Saturday, September 15, 2007

Iraq: A Churchillian Solution?

"President Bush will have his victory at any cost, with one eye on his next Churchillian speech and the other on his place in history," George Packer writes most perceptively in The New Yorker of September 27. The metaphor is most apt, but not for the traditional conception of a Churchill and his "Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival," which he delivered in his first memorable speech to Parliament as Prime Minister on May 13, 1940 – his famous "blood, toil, sweat and tears" oration. No, not at all. Instead, the Churchillian act for which he must really be remembered in connection with Iraq is a far different one.

This was the Churchill of two decades earlier who, in the immediate aftermath of the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 served as Britain's Secretaries of State for War and Air. This was the Churchill who presided over the British occupation of Mesopotamia and especially Iraq, a bastard nation carved by the peacemakers out of the dregs of the Ottoman Empire with a close eye only to their self-interest – preserving the trade routes to the Raj in India and access to oil that was just in the process of being discovered. It was Churchill who also presided over the first explosion in the new nation. As I write in A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today:

"In June 1920 the tribes of the Euphrates rose up against their British masters—a rebellion that cost Britain 40 million pounds and 450 troops, leaving 10,000 Iraqis dead. That's when Winston Churchill finally realized that direct rule would never work and he sought a ruler he could control. Enter Feisal. The Hashemite prince, stateless since the French deposed him in Syria, was the perfect puppet. Though a foreigner to the people of Mesopotamia, he was quickly 'elected' in a stage-managed national referendum, paraded into Baghdad, and crowned in a comic-opera ceremony that might have been produced by Gilbert and Sullivan, replete with a small military band playing 'God Save the King.'"

Eventually, the British did get out. But it took them ten years and in the process they managed to sign a 75-year "contract" with the Iraq Petroleum Company designed to give them full access to Iraqi supplies and at the same time installed a government that took the nation to its official independence in 1932 and admission to the League of Nations as a sovereign state. In the process, Churchill and his successors created many of the problems that Bush and his supporters are confronting today.
The British eighty years ago turned over power to the only individuals they could find able to create a nation in their own image – run a bureaucracy, establish a parliamentary government and maintain a military hierarchy with which those Brits left behind could deal. These were the Sunnis, trained in the Ottoman legions of the Caliph and who maintained power, by force of arms or intimidation, over the majority indigenous Shiites and had done so for a millennium. This is the background to the bitter remarks of Abu Sajat, a 36-year-old commander in the Shiite Mahdi Army terrorizing Hurriya and other nearby areas. Talking with a New York Times reporter, Abu Sajat justified his unit's attacks on Sunnis: "Their houses belong to us. They've colonized us for more than 1,000 years. Sunnis are like the puppies of a filthy dog. Even the purest among them is dirty."

With such deep-seated and bitter hostilities – on both sides – there may be no good way out. Moreover, as Packer so nobly suggests and as history so aptly teaches, how we leave is far less important than what we leave behind. Still, the history of another part of the world, indeed another corner of the same Ottoman Empire, may provide some lessons…which I'll discuss in my next posting.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Beyond Glory

Last night, my wife Pamela and I went to see Stephen Lang portray eight extraordinary men – all winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor from three wars: World War II, Korea and Vietnam. “Beyond Glory,” a one-man show at New York’s Roundabout Theater had only one omission in an otherwise pitch-perfect account of courage, indeed extraordinary courage, under fire.

There was not a single hero, a single holder of the nation’s highest military honor for heroism, from the Iraq War. That could be because there’s been only a single such winner in this war. Of all the 3,684 American soldiers who have lost their lives, let alone the 26,558 who’ve been wounded (certainly enough Purple Hearts have been handed out), the only American soldier, sailor or marine to be awarded this singular award for bravery is Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith, B Company, 11th Engineer Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, United States Army, who entered the war on April 3, 2003, two weeks after it began.

I thought back about some of the other wars America has fought. World War I, from June 28, 1914, the date of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo by Garvrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb student, until the final armistice on November 11, 1918, lasted just four years, four months and fourteen days. The United States was officially a declared belligerent, however, for only one year, seven months and five days. Yet 125 Americans were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery in that conflict.

Stephen Lang doesn’t even mention Iraq in his riveting 80-minute monologue. Yet this war lasted March 20, 2003 to the present – four years, four months and 23 days, or nine days longer than all of World War I for which the United States provided only a short, sharp and as it turned out winning coda. Lang’s portrayal of heroism is by no means an anti-war screed – far from it. Rather it is a tribute to bravery. Does that mean there are no brave men or women serving in contemporary Mesopotamia? Far from it. Certainly, some may be designated years later, as happened occasionally in previous conflicts. But perhaps there’s simply some question as to one defines heroism in this sort of war that has basically superimposed 21st century military technology and tactics on bloody and bitter tribal disputes that have been a fixture of conflicts in Arabia and the Persian Gulf as far back as recorded time.

One of America’s most perceptive commanders in Iraq today, Brig. General John Allen, an astute battle-hardened Marine commander in al Anbar Province, observed to Wall Street Journal correspondent Greg Jaffe that it was the Anbari sheikhs who continue to call the tune in this, and most other regions of contemporary Iraq, as they have back to the time of Versailles, and even before.

“When the tribes are at their best they live in a condition of splendid equilibrium,” General Allen quotes Gertrude Bell as writing in her diaries in 1920. Readers of A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today will recall her as a colleague of T.E. Lawrence in his efforts to prevent Mesopotamia from being carved up to the advantage of the western powers at the Paris Peace Conference. Bell, Lawrence and their Arab clientele, failed in their efforts of course. General Allen and a handful of others recognize the consequences. “The tribes are constantly shifting alliances to suit economic and security needs,” he says, pointing out that the vast majority of Iraq’s population – Sunni and Shiite alike, are members of one of the 150 or so tribes that comprise the present day kaleidoscope that is the ultimately artificial nation of Iraq.

Can there ever be heros in a conflict like this? In World War I, even in Vietnam, the enemy was quite clear. You could them apart – by their uniforms, if not by the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes. Today, one day’s hero, one day’s ally is the next day’s bitter enemy. The British and French discovered this, very much to their chagrin, in the decades that followed the disaster that took place in Paris in1919. Today, the United States seems to be learning a similar, if even more costly lesson in the same region.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

British Boffins

Blair is likely to face Arab hostility as he mediates Mideast peace. Among his biggest challenges is anger over wars in Iraq and Lebanon, and perception that he parrots the U.S. line. --THE WALL STREET JOURNAL June 28, 2007

The roots, of course, of Arab hostility to Britain lie far deeper than even Prime Minister Tony Blair is likely to recognize. Here are the opening lines of A Shattered Peace:

Spring in Paris, a brilliant Tuesday May 13, 1919. At four o’clock the city is still bathed in that crystal light that washes every building clean, even the aging, but elegant townhouses in the city’s fashionable sixteenth arrondissement. There, on the Rue Nitot, President Woodrow Wilson has gathered the leaders of the four victorious Allies. World War I is over. And now, this small group of statesmen is remaking the world – in their own image. The issue today is Iraq – carving what will become a new nation out of the sands of Mesopotamia. The brilliant young British diplomat, Harold Nicolson, has been cooling his heels in the ante-room, engrossed in The Portrait of Dorian Grey, when suddenly a door flies open and he is summoned into the presence of the leaders. He picks up the story in his diary:
“A heavily furnished study with my huge map on the carpet. Bending over it (bubble, bubble toil and trouble) are Clemenceau, Lloyd George and PW. They have pulled up armchairs and crouch low over the map….They are cutting the Baghdad railway. Clemenceau says nothing during all of this. He sits at the edge of his chair and leans his two blue-gloved hands down upon the map. More than ever does he look like a gorilla of yellow ivory….It is appalling that these ignorant and irresponsible men should be cutting Asia Minor to bits as if they were dividing a cake.…Isn’t it terrible, the happiness of millions being discarded in that way? Their decisions are immoral and impracticable….These three ignorant men with a child to lead them….The child , I suppose, is me. Anyhow, it is an anxious child.”

This is only the debut of a startling series of mis-steps by Britain, its prime minister at the time, David Lloyd George, and a host of successors including the redoubtable Winston Churchill, that led to the installation of a puppet King on the throne of an artificial Iraq (née Mesopotamia) and the ultimate arrival in power of Saddam Hussein who held this artificial nation together only by virtue of a reign of terror unprecedented even in this often violent and unpredictable corner of the world.

The fact is that the British, in their own way far more so than the U.S. have been wont to tinker in some mad scientist fashion with remote regions of the globe that they see could serve their own narrow, often parochial interest. That this methodology has found some contiguity in Washington today is a tribute less to the remnants of Britain’s colonial mentality, helas, than to the transmogrification of some sense of western democracy into a political system that can be grafted onto Third World regions that have been designed to our own specifications and which are scarcely prepared or even barely interested in adopting it.

This fundamental theme of A Shattered Peace is applicable equally to the Balkans and communist Europe, to Indochina and the wars that tore that region apart as well as the centuries-old frictions between Japan, China and the West that have been transferred from the battlefield of the 20th century to the trading floor of the 21st.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Selling of ASP (Volume 1)

Burger ’n Beer at Luke’s on Third Avenue with my brilliant and tireless agent Alexis Hurley of Inkwell Management. The Selling of ASP is turning easily into as complex and demanding a process as writing it in the first place. But that, apparently, is book publishing in America these days.

I arrive with a 22-point agenda. The timetable is daunting. Page proofs came yesterday and I show them to her. She agrees Wiley (and my production editor, Rachel Meyers) have done a fab job designing the book. It looks wonderful – typography, layout, photographs. (Only two days later did I discover they’d somehow managed to omit in the printed books the link to Chapter 9 /12 on the website that was supposed to appear between Chapters 9 and 10, causing a sleepless night and a bit of angst til we agreed finally that it can appear after Chapter 10! Rachel made it happen…thanks, Rachel!!)

So with page proofs out of the way (finished them last night…now they’re off to Wiley), next up are the bound galleys. I’m getting 50 (yes, FIFTY, I feel like Molly Shannon on Saturday Night Live!) copies to send to media and other folks to start getting the WORD out on ASP. We have First Serial Rights, so I need to tell Alexis a) Where we should try to place them (Atlantic, Harper’s, Foreign Affairs, The Nation, Commentary, Reader’s Digest?) and what excerpts would work best.

What next? The campaign for book reviews (targeting, clearly The NYT, WashPost, WSJ, for instance). There’s the St. Pete Times book reviewer I met at BEA, for instance. (She seemed pretty enthusiastic?) Above all, there’s some kind of commitment from a “big” TV appearance (CBS Early Show? The Daily Show? The Factor?) That could jump-start Wiley’s sales operation and mean a really HEALTHY first printing – taking it from a firm mid-list to best-seller material (which ASP CERTAINLY is!). Then again, how do you get a daily TV show to commit to an appearance four months in advance? Four WEEKS maybe, but four MONTHS? Listen, I worked for a network for seven years, and I KNOW what booking a morning show is like! Gotta pull a rabbit outa that hat, though.

Still, the BIG peg is General Petraeus’s report on the surge. That has been expected in September (ugh – too early…bound books won’t ship til October 5!). But Sunday morning talk shows yesterday were suggesting that could slide a bit – WHOA, how cool would THAT be. This book puts the whole surge and our Iraqi involvement into total perspective.

Then there are appearances. First galley will go to Steve Forbes. (We’d LOVE him to host the book party in the Forbes Gallery. It would be great for Forbes – just look at my blurbs, for instance and the folks I could bring in there.) Then there are other appearances. Three so far:

October 29 Harvard Club of New York City: evening reading/signing
November 1 National Press Club (Washington) 30th Annual Book Fair
November 5 The Harvard Coop (Cambridge): 7 pm reading/signing

Still pending: The Grolier Club (NYC), Politics & Prose (Washington), Aspen Institute (Washington), Barnes & Noble (Union Square, NYC).

Alexis and I move on: OK, what about web blasts (I already have more than 2,000 e-mail addresses and by August will be likely to have catalogued 5,000 or more). Yes, she says, by all means – one in August, another in October for the media.

How about a Speaker’s Bureau. Alexis can help. I just need to get her speech talking points. I can do THAT. I speak all the time for and can talk for a half hour on any topic under the sun! And I do q&a’s well too!

How about foreign rights? Manuscripts are out – especially France where I can do TV all sorts of other promotion! Now we just sit back and wait. Ditto for Audio books (me as the narrator? Hell, I was a network TV correspondent. I can READ!).

Finally, there’s the NEXT book. We talk about it. Alexis loves the idea (so does Hana, my brilliant Wiley editor who will get first crack at it, contractually if nothing else!). More on that later. The next book, though, we’ll look for foundation help too. Then I won’t have to blow through the whole advance just on research!

Lots to chew over. A big six months ahead. Then THE LAUNCH! I’m ready !!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Just Chip, Chipping Away

The process of chipping away at Iraq that will, if successful, lead to the three nations that should have emerged nearly nine decades ago from the Versailles peace process, is beginning. The fringes of Iraq will inevitably be the first to go.

Alas, so far no peacemaker has emerged like Dick Holbrooke and no process like the Dayton Accords, which he so deftly engineered. This pact effectively dismantled the system cobbled together for the Balkans in Paris in 1919. As described in detail in A Shattered Peace, the Paris Peace Conference resulted in the creation of the benighted nation of Yugoslavia that itself dissolved in bloodshed after the death of its leader, Josip Broz Tito – violence less intense, less visible than what we are experiencing in Iraq, but no less horrifying for its inhabitants.

Now, however, the first whiffs of a Dayton process may be appearing in the land known (before the Western powers got their mitts on it at the start of the last century) as Mesopotamia.

In Iraq, just as happened in Yugoslavia when the wheels began coming off the nation after the death of Tito, the wealthiest and most stable region became the first to start moving toward full independence.

In Yugoslavia, where I lived for nearly three years during Tito's reign, the prosperous state of Slovenia long considered itself closer in any every way— language (a Latin rather than Cyrillic alphabet), religion (Roman Catholicism rather than Serbian Orthodox or Moslem), and above all standard of living – to its neighbors, Austria and Italy. Slovenia's war for independence was shorter (10 days compared with a bloody four years for neighboring Croatia), and its path to full membership in both NATO and European Community shorter, than any of the other Yugoslav republics. Croatia is still waiting for the official call, which is not expected before 2009; Macedonia became an official candidate in 2005; while Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia are merely recognized as potential candidates. But Slovenia will hold the presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first six months of 2008.

In these respects, Kurdistan is the Slovenia of Iraq. Before World War I it was a province of the Ottoman Empire. Afterwards, while some negotiators in Paris in1919 thought they might create it as a separate nation, the Kurds wound up divided three ways – between the British and French mandate states of Iraq and Syria respectively, and Turkey, the stump nation that remained of the once vast Ottoman territories.

In any event, the Kurdish region of Iraq is by far the most stable and, while it does not have the vast oil resources of the southern Shiite territories along the Person Gulf oil basin, it is also a prosperous territory that could easily stand on its own. Indeed the new Iraqi constitution does grant it all but unprecedented autonomy – a reality that has not escaped neighboring Turkey. The Turkish government views with horror an independent Kurdistan, which would be a magnet for its own Kurds and, it believes, a security nightmare.

So last week, Turkey declared several areas near its border with Iraq "temporary security zones" and reportedly began massing troops there, some allegedly crossing into northern Iraq (Kurdistan) in hot pursuit of Kurdish guerrillas who, from time to time, launch raids into Turkey.

The issue is likely to become even more fraught as the time approaches for a referendum later this year over whether the city of Kirkuk – the heart of the Kurdish oil region – should be incorporated into an autonomous (or semi-autonomous) Kurdistan.

If the referendum succeeds, the first step toward a tri-partite division of Iraq, as detailed in A Shattered Peace, will become a reality. The next tentative steps toward some form of Dayton Accord are already under way. American diplomats have talked with officials of Iran and Syria both of whom (along with neighboring Sunni Saudi Arabia). Each of these neighbors of Iraq may hold the key to an end to hostilities and creation of peaceful, if not immediately stable, territories where Shiites and Sunnis can separately pursue their own way of life.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Revenge of the Nerds?

For the past five years, Russia and China seemed on the verge of winning the power and respect as superpowers that had eluded them since their failures at the Paris Peace Conference that ended World War I. This time their victory was on the strength of economic rather than military muscle.

With 10 percent annual economic growth, compounding each year, a soaring stock market and vast human and natural resources, suddenly there was no stopping them. Now, the power that both possessed, that had cast such a pall over the peace talks of 1919, was very real indeed.

For anyone who watched carefully the progress of these two nations in the decades since their failure to win any tangible respect in 1919, it was clear that their success was inevitable.

For Russia, it was natural resources that truly made her a superpower. Lenin and Stalin won their power at the point of a gun and a massive domestic terror campaign, combined with the still (nearly a century later) bewildering refusal of the Western powers to touch the third rail of Bolshevism. These Bolsheviks never understood that the real power that would make their nation a superpower was the natural resources that lay deep beneath the earth of their own country, as well as the extraordinary energy and vitality of a people that were unleashed to work for their own, rather than their leaders’, profit.

Putin understood that in capitalism, not communism, was the path to global domination – if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. More than twenty years ago, in the depths of the Cold War, when another brilliant KGB chief, Yuri Andropov had just come to power in the USSR, one of his brilliant young minions lunched with me, clearly ecstatic that his native land finally had a leader who could truly take it to the next plateau of true equality with the West and superpower dominance.

Vyatcheslav Kovalev was a product of the apparat – raised in privileged surroundings in Moscow. His father had served as Stalin’s Minister of Agriculture and paid for his failures by banishment – but unlike many of those who failed this heir to Ivan the Terrible’s mantle, it was a gilded exile to Tokyo as Soviet ambassador to Japan. His son took one of the paths open to the priviligentsia and joined the KGB. Now in the early 1980s, speaking impeccable French, with the poise and dress of a graduate of a French Grand Ecole, he was serving in the spy agency’s Paris station. He was happy to deal with a young CBS News correspondent over lunch at Chiberta, his favorite two-star restaurant just off the Champs-Elysées, where he spun his tale of the New Russia, just two weeks after Andropov assumed power on November 12, 1982.

Many in the West were paralyzed with fear that a KGB chief had risen to leadership in the Soviet Union. Others dismissed him has just another communist head of a nation that couldn’t even make its elevators go to the top floors or its toilets flush reliably. Kovalev had another, more accurate perspective. Andropov would be a great leader, he said, because only officials of the KGB, the one organ of state power that dealt unblinkingly with the outside world, understood precisely how flawed the Soviet Union was, and how vast the economic disparity between his nation and the West. Understanding this gulf was the first giant step toward bridging it. If he lived long enough. Andropov did not. At least not long enough to effect any substantive changes. Three months after assuming power, he suffered total renal failure and five months later the Central Clinical Hospital where he would spend the last six months of his life, ruling the Soviet Union from his hospital bed. Fifteen months after assuming power, the only KGB chief ever to hold the top office in the Soviet Union was dead.

Young Kovalev was crushed. Russia’s only hope was gone, succeeded by Konstantin Chernenko, a narrow-minded, stone-headed bureaucrat. It took nearly eight more years before communism was to fall of its own weight. But by the time Vladimir Putin officially assumed office on May 7, 2000, capitalism was the new national system of Russia. And economic muscle would be the engine that would make the nation a superpower.

That’s the position Putin found himself when on Monday, on the eve of the start of the G-8 summit in Germany, Putin revived an arms race that most considered long dead. During one of his rare Moscow press conferences, the Soviet leader flexed his newfound muscles, delivering a warning from his position of strength as leader of one of the world’s leading supplies of energy.

"It is obvious that if part of the strategic nuclear potential of the United States is located in Europe we will have to respond. What kind of steps are we going to take in response? Of course we are going to acquire new targets in Europe."

A nuclear arsenal combined with the ability to turn off the spigot of vast resources of oil and natural gas? Russia, the superpower that Lenin, Stalin and a parade of Soviet communist leaders so desperately desired, has arrived.

The next time, we’ll have a look at China and its failures and successes. Meanwhile, wait for A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today, or if you’d like a look at the economic aspects of the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, have a look at Chapter 9 1/2.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

On Visiting BEA

The immediate goal of the author is to spread the word of A Shattered Peace – not as daunting a task as might appear from the thousands who jammed New York’s Javits Convention Center for Book Expo America, the premier gathering of America’s publishing industry.

From Berkeley, California to Kent Connecticut, from Confluence Book Store in Bellevue, Nebraska to Border’s in the borough of Queens in New York City, there is a fascination with the Middle East and the origins of America’s troubles there – as well as the Balkans, East and Southeast Asia, and the one-time communist regions of Eastern and Central Europe – all integral parts of A Shattered Peace.

A stop at the stand of for a word of appreciation to Richard Davies. Without the global reach of this British Columbia-based on-line seller of rare, used and out-of-print titles, the research into the memoirs and diaries of even the most obscure participants in the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 would have been difficult, if not impossible. Nearly 300 such titles were consulted in research for A Shattered Peace.

At BBC Audiobooks America, president and publisher Jim Brannigan observes “this is just the kind of book we’re looking for.”

Larissa Faw, editor of Youth Markets Alert, and niece of my former CBS News colleague, Bob Faw, now an NBC News correspondent, asks for an autographed bookmark and says, “My dad will love this book. He is totally compelled by the History Channel.”

Indeed, at the Wiley stand, the handsome bookmarks (some 7,000 have been printed – requests to gladly fulfilled!) are being snapped up by visitors and buyers alike.

Marketing A Shattered Peace is clearly integral to its success. But there is more to it than simply an exercise in profits and loss. If we do not study and learn from history, we will certainly never find our way out.

Complaints about the war in Iraq, Afghanistan, civil or political disturbances involving many regions that are explored in this volume, will be merely strident political posturing without an understanding of how we got here – which may in turn offer some very clear solutions and a sense of where we should be going.