Maj. Charles Wagenblast, a military intelligence reservist, brought home this story from Afghanistan about an Afghan colonel:
One of the colonels that we both knew had been accused of raping a chai boy, badly. They all have chai boys, it's not some perverted thing, it's just what they do. Women are for juma. The only time you interact with your wife is on Friday, the rest of the time it's chai boys. He had been raping this chai boy, which is normal, but he had hurt him really bad. That caused the medical people to get involved and other forces. So he's there in front of the judge, who is an imam. It's religion mixed with law, the whole code of law would fit in a pamphlet and then there's the Koran there on top of it. Anyway, his defense was, "Honestly, who hasn't raped a chai boy? Ha ha ha." And the judge goes, "You're right. Case dismissed."
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau/Released/DVIDS
Well, let's just say it looks like a tough gig.
Remember my ruminating a couple of weeks ago about whether our strategic culture was shaped in part by the Old Testament?
Turns out someone who actually knows what he is talking about when he discusses the Bible is thinking about the strategic implications of the situation of Israel described in that book. In the new issue of The American Interest, former Pentagon comptroller Dov Zakheim finds parallels between Israel's current strategic situation and that described in the Bible. He predicts that:
"Israel could indeed find itself in a general situation paralleling that of its Biblical predecessors: without a geographically remote ally, and in a region no longer tightly tethered to and constrained by an extrinsic great power rivalry. Like its Biblical predecessors, Israel may be forced to confront its place in shifting local power balances among states that might be at times friendly and at other times hostile. It may also have to weigh alliances with and against powers more geographically proximate: Turkey, Iran, India, perhaps Pakistan (if it survives as a state) and even China."
Zakheim also is interesting in his discussion of the politics of the prophets: "The Prophets were consummate realists: Isaiah preached independent neutrality when it was appropriate; Jeremiah preached submission to the superpower when the external ‘correlation of forces' had changed."
The lesson for Israel he finds in the words of the prophets is this: "Realism in foreign policy, moderation in religious policy, openness in economic policy and equality in social policy may be the best path for the Jewish state as it confronts its uncertain future."
The more religious members of Eisenhower's cabinet asked that he begin its meetings with a prayer. Ultimately the cabinet decided to do so in silence. Once when Ike launched straight into a meeting, he was slipped a note, and then blurted out, "Oh, goddammit, we forgot the silent prayer." (P. 566, Jean Edward Smith's new biography of Eisenhower.)
That's what National Geographic says, in the last paragraph of a new article: "It may well be the first western European city with a majority of its residents from Muslim backgrounds."
Probably better for the magazine to have said it may be the first majority Muslim city in western Europe in about 700 years. If I recall my history correctly, in the 13th century, many western European cities, such Granada and Cordoba, were majority Muslim. I remember being told that Cordoba (AKA Qurtuba) was at one point the world's largest city and had 3,000 mosques. Not long before that, the entire island of Sicily was an Arab emirate. Dunno if it ever was majority Muslim, but I'd bet Palermo was.
(HT to Al D.)
By Emma Sky
Best Defense roving Middle East correspondent
Is this your first visit to Syria, the passport-control man asks me. No, I tell him, I came here once before over a decade ago. He stamps my passport. I had been very lucky to get a Syrian visa this time. The travel advice was not to visit. The Syrian regime is very wary of foreigners, fearing that journalists and spies are inflaming the situation further. I collect my bag and walk through customs, passing a poster, of modest size, of President Bashar al-Assad with the words in Arabic proclaiming: "Leader of the youth, hope of the youth."
I jump in a taxi. I ask the driver how are things in Syria. Things are fine, he assures me. There has been some trouble around the country, but things are OK in Damascus. As we drive, we chat. He points out the area where Druze live. With his hand, he waves in another direction to where Palestinian refugees live, and then again to where Iraqi refugees live. Alawites are over there and in villages. Christians this way and in villages. Sunnis are around 65 percent of the population. Kurds live in the north. Many different peoples live in Syria. I ask him how he knows who someone is or whether they are Sunni or Shiite. He tells me that he does not know and it does not interest him to know: There is no sectarianism here in Syria. We pass Damascus University. Outside there are lots of flags and pictures of Assad and his deceased father. Across the city, the Syrian flag is flying strong and photos of the president are omnipresent. As I ride through al-Umawiyeen Square, I see lots of young men and women gathering, holding Syrian flags. It is not a demonstration, a Syrian tells me; it is a celebration -- a celebration of the regime. Later, I watch the event on television. It has made the international news. Tens of thousands of Syrians have come out to al-Umawiyeen Square to show their support for President Bashar al-Assad in a lively celebration that includes pop singers and fireworks.
When I had visited previously, the city had been filled with huge pictures of Hafez al-Assad; and Bashar, his son, had been studying ophthalmology in London. The death of Bashar's elder brother, Basil, in a car crash, propelled him back into the family business of ruling Syria.
In the evening, I stroll down the street to a restaurant. It is very modern and Western. All-you-can-eat sushi for $20. I try to read my emails on my BlackBerry. I switch between two different networks, but can only receive GPS, not GPRS. The restaurant claims to have Wi-Fi. I ask the waiter. There is Wi-Fi, he tells me, but it is not working at the moment. Nor is Facebook. Internet access is limited.
I walk through Souq al-Hamidiyah in the old city of Damascus. It is a wide, pedestrianized street, two-stories high, and covered. It is buzzing with life. Store owners sit outside their shops, trying to entice potential customers. Traders sell their wares down the middle of the street. Walking with the flow of people, I emerge to find the Umayyad Mosque directly in front of me.
I go to the ticket office, pay the entrance fee for foreigners, and collect a hooded gray cloak to cover myself. The cloaks come in three sizes. A woman sitting there directs me toward the smallest size. The cloak stinks, and I wonder when it was last washed and how many women have had to wear it in the sweltering summer heat. I put the cloak on over my clothes, pulling up the pointed hood to ensure my hair is covered. I enter the Umayyad Mosque -- built on the site of a shrine dedicated to John the Baptist -- looking like a member of the Ku Klux Klan except dressed in gray, and carrying my shoes in my hand. I wander into the covered area where hundreds of people are praying, men in one area, women in another. I walk out to the courtyard. In one area, a group is seated on the ground. One man is kneeling, raising his arms, weeping "ya Hussein." The others follow suit, tears flowing, looking quite distraught.
The rest of this article can be read in its entirety: here.
Some lessons are hard to discern. Some aren't.
The lesson of Padre Alberto, I think, is that if you are a high-profile Catholic priest with a TV show, you shouldn't stick your hand in a woman's bikini bottom while lying alongside her on a beach, even if it is OK with her.
More bombings today in Iraq.
Meanwhile, a knowledgeable Capitol Hill staffer worries that we may see violence between Shiia factions later this year. He writes:
In the provincial elections, Maliki did very well, but it was largely at the expense of ISCI. ISCI, realizing this, reacts by doing a couple things-first, they reach out to their traditional constituency as any decent politician does (even in Iraq). Fine so far. Second, they try to frustrate Maliki's plans to prove him a weak leader. They really only have one great lever to do that (peacefully)-money. Maliki got votes because people saw him as a strong leader (justice and security) and because he's done a reasonable job spreading money around through tribal support councils, hand-picked ministers with buckets of cash to spend after certain conflicts (Basra, Mosul, Sadr City, couple other places). ISCI currently holds the keys to future funds because they control the Finance Ministry (Bayan Jabr, a lovely sociopath-not sure if you've ever had the pleasure of meeting him. He was the Interior Minister who had torture chambers in the basement. He got punished by being promoted to Finance Minister) and we are already seeing signs that, ostensibly due to budget cuts, support for Maliki's tribal councils and a couple other initiatives is being reduced. (By the way, a fun side effect of this is that the budget cuts have also provided an excuse to not absorb more SOI into the security forces. Not that huge numbers were going in already, but that trickle has generally stopped).
Maliki's problem is that he really only directly controls a couple things-the Special Forces (CTB) and the Operations Cells that have been set up in Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, and I think one or two other places. But really, at the end of the day, he only controls the Special Forces and two, maybe three, Army divisions who's commanders he has on speed dial on his cell phone. The rest of the Army is Kurd or has heavy levels of former Badr Brigade folks or whatever, and the Interior Minister is developing into a political rival. So, his main avenues of response are likely to be to try to leverage US aid (and the embassy and MNF-I are being a little leery of this so as not to seem to be picking winners) or to go after some of his opponents. There have been a couple raids and heavy handed use of Iraqi Special Forces, and some of it seems to have been aimed at Maliki's political opponents, including ISCI supporters/officials (it's a little unclear).
If I am right, the budget crisis brings to a head, probably quicker than we would wish, some of the potential longer-term conflicts between the Shi'a groups, right before national elections (or even after). (By the way, I personally am expecting large numbers of allegations of election fraud in December/January-my belief is that the only reason everyone didn't try to fix the provincial elections is that all parties convinced themselves that they were going to win). So, question is, what do we do about it?
Some things seem obvious -- keep a tight leash on our embedded folks with ISOF, Iraqi intel agencies, and other forces, sign up a huge number of election monitors, and find ways to ameliorate some of the budget cuts. But on the last point, there is little appetite in DC to spend lots more money on Iraq reconstruction (for a variety of reasons). So I don't see a lot of good options on that front.
Thoughts? I realize this somewhat goes against the "Maliki as strongman" view, in that this analysis he doesn't actually control all the levers of power and won't until he wins more on the national level or takes decisive action with the security forces, which is difficult with us there and without securing his flank (like getting the Kurds on board). But I don't see that he has lots of other options if he wants to stay in power and "win" (however defined) the national elections. I'm not sure I see a good "win" for us out of this however it goes."
I'd be interesting in hearing from people who know Iraqi politics about this. I've been more worried about Maliki as a strongman, but I find this argument pretty persuasive.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.