Cigars in the Sand

Commentary, Notes and Pictures from my time in Iraq

My Photo
Location: Baghdad, Iraq

Farmer by genetics, Lawyer by training, currently "vacationing" in Iraq and advising the Iraqi government on border security issues. Before moving to Baghdad, I served in the White House as Deputy Counsel for the Homeland Security Council. I can be reached at opusxryanathotmaildotcom.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Out Again

I'll be out of email and telephone contact for the next week or so; no worrying if you don't hear from me for a while!

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Here I am with some of the new Iraqi border force.

An Iraqi general that I work with, General Saad, gave me this traditional Iraqi headdress for Christmas yesterday. He said I could use it as a disguise when I am out and about. Unfortunately I think I pretty much scream "American", even with it on.

Christmas Evening in Baghdad

Christmas Day was eerily quiet, with a steady drizzle to light rain falling throughout most of the day. I had expected it to be bombs away. Alas, the silence didn't last all day. I was standing outside my hooch last night when 2 mortars whizzed overhead and landed about a 100 yards from me. Luckily, no one was injured.

I usually just stay in my hooch when there is incoming, but this time I decided to go into the "shelter," which is little more than a couple concrete barricades. But at least it provides some overhead cover.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Christmas Morning in Baghdad

I woke up this morning to fresh cocoa and a warm fire, looking at my beautiful Christmas tree . . . . OK, not really. I got up this morning and strapped on my body armor and my sidearm for a trip out into the Red Zone for a meeting. After a 45-minute drive through areas like "Thieves' Market" and "Assassins Gate", I finally arrived at the appointed location. Of course, the other people who were supposed to attend the meeting didn't show, so the meeting was cancelled. We then convoyed back to the Green Zone.

What a way to spend Christmas morning.

How's it going in Iraq?

People ask me that question all the time. I basically agree with this assessment:

"Post-Saddam Iraq is not a failure--as long as roughly 80 percent of Iraq's population is moving towards democratic governance, we're not failing. But it is certainly an awful mess. "

We just need to maintain momentum. Delaying the elections would be a big blow.

Hotmail Problems

If you've emailed me in the last few days, I apologize for my delayed response. I'm having technical difficulties accessing my account. I promise to return your emails as soon as the problems are fixed . . .

Friday, December 24, 2004

Frank Seltzer is The Man

Today I received a package in the mail from Frank Seltzer of Dallas, TX, just in time for Christmas. Frank stumbled across my blog and offered to send over some cigars for me to distribute to the troops during my travels. They arrived in perfect shape today. In the future, I'll be posting pictures of some of the guys with Frank's cigars. I'm certain the cigars will be a big morale booster.

Thanks Frank!

R&R Schedule

I've received a lot of questions about when I will be coming home for some R&R. My current plan is to come home at the end of the first week of March. I'll be heading to Chicago on March 12th, and then Las Vegas on March 17th for the opening weekend of March Madness. Then its back to the DC area for the rest of the month. I also hope to sprinkle in a few trips to Charlottesville, West Point and whoever esle will have me.

Vegas has special relevance to my current location. Two years ago, I was in Vegas for the college hoops tournament with my law school buddies when the US began Operation Iraqi Freedom. I remember sitting in the sports books watching one of the TVs tuned to coverage of the war. The next day, Ed McNally from the White House called me on my cell phone to invite me to join him in DC (I was sitting at a blackjack table in Bally's waiting for the second day of NCAA tournament games to begin). I was in shock, and my friends didn't really believe me when I told them the substance of the conversation.

After an agonizing few weeks, I decided to make the move. And now here I am.

For my Vegas partners-in-crime (you know who you are), time to make your reservations. I land in Vegas on Thursday at about 9am, and depart Sunday, March 20th at 6:20pm. I'm hoping for a good turnout. Still working on the hotel accomodations.

Matt Sherman's Blog

My friend and co-worker, Matt Sherman, also has a picture blog from Iraq.

He is also to thank (or blame, depending on your perspective) for getting me hired. He is also a fellow UNC Law alum.

Go Heels!

Enjoying a magnificent Partagas Series D No. 4 outside of a newly occupied border fort. I took 10 of these cigars and distributed them to the Marines stationed out there. You'd think I had given them gold bars . . .

I met this curious little guy at the Iraqi-Syrian border. He wanted to try on my kevlar helmet. Even though it didn't fit him so well, he seemed to enjoy it.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Members of the Iraqi border police celebrating the occupation of a new border fort on the Syrian border. (No shots fired. Yet.)

How many water tanks can an Iraqi fasten to the roof of his vehicle? Amazingly, I see at least 4 or 5 trucks stacked just like this every time I'm at the al waleed border crossing.

As I mentioned, I spent the last few days back out on the Iraqi-Syrian border. Most of the border runs right through the middle of the al-Jazeera Desert. "al-Jazeera" means "the island" in Arabic. Its not exactly what you'd think of when you think "desert" (or at least not what I think of). Its flat and barren, but not nearly as much sand as you'd think. Instead its covevered in small, coarse rocks for as far as the eye can see. It looks like ot might be the surface of Mars.

Back and safe

I am safely back in Baghdad. I was out at the Syrian border again, but nowhere near Mosul. I didn't hear about the attack until I returned late last night. I think I might have eaten in the chow hall that was bombed when I was in Mosul, but its difficult for me to determine the exact location. Whenever something like this happens, the emotion it immediately triggers is anger. Anger at the sheer cowardice of the terrorists who are too weak to fight us on the battlefield.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Out of Office

Posting should resume in a few days . . .

Iraqi Elections Coverage

It looks like the mainstream media coverage of the Iraqi elections is heating up. To be sure, there are lots of issues to be resolved and worked out. Most of the stories I've read usually include a quote from an Iraqi "man on the street" about the January elections. In that spirit, I remind my readers of the following:

The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.
-Winston Churchill

Of course, that quote needs to be contextualized with Churchill's larger worldview of democracy:

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those others.
-Winston Churchill

One of the highlights of last Christmas was the opportunity to attend the White House Christmas Party with my twin brother, Brendon. Here we are with the President and First Lady. I'm guessing my Christmas plans this year will be a little less formal.

A truck-full of AK-47s for Christmas! These are some weapons we secured the last time we visited al Waleed. The 2 arches in the background mark the crossing point into Iraq from Syria.

The Christmas Spirit has reached Baghdad. This is an (admittedly dark) image of some Coalition residents of the Green Zone doing a little carolling outside the Presidential Palace. The weather is certainly season appropriate; the low temps have been in the low 30s lately.

Squeezing in a little target practice at al Kut, with my Glock 19.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Weekend Lost Perspective

How can a column like this even make it into print, much less be placed under the title "Weekend Perspectives"??

I'm all for a spirited debate on most topics, but the sheer magnitude of errors in this column boggles the mind. To name a few:

[the Iraqi war has] long since [been] identified as illicit by legal tribunals around the world

Certainly Hans Blix and Kofi Annan have posited that the war is illegal, as well as countless other lawyers I'm sure. But I know of no "legal tribunal" that has made that finding. I don't think there is much doubt that the war was legal under US law. And others have made the case for why the war was legal under international law, so I won't rehash those arguments here. If someone could point me to any legal tribunal to support the above statement, I'd be much obliged.

Few if any noted that the idea for the war had been hatched in the 1990s by Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, William Kristol, I. Lewis Libby, Richard Perle and other easily recognizable neoconservatives.

Lets add Bill Clinton to this list of neocons. His administration signed into law the policy of "regime change" for Iraq. Bravo, President Clinton! [Really.]

The fact that the invasion and occupation of Iraq went ahead as scheduled strongly indicates that the commanders knew very well that there were no such weapons there in the first place.

I don't follow. So President Bush launched a war based (at least in part) on WMD being in Iraq knowing that he wouldn't find any there? If so, that would have to be the most boneheaded political move of all time. Almost every intel organization in the world surmised that Saddam still possessed WMD. Tenet said it was a "slam dunk" case. This is where the "Bush lied" crowd loses me. Just because that intel was wrong, doesn't mean that the president didn't believe it. Plus, wasn't there a significant opposition to the war based on the fact that Saddam might feel cornered and actually use his WMD? Weren't those folks LIARS! too?

Quick to defend torture as a justifiable tactic to be used in war was Alan Dershowitz (as well as Alberto Gonzales)

Neither of the above-referenced gentlemen have been "quick to defend torture." Dershowitz's views on the subject are much more extreme than the measured views of Judge Gonzales, which are not accurately summarized in the quote. Oh, by the way, Professor Dershowitz supported Senator Kerry in the Presidential election. So why is he making an appearance in this column complaining about the Republicans who sold us the war?

The Justice Dept brought forced deportation based upon ethnicity alone;

Besides from the easy target (forced deportation? is there another kind??), this one just isn't true. DOJ has the power to deport folks who have violated US immigration laws. Imagine that. DOJ doesn't have the power to deport based on ethnicity alone.

the right of the government to search homes without the permission or even the presence of the home-owner;

A right based on over 50 years of precedent. The Supreme Court has called arguments against the constitutionality of delayed-notice search warrants as "frivolous." They have been used for drug and other investigations for years. See this report for a good discussion.

the right of the government to access computer files, library borrowings and other private records at will.

The government could already access these materials with a simple warrant; a document prosecutors have on their desks and only need to fill out and take to records custodian, without any judicial approval in the first instance. The Patriot Act allowed for seizure of business records (the word "library" does not make an appearance in the Patriot Act) in terrorism cases, but only after getting approval from a special terrorism court (a FISA court, for you law dweebs). Hardly "at will."

I leave aside the $8,000 expenditure incurred by Ashcroft to curtain the 67-year-old breasts of the Goddess of Justice as an action best left to psychiatry or ridicule or both.

Glad he leaves it aside, as that story has never been verified. I'd say its been thoroughly debunked, but I know many of you may not take DOJ's word over the press. Here's an href="">unbiased analysis.

"I would rather fight the terrorists in Iraq," said Mr. Perle, "than here." His statement suggested that he was preparing to enlist and put his body where his words were, but at last sighting he had not yet volunteered.

Yeah, what we need in Iraq now is 63 yr old policy wonks. I have said the same words, and I did volunteer. So his response TO ME is . . .

There's much more, but you get the picture. And I'm tired. But seriously, how does this drivel make it into print? There are plenty of legitimate arguments against the Iraqi war in general and its execution in particular. Couldn't the Pitt Post-Gazette find a better mouthpiece for those views than the Director of the International Poetry Forum?

Fighting terrorists, from a conceptual point of view

Before I left the White House, I addressed an audience at the US Naal War College on homeland security and the law. This author, who reviewed the conference proceedings, seems to believe there is a deep divide within the federal government:

"Everyone has an opinion and rarely do opinions on homeland security appear harmonious. Homeland Security advocates generally support DHS activity as necessary to protect the nation in the global war on terrorism. Those less favorably inclined to DHS, as well as some within the DHS, see the threats to the United States as threats from a criminal element that happens also to be terrorists. These threats, they believe, are best countered by law enforcement efforts.
A deep divide exists between these two major viewpoints and neither side seemed willing to offer any credence to the other side's position. Such a basic division involves and affects methods, sources, resources, planning, and thinking. "

I traded some emails with Dr. Handley after I saw his report. While there still may be some individuals within the US law enforcement community who advocate combatting terrorism as only a law enforcement issue, most agree that we also must have extra-judicial options. We tried the "law enforcement only" approach once before and we ended up with September 11th. Personally I'd rather not go back to those times. We must find new tools that work, while still protecting basic human rights.

Friday, December 17, 2004

By popular request, here's another photo of the puppies I played with out at the Syrian border. I wish I could bring one of these little guys back with me.

This is one of my favorite pictures I've taken so far. This is the area between the Iraqi and Syrian points of entry at al Qaim. al Qaim is in the Anbar region and is probably the worst insurgent town in Iraq now that Fallujah has been taken down. What you see is a mortar hole filled with trash, with 2 donkeys eating out of it. As you might imagine this point of entry doesn't get a whole lot of commercial traffic.

Election Poll

I'm stunned by the results of this poll.

"What will you base your vote on?
Political agenda----------------------------65%
Factional origin----------------------------14%
Party Affiliation---------------------------- 4%
National Background----------------------12%
Other reasons--------------------------------5%
Do you support dialog with the deposed Baathists?
Do not know----------------------------------1%
Do you support the postponing the election?
Do not know---------------------------------2%
Do you think the elections will take place as scheduled?
Do not know---------------------------------4%"

If they are accurate, I think it bodes well for the January elections. The first question is interesting because it doesn't contain an option for "religious affiliation". Curious.

Hat tip: Instapundit.

Who are the insurgents and how can they be defeated?

People sometimes ask me who it is Iraq and the Coalition are fighting. If you ask the Shia's, they say its foreign fighters from Syria (Sunnis). If you ask the Sunnis, they will tell you that its foreign fighters from Iran (Shias). Both agree that both former regime elements and al Qaeda are also in the mix. Personally, I agree with this analysis by a professor at the US Naval War Collegethat the "'insurgency is not a monolithic, united movement directed by a leadership with a unitary and disciplined ideological vision.' " Right now these widely divergent opportunists fight side by side to defeat the current Iraqi government so that they can then turn their knives on each other and the citizens of Iraq. Because of their diverse viewpoints, there really is no way to bring these groups into the fold to end the violence. They must simply be crushed with force.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Wrong Wrong Wrong

As many of the readers of this blog know, I was part of the US delegation that met with the Syrians over border security issues in September 2004 that this article mentions. The authors discuss the need for a new policy towards Syria:

"Washington should make it clear to Damascus that its genuine cooperation with the U.S. to control the Iraq-Syria border would entail American help in supporting the creation of a significant trade zone between Iraq and Syria, including reopening the oil pipeline between the two countries. At the same time, Washington should put a stop to all talks about removing the Baathist regime in Syria, because they are absurd and counterproductive under the current circumstances in Iraq."

I'll quote Natan Sharansky, Soviet dissident and later, Israeli politician: "The price for stability inside nondemocratic regimes is terror outside of them." (I'll have more about Sharansky later.) Have we learned nothing from the Cold War? or our dealings with Arafat? Nondemocratic regimes will always ask for support in the name of "stability", but then always incite terror and notion that the US is the enemy so that they can repress their own citizens. Sharansky makes a compelling case regarding Arafat and the disaster of the Oslo Accords.

And politically, the President must not back away from his rhetoric on Iraq. Why would democracy be so important to Iraqis, but not Syrians?

Of course, these are only my personal views; I'm sure a large portion of the US govt disagrees with me, including the folks at the State Department. Hopefully Dr. Rice can change that mentality.

In the wake of last week's terrorist attack on the US consulate office in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia is pretty much shut down right now for Americans. So we stayed on base with the US military. This is the dining facilities at the base. These guys take Christmas seriously!

This is what Cigars in the Sand is all about: new experiences and great cigars. Pictured above are two Cohibas that Fidel Castro personally produced for Saddam and labeled for his son, Uday Saddam Hussein. I'll smoke one of these when Saddam is executed, and the other when Castro dies. Am I allowed to hope for the occurence of both events before I leave Iraq? yes, I think so.

I've just returned from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I accompanied an Iraqi delegation to discuss Saudi-Iraqi border issues with the Saudi military and border guard. Riyadh is a pretty big city (about 600 square miles, with 3.5 mil people). This is the lobby of one of the buildings we held the talks. Although I obviously can't disclose the contents of the negotiations, I will say that it was an eye-opening experience. I'll write about my silent protest of Saudi human rights in a future post.

Monday, December 13, 2004

On the Road Again

I'll be out and about again today through Wednesday. I can't disclose the location, but I promise you some interesting posts and pictures when I return.

Thanks for coming back; I promise frequent posts when I actually have access to a computer!

One year ago today

Saddam was pulled out of his rat hole one year ago. I was in Chicago visiting friends for our annual "Twelve Bars of Christmas" celebration. I remember waking up and turning on CNN to the exciting news.

Let's hope we find Osama and Zarqawi soon.

I also took some time out to win some snouts and paws. Their were four little puppies playing in the trash on the side of the road. I'm vaccinated for Rabies (from my veterinary hospital days), so I wasn't too worried about this little fella.

Winning some hearts and minds. Even in al Anbar province, the Iraqi children come out to meet and greet the Marines making their neighborhood safer.

"The Hot Corner"- This is the exact spot where Jordan, Syria and Iraq meet. The berm to the left divides Iraq and Jordan, the berm to the right divides Iraq and Syria. Iraq is in the foreground.

Nothing like climbing up the berm for a quick peek into Syrian territory . . .

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Who will be next?

So Kerik withdrawals his nomination for DHS Secretary over nanny problems. I can't believe he didn't figure this one out earlier. Ever since Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood, you'd think the nominees themselves would self-screen even before they hit the formalized clearance process. It's not like this wasn't a well-publicized stumbling block for nominees.

So who will be the next Secretary of DHS? I hope it's Asa Hutchinson, currently the Undersecretary for Border and Tranportation Security. He has the right temperment and knows his way around Capitol Hill.

A better view of our CH-46, refueling before we begin the day's missions.

On our way out to al Waleed, we saw a group of four men standing alongside the road from our CH-46s. Now given that they were in the middle of the desert with no vehicle in sight, in an area notorious for terrorist activity, we decided to investigate. The first bird landed to talk to the men while we circled. This is the picture I snapped over our gunner's shoulder. On the north side of the road just above the point of the 50-cal gun, you can see the four men lined up. They readily admitted that they were petty thieves, stealing bolts from the guardrails and the like. Since we had more important missions that day, we decided to move on without further incident. Circling in a helicopter for 20 minutes while the ground crew was doing there thing didn't seem to please my stomach too much though . . .

I'm back from the borders, safe and sound. For obvious reasons, I couldn't say where exactly I was before I left. But now that I'm back . . . .

I did a tour of the Syrian border, ending at the southernmost point of entry with Syria, al Waleed. I've done this trip before, but somehow this one took a lot more out of me. The flight schedule was brutal. We left after midnight for a 2 hour helo ride. They fly with the front windows open for the gunners, and the nighttime low is usually around 35 degrees or so. So as you might guess, it was a wee bit chilly. We finally arrived and settled in, and our accomodations for the 2 nights turned out to be the spare room in this "chapel". Somehow it felt safer falling asleep that night.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

I'll be heading out to the borders for the next few days, which means I get to fly in one of these bad boys. Regular posting should resume on Sunday. Inshallah (Arabic for "God Willing").

Andy Card would be perfect for Treasury

Oliphant looks at the possibility of Andy Card for Secretary of the Treasury: "He was in Bush II campaign from the beginning, and while he is a chief of staff more involved with operations and control than policy, his skills are considerable. I'm a believer that almost anybody can do almost anything, and Card is a perfect example of the type."

I agree wholeheartedly. Secretary Card is one of the most capable men I have ever met, and it was an honor to work for him. In addition, he's about the nicest and most genuine person you could possibly imagine. He treated everyone with respect and had an open-door policy for White House staffers to voice their complaints. I hope he is appointed.

Tougher Cyber-Security Measures Urged

Tougher Cyber-Security Measures Urged :

"'There is not enough attention on cyber-security within the administration,' said Paul B. Kurtz, the alliance's director and a former senior cyber-security official in the Bush administration. 'The executive branch must exert more leadership.' "

Paul and I worked together in the White House at the Homeland Secuirty Council. Paul worked for the infamous Dick Clarke prior to assuming the lead role on cyber-security for the administration. I'm not sure exactly what the criticism is here; Paul WAS the executive branch leadership during his tenure. Is he criticizing his own efforts?

The al Rasheed Sports Bar has a sensible weapons policy. One of the few places in the Green Zone where weapons are not permitted.

Another border fort, in much better repair. Being a graduate of the University of North Carolina, I especially like the color of the stripe.

Iraqi border security is a little curious. This is one of their border forts (helpfully repaired in part by the Ukrainians- note the old blue and yellow flag painted on the wall). I feel confident they can repel a knight on a horse . . .

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

What law applies to conflict in Iraq today?

I've been thinking lately about the the law of armed conflict and its application to the war in Iraq. I was prompted by the renewed attention given to a memo written by former boss, and future Attorney General, Judge Alberto Gonzales, which posited that the new paradigm of the Global War on Terrorism rendered "quaint" some of the provisions of the Geneva Convention. Judge Gonzales took a lot of heat in the press from that statement. But is that analysis correct?

As a policy matter, the US has taken the position that the Geneva Conventions do apply to the situation in Iraq. I will not argue with that position as it applied previously; my question is, does it still apply? Saddam's government has been removed and a new government is in place, with the blessings of the United Nations. International armed conflict pre-supposes the existence of a battle between forces of two different states. I don't think anyone would argue that the Iraqi government and the US government are in a state of international armed conflict.

So that means that the law of international armed conflict no longer applies, yes? I found another author who came to the same conclusion regarding the Afghanistan campaign:

"So, what law applies to GWOT in the absence of an opponent State? Without State-on-State conflict, not the law of international armed conflict. Nor does the law of non-international armed conflict found in [the Geneva Conventions] neatly fit. "

I should state that I am not quarrelling with the policy choice to apply the Geneva Conventions and other laws of armed conflict. Rather, I'm questioning their strict legal applicability.

That's why I join Judge Gonzales's analysis that the Geneva Conventions are "quaint." Let me also add "horribly outdated" and "in need of a full overhaul." I say these words not because of my lack of concern for human rights, but because of my strong belief in them. Nations should not be left to determine on policy grounds whether or not to apply procedures that protect basic human rights. But its clear -- to me at least -- that the rules need a good scrubbing. The underlying assumptions about combatant states and the nature of conflicts have changed so dramatically that international law no longer matches the facts on the ground. The nations of the world have dramatically revised their telecommunications and other laws in the face of the paradigm-shifting internet; doesn't it make sense to revise the international law of armed conflict and the Geneva Conventions as well?

***Disclaimer: Although I worked for Judge Gonzales, I took no part in the production of the memos regarding the applicability of the the laws to Iraq, nor have I ever discussed this matter with Judge Gonzales or anyone else in White House Counsel's Office or any other part of the Executive Branch.

The orange shirt is for my solidarity with the Ukrainian opposition party. Why are some people who are so supportive of Ukrainian democratic efforts so down on Iraqi efforts? (Actually this is a picture from our Thanksgiving party. Either I'm getting taller or the US military is getting shorter. You pick.)

Iraqi Elections

I did not know that:

"In 1864, 11 of the 36 states did not participate in the American presidential election . . . . In 1868, three years after the security situation had, shall we say, stabilised, three states (and not insignificant ones: Texas, Virginia and Mississippi) did not participate in the election."

Plenty of Sunnis want to move forward with the elections in January. Some, many of whom are former Baathists from Saddam's regime, want to delay the elections because the security situation is not stable in Sunni areas. Should we give those Sunni's a "heckler's veto"?

The situation in Iraq is comparable to that old jalopy that many of us have driven in our lives: it barely runs, the rear view mirrors are secured by duct tape, the floor is rusted out, etc. But it's running. Iraq has the momentum now. We shouldn't stop it.

I agree with the Democratic Leadership Council

Bye Bye Kofi: "The secretary general should place this critical mission ahead of his personal interests, and step aside. "

Actually, I agree with a few other of their positions as well. Like promotion of democracy to build the Middle East, staying the course in Iraq, . . .

UPDATE: Apparently the DLC has revised the title of the article and, uh, "clarified" its stance. The DLC is only calling for Kofi to step aside from the investigation, not resign. For a minute there I thought the DLC had taken a brilliant step in proving it had the chops to drive foreign policy and international relations . . . (Hat tip: Instapundit)

Enjoying a cigar in the sand at the al Kut academy that trains Iraqi police, border enforcement officers, and national guardsmen.

Why "Cigars in the Sand"?

A few folks have asked me why I titled this blog "Cigars in the Sand." I was inspired by an interview General Tommy Franks gave with Cigar Aficionado a while ago :

"Gen. Franks: . . . It is relaxing. And during the course of the Iraq war, on a number of occasions, I'd sit outside in a number of Middle Eastern countries and just sit by myself and smoke a cigar. You know, I find that it's possible to spend a little too much time talking and not enough time thinking.

CA- Contemplation.

Gen. Franks.- If you just want to think, there's nothing better than taking a good cigar and sitting under a tree, sitting in your room, and just sit there and smoke a good cigar. It's important to look at a cigar from time to time, when you're smoking it."

I have found that cigars give me the same moments in Iraq: a time to think about the days events, a time to think about what needs to be done tomorrow, and a time to celebrate the passage of another day surviving in a war zone. I have been blessed with many friends who have sent me some wonderful cigars. I give away most of them to the men and women of our armed forces. I always make sure to take a few extras to the borders when I'm travelling.

So "Cigars in the Sand" is my place of contemplation. I guess I'm doing this more for me than for you.

Despite its common portrayal, Iraq is not all desert. There are marshes to the south around Basrah, and mountains to the north and northeast. In fact, its snowing right now in the Sulaymaniyah province along the Iranian border. I took this picture over Sulaymaniyah on the way up to visit the first graduating class of the new police academy in the area.

Downtown Baghdad often looks remarkably normal, especially when flying over it in a Blackhawk. Undoubtedly, the best part of my job is flying all over the country in Blackhawks and other helicopters. Its an unbelievable way to see the country.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Zev jumps the tracks

I normally find Zev Chafets writings interesting and thought provoking. This one boggles my mind though: "From the national point of view, Kerik seems like a good pick. He knows something about security, he has experience running a large bureaucracy and he's equipped with good instincts. That became obvious when he slipped out of his Iraqi police adviser gig after just a few months. Kerik is the kind of guy who knows an unwinnable hand when he's dealt one."

Sooo . . . Kerik has good instincts because he bailed on a difficult job in Iraq? From someone who has taken the exact opposite path (US homeland security to the Iraqi Ministry of Interior), I beg to differ. My complaint here is with Chafets analysis, not Kerik's instincts. And having seen the insides of US homeland security, I can tell you that running DHS is a whole lot more than being a media darling.

I took this picture at about 2pm in the afternoon a few weeks ago. The white dot is the sun, almost completely dimmed out by the flying sand. Needless to say, its not much fun to be out in the middle of a sandstorm.

Why I'm Here

I know many of you have inquired as to why I would leave my great job in DC for the comforts of Baghdad. Let me point you to some words from one of the President's most maligned moments:

"The advance of freedom is the surest strategy to undermine the appeal of terror in the world. Where freedom takes hold, hatred gives way to hope. When freedom takes hold, men and women turn to the peaceful pursuit of a better life. American values and American interests lead in the same direction: We stand for human liberty."

Political theorists will recognize those sentiments as the liberal case for war, not the neo-conservative one. Maybe I'm too young and naive to be a "realist" yet; if that's the case, I hope I never grow old.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

I spent this past week in Amman, Jordan at the AJEX 2004 conference. The Kingdom of Jordan invited me to address the conference on border security issues in Iraq. Basically, the idea of the conference was to promote business development in Iraq, using Jordan as a base station. The conference went well, and I think my speech was well-received. As soon as I left the stage I found myself surrounded by businessmen eager to get into the Iraqi market. Talk about a good sign!

This is Saddam's main palace in Tikrit, current home of the 1st Infantry Division. It's truly a remarkable palace, sitting right on top of a bluff overlooking the Tigris. Legend has it that the last christian in Tikrit rode his horse off the bluff into the river rather than convert.

Appropriate Use of Force

Having spent a good portion of my adult life in Chicago, I was surrounded by friends and colleagues who disagreed vehemently on the appropriate use of military force, both in general and as applied to Iraq. James Schall does a pretty good job of summarizing my feelings:

"No talk of peace, justice, truth, or virtue is complete without a clear understanding that certain individuals, movements, and nations must be met with measured force, however much we might prefer to deal with them peacefully or pleasantly. Without force, many will not talk seriously at all, and some not even then. Human, moral, and economic problems are greater today for the lack of adequate military force or, more often, for the failure to use it when necessary. "

During the Presidential race, I repeatedly asked my friends who were Kerry supporters what his position was on the use of force in Iraq. I'm not sure I ever got a coherent answer. I also asked them for their own views, unfortunately most of them fared no better on their own position.

Where we end up calibrating this balance is the greatest challenge facing our war on terrorism. If we accept the pacifist view that we must not calibrate our use of force at all, but instead abandon it altogether, we will most certainly lose that war.

New Secretary of Homeland Security

So President Bush has tapped his new Secretary of Homeland Security. I think Kerik is an interesting choice. He shuld be easily confirmed, but the real challenge begins after he is put in place. DHS, even under the remarkable leadership of Tom Ridge, often was on the losing end of bureaucratic battles. I'm not convinced Kerik has the soft touch required, but hopefully he will surprise me. I know one thing for sure though, he won't receive the same courteousness and benefit of the doubt that Secretary Ridge often received when he went up on the Hill to testify.

In the six degrees of separation world, Kerik would have been my current boss had he decided to stay in Iraq. He was the interim Iraqi interior minister under the CPA . . .

Terrorists often fire mortars into the Green Zone. Luckily the Green Zone is large enough that most fall harmlessly in unpopulated areas. Unfortunately they occasionally cause massive damage. This photo is the aftermath of the mortar attack on Thanksgiving Day that killed 4 Gurkha guards and wounded about 12 others.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Today's most important news from Iraq

Predictably, the lead Iraq story today is the bombing near the Green Zone. But the most important story of the day has been almost completely overlooked.

Mosul police repel coordinated insurgent attacks: US military

I was in Mosul about 2 weeks ago and saw some of the damage from the first wave of attacks. This defense of the Mosul stations is a significant step that should embolden other police in the area to stand and fight. As one of my Iraqi friends said the other day "If you are afraid of the terrorists, stay in your house; we will fight them without you."

Car Bomber Attacks Near Baghdad Green Zone

A VBIED exploded outside Assassin's gate this morning, killing at least 15 and wounding 50 others.

ABC News: Car Bomber Attacks Near Baghdad Green Zone

My hooch is not close to the gate, but the blast shook my trailer. I never thought I'd have the "opportunity" to be able to distinguish between a mortar, a car bomb and an IED. But it was immediately clear that this wasn't a mortar or IED. Early reports speculate that the vehicle was packed with over 800 lbs of explosives. It felt like it.

Welcome to Cigars in the Sand, a blog about my experiences as a policy advisor in Iraq and other generalized commentary.