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Book Review: A Flowershop In Baghdad

“If we are joined by the international community, we can continue to shrink ISIL’s sphere of influence, its effectiveness, its financing, its military capabilities, to the point where it is a manageable problem…what we’ve got to do is make sure that we are organizing the Arab world, the Middle East, the Muslim world, along with the international community, to isolate this cancer.” – President Obama at a press conference in Estonia this morning.
The president’s message to the world is that he won’t engage in any “military adventures” without the approval and assistance of the international community – – – unlike his predecessor. 

During his speech before the American Legion at their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, last week, Obama said, (obviously in reference to Iraq), “history teaches us of the dangers of overreaching, and spreading ourselves too thin, and trying to go it alone without international support, or rushing into military adventures without thinking through the consequences.”

Then he took credit for bringing the troops home “because it was the right thing to do!” The vets reacted to this with thunderous silence. Maybe they know what Michael Banzet knows.

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In his book, A Flowershop in Baghdad, USAF Major Michael Banzet likes to disabuse the reader of the notion that Bush acted alone – reminding them of the large coalition of international forces that was led by the United States to isolate and destroy the cancer of Saddam Hussein’s brutal Regime in Iraq and root out the terrorists who had flooded into the country.

Published in 2012, the book mixes humor with tragedy and is particularly relevant now in light of recent events. So much hard work, sacrifice, and good will on the part of so many brave men and women – American, Iraqi, British, and many other nationalities – was squandered by the current president so he could keep a campaign promise to his left-wing base.

It’s an inspirational story about American exceptionalism as seen through the eyes of the now retired USAF Major Michael Banzet. 

Banzet started out at the lowest rank, but after earning a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering and a master’s in aviation science, he rose to the rank of Major to eventually do what he loves – fly jets as a USAF pilot. He volunteered to go to Iraq in 2007 to help the Iraqis build a solid, dependable, and accountable Air Force – which turned out to be a tall order given the dysfunctional military culture that developed over the years under Saddam’s brutal dictatorship.

Some of the Iraqis he worked with, had been members of the Ba’ath party during the Saddam Hussein years and were officers in his Air Force. His new friends had fought against us during the Gulf War – not that they were fans of Saddam Hussein, or sorry to see him go.. Others lived in areas that were sometimes mortared by the Americans. There were near misses, and sometimes houses blown up. Yes, the Americans occasionally made mistakes.

In spite of all that – what do you suppose the Iraqis called the  “American imperialist warmongers”?

The not-so-friendly sides included horrific terrorist groups like al Qaeda in Iraq (the pre-curser to ISIS) and militants like the Badr Brigades. Most Iraqis wanted nothing to do with the terrorists. They were glad the Americans were there to protect them.

In one effecting vignette, Banzet described a day he went to work and found the office in a state of panicked chaos.

“Most of the guys were on their phones, urgently talking,” Banzet remembers. Worry creased their faces as they talked to loved ones at home. He asked what was going on and was told, “there are bad things happening in the neighborhoods.”

Asad had gotten off the phone, but Wahid was still calmly, forcefully directing someone. Asad looked at me, pain in his eyes, anguish on his face, and his English eloquence failed him. “They took someone and now Nassera says that she hears guns coming down the street.

Some men had broken into a home and abducted the cousin of the owner. Banzet left the office to brief an American intel officer about what was happening, and see if he had any ideas. When he got back to the office – the room was noticeably calmer. 

It turns out, hummers were involved. That ruled out some of the more barbaric terrorists. But one of the Shia militant brigades was known to use hummers, so there was still a great deal of concern, and Banzet went back to talk to the intel guy. When he returned the third time, he said it was like walking into an episode of the Twilight Zone.

The guys were back at work, typing on the computers, drinking tea, and chatting. The completely bewildered Banzet asked Assad what was going on.

During these troubled, disturbing times, when America ignores world crises until it’s too late,  or worse, takes the wrong side – supporting with weapons and training genocidal death cults like ISIS, A Flowershop In Baghdad is a heartening reminder of the force for good America once was –  and under the right leadership, could be again.

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