won when Obama won Florida. We marveled at how American elections so often come down to Ohio and Florida. He said he is glad Iraq has their system, even if it is confusing. He is a fan of Maliki. Most of the members of the Iraqi Security Forces seem to be fans of the Prime Minister (at least when asked). The general consensus seems to be that Maliki, Allawi and the Islamic Party (Sunni) will do well. The hope is that this might form a moderate center that can bring Sunnis and Shi’a together against the extremes on both the Sunni and Shi’a sides. Of course, only time will tell.
Imad Allawi offers a secular Shi’a alternative and is viewed as a uniter. Prime Minister Maliki is a Shi’a nationalist who is seen as standing for a strong Iraq. The Iraqi Islamic Party is the strongest Sunni party (because they didn’t boycott the last election). It was interesting watching Iraqi television coverage of the election (couldn’t understand a word) and see how much it resembled our own. They had a panel of experts (one even had a soul patch, Iraqi MTV?) and multiple screens showing voting in many areas of Iraq. They of course had cameras to catch Prime Minister Maliki cast his ballot.
In Iraq they check ID to ensure you can vote (I think Wisconsin could learn an important lesson here – Voter ID) and afterwards you dip your finger in ink to show that you voted (again, the US could learn a lesson here). The Iraqis weren’t as ecstatic as last time waving their fingers around, but when asked, they showed the fingers.
Iraqis in general are first and foremost Nationalists. They believe in Iraq, though they would disagree on who should run things. They do not like parties that are perceived as too Iranian, that would be the definition of the BADR and ISCI. ISCI (Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq) formerly known as SCIRI (Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq) is seen as very close to Iran. The ISCI members were given asylum by Iran during the dark days of Saddam Hussein and many of their leadership came back to Iraq after the fall of Saddam. They represent part of the ruling coalition with Maliki, though there are signs they are falling out. Election politics, Iraqi style, are much more interesting, and potentially, more explosive than ours (ah, to be a young Democracy again! – side note, I recommend HBO’s John Adams).
All in all, I had a good election and saw portions of the entire AO (area of operations) as we checked on the security of the election process. It made for a long day, but it was great to be a small part of history. From working in a Joint Coordination Center (JCC) in a city in our AO, to a Joint Combat Outpost in another city, to a district police station to a polling center in the barren north, I saw quite a bit.