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A Decade of War and Peace

August 20th, 2012 No comments


Barcelona- Partly out of boredom and partly out of the itch to simply create something new out of old, I threw together this photo montage over the weekend. In this era of digital photography where one shoots thousands of frames rather than analog hundreds, I was reflecting on how almost all of the images I make will never see the light of day in this regard. I put this video together in a largely random fashion with images that have been just sitting in my laptop for years. I put the photos in the order they came to me as I grabbed them one by one from various folders containing my view of many of the biggest news events of the last 10 years.

Interspersed with them are much more sublime moments of everyday life around the world. An elephant in Thailand, an aged priest in Ethiopia, a glitzy office tower in Manhattan. This has been my reality and is our collective reality. Globalization and social networking simultaneously accelerate worldwide travel and technological integration while hyper compartmentalizing our lives. We speak more so to only those who we want to and listen to those with whom we already agree.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah preparing to depart for Ghazni province with the Afghan airforce to campaign in remote ethnic Hazara villages. Abdullah was the leading opposition candidate challenging President Hamid Karzai in the August 2009 elections. On the right stands a Shi’ite Seyyid accompanying him to Shia population centers for campaign credibility. ©2009 Derek Henry Flood

No one knows just where any of this is going. Billionaire fraudsters suddenly imprisoned, social revolutions springing up from seemingly nowhere (though not quite), calcified dictatorships counted on for decades in the interests of “stability” suddenly crumbling to pieces, it seems as if the entire world order is in question.

No grand conspiracy here, just plain, old awful war. On August 15, 2006, a Lebanese ambulance lay destroyed by what appeared to be an Israeli missile strike (quite possibly a drone strike or SPIKE anti-tank missile) outside of Sidon in southern Lebanon, an irrefutable violation of the Geneva Conventions on war crimes. Pro-Likud right-wing bloggers would dare say scenes like these were part of elaborate false flag operations by Hezbollah or photoshop masterpieces by left-wing or pro-Hezbollah journalists meant to demonize the Israel Defense Forces. This ambulance was not part of the so-called “ambulance controversy” nor am I aware that this particular wreckage appeared anywhere in the international media at the time.  ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

“From the Third World Countries to the Second and the First”

June 21st, 2012 No comments

Stencil graffiti on white marble ground here in Barcelona. I can’t quite tell what it’s supposed to read but my guess is something or other political. Another example of how a Soviet weapon devised in the wake of World War II has continued to transcend its intended purpose–to fight wars to defend/expand Soviet power in the 20th century–to be a sign of social transformation, avant garde art, or national liberation. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Barcelona- The above title is a line from the remix of M.I.A.’s Paper Planes single with Bun B and Rich Boy. It kind of capture’s my day today in a way. Sitting in the First World which seems at points in danger of slipping in the Second and writing and wondering about the volatile politics of the Third in Mali that verges on Barcelona’s own Manuel Castells‘ Fourth World in the north. I know Alfred Sauvy’s Third World is supposed to be long out of fashion in the post-poltical correctness era of the Global North and South or Majority World not to mentions the BRICS but maybe that’s why I continue to use it. Sometimes I simply like a passé expression out of sheer sentimentality. Other times it’s just a more evocative term than something bland-sounding coined by a present-day economist, demographer or sociologist.

I have a new article out from my trip to Sévaré the other week in today’s Christian Science Monitor. Despite a nuisance of a government minder, a confrontation with a fearsome man from the security forces and close to 100º F temperatures, I’m somehow managing to get some work out into the internet-o-sphere this week. The eurozone is in what seems like constant crisis and Spain here is chief among the economic enfants terribles. Well after Greece that is…

Nonetheless summer is here and things are plodding along. Unemployment is at record levels but at least there’s a beach. And at least the perennial post-Franco nationalism and separatism here in Catalunya is confined to flags, football, and mostly civil politics unlike dear Mali from where I’ve come in recent weeks.

The cliché goes that Mali was West Africa’s [lone?] success story under ATT in terms of democracy, good [or decent?] governance, corruption, and rule of law. Some Malians I spoke with over the weeks there strongly disagreed with all or parts of that characterization when describing day-to-day life under the “Soldier of Democracy” ATT’s rule but dissatisfaction was setting in even amongst some in the pro-coup camp as the weeks turned to months and the politics went from roller coaster to quagmire.

There was a report today in a Bamako paper (Français) that Malian forces began an assault on Monday on a very northerly garrison called Taoudéni not far from the Algerian and Mauritanian borders. The logistics for such an operation would seem impossible without the direct military assistance of either Algiers or Nouakchott.  But one report in one local paper doesn’t necessary cut it. If there was renewed war in Mali, I’d think others would be breaking the story. Could just be a bit of regurgitated propaganda from Kati. We’ll see if anything else filters through in the coming days.

I like happening upon Castilian inscriptions like this from the pre-Catalanization period. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Farewell- Yesterday I awoke to tragic news in my inbox. My editor at Asia Times Online, Anthony ‘Tony’ Allison, died of complications from a heart ailment in Hua Hin on the Gulf of Thailand. He was 59. I immediately wrote an email expressing my condolences and proceeded to mostly put it out of my head for the rest of the day. I was busy finishing up some edits on the CSM article featured in the box above and alternately worked on a piece for Jane’s Islamic Affairs Analyst stemming from my trip to Mali. I then busied myself with petty tasks like doing laundry and went skateboarding at my favorite neighborhood spot at the entrance to the Barcelona zoo at the end of an incredibly hot day.

But today, in reading his obituary and tributes from us hacks, the news is really sinking in. Life is entirely unpredictable. When I saw Tim Hetherington standing outside the entrance of the hospital in Ajdabiya, Libya last year, I could never have guessed that just a few weeks later a guy of his stature in our industry would be killed. It’s partly a product of getting older I suppose. The longer you live, the more likely it is people you know (or have been in the presence of) will die. I have this idea about when I was in my 20′s, nothing in life seemed to change that dramatically. You could not talk to a friend on the opposite side of the country or the world for six months or even a year and the odds were their life had changed little in that interim. In the 30′s, all that went to pot. Unromantic, dull-sounding terms came into play like “marriage track relationships.”

Friends who were in these forced-sounding social constructs suddenly seem to drop off the face of the earth. People began to say predictable things with increasing consistency about buying houses and cars, sonograms and painting nurseries. New friendships then grew out of the commonality of those who eschewed such societal norms (ie those who were still out at the bars on Tuesday nights at 2am). No amount of pseudo-security or inherited wealth of one form or another can prevent the inevitable. We all eventually end up in the same place. It’s what we do until then that matters. No one I’ve known or met who died in the decade of the 9/11 wars ever thought as they were packing their bags, “OK, this is my final trip.” The first guys I knew who died in my field died in 2002. That was a decade ago. And somehow I am fortunate enough to look out at the brilliant blue skies over northeastern Spain 10 years on with what seem like endless possibilities still laying ahead.

Limitless. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Halfway Around the World

February 13th, 2012 No comments

View of Cologne's hulking gothic cathedral in the light of a bone chilling winter's day. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Istanbul, Köln, & New York- It’s been a while since I’ve been able to do an update after about three weeks of nonstop travel and work. I’m just going to post a mishmash of backlogged things of no particular importance. After leaving Antakya I spent a couple of incredibly cold, expensive days in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet tourist district. Long gone are the days of Istanbul being a cheap tourist destination. But in its core, the town hadn’t changed a lick. The dudes who work in the tourist hustle still tell the European and Australian tourists that their names are incongruously things like “Steve” or “Johnny” whilst explaining that they’ve never been outside Turkey in their lives. In that sense it reminded me of my first trip to the city in the summer of 1998. Turkey seemed to have changed a bit in the era of the AK Parti and the Gulen movement and I felt like maybe the Efes didn’t flow as freely (and definitely not as cheaply) as it once did.  But no matter what ideological trends are sweeping across the Anatolian plains, Turkey is still a relative bastion of accommodation between Islam and global modernity.

The legendary Orient Hostel in Sultanahmet. Some of my earliest adventures began from this place including my perilous 2002 trip to the Pankisi Gorge on the Georgian-Chechen border. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

I made the observation that Turk Hava Yollari (Turkish Airlines) is sort of a de facto foreign policy arm for Ankara yet again. A decade ago the Turkish national carrier was part of the pan-Turkism policy that reconnected Turkey with its distant Sovietized cousins in Central Asia. When I was at Ataturk Hava Limani (Istanbul’s main airport) the first thing I noticed when I walked in was that the first destination on the departures board was the formerly besieged Libyan city of Misurata. Not Tripoli or Benghazi but a direct flight to Misurata. This intimates Ankara’s soft power desires and influence in the shattered Libyan state across the Mediterranean.

It has always seemed to me that Turkish Airlines has been an instrument of soft power for Ankara. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Too distant to make out in this bad Blackberry snap, I noticed when boarding my flight to Köln that Afriqiyah Airways had painted the new-old Sanussi/Libyan independence flag on its jets above the rear passenger windows (and that it was back flying again after the end of the no-fly zone imposed by the UN on Libya last year). ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

I’m still swamped with work related to my Syrian adventure and corresponding interviews with Syrian opposition figures in Turkey. I want to list a couple of things if nothing else than for my own personal archives. My speech from the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique September terrorism conference titled “Western boots on Eastern ground: A Comparison of Western Interventions in the Muslim World in the post-9/11 decade” is now available in PDF form (en Français) on the FRS site. I was quoted twice last week on CNN.com in “No Libya play for the West in Syria” and “How Syria differs from Libya.” This time last week I was presenting my work at an annual security conference comparing the scenarios in Libya & Syria and NATO’s supply lines in Central Asia in Wesseling, Germany which I will post more about when the CIOR site is updated and I have more time.

Statue detail on the lower exterior above an entrance to the Cologne cathedral. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

My France24 Interview

December 20th, 2011 No comments

Before Sunset

December 18th, 2011 No comments

The Hôtel de Crillon where I stayed next to the American Embassy on Place de la Concorde. But don't be fooled by the French tricolor flying atop the roof, according to a BBC report last December the hotel was acquired by a Saudi prince. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Paris- It was an extraordinarily busy week in the French capital to say the least. Before heading back to Aeroport Charles de Gaulle, I managed to make a mad dash to the famous Shakespeare and Company bookshop on the Seine whose owner George Whitman died a couple of days before. I read the US Embassy’s Twitter feed of Ambassador Rivkin mentioning it and decided a visit to the legendary store was worth my last few hours in the city of lights. I didn’t have much time to loiter as I would have liked but picked up a Arundhati Roy’s fantastic, impassioned new book on one of  my absolute favorite subjects, the Maoist war in central India. In my sleepless stupor I tore into Walking with the Comrades on the flight home and it did not disappoint. I only wish I could have written it myself. Roy writes about the Maoist issue with the same vigor as her outstanding work on Kashmir.

The vaunted Shakespeare and Company bookshop on the Left Bank of the River Seine whose owner George Whitman died above in his flat just three days previously. I wish I'd had more time to poke around its stacks. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

I decided to make one more rushed walk along the right bank to head back to the hotel to pick up my bags. After passing by the Notre Dame on the Île de la Cité, I happened upon this magnificent victory fountain commissioned by Napoleon to commemorate his campaign against Mamluk forces during the Battle of the Pyramids in 1798. In what I suppose must have been typical Bonapartist fashion, the column emulated elements of Imperial Rome, fitting I guess as the rather delusional Messr. Bonaparte saw himself a latter day emperor at the time. The Sphinx heads basked in a cold winter light as the sun moved across the Parisen sky on one of the shortest days of the year.

As I hustled along the river in the brisk afternoon sun, I saw what seemed like countless Roma (Gypsy) kids pulling this scam that a gal I met in Santorini had warned me about where they mark tourists pretending to be deaf/mute while aggressively hassling them for cash playing on Western notions of guilt. Apparently there is nothing the Paris police or courts are willing to do about it as the Roma all appear to be under 18 despite the damage it does to tourism. I either didn’t have the look of such a whale or I was walking to hard for them to pay me any mind.

A fitting end to my stay was a cool (!) taxi driver who was playing American jazz on the radio as I quietly exited the city after an incredibly hectic, fascinating week. Waiting in the American Airlines departure lounge, I overheard the conversations of American university exchange students who were all excitedly heading home for Christmas after a rollicking semester abroad that apparently included a class trip to Morocco where they slept on dunes in the Sahara and experimented with drugs for the first time. Generation Facebook crowded into the airport in Uggz boots carrying iPads and yet still found things to complain about. It kind of surprises me that there are families that in this day can still afford to send their kids off to one of the world’s most expensive cities en masse to study (read: party) for months on end especially considering how nonsensically weak the dollar still is against the euro. Either the middle class is actually in better shape than I thought or perhaps they are part of the dreaded “1%.”

Although my work on this trip entirely concerned the future of the Muslim world and the West’s relationship with both the newly post- and present-tense revolutionary Arab states, I was also consumed with the future of the European Union and the eurozone. Much of the lunch and dinner conversation revolved around the troubled future of the so-called European project and the Franc0-German alliance/relationship. As someone who has always advocated for both continued EU enlargement as well as the steadied (but calculated!!) enlargement of the eurozone, much of what was said over the course of the last week was downright depressing. Has the enlargement of both the EU and the euro currency area been reckless economic adventurism? I hope not but I may be wrong which is immensely disappointing. The unity of the West is so important for a number of reasons not least of which because many believe, myself included that the “rise of the rest” is a de facto defeat for the hoped-for primacy of human rights in the world. I definitely am already well fatigued by the tiresome rise of China/maybe-authoritariansim-isn’t-really-so-bad-after-all talk. Yes, maybe it was a disastrous idea for Greece to have joined the euro (which I said at the time) but it is too late to go back now. 2012 will be a key year for the future of political Europe as the EU is often referred to in think-tank circles. A strong, united Europe is key to the struggle against neoconservatism which is seems to be having some level of resurgence here in the US and in the isolationist/nationalist/anti-immigrationist quarters of the EU’s differing electorates. I’m  still holding out plenty of hope.

Oh and to the kids I met on Rue Mouffetard who took me to the electro dubstep party on Le Batofar, thanks! It is nights like that why I fell in love with the EU in the first place and why I will always return.

A Sphinx spewing water from La Fontaine du Palmier at Place du Châtelet on the Right Bank. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Midnight in Paris

December 13th, 2011 No comments

Le Grande Mosquée de Paris. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Paris- Took a long, brisk walk around the 5th arrondissement tonight after another red eye transatlantic trip leaving me in a daze. After a falafel and a Delirium Tremens, I got lost on my way back to Hotel le Demeure and stumbled upon the Moroccan-Algerian styled Grande Mosquée de Paris on a quiet backstreet at midnight which made for an ill-focused Blackberry snapshot. Upon a brief Google, the mosque is much older than I would have thought and rather than being a post-war structure, it is in fact a post-Great War construction dating back to the roaring twenties. Sometimes it’s good to lose one’s way.

Automne à Paris

December 12th, 2011 No comments

Passing by La Tour Eiffel on my last trip to Paris. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

New York- Taking off from the Big Apple in a couple of hours to head to Paris on behalf of the State Department on a three-day speaking tour. My first event will be held at L’Institut de Recherche Stratégique de l’Ecole Militaire (IRSEM) on 14 December at 14:30 talking about the effects of the Libyan war on the broader Mediterranean geopolitical spectrum. I’ll then be appearing on France24, one of the EU’s principal news networks on 15 December at 11:00. I will then be speaking at Institut des Relations Internationales et Stratégiques (IRIS) on 16 December from 09:00-11:00 on U.S. policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. My last stop will be at  Institut Français des Relations Internationales (IFRI) at 14:30 also on 16 December.

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The Futility of Battling Ideology at War’s End

November 11th, 2011 No comments

A massive piece of art in Brooklyn's Williamsburg section celebrating Bradley Manning, the Army private who passed a massive United States government document trove onto the anti-secrecy site Wikileaks.org. Manning, currently in detention at Fort Leavenworth, disclosed information which today is classified as secret but will one day very likely simply be part of the collective historical record. Lessons from history are rarely if ever learned by government. Perhaps it is finally time to reexamine our methodology. The balance between state secrecy and open governance almost invariably tilts towards further secrecy. Yesterday's release of yet more Nixon tapes and testimony-more than 17 years after his death-reinforce this idea. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

New York- I saw one of these living, contrasting images on the subway here the other day where I wonder if I am the only one observant or nosey enough to notice these things. An older man boarded the train donning a black leather vest with a green outline of Viet Nam divided rather starkly between North and South by a US Marine Corps rank insignia. I was born the year Viet Nam’s indigenous war ended and two years after it effectively ended for the United States. The political fervor of the Johnson and early Nixon era, where fighting Communism was deemed as an existential fight for America’s values at home as well as the biggest external challenge to American supremacy in the Pacific and Eurasian rimland realms, defined the imagery of my upbringing. We were all “All Along the Watchtower.”  Standing next to this man was a smartly dressed, city chic thirty-ish woman reading a fresh paperback.

Curious to know what others are reading to pass the commute time, I glanced over her shoulder to see who the author was and noticed it was a novel by a Vietnamese writer called Aimee Phan. The book was titled The Reeducation of Cherry Truong, a post-Viet Nam war odyssey of sorts. Looking it up on Amazon when I got home, I saw it won’t be out for some time, meaning the reader on the subway either worked for the publisher or a media outlet provided an advance copy to review the book. So here was a man representing the blood, death, and tears of a futile war with an invisible, unreachable goal and next to him a confident post-feminist woman born after his war’s end reviewing a book putting the war more firmly in history rather than the still very present tense of the vest wearer. Both of them appeared to stand oblivious to one another.

Sure perhaps we can revise our view and say that the war was either to buffer the vehemently anti-Communist but far from democratic South Vietnamese state or overturn its Communist peer competitor in the North. But in the context of the era, the American public was often extolled of the virtue of defeating such an evil ideology. That must not be forgotten. In 30 years, will there be a young person reviewing a book-in whatever form books will be in 30 years (assuming they still exist)-written by a second generation Iraqi-American author putting that war in the appropriate perspective with a grizzled yet proud Iraqi Freedom veteran nearby looking off the other direction?

Militaries and sometimes insurgencies can be defeated on the battlefield with overwhelming force and a scorched earth campaigns respectively (think Operation Desert Storm for the former and the Filipino insurgency in Luzon during the Spanish-American war for the latter). Though it may be possible to let the gun barrels cool down once both sides have exhausted themselves through the implementation of physical and psychological violence, it is impossible to kill ideas. Ideas can only be bested by more innovative, successful ideas, not columns of tanks and harsh secrecy laws. This is the eternal struggle between the short and long views of the intellectually ill-equipped men who describe themselves as “history’s actors.”

Tens of thousands of Americans died fighting to contain the spread of Asian Communism in the Korean and Viet Nam wars. Countless Americans served in Europe during the Cold War to stem the westward geographic creep of Soviet Communism. Today in troubled European cities like Athens (pictured here) rife with economic disquiet, the symbols of Marxism and Leninsim have failed to disappear. One has to ask, what was it all for? And was it all really such a success? Or did American triumphalism confuse Soviet and Warsaw Pact economic state collapse with the death of an ideology? Did America provide a security umbrella in Europe for decades only to allow for the freedom to espouse Communist ideology in the EU's economically devastated "olive belt" countries? ©2011 Derek Henry Flood