An acknowledged Middle East expert, dynamic speaker, author of "Ally to Adversary - An Eyewitness Account of Iraq's Fall from Grace," and CNN military analyst, retired intelligence officer Lt Col Rick Francona offers his thoughts and opinions on various Middle East topics.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan - is anyone else tiring of him?
Q. The US Senate starts to discuss sanctions on Turkey, but Trump doesn't want such a move. How do you think is it possible that we can see the US impose sanctions on Turkey for this issue?
A. There are bipartisan demands in Congress for sanctions on Turkey for purchasing the Russian S-400 (NATO: SA-21) air defense system. The President is hoping that he can walk a fine line between economic sanctions on Turkey and just removing Turkey from the F-35 program. I am not sure he will be able to do that - there is US law that would require sanctions. He may be legally able to waive the sanctions, but he will be taking a political risk among his Republican supporters.
In any event, Turkey has to be removed from the F-35 program. That means the jets Turkey has already purchased and are located on a US Air Force base in Arizona will not be delivered to Turkey. The Turkish Air Force pilots there for training have already been restricted from access to the aircraft and its systems.
I do not believe the United States is willing to have the world's most advanced fifth-generation stealth aircraft be delivered to a country that is operating a near-state-of-the-art Russian air defense system. The risk to sensitive technology ending up in Moscow is much too high.
Q. If the US imposes sanctions, what can be the response of Turkey (within the cooperation with China (SCO))?
A. It appears that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has made a conscious decision to pivot to the east - that includes better relations with what I would consider our (U.S.) adversaries and potential enemies: Russia, China, Iran, and even Pakistan. If he thinks he will be able to continue this eastern foreign policy reorientation and at the same time maintain a good relationship with the United States, I believe he is miscalculating.
The NATO alliance is important to the United States and our European allies - Turkey included, at least for now. If Erdoğan wants to remain a NATO ally, he needs to start acting like one again. Procuring an air defense system from our principal antagonist is not the act of an ally. There will be a price.
Q. Turkey invested in the F-35 project, does the US have the right to reject the sale within international law?
A. The reality of this is that the F-35 program is American technology and in the end the United States will determine where that technology is allowed to be exported. The parts of the program in Turkey will be moved to another location. They lose the business and the aircraft capabilities.
Many Americans are not very familiar with an alliance that was in a large way responsible for the successful conduct of the Revolutionary War.
After the American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain in 1776, very few - well, no - other countries were willing to recognize the United States, let alone provide assistance in its fight against the world's premier military power. The thought that a rag-tag group of rebellious farmers could hold their own against well-trained, well-equipped, and well-led British forces was laughable.
For its own reasons, France recognized the United States in 1778 - the two countries signed a treaty which, among other provisions, promised the new country French military support in case of attack by British forces indefinitely into the future. A French fleet arrived in the United States in 1780.
French troops were present in the fight against the British until the final battle at Yorktown in 1781. If you have not walked the battlefield there, I highly recommend it - the area is well-marked and nicely interpreted. The positions of the French forces were perfectly placed to counter the British under the command of Lord Cornwallis.
I often speak about the French alliance, facetiously remarking that if it were not for the French forces at Yorktown in 1781 - both naval and army - under the command of Comte de Rochambeau, we would all be speaking English. Facetious, yes, but when no one else would help the newly formed United States, the French stepped up and sent a fleet and troops. We may owe our freedom and independence to them.
We Americans have repaid the debt, some say several times over. On July 4, 1917 - during the intense fighting that was World War I - a U.S. Army infantry battalion marched to the tomb of the Marquis de Lafayette. The French aristocrat had led American troops in the fight against the British during the Revolutionary War - it was Lafayette's troops that fought a blocking action against British forces until other American and French forces could position themselves for the final battle at Yorktown.
At the tomb, the battalion commander, Colonel Charles Stanton, uttered the now famous words that signify the bond between the two countries, "Lafayette, nous voilà" (Lafayette, we are here).
On a much less significant, but personal note. I will never forget standing in a church in rural France – not a fancy cathedral, not a tourist spot, nothing architecturally significant, just a village church. I would not have paid much attention until I spotted a well-maintained corner with a small American flag and a plaque.
I walked over and read the simple but powerful words in French and English, “In gratitude to the United States of America and in remembrance of her 56,681 sons that now and forever sleep in French soil.” An elderly parishioner sitting in a pew nearby saw me reading the inscription and asked if I was an American. I said that I was – she slowly rose, nodded at the memorial and said, “You are welcome in France.”
After 241 years, the alliance remains - American and French troops continue to serve side by side around the world.
Russian Air Force AN-124 at Murted Air Base, Turkey
On Friday, July 12, two Russian Air Force AN-124 (NATO: Condor) heavy lift aircraft delivered initial components of the S-400 Triumph (NATO: SA-21 Growler) air defense system to Murted air base on the outskirts of Ankara, Turkey. Turkey's purchase of the Russian system is the latest in a series of issues between members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Turkey, a key member of the transatlantic alliance, is also, at least currently, a member of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. The F-35 is a fifth generation stealth fighter produced by Lockheed Martin and in service with at least 10 air and naval forces around the world. Turkey is a Level 3 participant in the program, having ordered 30 of possibly 120 aircraft. The initial four aircraft have been delivered to the Turkish Air Force at the F-35 pilot training facility at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. Turkish Air Force maintenance personnel are also being trained at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
The Turks have been warned that acquisition of the S-400 from Russia will halt their acquisition of the F-35 and terminate their participation in the distributed manufacturing program. The U.S. Air Force has stopped pilot training for Turkish pilots, and restricted access to the aircraft and training materials. Congress has passed legislation prohibiting the transfer of the Turkish jets in Arizona to Turkey pending the resolution of the S-400 issue.
The United States has been clear. The words of Acting Secretary of Defense to his counterpart, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar: “If Turkey procures the S-400, our two countries must develop a plan to discontinue Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program. While we seek to maintain our valued relationship, Turkey will not receive the F-35 if Turkey takes delivery of the S-400.”
This was reinforced by Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord: “Turkey still has the option to change course. If Turkey does not accept delivery of the S-400, we will enable Turkey to return to normal F-35 program activities. Turkey is a close NATO ally and our military-to-military relationship is strong.”
As of today, I would say that the issue has been settled. It seems that Erdoğan either does not think the American Administration is serious about removing Turkey from the F-35 program, or he has made a calculation that his relationship with the United States and NATO is not that important to his country's future.
I do not think the Trump Administration is bluffing. It is inconceivable that the United States would allow the same country that is operating a Russian near state-of-the-art air defense system to operate the world's most advanced aircraft, replete with sensitive avionics and reduced radar cross section technology.
While one might think that NATO ally Turkey would allow American intelligence access to the Russian S-400 system, the fact is that the "modified for export" version is delivered without source codes, advanced radar modes, and uses downgraded electronics.
When the Russians, or the United States for that matter, export these advanced systems, it is assumed that much of that technology will end up in foreign hands. We assume that exported U.S. technology will end up in Moscow or Beijing. The Russians will want to exploit the technology for intelligence and countermeasures, and the Chinese will just steal and clone the technology.
The S-400 purchase is just another symptom of what I will call "Erdoğan disease" - the myopic, blundering foreign policy moves that has cost Turkey much of its standing and likely its economy. Erdoğan seems to have pivoted to the east, favoring his burgeoning relationships with Russia and Iran at the expense of what used to be Turkey's attempts to align itself with Europe.
Other manifestations of Erdoğan disease?
When the United States began operations in Syria against the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Turkey, actually Erdoğan himself, was grossly unhelpful. The fact that most foreign ISIS fighters found their way into Syria via Turkey is not lost on the West.
I've spent a lot of time on both sides of the Turkey-Syria border. It is not a border I would attempt to cross clandestinely - it is replete with guard towers, minefields, patrols, etc. Turkish guards have orders to shoot anyone attempting to cross in either direction. Whoever crossed into Syria did so with Turkish help - either officially or unofficially.
As the U.S.-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) - whose main component is the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (know by their Kurdish initials YPG) - did the lion's share of the ground fighting that eventually dislodged ISIS from controlling territory in Syria, they were attacked by Turkish military forces.
Erdoğan considers the YPG to be just an extension of the designated Turkish Kurd terrorist PKK armed insurgency. The Turkish president insisted that Turkish troops be the forces to liberate the main ISIS stronghold of al-Raqqah, even though his forces were months away and would have had to fight their way though the SDF. The whole concept was so ludicrous that U.S. commanders dismissed it out of hand.
The ill-fated al-Raqqah plan was followed by the Turkish invasion of 'Afrin - claimed to be an anti-terrorism operation, but in realty was just an excuse to attack the YPG in northern Syria and prevent the YPG/Kurds from controlling the Syrian side of the border from the Iraqi border to Idlib province.
Then there is the Turkish presence in Syria's Idlib province, ostensibly to prevent the Syrians - with their Russian and Iranian-backed allies - from eliminating the remaining rebels and Islamists who are bottled up in the province. One might get the impression the Turks are protecting the al-Qa'idah faction and other jihadists. There is probably a reason for that impression....
Decision time is coming for Turkey, for the Turks and for Erdoğan. The three might not be the same thing. Erdoğan is fast losing internal support - the recent elections in Istanbul were a blow to Erdoğan and his AKP party. His popularity, especially in Trakya, has been steadily waning. Cozying up to the Russians and Iranians will not help.
Is there a cure for Erdoğan disease? Turkey and the Turks will have to figure that out.
U.S. Navy RQ-4 drone, tracking and video of shootdown
Following the shootdown of a U.S. Navy RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance aircraft over the Gulf of Oman on June 20 by air defense units of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), President Trump ordered - and cancelled - retaliatory missile strikes on Iranian targets.
Although the Iranians claim that the aircraft had violated Iranian airspace, video footage taken from another surveillance aircraft (probably a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon) annotated with geographic coordinates clearly indicates the incident occurred about 20 miles from the Iranian coast, well-beyond the 12 miles recognized as sovereign airspace.
Following the strike, the commander of U.S. Air Forces Central (the USAF component of U.S. Central Command) provided scant details of the incident, reiterating that the aircraft had remained in either international or allied (United Arab Emirates and Sultanate of Oman) airspace at all times, never entering either Iran's recognized or even claimed airspace.
After briefing Congressional leaders of both parties at the White House, the President ordered preparations for strikes on Iranian targets. As these preparations were underway, the President cancelled the strikes.
The President explained via Twitter:
On Monday they shot down an unmanned drone flying in International Waters. We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone. I am in no hurry, our Military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world. Sanctions are biting & more added last night. Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!
Of course, the media/pundit-sphere erupted, mostly along party or factional lines. Hawks decried it as a sign of weakness, Democrats were relieved - Senate Minority Leader Schumer had worried about the President "bumbling" into another war.
A few think-tank analysts thought it was a smart move, while others compared it to former President Obama's failure to enforce his own red line when the Syrian regime used chemical weapons on its own citizens.
What do I think?
Initially, I thought that we would have to respond militarily to the downing of the aircraft or risk being seen as Obama 2.0, talking tough and doing nothing, acquiescing to the Iranians yet again.
The Iranians, like most others in the Middle East, understand and respect power and decisive action. They also recognize and exploit weakness. The Europeans, not so much.
However, I agree with the President's cancellation of this particular target set. A military response that kills 150 people - although these would almost certainly be IRGC personnel, not innocent civilians - is, in the President's words, disproportionate. I have no problem with disproportionate retaliatory strikes, but concede the point on the high number of deaths.
Certainly the targeting shop at CENTCOM intelligence can come up with a target set that sends an overwhelming message, a disproportionate message if you will, that the United States will not tolerate further attacks, yet with less risk to personnel.
The unofficial unsanctioned motto of the Air Force is "kill people, break things." In this case, I would opt for the latter, but break a lot of things. If the Iranians continue to attack or escalate, the gloves come off and we remind the mullahs who they are trying to intimidate. Make it known if they kill more Americans, we will redefine "disproportionate."
Should the President have ordered the attack to proceed and U.S. missiles killed over 100 IRGC fighters, it would allow Iran to play the role of victim rather than perpetrator. That Iranian stance might succeed with our JCPOA*-loving European allies who desperately want to continue to peddle their wares to Iran. If we "over react," they may not be willing to re-impose sanctions when Iran openly violates the JCPOA.
I believe they have been violating it from the outset by refusing to make the required possible military dimension declaration, the so-called PMD. In addition, since the International Atomic Energy Agency refuses to compel Iran to open their military sites for inspection - allowed under the JCPOA -they have no way of knowing if Iran is in compliance. I am guessing they are not.
All that said, the shootdown of the aircraft requires a response. Unless the Iranians admit an error - the President gave them an out when he said he was not sure the action was intentional and perhaps it was a general who gave the order to engage the RQ-4 in error - and offer compensation for the loss, there will have to be consequences.
I don't see that happening. So, break things - break a lot of expensive things.
_________________ * Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action - the Iran nuclear deal of 2015 from which the United States withdrew in May 2018.
As I do most years, I write an article for Memorial Day discussing my thoughts on those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for this country.
It is my way of reminding everyone that although the Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial beginning of the summer season and is a great opportunity to pick up appliances on sale at the local big-box store, the day is meant to pay tribute to those who went off to fight our wars, but did not return.
Since the Revolutionary War, over 1,100,000 Americans have died in our wars. Almost 100,000 of those were on my watch (1970-1998). That's too many.
The photograph above is a compilation of the 17 members of the 6994th Security Squadron who were killed in action in the skies of Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. All of them were aircrew members on EC-47 reconnaissance aircraft, affectionately called by those of us who flew on, and loved, them - "Electric Goons."
The unofficial nickname is based on the E designator for "electronic" and the common nickname of the DC-3/C-47 Skytrain, the "Gooney Bird." Note the tail numbers of the aircraft listed below - the first two digits indicate the year the aircraft was procured, in these cases by the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1943 through 1945.
EC-47 "Electric Goons" over Vietnam
These 17 airmen were communications intercept operators and analysts, monitoring Morse code and voice communications between Viet Cong (VC) units, and later communications of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). That required the linguists to be trained in the Hanoi dialect of Vietnamese, markedly different from the dialect spoken in South Vietnam.
The aircrews, operating as a team on multiple aircraft, were able to locate VC and NVA units by employing a technique known as airborne radio direction finding (ARDF) - basically triangulating the signals. Once an emitter of interest was detected, operators on multiple aircraft would all take "cuts" on the signal, passing the data to the navigators who plotted the location of the target. The resulting intelligence - target coordinates - was passed on to battle managers who more often than not directed air strikes at those locations. It was an effective mission.
Monitoring these communications mostly transmitted on low-power radios, required the mission aircraft to operate at low altitudes and low speeds - the EC-47, the electronic reconnaissance version of the venerable C-47 aircraft of World War II fame, was a perfect airframe for the mission.
Operating over Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia at low altitudes searching for low-power radio signals is inherently dangerous. A slow lumbering vintage EC-47 aircraft was an easy target for enemy gunners. By the later years of the war, the NVA had moved highly-lethal Soviet-made 37mm antiaircraft guns into South Vietnam and Laos. We believe that at least two of the losses detailed below involved a 37mm gun.
These aircraft losses resulted in squadron deaths. These do not include the "front-end" crews of the 360th Tactical Electronic Warfare Wing and its subordinate squadrons - the no-nonsense pilots, navigators, and engineers who got us into the target areas. Many of them also paid the ultimate price.
- EC-47P tail number 43-49201 / March 9, 1967 / callsign Tide 86 / Nha Trang AB, Vietnam / three 6994th Security Squadron members killed
- EC-47Q tail number 45-1133 / February 5, 1969 / callsign Cap 72 / Pleiku AB, Vietnam / five 6994th Security Squadron members killed
- EC-47P tail number 43-49100 / October 8, 1969 / callsign Prong 33 / Phu Cat AB, Vietnam / two 6994th Security Squadron members killed
- EC-47P tail number 43-48402 / April 22, 1970 / callsign Cap 53 / Pleiku AB, Vietnam / one 6994th Security Squadron member killed
- EC-47Q tail number 43-49771 / November 21, 1972 / callsign Baron 56 / Nakhon Phanom AB, Thailand / one 6994th Security Squadron member killed
- EC-47Q tail number 43-48636 / February 5, 1973 / callsign Baron 52 / Nakhon Phanom AB, Thailand / five 6994th Security Squadron members killed
It has been many years, but I believe that the Q models carried Vietnamese linguists (me) in addition to Morse code specialists, while the P models were solely manned by Morse code operators.
These seventeen airmen gave their lives in service to the country. I wish all of you a pleasant weekend - there is nothing wrong with enjoying time with family and friends. I would ask, however, that at some point, take a moment and remember what this holiday is about.
Traitor Daniel Everette Hale - the indictment - Traitor Jeremy Scahill
Daniel Everette Hale becomes the latest in a series of intelligence personnel to be charged with either treason, espionage, mishandling classified information or divulging classified material to unauthorized persons.*
This case is a bit different, however. Here we may have active collusion between a defense contractor (Hale) - with leftist "reporter" Jeremy Scahill. I realize it is a reporter's job to uncover government malfeasance, but in this case Scahill may have crossed the line between journalism and criminal activity.
Hale served in the U.S. Air Force from July 2009 to July 2013. During that time, he was assigned as a cryptologic linguist to the National Security Agency (NSA). During this assignment, Hale deployed to Afghanistan where he supported drone intelligence collection and kinetic kill/capture operations against a variety of targets.
After he left the Air Force in July 2013, he began work for a defense contractor with duties at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). During all of this time, Hale held a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information clearance. Hale was arrested on May 9 for unauthorized disclosure of classified information. Read the now unsealed indictment.
Reading federal indictments involves wading through a lot of legalese/law enforcement jargon. Here is a quick synopsis of what happened, and how Scahill acted more like a foreign intelligence officer rather than a professional journalist. In a perfect world, Scahill would be indicted as a co-conspirator and be in jail along with Hale.
In April 2013, while still on active duty and assigned to NSA, Hale sought out and personally met with Scahill in the Washington, DC. After that meeting, Scahill told Hale he wanted to tell the "Hale's story" on drone operations in Afghanistan.
Contacts and meetings continued through July when Hale separated from Air Force, and beyond. Hale had provided his unclassified resume which described his participation in drone operations. He also revealed his experience in classification and declassification procedures, an indication that he fully understood the sensitive nature of classified material.
At this point, Scahill advised Hale to set up an encrypted chat capability using the Jabber program. In December 2013, Hale began work for defense contractor Leidos with duties at NGA headquarters on Fort Belvoir near Springfield, Virginia. Hale and Scahill used the encrypted chat program at least three times between September 2013 and February 2014.
Immediately after an encrypted chat on February 27, Hale accessed and printed one document marked Top Secret, and five documents marked Secret. None of the six documents were related to Hale's duties at NGA.
All six documents printed were later published in The Intercept, a publication of which Scahill is an editor and notorious for publishing classified government documents. It gained fame by publishing material provided to it by another traitor, Edward Snowden.
While employed as an NGA contractor, Hale printed 36 documents; 23 were unrelated to his duties at the agency. Of these 23 documents, Hale provided at least 17 to the Scahill; all were subsequently published in The Intercept.
On a related note, forensic analysis of Hale's computers and devices indicated the presence of Tor software and the Tails operating system, which were recommended by The Intercept in an article on how to anonymously “leak” documents. I am sure this is not coincidental.
As a professional intelligence officer, what Scahill did appears to be tasking. In fact, since Hale obtained employment with Leidos that would place him at NGA headquarters, it will be interesting to find out if Hale was encouraged (tasked) to seek that job position by Scahill.
It further appears that since Hale began providing documents to Scahill almost immediately after beginning work at NGA, this amounts to what we in the intelligence business call "collection tasking." Note that Hale only worked for the contractor for a total of eight months, quitting one month after he provided the last document to Scahill. One could draw the conclusion that he accomplished what he had set out to do, or possibly fulfilled his taking, and then left the company.
We will eventually know exactly the relationship between the so-called journalist and his traitorous accomplice. In virtually all of these cases, the accused enters into a plea deal in return for lesser charges. In return, the accused agrees to provide a full accounting of his/her criminal activity.
Hale's lawyers will undoubtedly try the "whistleblower" defense. Whistleblowers, of course, deserve protection when they follow the guidelines. First, report via the chain of command, then the inspector general of the organization, and possibly even appropriately cleared congressional bodies. Note that the media is not among these channels.
Hopefully, Hale's future allocution will include details of Scahill's involvement into convincing, coercing, or even paying - Hale to violate his oath of allegiance to the United States, as well as a series of federal statutes.
Reporting on government operations is one thing - tasking, aiding and abetting the unauthorized release of classified national defense information is another.
We know Hale violated the law. If what Scahill did does not constitute criminal activity, it should.
______________________ * See my earlier comments on two other former U.S. Air Force intelligence linguists who have been indicted and/or convicted of similar crimes.
Operation Finale is a 2018 American historical drama about the 1960 Israeli intelligence operation to capture Nazi SS officer Adolph Eichmann in Argentina and transport him to Israel to stand trial. It is the story of a well-planned and well-executed operation that should have made a great movie.
Unfortunately, the screenwriters took far too many liberties with actual events when there was no need to do so - the actual story is fascinating and deserving of just being told, not embellished.
That said, the performances of Ben Kingsley and Lior Raz go a long way to making up for the historical inaccuracies.
What was in reality a excellent Mossad operation comes across as a poorly-executed amateurish effort that barely succeeded. The Mossad is one of the world's best intelligence agencies, and this was one of their signature successes, but you wouldn't know that from this account.
This movie is available on Amazon video - not included in Amazon Prime, so you'll have to cough up about six dollars to watch it. I'd recommend you try to find the much better account The House on Garibaldi Street, a 1979 made-for-TV movie. That earlier effort is much more faithful to the excellent book (of the same name) written by Isser Harel. Harel was the director of the Mossad and personally oversaw the operation.
John Walker Lindh, or more properly, Inmate 45426-083, will be released from the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana on May 23. Lindh is fortunate to still be alive, and fortunate to not be serving a life sentence at the Supermax prison in Colorado - both of which I find disappointing.
Lindh, now 38, is being released after serving 17 years of a 20 year sentence, a sentence reached in a plea deal to preclude the government from being questioned about Lindh's treatment after his capture on a battlefield in Afghanistan while fighting for the Taliban.
Many (including me) believe that Lindh could have prevented the death of CIA officer Mike Spann during a prison uprising in Mazar-i-Sharif. He was aware of the impending violence, but remained silent.
Inmate 45426-083 now prefers the nom de guerre Abu Sulayman al-Irlandi, reflecting his status as an Irish citizen - he acquired Irish citizenship through his grandmother, and has stated that he plans to emigrate to Ireland after his release. Fortunately, that is not going to happen anytime soon.
A federal judge has ruled that "Abu Sulayman" will be under supervised release for three years. Theoretically, during that time, he is precluded from having an internet-capable device without permission from his probation office, cannot view or access extremist or terrorism videos, and must allow the probation office to monitor his internet use.
Lindh must also undergo mental health counseling. I doubt that will do much good - he's not mentally ill, he's a committed jihadist.
Lindh has shown no remorse whatsoever for his past terrorist activities. Despite his father's continued crusade to whitewash his son's treasonous actions, he is a committed Islamist terrorist, and there is no reason to believe that he will not rejoin the jihad against the United States.
Frank Lindh and Marilyn Walker
His father repeatedly speaks out about the government's "persecution" of his son. In his own words:
"John loves America. We love America. John did not do anything against America. John did not take up arms against America. He never meant to harm any American, and he never did harm any American. John is innocent of these charges."
Tell that to the family of Mike Spann.
At his sentencing, Lindh said he went to Afghanistan and joined the Taliban to fight what he saw as the anti-Muslim Northern Alliance and learned later about the Taliban’s close connection to al-Qa'idah leader Usamah bin Ladin. "I want the American people to know that had I realized then what I know now about the Taliban, I never would have joined them."
Dear Inmate 45426-083: I didn't believe you then and I don't believe you now. If it was up to me, you'd either be dead or rotting in an Afghan prison.
I often make presentations on the Middle East to various audiences, including cruise ships. Surprisingly, there is great interest in the history of the region, particularly how the current borders were drawn by the United Kingdom and France.
A friend recommended this film to me as it touches on that history. Of course, as soon as I saw the name Gertrude Bell, I had to watch it. She was one of the key British advisers as the Ottoman Empire was carved up after World War One, at a time when women were not readily accepted in this role.
Queen of the Desert is a 2015 film that purports to be a biography of Gertrude Bell. I found it to be condescending and petty - Gertrude Bell was a pioneer who made major contributions to not only the British Empire (she was made a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), but to the nascent Kingdom of Iraq as an adviser to King Faysal. It was Gertrude Bell that proposed the borders between Iraq, Syria and Jordan, borders that remain virtually identical today. It was her understanding of the relations between the tribes in that region where the three countries and Saudi Arabia are closest that allowed the British to maintain political influence in the area.
Although there are glitches and gaffes in every movie, one stands out to me. The opening scene is labeled as taking place in 1914 at the British Arab Bureau in Cairo, in which senior British officials (including Winston Churchill) and military officers are discussing the eventual carving up of the Middle East after the war. The war had just begun at that time, and the agreement being discussed at this meeting - the Sykes-Picot Agreement between France and Great Britain - was not reached until the spring of 1916.
The film was harshly treated by critics. While I often like movies that critics do not, in this instance, I agree with their assessment. This could have been a hard-hitting biography of a woman who is a role model for other women today, but seemed to focus on her personal failures rather than her professional accomplishments. I was not surprised to discover that the $36 million project grossed only $2 million dollars at the box office.
That said, Nicole Kidman did the best she could with the script she had. I would compliment her on her accurate pronunciation of the Arabic phrases that she used in the film.
Pass on this one. Letters from Baghdad (Between the Rivers Productions - 2018) is a better choice.
I recently made a series of talks on the Middle East during a cruise - yes, a tough job - and one of the movies available to stream in the passenger staterooms was Beirut. Bottom line: Watch it - it is two hours of tense action with a reasonable story line. As a glimpse into Beirut in 1982, it is plausible. As an "inspired by actual events" documentary of the situation at that time, not probable.
The movie opens with a really well-done scene set in 1972 at the Beirut home of the main character Mason Skiles, played by Jon Hamm of Mad Men fame. Skiles, a Sate Department diplomat, is hosting a cocktail/dinner party for a visiting congressional delegation - those of us who have served at American embassies in the Middle East will recognize the scenario. Skiles delivers an explanation of the situation in 1970's Lebanon that is brilliant, and alone worth the price of admission.
The party is interrupted by an attack by Palestinian terrorists which sets up much of the later action in the movie. I will not go into too much detail so as not to spoil the movie for those who have not yet seen it.
The remainder of the movie takes place in 1982, a few weeks prior to the Israeli invasion. Skiles, who has retired, is called back into service to negotiate the release of a CIA officer who has been kidnapped by a Palestinian group. This takes place in the context of rising tensions between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization - the drums of war are beating as Skiles tries to arrange a hostage exchange.
I enjoyed the interplay between the various factions that make up the American country team and the outsiders. The ambassador, CIA station chief, a visiting colonel from the National Security Council, and a CIA officer played (well) by Rosamund Pike, all functioned pretty much as they would in real life, with some minor exceptions in the station chief's activities, but this was Beirut in 1982. It was a wild time, as I recall. The Israeli angle is a bit overplayed, but it does make for good fiction.
I recommend the movie as good entertainment, but not necessarily an insight into the situation in Lebanon at the time.