Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I'M OKAY...but Iraq, most decidedly, is not.

I just want to remind everyone: I live on a different end of the International Zone than the side that's getting hammered with rockets right now. I live in a thick, concrete building that has never been hit with a rocket or mortar, except the JDAM that we (as in the United States) sank right down the center. And it barely left a mark. This building is as safe as it gets here in Iraq, and I don't tend to leave it very often when things get noisy out there. Well, it's also over 100º already, so I'm in dog-under-porch mode already.

Please try not to worry. I'm safe where I am.

I spent last Sunday afternoon talking to a battalion-level intelligence officer who lives on a Combat OutPost (COP, a surge concept). It reminded me why I left the Army, and why I'm so happy to be right where I am. His COP is beyond vulnerable. If Mookie (Muqtada al-Sadr) lifts the cease-fire he imposed on Jaysh al-Mahdi last August, this Captain assesses that he and his guys will have fighting positions in their rooms. These COPs are all over Baghdad--small bases with tactical-level units, most of whom look around at Baghdad within arm's reach just outside the walls and hope this lull in attacks will hold until they leave theater.

The recent spike in attacks is the result of Mookie hinting around lifting the cease-fire. The relative calm we've experienced since last August is NOT entirely attributable to the surge, despite the gloating, crowing politicians' I told you so's. It's also strongly tied to the cease-fire. Well, that and the hugely successful reconciliation effort. It's myopic to say that the surge is working--a combination of factors have quieted Baghdad, not just the presence of extra troops.

It's a precarious quiet, make no mistake about it.

If the JAM cease-fire goes, we'll be right back where we were last summer--rockets and mortars are a Shia Thang (as is JAM), piped in from Iran (also Shia), and the reconciliation has been most successful with Sunnis. Which means fewer car-bombs and suicide bombers, but the rockets and mortars keep coming. The last three days have borne this theory out; it's been pretty damn noisy around here. And those guys out there on the COPs? Allah help them.

If things go back to hell here in Baghdad, what will that do to the election? Everyone seems to have mostly forgotten about Iraq on account of the trifecta: housing misery (which keeps me up at night), the seesawing stock market, and the lack of dramatic news from Iraq of late. It could change the dynamics of the discourse...but I'm not sure that's a good thing. I think we've neglected domestic policy and issues since 9/11, and it's time to turn our attention inward. That said, I don't believe we can withdraw--I think it's one of those things candidates say now that they will have to retract later. I tend to take anything said during a campaign with a grain of salt--it's not cynical, it's just that people jump out to their left and right extremes when it suits their ambitions, then settle back into the (relative) center when the time comes to actually make some decisions for which they'll be held accountable.

What do I think we should do here? I just don't know. I'm pissed off that the Iraqi government hasn't taken control. They seem perfectly content to let us continue to do all the heavy lifting, and the corruption, demagoguery, and foreign influence mean this government couldn't break up a cookie fight at a kindergarten. But if we leave, it WILL go to hell. Iran will run it, and that is not a happy scenario for anyone but Iran. Including Iraq. Especially Iraq.

We can't do it for them forever, and there seems to be little incentive or will within the Government of Iraq to take the reins and get this shit done. Also, most of the educated men and women have un-assed; most Iraqis with the means to leave the country (read: the best and brightest) have done so. So what are you left with?

Think of what this place will look like in twenty years. The kids haven't regularly been to school, most teachers have left anyway, all this generation has known is what they view as an occupation, and consistent exposure to violence unlike anything a child in an industrialized country could even dream up.

Iraq is an unsolvable trainwreck. I agree with Madeleine Albright: invading Iraq was the worst foreign policy decision of our generation, maybe of all American history. But I tend not to get into that argument, because it just does not matter--what's next, that matters.

I truly feel sorry for whoever wins this election. The next President will be handed a mountainous steaming turd, and nothing he/she says or does will make it smell like a rose.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Hippity Hoppity

Twenty-seven rounds of indirect fire (rockets) impacted the International Zone yesterday in four separate vollies, spaced throughout the day. None fell near us. We'd planned to attend Easter services and have a special dinner at a location outside our little immediate area, but after the second salvo, we decided against that course of action, opting instead to gorge on crappy Easter candy here in our thick, concrete building. It's already over 100º, so it's just as well.

Friday, March 07, 2008

The supervisor gig is no trouble at all so far. We're all holding our breaths when it comes to our futures--the contract's up for rebid, and we don't know what will happen...except that we'll all have jobs here. So I may not be a supervisor for long--if another company takes over, I'm no longer responsible for anything above and beyond myself and my own work. Personally, I don't much care either way--I'm out of here in July regardless.

And my company is already making noise about offering me some kind of fat, 6-figure position in the DC area. I freely admit, it's tough to turn down--I'm in a field where I know what I'm doing, I'm good at it, and it's lucrative. When I decided on law school, I was in a boring job in a boring town, and things have changed significantly since then. I've found myself wavering. But then, if I stay in touch with my company, these jobs will not go away, they'll only get better after law school, even if I decided to go back into straight intelligence, not use the law degree.

Curiosity got the better of me, and I went fishing around on the government's website for attorney positions within the counterintelligence community. And I *really* liked what I saw. Great pay, interesting work, with an international aspect, and I already have the clearance issues resolved. Oh, and the 10-point veteran's benefit applies. It got me kind of excited. It's a short-term/long-term struggle--I can go make six figures in DC now, and I won't see the payoff for law school for several years.

But I know I'm doing the right thing. It's just going to take time to see it. This was how I felt when I left the Army just as I pinned Captain, and that worked out extremely well. Even the Arizona gig was not a mistake--my supervisor there went to bat for me to get this position, which is providing a springboard into upper-echelon management at the world's largest defense contractor. Or at least, a gorgeous resume for job-hunting time, out in 2011. Funny how those Army years and all the crap I dealt with have all turned into my greatest selling points.

I just have to keep the faith in two years, when my savings are dwindling and I contemplate that fat salary I could be making. I just have to know that I'll be as good at law as I am at intel, and if I can successfully combine the two, it'll be a unique and endlessly fascinating career.

Or, I could be making six figures in DC. Damn, it really is hard to turn down.