May 28, 2008

Home Again

By Michael J. Totten

I’ve returned home with quite a lot of fresh material, mainly from Kosovo, but also from Serbia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Albania. I spoke to religious leaders, American soldiers, political dissidents, Israelis, current and former ambassadors, and all sorts of other interesting characters.

I initially thought the former Yugoslavia might be a bit far afield from my usual beat in the Middle East, but the more time I spent there, the less I thought so. The troubles that wrack that part of the world really are identical to many of those in the Middle East. This should not be surprising. Most of Europe’s Balkan peninsula belonged to the Turkish Ottoman Empire and was cut off from the West and rest of Europe for hundreds of years. The peoples of Belgrade, Sarajevo, and Prishtina belonged to the same political entity as most of the Arabs for a longer amount of time than the United States has existed as a country. Al Qaeda and like-minded fanatics insist the region will belong to their future caliphate once again.

The stories I have in store for you are more varied than what I’ve been publishing lately. I felt like I was writing different versions of the same story over and over again in Iraq. There isn’t much going on there right now that I haven’t already written about. Perhaps at the end of this year that will change, and I will go back. Lebanon has changed, and I’m more likely to return there in the meantime. We’ll have to see.

Stay tuned. I finally have time to sit down and write, and it seems jet-lag has spared me this time. (I can barely write when I'm jet-lagged.) Hopefully you’ll find my new material entertaining as well as informative.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at May 28, 2008 9:33 AM

Sounds GREAT, Michael -- obviously I can't wait!

Hope you consider trying a post or two on the following idea:
as you write a good long article, you come across a note of yours that you decide not to try to fit into the story (or you put it in, and then cut it out).

Please try just posting that little note, with or without a comment by you on it.

I won't stop reading you in any case. But I am sorry for your finances that you're missing out on a great book writing opportunity.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Author Profile Page at May 28, 2008 10:13 AM

Actually, Tom, I have an agent and I'm going to write a book proposal in the next month or so. I have a working title for the book I intend to write: From Beirut to Baghdad. Who knows if the title will survive the editing process, but it's my starting point. I hope to have the book written by the end of the year. That's a bit over-optimistic, perhaps, but I am going to try. First I have to get a book deal, though. It's a slow process.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 28, 2008 10:24 AM

Hi, Mr. Totten.

Having finally mastered typekey (I think) I just wanted to take a minute to tell you how very much I enjoy and appreciate all your essays. I found you and a handful of others during my son's first deployment. I trusted you and them because what you wrote more closely matched what he was saying when he called home, in contrast to other sources. The fact that you're a gifted writer and provide a much deeper, more interesting and varied perspective is a terrific plus.

I'll eagerly look for any book you care to author. I do hope I've read you enough to feel comfortable that I won't send you into perpetual writer's block by mentioning that Thomas Freidman wrote a book years ago entitled From Beirut to Jerusalem. I prefer your writing, anyhow.

Posted by: Sunny Author Profile Page at May 28, 2008 9:04 PM

Thanks, Sunny.

Yes, I know Friedman's book well. I've read it twice, and the first half (about Beirut) is incredibly good.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 28, 2008 9:46 PM

Shouldn't the title be more accurately From Beirut to Belgrade?

Posted by: Pat Patterson Author Profile Page at May 29, 2008 4:31 AM

The Balkans won't be in the book.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 29, 2008 7:10 AM

Michael, let me first say how much I have appreciated your site. It is so refreshing to hear non-sensationalized news. I've grown very suspicious of the accuracy of the "sound bite" reports coming out of main stream media outlets. I love the firsthand information you provided from Iraq, straight from our soldiers and marines. You told the real story that main stream media doesn't consider newsworthy. This is why I started a monthly subscription donation to your site and I hope many others will as well.

Forgive me if this question has already been addressed in another segment. I haven't tended to read the comments on your articles, just the articles themselves. Have you considered going to Afghanistan? From what I gathered from your Iraq reports, there is much more going on in Afghanistan these days than in Iraq, but the media is so obsessed with Iraq that we never hear any news about what's going on in Afghanistan. There seems to be a serious information gap there.

Keep up the great work.

Posted by: Ed Author Profile Page at May 29, 2008 9:57 AM

I am glad you are back safe and sound! I can't wait to hear about your time in Eastern Europe. The Middle East dominates mainstream media so we rarely hear about how things are in Eastern Europe. Have a great day!

Posted by: Kb Author Profile Page at May 29, 2008 10:01 AM

Thanks, Ed.

Yes, I have considered going to Afghanistan, and I will go to Afghanistan. My intention was to go this spring, but I have wanted to visit Kosovo for ten years, and now that they declared independence I jumped on the chance. It might have been a now-or-never deal for me.

Afghanistan might be next, but it's also possible that Lebanon will be next. It depends on what happens in each place. Lebanon remained static for a while, so I placed it at a lower priority. But it's getting dicey again there, and what happens in that country will, I think, be more important than ever in the near or medium term. Afghanistan is also important, of course. Both are high on my to-do list.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 29, 2008 10:02 AM

Welcome back, Michael. You know, I thought of your trip recently. Lately, Apple has been making a few episodes of the show "Three Sheets" ( ) available to download for free, so I watched them.

"Three Sheets is an international travelogue/pub-crawl television series on MOJO HD in the United States. "Three Sheets," which is a humorous trip through different drinks and drinking cultures around the world..."

How could you go wrong with a concept like that? So the last one I watched was his trip to Croatia, right next door to your last trip. So, whereas drinking local alcoholic beverages may be a bit risky in places like Iraq or Libya, did you have a chance to partake on this particular trip? Anything unusual? Anything worth bringing back on a long flight?

Posted by: jasonholliston Author Profile Page at May 29, 2008 12:11 PM

Great news on the book -- but that should mean no to both Afghanistan and especially Lebanon until you're well into it, or it's finished.

why not compile all your published essays (on the left), plus selected blog posts, and try to publish them NOW? Especially with some afterwards comments (2008 looking back) about what you got right and wrong.

It might not be the hit that Michael Yon has, but it will likely be better than your pamphlets (too bad they didn't quite catch on) for help in getting a real book deal.

Of course, I would start with the non-linked 'Liberal Reasons for the Iraq Invasion' (don't recall title), which stands up well 5 years later, as I recall.

[If you wanted volunteer help, I'd guess many of your fans here would be willing. I would. Your Builders and Defenders holds up quite well, still.]

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Author Profile Page at May 30, 2008 4:44 AM

Many thanks and high praise for the Yugoslav writing. Having been connected with that 'entity' since 1970, and still sympathetic with the Yugoslav ideal, it's great to read straightforward descriptions of what's going on today.

The capsule history (with elegant maps even!) is a major plus, and is a thumb in the eye of the once-over-lightly press with its 'ancient hatreds' theme which ignores the many attempts to devise a polity united by common interests.

I've come to believe that Yugoslavia since 1941 (and even before - read 'Land Without Justice') serves as a striking example of how vulnerable the PC concept of 'salad bowl democracy', based on intermixed tribes under various caudillos, is to the influence of outsiders who throw heavy support to one faction or another. Conclusion: the melting pot, based on an even-handed enforcement of its own laws, is a damn sight better as a long-range proposition.

Posted by: Insufficiently Sensitive Author Profile Page at June 2, 2008 9:57 AM
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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