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It's good to be the Sheik...

Joe Honan, one of the Castle's two correspondents on the ground in Iraq, is  a sailor from JFCOM attached to the Marines in Ramadi, where he's... an agriculture specialist.  In the same, only-in-the-military way that I, with a Bachelor's in Geography and a Master's in Criminal Justice... am an Artilleryman and a LVC/DIS/HLA simulations expert.  Because the service decided I was, and so I became one.  That is how Joe has become a specialist in agriculture...  and anything else the team needs this week.  Such flexibility in those who make up the Armed Services is a great component of our strength.

The pictures don't really tie to the story - Joe sent them along with this note: I’ve attached a few pictures, pastel colors are real popular for buildings around here; sometimes it feels like a weird episode of Miami Vice.

Joe picks up the tale:

The men titled “Sheik” here are interesting mix of hereditary clan leaders, influential locals and rich businessmen who have some say in their districts. It’s actually somewhat democratic, because the power is based on influence or “wasta.” So the son of a powerful clan leader can lose his position if he doesn’t help his people as much as a guy that made his fortune since 2003. They’re kind of a cross between city selectmen, medieval barons, and mob bosses.

Ramadi, July-August 2008.Our team sometimes attends the district council for each section of Ramadi. We send representatives to talk governance, and I go when I need to get information out to the people about a program or am looking for projects.

A few days ago we went to one at a sheik’s house. He’s a hereditary guy, (in fact the one that told the joke about not being able to make it rain I talked about before.) He’s a funny guy and usually very laid back.

Our security is from 1st Battalion, 125th Infantry, a Michigan National Guard unit. It’s the same team that goes, so they had the chance to meet a lot of the locals while we are inside talking. A while back they met a father with two small boys. The boys have an issue with some foot infection, and the medic always treats them while they wait. He had identified the medicine they needed, but was having trouble getting it through the military. He had hopes that it would be at a local pharmacy near the Sheik’s house.

Slaughterhouse in Ramadi, summer 2008Now he can’t just walk over and get it. The mission is protection, so they can’t send the whole team either, because that would leave us there alone. So the medic, linguist, and two ePRT guys were sitting with the Sheik in his huge living room before the meeting started, discussing the best way to do this. Do we send part of the team, make a stop on the way back, or wait until next time? Sammy our linguist told the Sheik what we were talking about as a courtesy. He just snorted, and turned to a few of his flunkies standing in the corner. They zip out the door, and Sammy says, “They are calling the pharmacist, he’s going to come here.” The dad and the kids get brought in, and sat in the corner, about fifteen minutes later the pharmacist rushes in, and the medic takes the guy outside. They don’t have the medicine, but the guy promises he’ll order it first thing next morning.

Sometimes it’s good to be the Sheik.

Let me say something about our linguists. Most of the guys (and gals) we work with are US citizens, Iraqi, Lebanese Sudanese born who are absolutely fantastic. They know the programs and issues as well as, if not better than we do, and working different issues they actually have broader knowledge than we do.

Its never an word for word translation, like they are machines. It’s a three way conversation.

“He’s asking about the fuel situation”
“Gee I don’t know, you’ve worked that, please explain it.”
“OK”

View of South Ramadi from a HMMWV window.We’re about halfway through right now, and in the deployment cycle that’s just after the time people tend to get short tempered and explosive, and the start of the time when we just get goofy. Added to all the usual deployment craziness, we have joint services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines), a top-heavy staff (mostly Lt Cols), State Department Civilians, Iraqis, and the desert heat. Of course I just have to do whatever I can to move along the surreal.

I was walking through the office belonging to the Marine Civil Affairs unit a few days ago, and ran into one of their Lance Corporals.

Him: “Hey sir, how are you doing?”
Me: “Man I am living the dream!”
Him: “Ha! Yeah right.”
Me: “You know the dream where you are driving a train through a long tunnel throwing hot dogs at your ex-girlfriends? I think it’s that one.”
Him: “…”

I couple of days ago I brought a number of Anbaris to Baghdad to get visas to go the states later this year. We set up VIP air transport to get them in, and were expecting to spend the whole day there. Well the paperwork was all in order, and it went a lot faster than we thought it would. So about 3 that afternoon we’re wrapping up and one of them comes up to me.

Him: “Can we leave now?”
Me: “No sir, the flight isn’t going to leave until later tonight. We need to bus you all to the landing zone after dinner.”
Him: “Well, can you just let us out at the gate? We’ll find our own way back.”
Me: “…..O.K…. how many of you Sunni leaders want to get left in the middle of Baghdad to find you’re way to Ramadi instead of flying with an armed escort?”
Him: “Oh we’ll all go and rent a couple of cars.”
Me turning to Gunny: “You know, I think this war is officially over.”

The best time was seeing the look on the pilot’s faces when their VIP group consisted of me, Gunny, two linguists, and a sergeant and a corpsman from the civil affairs DET we found who needed a ride.

We have an Air Force Lt Col here who I work with occasionally when our projects cross, and we have both become addicted to a pomegranate soda called “Linda”. When we are at meetings, and the staff comes in with a tray of sodas, it’s actually pretty sad to see us both jockeying to be the ones that get the Lindas. 
 Update: Welcome Cornerites!  1. Drop me a note if you're going on the cruise this fall - my wife and I will be there, too!  2.  If you want to meet the people who run blogs like this, and have figured out how to get stories like this out, despite the Grey Lady's editorial slant - come join us at the Milblogging Conference at Blogworld Expo, in Las Vegas, NV next month.  The conference is free - and while we may not have quite as many NRO-niks on the agenda, you will get to meet a lot of bloggers, for a lot less than we all paid for that NRO cruise!

8 Comments

Me: “…..O.K…. how many of you Sunni leaders want to get left in the middle of Baghdad to find you’re way to Ramadi instead of flying with an armed escort?”
Him: “Oh we’ll all go and rent a couple of cars.”
Me turning to Gunny: “You know, I think this war is officially over.”

Yep!

 
...somewhat democratic, because the power is based on influence or “wasta.”

Y'know, that's how the Roman Republic worked.

The Senators elected one another. It wasn't a matter of honor so much as it was co-option. If you had enough power, enough wasta, the rest of the Senators would elect you -- basically, bring you within the System. For most people the honor of the thing was enough, but if it wasn't they had all sorts of things they could and would do to you, from cutting you out of business deals to sending troops (or assassins) to your house. If you weren't willing to be part of the solution, you were defined as part of the problem.

I have occasionally wondered if something like that wouldn't be applicable to Iraq -- an "Assembly of Sheiks" whose membership was self-elected from among the people the populace recognized as having that status. Modern political systems are hybrids, partly Greek democracy, partly Roman republic. It seems to me a mistake to concentrate on on form at the expense of the other. The tension between the two systems is an important part of the political dynamic that makes the West work.

Regards,
Ric
 
The pomegranate soda is pretty good -- try the tamarind, though. Usually people pass on it because the picture on the label looks like a deep-fried finger...
 
Ric, your post ties neatly to something I've been reading and something I read a few years ago. I'm still filling gaps in my classical education, and your post has given me a lot to ponder and a new trail to follow.

I'm just now finishing up Cicero's 'The Republic' and 'The Laws,' and while the co-option aspect of the system is not discussed at length, there is a great deal about the responsibility of learned citizens to take the reins of government, and a discussion about those who do and those who turn away, if you will. It's quite amazing, actually (to me at least--this is the first time I've read Cicero) to see how much of our modern American system is rooted in the philosophies of the ancients, and it's even more Amazing to know that our Founders were well educated in those philosophies, especially Adams and Jefferson, and how well they managed to imbue our system with the most beneficial elements.

As for the tension aspect, this is a bit of a different. Felix Frankfurter (former Supreme Court Justice and one of the co-founders of the ACLU) once spoke about the tension in the American Federal system between the branches of Government and between the States and the Federal Gov't. In one speech, he was actually referring to the one thing that makes the American legal system different from all other systems, the so-called war amendments (post Civil War) that prohibit states from denying 'due process' and 'equal protection of the law,' which were not in any other nation's constitution, and which he said "are the source of the greatest difficulties and the most challenging problems to come before" the Supreme Court. In another speech about Israel's 10th Anniversary, Frankfurter said "I think the achievement of democracy as a progressive exercise of free men, each a part of the sovereignty of the state, is one of the rarest, one of the most admirable and inspiring manifestations of political skill, of civic devotion, [and] of institutional enterprise." For my part, I see full active participation in our governmental system as the greatest cause of tension an intelligent and educated person will encounter in life: the call to serve vs. the right to say no; the obligation to work for the greater good vs. the instinct to maximize personal gain; the expectation of willing sacrifice vs. the personal duty to family, and on and on....

I haven't really got all of this worked out yet, but I have been thinking a lot lately about the tension between individual rights and State (societal) obligations, which touch on so many parts of our lives, especially today. For example, in a country where Government is supposedly for, by, and of the People, does the government have the right to draft into the military people who don't want to serve? I don't think so. Does the Government have the right to tax citizens who don't want its services. I think so. Do individuals have the right to force other people to listen to them because the Government says so? Is the so-called freedom of speech as sacred and immutable as it people think it is? Should it be? Is there a right to privacy? How about anonymity? Shouldn't individuals be allowed to associate only with people they want to associate with? Should one person have the right to make a group of individuals behave a certain way, or be able to force membership in groups where he or she is not welcome? Should "people of color" be given extra rights denied to "whites" just because the system is unbalanced or unfair--to make up for past ills? Are we all really equal? Do we really want everyone to be equal or only provide equal opportunity to everyone? 

And a whole lot more of the same....
 
I know there are no easy answers, and I know that some things are just inherently unfair and that isn't going to change, but I am nonetheless fascinated by the notion of tension in systems, in relationships, and in politics, and your post, Ric (and Joe via the Armorer, by extension), has added an another dimension I hadn't even considered.  Thanks for that....

V/R
SangerM

BTW, re: equality, Friederich Hayek once wrote "From the fact that people are very different it follows that, if we treat them equally, the result must be inequality in their actual position, and that the only way to place them in an equal position would be to treat them differently. Equality before the law and material equality are therefore not only different but are in conflict with each other; and we can achieve either one or the other, but not both at the same time.”

Talk about tension....
 
Quousque tandem abutere, patientia nostra, Catilina! 

How do I love Late Republican Prose.
 
How long, at last, O Cataline, will you abuse our patience???

Izzat it Boq?  I had to look it up.  I'm reading a translation of Cicero (Oxford World's Classic, by Niall Rudd -- VERY well done, actually).  The last Latin classes I took were in '70-71, and though I passed, I did so barely.  Do you read latin?  If so, wow.  I was already impressed, that would just add icing...

 
Not a bad translation.  Or more loosely: Until when will you abuse our patience, Catilina.

I took three years of Latin and loved it.  Towards the end I had a good command of it; being able to appreciate the finer points of Cicero, Sallust, & Caesar.  However with lack of use, most of it have been long forgotten.  I can still string-up simple sentences (albeit with glaring grammatical horrors), but to relish once again in the sublimity  of Virgil - Forget about it.

Latin has given me to this day, a good understanding how all Western languages are intimately interconnected.  And that I won't forget.
 
The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post <a href="http://thunderrun.blogspot.com/2008/08/from-front-08182008.html">From the Front: 08/18/2008 </a> News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.