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Archive for the ‘Iraq’ Category

[Originally published in the Rutland Herald and Barre Times-Argus]


A nation-state is by definition a political, geopolitical, cultural and/or ethnic entity which derives its internal legitimacy through national consensus.

Since today’s Iraq was first established after the First World War by western imperial interests and modeled on the concept of a nation-state, relative stability has been maintained there through repressive governance.

That has been necessary because there has never been enough common interest among the diverse religious, sectarian and ethnic groups in the geographic area called “Iraq” to find government by consensus.  The concept of nation-state has existed only  geographically, never politically, culturally or ethnically.

As a “country” characterized by centuries-old, deep, sectarian and ethnic divisions, Iraq does not have the kind of citizenry that is suited by belief, culture, experience or history to make consensus government prosper. One hundred years of repressive internal indigenous governance, plus almost 400 years of previous Ottoman rule, have not created an electorate that is prepared for anything remotely resembling self-governance, let alone democracy.

Iraq, as now configured, is a poor bet for successful self-determination.  Its people hold little in common.

According to the existing Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between America and Iraq, all remaining US forces will have to exit Iraq by December 31, 2011.

Room for negotiation on our final departure date is contained within the SOFA, but it seems unlikely that there will be political will in Iraq to make any changes.

The powerful Shia leader, Moqtada al-Sadr is currently studying religion in Iran.  He continues to command the Mahdi Army which fought very effectively against our troops, particularly in 2004. Al-Sadr has just replied to Secdef Gates’ recent suggestion that the SOFA might be extended.

He first organized a massive march by tens of thousands of his followers in Baghdad.  He then indicated very clearly that any SOFA extension is unacceptable, saying that if it were changed, “The first thing we will do is escalate the military resistance activity and reactivate the Mahdi Army …… Second is to escalate the peaceful and public resistance through sit-ins”.

This statement has already had a major impact on the sitting Maliki coalition government.  The Sadrists are part of that Maliki coalition.  Their only apparently inflexible condition, one that has brought them in and out and back into that coalition, has been strict adherance to the SOFA. If U.S. troops are not totally out of Iraq by December 31, 2011, not only will he gin up the old Mahdi army with all its fractious implications, he will also withdraw support from the Maliki Government and thus precipitate its fall.

This will leave Iraq without a government and at the mercy of the Mahdi army which would probably turn out to be the dominant military organization in Iraq and which is not particularly friendly to the concept of Iraqi democracy or even statehood, except on its own terms.  There is so little appetite in Iraq for this scenario that change in the SOFA and the continued presence of US troops in Iraq is short of zero.

Implosion is certainly a nightmare scenario for Iraq and only slightly less so for the US.  Without sufficient ability to keep law and order, as Saddam and the US have done over the past 30+ years, present day Iraq is more than likely to fracture into its component parts – Sunni, Shia, Kurd. That process will attract all kinds of attention from the region.  Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Syria, and particularly Iran all have major stakes in any Iraqi outcome.

The only real issue is whether or not the neighbors are prepared to initiate and support hostilities against their rivals.  This seems unlikely, but no one really knows.

What is clear is that, without some sort of effective power center, which has historically been repressive, Iraq will be unlikely to be able to maintain internal stability and is likely to fracture into its component parts.

More importantly, given the sub rosa reality of a deeply divided Iraq, that is precisely what is likely to happen whenever we leave, whether in nine months, nine years or nine decades!  With or without Al-Sadr in the government, Iraq will face the future with inadequate internal control.

At the end of this year we will leave because we have no leverage to change the situation.  Rather than fruitlessly pursuing SOFA changes, we should spend the rest of the year working to make our departure as minimally threatening to regional stability as possible.


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[Originally published in The Herald of Randolph.]

National Council of US-Arab Relations (NCUSAR) activities are sponsored by major US corporations, largely energy (oil) and defense firms, all of which have major direct and indirect stakes in the Middle East.

For the past 19 years, NCUSAR has sponsored and annual “U.S. Policymakers Conference”.  One of this year’s presenters was Ambassador Ryan Crocker who was US Ambassador to Iraq from 2007–09 during the US “Surge” and has been a vocal supporter of US policy in Iraq under President George W. Bush.

Crocker said, inter alia, that it is “quite likely that the Iraqi government is going to ask for an extension of our deployed (military) presence (there)” past our now stipulated 2011 withdrawal.  Although the last of our “combat” forces were said to have been withdrawn this past August, there remain roughly 50,000 “advisors” in Iraq as a part of “Operation New Dawn” which is scheduled to end at the end of 2011

During his presentation to the NCUSAR conference, he also predicted that the U.S. will be asked by the Iraqi government to provide them with heavy material and military weaponry and that this effort will probably start after 2013.

Iraq is our first, but not only, American tarbaby in the Middle East.  We are watching here the first salvo in the upcoming internal US political battle over our future course of action in Iraq and the greater the Middle East.

On the heels of the Crocker pronouncements we have seen a rash of sectarian bombings, almost certainly carried out by Iraqi Sunnis against the Shia population.  In addition, despite the recent announcement of the “solution” to the months-long political impasse between Maliki, whose political base is within the Shia community and includes the militant Sadrists, and his rival, Allawi, who represents secular Shia, anti-Iran nationalists and most Sunnis, the potential for it to fall apart always present.

All of these tensions are reflective of the one reality that our current policy refuses to acknowledge , that without repressive management, Iraq is not a viable state.  In fact, it is a patchwork of competing secular, religious, tribal, ethnic and political interests created over a century ago by Imperial Britain to suit its own needs and interests.  In addition, lurking in the background are the Kurds whose sole interest, as it has been for millennia, is survival, and the Iranians who seek to establish regional hegemony at the expense of the Iraqis.

It is difficult for Americans to acknowledge that we are facing a frightfully expensive activity in a region where our military presence and activities unite peoples against us.

It matters not when our troops leave Iraq.  Until we do leave, we will represent a damping factor, replacing the despotic and violent hand of Saddam Hussein.  But once we do leave, whether that is tomorrow or in twenty years, Iraq will likely devolve into its component parts.  That devolution may be violent or, with luck and good planning, almost peaceful.  There will be some sort of Kurdish area, a Sunni area and a Shia area.  They may end up as separate entities or in some sort of confederation, but they will not be a “state” as we know states today.

What seems increasingly hopeful about this miserable situation is that there seems to be little appetite in the region for a broader conflict.  The neighbors show no inclination to precipitate a wider blood bath.  Turkey has its issues with the Kurds, Iran has its ties with the Shia and Saudi Arabia, and Jordan with the Sunnis.  But there is no future for any of them in a broader conflict.  Syria, Lebanon, Kuwait and the Gulf States are praying that this too will pass!

There is a very clear choice here.  As realists, we can get out of Iraq as planned and let political, religious, tribal determinism take over while we do everything we possibly can to insure that any conflict within Iraq not get any broader.  If we are going to take this course, we need to do it fast, before our military presence and activities in the region turn the entire region against us, which is where we are heading now.

Or as dreamers, we can hang in for 5, 10 or 20 years in the hope that things will get better, only to find that whatever would happen if we were to withdraw tomorrow, inevitably will happen in 5, 10 or 20 years.

Dreaming is one gigantic gamble.  Given our own current domestic and international realities, it is one we can ill afford.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in East and West Europe, the Middle East and as Chief of the counterterrorism staff.  A longtime resident of Brookfield, he now lives in Williston.

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Things fall apart in Iraq

[Originally published in the Rutland Herald and Barre Times-Argus.]

Tensions and violence in Iraq are mounting today in the face of the political, ethnic and religious impasses that deepen the natural divides in that “country.”

Since the March parliamentary elections, the Sunnis, Shia and Kurds have been unable to agree on either a future president or a political course for the country. This ongoing stalemate is simply not in our interest any more than is the current uptick in sectarian killings. Both threaten stability.

Ages-old ethnic and sectarian rivalries and issues are at the root of these disputes. The diffusion of the national vote across six major competing parties has resulted in a top vote-getter with less than 30 percent, a situation which normally would argue for forming a coalition government. Not so in Iraq where it appears that none of the political, ethnic and religious groups involved sufficiently trusts any of the others to enter into any sort of coalition government.

More recently, there have been reports that al-Qaida has been wooing our old allies, the Sunni Sons of Iraq into their apparatus by offering them more money than we are paying them. So, in true Middle East fashion, and in the face of their belief that the Americans are going to withdraw, our former allies are currently succumbing to the blandishments of our enemies.

Anytime any ethnocentric, naive American government thinks that its “rented” allies will remain loyal to it, particularly in the face of an imminent American departure, that government is in trouble. Money buys loyalty only conditionally and only as long as it continues to flow and is not outbid. True loyalty to foreigners is unheard of in Iraq.

In the absence of the former iron-fisted suppressor, Saddam Hussien, America has become the only enforcer available in a country that must have one for stability. Iraq is not a country, but rather the self-interested creation of imperial Great Britain. Iraq consists of groups that really haven’t much in common, certainly not enough to hold out hope that it will stay in one piece.

The commander of Iraq’s military establishment, Gen. Babaker Shawkat Zebari, who said in 2007 that U.S. forces would be able to withdraw in 2008, has recently insisted that U.S. forces must stay in Iraq until 2020 because Iraqi forces will not be up to the task of maintaining stability for another 10 years. At the same time, the White House insists that our troops will be leaving Iraq permanently in 2011. For any solution to work, we have to be on the same page.

Al-Qaida loves seeing our troops in Iraq. Our 2003 invasion was an absolute boon for them. We introduced masses of conventional U.S. ground forces into the Middle East. That simple act drew al-Qaida into Iraq, a place where they had never before had even a toe-hold, and presented them with a target-rich environment in which to recruit, train, kill and raise funds. Additionally, the presence of a foreign military occupying force created the necessary conditions for the subsequent insurgency against our occupation.

Al-Qaida simply cannot survive in Islam without conflict. Moderate Muslims vastly outnumber fundamentalist supporters of terrorism. Moderates are neutralized by an insurgency because they are forced to choose between supporting the foreign occupier, in this case America, or supporting or being neutral toward the fundamentalists who spearhead the insurgency. The latter has become moderate Islam’s Hobson’s choice.

Thus, our military establishment, rather than remaining the liberating element in Iraq, became the main destabilizer and enemy as our invasion slid slowly and inexorably into an occupation and insurgency.

Today’s increasing violence, coupled with Iraq’s inherent instability, points to an al-Qaida goal of prolonging that instability, as it continues to destablize the country and the region.

As long as we continue to insist that Iraq, a manufactured country, keep its disparate and competing ethnic and religious groups under one tent without coercion, we will have instability. That is what al-Qaida needs, because instability, particularly when induced by foreign military occupation, is the only thing that keeps them in business.

If ever given the opportunity to choose their own path, Iraqis will probably split into their basic ethnic, political and religious components. That process may be quite violent. We cannot afford to have such an outcome surprise us.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in Eastern and Western Europe and the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff.

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Stumbling in the ruins

[Originally published in the Rutland Herald and Barre Times-Argus.]

In his 1993 article in Foreign Policy titled “The Clash of Civilizations?” Samuel Huntington posits that “in the future … countries with large numbers of people of different civilizations … are candidates for dismemberment.” In this context, “civilizations” are defined by language, history, religion, customs and institutions.

Much of the world is made up of individual countries that contain people of such different “civilizations.” Iraq and Afghanistan are on our plate on an unremitting basis today, but the fact is that much of the world, particularly that part of the world that once existed under the arbitrary and self-interested umbrella of imperialism, is made up of “countries” that contain populations of people from different civilizations that generally have little in common and that often are overtly hostile to one another. Ultimately, we will not be able to keep them all intact.

The Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, Russia, China and much of Asia fall into this category. With their origins based on early and competing tribal societies, these civilizations might never have coalesced into “countries” without the controlling intervention of imperialism.

Nevertheless, it is what it is. As the world’s only current superpower, we have to live with this complicated situation. So how does this translate into the world of American foreign and military power?

We are on the horns of a nasty dilemma. We live in a world that is less than a century removed from centuries of imperialism. That’s barely a historical heartbeat, and the result is that many of the world’s peoples have not achieved their societal goals in that period.

Most Middle Eastern and African countries have rid themselves of imperialism but now have repressive regimes that continue to deny their peoples’ aspirations for a freer, better life, however they may define that. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran cover the spectrum. Saudi Arabia has evolved from imperial Ottoman occupation to its own anti-democratic kingdom.

Egypt has shed the British imperialists for a regime that is probably more repressive and antidemocratic than were the British. Iran progressed from imperial Russian and British occupation, to a repressive kingdom under the shah, to an even more repressive Islamic government that usurped power after his fall.

We Americans need to know precisely what it is we want for the world’s former imperial colonies. When we say we want democracy, we are simply pushing our own American exceptionalism. “Democracy” may be well suited to us, but close examination of the world as it is, rather than as we would like it to be, will show the difficulties in exporting it lock, stock and barrel to countries with no experience in self-rule, no free press and no rule of law.

What America should be interested in is stability through self-determination. We need a world that is not constantly in turmoil. The way you reach such stability is to make as many people as content as possible.

Yet our foreign policy over the last 50 years has been to create “stability” by keeping repressive rulers in power.

Just now, we are seeking an end to today’s halting attempt at self-determination in Egypt. We seem guided by a “better the devil you know” foreign policy that concludes that iron-fisted repression or control of populations is better than allowing their people to choose the form and nature of governance under which they seek to live, if we fear it will not be “democratic.”

So, we continue to support Mubarak in Egypt, the royal family in Saudi Arabia, dictators in Central Asia and Africa, impotence in Yemen and Afghanistan, ambivalence in Pakistan and chaos in Somalia, perhaps as an alternative to our concerns about the possibility of radical Muslim theocracies taking over.

As a nation, America has not, as Huntington says, “develop(ed) a more profound understanding of the basic religious and philosophical assumptions underlying other civilizations and the ways in which people in those civilizations see their interests.”

Over the last 50 years, Americans as a group have not been able to develop a sufficiently broad and deep grasp of the complexities involved outside our own ethnocentric world to permit such understanding. Since most foreign-policy decisions are based on the domestic political needs of our elected leadership (their view of what we want), our policies will not change until Americans in general have attained a more nuanced grasp of world complexities.

In the meantime, we will flounder about the old colonial world, making mistake after mistake by applying our political and military power in defense of repressive, unwanted regimes.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in Eastern and Western Europe, the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff

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In distant land, threads remain tangled

[Originally posted in the Barre Times-Argus and the Rutland Herald.]

Starting before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Americans were bombarded with chapter after chapter of the Bush Administration’s definition of and plans for “success” in Iraq. They constantly told us of the near proximity of “success” if only we would “stay the course.”

The problem was that the “success” of our invasion was based on an illusory target. It started out as a campaign to find and remove WMD, then morphed to the “most important battle in the War on Terror” and ended up in a plan to “bring democracy to Iraq.” The salient issue here is that no Bush administration insider has told us why America really invaded.

Without benefit of such inside knowledge, it seems likely that the Neoconservatives on the Bush team pushed the invasion on the Administration. Those are the same Neoconservatives who prefer to function in secret, eschew diplomacy and all foreign alliances, see military force as the first weapon to be used in the conduct of foreign relations and, of critical importance, see the Middle East as the most important theater for the exercise of these policies.

Now we have the new Obama Administration which has committed itself to transparency and is currently involved in a re-examination of Afghan policy. In direct contrast to the past six years, this new openness should enable us to learn precisely what our definition of success is in Afghanistan, what our goals are and how we plan to pursue them.

Although the Obama Administration is clearly still working out its own Afghan policy, it has not yet shared any details with us. Nonetheless, realities on the ground dictate that any reexamination of current policy consider the same basic realities that have long existed in Afghanistan. Counter-narcotics, insurgency, terrorism, the rule of law, police and army training, tribalism, will all have to be considered in forming a new policy. The results should illuminate our goals and provide a definition of success in Afghanistan

To put these issues in context, it is important to understand some Afghan realities. First, Afghanistan is a very, very large country. If it were ever to be pacified, which has never happened, it would take hundreds of thousands of troops. No central government, even in Afghanistan’s best and most peaceful times, has ever pacified much more than a few of the largest cities and historically, Afghanis have been unwilling to accept even central indigenous governance.

Poppies, Pashtuns and Pakistan are another reality we must face. The Pashtun tribes and clans are both Afghan and Pakistani. They are also the Taliban who rely on poppies (Heroin) for their financing. Worse yet, Afghan farmers find poppies the most reliable and profitable available crop.

Given our modest level of success in the “War on Narcotics” here in the Western Hemisphere, it is hard to believe that we will suddenly figure out precisely what to do in Afghanistan, a culture infinitely more alien to us than that of Mexico.

Because of the pervasiveness of the Taliban, any solution will have to involve Pakistan as well as Afghanistan. The Pashtuns who are the base of Taliban power, occupy both sides of the border. By definition and in the face of the ongoing decline of Al Qaida, we will be involved in counter-insurgency rather than counter-terrorism — a far more complicated, long-lasting and difficult task.

There are two issues that complicate any hopes for any movement toward a more secular or democratic system – the rule of law and corruption. There is a long tradition of pervasive corruption in Afghanistan.

Islam already provides a legal system in the Shariya, or Muslim system of law based on the Koran, the Hadith and centuries of interpretations and precedents. Afghanis won’t look favorably on new western ideas of what its legal system ought to be.

If the recent emergence of Taliban influence in the Swat Valley in Pakistan is a harbinger of things to come, Shariya is the law of the future in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Finally, Afghanistan is tribal in a way that makes Iraq look homogeneous. Sadly for us, tribal societies, where tribal loyalties far outweigh national loyalties, do not form cohesive or successful national armies or police forces.

Any American plan for success in Afghanistan that includes the commitment of significant numbers of additional troops will put more stress on our current military and domestic financial problems. Their mere presence in Afghanistan will encourage increased Afghan opposition to our plans and programs.

We need a new definition of “success”, one more in keeping with realties on the ground both in Afghanistan and in the United States where a disastrous economy with a murky future and a war-weary population give scant hope of being willing to support an inordinately expensive and long-lasting military campaign.

We will not make over Afghanistan into an image pleasing to us. The road to “success” in Afghanistan will be tribal and non-secular and will almost certainly involve the Taliban in some as yet unforeseen, but increasingly more significant way.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA Station Chief who served in East and West Europe, the Middle East and as Chief of the Counterterrorism Staff. He lives in Williston.

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Redefining success in Iraq

[Originally published in the Rutland Herald and Barre Times-Argus.]

In this election season, much is made of the surge. What is not clear in this ongoing discussion, and what is rarely discussed in the context of the surge, is its original purpose. It is not whether the surge has succeeded militarily (it has, and wildly so), but whether its far more important non-military goals are likely to be achieved. That is, conservatively speaking, the $3 trillion question.

The surge was undertaken against prevailing public opinion, congressional approval, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group findings, the Pentagon and the intelligence community. Just about no one wanted it.

Grudging approval of the surge by those contrary elements was reached using the argument that the president needed a strategy that would bring decreased violence and with it the opportunity for political reconciliation. In 2007, after more than four chaotic years in Iraq, the president needed a policy that would provide the opportunity for “success” – defined as Iraqi political reconciliation.

Most Democrats, including Sen. Barack Obama, and some Republicans, including Sen. Chuck Hagel, opposed the surge. Most Republicans, including Sen. John McCain and one Democrat, Sen. Joe Lieberman, supported the surge.

There is little reason to argue about the military success of the surge, for it has been extraordinary and as such, a great credit to our armed forces. Violence is way down, and that is precisely what the president sought when he undertook the surge.

The problem here is that today’s American politicians, who for purely political reasons want or need to be associated with success, are touting the undeniable military success of the surge as its ultimate goal. That is the case with McCain and all those Republicans and Democrats who have supported the Iraq war over the years. Needing the political capital brought by success, they have redefined the word: They no longer speak of national political reconciliation in Iraq, only of military success.

However, there are other factors involved that have nothing whatsoever to do with the surge, but which have had a major calming effect in Iraq.

Apparently our people in Iraq have developed methods that have allowed them to assassinate ranking members of al-Qaida. They have done that to the point where al-Qaida has been substantially weakened.

Further, Muqtada al-Sadr has unilaterally suspended his Sadrist Shia militia attacks on American forces and on his Shia and Sunni rivals. This has had a major calming effect in the country.

The Kurds have simply withdrawn into their historic lands, in effect creating a de facto Kurdistan. They participate in the al-Maliki government, but their only real purpose is to consolidate their post-Saddam gains in furtherance of their own autonomy.

Last, but perhaps most important, in 2007, American forces in Diyala and Anbar provinces began a program called the Sunni Awakening which has enlisted Sunni militias, some 80,000 strong, into the fight against their former allies, al-Qaida. We have paid, armed and trained these militias, which had formerly fought side by side with al-Qaida against our forces. They have been most effective.

The result has been that a diminished al-Qaida fights us alone; the Sunnis are allied with us and not killing us or Shia; and the main Shia militias have withdrawn from the battlefield, at least for the moment. These elements alone have probably had at least as much to do with the drop in violence as the surge.

However, the purpose of creating this lull in violence was to establish an environment conducive to reconciliation between Iraq’s traditionally warring factions. That has not happened.

Under the best of circumstances, such reconciliation is extremely difficult and improbable. These people really hate each other and if past is prologue, will live peacefully only under smotheringly oppressive rule. Turn them loose, as we have, and all those centuries-old animosities come to the surface.

Despite the lull in violence, all the old issues remain. The al-Maliki government has so far failed to schedule critical national elections. In a curious way, the Sunni Awakening turnabout represents an additional threat to the peace. The al-Maliki government is not only Shia, but highly partisan. It is wildly suspicious of the other ethnic and religious groups, the Kurds and the Sunnis. Unless the al-Maliki government integrates those Sunni militias into the army and police, which it has persistently refused to do, they will represent the potential for increased, severe future Sunni on Shia violence.

Certainly if that happens, the Shia Sadrists will re-evaluate, further weakening the prospects for reconciliation. Thus, all of the elements which caused the instability before the surge are intact, or even strengthened and waiting to protect their own interests against the others’.

However successful, if the surge does not enable an Iraqi national reconciliation, it will not “succeed.” There is not much history that argues for that ultimate success.

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Iraqis hold key to their own success

[Originally published in the Rutland Herald.]

One result of the ongoing presidential campaign is that the two issues of “success in Iraq” and “success of the surge” have become so conflated that many Americans have no idea that the two are totally separate matters.

John McCain has backed the surge from the onset. In fact, he was one of those who sought such a military strategy well in advance of its implementation. The surge, as a purely military operation, has gone a long way toward accomplishing the goal of bringing civil stability, or a lessening of violence, to Iraq.

The problem, which is exacerbated by disingenuous political campaigning, lies in confusing the success of the surge with ultimate political success.

Unfortunately, the real problem does not end, but rather begins with the success of the surge, and the outcome of the subsequent process of reconciliation is far from clear. If real political reconciliation were likely to come from our continued military presence in Iraq, then our best bet would be to persevere. However, the end result is unlikely to be favorably influenced by our continued presence there. In fact, as this is strictly an internal Iraqi problem, there is little we can do to help in any positive way. Our absence might be the best contribution we could make.

The surge was never sold by the military as an end in itself. Virtually all of our military leaders have said that there could not be a military solution to the problems in Iraq. The surge, in their minds, was designed to provide the civil stability and lessening of violence needed to permit the Iraqis to settle their differences and reach agreement on the future course of their country.

That goal has not been reached.

The reason this kind of agreement is difficult in Iraq is a function of the largely negative influence that 18th and 19th century Western colonialism had on that country and on the region as a whole. Many of the “countries” in the region are products of British or other colonial imperatives. The boundaries and ethnic/religious composition of these “countries” were configured to benefit the British Empire, certainly not the locals on whom they were imposed.

So in Iraq we have Kurds, Turkmen, Arabs, Persians, Armenians, Shia, Sunnis, and Christians to name but a few.

That diversity, replete as it is with its ages-old rivalries and hatreds, is why the process is so difficult. To reach the kind of agreement needed for lasting political stability, each competing political, ethnic and religious group will have to voluntarily relinquish some of its individual interests and imperatives in favor of a greater national compromise.

The fact that the Shia are by far the largest group in Iraq and have long suffered at the hands of the previously ruling Sunnis is the kind of reality that makes turning Iraq into a real country such an ephemeral quest.

In the ongoing election process, John McCain has said clearly and repeatedly that he wants to leave timing to the “commanders on the ground.”

He has also said that success in Afghanistan is inextricably tied to success in Iraq.

Barack Obama wants to leave Iraq in 16 months. In addition, he wants immediately to begin planning for the transfer of troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, where he sees them as badly needed and where he believes our real interests lie in the struggle with terrorism.

The Iraqi government, reflecting the will of the Iraqi parliament and people, would like us out by 2010, a date compatible with Sen. Obama’s 16-month withdrawal plan.

The real issue here, which is not being examined in the press or public forums, is that we need a reasonably accurate estimate of what is likely to happen when our forces are no longer in Iraq in sufficient numbers to maintain civil stability and whether or not a prolongation of our presence will have a positive or negative effect on that outcome.

The fact is that there will be either a peaceful transition to a new nation state, or unrest, competition and possible civil strife. The immutable here is that our continued stay in Iraq is likely to have little positive effect on that transition — it is a home-grown issue. In fact, if we stay longer, the Iraqis are likely to tire even more of us and become more inclined to support any insurgencies that might arise against us.

Short of a repressive, hundred-year, American occupation, we can’t save the Iraqis from themselves.

Haviland Smith, a Williston resident, is a retired CIA station chief who served in Eastern and Western Europe, the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff.

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What was it we were fighting for?

[Originally published in the Rutland Herald and Barre Times-Argus.]

As a group, intelligence officers are like automobile repairmen and electronics technicians: They are preoccupied with why things happen. In the case of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, that has presented a perplexing problem: Given the results, just why did the Bush administration invade Iraq?

All of the “compelling reasons” that supported an Iraq invasion and which have been presented by the White House to the public and Congress, have been proven to be either suspect or deliberate distortions of the truth. The existence of weapons of mass destruction, substantive Iraqi contact with al-Qaida, the suggestion that Iraq was behind or in some way involved in 9/11, the liberation of the Iraqis from a repressive regime, that we would be greeted by Iraqis throwing flower petals, the spread of democracy in the Muslim world and “fight the terrorists in Iraq so we don’t have to fight them at home” have all succumbed to subsequent examination.

All of these mendacious rationales should be relegated to the category of things said by the Bush administration to keep the American people frightened and thus willing to continue to support a war in Iraq. Americans are also asked to support all those administration policies – wireless wiretapping, renditions, torture, Guantanamo, etc. — which are claimed to be an integral part of that effort and of the “Global War on Terrorism” and, coincidentally, to keep them supporting the Republican Party.

Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan’s recent “tell-all” book, “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception,” whether you admire him personally or not, indicates clearly that every time the White House or its supporters says anything that pertains to Iraq, Iran, terrorism or just about anything else, we all need to think again and question what has been said. It’s not that this book is going to tell us a lot about the Bush White House that we don’t already know or suspect, it’s that it gives us a frame of reference for just about everything said by this administration and its supporters since the decision was made to invade Iraq.

It now appears that the slow and deliberate parceling out of “reasons” for the invasion were part of a carefully designed propaganda effort designed to get America behind the Iraq invasion and the global war on terror. At worst, this effort appears to have been a purposeful administration attempt to mislead the public and the Congress. Of course the next question that begs to be asked is, “why was this ‘culture of deception’ put in place?”

This administration, probably because it believed that a perpetual climate of fear would keep Republicans in power, has done everything possible to keep its citizens ginned up and fixated on their personal security. Only a frightened, intimidated and security-obsessed population could be counted on to support the war on terror and the Iraq occupation. As long as that atmosphere could be maintained, the Republicans could fantasize about long-term occupancy of the White House and the Congress, the “permanent Republican majority” dreamed of by Karl Rove. Hence we also have the Rumsfeldian concept of the “long war” and Sen. John McCain’s recent notion that we could maintain a military presence in Iraq for “maybe a hundred years” and that “would be fine with me.”

Until the national repudiation of Republican Iraq policy in the 2006 congressional elections, this deception effort was quite successful. The machinations that have provided those successes have included measures like our color-coded terrorist warning system, enhanced airline security, increased border controls and the Patriot Act. Most effective of all have been the constant accusations by the administration and its supporters that if you are not with them, if you say anything negative about any of the so-called global war on terror policies, you are you are somehow unpatriotic, an appeaser or worse.

We now know from two insider “tell-alls” that the Iraq invasion had been planned prior to 9/11. It would appear that, in order to perpetuate Republican power, the Bush administration undertook the invasion, inter alia, to mire America in a permanent struggle which would create and maintain political support at home. Incredibly, they did so against the advice of the vast majority of experts on foreign policy and the Middle East, both in the government and in academic life.

This Iraq policy, sold by a duplicitous domestic propaganda machine, has brought America international political isolation, a severely damaged military establishment, rejuvenated Muslim fundamentalist terrorism, a weakened dollar, record national and foreign debt, a recession uniquely accompanied by inflation, diminished constitutional rights and political divisiveness here at home. Who is winning here?

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in Europe and the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff. He lives in Williston.

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[Originally published in the Barre Times-Argus and Rutland Herald.]

America’s military presence in Iraq was legally established by a United Nations Security Council resolution that expires at the end of 2008. At that point, unless the United States has negotiated a security agreement directly with the Iraqi government that authorizes the continued presence of troops, there will be no legal basis for a U.S. military presence in Iraq.

In the absence of such an agreement, the United States will be faced with the humiliating prospect of trying to get the UN Security Council, which has never supported our Iraq invasion and occupation, to renew our license to remain there. Given the attitudes of China and Russia, not to mention those countries that used to be our closest allies, such as Britain and France, that seems like a fool’s journey. So, we are faced with negotiations.

Early this year, the United States began those negotiations with the Al Maliki government on Iraq’s future and America’s role therein. Early media reporting on this process was focused on whether or not the negotiations would produce an agreement or a treaty. If it produced a treaty, as appeared to be the case, given some wording which committed the United States to maintain the stability of Iraq’s government from internal and external threats, it appeared that it would require congressional approval, something on which the Bush administration clearly could not count.

By March, media reporting, which has remained minimal throughout this process, began to focus fuzzily on the real issues at hand, which included a formalized U.S./Iraq relationship and the future military role of the United States in Iraq, in effect, a status of forces agreement.

Earlier reporting between 2003 and 2005 alleged that the United States was planning for a long-term military presence through the establishment of “enduring bases” in Iraq. Additional reporting at that time said that the United States was planning to establish four super-bases in Iraq into which we would consolidate American forces. Congress has appropriated hundreds of millions of dollars for such construction and the presumptive Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain has since added his contribution of a 100-year occupation.

In the past few months, little has been written about the negotiations. We have been told by the Bush administration only that the details of U.S. negotiating positions were – and would remain -secret.

Early this month however, the Iraqis apparently began to leak details to European media. These U.S. demands reportedly include: U.S. control of Iraqi airspace below 29,000 feet, long-term use of dozens of military bases, the right to pursue the War on Terror inside Iraq, wide U.S. arrest authority, the right to launch military actions without consultation and the grant of immunity for all American personnel in Iraq from arrest under Iraqi law.

What we know for a fact is that on June 4, a group of Iraqi parliamentarians presented a letter to the U.S. Congress, which demanded that the United States establish a specific timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq before any agreement on conditions could be reached. The letter was signed by a majority of the members of the Iraq Parliament. The letter further stated:

“The majority of Iraqi representatives strongly reject any military-security, economic, commercial, agricultural, investment or political agreement with the United States that is not linked to clear mechanisms that obligate the occupying American military forces to fully withdraw from Iraq.”

In the face of such a statement, it is reasonable to believe that reporting on the demands attributed to the United States above are likely to be accurate.

So, where does that leave this matter? We do have some choices – none of them good. We can literally attempt to browbeat the Iraqi negotiators into agreeing to our demands. That might well cause a flat refusal, or a mass Iraqi withdrawal from the negotiations that could precipitate a real crisis. Or, the Iraqis might accede. In that case, the agreement would go to the Iraq Parliament where it would almost certainly be rejected.

Or, we can go hat in hand to the UN, an organization that excites only scorn from the neocons in the Bush administration and beg them to validate our continued stay in Iraq. That might be rejected out of hand, or those nations in the Security Council that do not agree with us might well attach humiliating conditions to it.

Or, we can give them a fixed timetable, acceptable to the Iraqis, for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Presumably that would not be in 100 years.

Whatever we do, in the absence of the existence of an overall agreement with the Iraq government, our lease on the continued U.S. military occupation of Iraq expires on Dec. 31.

Perhaps the Iraqis are going to do what we have been unable to do ourselves ­ get us out of Iraq. In the process, perhaps they, rather than our own impotent Congress, are going to put an end to the Bush dream of bequeathing to his successor an entanglement from which he cannot escape for decades. Do not believe for one minute that a U.S.-initiated withdrawal from Iraq would be a simple matter, or that it would not have major political consequences here in America. Perhaps the only smooth way out is to be tossed out!

Such an end to our occupation would come from our own misbegotten policies. The Iraqis appear to be sick and tired of us and clearly want us out of their country on their terms. We truly have no one to blame but ourselves.

We cannot legitimately feel aggrieved by this. It is part of the democratic process in Iraq where we have relentlessly pushed democracy. This is precisely what happened when we pushed successfully for democracy in the recent Palestine elections that brought Hamas to power. We might start being more careful what we wish for.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in Eastern and Western Europe, the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff. He lives in Williston.

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[Originally published on AmericanDiplomacy.org.]

A retired CIA station chief and head of the Agency’s counterterrorism staff examines the Bush administration’s Iraq policy and finds that it cannot be successful. He calls for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, a “complete change” in U.S. goals and tactics in the Middle East, and rebuilding bridges to allies. — Ed.

America is fighting two distinctly different battles in Iraq that are mutually contradictory. We are fighting against an Iraqi insurgency which would like us out of Iraq and we are fighting against Al Qaida in Iraq (AQI) which would like us to stay — only because they came there to kill our troops and foment chaos, which can only be accomplished if we are there. That alone is a pretty good reason for us to get out.

As justification for our invasion of Iraq, the Bush Administration used a number of rationales. They cited Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, Iraqi government ties to terrorism against the United States, and our desire to “spread democracy” in the region. Of course, there were no WMD and no Iraqi ties to terrorism prior to the invasion. “Spreading democracy” has proven to be very elusive.

The Bush White House as well as Senator McCain, the putative Republican presidential nominee, and other supporters of the Administration’s Iraq policy have identified our goal in Iraq as “victory.” “Victory” is defined by the White House as the defeat of terrorism and the insurgency; the creation of a peaceful, united, stable, democratic and secure state; the evolution of Iraq as a partner in U.S. foreign policy goals on terrorism, WMD, and weapons proliferation; and as an economic and political example to the region of all that is good about democracy.

“Victory” or Stability

Rather than seeking “victory” in Iraq, the United States might better seek stability for the region. Our military approach to both Iraqi terrorism and the insurgency will bring only further instability. Real stabilization will necessarily involve seeking a viable political solution for Iraq, requiring the participation of the neighborhood in the process. The neighborhood does not seek a regional conflict, yet as long as we are involved militarily there, we are so totally bereft of diplomatic power that none of those neighbors will participate with us in seeking and implementing the kind of solution that will be acceptable to all concerned. Our departure from Iraq is the only course that can provide an opportunity for such a solution, as well as the opportunity to seek solutions to other Middle East problems.

Such a change will require us to reconsider the overall effectiveness of our present military effort in Iraq. Anyone who accepts the likelihood that not even a militarily successful surge will bring voluntary resolution of Iraq’s internal sectarian and ethnic issues, will understand that the same civil conflicts that the surge is successfully suppressing today will simply wait until we have departed Iraq and then come to the forefront again. These animosities are so ancient, so ingrained, that they have not disappeared over the centuries and will not for centuries to come. Whether we leave now or in ten years, the same potential for conflict will be there.

The Bush administration has spoken often of the coming “long war” against terrorism. As long as we continue with their strategies and tactics which rely first and foremost on the Neocons’ beloved application of military power, it will indeed be a long war – a generational struggle. The invasion brought us chaos, and chaos has brought us the surge. The surge is a military response to terrorism and insurgency, and it ultimately will defeat our own goals for Iraq and the region.

America’s Tactical Goals

In response to the chaos which resulted from our virtually nonexistent post-invasion planning, we have undertaken the “surge.” Our tactical goal in Iraq is designed to successfully conclude that “surge,” which, in turn, is projected to facilitate political reconciliation between the different Iraqi factions. The problem here is that those Iraqi factions have little reason to reach such agreements, since doing so would force them to give up powers that are integral to their plans for the futures of their respective constituencies.

We know from statements from the Bush administration and the Pentagon that there is no potential for a military solution to the ongoing problem. Add to that the fact that in insurgent situations, successful military consolidation invariably depends on prior political reconciliation, and it would appear that we have approached this project not only backwards, but completely incorrectly!

Iraq Immutables

Our invasion and subsequent military presence in Iraq has let a number of genies out of their bottles. We are currently faced with a totally new set of realities which we ignore at our own peril.

It is really difficult to call Iraq a country. The British created Iraq strictly for their own convenience, and there really never has been sufficient common interest among the population of that ersatz state to maintain itself voluntarily and peacefully. As a result, it has been maintained since then by a succession of repressive regimes, the last of which was Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. Since the American invasion, that role has been precariously undertaken by the U.S. military. We have become the Iraq’s latest and perhaps least efficient enforcers.

The “surge” currently underway, however militarily successful, is unlikely to lead to political stability and far more likely to cause further destabilization. As integral parts of our surge policy, we tacitly acknowledge and support a level of autonomy for the Kurds which will likely lead ultimately to conflict among Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen in the north. Further, we are supporting all sides in the ongoing low-key civil war. We are arming Sunni tribal militias in the “Awakening” program, but neglect to employ them as promised, leaving a group of battle hardened fighters whom we have armed and who are not only angry at the Shia and the Kurds, but at us as well. Before the “surge” these Sunni militias were in the forefront of the insurgency against our troops. Meanwhile, we ignore southern Iraq, where Shia militia battle over oil and power and where competing Shia groups are so fractious that they can’t even carry out elections within their own sect! Paradoxically, our military approach is directly threatening to our goals and long term national interests through the effects it is having on Iraq, terrorism, and the region.

The Koran provides a complete blueprint for a life which is very different from a life led under democracy. Many if not most observant Muslims find no reason to seek changes in their way of life. Despite that, deeply embedded in the psyche of the American people is the notion that they have the objectively most perfect economic system and form of government on the face of this earth and that they need to share it with others. Even with all its faults and inequities, that may well be true – at least for us Americans. However, for people who have different traditions and virtually no experience with the basic requirements of democracy – the established existence of the rule of law and a free press – democracy can be a really tough sell. One has to wonder if it is productive to have this as anything other than a passive foreign policy goal.

Current Problems Caused by America’s Iraq Policy

Our pursuit of “victory”, as defined above, has brought us three new realities:

  • We cannot totally prevent the chaos and killing regardless of how successful the surge proves to be.
  • We have lost all of our diplomatic flexibility – we are essentially alone in this struggle and will remain so as long as we remain in Iraq.
  • The primary beneficiaries of our policy are, and will continue to be, Iran and Al Qaida.

Further negative consequences of the invasion lie in a number of areas. After 9/11, when Al Qaida was suffering from our operations against its leadership and from waning popularity within the Muslim world, our invasion breathed new life into that terrorist movement. The invasion has almost certainly facilitated Al Qaida recruitments, and we have provided them with a training ground for their jihadis which will significantly increase their ability to mount further attacks against their enemies. We have made Israel and any other regional government not favored by Al Qaida more vulnerable by enabling this Al Qaida battlefield training of additional cadres, some of which will head toward Palestine when Iraq is over. Others may look more closely at Saudi Arabia and Egypt or at the Muslim regions of the old USSR. Wherever they go, they represent a destabilizing factor.

In our struggle with Al Qaida, we are proceeding precisely as Bin Laden would have wished. He must daily thank Allah for the ongoing U.S. policy against him, because, without our help, his movement would almost certainly be on the wane. Historically, terrorist movements tend to last around a dozen years. The good news about them is that, unlike insurgencies, which seldom if ever lose, terrorism never seems to win. Terrorism is a short term, dramatically violent irritant. It has never deserved to have a war declared on it.

Al Qaida in Iraq (AQI) will cease to exist after our departure from Iraq. Terrorist organizations cannot survive unless local populations support them. In Iraq, a recent focus of AQI has been to foment secular and ethnic chaos by purposefully killing Shia and pinning it on Sunnis or Kurds – or any permutation of that theme. The Iraqis are acutely aware of this. The only thing that keeps AQI personnel alive is the presence of American forces. As long as they are killing Americans it’s semi-OK with Iraqis. The minute we leave Iraq, the Iraqis, particularly the Shia, will turn on and eliminate AQI as the Sunnis have already done in Anbar province.

Quite apart from the effects that the invasion has had on Al Qaida and terrorism, we have done much to make the realization of our goals in the region far more difficult. The key to dealing with this new terrorism lies in maximizing our friends in the region and minimizing our enemies. The invasion and its chaotic aftermath have cost us much of our appeal to moderate Muslims on whose indifference to terrorism the terrorists rely for success.

We have changed the dynamic of the Arab/Persian rivalry for primacy in the Gulf in favor of Iran by removing the two most viable counterbalances to Iran, the Taliban and Iraq. We have taken the lid off the Sunni-Shia schism. All the old regional and national policemen are gone, and we have not been able to fill their shoes when it has come to suppressing the historic ethnic and secular conflicts in the area.

However, the worst consequence of this invasion has been that we have seriously strained our old international friendships and alliances, particularly and most importantly the Atlantic Alliance. Our invasion of Iraq is so strongly disapproved by our former allies that they are unwilling to help us deal with our Middle East issues at a time when we simply cannot cope on our own. Colin Powell was right. We did break it and we do own it, simply because we have lost all our diplomatic flexibility through our invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Finally, anti-Americanism is on the rise everywhere. We are viewed as hypocritical by most of Islam and much of the world. Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, torture, waterboarding, renditions, the CIA gulag, the abrogation of civil rights at home, and our rejection of the democratic election that brought Hamas to power at the expense of our Fatah friends in Palestine are but a few of the irritants. Furthermore, the anti-American pot will surely be kept boiling by press coverage of the coming military tribunals at Guantanamo.

A New American Policy for Iraq

The election cycle in the United States makes long term planning very difficult in foreign policy matters. As the gulf between the Republicans and Democrats has widened over the last few decades, the process has gotten more difficult. The answer to dealing with this current form of terrorism lies in a policy that, unlike our current policy, is built on a profound understanding of the phenomenon and of the geographic area in question, rather than on the political needs of the party in the White House. Those short-term needs have recently translated into the simplistic and counterproductive military response that got us into Iraq in the first place and that could involve us similarly elsewhere in the future.

America has no diplomatic flexibility in Iraq. The only way to gain the flexibility that will enable us to at least set new goals and pursue them is to withdraw from Iraq. Until we do withdraw, our only influence on the region will be limited by our military power or lack thereof. If we listen to our own military leadership, our ground war capabilities are being seriously threatened by the demands on our troops in Iraq.

If we decide to change our goal from “victory” in Iraq to regional stability, that decision will require us to reconsider the overall effectiveness of our present military effort in Iraq. Anyone who accepts the likelihood that not even a militarily successful surge will produce voluntary resolution of Iraq’s internal sectarian and ethnic issues, will understand that the same civil unrest that the surge is attempting to suppress today will simply wait until we have departed Iraq and then come to the forefront again. These animosities are so ancient, so ingrained, that they have not disappeared over the centuries and will not for centuries to come. If we leave now, there will be potential for conflict. If we leave in ten years, the same potential will be there.

The key element to recognize is that because the neighborhood really does not want a regional conflict, it will seek ways to avoid it. As soon as we are out of Iraq, America may well gain the potential to become a convening authority for a regional discussion. As long as we are in Iraq militarily and lacking any sort of diplomatic influence, we will not be allowed to play that role, and there probably is no other country in the world which could do it, either now or after our departure.

It is counterproductive for us to be shoving “democracy” down the throats of Muslims. “Spreading democracy” simply exacerbates Muslim concerns about a new crusade. America is yet another Western, Christian country which has attacked and is currently occupying an Arab/Muslim country. As such, most Muslims view this as the most recent edition of the Western crusades of the Middle Ages. If Muslims are ultimately to turn toward democracy, it will not be because it was forced on them, it will be because they see some real advantage in that form of government.

In the interim, we might do well to consider replacing the term “democratization” with “self-determination,” a term favorably mentioned in the United Nations Charter, but which has fallen into disuse under the Bush administration. Why indeed should people not have the right to choose their own form of government, whether “democratic” or not? A seemingly insignificant change like that can take much of the sting out of our Crusader reputation.

Shining City on the Hill

We will do far better to once again become a shining city on the hill. That will require that we give up all those activities instituted in response to 9/11 which have diminished us in the eyes of the world. We need to do this even if we risk another attack because we need to get away from the mentality of fear which has so assiduously been promoted by the Bush administration. The United States once more has to be a country worth emulating, and that includes restoring America to its pre-9/11 status and re-opening legitimate political and foreign policy discussions at home.

America is full of real experts on the Middle East whose views and ideas should not be marginalized with accusations of being “soft on terror” or “unpatriotic” simply because they disagree with policy decisions made for reasons having little to do with the objective facts in the Middle East. They can really help in this struggle.

Our public face needs revamping. It doesn’t matter what our leaders really think; what matters is what they say and how they say it. The “Axis of Evil,” our propensity to label our military operations with stirring, nationalistic names like “Operation Enduring Freedom” and all the other bits of cocky, macho braggadocio commonly used by the Bush administration, are truly counterproductive. They actually marshal otherwise neutral people around the world against us. In this context it would be wise to accept the premise that the vast majority of the world’s Muslims are not supporters of Al Qaida or radical terrorism. When we demonize Muslims, we create more enemies.

Maximizing Friends, Minimizing Enemies

America made it through the Cold War on the basis of containment of the Soviet Union through alliances with other governments that shared our values and goals. Our current disastrous experiment with preemptive unilateralism points the way toward a return to our old diplomatic strategies. The key element in this struggle with terrorism is maintaining and maximizing friends and minimizing enemies. We need to reestablish our old alliances around the world as well as strengthen those that have survived the Iraq adventure. That will permit us to enter into a new containment policy against terrorism with all those other nations that feel threatened.

We overcame our political divisions during the Cold War when we successfully contained the Soviet Union through five decades of both Republican and Democrat administrations. Any new policy for dealing with Iraq, the Middle East, Islam, or terrorism needs to start with U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, a complete change in our goals and tactics in the Middle East, and the rebuilding of broken bridges to our old allies. Only then will we be able to begin to identify and achieve goals that are in our real national interest in the region.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief. He was educated at Exeter and Dartmouth, served three years in the Army Security Agency, spent two years in Russian regional studies doctoral program at London University, and then joined the CIA. He served in Prague, Berlin, Langley, Beirut, Tehran, and Washington. During those 25 years, he worked primarily in Soviet and East European operations, recruiting and handling agents or managing that process. He was also chief of the counterterrorism staff and executive assistant to Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, Frank Carlucci. Since his retirement in 1980, he has lived in Vermont.

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