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An Israeli in Kosovo

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Imagine what would happen to a handful of Jewish veterans of the Israel Defense Forces who tried to move from Tel Aviv to an Arab country to open a bistro and bar. In only a few countries could they even get through the airport without being deported or, more likely, arrested. If they were somehow able to finagle a permit from the bureaucracy and operate openly as Israelis in an Arab capital, they wouldn’t last long. Somebody would almost certainly kill them even if the state left them alone.

Kosovo is a Muslim-majority country, but it isn’t Arab. The ethnic Albanians who make up around 90 percent of the population reject out of hand the vicious war-mongering anti-Semitism that still boils in the Middle East. Israelis can open a bistro and bar in Kosovo without someone coming to get them or even harassing them. Shachar Caspi, co-owner of the Odyssea Bistro and the Odyssea Bakery, proves it.

Caspi’s bistro is in the hip, bohemian, and stylish Pejton neighborhood in the city center of Kosovo’s capital Prishtina. A huge number of café bars that look expensive but are actually cheap make up the core of the area. The hyper-local economy in Pejton is apparently based on fashionably dressed young people selling espresso and alcoholic beverages to each other. If you ever visit Prishtina, book a hotel room in that neighborhood.

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Pejton, Prishtina, Kosovo

An Israeli woman who manages the Odyssea Bakery didn’t feel like being interviewed, so she directed me to her boss Caspi at the Odyssea Bistro around the corner. “He will be more than happy to talk to you,” she said. “He will tell you anything you want to know.”

She was right. I showed up at the bistro unannounced and introduced myself. “Let’s sit at the bar,” Caspi said. The bartender served me an espresso with milk on the house.

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Espresso, Odyssea Bistro, Prishtina, Kosovo

“So how did you end up in Kosovo?” I said.

“It started in about October of 2005,” he said. “I came to work for an Israeli businessman. He has a big company that he wanted me to work for. After a year we thought there was a good potential in the food business, so I contacted a friend in Israel — he is one of my partners — and we started with a small coffee place with two local partners. But we didn’t get along too well, so we went our separate ways and we sold our part. The next thing we got another local partner and another partner from Holland who is a silent investor. And the four of us established this company. And now we have this bistro, and now we have the bakery, and another sandwich bar in the EU building. This concept is very similar to what we have back home, that is why we did it. This looks very similar to places in Tel Aviv.”

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Odyssea Bistro, Prishtina, Kosovo

“I notice that a lot of places in Prishtina remind me of Tel Aviv,” I said.

Though the aesthetic is similar, the building materials in Kosovo are of a bit lower quality than what’s available in Israel. Restaurants in Prishtina — aside from Caspi’s — are not designed to resemble those in Tel Aviv on purpose, but the resemblance is incidentally there nevertheless. (The aesthetic in Serbian restaurants and bars, meanwhile, reminded me of those in Lebanon. And, yes, that is a compliment. The Lebanese have more style than just about anyone.)

The Israeli contribution to the local food and drink scene isn’t a secret. I found Caspi’s establishment in the Bradt Guide which lists Odyssea as Israeli-owned. I knew already that Kosovo is friendlier to Israel than most countries in the world — especially compared with other Muslim-majority countries — but I was still slightly surprised to see this. It only takes one Islamist fanatic to blow up a bistro. And it would only take a small amount of the right kind of threatening pressure to drive Caspi, his business partners, and his employees out of town or at least underground. But nothing like this has happened.

“People know you are Israeli?” I said.

“Of course,” he said. “Of course. Everybody knows we are Israelis.”

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Shachar Caspi, Prishtina, Kosovo

“Nobody cares?” I said.

“On the contrary,” he said, “people like it. They come to speak to us. They want to be in contact. Here I didn’t see anybody that was negative. On the contrary the people are very warm, very nice. They take Islam to a beautiful place. Not a violent place. When they hear I am from Israel they react very warmly.”

Lots of Kosovar Albanians confirmed what Caspi is saying.

“Kosovars used to identify with the Palestinians because we Albanians are Muslims and Christians and we saw Serbia and Israel both as usurpers of land,” a prominent Kosovar recently told journalist Stephen Schwartz. “Then we looked at a map and woke up. Israelis have a population of six million, their backs to the sea, and 300 million Arab enemies. Albanians have a total population of eight million, our backs to the sea, and 200 million Slav enemies. So why should we identify with the Arabs?”

“Israelis are okay,” said a waiter named Afrim Kostrati at a cafe named Tirana. “The conflict is not our problem. We are Muslims, but not really. We have respect for Israelis because of the U.S. I have good friends from there.”

“Albanians everywhere are aware that Jews want to help them in this conflict,” said Professor Xhabir Hamiti from the Islamic Studies Department at the University of Prishtina. “And Jews are aware and thankful to Albanians for saving their lives during the Second World War. So we have our sympathy for Israel. I don’t think the Muslims here are on the side of the Palestinians.”

When working in other countries I sometimes have to wonder if my interview subjects are only telling me what they think I want to hear. It happens sometimes, especially in the Arab world — not so much because Arabs want to be deceitful but because they want to be polite and agreeable. Caspi’s ability to work openly as a Jewish Israeli bistro owner in Kosovo, though, is strong evidence that the Kosovars I spoke to about this weren’t just telling me what they thought I wanted to hear. Besides, invective against Israel and Jews is not something many Arabs feel they should have to conceal from reporters.

Jews and Israelis in Muslim-majority countries are like canaries in coal mines, as are women in Muslim-majority countries. You can tell a lot about a place by observing how each are treated. The Taliban impose an oppressive dress code on women at gunpoint, for instance, and the Hamas Charter is explicitly genocidal. It’s possible to take the radical Islamist temperature of a Muslim society simply by measuring the misogyny and anti-semitism at both the government level and among the general population. The only country in the entire Middle East that isn’t anti-semitic at the government level, the popular level, or both, is the state of Israel.

Kosovo is clearly well outside the mainstream of the Middle East. At the same time, it is one of the few countries even in Europe that isn’t at least anti-Israel, if not blatantly anti-semitic, at the government or popular level.

“We have very much in common with Israel,” entrepreneur Luan Berisha said. “In Albania and Kosovo we are in support of Israel. I would never side with the Muslim side to wipe Israel off the face of the world. 90% of Kosovo feels this way. The reason why is we sympathize a lot with the people who have suffered the same fate as us. We were Muslims even in the Second World War — stronger Muslims than we are now — but even then we protected them with our lives. Our grandfathers protected the Jews wherever they were in the region.”

Berisha is right. Albanians did shelter Jews during the Nazi occupation, more than any other people in Europe.

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Classical Ottoman-era architecture, Prizren, Kosovo

More than half survived the Nazi occupation of Kosovo because so many Albanians sheltered them from the Nazi authorities. According to Dan Michman, Chief Historian at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, there were three times as many Jews in Albania at the end of the Holocaust than at the beginning. Albanians were well-known at the time as a friendly population that could be trusted. They refused to surrender Albanian Jews, and they refused to surrender Jewish refugees from elsewhere in Europe.

The dark side of the Nazi occupation of Kosovo were the 6,000 or so ethnic Albanian collaborators who joined the so-called Skanderbeg Division of the Waffen-SS. The Germans had serious problems with them, though. Thousands deserted within the first two months, and the rest were disbanded after a mere eight months of “service.”

I met some Kosovar Albanians who were actually somewhat philo-semitic. One woman who gave me the rundown on local culture and politics showed me a book that I would never expect to see in any Muslim country other than Bosnia (though Bosnia is only 48 percent Muslim.)

It was a copy of the Sarajevo Haggadah.

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This book has an interesting history. It’s the text of the traditional Passover Haggadah and was written in 14th Century Spain. It made its way to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, possibly when Jews fled the Spanish Inquisition and were welcomed as refugees in the Balkans by the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Muslim clerics saved the book from destruction during the Nazi occupation, and it was hidden in a bank vault during the Serbian Nationalist siege of Sarajevo. It is one of the most valuable books in the world.

It’s hard to describe how startling it was to see any book written in Hebrew in a Muslim-majority country. Perhaps I’ve spent too much time in Lebanon where something like that just would not happen. What ails the Arab world begins to seem “normal,” at least by the standards of the Islamic world, after enough constant exposure. The Kurds are startlingly different. The Albanians are startlingly different. The story behind the Sarajevo Haggadah is especially salient considering where and by whom the original was saved from destruction.

The Arab Middle East has serious cultural and political problems that deeply affect even a large number of Christians who live in the region. Muslim countries elsewhere sometimes reject these derangements entirely. It’s strange that a huge number of Christians in Syria support Hezbollah while so many Muslims in Kosovo sympathize with Israel, but that’s how it is.

I rented a car in Prishtina so I could meet up with American soldiers at Camp Bondsteel for a brief embed in Eastern Kosovo. And I laughed out loud to myself when I found a CD of Israeli music in the car stereo that the previous customer left behind.

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Israeli music left behind in rental car in Kosovo

I was obviously not in Syria, nor was I in Gaza.

“They tell me that in the Holocaust they used to keep the survivors inside of shelters,” Caspi said. “And vice versa. In 1999 the first plane that landed in Prishtina for support was an Israeli plane.”

“To support what?” I said.

“The war,” he said.

“Was it humanitarian?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “The plane was medical support and doctors and some security, and they took refugees to Israel. I know some Albanians who live to this day in Israel.”

“Muslims?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “They took them. Most of them came back here. I have talked to more than five people already that lived between 1999 and 2001 in Israel until everything was quiet here. Then they came back.”

Israel accepted Muslim refugees from Bosnia, too. And I know of at least one Bosnian Muslim from a friend in Jerusalem who was rescued from Sarajevo by Israelis and given Israeli citizenship.

“So why did Israel get involved?” I said to Caspi.

“It is like when Israel went to India when they had an earthquake.” he said. “They went to Africa when there was a disaster in Mombasa. This is what Israel does.” He sounded slightly irritated, as though I didn’t know this already. I did know this already, I just wanted to hear what he had to say about it. “They send medical assistance to places that have disasters.”

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Destroyed house, Kosovo countryside

“Arab countries wouldn’t accept help like that,” I said. It wasn’t a question.

“No,” he said. “Actually after the tsunami they wanted to send it to Indonesia and they didn’t let them because it was a Muslim country. But Israel and Kosovo have a very good relationship. The prime minister visited Israel a few months ago.”

“Why so you suppose it is different for Kosovo?” I said.

“I think that a lot of people in the world think that the war in Israel is a religious war,” he said. “I don’t think it is a religious war. I think it is totally about lands and the occupied territory, and the religion is what leaders try to take advantage to promote their own interests. Like what Yassin did with the suicide bombers and said they will go to heaven. They try to make it a religious war but it is not. It is about lands. I have a lot of friends here. And my girlfriend, she is Muslim, I am very serious about her. And to tell you honestly, most of the Israeli people are not religious people. The last time I was in Synagogue was when I was 13 years old. I had to do the Bar Mitzvah and since then I haven’t gone. If you go to Tel Aviv, 98 percent of the people are super liberal, and they will accept you if are a Palestinian, if you are Chinese, if you are Jewish. If things go well I want to bring my girlfriend back home to Israel.”

“If you are married,” I said, “would she get Israeli citizenship?”

“Here is the big problem in my opinion,” he said, “that the religion and the state are connected. You need to be Jewish to be an important citizen. But now things are changing. Now we have civil marriage in specific places that are recognized in Israel, and she can get citizenship.”

Lebanon also has issues with inter-sectarian marriages. If, say, a Christian wants to marry a Sunni they have to get married in Cyprus or another third country.

“Do you know about the Wahhabis that are coming here?” I said to Caspi. Well-heeled Gulf Arabs set up shop in Kosovo after the 1999 war to rebuild destroyed mosques and convert, so to speak, liberal and moderate Albanian Muslims to the fanatically fundamentalist Wahhabi sect out of Saudi Arabia. If anyone in Kosovo would give Caspi a hard time or worse for being Israeli, it would be someone from that crowd.

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Mosque on the outskirts of Gjlian, Kosovo

“There are people telling me that people from outside are coming here to try to make religion a bit stronger,” he said, “but I don’t have a clue.”

At least they haven’t bothered him yet.

“You don’t have any problems with those people?” I said.

“Since I came here,” he said, “nobody has shown any kind of problems against Israel. On the contrary, because everybody here loves the U.S., and they all know that Israel is like a state of the U.S. That is a good thing. Everybody knows the support that Israel gets from the U.S. You don’t need to be well-educated to know that the amount of money Israel gets from the U.S. means Israel owes them a lot. And that’s how it works. When Israelis wanted to do military business with China, they had to cancel it because the U.S. didn’t like it.”

“So you think the primary reason Kosovars like Israel is because of the United States?” I said.

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Albanian, Israeli, and American flags fly together in Gllogovc-Drenas, Kosovo, on the day Kosovo declared independence. (Photo copyright K. Dobruna.)

“No,” he said. “I think it is many things. They had good relations with the Jewish people back in the old days. If you go back 40 or 50 years you will find that there were good relations with the Jewish people, they lived here happily. Also I think it is what happened in 1999. That showed them that Israel cares and wants to help them. And the people who came back here from Israel say that it was amazing, and they are still in contact with the families in Israel. Nobody here is radical. It is a Muslim country, but I think it is a beautiful Muslim country. I think Israel is a more religious country than here.”

“Have you been to Serbia?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “I was in a Jewish meeting for all of the Balkans about two years ago. I usually don’t go to these kind of meetings because I feel much more an Israeli than a Jew, but I went because I used to work for this company, and my colleague who was also Israeli and was a bit more religious wanted company. So I went to Belgrade and Novi Sad. But since then I haven’t visited. I can tell you honestly I like it better here than in Bosnia and Serbia. I don’t know why. Maybe because I am living here, and what happened, I was a part of it, I don’t know.”

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Young Albanian women, Prizren, Kosovo

Caspi’s Israeli employee at the Odyssea Bakery around the corner thought I was slightly strange for wanting to interview someone in Prishtina for no reason other than the fact that he is Israeli. Caspi, though, understood.

“I know why it is an interesting story,” he said. “An Israeli business in a Muslim country.”

“It just wouldn’t happen in the Middle East,” I said. “I don’t even think it would happen in Jordan.”

“No,” he said. “It won’t. And that’s the whole point. Religion can co-exist. For example, my girlfriend, you know, I am in love above my head. I want us to be together. I don’t think religion should… I think the opposite, I think religion should integrate.”

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Problem with Internet Explorer 7

I took Site Meter off the site, at least temporarily, because readers using Internet Explorer 7 “could no longer access this page”:http://www.inquisitr.com/2097/site-meter-causing-internet-explorer-failure/.

If you’re using Internet Explorer 7, do yourself and me a favor. Stop it. Seriously. It’s crap. Use Firefox. “It’s free and vastly superior”:http://www.mozilla-us.com/firefox.htm.

I had to strip down my Web site because of Microsoft’s horrible product. Every other Web browser in the world has no trouble accessing my site.

UPDATE: Site Meter tech support tells me this is fixed, so I put the code back in. Obviously you can’t even read this if the problem persists, but if you can read this and are using Internet Explorer 7, please let me know in the comments. Many thanks in advance.

From Counterinsurgents to Peacekeepers

Associated Press Baghdad Bureau Chief Robert Reid and his chief military reporter Robert Burns published “a dispatch from Iraq”:http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5jzxqARN0Huv38n5pgDfdBRwuoiZgD925HT7G0 over the weekend that should have made banner headlines. “It’s not the end of fighting,” they wrote. “It looks like the beginning of a perilous peace.” This is exactly right, but millions of Americans still have no idea. Coverage from Iraq has diminished as much as the casualty rates since General David Petraeus implemented an effective counterinsurgency strategy in early 2007. At least we’re finally seeing a media consensus emerge after a year and a half of looking at the data as though it were inkblots on a Rorschach. It’s nearly impossible to work in Iraq anymore and deny what has happened.

Even so, this is no time to get recklessly drunk on victory and declare “mission accomplished.” Nor is this the time to bolt for the exits from an unpopular war. The peace, as Burns and Reid say, is perilous and only just now beginning. The war is still not actually even over, though the fighting has been greatly reduced. Every single last inch of progress can be reversed. Keeping the relative peace will be just as difficult, though less dangerous, than making it in the first place. “[J]udging from the security gains that have been sustained over the first half of this year,” they wrote, “as the Pentagon withdrew five Army brigades sent as reinforcements in 2007 — the remaining troops could be used as peacekeepers more than combatants.”

That’s basically already happening. The transformation of American soldiers and Marines from counterinsurgent combatants to peacekeepers has taken place all over Iraq. In fact, the most radical of General Petraeus’s strategic overhaul was the positioning of troops as peacekeepers and the defenders of Iraqi civilians before the fighting even abated. That is what brought so many Iraqis over to the American side. Some places in Iraq were so horrifically violent that nothing resembling a normal life was even possible until someone stepped in to provide basic security. Al Qaeda in Iraq and Moqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia weren’t going to do it. They were the groups that threatened Iraqi security. And the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police were too under trained, under equipped, understaffed, and corrupt to do it themselves.

“Read the rest in COMMENTARY Magazine”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/viewarticle.cfm/from-counterinsurgents-to-peacekeepers-11899.

Defining “Victory” in Iraq

As recently as the first half of 2007, the idea of an American victory in Iraq seemed like a fantasy to just about everyone, including me. General David Petraeus surged additional troops to Iraq, however, and he transformed the joint American-Iraqi counterinsurgency strategy into what nearly all observers now acknowledge is a remarkable and unexpected success. Few bother to argue otherwise anymore. What remains ambiguous and contested is the definition of an American victory.

It’s slightly tricky for a couple of reasons. Pinpointing the exact date when a counterinsurgency ends — not just in Iraq, but any counterinsurgency — is impossible. There are no final battles. There can’t be. And if we don’t know when the war is over, it can be difficult to figure out what over even means in the first place. So how will we know if we’ve won?

Part of the problem here is that the war in Iraq is usually thought of as a single war in Iraq. But there have been at least three wars in Iraq since 2003 — the U.S.-led war against Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party regime, the civil war between Sunni and Shia militias, and the insurgencies against government and international forces waged by a constellation of guerrilla and terrorist groups. All three wars are distinct from each other, and two of the three are already over.

The war against Saddam Hussein and his government ended when the regime was overthrown and what remained of its army was disbanded. You might say it didn’t officially end until he was captured in December of 2003, but he effectively lost when he was demoted from absolute dictator to fugitive. No matter what else might happen, Saddam Hussein will never be considered victorious.

“Read the rest in COMMENTARY Magazine”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/totten/17921.

Lebanon’s Blood Holiday

Lee Smith (who sometimes pens guest columns for this Web site) just published a strong piece in the new British foreign policy magazine Standpoint about Lebanon’s celebration of the return of child-killer Samir Kuntar from the prisons of Israel. The whole sordid episode besmirches Lebanon, but, as he demonstrates, plenty of Lebanese are rightly disgusted. More importantly he shows that while Lebanon is in real trouble right now, “Hezbollah is doomed in the long run”:http://www.standpointmag.co.uk/node/280.

Azerbaijan, Here I Come — UPDATED

So I just got invited to a week-long conference in the mysterious country of Azerbaijan in August.

I can’t help but wonder how many people even know where it is. (It’s between Iran and Russia, and around a fourth of Iranians are ethnic Azeris. One Iranian province is actually called Western Azerbaijan. The former name of the country was the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic.)

It should be damned interesting. I’ll publish at least one article from there before I return to Iraq, and more than one article if it’s interesting enough.

Tell me: what would you like to know about this place?

UPDATE: A reader asked what this conference is all about. It is being hosted by the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy, and it is called “Views from America 2008.” There will be panel discussions on at least four topics: Elections in the U.S., pop culture’s impact on the American image, the role of the Internet in politics, and the future of secularism and moderation in Islam.

The conference will last one day, but I’ll be in country for a week. Meetings are being arranged with senior government officials including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, religious leaders, business executives, and think tank professionals.

So if you could talk to these people, what would you ask them? I can think of my own questions, of course, but you’re my readers and some of you dontate money to my account, so I want to know what you want to read about.

Blog Talk Radio

I was a guest on The Rick Moran Show earlier today, and we spent an hour talking about the Balkans, Iraq, and Lebanon. Rick introduced me as “the most interesting man in the world,” which is a hilarious overstatement. Thanks, Rick, but come on, man. Only one person can be that interesting, and it ain’t me. Anyway, we had a good time for an hour, and you can “listen to the whole thing here”:http://www.blogtalkradio.com/rickmoran/2008/07/23/the-rick-moran-show-special-guest-michael-totten.

Triangulation, Lebanon Style

In yesterday’s piece I said Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Seniora’s and Druze chief Walid Jumblatt’s pretended support for the released terrorist Samir Kuntar was an act of triangulation. For those interested in how, exactly, that works, and why someone like Jumblatt thinks it’s necessary, “Michael Young explains it in detail”:http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/mesh/2008/07/behind_druze_kisses_for_quntar.

The Truth about March 14

The “March 14” movement is a political vehicle for Lebanon’s liberals, democrats, free-market capitalists, human rights activists, and those who want an exit from the seemingly endless war with the “Zionist entity.” Unfortunately, that is not all it is. It’s also a political vehicle for hard-line Sunni Arab Nationalists and other political retrogrades who only oppose Hezbollah and the Syrian Baath regime because they hate Shias and Alawites as much as they hate Jews.

My colleague “Noah Pollak is rightly horrified”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/pollak/16371 by the death worship on display in Beirut this week after Israel released the child-murdering terrorist ghoul Samir Kuntar to Hezbollah in exchange for the dead bodies of two kidnapped soldiers. “Lebanon’s March 14th movement cast itself into an abyss of moral depravity that the bloc’s supporters — myself included — never thought possible,” he wrote. I’m sorry to say this–I’m a March 14 supporter, too–but I’m a bit less surprised, if not less repulsed, by this recent turn of events.

Such March 14 stalwarts as Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Seniora and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt participated in the gruesome festivities and gave Kuntar–who smashed in the head of a four year-old girl on a rock after murdering her father in front of her–a warm hero’s welcome.

I don’t know if Seniora and Jumblatt sincerely believe Kuntar is a hero for those deeds. Frankly, I doubt it. He won’t be joining the March 14 movement. There is no question that he belongs to the “March 8” bloc led by Hezbollah, and that he will be perfectly willing to murder the children of the “wrong” kind of Lebanese when civil and sectarian violence explodes in his country again.

But Seniora and Jumblatt feel they have to triangulate, so to speak, and publicly throw their support behind a man who is their enemy because he is also Israel’s enemy. Anti-Zionism trumps everything, even in Lebanon where the violent Jew-hatred endemic to the modern Middle East is weaker than it is most other places.

“Read the rest in COMMENTARY Magazine”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/viewarticle.cfm/the-truth-about-march-14-11685.

Is the War Over?

(Note: I wrote “a brief post”:http://www.michaeltotten.com/archives/2008/07/the-iraq-war-is.php on this topic a few days ago. This is an excerpt from a longer piece for COMMENTARY.)

Independent reporter Michael Yon has spent more time in Iraq embedded with combat soldiers than any other journalist in the world, and a few days ago “he boldly declared the war over”:http://michaelyon-online.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1690%3Asuccess-in-iraq&catid=34%3Adispatches&Itemid=55%23yvComment:

Barring any major and unexpected developments (like an Israeli air strike on Iran and the retaliations that would follow), a fair-minded person could say with reasonable certainty that the war has ended. A new and better nation is growing legs. What’s left is messy politics that likely will be punctuated by low-level violence and the occasional spectacular attack. Yet, the will of the Iraqi people has changed, and the Iraqi military has dramatically improved, so those spectacular attacks are diminishing along with the regular violence. Now it’s time to rebuild the country, and create a pluralistic, stable and peaceful Iraq. That will be long, hard work. But by my estimation, the Iraq War is over. We won. Which means the Iraqi people won.

I’m reluctant to say “the war has ended,” as he did, but everything else he wrote is undoubtedly true. The war in Iraq is all but over right now, and it will be officially over if the current trends in violence continue their downward slide. That is a mathematical fact.

If you doubt it, “look at the data”:http://michaelyon-online.com/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_download&gid=7&Itemid=.

Security incidents, or attacks, are at their lowest level in four years. Civilian deaths are down by almost 90 percent since General Petraeus’ counterinsurgency “surge” strategy went into effect. High profile attacks, or explosions, are down by 80 percent in the same time period. American and Iraqi soldiers suffer far fewer casualties than they have for years. Ethno-sectarian deaths from Iraq’s civil war plunged all the way down to zero in May and June 2008.

Yon is braver than the rest of us for declaring the war over, but it’s important to understand that there are no final battles in counterinsurgencies and it’s impossible to pinpoint the exact dates when wars like this end. The anti-Iraqi insurgency — a war-within-a-war — really is effectively over. As long as another such war-within-a-war doesn’t break out, Yon will appear more perceptive than the rest of us in hindsight when the currently low levels of violence finally do taper off into relative insignificance.

“Read the rest in COMMENTARY Magazine”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/viewarticle.cfm/is-the-war-over–11599.

The Iraq War is Over?

Michael Yon infuriated a whole swath of his audience some years ago when he said Iraq was in a state of civil war. Only the most committed anti-war leftists wanted to hear it. Vice President Dick Cheney famously and foolishly said the U.S. was “turning the corner” around the same time. Cheney is a politican. Yon is a straight-shooter. So it means something when Yon writes “the following”:http://michaelyon-online.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1690:success-in-iraq&catid=34:dispatches&Itemid=55#yvComment:

The war continues to abate in Iraq. Violence is still present, but, of course, Iraq was a relatively violent place long before Coalition forces moved in. I would go so far as to say that barring any major and unexpected developments (like an Israeli air strike on Iran and the retaliations that would follow), a fair-minded person could say with reasonable certainty that the war has ended. A new and better nation is growing legs. What’s left is messy politics that likely will be punctuated by low-level violence and the occasional spectacular attack. Yet, the will of the Iraqi people has changed, and the Iraqi military has dramatically improved, so those spectacular attacks are diminishing along with the regular violence. Now it’s time to rebuild the country, and create a pluralistic, stable and peaceful Iraq. That will be long, hard work. But by my estimation, the Iraq War is over.

I’m not willing to go that far yet and say the war in Iraq is over. I’ve been burned too many times by events in the Middle East. Optimism and reality don’t coexist easily in that part of the world. But I’ll be back in Iraq myself soon enough, and I’ll weigh in on that question then.

I should add that Yon thinks we’re losing the war in Afghanistan. I’m afraid he’s right, and I’m sorry as hell to say it. The American public seems to think we’re winning in Afghanistan and losing in Iraq, but that is not so.

Stand By

I wasn’t terribly productive with my writing during the past week. There were too many domestic duties and distractions — including a family reunion and my 20-year high school reunion, which was great fun. My next dispatch is just about ready, however. Look for it here Monday night. In the meantime, use the comments box for an open thread. If you read anything interesting over the weekend, feel free to share.

And be nice in the comments. Don’t make me pull over the car.

You Can’t Please Everybody

And it’s disastrous to even try. Make of “this”:http://www.tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=9ae5fcc1-9f89-4a44-8ed9-f6deecb24884 what you will:

Most Arabs only know Barack Obama’s name and skin color, so, unsurprisingly, they are fairly enthusiastic about his candidacy. But what are Thomas Friedman’s Arab equivalents, the opinion leaders of the Middle East, saying about Obama? A famously diverse group–ranging from idealistic reformers to moralizing Islamists–the Arab world’s pundits are almost unanimous in their skepticism of him, offering a sharp corrective to the narrative of a world united in its ardor for Obama. They have been arguing that he is not so unconventional an American politician when it comes to the Middle East, and that the people of the region have reason to be worried about an Obama presidency.

Back to Iraq this Summer

I swore I wouldn’t go back to Iraq during the summer. But I’m never able to keep promises like this to myself, so I’m sucking it up and I’m going.

I am not going yet. The trip will be closer to the end of the summer than to the beginning. I have to finish my Kosovo material first. (Thanks, by the way, for indulging me while I take a break from the sandbox. Iraq is hot, depressing, and dangerous, and I faced a choice: either do something else for a bit or burn out. I chose to do something else and write about a less unpleasant topic— though my next dispatch from Kosovo will be rather dark. Go figure. It’s not the Bahamas.)

Sadr City Baghdad.jpg

Sadr City, Iraq

This time I’ll embed with the military again, and if all goes well I will go to Sadr City. There might be a problem with embedding there, though. I’m not sure about that, and I need to look into it. While the trip is still open-ended, I’d like to ask: where would you send me if you could order me to a specific location? Is Sadr City a good choice, or would you prefer reports from somewhere else? Ever-changing events on the ground might change tentative plans anyway, but I’d still like to know your thoughts — especially if you are one of my generous readers who donates money for travel expenses.

Please let me know what you think in the comments.

Happy Birthday, America

During the last week or so, my wife and I saw the first half of the HBO mini-series John Adams on DVD, which so far is excellent and highly recommended. Watching our original thirteen colonies declare and then fight for independence is electrifying. We Americans are accustomed to revolution and war taking place inside other countries, not inside our own. But of course it wasn’t always this way. We were born in revolution and war. Revolutions, as most of us have learned since, often devour their children. Reigns of terror and regimes even more grotesque than the last often follow. Other times revolutions are aborted or smashed under jackboots and tank treads. Ours could have turned out very differently than it did.

It occurred to me that I hadn’t actually read the Declaration of Independence since high school. So I read it again today, shortly after midnight on Independence Day. If, like me, you hadn’t read it for a while (if ever), today, exactly 232 years later, might be a good day to do it again.

IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.

“Read the whole thing”:http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/index.htm.

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