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Col. Austin Bay on sports and Saddam

Thursday, January 4, 2007

HH: We go to the serious center-right, and with military experience. Col. Austin Bay, welcome. Happy New Year to you, Colonel.

AB: Happy New Year to you, Hugh. How are you?

HH: I’m great. Always a pleasure to talk with you. Before we go here and do a little serious reflection on Saddam getting the noose, it had to be a pretty good football day down Texas way for you folks.

AB: Well, I’ll tell you what. The game that impressed me the most was the OU-Boise State game, and that’s, Hugh, the reason for that is that I have been a critic of the BCS. As you know, my undergraduate…I did my undergraduate work at Rice University. I was very excited that Rice got into a bowl game for the first time since 1961. That was the New Orleans Carrier Bowl against Troy State, which…

HH: Hey, it’s a bowl.

AB: some folks thumb there nose at. And Rice lost. But nevertheless, that was an achievement for a team that went 1-10 last year. And then Boise State, I’ll tell you where I started following Boise State. Boise State was in the Western Athletic Conference, the WAC with Rice five years ago. The only college football game I saw in the Fall of 2001, in part because I spent part of it on active duty, and part of it expecting to spend more on active duty, was a game that Rice played Boise State. Rice beat Boise State, but I was incredibly impressed with the game I saw.

HH: Yeah.

AB: I mean, Boise State played wide open football, they were aggressive and creative, and the game they won last night in the Fiesta Bowl was an extension of that team that I saw, again, as I recall, it was 2001. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong by a year. But my year 2002 was so similar to 2001, I could get it confused.

HH: You know, everyone…a team like that should have the right to at least try to play to the national championship. They’ve got to get playoffs.

AB: Well, that’s…I’ve seen some very inventive concepts about adapting the BCS system to a national championship system. And they need to be fully considered, because as you can see with Boise State, there is a team that, and I’m adapting this, because occasionally I do look at, the website that serves as a scouting service, and then they collect how teams, college teams are recruiting. They collect three stars, athletes, at best. Maybe a few four stars, and again, I’m not sure how Scout arrives at their ratings. Five star, I believe, is their max. But what they do, and this was one of the few intelligent things I heard on the sportscast last night, because I really thought it was rather, the sportscasters were rather rotten, even though the game was fantastic, was that Boise State takes the best athletes they can get, and then develops them.

HH: Yup.

AB: And you see what they can do with…that is creative and energizing coaching at its best.

HH: Yup.

AB: And you realize that there is a mainstream media in sports as well, Hugh.

HH: Yup.

AB: And they spend a lot of their time thumbing their noses, some of the egghead schools get kicked to the side, schools in places they don’t visit like Boise get kicked aside. And then you see really what a creative, exciting football Boise State is playing. And I thought that game…OU played a very, very, very good game, and OU is a very, very, very good team. So is Boise State, and they’re non-BCS. What is that?

HH: Yeah. I don’t know, but I’m glad…I hope momentum builds here. Now I’ve got one more question. It’s out of left field.

AB: Okay.

HH: How old were you when you were in your last tour in Iraq, Colonel?

AB: Oh, goodness, Hugh. I turned 53 in August of 2004 when I was over there, so I was 52-53. And given the job that I was assigned to as an O-6 in a corps headquarters, working on certain kinds of issues, I thought that it was…I wasn’t too old to do what I was doing.

HH: Well, the reason I bring it up, I have a friend who just was offered the opportunity to reactivate and did. He’s 55. He’s a light Colonel over in Baghdad. He traveled 50 hours to get there. I was just e-mailing him over the weekend. And I’m thinking 55 years old, running around in the Green Zone. I wonder how that goes?

AB: Well, look, there’s certain jobs…I was at Camp Victory. I got out of Camp Victory far more than I should, and I don’t say that…I guess I say that with a little bit of cheek, but it’s…one of the things that I was doing, Hugh, and it was, oh Heavens, it was…I added to it, incremental at best, was looking at our security line of operation, and our economic development line of operation. I don’t know how much I added to that. I was in the plan section of multi-national core Iraq. But given my background, including in microdevelopment, small scale entrepreneurial activity in the developing world, as well as in security planning. That’s a good place to pick up a reserve O-6 full Colonel, to add something, hopefully, to the planning process. I do not mean this in any demeaning way at all. I’ve said this in a couple of speeches I’ve given, and well, the first time, I got a question about it. I don’t remember that I did the second time. I said sometimes, I felt more like a consultant than a Colonel. And that gets a little bit of a laugh, and they said well, wait a minute. Expand on that. Well, you are far more effective in uniform, whether we like that as a given or not, than you are, in most cases, as if I were there as Dr. Bay, or Mr. Bay. And I of course was there as Colonel Bay with the experience and the rank that I earned over a military career. But that was really a compliment to the commanders and the senior staff that had affected the orders, put the orders in, asked me to volunteer to come over, because they were able to, and I’m not the only person this was done with…I have two good friends where it worked the same way. They spotted skills that they had, one of them had a very, very high quality experience in logistics, and they picked him up as a Marine reserve Colonel, and brought him on to the multi-national core staff to serve a six month tour in Iraq as…some kind of tour that I was on. It’s picking up skills, people you know, have worked with, people that understand the military, that are part of the military, and they have some additional add-on skills. So 55, if you’ve got the skills, and you can pass the physical…

HH: He did, yeah.

AB: There are places that we need you.

HH: Yeah, God speed. Hey, can I keep you for an extra segment, Colonel?

AB: Oh, absolutely.

HH: That way, I won’t rush through this, because I can also get your comment. We’ll do Saddam after the break, but another great Texas moment, Bobby Knight, greatest basketball coach in history of college yesterday.

AB: Good for Texas Tech, and I’m glad that Bobby Knight got the win. Dean Smith’s really an all-time coaching, all-time motivator. Smith and Knight are two different kinds of people, but they’re both great coaches.

HH: They’re both great motivators, exactly.

– – – – –

HH: Tomorrow’s column is, I thought, very chilling, actually, because you really did remind us of who Saddam was, and you class him up there with strong men like Hitler, Stalin and Mao, and you’re not sorry to see him gone, Austin Bay. Tell people why.

AB: Well, that column also made me look a little bit like the English professor I probably should have been, because there’s a Shelley reference in there…

HH: Yes.

AB: Shelley’s Ozymandias poem. What is compressed in the first couple of paragraphs is my impression of Saddam’s palace at Babylon, and I first saw it coming in by helicopter. I first visited it sometime in June of 2004. I made a second trip to Babylon later in August of 2004. And you see this palace up on this mound over the ruins of Babylon. But once you look at it, it’s like Saddam’s megalomaniacal architecture. It’s marble ketch up on a mound, above one of the most fascinating ruins, and one of the most important historical ruins, on the entire planet, if you realize that Babylon sits in what I call the real Green Zone of Iraq. It’s right in the middle of Mesopotamia, and Mesopotamia’s the green zone that spawned the agricultural revolution. It’s the genuine Eden of city-states, which is the foundation of civilization.

HH: Yup.

AB: And here’s this little pleasure playpen that I was told by the Polish colonel who took me on a tour of the Babylon ruins, he was pointing up to it, because the Poles, the Polish division headquarters was at Babyl at the time, and their chief of staff, a Colonel Woznievsky (sp) was, after we had finished the meeting, said Colonel Bay, you must go on a tour, we all do a tour of Babylon. And I said how can I say no, especially since the helicopter won’t be here for another hour and forty five minutes.

HH: No, I don’t want to see Babylon. (laughing)

AB: Oh, no. Yeah, right. And you know, the whole pressure on that was when the helicopters pick us up, and he said no, no, you must. And I said okay, I’m a diplomat as well, now, suddenly, and we took a tour, complete with a Polish archaeologist, giving a discussion in both Polish and English, and a couple of Iraqis there who worked at the site. But the colonel pointed out well, there’s Saddam’s palace up there, and of course, he said he made it for his sons, Uday and Qusay, and it was…we understand it was a little pleasure palace for them. And I said you know, it really is hideous. Maybe in the future, when we get this war won, the Iraqis get this place going, they can turn it into one of these fancy hotels, because Babylon is certainly a historical and economic asset anyway.

HH: Sure.

AB: That’s a big build up on there. I talk about this, talk about how that hideous placed reminded me of Ozymandia, the Shelley poem, and then of course, Ozymandia is a tyrant that eroded. Saddam is one of the few tyrants that actually…and look, I think he’s the only one, Hugh, unless you can point out another one, that actually had to face a democratic court, a court run by a democracy with a fair trial, a free trial, and an appeal, and actually had a sentence taken out. The only guy that comes close is Slobodan Milosovec, but you know how the U.N. fiddled and diddled.

HH: Or Goering, I suppose.

AB: And he got a sentence.

HH: Goering might be a number two.

AB: That’s…all right. But was Goering the head of state?

HH: No. Nope, he’s not.

AB: No. The way that…and this is my column. My column says that most of these bad guys, these tyrants, either they die in their sleep, or they go by 9mm ballot. And 9mm ballot goes in one of two ways: assassination or suicide. 9mm ballot is a facetious way of talking about putting a bullet or poison, or some other way of taking the…tyranicide, is what it amounts to, and that’s my column, and I try to put it in some context. I know others have explored how the tyrants have gone. I know that there are plenty of apologists out there, particularly on the left, who say Saddam was…

HH: But the Arab street did not explode in rage. The Arab street did not go crazy on us.

AB: No. They want to forget about him, because look, it doesn’t just apply in the Middle East. I think at some reptilian level, and this is what I argue in the column, Robert Mugabe gets the point here, you know, down in Zimbabwe. And you can think about him as an example.

HH: Oh, you’re right. I hope you’re right about that, Colonel, because…

AB: I do, too.

HH: That would be the best message to come out of that long, drawn-out affair. Colonel Austin Bay, Happy New Year to you, a pleasure dealing with you, and we look forward to the next one soon.

AB: Hugh, thanks for having me. Always love your show.

HH: Always a pleasure. tomorrow.

End of interview.

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