A place to help create public policy and personal action that is visionary, effective, courageous, and compassionate
Welcome to a place for exploring insights and solutions to the public problems that test our times. This space is where I hope there will be discussion, co-learning, collaboration and—I hope—organizing actions. Your comments are welcome after each piece. Some of my own views come from fifteen years in the US Foreign Service, most of them spent way off the beaten track. Some come from my career since then as an activist, coach and mentor to activists, and President of Giraffe Heroes International, moving people to stick their necks out for the common good.
"Thank you John. I have deep respect for you, your work and your valuable insights. Few people are able to be as forthright and as honest as you. In the past, I have heard only hints of what you have shared."— Paul Morris
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If you haven't already, I invite you to to sign up to regularly receive my blog pieces, Several times a month I put up, as both text and video, some hopefully competent, provocative words on a hot button issue to which I invite you to respond.. Privacy rules: I protect your data and will never sell or lend subscribers’ addresses to anyone. Ever.
You can check out my blog archives, below.
There’s no doubt that Henry Kissinger was a complicated man, as shown by the torrent of fierce opinions published since his death.
I worked for the man and Vietnam was where I first began to hate him. A young US diplomat, I was a civilian adviser to the Mayor of Hué, one of the most dangerous places in the country during the last years of the war, at a time when any American there still in control of his senses knew we’d lost the war....more
As you may know, Gordon Lightfoot recently died. You may have memories of the Canadian singer/songwriter’s work. My memory is that he changed my life.
In 1971-72, as a US Foreign Service Officer, I was Advisor to the city of Hué, South Vietnam. I’d volunteered for Vietnam because being in a shooting war was one adventure I’d not yet had.
I was an adrenaline addict, drawn to war zones and high, dangerous mountains. I’d asked the...more
The Iran Hostage Crisis Re-visited
In November of 1979 the staff of the US Embassy in Teheran was taken prisoner by mobs controlled by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Two months of diplomatic pressures and direct threats hadn’t freed them.
But in early 1980, I came close.
I thought I knew then why I’d failed, but I didn’t know the half of it. Decades of investigative reports have now revealed the truth. Any efforts to free...more
The recent security breach by a young idiot video-gamer out to impress his friends was worse than you think. It could end up being one of the worst security breaches in the history of US intelligence operations.
It should never have happened. It’s crazy that anybody in the US government would consider giving a top-secret clearance to a naïve, unqualified kid in the National Guard. The real damage has yet to be fully known, but it’s...more
Yes, I’m writing here about peace. But let’s be clear: The recent atrocities committed by retreating Russians north of Kiev—added to their relentless bombing and shelling of civilian targets all over Ukraine—have made any peace-building initiatives much more difficult. Still, this evil madness will end someday, and those with the will and skill to build a peace must be ready. .As an experienced international negotiator, I have some...more
Will a nuclear war start in Ukraine? Is that even possible? Maybe we’re just watching a Netflix re-run of Dr. Strangelove.
No. It’s possible. As someone who once planned nuclear war for NATO, I can tell you that events in Ukraine have moved us closer to Armageddon than anything since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Putin said two weeks ago that he’d placed Russian nuclear forces in “a high state of readiness,” but NATO intelligence has...more
“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen”–Vladimir Lenin
I was wrong. A month ago I predicted that Putin’s massing of Russian troops on the border of Ukraine was a bluff—that he was too smart to launch a full-scale invasion because the costs would far outweigh the benefits.
But I was not as wrong as Putin, who grossly underestimated the strength of Ukrainian and global resistance as well...more
Hell, yes, it’s scary.
125,000 Russian troops are poised on the border with Ukraine. The US has put 8,500 soldiers on “high alert.” NATO is sending jets and ships to the region as well as shipments of arms to Ukrainian forces.
After years as a NATO war planner, I know that one miscalculation by either side could mean a face-off between nuclear-armed opponents.
But this is no Cuban missile crisis—at least not yet. Putin is...more
Unless you’re Donald Trump or Ebeneezer Scrooge you gotta be happy that President Biden got his bipartisan infrastructure bill passed and that America will finally fix a decades-long backlog of repairs and upgrades.
But that infrastructure bill, in today’s super-polarized world, was the exception. Even though its benefits are hugely popular in red states and blue, there were still weeks of petty foot-dragging...more
Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower, has leaked thousands of pages of internal company documents showing that Facebook, in order to increase its profits, has continually operated against the public interest. It has spread disinformation on crucial subjects like Covid and election integrity, undermined the self-images of vulnerable teens, further polarized the American electorate and supported violent extremists like the ones who...more
In the summer of 1964, on a year-long global journey by bus and hitchhiking, I found myself in the middle of one of the worst famines in history. I was on the Ethiopian plateau, 10,000 feet above sea level, and it would be the most godforsaken place I would ever see. Hidden from the world in this barely accessible place,peasants wrapped in rags or even old newspapers huddled in the bone-numbing rain and cold. At everystop, crowds of them...more
A few days ago, my daughter and I carried out her wild idea of re-creating the Last Dinner on the Titanic. It was a daft way of celebrating our own rescue from another sinking passenger ship exactly 41 years ago.
She made cocktails, an elaborate appetizer, and an extravagant dessert. I did salad and meat, both of us following the recipes used on the Titanic. We had to assemble truffles,...more
It was inevitable that rightwing loonies would cry “fraud” in the California election that kept Governor Gavin Newsom in office. Never mind that Newsom won by two and a half million votes, or roughly 2/3 of those cast. Even before the polls opened on election day, Newsom’s opponent, Trump wanna-be Larry Elder, contended, without a shred of proof, that there were already “millions” of...more
Richard Spencer is the most infamous summer resident in Whitefish, Montana, a mostly liberal, affluent resort town, nestled in Trump Country in the Rocky Mountains.
Spencer was the main instigator of the 2017 neo-Nazi riot in Charlottesville that killed Heather Heyer and injured at least 19 others and he played a major role in the attack on the Capitol last January.
But his Whitefish story—detailed in the New York Times...more
I’m going to say something about Afghanistan that doesn’t jibe with what you’re hearing in the media, something that may even sound callous. Here goes—When the snap judgments and finger-pointing die down, I think history’s judgement will be that the long-term damage to American interests was less than we now think it is.
As a former US diplomat, one who witnessed the awful endgame in Vietnam, I don’t underestimate the loss of lives and...more
Why Not Knowing, or Refusing to Know, Can Kill You
The pandemic is resurging. The US is now averaging more than 100,000 new Covid-19 cases a day, the highest in nearly six months. The resurgence is driven in part by a deadly new strain of the disease, the Delta variant.
I want to focus on the other reason for the resurgence—the reluctance of tens of millions of Americans to get vaccinated, even though contracting the...more
Two new books suggest that on January 6 we came far closer to losing democracy than we thought.
Landslide, by Michael Wolff, describes Donald Trump’s increasingly unhinged behavior after his election loss. In I Alone Can Fix It, Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker detail how the top US military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley, was so shaken that then-President Donald Trump...more
The pandemic is easing in much of the United States. In the larger world, vaccines are finally beginning to flow from “have” countries to “have nots.”
As it ends in this country, I think it’s crucial not to rush onwards, without looking at these last, devastating months. There are huge lessons to be learned from what we’ve been through—about inequality, about race, about work, about ourselves—and we’d be monumentally stupid not to learn...more
A few days ago I was interviewed on Russian state television on a news show that draws over a million viewers inside Russia. The subject was President Biden’s trip to Europe and in particular his upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
This is perhaps my 30th appearance on Russian media and I remain mystified why they keep asking me on, since I offer balanced views of issues the United States and Russia don’t agree on....more
Memorial Day 2021
President Biden’s withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan will be completed before the deadline he set—September 11, exactly 20 years after the attacks on the US that were our reason for starting that long, unwinnable war.
As you know, the United States went into Afghanistan in December of 2001 to find and destroy the Taliban (the ultraconservative political and religious faction that ruled Afghanistan...more
Let’s talk about courage. For the last 35 years I’ve helped lead a global movement that inspires people to stick their necks out to solve tough public problems. So I’ve got some standing on the matter of what’s courageous in public life.
Let’s look at a woman many people in the last few weeks have cited for her courage.
Of course I’m talking about Liz Cheney, the far-right congresswoman from Wyoming, the daughter of Dick Cheney,...more
In his address to Congress last Wednesday, President Biden sketched out an agenda packed with “once in a generation” government investments that would touch nearly every corner of American life. It was a passionate and comprehensive defense of government as a force for good. It was Ronald Reagan—in reverse.
40 years ago President Reagan told the country that government was the problem—that it “is too big, and it spends too much.” His...more
As you know, the former Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd was convicted on two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter.
Since then there’s been nonstop coverage and analysis of the trial. Many people feared that the killer would get off because history shows it’s extremely difficult to get a murder conviction of a police officer.
Juries give cops enormous latitude and, if that wasn’t enough, in too many...more
375 people have now been arrested, charged and intensively interviewed about their participation in the attack on the US Capitol January 6. A reliable picture is emerging of who they are and what motivated them.
It’s no surprise that they were overwhelmingly white and male and strongly influenced by Donald Trump’s campaign to overturn the November election
But it came as a bit of a surprise, at least to some, that only about 10%...more
This should be a strange topic in a democracy with universal suffrage, but it has, sadly, become a very real question that could define our identity as a nation. Hear me out.
If you’ve been following the news, you know that the State of Georgia has just enacted the most extensive voting restrictions in generations and other Red States are not far behind.
The Georgia legislation introduces a raft of new oppressive laws aimed at...more
Last week, Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year-old white man, killed eight people, seven of them women, in three Atlanta-area spas. His motives seem to have been a toxic mix of misogyny, racism and bizarre ideas about himself and sex.
A patron of two of the spas, the Long grew up in a ultra-conservative Baptist church and appeared fixated on lust and guilt. He told police that he was a “sex addict” and that the women working there were...more
Is Joe Biden Our FDR? You may think, Well by God he is! Or you may see him as a socialist demon. Well fine, it’s a free country and I really want to spark respectful, fact-based discussions by these weekly talks.
Let’s start with the basics. We are in the worst peacetime crisis in a century. Lots of people are scared, depressed, frustrated, pissed off, or all of the above.
And last Thursday night this new American president...more
In the contest between Biden and Trump, I very much wanted Joe Biden to win and I’m very happy with the strong, quick moves he’s made to advance an agenda that makes this country the nation it can be.
Until last week.
Senate Republicans have shown us again and again that political courage is rare. It’s just that, with Joe Biden, I expected it to last more than six weeks.
In my opinion Biden made a serious stumble last week...more
I’m betting that much of your attention this last week was on quarantines and masks, and on scrambling to get a vaccine appointment.
If you’ve had time for politics, there’s the chess matches in Congress over President Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill and a few of his more controversial nominations for top jobs.
With all that going on, did you also see the reports on the landing of the Perseverance rover on Mars? It was...more
“America’s Back.” On February 19, with those two words, the new US president repudiated the go-it-alone policies of his predecessor that had led to bitter disagreements, escalating trade wars, and rejection of the alliances that have benefited America and its allies since the end of the Second World War
But a slogan is not a policy. Let’s look at what’s back and what isn’t.
Acknowledging the strains and shit storms have...more
I don't blame you if you haven't been watching every moment of the trial of former President Trump for inciting an attack on the Capitol that killed five people as a raving mob ransacked the seat of American government, holding it for hours.
But some of the proceedings have actually been fascinating, especially new videos showing the extent of the violence and how close to injury or death key members of Congress and their staffs came on...more
Living Room Talk #17: Were you hoping, just for a couple of days there, that Republicans had finally burst out of their Trump trance? You know, when some of their Senators said they’d vote to convict on his impeachment by the House for inciting rioters to attack the Capitol? When even McConnell said Trump had gone too far? When it seemed that more than a few Republicans saw that dumping Trump might give their Party a shot at...more
As the Biden Administration begins, many of us are pivoting from dread and outrage to... happiness. And it's about a lot more than “Ding Dong, the wicked witch is dead!” isn’t it?
Let’s see if I can hit some of the reasons.
I'm happy that after four years, a good and decent man is in the White House, a president with a lifelong record of integrity, compassion, and dedication to this country and its Constitution.
I find it a...more
As you digest the stunning events in Washington DC on January 6, consider this. There are now more US troops in this nation’s capital than in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are massive iron and concrete barriers blocking approaches to the platform where the transfer of power will take place this week—they look like the protections around the American Embassy in Baghdad.
Because I served as a US Foreign Service Officer for many years, my...more
Last Friday, after a Trump-inspired mob had occupied the Capitol, leaving five people dead and the nation’s reputation in tatters, a deeply worried House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, to ask him about “available precautions for preventing an unstable president from initiating military hostilities or accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike.”
We don’t know what Milley told...more
Every four years, on January 6, Congress meets to confirm the people’s choice of the winner of the presidential election. This meeting has always been just a formality. It has never changed anything.
This year, however, a small group of die-hard Trump supporters in Congress, led by Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, and Representative Mo Brooks, have announced their intentions to object to Biden’s win in the Electoral College, using an...more
A year or so ago, a smart speaker came into the house as a gift when my wife Ann subscribed to the New York Times. I was agin it but Ann and her son David got it set up to say “Good Morning” and report the day’s news and weather, play podcasts, and radio stations anywhere in the world and—with the addition of a bunch of special plugs—to turn the lights on and off here in the living room.
I had to admit that...more
A lot of smart people are working hard to figure out who should get the new vaccines for COVID-19 first. I trust them to make these difficult decisions. But the vaccine IS coming and most of us should have it by summer. That’s the good news.
But there’s another pandemic raging in this country that ultimately could cost us more than Covid 19.
I’m calling it the Ostrich Plague—a relentless virus that’s...more
Talking to the enemy—and in these incredibly polarized times, who doesn’t have some?
I’ve got some useful suggestions for how to turn battlegrounds into conversations.
Know first that I’m no idle theorist. My ideas on conflict communications come from a lifetime of dealing with serious conflicts, from planning nuclear war for NATO, to environmental battles in the Pacific Northwest, to trying to cope with an out-of-control...more
Tonight I’m thinking about battle fatigue. Mine and yours.
Reading, listening, figuring out what just happened, braced for what could happen next, I’m just tired of all of it. Maybe you are too.
I’m tired of this pandemic and mostly because an inept and uncaring national leadership has made it so much worse than it had to be—so much more sickness, too many deaths, more and more losses of jobs and homes, more people...more
John Graham LRT #8
Donald Trump is still delaying and disrupting certification of an election he lost by six million votes. He’s ordered his administration not to cooperate with the president-elect’s team, so they can’t provide the resources normally given an incoming President, from office space to intelligence briefings.
This makes the transition all that much more difficult, endangers national security and cripples planning for pandemic...more
Who Voted for Trump, Why, and What’s It Mean?
The answers to these questions are important to understanding how democracy in America can have a future, and how this grand experiment, begun 230 years ago, can be repaired for a new run.
My name is John Graham. If you’re new here, my quick intro is that I’m a lifelong adventurer, a former Foreign Service Officer, a writer, a speaker, a social and political activist, and for over...more
Living Room Talk #6: Biden Wins; Now What? [see video version here]
It seems now that Joe Biden will be the next President of United States.
But the road between now and Inauguration Day on January 20 is going to be rocky and that’s what I want to talk to you about tonight
My name is John Graham and in past sessions I’ve told you more about me than you probably want...more
I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait until this election is over. No more email or robo-call pleas for campaign contributions. No more ads and Facebook posts that remind me how divisive and polarized this nation has become, especially over the last four years.
But it’s all going to be over Tuesday night. Or is it?
More than 60% of the electorate has already voted and most of those votes have yet to be counted. In some...more
You either watched the debate last night or you’ve surely heard that it was better than the first one. Trump’s behavior at the first was so bad, anything more substantive than acting like a kindergartner fighting in a sandbox would be an improvement. This time, thanks only in part to mics that were cut off regularly, Trump was significantly more disciplined and focused.
The change in him for those 90 minutes was especially dramatic...more
Amy Coney Barrett is virtually certain to be confirmed as the next justice of the United States Supreme Court.. Now what?
[This article is a transcript of a session of Living Room Talk, a video blog by John Graham—adventurer, former Foreign Service Officer, writer, speaker, activist and for over 30 years a leader of the Giraffe Heroes Project, a global movement inspiring people to stick their necks out for the common good. It airs on...more
John Graham and Ann Medlock
It isn’t something you want to hear; it’s not something we want to say. But there’s a tried and proven path that autocrats take to lead their countries into fascism. Adolph Hitler refined and perfected that path. Donald Trump is making one move after another that replicates Hitler’s drive to fascist control of his country.
We write this piece as seasoned political observers whose politics are just left of center; we are not far-left...more
As we all cope with the current challenge of the pandemic, I keep thinking about the post-pandemic world we’ll have to deal with when we emerge from this. I don’t want to miss the lessons we’re being hit with now because they’ll be crucial for surviving the next crisis—the climate crisis—which will be a greater threat than COVID-19. And it’s already bearing down on us.
Stripped down to the rivets by this pandemic, what did we get...more
Donald Trump has just sent a carrier battle group into the Persian Gulf, warning that a fight with the United States would "be the official end of Iran." Do you trust that Trump and the inexperienced sycophants around him can make the sophisticated judgments needed to stay on the knife edges he creates without falling off? As a former Foreign Service Officer, I know I don't. Have you read enough history to know that a single assassination in...more
Keep your eye on the ball. President Trump's performances with Kim Jong Un are not the biggest game in town. The foreign policy pot most likely to explode in the near future is not North Korea. It’s Iran.
As a former US Foreign Service Officer who has traveled in that country—and who was once even jailed there as a spy a half-century ago—I'm mindful that Iran aka Persia has always been, continues to be, and has every right to be a...more
The memorials for George H.W. Bush remind us that this country has produced leaders of unfailing courage and integrity who tried hard to do the right thing no matter what the personal consequences. The reaction of Donald Trump and his acolytes to the brutal murder of American-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi—and the Saudi cover up—is the latest example of how far we’ve fallen from that standard.
Secretary of Defense Mattis and...more
I’m a white guy who went to a private Jesuit-run prep school and then to an Ivy League college. At the prep school, an “in” crowd, mostly the sons of the city’s business and social elite, controlled the social pecking order, played on the sports teams, hosted exclusive parties, and bragged about their sexual conquests. And there were the nerds, like me, who had no part in any of that.
The “ins” knew that when they went too far, their...more
Take a step behind the discussions on guns, misogyny, and the anger and loneliness that are driving men’s addictions and suicides. Time after time, in that dark place, I see men struggling to communicate or even acknowledge their emotions, men wanting but failing to form positive relationships with other men, men whose fathers were emotionally AWOL, men who grew up without good role models for what it means to be a brave, caring and...more
Why is the AR-15 the weapon of choice—not just for mass murderers but for law-abiding gun owners as well?
As most people know by now, an AR-15 is a semi-automatic variant of the M-16 rifle used by American combat soldiers in Vietnam. “Semi-automatic” means you have to pull the trigger once for each shot, limiting a shooter of average skill to about four shots a second. Adding a cheap, widely available “bump stock” doubles this rate...more
If Sandy Hook didn’t lead to change, why should Parkland? Blogger Umair Haque makes a strong case that teen discontent, welling up from much more than school shootings, may spark the changes that nothing else has.. I don’t see things as bleak as Haque does. But his essay pushed me to think in a way that nothing else post-Parkland has. Reprinted from Medium Daily Digest:
I like Jeff Flake a lot. He’s the Republican senator from Arizona who just published Conscience of a Conservative, a slashing, no-holds-barred critique, not just of Donald Trump and his administration, but also of the Republican Party for selling out its principles to support Trump.
I share very few of Flake's arch-conservative principles.
I like Jeff Flake because of something that happened 11 years ago. George Bush had...more
As an Eagle Scout and lifetime supporter of Scouting, I’m appalled by the unhinged speech Donald Trump gave to the National Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia on July 24.
Scout jamborees often invite distinguished citizens to speak and the best of them deliver stirring calls for Scouts to live out the personal and civic values of their organization, calls laced with enough inspiring personal stories to keep the boys looking up...more
Some Trump voters now justify their votes by saying they just don't "trust" Hillary.
Yup, I get that. I didn't and don't trust her much either. I also think that she was asleep at the switch in Benghazi (but not a criminal). She was way too beholden to Wall Street and way too oblivious to Main Street.. She ran an incompetent campaign and let the DNC deliberately undermine the campaign of her primary opponent. She totally misread the...more
The report from heads of American intelligence agencies has confirmed the obvious: Russia deliberately tried to influence the outcome of the American election in favor of Donald Trump. The agencies’ report found no evidence that the Russians tried to electronically change vote totals; they were content to mess with our heads, and in that, they did quite well.
I find complaints about these Russian actions by some US leaders laughable....more
At a time when it seems almost naïve to expect public figures to act with transparency, compassion and courage, I vividly remember one who did. I worked for John Glenn, then a Senator for Ohio, for a brief time in the late 70’s as an adviser on foreign policy. He became an icon to me, not so much for what he did as a politician or even as an astronaut, but for who he was as a human being, a man whose simple decency transcended just about...more
Tom Ewell, guest blogger
This droll account by my friend Tom Ewell of his love-hate relationship with computers and social media sounds so, so familiar. Read this especially if you know who Adlai Stevenson was, if you Tweet less than twice a week and if Medicare is your current or soon-to-be best friend.more
Investigations are still ongoing in Orlando but it seems that the professed allegiance to ISIS by the shooter, Omar Mateen, was more a detonator than the charge itself. What exploded inside the Pulse nightclub was a volatile mix of rage and instabilities that had been building in the man for a long time. The siren call of radical Islam, coming over the Internet, added an ideological justification, a sense of divine mission and membership into...more
Tom Ewell, guest blogger
I’ve been uneasy that the praise heaped on Muhammad Ali over the last week has been so uncritical, simplifying the story of a much more complicated man. Quaker writer/activist Tom Ewell reminds us that there were times when Ali was no saint, yet rose to become the icon of courageous truth-telling and civil disobedience we honor today. Ewell's eulogy acknowledges the full length of Ali's difficult and brave journey.—John Graham.
Defeating ISIS will not be simple and we must not think it will be. The challenge is stupefying in its complexity, involving, among other things, the split between Sunni and Shia Muslims, a bitter history of Western interventions including blowback from America’s war in Iraq, overlapping power struggles today among at least six nations, the ongoing political chaos of the Middle East, unrelenting poverty and social and political decay...more
In late March, I helped Nana Darkwa set up Giraffe Heroes Ghana (GHG), the newest affiliate of Giraffe Heroes International. GHG will find courageous Ghanaians working for peace, then tell their stories to the nation, inspiring others to follow their leads. The purpose is to help ensure that November's highly contested elections here will be free, fair and non-violent. Part of the work was a...more
ISIS attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have heightened fear around the world. If ISIS are vicious sociopaths, then why do so many people see them as saviors? Why are so many young Muslims in so many countries joining ISIS? Unless and until we understand who they are and why they join, we can't provide counter narratives that can disrupt the ISIS recruiting process. So who are these recruits?
It was an honor to represent my country at the United Nations for three years, despite the organization's blatant hypocrisy, a condition that has only gotten worse.
With votes from countries, like the US, in thrall to its oil blackmail, Saudi Arabia has just been named Chair of the UN's Human Rights Council.
Saudi Arabia!! Saudi Arabia is the base and financial support for Wahhabi Islam, an extremist sect that empowers both al...more
Amazon’s high-pressure business model should make us think, not just about the directions the retail world may be taking, but about our personal lives and how we choose to live them. A controversial New York Times article by Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld is sharply critical of the high-stress culture that drives Amazon. According to the authors, Amazon is super successful--the world's largest retailer--not just because its...more
If we don’t understand what makes ISIS tick we’ll never be able to defeat it. To view ISIS as simply a determined army of vicious psychopaths is a significant mistake. ISIS is far more complicated than that, in its origins, philosophy and strategies.
ISIS is an ultra-puritanical interpretation of Islam that traces its roots back 1300 years to early decades of the religion, when the prophet Muhammad and a small band of...more
John A. Graham
[from the Blog: On the Edge] In 1972, I was US Advisor to the City of Hué, South Vietnam. Some evenings, especially if the day had been difficult and dangerous, I would drive a few miles outside the City to an ancient pagoda called Linh Mu. There I would sit at this very spot on a wall overlooking the Perfume River where I would meditate, or at least try to absorb some of the calmness of the river, the temple bells, and the monks sweeping...more
John A. Graham
President Obama has announced the resumption of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba, good news that I have a particular reason to welcome. It wasn’t that the US has lacked opportunities to do this. We could have at least begun the process thirty-five years ago. I was there, and this is the story you will not read in any diplomatic archive.
The story begins in Iran...
In November 1979 the staff of the US Embassy in Teheran...more
John A. Graham
Who says that ordinary Americans can’t make a difference? Last week, a few hundred frightened, insular people in Oklahoma City got millions of Africans scratching their heads about just how stupid Americans can be.
The story may have been tucked into page 10 of your newspaper or newsfeed but I saw it all over the front pages in Nairobi:
As the opportunity of a lifetime, 24 kids from an orphanage choir in Kenya had come to the...more
John A. Graham
The shooting down of Malaysian Flight 17 over Ukraine may actually open doors for peaceful resolution of the conflict there. As evidence mounts of their complicity in the disaster, Russia is now thrown on the defensive and any momentum they and their separatist Ukrainian allies had has been stalled, at least for now, as Russia twists and turns in the glare of global condemnations and threats of significantly more painful economic sanctions....more
John A. Graham
I’d never heard of Oso, the mountain town in Washington State that was leveled by a massive mudslide in March—even though I live only fifty miles away, But I owe the people there an apology--and the people living in hundreds of similar small conservative rural communities.
I’m an environmental activist, or used to be, and the town where I’m based went for Obama by 80% percent in the last election. To the people of Oso, I'm the guy (or...more
John A. Graham
The current crisis over Ukraine spotlights larger and hugely important questions: What are America’s interests in an interconnected, post Cold-War world? How should we protect and promote them, especially with our rivals?
The views of hawks like John McCain are part of that discussion. They need to be heard and they are. What’s wrong is the snarky insinuation from McCain and others that the real problem we face is personal--that...more
John A. Graham
What a performance! And when it ended, the talk swirled around a brilliant, passionate 25-year-old black man whose skill, brains and ability lifted him and his team to victory against opponents who were doing absolutely everything they could to make sure they failed. His name was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He had joined the Montgomery bus boycott and, playing brilliantly, was key to forcing a Supreme Court decision in favor of the boycotters,...more
John A. Graham
I left Egypt in late May, less than 48 hours ahead of a Cairo Court arrest warrant for foreigners "promoting democracy."
A month later, June 30 could end up having been the watershed moment for the new Egypt. Perhaps by the time you read this, it already has. June 30 is the first anniversary of the government of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement that many secular Egyptians fear wants to turn the country into a theocracy....more
John A. Graham
“Tahrir Square was not the Revolution,” a young Egyptian woman told me in Cairo last week. “The real Revolution,” she said, “has yet to come.” Considering that over 300 protestors died in the Square two and a quarter years ago, this is chilling news.
A former US Foreign Service Officer, I just spent ten days in Egypt listening to Egyptians from every quarter, including getting caught in the middle of a demonstration in Tahrir Square....more
John A. Graham
Get off the plane in New Delhi’s modern, efficient airport and you don’t feel like you’ve landed in the “developing” world. Take the fast, sleek metro into town through miles of new office buildings sporting the names of the world’s biggest multinationals and you’re positive this isn’t a third-world country.
It’s not the New Delhi I remember from my last trip here 25 years ago. I’m told that you can see the same kinds of eye-popping...more
John A. Graham
The US Army thought it could squeeze one more combat tour out of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. It was wrong. Bales is now accused of shooting and stabbing to death 16 Afghan civilians, most of them women and children. The Army said that he’d “snapped.” Something else may have snapped too--the last frail thread of trust between the US and its Afghan partners and with it, the last hope for any kind of success in this war.
It’s easy to blame...more
John A. Graham
For ten days in October 2012 I saw first-hand what the Chinese are doing in Tibet. The reports you’ve heard of cultural genocide are true. China is obliterating the ideas, traditions and habits of the Tibetan people.
Do we care? We’d better. China’s confidence increases with each step onto the world stage. What the Chinese are doing in Tibet tells us a lot about what we can expect from them as their power grows.
It’s hard to get...more
John A. Graham
Watching the sandbox antics in Washington over yet another polarizing issue--the debt ceiling--I feel sad and angry at my country’s incompetence. Yet there may be a model for America’s future in Sierra Leone, a country the size of Iowa on the bulge of West Africa. It’s a potentially rich country, impoverished by a brutal ten-year civil war that ended in 2002--think child soldiers and Blood Diamonds.
As a former US Foreign Service expert...more
John A. Graham
For a short time in 1969 I probably knew more about Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddhafi than any other American. I was then a young diplomat attached to the American Embassy in Tripoli. Since I was the most junior member of the embassy's political staff, I was given the worst job -- as liaison officer to the sprawling American air base just outside the city. For a year, I settled minor customs disputes, bailed drunken American airmen out of the...more
John A. Graham
I went to a quiet meeting yesterday at the local Veterans Resource Center in the small rural county where I live. At the meeting were 25 vets, family members of vets and a few others. From that small group flowed gut-wrenching stories of suicides, addictions and shattered minds and bodies.
As a young man I’d gone to war in Vietnam for the adventure of it. What a fool I was. But I was hardly alone. Every war has recruited eager young...more
John A. Graham
By now certainly you've heard of Steven Slater, the flight attendant who, suffering one too many abusive passengers, cursed the last offender over the intercom, activated the plane's emergency escape slide, grabbed a beer and slid to the tarmac. Slater became an instant folk hero. "Free Steven Slater" T-shirts are popping up all over the country.
Slater had finally had it with wrongs he was supposed to accept. When that passenger...more
I forward this report from Antoine Jaulmes, a French auto engineer and a colleague of mine in Initiatives of Change (IofC), a non-governmental organization working for peace, reconciliation and human security worldwide.
Rebuilding Haiti Will Not Be Enough
The 12 January earthquake in Haiti was devastating. Between 50,000 and 100,000 people were killed. International aid...more
John A. Graham
There are many differences between our wars in Vietnam and in Afghanistan. There are also similarities we can’t ignore, including the vital need for an indigenous government that commands broad-based popular support.
I know the Vietnam part of it pretty well. In Vietnam, I was a civilian officer in CORDS, a joint civilian/military command that led American nation-building efforts in the country. For eighteen months in the early...more
John A. Graham
I saw the possibility of a just and peaceful world last week--at a conference on a mountain in Switzerland. The (second annual) Caux Forum on Human Security was no Davos nor G-8 Summit. No media were invited. While the 300 invitees included some global VIPs, the key criterion for being there was not celebrity, but a personal history of creativity and courage in addressing public problems. The guests were people like:
John A. Graham
The givens: our country over decades has jerry-built a health care "system" that is unfair and inefficient. We pay far more for far less care than any other industrialized nation. And we have forty million people uninsured for whom a major illness can mean mortgaging a home, not sending a kid to college, or worse.
Now the country is finally beginning to address health care reform in a meaningful way, in what could well be the most...more
John A. Graham
I just had cataract surgery. The doctor replaced the clouded lenses in my eyes with high-tech plastic. The results were amazing. In the supermarket I stood in shock, trying to absorb the real colors of vegetables and fruits. Outside, the Olympic mountains, 30 miles west, jumped into my front yard. That first night, I turned on the lights in a darkened kitchen and it was as if someone had replaced 60-watt bulbs with 100s.
The thing is,...more
John A. Graham
It all worked out in Pirate Alley. Or did it?
A brave American captain saves his ship and crew by putting his own life on the line. An untried American President deals with the crisis with wisdom and restraint, negotiating for days even as the standoff risks becoming an international embarrassment for his country. Then a team of skilled Navy snipers kills all the captors in a single burst of fire, knowing that even one wounded pirate...more
John A. Graham
Where are you on the stimulus plan? Inevitably a move this complex has so many parts there's something for everyone to dispute. Both Democrats and Republicans agree that the massive package now before Congress should contain short-term measures, such as tax cuts and unemployment benefits, meant to immediately pump cash into the economy. The debate is whether the package should also include longer-term job-creating investments in key sectors...more
John A. Graham
There’s a new Third Rail in American politics—the huge and rapidly growing gap between rich and poor. It’ s more dangerous to us than Al Queda and more imminent than the dislocations heading our way from global warming. Unbridged, the wealth gap will destroy our society as we know it. The self-interested actions of many of the wealthiest few in this country—permitted and promoted as Government policy—are gutting the middle class, destroying...more
John A. Graham
The opportunities to make a difference are right in front of you.
Who are your heroes? Do you have any? Why does it matter?
My first hero was a large black man named Roy. He worked in the engine room of a freighter called the Golden Bear, bound for the Orient, and I, at seventeen, was the youngest member of the crew. Irreverent, tough, yet kind to me, Roy seemed the perfect model of manhood that I wanted for myself, a manhood that...more
John A. Graham
What must be done to take our country back from religious extremists?
Happy holidays. Or, as Pat Robertson prefers, Merry Christmas.
However you describe this season, it's an appropriate time to talk about faith. Faith matters in a country where 96% of people say they believe in God. Faith also matters to the Democratic Party, and to progressives generally, since the Right has learned to use its political power and the Left has...more
John A. Graham
Heading for Oakland from Seattle to see my grandkids last week, the Alaska Airlines check-in machine refused to give me a boarding pass. Directed to the ticket counter, I gave the agent my driver's license and watched her punch keys at her computer.
Frowning, she told me that my name was on the national terrorist No Fly Watch List and that I had to be specially cleared to board a plane. Any plane. Then she disappeared with my license...more
At Annapolis all 4,500 midshipmen roared to their feet in response to this address by Giraffe Project President John Graham, as had the warriors-to-be at the Air Force Academy earlier that year. There is hope.
Closing Keynote, National Conference on Character and Leadership – U.S. Air Force Academy
Forrestal Lecture, U.S. Naval Academy
Thirty-four years ago I went to...more