Thursday, October 11, 2007

Memories of Arabia Felix

I opened up a book Imperial Life in the Emerald Palace by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, turned to the index to check out my Arabist friends in the CPA, and found that Hume Horan and Chris Ross and Ron Neumann were all on page 219. I noticed immediately that the author got Ross's and Neumann's previous ambassadorships wrong. [Neumann was ambassador to Algeria, Ross was not.] Always a bad sign when the first set of facts one notices in a book contains an inaccuracy.

However, I notice that Chandrasekaran does echo Cobra II and Assassin's Gate in assigning the colossal blunders of the CPA in its inception to L. Paul [Jerry] Bremer. First, Bremer famously refused to admit Zalmay Khalilzad as Co-Ambassador or even Deputy Ambassador, depending on whose version one follows. ZK had established working relationships with a number of top Iraqi political figures before LPB's arrival, knew Arabic, and also was a seasoned veteran of the region. LPB was a political trusty of Cheney/Rumsfeld/Kissinger.

Chandrasekaran also notes that Bremer, a devout Catholic, surrounded himself with a group of Catholic-background inner staff who were politically loyal, but had no regional expertise. Even these like O'Sullivan & Martinez were asking LPB to soften his harsh de-Baathification plan which overnight denuded the Iraqi government of its senior civil service, but the Europeanist Bremer had studied post-WWII Germany and was adamant on the strictest interpretation possible---the terrible consequences quickly ensued.

Chandrasekaran says that the Arabists named above and people Bremer named as advisors were kept from CPA inner councils on all important matters, as Bremer feared Horan, Neumann and Ross might share the proceedings with friends back at State and ask for advice.

Among Bremer's listed advisors are NOT Barbara Bodine, April Glaspie, John Limbert or other members of Arabist US General Jay Garner's team. Tom Warrick is listed, but Rumsfeld kept a gimlet reptilian eye all those who were close to Garner and Jerry-boy was a devoted disciple of Dandy Don. Bremer was an acolyte of Henry Kissinger, who used to run the State Dept out of his back pocket. The saying in the early seventies was that you could turn the bottom six floors of the State Dept into a warehouse and no one would know the difference. Peter Rodman, another Kissinger go-fer, is now at Brookings, after serving time at a Milwaukee-based think tank and was recently on PBS Evening News now that he's on parole.

But Hume Horan was one of my closest acquaintences in the Foreign Service. I was Political/Military and Internal Political Affairs Officer for the last two years Hume served in Jidda and, as I was the only other FSO Arabist, we became quite close. Many were the afternoons I dropped in a telegram to Washington for his signature and he invited me to sit for an hour or so discussing everything his polymath background could summon. He was an expert on Mutanabbi and Ibn Khaldun and myriad nooks and crannies of the Arabic universe I could only begin to study and fathom. He was also studying Hebrew, a sister language to Arabic, on cassette tapes while I was there. And he had an avid interest in natural phenomena. Indeed, when I invited him to attend our wedding, he was in Cameroon and invited myself and my wife to honeymoon in moonlit Douala!

Ironically, Hume had several wild and wooly episodes in his foreign service career. He had perfected his Arabic in Libya after attending, as I did, the FSI branch in Beirut. Afterward in Jidda, I was once asked by a Saudi who the diplomat at a Jidda function was who looked like an American, but spoke perfect Arabic with a Libyan accent. He used to regale me with stories of the Black September attack on the US Embassy in Amman. No fan of King Hussein, Hume used to scrunch up while imitating the diminuitive monarch whom Horan said was not the sharpest tool in the shed, reading an English diplomatic note.

Later, Horan was named Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and was mistrusted by the Saudis, and actively undermined by Ambassador Bandar bin Sultan back in DC. Hume's father was a former Iranian Foreign Minister under the Shah and Hume also had assisted the Ethiopian Jews escape from Sudan to Israel, a country Hume made no secret of his admiration for.

But the straw that broke the camel's back was in 1988 when he was sent to officially rebuke King Fahd on behalf of Secretary of State Baker for the Chinese ballistic missiles US satellites had discovered in the Empty Quarter. Although Israel had protested that the missiles were a possible threat, they had sold the Chinese the aeronautics and ballistic technology illegally from missiles Israel had acquired from the USA. This little irony was never revealed in the press. And thenceforward, the Saudi Ambassador Prince was paramount in US/Saudi relations; the US Ambassador in Riyadh becoming a political perk rather than a functioning post, though Chas Freeman for a short time during the Gulf War was a hands-on Ambassador.

Hume was called "my pet Bedouin" by Jerry Bremer because Hume's fearlessness and insatiable curiosity had him tramping across the Iraqi political landscape, even landing a rare interview with Ayatollah Sistani unfortunately disrupted by a Sadr-staged raid on the Ayatollah's neighborhood. Ironically, Horan had strongly urged the young Sadr's removal by all means possible only months before.

Hume's lovely wife Nancy was at the Middle East Institute when I was Resident Fellow there in the early '80s. She was a very bright woman who would have been a professional had she been born ten years later. She did get a degree from Harvard in post-grad studies, if I recall.

The Shattered Peace of Iraq was largely a function of the CPA pursuing idealistic and unrealistic goals bereft of any local or regional expertise except from Bremer's inner court---which appears to have been selected for loyalty rather than knowledge.

Arabists and Arab-world experts were kept at arm's length as Bremer imposed a European solution onto a Middle Eastern problem.

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