The COVID 19 pan-epidemic is approximately 3 months old, as I pinch myself to see if I am dreaming or not.
Concurrent to the pandemic outbreak, I moved with my son and his family to a new home more central to downtown Austin, and for the first time since moving to Austin, I began to feel like I was living in Austin. But on May 25th, three days after we moved in, the City of Austin issued a “Stay Home- Work Safe Order” and I have barely been out of the house since.
As I covet solitude, social distancing is welcome. Living in the loving presence of my two grandsons, ages 6 and 3, their parents and my wife is all the company I need. And, having been allotted the ground floor master bedroom (due to my bad knees), I have fashioned a retreat of my own in which to meditate, read, research, and write.
My main concern is that our daughter works on the ‘frontline’ of the pandemic as an emergency room nurse in Austin and Port Arthur, Texas. Austin is in Travis County, which has had nearly 2,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 58 deaths. Although she is where she wants to be and is totally dedicated to her vocation, I worry that she works too hard and sleeps too little. The need to maintain strict ‘social distancing’ means that we sometimes meet in the driveway to talk as a safe distance.
Philosopher, George Santayana, once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” From this, evolved the often quoted, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” SO LEARN, PEOPLE, LEARN!
The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet was awarded the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize for “its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Tunisian Revolution of 2011”.
The protests inspired similar actions throughout the Arab world, in a chain reaction which became known as the Arab Spring movement.
The Tunisian Revolution, also called the Jasmine Revolution, was an intensive 28-day campaign of civil resistance that included a series of street demonstrations which took place in Tunisia and led to the ousting of longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.
The protests were sparked by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi on 17 December 2010. They led to the ousting of Ben Ali on 14 January 2011, when he officially resigned after fleeing to Saudi Arabia, ending his 23 years in power. Labor unions were an integral part of the protests.
Major media outlets report tonight that a USA missile attack on the Bagdad Airport killed Qassem Suleimani, leader of the Iranian Quds Force.
Iran’s influence ranges across Iraq, through Syria into southern Lebanon and has been molded into a span of Shi’a solidarity termed the “Shi’a Crescent” by King Abdullah of Jordon. This arch of influence has been shaped largely by the efforts of a single man– little know in Western circles, but well known to the region- Qassem Suleimani.
In a 2011 article in the Guardian, Martin Chulov tells the story of then CIA Director, David Petraeus, when he was in command of US Forces in Iraq and engaged in battles with the Shi’a militia in Basrah when he was handed a phone with a text message from the head of Iran’s elite al-Quds Force, Qassem Suleimani.
The message read: “General Petraeus, you should know that I, Qassem Suleimani, control the policy for Iran with respect to Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, and Afghanistan. And indeed, the ambassador in Baghdad is a Quds Force member. The individual who’s going to replace him is a Quds Force member.”
“He is the most powerful man in Iraq without question,” Iraq’s former national security minister, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, told the newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat in July 2010. “Nothing gets done without him.”
Suleimani’s journey to supremacy in Iraq is rooted in the Islamic revolution of 1979, which ousted the Shah and recast Iran as a fundamentalist Shia Islamic state. He rose steadily through the ranks of the Iranian military until 2002 when, months before the US invasion of Iraq, he was appointed to command the most elite unit of the Iranian military – the al-Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards.
The al-Quds force has no equal in Iran. Its stated primary task is to protect the revolution. However, its mandate has also been interpreted as exporting the revolution’s goals to other parts of the Islamic world.
Tehran has heavily invested in the survival of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose ruling Alawite clan has links to Shia Islam. Assad’s fall would be a serious strategic setback for Iran and Suleimani. It is perhaps the only part of the region where the general’s preferred mix of strategic diplomacy with aggressive operations is being strongly tested.
An article discussed last night with Charlie Rose on PBS and appears in The New Yorker online edition (print edition to appear on Sept. 30th); Dexter Filkins discusses THE SHADOW COMMANDER directing Assad’s war in Syria as being none other than, Qassem Suleimani.
What follows is a very telling bit of history extracted from Filkin’s article that shows how a single word can change history.
In the chaotic days after the attacks of September 11th, Ryan Crocker, then a senior State Department official, flew discreetly to Geneva to meet a group of Iranian diplomats. “I’d fly out on a Friday and then back on Sunday, so nobody in the office knew where I’d been,” Crocker told me. “We’d stay up all night in those meetings.”
It seemed clear to Crocker that the Iranians were answering to Suleimani, whom they referred to as “Haji Qassem,” and that they were eager to help the United States destroy their mutual enemy, the Taliban. Although the United States and Iran broke off diplomatic relations in 1980, after American diplomats in Tehran were taken hostage, Crocker wasn’t surprised to find that Suleimani was flexible.
“You don’t live through eight years of brutal war without being pretty pragmatic,” he said. Sometimes Suleimani passed messages to Crocker, but he avoided putting anything in writing. “Haji Qassem’s way too smart for that,” Crocker said. “He’s not going to leave paper trails for the Americans.”
Before the bombing began, Crocker sensed that the Iranians were growing impatient with the Bush Administration, thinking that it was taking too long to attack the Taliban. At a meeting in early October 2001, the lead Iranian negotiator stood up and slammed a sheaf of papers on the table. “If you guys don’t stop building these fairy-tale governments in the sky, and actually start doing some shooting on the ground, none of this is ever going to happen!” he shouted. “When you’re ready to talk about serious fighting, you know where to find me.” He stomped out of the room. “It was a great moment,” Crocker said.
The cooperation between the two countries lasted through the initial phase of the war. At one point, the lead negotiator handed Crocker a map detailing the disposition of Taliban forces. “Here’s our advice: hit them here first, and then hit them over here. And here’s the logic.” Stunned, Crocker asked, “Can I take notes?” The negotiator replied, “You can keep the map.” The flow of information went both ways. On one occasion, Crocker said, he gave his counterparts the location of an Al Qaeda facilitator living in the eastern city of Mashhad. The Iranians detained him and brought him to Afghanistan’s new leaders, who, Crocker believes, turned him over to the U.S. The negotiator told Crocker, “Haji Qassem is very pleased with our cooperation.”
The goodwill didn’t last. In January 2002, Crocker, who was by then the deputy chief of the American Embassy in Kabul, was awakened one night by aides, who told him that President George W. Bush, in his State of the Union Address, had named Iran as part of an “Axis of Evil.” Like many senior diplomats, Crocker was caught off guard. He saw the negotiator the next day at the U.N. compound in Kabul, and he was furious. “You completely damaged me,” Crocker recalled him saying. “Suleimani is in a tearing rage. He feels compromised.” The negotiator told Crocker that, at great political risk, Suleimani had been contemplating a complete reevaluation of the United States, saying, “Maybe it’s time to rethink our relationship with the Americans.”
The Axis of Evil speech brought the meetings to an end. Reformers inside the government, who had advocated a rapprochement with the United States, were put on the defensive.
Recalling that time, Crocker shook his head. “We were just that close,” he said. “One word in one speech changed history.“
The take away from posting this article and background on Qassem Suleimani is to challenge you. Things are not always what they appear, especially when it comes to Syria.
For Suleimani, giving up on Assad would mean abandoning the project of expansion that has occupied him for fifteen years.
In a recent speech before the Assembly of Experts—the clerics who choose the Supreme Leader—he spoke about Syria in fiercely determined language.
“We do not pay attention to the propaganda of the enemy, because Syria is the front line of the resistance and this reality is undeniable,” he said. “We have a duty to defend Muslims because they are under pressure and oppression.”
Suleimani was fighting the same war, against the same foes, that he’d been fighting his entire life; for him, it seemed, the compromises of statecraft could not compare with the paradise of the battlefield. “We will support Syria to the end,” he said.
RHETORIC UNITES US (η ρητορική μας ενώνει), is the basis of all public discourse and makes democracy possible. Rhetoric comes to us from Ancient Greece. Aristotle called it “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.” Aristotle identified three elements to appeal to audiences:
ethos (ἦθος) – Aristotle’s theory of character and how the character and credibility of a speaker can influence an audience to consider him/her to be believable— there are three qualities that contribute to a credible ethos: perceived intelligence, virtuous character, and goodwill.
logos (λόγος) – the use of reasoning, either inductive or deductive, to construct an argument.
pathos (πάθος) – the use of emotional appeals to alter the audience’s judgment through metaphor, amplification, storytelling, or presenting the topic in a way that evokes strong emotions in the audience.
Throughout history, rhetoric has been taught and studied as the basis of communication and its principles shape how writing is taught in universities throughout the world.
Now, more than ever, the art of rhetoric is needed to shape our nation’s civil discourse as the art of persuasion has been reduced to Tweeting. Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker writes, “Democracy runs on many things—power, money, political parties—but the power of persuasion is essential to it, and, when persuasion becomes poisoned, the rest gets poisoned, too.“