“Africa is a Command” – Bush to Obama to Trump

By electing President Obama we got through with race and became post-racial.  Now that we have elected Trump we are surely done with “political correctness”, so lets us speak plainly.  What is “Africa” as seen from Washington?
Well, surely Africa is a playground for so many characters, but that is nothing new at all, and we don’t really like to focus on that.  From Trump children big game hunting to politically engaged ministers and ex-diplomats involved in unusual investment schemes, Africa abides.  With election campaigns to run and autocrats to lobby for in Washington.  And missions and aid and economic investment programs continuing apace with varying degrees of pep and power in accordance with the visions and priorities of policy makers.

The thing that is new from U.S. vantage in this century is the overriding common legacy of the Bush and Obama administrations: AFRICOM (recognizing that the new command was primarily planned by the Bush Administration but did not “stand up” until Obama was almost in office).

I never had strong opinions about whether having a separate combatant command for Africa would be better or worse than than the status quo under CENTCOM, et al, that existed in my time working in Kenya and Somaliand in 2007-08.  It has escaped my attention if there are many Americans who see our policies in Africa during the Cold War as a highlight of our better angels, and I think on balance our aspirations for our relations in Africa in this century are higher than back in the past; nonetheless, largely staying out of Africa directly with our own military during the the Cold War and its initial aftermath may have reduced risks that are now potentially at play.

I think it is fair to say that ten years in the December 2006 Ethiopian operation to remove the ICU in Somalia with our support has not over time convinced all skeptics.  In fairness, perhaps, as with the French Revolution, it is still too early to tell.

So did having AFRICOM as a separate combatant command from late 2008 (with a new “whole-of-government” flavor and hardwired entre for USAID and State Department involvement) result in wiser judgment and better execution in terms of US national security and/or related and ancillary command objectives in recent years?

It is hard to judge because it is a big command (aside from the answer being, in substance, classified) but the experience with regard to the Libya intervention in particular is not altogether encouraging.

Would having CENTCOM engaged from Tampa rather than AFRICOM from Stuttgart have made a difference in some way to our consideration of intervention and our planning-perhaps more hard questions initially to Washington from a more “war wary” perspective as opposed to input from an entity with the bureaucratic equivalent of the “new car smell”?  [If inexperience was not a factor, what do we need to change to avoid future repetition if we agree that something went wrong on Libya?]

One way or the other, Trump takes office with AFRICOM at his command, a vast range of relatively small training interactions of a primarily “military diplomatic” nature all over, large exercises and larger programs with many militaries, active limited and largely low profile (from outside) “kinetic” operations  across a wide “arc of instability” and the war in Somalia with a new legal opinion, for what its worth, tying the fight against al Shabaab more explicitly to 9-11 and al Queda.  Along with a real live emergency in South Sudan and several other critical situations from a humanitarian and stability perspective.

I have declined to be persuaded by a dark view of the intentions behind standing up AFRICOM (versus the status  quo ante and any realistic alternatives).  Perhaps this is merely self protective since I am, after all, American, but also worked for much longer in the defense industry than my brief foray in paid assistance work.  But it is my attempt at honest judgment from my own experience.  Regardless, we are where we are, and Donald Trump will be giving the orders at the top to AFRICOM and whatever anyone had in mind, the fact that it is a military command rather than a civilian agency makes a great deal of difference in terms of the latitude that he inherited along with possession of the American White House.

Needless to say I hope it turns out that he has a yuge heart and bigly wisdom however fanciful that hope might look from what he has said and done so far.

How did Donald Trump get this far?; our actions in Kenya since 2007 are an example of why Americans are frustrated [updated 10/10/16]

[I updated to correct an error — the USAID Inspector General, rather than the U.S. Government Accountability Office, conducted the referenced investigation that found USAID funds went into supporting the “yes” campaign in the 2010 Kenya referendum, rather than providing only neutral process support for Kenyan voters.]

Longtime readers of this blog will well recognize Kenya as a glaring example of the refusal of our government and the surrounding networks of foreign policy elites in the larger Washington Beltway community to seriously self-assess and try to level with the American people in such a way as to build trust and confidence (even  in the face of our serious and determined foes).

The stolen election in Kenya and its aftermath in 2007-08 was clearly a catastrophe for both the Kenyan people–whom we are continually trying to assist to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year–and for security interests of the United States (whatever real or rationalized internal claims might or might not exist to justify our policy of “looking, and pointing, the other way” as we saw the election being stolen).  So far as I can assume, the Kibaki team would surely have done whatever was necessary to obtain the ECK certificate as “winner” of the election irrespective of the actual voting even if “we hadn’t even been here” (see here) but the very least we have to conclude is that our elaborate and expensive electoral assistance effort was in crucial respects a failure.  And we certainly do have to consider the possibility that the other donors could have done better to accomplish what were identified as the common objectives without us and our leading role.

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A key reason I have dedicated my “War for History” series to my late friend Joel Barkan–along with my late friend Peter Oriare–was that Joel was one of the rare people in Washington willing to speak out when he saw our country making what he saw as a foreign policy mistake.  He wisely warned IRI that we were risking embarrassment along with the State Department.  Was he thanked when it became obvious that he had been right?–no, he was attacked instead, in the finest Washington tradition of “CYA by pointing your finger at the person who suggested you ought not to show it in the first place”.

Having found myself playing a bit part due to working for a “charity” that got tagged, along with USAID, by our Ambassador to play a role neither my organization nor USAID sought as of the time I moved my family to Kenya to help out, I find myself being the only one seemingly willing to offer any type of public mea culpa for those decisions that I would make differently in hindsight.  And I know that I absolutely did my best even though I was not successful overall.  I cannot help but wonder if that is really the case for everyone, given all the various potential interests to be served.

In spite of how badly things went we have just given ourselves credit–and let the individuals who were in key roles publicly pat themselves on the back–for helping to keep the aftermath of the stolen election from being worse than it was.  I did not have any personal animus against Ambassador Ranneberger and did not want him to be precipitously “recalled” as a result of my complaint about his interference with the election observation, but I would never have imagined that with a big political turnover in the U.S.–based to a great extent on a public loss of confidence in foreign policy decision making–Ranneberger would still end up being one of the most prominent public actors in Kenyan politics–on behalf of my country–for several more years afterward and be our second-longest serving Ambassador to Kenya ever.

Through the persistence of the subsequent Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Rep. Christopher Smith, we eventually learned through a Kevin Kelly story in Kenya’s Daily Nation that the USAID Inspector General had determined that an “eight figure” sum of money had bled over from lawfully neutral process support for constitutional reform into the 2010 “Yes” referendum campaign. Personally believing that on balance Kenyans would be better off to pass rather than defeat the referendum, I was embarrassingly gullible myself in being hesitant to credit Congressman Smith’s concerns in this regard until I saw the reporting on the USAID Inspector General’s findings.  Shocking that the Ambassador who was not neutral in the 2007 vote was not neutral again in 2010!

In the 2013 general election, the administration of the process was in substantial ways even worse than in 2007 as capably pointed out by John Githongo and many others of earned expertise. Our assistance was much more expensive, and while not so controversial, was again not very transparent  at all.  (Still nothing on my public records request to USAID regarding our spending through IFES on Kenya’s IEBC and its corrupt technology procurements.)

And now, here we go again.  The Uhuruto re-election gears up against the ODM-led opposition with the Government of Kenya facing its inevitable referral to the Assembly of State Parties of the International Criminal Court since it–inevitably and predictably–refused to meet its legal obligations to cooperate with the Court.

The individual who served as Assistant Secretary of State during the 2007-08 catastrophe, as a private citizen but identified primarily in her role as a former high ranking diplomat, was a key figure again in the 2013 campaign–this time speaking out (informally I assume) to accuse the United States Government of interfering in the election in the opposite direction, in favor of the opposition and against her preferred candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta.  While she was within her rights, her argument seems counterfactual when you look at how U.S. assistance to the Government of Kenya and NDI/ELOG and IFES for the election was actually used in totality: to sell whatever the IEBC decided, even without a transparent tally and even though we had some real knowledge of the corruption issues that have eventually come out to the point of forcing their buyout after the Opposition was willing to protest on the streets this year.

If you will read the ELOG final report from several months after the election, you will see that it appears that the NDI/ELOG Parallel Vote Count had more problems with falloff of planned data collection than the 2007 IRI exit poll–but since it involved a much smaller universe of locations than an exit poll I’m not sure that this could be adjusted for (if attempted).  So the idea that the 49.7% PVT result “VERIFIED” that Uhuruto received more than 50% looks that much more like advocacy for the IEBC rather than facts for the voters.

I would never vote in a scenario that I can readily imagine for Donald Trump or someone much like Donald Trump as best I understand him.  I agree that his positions–none of which I assume reflect any sincere value judgments–are dangerous to our country now and for my children’s future.  But if you don’t understand why many Americans might have some temptation to go for “the candidate of the middle finger” out of frustration with a sense that “Washington” isn’t actually working on their behalf as they send their taxes, you cannot be getting out enough.

Is Libya to Burundi in 2016 as Somalia was to Rwanda in 1994?

US Army deployedI have no answer to this question, and I hope and pray it is just something to think about abstractly.

What I am getting at is that for purposes of public consumption at least the Western democracies were in denial in 1994 about the risk of mass slaughter and eventually genocide and failed to act to an extent that we all pretty well have acknowledged shame about.  (No one bothers to suggest that China, Russia or other non-Western powers would be expected to be similarly troubled.) It seems to be recognized that the U.S. was the “indispensable” party that would have had to push forward to make intervention happen, but elected instead to pull back.  There is regret that we did not take affirmative action.

It also seems to be accepted that the “Black Hawk Down” disaster and generally unsatisfying experience of “humanitarian” intervention in Somalia took strong measures involving Americans off the table for Rwanda.  The Genocide Documentation Project by the National Security Archive and U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has helped us to see now how this actually played out back then.

Post-Rwanda 1994, of course, there has been over the years the notion that we learned a valuable lesson from that particular genocide and could now say “never again” with a newly “doctrinized” post-Cold War sense of purpose of a Responsibility to Protect.

Unfortunately the timing gets complicated by other events.  We are in a presidential election year.  Now the last major “humanitarian” intervention involving U.S. forces was Libya.  While initially celebrated, it has become a politically dicey sore spot.  The tragic loss of American lives later at Benghazi was fortunately not televised, but we now have a feature Hollywood movie coming anyway.  While Washington collectively is not yet ready to examine the decision making process on intervening or not, the specics of the Benghazi incident have attracted more investigation than I recall from “Black Hawk Down” as such.  The larger negative geopolitical fallout from the intervention in Libya has become much more apparent much sooner than in Somalia in the early ’90s and already appears to be a major concern of many facets and no easy solutions.

In that sense the factors supporting a cautionary holding back from acting are greater in 2016 than in 1994 (and of course I haven’t even mentioned Iraq/Syria and Afghanistan).

We have hoped that we would not be indispensable on Burundi, in particular that the (post-Gaddafi) African Union could find common purpose and means to act.  That hasn’t happened.  My perception is that there might be reason to hope for this sort of AU action many years in the future but that the capacity is really just not there now.

It has to be noted that governance in the region has continued to be dominated by what could be called a “league of extraordinary generals”–Kagame and Museveni as well as, in a sense, Nkurunziza.  Nearby Mugabe remains and Kabila the younger.  Who can really be an honest broker or claim with a straight face to be primarily acting on global “humanitarian” values without outside leadership?

Museveni and Nkurunziza are militarily allied with the West in the current AMISOM effort in Somalia which will need to continue for some long time yet.  Museveni is involved with the US in our Lord’s Resistance Army operation which presumably is indefinite at this point.  Kagame has apparently decided to postpone the transition to a postwar elected leadership by his constitutional referendum lifting term limits, like Museveni did long ago.  He probably expects a relationship at least as good with the next U. S. administration for his re-election in 2017. He appears to continue to be a darling of Davos and to be working with a variety of endeavors involving commodities trade and related regionalization that enjoy quasi-official support around Washington aside from the public foreign aid.

And now we see the leak through Reuters of the confidential report under UN auspices of Rwandan involvement in training and supporting rebels in Burundi already.

If, God forbid, things turn sharply for the worse in Burundi, and there “isn’t anyone else,” would the U.S. seriously consider an emergency humanitarian intervention or not?  If not, are we prepared to explain to our children why not, again, while living also with the consequences?  I am in no way qualified to advocate for or against a particular course of action, nor do I know the backstory of the latest facts on the ground, I am just asking the questions as to our policy parameters as a taxpayer/citizen/ voter and a person of humanitarian concern.

When Amb. Gration was purged in mid-2012, the Secretary of State had been using her private email system for 3 1/2 years

This was my point from the last post.  I was prompted by the latest news stories in the international press about Secretary Clinton’s emails containing top secret material not being released.

Obviously, in releasing a report from the Acting Inspector General focused on criticizing Ambassador Gration’s email security and public records compliance in mid-2012 coinciding with the Ambassador’s resignation, the State Department was surely “blowing smoke”.  Plenty of people involved in this, aside from the Secretary of State and the President, must have known that the Secretary herself was using an insecure, “off the public record” system for her own official emails.

Did the Acting Inspector General know? If not, shouldn’t someone have told him?

I don’t know Ambassador Gration and was not in Kenya during his tenure and have no opinions or personal knowledge about the backstory (but will note that someone at the State Department bothered to mention a day ahead of time that the OIG’s report was coming out and the Ambassador was leaving).  Likewise, I am uncommitted and unaffiliated regarding the U.S. presidential race.  My interest here is that this is a foreign policy and public records issue regarding Kenya.

See: Hillary Clinton, Scott Gration and “public-private” email at the State Department

Top new posts of 2015

USAID Inspector General should take a hard look at Kenya’s election procurements supported by U.S. taxpayers

Washington sees that Uhuru’s security approach is counterproductive; Kenya’s democrats must still counter Uhuru’s DC lobbyists to hope for better U.S. policy by 2017

“The War for History” part ten: What was going on in the State Department on Kenya’s failed election, recognizing change at IRI–and how the 2007 exit poll controversy turned into a boon for IRI in Kenya

Is it still easy to buy Kenyan identity documents?

In October 2013 The Standard ran an investigative expose on the readily available purchase of Kenyan identity documents including birth certificate, national identity card, school certificates, drivers license or certificate of good conduct from the Kenyan Police.  

This was shortly after the Westgate attack and many years after the disclosure of the Anglo Leasing national security procurement fraud schemes which the Kibaki and Kenyatta administrations elected to pay for rather than prosecute.  Since then we have seen growing corruption in multiple sectors, even with the sugar and charcoal smuggling issues involving the Kenya Defense Forces as reported by UN monitors and the new Journalists for Justice report.  Police reform under the 2010 constitution has been sidetracked by politicians who prefer other appoaches to those established in the law.  

Are false Kenyan identity and other documents still readily available for purchase?

Are the Goodyear bribes in Kenya, as disclosed in US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act case, disappearing into Kenya’s “black hole” of impunity?


tyres in Lamu

Tyres in Lamu


From Nairobi’s Business Daily of February 26, 2015, “Big names face scrutiny in Goodyear bribes scandal“:

Top Kenya government officials are on the spot once again for pocketing more than Sh138 million ($1.5 million) in bribes from a subsidiary of American tyre firm Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, US regulators said.

The bribes were paid in exchange for the award of multi-million shilling tenders to supply tyres to some of Kenya’s largest state corporations, government agencies and public listed firms.

The US Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) said Goodyear paid the bribes to Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), Armed Forces Canteen Organization (Afco), Nzoia Sugar, Kenyan Air Force, Ministry of Roads, Ministry of State for Defence, East African Portland Cement Company (EAPCC) and Telkom Kenya executives to win contracts.

US detectives also established that additional Sh1.3 million ($14,457) was dished out to lure Kenya Police and City Hall officials to award the Ohio-based tyre maker multi-million shilling deals.

The corrupt dealings, committed between 2007 and December 2011, were executed through Treadsetters Tyres Ltd, then a subsidiary of Goodyear.

Goodyear made the illicit payments to Kenyan officials in cash and recorded the spending in its financial books as advertising expenses, according to a forensic audit by the SEC.

“Treadsetters’ general manager and finance director were at the centre of the scheme,” the SEC said in its filings. “They approved payments for phony promotional products, and then directed the finance assistant to write-out the checks to cash.”

The well-orchestrated bribery ring involving Kenyan bureaucrats is captured in a ruling in which Goodyear has agreed to pay a Sh1.48 billion ($16.22 million) fine for engaging in corrupt practices abroad.

The allegations were disclosed by Goodyear in 2012 and hit the Kenyan press in a significant way when the SEC fine was announced almost eight months ago.  Many of the disclosed bribes were paid to Kenyan national security officials.  In the meantime, we see more successful terrorist attacks and insecurity, but no further news on anything being done to suggest that the Government of Kenya has any substantive intention of treating these bribes as unacceptable.

Where is Kenya’s Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission? Where are Kenya’s journalists and media houses in following the stories they reported? (would be pleased to hear if I’m missing something . . .)

And where is my government?  I’m proud of my country for policing our own companies through the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, but it has been sad to see our support for a “reform agenda” in our relations with Kenya seem to run off into a ditch.

“Faded Aid”

Unnamed Kenyan officials figure in UN bribery charges involving “Chinese Security Company” seeking business with Kenya’s Interior Ministry

Kenya EACC

The criminal complaint unsealed yesterday by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York of six individuals, including John Ashe, the former President of the U.N..General Assembly, and five others involved in a bribery and money laundering scheme to illegally advance the fortunes of Chinese-based business interests, includes a section entitled “YAN and PAIO Arrange Additional Payments to Ashe in Exchange for Official Acts on Behalf of a Chinese Security Company”.  [See pages 26-30]

The “official acts” alleged involved Ashe acting on behalf of the unnamed “Chinese Security Company” as a go-between with unnamed “Kenyan Officials” to facilitate the pursuit of Kenyan Interior Ministry procurement.

Black Star News in New York also raises separate past but unanswered corruption questions involving Uganda’s Foreign Minister Kutesa who succeeded Ashe at the General Assembly presidency.

Update: Nairobi’s Business Daily has picked up the story.

American diplomatic perspective on Obama’s Kenya visit, and a few personal thoughts (updated)

Johnnie Carson and Mark Bellamy have a very well done op-ed up in the New York Times on “Obama’s chance to revisit Kenya“.  In case you missed it, I would recommend it as the most worthwhile commentary I have seen in the U.S.-based news media on the presidential trip this week.

I hope the visit goes well and accomplishes something worthwhile for both countries.  The topic of entrepreneurship is certainly an important one for Kenya, where most people do not have employment. [The director for human development of the African Development Bank cites a 80% unemplyment rate for Kenyans under age 35 in support of a loan of $62M to the Government of Kenya to support training for 3000 youth in “technical vocational education” that will “play an important role in supporting the emerging oil, gas and mining industry.” ]

The first U.S. presidential visit to Kenya will unavoidably be a major boost politically for Uhuru Kenyatta and his administration by its nature and will be a boon for the Kenyan president’s elite friends and cronies in other political/business roles in Nairobi.  I am not sure how important a “global summit” of this type is for entrepreneurship as such, but I will try to accentuate the positive in this regard by looking at the trip as a diplomatic endeavor with potential side benefits.

One small thing that I do think should be said:  I hope that before getting to Kenya President Obama will have apologized to former Ambassador Gration for letting him get “run up the flagpole” over doing State Department business on a private email account in light of subsequent news on this topic within the State Department. General Gration did important service to Senator Obama as his military escort on his last trip to Kenya in 2006 and in speaking out about the “birther” and related personal smears as I have previously written (“Gration spoke out on Obama/Odinga “smears” in 2008 campaign” August 16, 2010).  The Ambassador serves at the pleasure of the president and I don’t question the President’s prerogative to change his mind about a political appointment, but in hindsight this should have been handled differently.

On the security front, please read “Ahead of Obama Visit, Kenya Seeks to Show Security Threats Are Under Control” in the Wall Street Journal:

The government’s push to move beyond its security challenges is one of the problems, said Andrew Franklin, a former U.S. Marine who runs a security consultancy .  .  . “Nobody is interested in getting to grips with the situation,” Mr. Franklin said.  “What the government of Kenya is refusing to accept is that we have a genuine insurgency going on.”
He argued that an attack in April at a university in the eastern town of Garissa showed just how little the Kenyan security forces had learned.  Al-Shabaab killed 147 people in an assault that wasn’t put down until late in the day because of delays flying an elite unit out to fight the militants.
“They had all day to kill students,” Mr. Franklin said.
But Mr. Kenyatta’s message that it was time to move on appeared to be gaining the upper hand with Nairobi residents pouring into the Westgate mall over the weekend. . . .

For a great panel discussion of the trip to Kenya and Ethiopia from the perspective of U.S. foreign policy, see the audio or visual from last week’s program at CSIS, “Policy Issues in Kenya and Ethiopia Ahead of President Obama’s Trip.”  The panel included Ambassador Mark Bellamy, Terrence Lyons of George Mason University, Sarah Prey of the Open Society Foundations and EJ Hogendoorn of the International Crisis Group.

Update: Make sure to also see the letter to President Obama from 14 U.S. experts on East Africa released by Human Rights Watch Tuesday.  Signers include Ambassador Bellamy, senior scholars John Harbeson and David Throup and many of the younger generation of policy and civil society leaders in Washington who will be familiar to Americans engaged on American policy in and on Kenya.

My Memorial Day post: If a President Al Gore had invaded Iraq in 2003 with the support of Sen. Hillary Clinton . . .

all the current GOP presidential candidates would agree now that it was a foolish act of hubris given that the administration had in hindsight clearly been shown to have simply not known what they were doing.

I am not now nor have I even been a member of the Democratic party.  I worked in the defense industry throughout the whole bloody course of the Iraq war.  I even voted for George W Bush that first time in 2000 even though I knew deep down he had very thin, maybe too thin, experience on foreign and national security policy.  (In my defense I will say that I don’t think I should have been expected to know how strongly opposed many of his most senior advisers and subsequent appointees would turn out to be to the values he expressed in seeking our votes in his campaign that year.)

I certainly did not wish him to fail, nor did I wish the harm experienced by my country or by Iraq and its region from that decision but I cannot pretend it away.  It seems to me to be deeply misconceived for citizens of a democratic republic to create an “identity politics” around the competition of parties to the point of transcending a larger patriotism, moral and spiritual values, even the ability to observe and process basic facts.  Over 4000 Americans and over 100000 Iraqi civilians were killed in the Iraq war and the pre-ISIS aftermath and no one who wants to be the “leader of the free world” can plausibly duck an assessment of this war, of our choice, because of the identify of the party of the Commander in Chief at the time.

Part of the reason I took leave from my job and moved my family to East Africa in 2007 to work on democracy assistance is that I had seen how badly we were screwing up our relationships in the world by having embraced a doctrine of “preemptive war” that traditionally might have been seen as unworthy of our national ethos by both “hawks” and “doves” of other generations.  And how our biggest democracy assistance program, by far, was going in Iraq were it was in many respects too late in the wake of the invasion, as opposed to places like Kenya and Somaliland that were not at war where we had a bona fide opportunity to make a positive contribution.  The suspicions and damaged credibility of our country made the work more challenging even among those inclined to a positive view of our aspirations.

Other than the “moral injury” to our country as a whole, the Iraq war did me no personal harm–my taxes didn’t go up so my kids presumably get stuck with the bill, although it might cramp my Social Security and Medicare down the road.  I worked primarily in Navy shipbuilding, on which going to war or not going to war had relatively little business impact; we didn’t build more or less ships than we would have if we had not gone into Iraq from 2003-11.  Before we launched the invasion I was convinced by a senior friend in the industry who had been a naval officer that the sectarian situation in Iraq was beyond our grasp and I did not see the decision to launch the war as anything other than a huge risk that would have been warranted only by an extreme immediate threat which the Iraqi regime simply did not pose by any reasoned assessment.

But here at home now my dry cleaner is an Iraqi Christian.  Before we invaded, he was a medical doctor, a specialist, in his country, as was his wife.  He runs the cleaners himself six days a week, but will be closed and with his family for Memorial Day.  I’ll think of him with gratitude that he was able to get here and for the relative safety and freedom he has here, but with sadness that we elected to reach for the war hammer rather than have the patience to continue to turn the diplomatic screw in 2003 and in so doing upended his life, that of his family and community and his country.  (See Waiting for An Ordinary Day: The Unraveling of Life in Iraq by Wall Street Journal reporter Farnaz Fassihi, excerpted here.  A must read, to accompany all the war and political reporting, on life for middle class Iraqis following the invasion, for those who want to learn from the war.)

I will mourn those Americans who gave their lives for the endeavor, especially those young people who volunteered out of patriotism to protect our country in the wake of the 9-11 attacks.  The rest of us collectively let them down and the very least that is required of us now is to learn from their sacrifice and do better together whatever our preferences of party or domestic ideology.

I will also be thinking with gratitude of my uncle who volunteered for the Navy in World War II as a 17 year old on the family farm after Pearl Harbor, made it home from the Pacific and is still with us at 90.  He he told me years ago that he did not believe we had any business taking it on ourselves to invade Iraq to change the regime without the support of the United Nations that we created with our allies in the wake of that war that he and his “greatest generation” fought at high but shared cost.  And his grandson, serving in the Air Force now, with his own young son.  Let us use his service wisely, with a judicious and open debate over what we ask him to do for us, being honest enough with ourselves to learn from the experiences that have cost the lives of others.