OMAN [Rich Lowry]
I’ve been traveling with Secretary Rumsfeld and other journalists the last couple of days. We stopped over last night in Oman. Here are a few useless facts about Oman: 1) It is hot, very, very hot. When we got off the plane I quite literally thought that somehow my pants had caught on fire. During the day it’s 110 and so humid it takes your breath away. As an embassy official said dryly, “It’s not a dry heat.” 2) There are few left turns in this country. When you want to make a left, you usually have to go into a round-about, I’m told. 3) It sometimes rains here, in the South, in monsoon season. So folks from the rest of the Gulf come here on vacation to escape the oppressive heat in their own countries.
Posted at 03:28 PM
SEMPER FI, NO, NO [Rich Lowry]
I absent-mindedly took a Marines cap with me on this trip. When I tried to talk to some Army Special Forces troops in Jalalabad today that didn’t go over so well: “So a guy in a Marines hat wants to talk to a bunch of Army guys?” It was my worse headgear choice since I absently wore a “Forbes 2000” hat covering John Kerry in New Hampshire. At least then I could claim it was somehow a reference to Kerry’s middle name. My cap was a little safer on the Marine helicopter on the way there from Kabul, however…
Posted at 03:29 PM
SPEAKING OF WHICH [Rich Lowry]
I think we may have been on a Sea Stallion—something like that, I’m probably messing it up. Don’t bother correcting me, because I can’t check my email. But it was quite an experience. We went through passes where you could see mountains rising above us on both sides. It was loud as all get out, and the occasional gusts of engine exhaust were almost as hot as Oman. We flew with the back open all the way, and a guy kept an eye out for trouble—I’m assuming—back there. Sometimes he would sit down and let his legs dangle over the edge, and seeing him silhouetted against the desert and mountainous terrain was a little like a movie. There were two American flags pinned up inside on either side of the copter near the back, and at the absolute back a Marine banner: “Mess with the Best. Die Like the Rest.”
Posted at 03:32 PM
IN KABUL [Rich Lowry]
Later we were back in Kabul, and Rumsfeld’s motorcade spent some time going back and forth in the city. I’m not going to pretend to tell you anything important from what I saw going through Kabul in a van, but here are some impressions. It’s gut-wrenchingly poor, as you would expect. Lots of abandoned and twisted steel sitting around. Lots of shanties. Lots of very beaten-up concrete buildings. Rumsfeld says he sees more energy on the streets every time he is here. It still looks pretty bleak. Although on the main road to the airport—“The Great Masood Road” they call it, or something like that—you see splashes of color and rows of shops. One said, “Ice Crim-Barger”—maybe an ice cream and burger joint? I don’t know. I counted three boys flying kites. Many women are still in blue burkas. But then you see some women just in scarfs who have taken some care in their dress and I think would qualify as decked out by any reasonable standard. And some carried brightly-colored parasols against the sun. I tried to read the mood of people as we went by. Mostly they just watched impassively. At one point I thought a boy was making a gun-pointing gesture at us, but I’m pretty sure he was actually making an emphatic double thumbs-up.
Posted at 03:34 PM
THE ELECTION [Rich Lowry]
The certification of 18 candidates in the October presidential election is a very encouraging step. Here is all you need to know: We want Karzai to win. The important thing is that he get a big enough margin to avoid a run-off, because in a run-off there’s a chance forces opposed to him could group together and get 51 percent.
Posted at 03:35 PM
WHO ELSE? [Rich Lowry]
Karzai, as usual, cut an impressive figure at a joint press conference with Rumsfeld this afternoon. But he flubbed a question about people possibly registering twice for the election. He briefly endorsed voting multiple times in the election as an even more energetic exercise in democracy, before catching himself and explaining that an ink spot on people’s finger will keep them from going to the polls twice. But this all prompted an outburst from a very hostile reporter with a British accent who originally had asked the question about double registration: “What you’re describing is a farce!!!” Some guys with defense assumed he had to be with the BBC. I thought maybe he was with The Guardian or something. Nope. BBC…
Posted at 03:37 PM
REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS [Rich Lowry]
I’ve always been impressed with Karzai, but when you watch him at a press conference where the mikes are constantly going on and off and he spectacularly flubs a question about the most basic element of the democratic process—not that other presidents aren’t prone to flubs—you realize again that he is a leader of a deeply poor Third World country that is desperately trying to keep its head above the water. That is not to take anything away from him, in some ways it makes him more impressive and noble. But in evaluating progress in Afghanistan and Iraq—NR has made this point over and over about Iraq—it is important to judge them by their own standards. People are registering to vote in Afghanistan. That’s amazing. It’s still amazing if some of them are doing it three times. Better and decent are what our short-terms goals should be in both countries, and if we achieve that, it is quite a lot, and the predicate for more progress down the line.
Posted at 03:38 PM
CALL IT STRATEGIC DECEPTION [Rich Lowry]
Um, I was actually headed with Rumsfeld to Oman, the country, yesterday. Not the entirely different place that is the capital of Jordan, as was until recently relayed in the dateline on my NRO piece on the homey. (Kathryn: might want to try Derb’s 9-hour sleep plan.) In any case, been there, done that. Will be sending some stuff about our day in Afghanistan soon.
Posted at 03:41 PM