Thursday, December 24, 2009
every decision, it seems,
is a trade-off,
and each choice,
a rejection of all other options.
to mask our true feelings.
to avert the difficult question.
our friendship, our love is a complex being,
a life all its own
with wants and needs
that test our resolve.
is it a mistake,
a crime to feed it,
to allow it
to blossom and grow?
scattered all about,
in random motion
looking for the best nucleus
to revolve around.
as the electrons collide,
mix and split,
only to light
from a pure source.
Monday, December 21, 2009
Dear friend, take up your pen again, compose
Those works of art that live and breathe and sing
The rhapsody of love and hope. Revive
Anew in you the spirit of the Muse
To guide, to entertain, and to enthuse.
Restore the democratic art, the urge
To write, embraceable, attainable
By all. Take up your pen, today, obey
God’s highest call: express the good, the true,
The beautiful. Articulate in verse
Life’s purest, deepest, noblest sentiments;
Preserve in rhyme and rhythm secrets sent.
Take up your pen again, the times demand
Your words be heard, your dreams rise up and stand.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
I return to Mother Africa an alien,
my African blood thinned through generations of race-mixing
with the Cherokee, and the Blackfoot,
and the Scots and Irish of North Carolina and Virginia . . . .
I go to the discotheques but the rhythms
are far too complex for my sensibilities,
too difficult for me to even imagine trying
to dance to; but I fake it, trying to stay in step,
consoling myself in the knowledge that,
at least, I know . . . .
With the women I find myself at a loss for words,
not necessarily because they’d laugh
at my broken Crioulo (or even at my flawed Portuguese),
nor even because I know they know
I can’t promise them a way out of their misery
when I leave . . . .
No, I’m awed by them because of their courage,
because their mere existence is a triumph,
a remarkable overcoming,
an achievement that stands them alone,
at least from we, who have known neither true poverty nor deprivation,
who have always had access to clean hospitals,
and uninterrupted electricity, and drinking water,
the best of schools with well-stocked libraries,
and, lest we forget, to the latest
in high-tech running shoes . . . .
Yes, I’m awed by their courage, by their resilience,
by their hope, by their optimism . . . .
I return to Mother Africa an alien,
my natural senses dulled, my skin bleached,
my hair relaxed, my butthole tightened
through generations of Americanization.
Guine-Bissau is a land of sudden change:
High tide rolls in and out within minutes;
There is no dusk, no reflective moments
between daylight and darkness;
The dry dusty season follows quickly
on the heels of the rains and floods,
as if one can't wait for the other to get out of town;
The calm coolness of winter begins
while the heat and humidity of summer
are still there with us......
When you leave, roll out like high tide,
leaving my beach bare, exposed and muddy;
May your departure be as brief an interlude
as the fleeting dusky twilight between
afternoon and nightfall;
Let the rains of tears you brought me evaporate,
instantly, in the rapidly approaching,
dry sun-scorching drought and
coolness of dawn,
The temperature of my passion dissipating
while the heat of your madness yet remains.
(Rhia died way too soon. I miss her, I miss our conversations, the letters we exchanged. I deeply regret not having expressed to her, while she was alive, how much she meant to me. There is an old Portuguese saying which translates "Death has no remediation.")
Each time I pass through Richmond I feel your presence,
More strongly than I ever did when
You were here with us,
Sharing with us our laughter, tears and fears.
Your departure was so sudden, so unexpected,
So tragic. We miss you terribly and
We've exhausted all attempts to fill the vacuum
That your withdrawal has created
In our hearts and in our conversations.
My love for you was a helpless infant
That, orphaned, must now fend for itself.
From time to time I intuitively feel that
Some quality in my life is conspicuously absent.
I know what is missing is you.
Through life's transitions. Letters you received
May not survive a flood -- first drafts of poems
You wrote get lost in shipments -- coffee mugs
Disappear, book collections may not stay
Intact when divorce or death parts the waves
Of time. Friendships and associations
You though would be there in your grayer years
May only survive a season, or not --
And reasons for a friendship come and go
Like tides that flood and ebb and flood again.
The things that last a lifetime, then, are rare
And few, and even random....so enjoy
The fleeting now, breathe deeply, smile freely.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Oral History - Ruminations on my 365 days in Iraq
From DiplopediaRaymond Maxwell, a foreign service management officer, served as Embassy Baghdad chief of staff and Exec Sec, Jan 08 - Jan 09)
My service in Iraq, from January 2008 to January 2009, was a complex sentence that had, for me, several significant punctuation marks. A semicolon marked my transfer from the Office of Provincial Affairs to the Front Office; a series of exclamation marks accompanied the March and April bombings in the IZ and on the Palace grounds; tentative commas marked our move from the “hootches” to the NEC apartments starting in May and the intense heat of the June through August summer months; repetitious question marks from September through November caused us all to wonder whether the Iraqis would actually accept the terms of the Strategic Agreement and the Strategic Framework Agreement; the period, full stop, of December ended our occupation of the Republican Palace; and the exclamation mark of our January move to the new chancery coincided, altogether, with some measure of restoration of Iraqi sovereignty and the establishment a new US-Iraq bilateral relationship. Through it all, the exceptional courage and the tireless sacrifices of my fellow foreign service officers, foreign service nationals, third country nationals, and contractors left me in a state of awe and with a deep sense of humility of the privilege that was mine, to be there in service with them.
Similarly, service in Afghanistan and Pakistan demands great courage and sacrifice, as does service in less heralded but equally demanding hardship postings, such as Luanda, Monrovia, and Khartoum, to name a few (I betray here my AF background and professional lineage). The point, however, is that success in tough places requires personal courage and sacrifices, both of FSO’s and of their families. And the sacrifices are not equal – our families and loved ones pay far more, far more. Much of the human cost of our political success in Iraq, or in any of these places, such as it is, goes unpaid.
Shifting gears quickly, a great American diplomat once confided to me that perhaps we pay too much attention to direct compensation, such as hardship pay, danger pay, special differentials, etc., and not enough attention to the appeal to a sense of duty and the possible achievement of patriotic success so rarely experienced in a long career. It may be that we have lost faith in such intangibles, such outmoded values, and that we place more faith in the details of the Service Recognition Package. That loss of faith in our core values, quite frankly, identifies us less as diplomats and more as mercenaries, soldiers for hire, and we sell ourselves short, and cheaply, at that.
And what is to become of our Foreign Service? That’s a question that came up often in Baghdad conversations where it was evident and obvious that traditionally diplomatic functions, once the province and the domain of the Department of State, were and are slowly being taken over by a far better resourced, better trained, and better equipped Department of Defense. Many studies have been and are being conducted on the militarization of diplomacy (just google the words and see what comes up) and the more euphemistic term, “civilian-military cooperation.” Baghdad is a huge laboratory for such studies, the former term being far more descriptive that the latter. Military units named Strategic Effects and Strategic Communications have leveraged the massive resource imbalance between Defense and State to spring themselves into former State-dominated areas of political and economic reporting and public diplomacy efforts. Regional and combatant commanders have become the equivalent of ambassadors and chiefs of mission, outside the traditional inter-agency setting, but with far more resources and more robust means of budget execution. The Country Team is just another joint interagency task force, among many. Fortunately for us, Defense shows no taste for administrative or consular work, State’s traditional and historic stepchildren, so State’s monopoly is safe there, for the time being.
Where did the Foreign Service lose its soul, its purpose, its identity? We allowed the lines separating foreign service professional service from military professional service to be blurred. But there are important differences between us, more that the false dichotomy espoused in the phrase “State is from Venus and Defense is from Mars.” We are both from Earth, but there are differences in the way we think, the way we approach problem solving, differences in our respective strategic cultures.
Diplomacy, true diplomacy can prevent war and all the attendant physical and human losses and has done so. The tools of diplomacy, falsely, inappropriately or unprofessionally applied, however, have a high probability of failure. Diplomacy has come to be seen in recent times as simply the prerequisite and prelude to war. The noted military historian, Geoffrey Blainey writes, “many historians, in explaining the outbreak of war, argue that ‘the breakdown in diplomacy led to war.’ This explanation is rather like the argument that the end of winter led to spring: it is a description masquerading as an explanation.” Where war, historian Barbara Tuchman writes, "is the unfolding of miscalculations," diplomacy is the precise calculation itself, and the accurate reporting of solutions to correct calculations that eliminates the need for war and all its corresponding horrors. State’s core competency is diplomacy to prevent war. Defense’s core competency is fighting to win the war itself.
Where do we go from here? We start by unequivocally defining ourselves and our core competencies. It is not about funding. It has never been. It is about our professional capacity to bring about the peaceful resolution of conflicts. It is about peace making. War has brought us a limited economic development, followed by financial disaster. Peace brings a much broader and more widespread prosperity. History is the judge. Blessed are the peace makers...
For other FSO perspectives dealing with the PRT experience in Iraq, please see Oral Histories, the Iraq Experience on the U.S. Institute for Peace website []