In the military, within the language analyst community (government speak for ‘translator’), there is a phrase that sends shivers down the spines of most service-members. The phrase is… “language maintenance.” It makes the language retention process sound as interesting and thrilling as changing a car’s oil, which is probably why most military “language maintenance” materials are so damned boring. From my experience, most materials consisted of either a written article from Al Jazeera or BBC Arabic, or a 2-3 minute audio passage from the same sources. Bilateral trade agreements! Weather reports! The Joy! Now, these sorts of materials are certainly important – especially since the DLPT draws almost exclusively from them – but they can become stale very quickly, especially at the higher levels. It’s also understandable that since the personnel tasked with putting together materials for language maintenance are swamped with a million other tasks, they naturally reach for the same resources time and again. In that regards, I thought I’d list a few places where you can find Arabic Language materials that are both authentic and engaging.
Disclaimer: I like Arabic, but I love Iraq and Iraqi Arabic. As such, you’ll probably notice a certain bias towards materials related to Iraq. You just got to deal with it, yo. Also, most of these materials are probably in the 2+ and higher range of the ILR scale. If you aren’t there yet, you might not get as much out of these.
1. The Harmony Program Documents from West Point’s Countering Terrorism Center
These documents are probably some of the most unique documents of their kind on the internet. Documents captured from insurgents and terrorists across Iraq and Afghanistan were made available by the US Military to researchers at West Point’s CTC under the agreement that they were allowed to be publicly published. It doesn’t get more “real” than this. Want to read the letter that al-Qa’ida’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, sent to the former leader of al-Qa’ida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi? What about the form that al-Qa’ida required its soldiers to fill out if they were quitting jihad in Iraq? There are tons of different documents that you can pore over; all of them interesting and historical. The best part of all, however, is that every single Arabic Language document has an English translation accessible by clicking the “View English Translation” button in the upper right corner of the page. It not only provides a word-for-word translation, but adds context and background history on the who/what/where/when/why of each document. You almost don’t need your trusty Hans Wehr!
2. Baghdad TED Talks
Yeah, you read that right. Official TED talks… in Arabic… from Baghdad. This is actually very, very recent (last week). The footage isn’t actually up on the official site just yet, but you can still watch a replay of the livestream here.
3. Iraqiyah Confessions
These are pretty wild; there isn’t really any correlation to this practice on mainstream American TV. Basically, some of the most “infamous” of Iraqi terrorists and insurgents that are rounded up by US/Iraqi Forces are brought on TV for dramatic one-on-one mea culpas where they detail their sordid jihadi ways. One of the lengthiest interviews is one done with Munaf al-Rawi, the so-called “Wali of Baghdad,” who led al-Qa’ida in Iraq’s Baghdad operations and who was captured back in 2010 and sentenced to death this March. The entire interview can be found conveniently pieced together on my youtube playlist. There’s plentymore out there. I should note, some people might find it repulsive to dedicate 30-40 minutes listening to a terrorist talk, but I think most people will see the value. Maybe I’ll post a transcript some day for the non-Arab speaking folks out there?
4. al-Jazeera Sports
I have a theory that sometimes the best thing to do on certain days is just put on some Arabic in the background and let your mind absorb and work with the Arabic passively. Don’t worry about looking up words, don’t mess with trying to understand everything, just get in that messy stream of Arabic and let it wash over you like a warm shower. That’s right. And, in my opinion, the best way to do that is to put al-Jazeera Sports on. They generally have soccer (football lol) on at some point during the day and it’s super easy to just pull it up and watch some soccer for 30 minutes. This method is even more beneficial if you follow American sports, as a lot of the chatter between broadcasters is the same so it is fairly easy to figure out what they are chatting about after a while. al-Jazeera Sports streams live from this website. Enjoy!
Shocker! Guantanamo Bay is a complete waste of money. The Miami Herald‘s Carol Rosenberg – uber guru on all things Gitmo – has a new article up that estimates that the facility costs the US Government $800,000 annually, per detainee. That comes out to roughly thirty times the cost of holding a prisoner on US soil. Mother Jones adds on an interesting factoid:
The irony is that with only 171 detainees left, there are more convicted international terrorists in federal prisons in the United States than there are detainees remaining at Gitmo.
Our inability – here, in 2011 – to close the prison at Guantanamo is the most damning indictment of the cowardice and ignorant fear that lies at the heart of American politics. I could ramble on all day in regards to the shame of that place, but instead I thought I’d provide a solid list of material that has helped shaped my mind on it.
Web Sites: Guantanamo Bay Section, Miami Herald. By Carol Rosenberg.
Carol Rosenberg won the Robert F. Kennedy award for Journalism (Domestic Print) in 2011 for her body of reporting from Guantanamo. By all accounts she has spent more time down at Gitmo than any other reporter; indeed, she has probably spent more time there than most military personnel. If you want one news source on Gitmo, this is all you need.
Audio: Habeas Schmabeas, This American Life. by WBEZ Chicago
Ira Glass and his merry band of radio wunderkinds produced this episode, which actually won them the 2006 Peabody Award for “clarifying and emphasizing the significance of a fundamental American legal right and for giving voice to victims of its abuse.” (Peabody Award citation.) It’s worth your time.
Books: The Least Worst Place, by Karen Greenberg
The best book to start with. Karen Greenberg goes through the very first 100 days that Gitmo was open in meticulous detail. The narrative focuses on Marine General Michael Lehnert who fought tirelessly, and ultimately in vain, for the Geneva Conventions to be upheld at the camp. It’s worth it alone as a case study in the costs and difficulty inherent in living out true moral courage and leadership.
The Eight O’clock Ferry To the Windward Side, by Clive Stafford Smith
Clive Stafford Smith was one of the first lawyers to arrive at Gitmo, and this book is a cataloging of much of his time spent at the camp and with the detainees he represented. Well written, engaging, insightful.
Have we learned nothing? Eight years to the day (March 19, 2003) that we launched the failed Iraq War, we find ourselves drawn into yet another war in a Middle Eastern country with absolutely no idea of what we are getting ourselves into. Let’s look at our rock-solid preparation:
-No congressional declaration of war.
-No stated exit strategy.
-No discussion of how much this will cost. (Haha, and I thought people cared about the deficit!)
-No honest discussion of whether we can achieve our stated objectives (of course, if you have vague objectives, you can always bullshit this one. See: Iraq War, Afghan War, Vietnam War…etc. Or, you can just blindly trust that America can do no wrong. It works out great in Middle Eastern wars!)
I rounded up some of the best commentary I’ve seen on the Libyan war so far:
Launching air strikes is the easiest, most exciting, and most dependably successful stage of a modern war, from the US / Western perspective. TV coverage is wall-to-wall and awestruck. The tech advantages are all on our side. Few Americans, or none at all, are hurt. It takes a while to see who is hurt on the ground.
But after this spectacular first stage of air war, what happens then? If the airstrikes persuade Qaddafi and his forces just to quit, great! But what if they don’t? What happens when a bomb lands in the “wrong” place? As one inevitably will. When Arab League supporters of the effort see emerging “flaws” and “abuses” in its execution? As they will. When the fighting goes on and the casualties mount up and a commitment meant to be “days, not weeks” cannot “decently” be abandoned, after mere days, with so many lives newly at stake? When the French, the Brits, and other allies reach the end of their military resources — or their domestic support — and more of the work naturally shifts to the country with more weapons than the rest of the world combined?
It looks more like once we’ve closed down Qaddafi’s air forces we’ve basically taken custody of what is already a failed rebellion. We’ve accepted responsibility for protecting them. Once we recognize that, the logic of the situation will lead us to arming our new charges, helping them get out of the jam they’re in.
So let’s review: No clear national or even humanitarian interest for military intervention. Intervening well past the point where our intervention can have a decisive effect. And finally, intervening under circumstances in which the reviled autocrat seems to hold the strategic initiative against us. This all strikes me as a very bad footing to go in on.
And this doesn’t even get us to this being the third concurrent war in a Muslim nation and the second in an Arab one. Or the fact that the controversial baggage from those two wars we carry into this one, taking ownership of it, introducing a layer of ‘The West versus lands of Islam’ drama to this basically domestic situation and giving Qaddafi himself or perhaps one of his sons the ability to actually start mobilization some public or international opinion against us.
The regime is shooting unarmed civilians at will – killing scores. We must surely stop this. Oh, wait. It’s Yemen, and we support the regime. Meanwhile, the Bahrainian autocracy, backed by the Saudi theocracy, “cleanses” its capital city of the symbols of democratic hope, with the assistance of foreign troops. But we are somehow able to resist the impulse to intervene – and maintain diplomatic relations with the royal family there.
The trouble with intervening somewhere is that it begs the question of: why not somewhere else? If the motive is entirely humanitarian, and involves no “vital national interest”, then how can it be compatible with allowing, say, the Iranian dictatorship to kill, shoot dead, torture and disappear countless Iranians who peacefully sought real change?
Yes, the Obama administration has now interjected American power into what was a few days ago a revolution entirely for the Arab world to resolve itself. My fear is that this decision was made without a thorough public airing of all the unanswered questions about unintended consequences. I worry that the West’s involvement will merely reignite the paradigm in which the Arab world is incapable of reforming itself without meddling from the West, and revives the danger of changing the subject from the malfeasance and incompetence of the various regimes to the broader argument about the Arab world’s relationship with the outside world. I remain of the view that, for reasons of prudence and constitutional propriety.
After George H.W. Bush ordered the invasion of Panama, New York Times correspondent R.W. Apple wrote that starting new military conflicts is “a Presidential initiation rite,” that “most American leaders since World War II have felt a need to demonstrate their willingness to shed blood,” and that Bush’s order to attack tiny, defenseless Panama “has shown him as a man capable of bold action.” Just as the Founders predicted, allowing Presidents to order military attacks without the approval of the citizenry (through their Congress) has engendered a whole slew of unnecessary wars that serve the political and ruling classes but not the people of the country.
The dangers from unilateral, presidential-decreed wars are highlighted in the Libya situation. There has been very little public discussion (and even less explanation from the President) about the reasons we should do this, what the costs would be on any level, what the end goal would be, how mission creep would be avoided, whether the “Pottery Barn” rule will apply, or virtually anything else. Public opinion is at best divided on the question if not opposed. Even if you’re someone who favors this intervention, what’s the rationale for not requiring a debate and vote in Congress over whether the President should be able to commit the nation to a new military conflict? Candidate Obama, candidate Clinton, and the Bush-era Democrats all recognized the constitutional impropriety of unilateral actions like this one; why shouldn’t they be held to that?
Adm Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the outcome of military action from the air was “very uncertain” and made it clear that Washington did not see the goal of Operation Odyssey Dawn as removing the Libyan leader from power.
Opening up the possibility of a rift between the US and Britain and France if the Gaddafi regime does not crumble quickly, he said: “The goals are limited. It’s not about seeing him go. It’s about supporting the United Nations resolution which talked about eliminating his ability to kill his own people.”
Adm Mullen said it was “certainly potentially one outcome” that the mission could succeed while leaving Col Gaddafi in power.
So basically, we can blow a couple hundred million dollars launching Tomahawks and aircraft into Libya, only to leave a pissed-off, wounded Qaddafi in power. The only way we win is if the rebels are able to recover, push all the way to Tripoli, and then seize power from Qaddafi in a relatively short amount of time. Every single other outcome is a failure for American and NATO forces and a propaganda victory for Qaddafi. If Qaddafi doesn’t fall, what then? Do we maintain a no-fly zone indefinitely while waiting for the rebels to gain strength? Do we send in ground troops? Do we start targeting Qaddafi? We could always just walk away, but I doubt we as a nation have the moral courage to do that. Peggy Noonan had a great piece in the Wall Street Journal recently that was spot on:
The biggest takeaway, the biggest foreign-policy fact, of the past decade is this: America has to be very careful where it goes in the world, because the minute it’s there—the minute there are boots on the ground, the minute we leave a footprint—there will spring up, immediately, 15 reasons America cannot leave. The next day there will be 30 reasons, and the day after that 45. They are often serious and legitimate reasons.
So we wind up in long, drawn-out struggles when we didn’t mean to, when it wasn’t the plan, or the hope, or the expectation.
We have to keep this phenomenon in mind as we chart our path in the future. It’s easy to start a war but hard to end one. It’s as simple as that. It’s easy to get in but hard to get out. Even today, in Baghdad, you hear that America can’t leave Iraq because the government isn’t sturdy enough, the army and police aren’t strong enough to withstand the winds that will follow America’s full departure, that all that has been achieved—a fragile, incomplete, relative peace—will be lost. America cannot leave because Iraq will be vulnerable to civil war, not between Sunnis and Shiites, they tell you now, but between Arabs and Kurds, in the north, near the oil fields.
The New York times is reporting that two US Airmen were killed and another two injured in an attack by a lone gunman at Frankfurt International Airport in Germany.
The suspected gunman, who is in custody, is 21-year-old Kosovar who lives in Frankfurt, according to a city police spokesman, Manfred Füllhardt.
He said that he busload of airmen had just arrived from England and had boarded the bus to go to the American military base at Ramstein, a few dozen miles to the southwest of the Frankfurt Airport.
The suspect argued with some of the airmen before shooting one who was standing in the open door as well as the driver, Mr. Füllhardt said. The suspect was captured by a Hesse state police officer who was at the airport, which typically has heavy security especially following warnings in recent months that Germany would be a terror target.
Key quote at the end:
A man whose office is near the site of the shooting said it was an area where buses load arriving passengers. Speaking on condition of anonymity to protect his business, he said witnesses told him that the gunman first talked to the military personnel to find out who they were and then opened fire, shouting “God is great” in Arabic.
Definitely has the looks of a terrorist attack. RIP.
“In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.” -Jose Narosky
Andrew Sullivan posted up a great reader’s response to recentpieces by the terrifyingly inept duo of William Kristol and Leon Wieseltier. They have recently been cheering on the idea of injecting American troops into Libya while tut-tutting Obama for being a limp-wristed pansy who wastes his time researching the best answer to a thorny and complicated problem. Real American Patriots send young American troops in to die at the drop of a hat! Their recent articles are essentially the same trope they trotted out back in 2003 when each of them was so eager to quit the messy process of diplomacy and get on with the fun: War! In Iraq! Guns! Explosions! Freedom! Isn’t it all so much fun?
That’s not to say that their hearts aren’t in the right place. The situation in Libya is tragic and heartbreaking, and it certainly is worth our time to do all we can to help. But, Kristol and Wieseltier are deeply unserious men. The fact that they were beating the war drums loudly during the run up to the Iraq war is bad, but it can be forgiven. There are many people who look back on that time with a feeling of horror and shame for how easily we unthinkingly succumbed to the push towards war. We are human, we err, we find ourselves driven by powerful emotions like fear and anger that press us onwards. We were also quite misinformed by our own government about the true costs and difficulties. But in Mr. Kristol and Mr. Wieseltier you see two men who are unrepentant about their positions. They see no wrongdoing, no better way we could have steered towards. The tragedy of the Iraq experience seems to place no burden upon their hearts.
This is what makes their babbling incoherence about Libya all the more shameful. If we as America have learned anything of value from this past decade, I would hope we’ve learned that war is one of the most awful things a country can undertake. Even when done for the best of intentions, we are trafficking in an eternal evil when we unleash our armies. Of course, the cost of Iraq (and Afghanistan) was never born by the William Kristols of the world; it was born by our young servicemen and the poor Iraqis who found themselves on the wrong end of our our nation’s grand hubris. Perhaps the situation in Libya will deteriorate to the point that a no-fly zone will need to be implemented. Perhaps we might even need to go further than that? If that time comes, we would certainly be well-served to have spent our time in intense discussions with our allies and with ourselves about the true costs of such an endeavor and how to accomplish our mission without jeopardizing the nascent Libyan resistance. It’s the only serious way forward.
Tom Ricks highlighted a good quote from a speech that Secretary of Defense Gates gave today at West Point. Money quote:
The need for heavy armor and firepower to survive, close with, and destroy the enemy will always be there, as veterans of Sadr City and Fallujah can no doubt attest. And one of the benefits of the drawdown in Iraq is the opportunity to conduct the kind of full-spectrum training — including mechanized combined arms exercises — that was neglected to meet the demands of the current wars.
Looking ahead, though, in the competition for tight defense dollars within and between the services, the Army also must confront the reality that the most plausible, high-end scenarios for the U.S. military are primarily naval and air engagements — whether in Asia, the Persian Gulf, or elsewhere. The strategic rationale for swift-moving expeditionary forces, be they Army or Marines, airborne infantry or special operations, is self-evident given the likelihood of counterterrorism, rapid reaction, disaster response, or stability or security force assistance missions. But in my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should “have his head examined,” as General MacArthur so delicately put it.
This guy’s a keeper, he almost makes me miss the great state of Georgia where you can go to find Real Americans. Broun was at a town hall meeting with constituents when an old man got up and asked, “Who’s going to shoot Obama?” Naturally, since this is part of the bible belt and there is a general feeling of love and brotherhood towards your fellow man, everyone at the meeting howled with laughter. Including, it turns out, the esteemed Congressmen Broun:
After laughing at the question, Broun reportedly said “there’s a lot of frustration with this president.”
“We’re going to have an election next year,” Broun said. “Hopefully, we’ll elect somebody that’s going to be a conservative, limited-government president that will take a smaller… who will sign a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.”
Yea, great tact there. Instead of doing the right thing and having the moral courage to explain to his constituents that it isn’t actually funny to talk about shooting the President, he just kind of ducks the opportunity in that passive-aggressive way that suits cowards like Broun. Of course, when the media got wind of it, his office released a statement saying that the comment was “abhorrent”. It’s cool though, he gets it both ways. He can be the fun, cool, good ole’ boy who jokes about killing the President, and he can also be the principled Congressman who displays outrage at a misguided and violent statement. That’s true character!
Seriously, why are you guys even directing this rage at Qaddafi to begin with? He’s just a gentle old man who smiles and waves to people and drinks tea and wears white gloves to protect his delicate hands and hosts foreign dignitaries and unleashes mercenary death squads on his people and takes leisurely strolls through floral gardens.
Qaddafi actually blamed the uprising in Libya on coffee drugs:
[Qaddafi] says al Qaeda militants are “exploiting” teenagers, giving them “hallucinogenic pills in their coffee with milk, like Nescafe.”
It’s like some sort of SNL skit that came to life; it would be hilarious if it weren’t so tragic.
If you were worried that the Obama administration wasn’t “monitoring” the “fluid situation” going on in Egypt, then Robert Gibbs’ press conference should have freed you from such worries. Otherwise you were probably quite disappointed in the confused and disoriented responses Gibbs gave to the barrage of (surprisingly decent) questions posed by the White House press corps.
Meanwhile, heavy armor in the form of tanks and APCs have been moving through downtown Cairo towards numerous strategic locations. I don’t want to spam lots of updates on here but I thought I’d share some great places on the internet to follow these historical events in Egypt.
If you are sitting at your computer, then really the only TV you should be watching is Al-Jazeera English’s (AJE) live stream. Don’t waste your time on CNN/FOX/MSNBC, and don’t be off-put by any negative emotions you may attach to the Al-Jazeera name. AJE broadcasts high-quality, in-depth, grown-up programming that demands your respect.
The UK’s Guardian has been live-blogging the events and has been on the ball all morning and afternoon providing a steady stream of news reports, tweets, and blog posts.
Mother Jones has a nice post up that they’ve been updating since the original protests started on Tuesday. The first part of the post has some interesting background and context for these events. Scroll down to the bottom for the most recent updates.
At the same time Hillary Clinton was calling for the Egyptian government to allow its people to protest peacefully, Mubarak’s regime was out tear-gassing the protestors with American-manufactured tear gas courtesy of US Government-facilitated arms sales. It is quite possibly the best symbol of why the Egyptian and wider Arab population have such a love-hate relationship with America. You can’t make up for 30 years of providing substantial military and financial support to an autocratic regime and expect to make up for it with a few pithy press conferences. Whose side do you think the Egyptian protester in the street is going to think we are on when, in the middle of a protest, he leans down and picks up a tear gas canister stamped “Made in the USA”? When it comes to our support for the yearnings of an Egyptian population calling out for change, actions speak louder than words … and in the past our silence has been deafening. Maybe that will start to change?