|General shaking hands with Imad Hamad|
“I think my being here with you today is an example of what we need to do,” the general told “The Arab American News” in an interview after the meeting, “so that you understand who your military is, you understand or get a glimpse of what you may have perceived in the past or perceive now, you can make a judgment as to whether or not that’s right or wrong. You’ll begin to find out that, in regard to war, senior military leaders would not want to spend one life or one day in a war that’s not necessary… We don’t take war lightly. We understand that our military is made up of Americans’ sons and daughters and that we’re entrusted by the nation to take care of those people.”
The value of the unique cultural insight that Arab Americans have was a main point that Holmes highlighted repeatedly.
“Each of the services are focused on the importance of our brothers and sisters in the Arab American community, and what they offer to us, particularly in the road ahead, because the Arab American soldier, sailor, airman or marine is going bring a lot to this cultural awareness that I’m talking about as being so important.”
He indicated a deep interest by the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps in Arab Americans becoming leaders in planning and decision making.
“The diversity of opinion, the diversity of thought when it comes to evaluating what we need to do is very, very important, particularly at senior levels of military leadership and military planning, because I cannot change the fact that I am an Anglo-Saxon American male. I was born that way, and I can attune myself to other cultures and I can accept diversity but I will not have the base understanding that you would have. The point is that we both recognize that and we work together for the common success of the challenges ahead. Senior military leadership is very aware of that, and we’re seeking out not just uniformed Arab Americans but civilian Arab Americans to serve on some of the planning staffs.”
The general said that though in the past efforts were made primarily to seek out individuals who could serve as linguists, “a person who is born of the region, who is culturally part of the region, can now be part of the senior level of our planning process.”
“What appears to me as something that might be a good military plan, you or many of your friends and neighbors in this community can look at it and within less than 30 seconds tell me that’s really not a good plan and has not been well thought out, which is why we desperately need that kind of input… Some examples of that are where we’ve looked at certain plans, just by the name of the plan, someone who is culturally attuned will tell us that if you name the plan that, you have already lost, because that does not translate to the Iraqis, that does not translate to the region. So when you use those words you’ve just lost credibility in your plan. So we’ve adjusted to now get those culturally attuned members of the team.”
When asked about timelines for withdrawal from Iraq and opinion on target withdrawal dates attached to Congressional spending measures passed last week (expected to be vetoed by President Bush), Holmes indicated that the complexity of achieving long term regional stability would require a longer commitment.
“The challenge that we face, not only in Iraq but in the region, is definitely gonna take time. As military leadership, trying to place a timetable on success… you really can’t do that and do what’s got to be done justice.”
He also stressed the importance of focusing “not just on the military solution, but the other elements of power, the political, the diplomatic, the economic, the social and cultural things that must be brought to bear by the international community before we focus on timelines, because those other elements of power, beyond the military, in the long run are really the more important elements of power.”
Looking beyond military solutions in volatile situations is a lesson that Holmes said may have been learned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the need to deeply involve regional partners in pursuit of regional stability.
“It’s got to be encompassing all the elements of power that I talked about, and it can’t just be a U.S. solution, it’s got to be first a regional solution in the Middle East and then it’s got to be an international solution with all partnered for stability and success within a region. And those are lessons that, I’m not sure we’ve learned but we see that they’re very, very important. They were important when we started and they’re more important now…I’m not a diplomat or a policy maker, but I would say all of the nations in the region are a part of the region and need to talk. I view any time we talk as good.”
Dialogue, according to Holmes, is another “very, very important” factor in achieving success and regional stability, even when dealing with violent resistance groups.
Earlier on the morning of the general’s visit, then U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, revealed that he held talks last year with presumed representatives of leading Iraqi insurgent groups.
“I think dialogue and listening is a very important part of any solution,” Holmes said.
“Will it immediately show a difference? I don’t know, but what I can say is, whether you call it reconciliation, whether you call it unification, whatever it is you call it will not occur until the various sects… come together and meet on common ground to discuss their differences…
“What is an insurgent group? We call them insurgents but these are people that, for whatever reason, want to be heard. Often people resort to violence when they feel like they’ve got to be heard. Or when they feel like they’ve got an agenda… and unfortunately, when groups are that fervent or that emotional and then violence becomes their tool to then push their political agenda, violence and violence only beget more violence. So what you want is… how can I disrupt the cycle of violence and how can I substitute something that will begin to dissipate the violence?”
Holmes further made it clear that violent escalation with regard to tensions with Iran is not something military leadership is in support of.
“Senior military leaders will tell you that when given an option for armed conflict or not, military leaders will ask you to hold war or armed conflict as your very, very last option.”
He also expressed a reserved optimism on Iraq, stressing “the importance of the Iraqi people in all of this… and it’s so important that, one, we understand what the people of Iraq want, what they feel comfortable with, and that we also let the Iraqis do it themselves, not fashion something and then hand it to a nation or a people when it may not be what they want.”
“I think for us in the military it’s to see that job through, and to let the Iraqi security forces stand on its own and do what it’s got to do. And that is a challenging task but not one that’s insurmountable.”
On what many perceive as a pattern of abuse and cover-ups by the American military in the two wars, the general said that the incidences, though discouraging, should be addressed individually and do not represent the character of the military.
“The American military has to be held to a standard. You should hold us to a standard and if that standard is violated either criminally or ethically then those who violate, whether they’re NCOs (non-commissioned officers), young officers, or senior officers, then you as a nation should hold us to account… Abu Ghraib, Haditha were dark hours… The people who perpetrated those crimes are being tried by the uniform code of military justice… we can not tolerate those kinds of acts… that is not what this very professional and very capable American military is about.”
The visit was the second time in recent months that a high-level U.S. official has traveled to Detroit and met with Arab American leaders. Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, visited in February with similar messages of dialogue and outreach. Guests at the meeting with the general included Sam Yono, of the Chaldean Federation; William Salaita, President of the Jordanian-American Club; Ali Jawad, Founder of the Lebanese American Heritage Club; Allie Berry, Chairman of the Arab American Scholarship Foundation; Imad Hamad, Regional Director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee; Abed Hammoud, Chair of the Congress of Arab American Organizations of Michigan and lead prosecutor in the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office; Judge David Turfe of the 20th District Court in Dearborn Heights; Dr. Hashem al-Tawil, professor of art history at Henry Ford Community College and the University of Michigan-Dearborn; and Muthanna al-Hanooti, an Iraqi American activist.
Brig. Gen. Holmes also spoke to the Detroit Council for World Affairs (DCWA) at Wayne State University during his stay, along with Brig. Gen. Ahsan Mehmood, who serves CENTCOM as Pakistan’s Senior National Representative.
In his address to the group, Holmes elaborated on the different “elements of power” that he spoke of in Dearborn, as “Diplomacy, Information, Military, Economy, and Socio-Cultural elements, or DIMES.”
He also discussed the military dynamics of the war on terrorism, and misconceptions related to terror and Muslim societies.
“Many would have us believe that this is nothing more than a war of Islam against Christianity and Judaism. Many would have you believe that…”
But “brothers and sisters” of different faiths, he said, “join hands against a common threat.”
Mehmood spoke to the DCWA with elaborate diagrams on societal causes of terrorism: deprivation, oppression and injustice leading to frustration, leading to hate, leading to extreme radicalism, to powerlessness and rage, to violence, and finally acts of terror.
He also drew a distinction between terrorism and legitimate struggle for self-determination, made the points that Islamic and Western societies have interacted and influenced each other for centuries, and that extremist tendencies are not peculiar to Muslims, but have afflicted other societies in the past.