Friday, September 14, 2012


It's like passing a gruesome accident on the road. It's too horrible to look, but you can't help it. I know that when I turn on the news, check Facebook, or surf the web, I'm going to hate what I see. But I can't help it.

I shared the reaction of many Americans who were angry and confused about what was happening in countries where we had recently invested so much in their liberation from tyrants. I, too, wondered what that investment had meant and whether it would be better for us to pull out. Take our bat and ball and go home.

Then I saw the photos of the Libyans who had gathered with signs in Arabic and English expressing their sorrow about the death of Ambassador Stevens in Benghazi. It took enormous courage for them to  publicly support the U.S. in such a volatile time and place. And I realized that if we back out now, these are the people who would suffer. If we back out, the thugs who killed 4 Americans would have no opposition.

There are many, many people in Islamic countries who do not want to be ruled by violent extremists. And they're the reason I'm going to work today, despite my grief. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11/12 in Kabul

This morning there was a brief ceremony outside the chancery commemorating the 11th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. It was a bit surreal to be standing in Afghanistan, the land from which those attacks were planned. The typical speeches were made and due solemnity was observed. The striking thing about this September 11 for me was the presence of our Afghan colleagues.

Afterwards, I asked one of our local staff how Afghans view this day and, in particular, the embassy's observance of it. With great diplomacy, he acknowledged the suffering Afghans have endured in the past 11 years, but also pointed out that for many, life now is better than it was under the Taliban. Not the same as a scientific poll, of course. But an interesting perspective from a young, educated Afghan man who was just a kid in 2001.

In the short time I've been here, I've met quite a number of impressive Afghans. I'm not claiming to understand the complexities of Afghan society, but I know more Afghans now than I did 5 weeks ago.  The friendly drivers who have been working for the embassy for years and who are always eager to practice their English. Seasoned businessmen who are establishing a semblance of an economy and free market. And young optimists who have returned to Afghanistan with the hope of helping rebuild their country.

There are some extraordinary people in this country and I'm proud that I'm working to support them. Will what we're doing here be enough? The answer to that is way above my pay grade. But now that I'm here, Afghanistan has become more than a name on a map associated with the most tragic day in my memory. It's a country of people with names and stories and hopes. Corny perhaps, but maybe I can be forgiven for being corny today.