On DADT

With Congress close to repealing DADT, I thought it would be prudent to post in full this honest account from a gay soldier in the U.S. military…

Jezebel: A Gay Soldier’s Letter Before Leaving For Afghanistan

I’m writing letters to my loved ones in case I don’t return from Afghanistan. I hope my partner never has to open his. If he does, it will ask him to tell who I was, because I couldn’t.

I was a teenager when my brother came home with an American flag draped over his coffin, so I understand the fragility of life and the dangers of serving. And the additional burden of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is one I choose to carry. I volunteered for deployment, and I continue to serve. It’s my deepest core value, whatever the cost.

The silence is the hardest part. I listen intently as my fellow soldiers talk about facing the reality of leaving their loved ones for a year and all the life events that will be missed. I don’t talk about my own experience at all, because it’s easier to come across as cold and removed than to risk slipping and mentioning that my loved one is of the same gender. For all I know, there are other gay soldiers in my unit, ones who understand what I’m going through. My gay friends in civilian life are supportive, but they don’t often understand the military or soldiering. That camouflage is another burden I carry as I prepare to leave.

It’s also difficult knowing that this policy is nothing more than politics. I try not to think too much about DADT and how destructive it is to peoples’ lives, to military units, readiness, and to the progression of our country to a better place. But when I do let myself think about these things, I seethe with anger.

I am angry at the politicians who have for several years talked the talk on the policy, heightening the awareness of homosexuality among military personnel, and then done little to nothing to actually change it. We gay soldiers are the ones who suffer but can’t openly participate in the debate.

I am angry at certain senators -– John McCain comes to mind –- who have obviously lost touch with any understanding of the current generation of service men and women, who, as we all know, support repeal at overwhelming numbers. They hide behind a vitriolic rhetoric fraught with illogical arguments and innuendo, smothered by their obvious fear.

And so we wait to see what the Senate will do. In the meantime, I have to remind myself to look elsewhere for comfort, to remember the courage of people like Dan Choi and his consistent devotion to changing this policy, at a very personal cost. Or Katie Miller, who made public at West Point who she really is, but would seek return the moment the policy is overturned. I also remind myself of the moral courage of Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen, thankful that some at the highest level of military leadership get it even as others call our plight a “distraction.”

And I’m reminded of the moral courage of my partner, who encourages me everyday to continue to put on that uniform; who believes that some things are worthy of our energies; who quietly plods along and prepares for my deployment as I do the same. I know as a soldier, it is the people we leave behind who bear the real brunt of deployment, who hold it all together, who send the care packages and pray for our returns. He’ll have to do it on his own though. There are no support groups for the gay partners left back home.

In the meantime, gay soldiers who are still serving in silence will continue to put on our rucksacks and do what our country asks of us –- and wait.

This is probably one of the most honest and genuine accounts I’ve come across of what it’s like to serve in the military as a homosexual.

A Diplomatic Tribute

Richard Holbrooke as Assistant Secretary of State in 1977 outside the Vietnamese Embassy in Paris

Holbrooke’s impeccable style is also evident. Yay for well dressed diplomats.

Holbrooke as diplomatic envoy to Af/Pak sits with a displaced man and his child in a refugee camp.

Read his body language here. I recall reading an article that talked about how Holbrooke was at ease walking into a refugee camp wrought with devastation and would often invite himself to sit down with displaced refugees in their tents to ask them about their lives in order to figure out in what capacity the United States could help them. I like this picture… it shows Holbrooke’s genuine interest and desire to help people. He doesn’t look like he’s the kind of guy who attempted to wield American superiority over others. He merely wanted to listen and do what he could to help others.

Well Dear Readers, this blog would not live up to its name if we did not cover the recent passing of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. He was a true American statesman, and his influence on foreign affairs in this country and his impact on the world stage should be noted by just how much his accomplishments have been talked about following his recent passing. I was watching Charlie Rose last night on TV, which is an excellent talk show by the way, in the style of the way television used to be done without all the ridiculous partisan crap that characterizes American media nowadays – anyway – there was a roundtable discussion about Holbrooke’s achievements, and I am very interested in reading the book Holbrooke published about his efforts to mediate the crisis in the Balkans which ended with his role in brokering the Daytona Peace Accords. Now, I haven’t studied the civil war in the Balkans in depth, but from what I do know, Holbrooke played a significant role in preventing the continued persecution and massacres of Bosnian Muslims during the conflict. It’s fair to say that because of his actions further death and destruction were avoided. Holbrooke represented, to the American foreign policy tradition, an idealization of the principles our foreign policy should be founded upon. He truly believed that America should be a force for good in the world, and that America has a duty and an obligation to fight for those individuals around the world who are at a disadvantage or are in need of help. His vision wasn’t messianic, as George Bush’s was. It was a pragmatic approach to international affairs that saw America as having the ability to improve the quality of relationships around the world. I really want to emphasize how realistic this man’s view of the world was. He didn’t attempt to idealize the world or say that the American system was right for everyone. He had no qualms about dealing with people who committed immoral acts. He was committed to restoring the art of diplomacy to its rightful place in America’s arsenal of tools. A point was made on Charlie Rose that Holbrooke was always talking about the militarization of American foreign policy, and given his initial placement with U.S. AID during the Vietnam War, this is not entirely surprising. He was probably more aware how seriously U.S. foreign policy had been coveted and dominated by the military than most people. I’ll leave it here for now and add some select quotes from some of the articles I’ve stumbled across. Apparently, his last words were to the effect of… “We’ve got to end this war in Afghanistan.” Yes, yes we do.

The New Yorker: The Envoy

If the Supreme Court had allowed the votes to be counted in 2000, then the Envoy, almost certainly, would have become the Secretary of State, and the next decade would have unfolded very differently. As it is, Holbrooke has left a stronger, more positive, more creative mark on history than all but a few of those who have held that post. He certainly did not die of a broken heart—Kati Marton saw to that—but it was surely the ghastly, impossible demands of his last, impossible assignment that brought on the rending of his aorta. He died for his country as surely as any soldier. And his deathbed words may turn out to be the most important he ever spoke.

The New Republic: Richard

The legend of his career, and the flamboyance of his person, has obscured a proper recognition of his commitments. Holbrooke was not only a student of power; he was also a creature of beliefs. What he believed in most of all, I think, was in the ability, and the duty, of the United States, by a variety of means, to better the world. He was, in his cast of mind, a realist, but his cast of mind was not his philosophy: this realist—the Democrats’ most accomplished Machiavellian—was always returning to first principles, to moral considerations, to the alleviation of human suffering and the spread of political liberty as goals of American statecraft.

Even in his most virulent criticism of what he regarded as America’s military mistakes abroad, there was not a trace of the temptation to surrender a high sense of America’s role in history. Isolationism disgusted him. He had a natural understanding, it was almost an attribute of his character, of the relationship between diplomacy and force. He had no illusions about the harshness of the world, and therefore about the toughness that is required for the creation of a world less harsh.

American interventionism, for him, was not just a policy; it was a way of existing responsibly in the world, the measure of a national (and personal) ideal, the real greatness of a great power.

I’ll save the best for last… here’s a 5 page article in The Washington Post that offers a glimpse into Holbrooke’s life. Worth reading.
The Washington Post: Richard Holbrooke Dies: Veteran U.S. Diplomat Brokered Daytona Peace Accords

Quote of the Day

Courtesy: Gawker: Miley Cyrus’ Lack of Shame Will Save Her

Meanwhile, Miley Cyrus’ bong rips have made salvia both more popular than ever: Anecdotally, “the stuff Miley was smoking” is flying off drug dealers’ shelves at a rate of “three times the usual tally”! And since everyone who smokes salvia does it exactly once, in the dank basement of a frat house at 4AM when they really should be studying, expect this to completely change American culture, one mindblowing PSYCH101 essay at a time.

An Enduring Question

With all the hoopla that’s been going on in Old World (Europe) over the fiscal crises there, I’ve been wondering lately if something similar won’t happen here eventually. You think countries like Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Britain, Italy, and Spain dug themselves into economic holes? These are mere potholes compared to the massive sinkhole the United States has created for itself over the last decade. I mean… just take a look at these reports coming out of Italy this morning…

NYT: Berlusconi Narrowly Survives Vote of Confidence

The vote came in a highly charged atmosphere. Some protestors clashed violently with police, who fired tear gas, as an estimated 100,000 people marched through Rome calling on Mr. Berlusconi to step down. The government called in 1,500 police officers to keep order.

A hundred thousand people. How many showed up in London to protest the government’s tuition increase? When was the last time something like that happened in this country?

Until recently, Tuesday’s outcome would have been unthinkable in Italy, where Mr. Berlusconi has had an unshakeable grip on the country’s politics for the better part of the past 15 years and its media for even longer. Starting in the mid-’80s his private television empire helped shape the public imagination.

I remember when I was in Italy in 2008 – the man may not have been liked by all of Italy, but nobody questioned his domination of Italy’s political and media systems.

Economists say Italy needs significant structural reform and cost cutting in order to stimulate growth and reduce its debt, which at 118 percent of gross domestic product is the second-highest in the 16-member Euro zone after Greece.

Where are the economists who say that the United States is in need of “significant structural reform and cost cutting”? The scale of U.S. debt dwarfs all of these.

I mean seriously, the economic situation in Europe is merely a badly paved road, albeit one with many cracks and potholes that is in serious need of repaving and restructuring, compared to the situation here which can be likened to millions of fissures eroding away ground beneath a massive highway forming the conditions for massive sinkhole to take shape. I hardly think I’m over-exaggerating. I don’t know much about this new tax-deal the Obama Administration has cut with the Republicans, extending the Bush-era cuts, and perhaps it was politically advantageous to make a compromise in order to ascertain some of the Administration’s goals, but apparently the cost of the cuts is just being added to the national debt. Another $800 billion.

I just have this growing feeling that eventually events here will ultimately mirror those taking place on the old continent. But what is truly significant is the political cost of these economic events. The Irish Prime Minister was forced to resign, I believe. The Liberal Democrats, allied with the Conservative party in England have a staggeringly low 8% approval rating. Berlusconi’s empire hangs by a thread. Can you imagine what the costs would be here? We haven’t had mass protests like those taking place in Europe in years. And ultimately it raises questions about the way the American system is structured. It’s either working very well, the way power is shared here, or not working at all. From what I read, it seems there are people on both sides of the fold. Some say America’s political system is broken. That the Presidency is too big for one man. Other’s say that it hardly belongs to one man any more, but a handful of bureaus and agencies and departments. Despite the considerable power and influence given to states in the representative chambers, there is still an outcry that the Federal Government wields too much power and should be downsizes. All this begs the question of whether the American system would survive a crisis like this, without power being upset even momentarily.

Buy These Headphones

Buy these (Sennheiser HD280s). Listen to Moby. If I wasn’t hell bent on becoming a diplomat I’d want to be a Vulcanologist. Chasing volcanoes with a camera would also be a highly exciting and adventurous life. Damn, I have to figure out what Moby song this is. Ah – Moby – Lift Me Up. Buy these headphones. Seriously. Oh my good Jesus. They are an audiophiles dream. I’m taking a page from Uncrate here… this blog also caters to technophiles and anyone who likes to throw money at amazing products that bring music alive. If you have $100 to spend on something, oh, you know just lying around, spend it on these. You will not be disappointed. I’m Billy Mays and I guarantee it.

The American Response to the WikiLeaks Fiasco

TNR: America’s Facile, Self-Congratulatory Response to WikiLeaks

Nothing in the Wikileaks saga has been more typically American than the search for a good-news angle on the whole depressing story. Merely keeping a stiff upper lip is not enough, it seems. We need to assure ourselves that what looks like a disaster is really a victory.

There may eventually be a revisionist backlash, but two weeks into the affair the dominant trend among commentators has been what you might call Wiki-triumphalism. Here’s the argument that’s taking hold. The cables show that in private the United States is committed to the same interests it espouses in public, and that’s a clear plus for our image. American diplomats emerge in these documents as a corps of talented, hard-working professionals—and that also helps our standing. Some of our Foreign Service Officers are even shown by the leaks to be masters of humorous storytelling. The resulting comparisons to Evelyn Waugh provide another collective ego-boost.

This is a valid point I want to recognize – that is – the leak of the cables makes it rather evident that we maintain, for the most part, a very skilled diplomatic corps abroad, and that these people, the Foreign Service Officers, are doing their jobs. But perhaps it’s simply because I want to be one of them haha. Still, I think the release of the cables demonstrates that we do indeed have an informed cadre of people who are working tirelessly around the clock to construct U.S. foreign policy.

Well, I’m not convinced. “We’re good, we’re smart, we’re strong—we’re America!” Not so long ago, these very same people would have seen such talk as the kind of overeager self-congratulation that blinds a nation to its own mistakes and vulnerabilities.

Indeed. I agree with this…

Being big enough to take care of yourself does, of course, allow you to make a lot of mistakes without having to pay for them. But it shouldn’t keep you from seeing the mistakes for what they are. These days, after all, we hear that American power isn’t what it used to be, and that we have to step up our game.

The case for confidentiality in diplomatic communications doesn’t make exceptions. Most negotiations can’t be successful if every move—every embarrassing concession in which you compromise a point today that you declared sacrosanct yesterday—is made in public. By and large, because the United States is so powerful, we actually gain the most from confidentiality. Secrecy can shield the concessions that others make to us. Without it, they are more stubborn, more fearful, less able to act.

This is the essence of the art of diplomacy.

Take two of the most important cables. In one, the king of Saudi Arabia is reported to have told General Petraeus that America has to “chop off the head” of the Iranian “snake.” … It’s possible, of course, that the Arab leaders in question will be unfazed by this unexpected exposure. Perhaps the king of Saudi Arabia is a relaxed, flexible, worldly guy who laughs off little kerfuffles like this. Somehow I don’t think so. My guess is, he and his retinue are still in shock.

I can somehow picture the Saudi King in front of Petraeus with a drawn scimitar gesturing imperiously to cut of the head of the Iranian snake in Arabic haha. Kerfluffles is is also a great word.

In poring over these documents, many commentators have nostalgically recalled past masterpieces of diplomatic reporting. In this connection George Kennan’s name comes up again and again. Fewer people recall his famous judgment about how readily Americans explain away our own mistakes. “A nation,” he wrote almost 60 years ago, “which excuses its own failures by the sacred untouchableness of its own habits can excuse itself into complete disaster.”

Explaining away our own mistakes is also an art we practice here in America. I’m certainly not saying its right or offering my approval of it. While the Administration’s response has largely made sense from a political angle, in terms of trying to paint a sheen over the whole thing, there should be some recognition that the whole scandal has dealt a serious blow to our credibility, in terms of keeping information secure. Foreign nations will not be so trusting of the U.S. in the future. Sure, they may still have to do business with us, no doubt, but that’s not the point. In terms of the ability of our Foreign Service to gather and report information, it may not be as forthcoming in the future.

I guess the real point here is that yeah, our diplomats are doing their jobs as they should, though perhaps classifying cables as revealing as the one from the Saudi king reveal some serious errors in judgment on their part – well – the point is that the current perspective geopolitical impact of the cables by the administration is somewhat misguided. Yes Secretary Gates is right; countries have no choice to deal with us given our political, economic,  and military clout, but the way in which they deal with us has the potential to be transformed by the cables. No longer will countries be so trusting (as if they already were) and frank with us about their true intentions. Our diplomats will now have to be even more skilled at discerning the truth. If it is expected that the U.S. diplomatic establishment will leak like a bag of water full of holes, whose to know if false trails of information might be laid with the hope that they might determine a different course of direction for U.S. policy?

Some More Rilke

You ask me whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advice or help you–no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you feel and love  and lose.

And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sounds–wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attention to it. Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance.–And if out of this turning-within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it.  A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it.

Some words of wisdom from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letter’s To A Young Poet. Timeless.

NYT: Roger Cohen on Lebanon

NYT: U.S. Illusions in Lebanon

Some select quotes from Roger Cohen’s latest piece…

Once upon a time a U.S. secretary of state spoke of the “birth pangs of a new Middle East.” That’s now the most laughed-at phrase in gravity-defying Lebanon, a country with two armies, a “unity” government too divided to meet, a wild real estate boom and a time bomb called the “international tribunal.”

Yes, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is definitely a ticking time bomb.

Dahiye, the Hezbollah-controlled southern Beirut suburb flattened by Israel in 2006, now bustles with construction and commerce, including state-of-the-art juice bars and risqué lingerie stores. It feels about as threatening as New York’s Canal Street.

I’d tend to agree with this. Those juice bars are damn good.

And America continues to dream, albeit in sobered fashion. Sure, the “new Middle East” has joined “axis of evil” in the diplomatic junkyard. But U.S. policy still involves an attempt to ignore reality.

Hezbollah, Iran-financed and Syrian-backed, has assumed a pivotal role in Lebanese politics. It’s a political party, a social movement and a militia for which the term “terrorist group” is entirely inadequate. It has also become the single most powerful symbol of what is known throughout the Middle East as “the resistance.”

This is an unpalatable truth. It’s also, I suspect, an enduring one. For the United States to shun any contact with Hezbollah amounts to trying to play the Middle Eastern chess game without several pieces. As recent history suggests, that’s a recipe for failure.

This is what I’ve been saying for years. And yes, if you’re playing chess in the Middle East, you can’t afford to ignore the movements of critical pieces on the board.

An indictment from the tribunal is imminent; rumors are rife that it will name Hezbollah members. That could ignite tensions across an explosive Shia-Sunni (Iran-Arab) fault line. It would also cast Hariri as Hamlet: heading a government including those accused of murdering his father.

As I’ve said before… politics in Lebanon is masterpiece theatre at its finest.