Thursday, March 09, 2006

Ethnic Divisiveness - What's Really Happening?

Received this in an email and found it appeared in the New York Post:

March 5, 2006 -- BAGHDAD

I'M trying. I've been trying all week. The other day, I drove another 30 miles or so on the streets and alleys of Baghdad. I'm looking for the civil war that The New York Times declared. And I just can't find it.

Maybe actually being on the ground in Iraq prevents me from seeing it. Perhaps the view's clearer from Manhattan. It could be that my background as an intelligence officer didn't give me the right skills.

And riding around with the U.S. Army, looking at things first-hand, is certainly a technique to which The New York Times wouldn't stoop in such an hour of crisis.

Let me tell you what I saw anyway. Rolling with the "instant Infantry" gunners of the 1st Platoon of Bravo Battery, 4-320 Field Artillery, I saw children and teenagers in a Shia slum jumping up and down and cheering our troops as they drove by. Cheering our troops.

All day - and it was a long day - we drove through Shia and Sunni neighborhoods. Everywhere, the reception was warm. No violence. None.

And no hostility toward our troops. Iraqis went out of their way to tell us we were welcome.

Instead of a civil war, something very different happened because of the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra. The fanatic attempt to stir up Sunni-vs.-Shia strife, and the subsequent spate of violent attacks, caused popular support for the U.S. presence to spike upward.

Think Abu Musab al-Zarqawi intended that?

In place of the civil war that elements in our media declared, I saw full streets, open shops, traffic jams, donkey carts, Muslim holiday flags - and children everywhere, waving as our Humvees passed. Even the clouds of dust we stirred up didn't deter them. And the presence of children in the streets is the best possible indicator of a low threat level.

Southeast Baghdad, at least, was happy to see our troops.

And we didn't just drive past them. First Lt. Clenn Frost, the platoon leader, took every opportunity to dismount and mingle with the people. Women brought their children out of their compound gates to say hello. A local sheik spontaneously invited us into his garden for colas and sesame biscuits.

It wasn't the Age of Aquarius. The people had serious concerns. And security was No. 1. They wanted the Americans to crack down harder on the foreign terrorists and to disarm the local militias. Iraqis don't like and don't support the militias, Shia or Sunni, which are nothing more than armed gangs.

Help's on the way, if slowly. The Iraqi Army has confounded its Western critics, performing extremely well last week. And the people trust their new army to an encouraging degree. The Iraqi police aren't all the way there yet, and the population doesn't yet have much confidence in them. But all of this takes time.

And even the police are making progress. We took a team of them with us so they could train beside our troops. We visited a Public Order Battalion - a gendarmerie outfit - that reeked of sloth and carelessness. But the regular Iraqi Police outfit down the road proved surprisingly enthusiastic and professional. It's just an uneven, difficult, frustrating process.

So what did I learn from a day in the dust and muck of Baghdad's less-desirable boroughs? As the long winter twilight faded into haze and the fires of the busy shawarma stands blazed in the fresh night, I felt that Iraq was headed, however awkwardly, in the right direction.

The country may still see a civil war one day. But not just yet, thanks. Violence continues. A roadside bomb was found in the next sector to the west. There will be more deaths, including some of our own troops. But Baghdad's vibrant life has not been killed. And the people of Iraq just might surprise us all.

So why were we told that Iraq was irreversibly in the throes of civil war when it wasn't remotely true? I think the answers are straightforward. First, of course, some parties in the West are anxious to believe the worst about Iraq. They've staked their reputations on Iraq's failure.

But there's no way we can let irresponsible journalists off the hook - or their parent organizations. Many journalists are, indeed, brave and conscientious; yet some in Baghdad - working for "prestigious" publications - aren't out on the city streets the way they pretend to be.

They're safe in their enclaves, protected by hired guns, complaining that it's too dangerous out on the streets. They're only in Baghdad for the byline, and they might as well let their Iraqi employees phone it in to the States. Whenever you see a column filed from Baghdad by a semi-celeb journalist with a "contribution" by a local Iraqi, it means this: The Iraqi went out and got the story, while the journalist stayed in his or her room.

And the Iraqi stringers have cracked the code: The Americans don't pay for good news. So they exaggerate the bad.

And some of them have agendas of their own.

A few days ago, a wild claim that the Baghdad morgue held 1,300 bodies was treated as Gospel truth. Yet Iraqis exaggerate madly and often have partisan interests. Did any Western reporter go to that morgue and count the bodies - a rough count would have done it - before telling the world the news?

I doubt it.

If reporters really care, it's easy to get out on the streets of Baghdad. The 506th Infantry Regiment - and other great military units - will take journalists on their patrols virtually anywhere in the city. Our troops are great to work with. (Of course, there's the danger of becoming infected with patriot- ism . . .)

I'm just afraid that some of our journalists don't want to know the truth anymore.

For me, though, memories of Baghdad will be the cannoneers of the 1st Platoon walking the dusty, reeking alleys of Baghdad. I'll recall 1st Lt. Frost conducting diplomacy with the locals and leading his men through a date-palm grove in a search for insurgent mortar sites.

I'll remember that lieutenant investigating the murder of a Sunni mullah during last week's disturbances, cracking down on black-marketers, checking up on sewer construction, reassuring citizens - and generally doing the job of a lieutenant-colonel in peacetime.

Oh, and I'll remember those "radical Shias" cheering our patrol as we passed by.

Ralph Peters is reporting from Forward Operating Base Loyalty, where he's been riding with the 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.

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... and one could add "not all human problems really are."
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SEARCH BLOG: FEDERAL RESERVE for full versions... or use the Blog Archive pulldown menu.

February 3, 2006
Go back to 1999-2000 and see what the Fed did. They are following the same pattern for 2005-06. If it ain't broke, the Fed will fix it... and good!
August 29, 2006 The Federal Reserve always acts on old information... and is the only cause of U.S. recessions.
December 5, 2006 Last spring I wrote about what I saw to be a sharp downturn in the economy in the "rustbelt" states, particularly Michigan.
March 28, 2007
The Federal Reserve sees no need to cut interest rates in the light of adverse recent economic data, Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday.
The Fed chairman said ”to date, the incoming data have supported the view that the current stance of policy is likely to foster sustainable economic growth and a gradual ebbing in core inflation”.

July 21, 2007 My guess is that if there is an interest rate change, a cut is more likely than an increase. The key variables to be watching at this point are real estate prices and the inventory of unsold homes.
August 11, 2007 I suspect that within 6 months the Federal Reserve will be forced to lower interest rates before housing becomes a black hole.
September 11, 2007 It only means that the overall process has flaws guaranteeing it will be slow in responding to changes in the economy... and tend to over-react as a result.
September 18, 2007 I think a 4% rate is really what is needed to turn the economy back on the right course. The rate may not get there, but more cuts will be needed with employment rates down and foreclosure rates up.
October 25, 2007 How long will it be before I will be able to write: "The Federal Reserve lowered its lending rate to 4% in response to the collapse of the U.S. housing market and massive numbers of foreclosures that threaten the banking and mortgage sectors."
"Should the elevated turbulence persist, it would increase the possibility of further tightening in financial conditions for households and businesses," he said.

"Uncertainties about the economic outlook are unusually high right now," he said. "These uncertainties require flexible and pragmatic policymaking -- nimble is the adjective I used a few weeks ago."

December 11, 2007 Somehow the Fed misses the obvious.
[Image from:]
December 13, 2007 [from The Christian Science Monitor]
"The odds of a recession are now above 50 percent," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's "We are right on the edge of a recession in part because of the Fed's reluctance to reduce interest rates more aggressively." [see my comments of September 11]
January 7, 2008 The real problem now is that consumers can't rescue the economy and manufacturing, which is already weakening, will continue to weaken. We've gutted the forces that could avoid a downturn. The question is not whether there will be a recession, but can it be dampened sufficiently so that it is very short.
January 11, 2008 This is death by a thousand cuts.
January 13, 2008 [N.Y. Times]
“The question is not whether we will have a recession, but how deep and prolonged it will be,” said David Rosenberg, the chief North American economist at Merrill Lynch. “Even if the Fed’s moves are going to work, it will not show up until the later part of 2008 or 2009.
January 17, 2008 A few days ago, Anna Schwartz, nonagenarian economist, implicated the Federal Reserve as the cause of the present lending crisis [from the Telegraph - UK]:
The high priestess of US monetarism - a revered figure at the Fed - says the central bank is itself the chief cause of the credit bubble, and now seems stunned as the consequences of its own actions engulf the financial system. "The new group at the Fed is not equal to the problem that faces it," she says, daring to utter a thought that fellow critics mostly utter sotto voce.
January 22, 2008 The cut has become infected and a limb is in danger. Ben Bernanke is panicking and the Fed has its emergency triage team cutting rates... this time by 3/4%. ...

What should the Federal Reserve do now? Step back... and don't be so anxious to raise rates at the first sign of economic improvement.
Individuals and businesses need stability in their financial cost structures so that they can plan effectively and keep their ships afloat. Wildly fluctuating rates... regardless of what the absolute levels are... create problems. Either too much spending or too much fear. It's just not that difficult to comprehend. Why has it been so difficult for the Fed?

About Me

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Michigan, United States
Air Force (SAC) captain 1968-72. Retired after 35 years of business and logistical planning, including running a small business. Two sons with advanced degrees; one with a business and pre-law degree. Beautiful wife who has put up with me for 4 decades. Education: B.A. (Sociology major; minors in philosopy, English literature, and German) M.S. Operations Management (like a mixture of an MBA with logistical planning)