June 4, 2018

Requiescat in pace - Lt Gen Bernard Trainor, USMC (Ret)

Lieutenant General Bernard "Mick" Trainor, USMC (Ret)

It is with profound sadness that I acknowledge the passing of a legend and personal mentor.

Lieutenant General Bernard E. Trainor, United States Marine Corps (Retired), has died at age 89 of cancer. Time has taken its toll on yet another of America's finest warriors, those who we as a country send forward to fight our wars. The general was a combat veteran of the Korean War and two tours in Vietnam. I was honored to know Mick, as he was called by his friends, although I never called him anything but General.

There will be enough articles and recitations of his accomplishments that I will not review them here. I will merely recount my personal recollections of the general.

Shortly after returning from an overseas tour (was that vague enough?) in 1987, I was assigned to an office at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) responsible for operations and analysis of the various situations in the Middle East and South Asia. Our office was authorized to provide background information to the press - General Trainor at that time was a correspondent for the New York Times.*

In late 1987 and early 1988, there were several major issues facing the United States - Afghanistan and our support for the mujahidin, the Iran-Iraq War and our nascent support for the Saddam Husayn government, and the threat posed by the Libyan government under Mu'amar Qadhafi's acquisition of chemical weapons. It was a busy time. Our office routinely provided interviews to General Trainor.

American support for the Iraqis in the Iran-Iraq War had just begun when I met the general for the first time. He was by all accounts a legendary U.S. Marine three-star general now writing for the New York Times. I was intrigued by the thought of retired senior military officer now working as a member of the Fourth Estate. For many of us serving in the military, it seemed a bit incongruous.

At that time, our program to support the Iraqis through the provision of U.S. military intelligence was very close-hold. Few members of the government were aware of the Presidential-directed program to give the Iraqi military the information they needed to stave off an expected Iranian offensive that we believed would lead to the eventual fall of the Iraqi government.

I was one of the officers tasked with going to Baghdad and working with the Iraqi Directorate of Military Intelligence as part of that program. According to the Los Angeles Times, the program was known by the code names "Elephant Grass," "Druid Leader" and "Surf Fisher." I will neither confirm nor deny.

Imagine my surprise while on a flight from Paris to Baghdad running into General Trainor. Since the flight was headed for Baghdad, there was no sense in denying that I was headed for the Iraqi capital. I tap-danced around the obvious question, "What are you going to be doing in Baghdad?" with a "visiting our defense attache office at the embassy."

I am not sure he bought it, but extending professional courtesy from one military officer to another, he did not pursue it. I was glad he did. I did not want to lie or mislead him - but as a professional intelligence officer, I was prepared to do so.

Years later, I again worked with General Trainor, but in a different capacity - we were both on-air analysts for NBC News, which included the cable outlets CNBC and MSNBC. He was always a gracious analyst, even when we disagreed. My experiences in Iraq were markedly different, so it was reasonable that our analyses varied. In every instance, he was personable and willing to listen to a much junior officer.

I will mourn the passing of a fine officer. General Trainor - "Mick" - served his country well as a warrior, and later as a journalist and author.

Salute.

________________
* I have chosen to not acknowledge the obituary from the Times as I disagree with the political spin attached to it. I knew General Trainor and believe that he would not have not been pleased with it.



Peugeot pulls out of Iran - restored American sanctions begin to bite

Iran Khodro - Peugeot's joint venture partner in the Islamic Republic

The Reuters headline could not be more clear: "France's PSA suspends joint ventures in Iran to avoid U.S. sanctions." French carmaker PSA Group, Europe's second largest automaker, has begun the process of halting its investments in the Islamic Republic of Iran in response to the withdrawal of the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The JCPOA was, in my opinion, a flawed agreement that traded sanctions relief for Iran in return for a delay in its quest to acquire a nuclear weapons capability. Since U.S. participation in the JCPOA was mandated by an executive order of former President Barack Obama without Senate ratification (required for international treaties), it was subject to revocation by President Donald Trump via the same mechanism.

Inherent in that withdrawal from the JCPOA is the restoration of American sanctions on Iran. They have come incrementally, targeting both individuals and organizations in the country. What has real teeth, however, are the "secondary" sanctions, those sanctions against individuals and organizations who choose to ignore U.S. sanctions and continue to do business with Iran. This is what is driving (pardon the pun) Peugeot to reassess its investments in Iran - fear of American sanctions on the company.

The message is quite clear - companies can do business with the United States and its $18.5 trillion economy, or with the Islamic Republic, whose gross domestic product is about the same as the state of Maryland. Companies who ignore the sanctions also risk being cut off from the U.S. financial system, the kiss of death in international business.

Peugeot follows other major businesses in suspending dealings with Iran, including Total, Siemens, Allianz, Maersk, BP, and GE. The sanctions will also affect proposed commercial aircraft sales to Iran by Boeing and Airbus.

On a lighter and more personal note. Peugeot has a long history with the Iranian automobile industry. In 2007, Peugeot's partner in Iran, Iran Khodro, partnered with a Syrian government-owned company (it is a socialist state, after all) to produce a car in a joint Syrian-Iranian auto factory in the environs of Damascus.

The car was a direct copy of the Iranian-built Samand, which was itself a derivative of the Peugeot 405. Since the car was mainly built for the domestic Syrian market, the name chosen for the car was the Sham.


Syrian President Bashar al-Asad at the wheel of a Sham automobile

I wrote a short article about the joint venture when it was announced in 2007: What's in a name? - the Syrian-Iranian car company

Here is the article in its entirety.

A Syrian state-owned company and an Iranian public company are jointly manufacturing a car in Syria. The car is based on a Peugeot design.

Having lived in Syria for a few years, cars make an interesting issue. Prior to the mid-1990's, it was almost impossible to import a car as a private citizen. When restrictions were relaxed, cars imported into Syria carried a 100 percent duty. An indigenously produced car will certainly find a market and replace many of the antique cars kept running only by creative repairs by innovative Syrian mechanics.

Although it will not be a problem in Syria and it does not look like the car will be marketed in the English-speaking countries, they have decided to name the car with the old name for Syria and the Syrian dialect word for Damascus - the Sham automobile.

My Syrian driver's license

I hope the car is well-built and easily repaired, since accidents are quite common, and the mandatory state-owned insurance coverage is basically worthless. My wife was in a fender-bender - when I translated the police report, the other driver, who was clearly at fault claimed that the accident was the will of Allah. The police accepted that and it was the official cause of the accident.

The Sham - going on sale next month. From the people who brought you Hizballah.