For anyone who’s wearing out their go-to internet-based procrastination safety blankets, I’ve got your back! In the form of the Wikileaks U.S. Embassy cables (best way to search is with one of the optimizer thingys). Be original, though! No Iraq or Afghanistan or Gaddafi stuff. I’ll now excerpt from two of my recent favorites, authored in 2008 by Political Officer Aaron Sampson of the U.S. Embassy in Bamako, Mali. Sampson, good soldier (Political Officer) that he was, was attempting to get his head around the various players, factions and demands brewing up in Tuareg northern Mali. And in all fairness to Sampson, he did a decent job over the years, although it’s not clear if anyone up the chain was interested (read this one if you ever actually want to know how northern Malian Tuareg clan and social hierarchies work–he’s no anthropologist but this is pretty impressive for a desk guy).
But he also had something of an eye for description and a bit of a silver tongue. From an April 7, 2008 cable, summarizing an Embassy meeting with Tuareg leaders from Gao and Timbuktu:
Three Tuareg leaders from Gao and Timbuktu said on April 1 that they feared northern Mali was on the brink of rebellion. Azaz ag Doudagdag, Ghoumar ag Intaha and Mohamed Issouf ag Ghallas described the March 26th attack on Aguelhoc by a previously unknown group of disaffected Tuareg youth…as a harbinger of things to come.
Sampson then proceeds to evaluate these leaders, presumably in case they might be useful or might need to be dealt with in the future:
Unlike Imbarcaouane, Azaz does not seek attention and his name rarely figures in press headlines. Fellow Tuaregs sometimes describe him as the Tuareg Fidel Castro on account of his impressive beard and the years he spent as a student in Havana. [But] the hulking Azaz bears a closer resemblance Harry Potter’s Hagrid.
I’m not sure what’s funnier–a Tuareg Fidel Castro, a Tuareg leader who looks like this:
Or the idea of Sampson in his dust-mote-filled, sleepily sunlit embassy office in Bamako with a fan on to fight off the heat (I’m going kinda Graham Greene here with my overseas posting fantasies, but indulge me), with his tie loosened and a 4 p.m. whiskey in a glass and his feet up on the desk reading…Harry Potter. Or, I guess he’d be watching it on his iPad or something, so there goes the Graham Greene thing anyway.
Another favorite, from December 11, 2008: Sampson duly keeps his finger on the pulse of northern Mali, and checks in with some informants who seem to be rather concerned about an erstwhile Tuareg colleague [this Bahanga fellow] who has kidnapped a bunch of Malian soldiers. They’d awfully like to help out negotiating for the hostages’ release, but their friend is sort of being a little difficult right now:
13.(C) Coaxing Bahanga back to the negotiation table could be difficult. During the November 22 meeting with Bahanga, ag Assalat and fellow members of the Taghat Melet delegation observed what ag Assalat described as a vehicle mounted heavy artillery rocket launcher with a range of 25 km. Ag Assalat said Bahanga acquired the artillery from Darfur and compared Bahanga’s affinity for new weaponry to a small child with a new toy. “He needs to try them,” said ag Assalat, “like he did with the land mines.”
I hate those friends–always with the land mines and the rocket launchers, and what’s even more annoying is when they go ahead and get a rocket launcher from Darfur they never scoop up an extra for me.