Five years ago today, 30 November 2002:
- IAEA inspectors hold press conference about search for WMD in Iraq
- Pentagon running short of chem/bio suits in event of " " "
- President Bush urged Americans to volunteer for the "armies of compassion"
fun instructive to look back on what was happening, 25, 50, or 100 years ago. Newspapers do it, so does Harper's Magazine "Weekly Review" and the BBC's "On This Day," where you can get multimedia resource material.
What was I doing five years ago today? Well, I was spending my last day as a US Foreign Service Officer. After 24 years in the US diplomatic service, I was leaving for "Life After the Foreign Service" (there are no links showing my relatively quiet departure, but here's a nice link to NPR's profiles of Life in the Foreign Service). It was like leaving the priesthood.
I wasn't one of the three FSOs who left in protest over Iraq. If anything, I left in large part out of accumulated disgust over the way the United States "sells" its ambassadorships to the highest bidd... sorry, contributors. While this has been a bipartisan sin going way back, I saw it up close and personal when a "Pioneer" arrived on my doorstep. I had been running a small US embassy in Europe as Chargé d'Affaires for a year and a half in a long interregnum between Clinton and Bush political appointees.
It wasn't a bad way to end a career: I got to sign a treaty, celebrate 50 years of a resident US Embassy sitting next to the head of state, and represent the US at countless ceremonies in honor of General George S. Patton and the more than 5,000 fellow GIs from the Battle of the Bulge.
Like most other people, I remember exactly what I was doing on September 11, 2001. Of all things, our small embassy was completing a day-long Emergency Action Exercise, where security experts from Washington put us through our paces in a scenario imagining the worst that could befall us given our privileged location in Western Europe. During a mid-afternoon break, one of our officers came back with a story about a plane ramming into the World Trade Center. At first, it seemed like a planted "story" for our exercise, another part of a pretty wild scenario. When it began to dawn on us that this was not make believe, we ended the exercise and re-entered the real world.
The ensuing months were a whirlwind of activity, enlisting the assistance of an already willing host nation in the American effort to track down those responsible. Within weeks of 9/11, we were convening - with the host nation and its large banking and financial industry - an international conference on combating terrorist financing. Down the road at NATO, the Alliance unanimously declared - for the first time in its history - that the September 11 attacks were an attack against all, and offered assistance. Allies joined in the campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The world was with the US.
We know the rest of the story. "You're either with us or against us," the message, if not the exact words, got through loud and clear to friend and foe alike. Back in the US to serve on promotion boards in the late summer/early fall of 2002, I started to hear the drumbeat to war: mushroom clouds and smoking guns, regime change, pre-emptive strikes. Returning to Europe, I heard reports of ordinary Americans at the annual Thanksgiving dinner paling at the US Ambassador's war talk. But wasn't the US, in the words of the President, still giving Iraq "an opportunity to avoid conflict?" We now know the level of sincerity behind those statements - the clock had already started ticking.
Five years ago, a private citizen again, I watched and read with mounting horror and frustration the headlong rush to war. Thanks to the internet, I was able to read the best of what American investigative, muckraking journalism could provide as an antidote to the know-nothing-ism of the mainstream press. Much of this came from blogs, and I came to respect this new medium and its messengers. Five years ago I never thought I would be joining their ranks, but here we are, and "Avuncular American" is officially one month old today.
I guess you can never shed your persona, especially one that suited me so well over a quarter century. So I hope to continue being a (diplomat)ic blogger, for as long as readers put up with me.