UD’s old friend Peter Galbraith…

… will appear today on The Lead with Jake Tapper, to talk about Afghanistan.

I’ve been chronicling his recent activities in ISIS prisoner camps, identifying and seeking to release/repatriate some women and children.


Here tis.

UD’s old friend Peter Galbraith gives a little girl a future.

Making use of his deep Kurdish ties, Peter found a Canadian child at one of the Kurdish-run ISIS prisoner camps and repatriated her. Agonizingly, the child’s mother (an ISIS adherent; one assumes she no longer is, but the Canadians at the moment will not have her) had to agree to give her up, and she did so. This selfless gesture makes commendable an otherwise pitiable fanatic, and will perhaps stand her in good stead in case of a Canadian judicial review.

Another intriguing angle on this: Peter’s father, John Kenneth Galbraith, grew up in southern Ontario (he wrote a book – The Scotch – about it); bagpipes and Auld Lang Syne figured at his funeral. Perhaps Peter’s father’s deep Scottish-Canadian ties also helped.

Peter Galbraith, on the betrayal of…

… the Kurds.

“The most radical women have taken over al-Hol Camp, enforcing a strict ISIS dress code and mandatory Koranic instruction. They burn down the tents of families they consider insufficiently fanatical and have knifed to death several young women who didn’t wear the full black hijab and veil. The annex where the foreign families live is so dangerous that the camp administration was reluctant for us to visit, even in an armored car. Roj Camp is somewhat better. The Kurdish camp administration has successfully banned veils and the wearing of only black clothes, and it is possible to walk around with armed escorts. In both places, radical women are indoctrinating children with ISIS ideology.”

UD’s Friend Peter Galbraith…

… will be announcing, later today, his run for Vermont State Senate.

From the candidate’s statement (not yet published):

Vermont’s unique natural beauty, so special to all of us who live here, is our most important economic asset. Environmental protections must be strengthened and, in particular, the highest priority must be placed on state-private partnerships to preserve large tracks [SOS thinks he means tracts] of undeveloped land. Farming in Vermont must be made far more economically viable.


Update: Peter writes to thank UD: “The problems of autocorrect.”

Update on my friend Peter’s activities in the ISIS camps.

See this post for background.

And note that I’ve gotten new information since the first draft of this post, which I’ve incorporated into it.


Peter Galbraith, long a champion of the Kurds, has been able to use those connections to free (so far; his activities are ongoing) 47 women and children out of Kurdish-controlled Syria. This is substantially more than what most Western governments have been able to do. And thousands of those governments’ citizens— most of them children— still languish in Kurdish-run prison camps.

Most recently, Peter brought out a Canadian woman who had rejected the Islamic State and cooperated with US law enforcement. In March, he freed the woman’s four year old daughter from Roj prison camp in Northeast Syria. The child now lives with her aunt in Canada and will soon reunite with her mother. In November 2019, Peter brought out a German woman, her three children, and an American orphan. This woman too rejected the Islamic State and now studies at a university in Germany.

Peter has reunited fourteen Yazidi women with their twenty children. ISIS abducted these women—teenagers at the time—in 2014 and sold them to ISIS fighters as slaves. When ISIS fell in 2019, the children born of the rapes were forcibly taken from their mothers and placed in an orphanage in Syria. No one— not the UN, not the local governments, not NGOs—was willing or able to help these women. Peter got the children, signed for them at the Syria/Iraq border, and delivered them to their mothers. He brought out two more mothers (with four children) who, because they refused to give up their children, had been kept under de facto house arrest in Syria.

Peter rescued a three year old boy from a German woman who was abusing the child. The child was not the German’s but the child of her husband’s Yazidi slave.

The Canadian woman whom Peter was able to bring out provided a huge amount of valuable information to US law enforcement that will support the prosecution of US citizens (or persons in US custody), and assist in the recovery of kidnapped American children.

I wasn’t sure, in my last post, whether Canada would take this woman back, but it probably will. It has said that it will provide consular services – including repatriation – to any citizen who reaches an embassy, and Peter has apparently arranged for her to be in contact with the Canadian Embassy office in Erbil . The Syrian Kurds have investigated her and found no evidence of crimes or of her committing terrorist acts. 


Peter has also weighed in on Shamima Begum, with whom he has met and talked, and about whom I’ve had what to say on this blog. “I’ve talked to Shamima – she is part of the group of women who have absolutely rejected the Islamic State – I know enough about her to feel quite confident that she’s not a dangerous person.” In this, Peter is at odds with the British intelligence services, who have called for her repatriation to be blocked because they believe she indeed does continue to pose a threat to their country. It’s possible Peter has better sources than the Brits.


University Diaries readers got there before Globe and Mail readers.

UD has watched her friend Peter’s global philanthropy and courage for years, with…

… amazement and admiration, and here he goes again. After arranging, last March, the release of a Canadian child from a camp in Syria holding ISIS women and children, Peter Galbraith has arranged the release of her mother from the same camp. The woman is in Iraq, and it’s not clear that she’ll be allowed into Canada.

What’s most important, I think, is that Peter goes to some trouble to justify the woman’s release:

“This was a special case,” said Galbraith, “because [she] was one of a group of women who had very much broken with the dominant Islamic State ideology in the camps, wearing Western clothes and rejecting it, so she was at risk.”

He also said she’d been instrumental in helping officials locate a missing Yazidi child in one of the camps. 

These are the sorts of conditions which UD (who has been unsympathetic to some internees as they ask for repatriation) expects to see when, special case by special case, releases from the camps begin to accelerate. This woman put the interest of her child before her own; she cooperated in important ways with officials; and she has been very overt about her rejection of ISIS doctrine. We can never know for sure, of course, that any given adherent or former adherent won’t go back to ISIS; but we can certainly demand an extremely high level of evidence that they won’t.

“Trump is in every way pursuing the Russian agenda,” [Galbraith] said. “He’s against NATO. He’s out to destroy the European Union. He’s destroying our alliances and making the United States appear to be unreliable. At home he’s undermining the United States and democracy. There is no ally [Trump] won’t betray and no limit to his treachery. It’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job for Russia than that.”

UD‘s old friend Peter, long a friend of the Kurds, talks about the situation.

If Turkey does take the battle to the 70,000 men and women who make up the Kurdish forces in northern Syria, it will be a bloody fight, Galbraith said.

“It will not be easy,” he said. “A lot of people are going to die.”

He can also be seen here.

UD’s buddy Peter surveys the damage.

From the New York Times:

“I don’t know how you repair this,” said State Senator Peter W. Galbraith, a Democrat who represents the village [of Williamsville, Vermont], walking along the road on Tuesday.

… “When are we going to get out of Afghanistan?” [a resident whose house was ruined] asked Mr. Galbraith, a former United Nations representative in that country, as he came by. “Frankly, I really am focused on the world, and it really helps you put things in perspective. No matter how much we lost, it’s nothing compared to the starvation in Somalia.”

Bravo, Peter.

President Obama is concerned about how Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai will react to the United Nations-backed Electoral Complains Commission’s ruling which administration sources say will likely show that Karzai actually received less than 50% of the vote in Afghanistan’s election, once fraudulent ballots are removed from the final tally.

UD’s old friend Peter Galbraith is paying a high price for being right.

But there’s a great deal to be said for being right.

“The word for all this is ‘aristocrat.'”

For the granddaughter of a Russian-born, Jewish, general store owner in Port Deposit, Maryland, our UD has certainly rubbed noses with a lot of aristocrats. For starters, there’s Mr UD, descended from an old, pedigreed Polish family; and then there’s her friend of many years, Peter Galbraith, described as American aristocracy (see this post’s headline) in this rather insightful New York magazine piece about him.

UD, to be sure, grew up in Bethesda, where her father was a high-ranking NIH scientist; but as you know if you read this post, she didn’t even know what a private school was until her Goucher College roommate (who went to one) explained it to her. Her parents were clueless – and indifferent – in matters of class, and so was UD, for whom a writer like Tom Wolfe, who believed everything came down to status, was a kind of revelation. She recalls deciding that his satire in Bonfire of the Vanities was just that – an absurd, surreal, impossibly exaggerated account of humanity… Had to be…

But, you know, I had a lot o’ livin’ to do. And eventually UD took on board the fact that yeah a lot of people care a whole lot about status, which means, in America, gaining admission to the upper middle class. Here’s Paul Fussell on the subject, in his book Class:

If people with small imaginations and limited understandings aspire to get into the upper-middle class, the few with notable gifts of mind and perception aspire to disencumber themselves into X people. It’s only as an X, detached from the constraints and anxieties of the whole class racket, that an American can enjoy something like the LIBERTY promised on the coinage. And it’s in the X world, if anywhere, that an American can avoid some of the envy and ambition that pervert so many. De Tocqueville saw as early as 1845 what was likely to result from the official American reprehension of the aristocratic principle. “Desires still remain extremely enlarged,” he wrote, “while the means of satisfying them are diminished day by day.” And thus “on every side we trace the ravages of inordinate and unsuccessful ambition kindled in hearts which it consumes in secret and in vain.” The society of Xs is not large at the moment. It could be larger, for many can join who’ve not yet understood that they have received an invitation.

Now X’s are people who, in Fussell’s terminology, do not find reprehensible the aristocratic principle, which here clearly refers to people who do not care or know about the latest model Mercedes and who may indeed (as Fussell notes) be seen driving around (but they don’t drive much) in the same beat up old Saab (Peter’s father, John Kenneth Galbraith, drove a not-shiny Saab, as I recall) they’ve owned for twenty years. What they tend to care about is the pursuit of something meaningful that engrosses them – it could be Etruscan pottery or global diplomacy, but something meaningful and engrossing, pursued with personal passion and not because it impresses anyone or makes them rich.

Anyway, Peter and Karol carried, with thoughtless ease, all the goods the upper-middle strivers tend to be after – accomplished families, iconic private schools, the Ivy League, fancy friends, fancy international travel, etc. But what people missed about them was that they were – and are – Xs. Peter, as the New York article makes clear, is a moralist, consumed by the imperative to rescue a suffering corrupt world from suffering and corruption. This does not mean that Peter himself always behaves morally; it does mean that at seventy years of age he can be found day after day tramping through squalid ISIS prisoner camps, looking for people to rescue. That is what Peter’s doing with his retirement.

A US-born 8-year-old girl who grew up with her ISIS parents has been rescued from a Syrian camp — and is now awaiting word to see if she can return to the US, according to a report… The girl’s rescue was made possible by [Peter] Galbraith and a Canadian woman who met her mother while living under ISIS, which she has since denounced…

Aminah’s mother, Ariel Bradley, was an evangelical Christian who converted to Islam and later married Yasin Mohamad, a Swedish Muslim, through an arranged marriage.

The family lived in Sweden but eventually relocated to ISIS-controlled territory in the Middle East, where they lived under the terror group’s rigid guidelines.

According to Buzzfeed, Mohamad was killed in an airstrike in June 2015, and [Aminah’s] mother remarried a devout ISIS follower, an Australian named Tareq Kamleh.

When both Bradley and Kamleh were killed in 2018, Aminah was turned over to another of her stepfather’s wives, a Somali woman who remained devoted to the terror group.”

Aminah is only the latest of Peter’s rescues; he seems committed to continuing the work. (That last link is to an extremely detailed account of Aminah’s dramatic rescue, and includes a photograph of Peter.)


I try to imagine the military raid that freed Aminah from the fanatics hiding her in the camp (Peter convinced a Syrian Democratic Forces general to carry out the raid); I try to picture my friend of forty years gingerly approaching this thoroughly traumatized and abused child (I guess someone would first have removed the niqab they swaddled her in). My mind’s eye attempts to conjure a scene in which one of the most privileged people on the planet leans down to greet one of the planet’s most downtrodden — and I don’t want to sentimentalize it, because in my rendering the child is wailing since after all she has just violently been taken from the only facsimile of a “mother” she may ever have had much awareness of… And how could she not have tried loving this latest mother facsimile, since in her experience mothers are all shrouded fanatics, and fathers distant and then dead apparitions? And so, she says to herself, here’s the latest iteration of Aminah’s Childhood – all these nice Americans and Canadians and consular officials. And if she’s lucky and we take her back there will be the maternal grandparents, people who have been mourning the unaccountable life and death of their daughter, the daughter who they see in the eyes of the granddaughter who they have never met and who they will now love and raise…

In the “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished” Category, there’s UD’s old friend…

… Peter Galbraith’s efforts to reunite Yazidi women and their children (fathered by ISIS men who enslaved Yazidi women), and then return them to their people. But because of what Mustafa Gurbuz calls the “unfortunate… tribalist logic” of the Yazidis, these children are summarily rejected by the group. Wrong blood.

Yazidi elders have refused to let the children join the small religious community, which considers them outcasts who can never be allowed into society.

The decision has left their mothers, already traumatised by years of violence and atrocities, facing a wrenching choice between keeping their children or staying with their community.

And ain’t it lovely to think of a Yazidi woman who has already endured sex slavery, unimaginable other forms of abuse, and separation from her children and culture, now having to enter permanent exile if she wishes to be with her children.

Or she could always watch Yazidi men kill her kids as retribution:

“Even if Baghdad makes an exception in the Iraqi law and legally recognises the children as Yazidis, there is a major risk that these children – especially the males – would face retribution within the Yazidi community for their fathers’ guilt,” said Gurbuz.

UD’s posts for the last few days.

August 14, 2019


…was like a Hubble shot of Jupiter. Whirling skirling swirling squirreling grays and blues. The cloudy sky that ensued was all wrong for perseids, so we passed on the whole get up at two AM and drive down the hill to Big Meadows (we’re talking Shenandoah National Park here) thing. Talking to a guy who drives here every year from Michigan, UD learned that last night was unusually cloudy, so we’re hopeful at least one of the next three nights will be clear enough for fireballs.

Meanwhile, we hike among the deer and the bear (UD dreamt of bears last night, natch), and gawk at the long mountain/valley/mountain views. Gophers scurry the hallway outside our room.

Big Meadows Lodge is already the land that time forgot, but they’re celebrating their eightieth birthday (UD, tomorrow, in Luray, Virginia, will celebrate her 66th), so here in the main room (only place with internet) they’re piping in nonstop forties swing.


August 15, 2019


The irony was that we were there for the perseids; but sitting on our rickety beach chairs at the Big Meadows clearing last night, the real show turned out to be an absolutely full brilliantly lit moon that insinuated itself as a silver glint among horizonal clouds and then raised itself up to surreality right before our eyes. UD grabbed her binoculars and attempted to make credible the massive and intricately legible orb, its hollows and craters so blatant… When it climbed to higher clouds, they made a golden aura together, the moon now and then blindfolding itself with a black ribbon of atmosphere, and I sat there thinking about my mother who loved the night sky. And of course immediately came the thought that has so often for so long come to UD: We are here to experience the terrestrial wonder that our dead don’t get anymore. We’re doing it for them.

This morning I stood on the lodge’s balcony and watched three gold finches massacre the petals of some purple wildflowers. If butterflies are endangered, there’s no sign of it here. Fern oceans cover acres of woodland floor, and I’m not sure why but it’s very cool when your hike intersects with the Appalachian Trail. Zero-luxuries, zero-prestige Big Meadows Lodge draws an intriguing mix – Mennonites, naturalists, intellectuals, hikers. To my eye, plenty of Paul Fussell’s X’s (scroll down) populate the place, keening over their wildlife books and adjusting the length of their walking sticks. The stolidly downscale Great Room, all dusty wood floors and dusty jigsaw puzzles, buzzes with women in gingham dresses and sweaty kids playing checkers.


August 16, 2019


She’s had a ton of great ones. At a restaurant on the edge of a Santorini cliff; in a cafe by a fast-rolling river in Telluride; at a balcony dining room at the top of a hotel overlooking Mexico City’s zocalo; and, many times, at the Bear Cafe (also alongside a babbling brook) in Woodstock, near our upstate NY house. Last night was another one of the greats – a big, boisterous gathering of family and friends at Moonshadows in Luray, down the hill from Shenandoah National Park. There were glitches galore – an immense detour plus immense thunderstorms on their trip from Washington for a group of late-arriving guests; worries about night vision for a guest who would need to drive the dark winding Skyline Drive back to the lodge… But in the event everything worked out perfectly, and UD felt love for all of these people who had gone to so much trouble for her.

Today the rain has cleared out and we’ve done a ton of hiking. If the sky stays clear, we’ll do another wee hours visit to Big Meadow (as close to a true dark sky as you’re likely to find on the east coast), set out our beach chairs, and look up. UD is so full of gratitude and joy today that she doesn’t care whether she sees any fireballs at all.


August 17, 2019


… and unless you feel like a twisting hour-long drive down the hill and back, it’s the one and only meal alternative to Big Meadow Lodge. Our foursome (Peter Galbraith, first American ambassador to Croatia; Sarah Peck, recently retired Foreign Service officer; Mr UD, and UD) met there and on arrival stared from a silent stony hilltop at a garish orange sun settling into pink clouds. The nature/culture clash was equally garish, with raucous country tap dancing in the bar next to the dining room as we entered Skyland. Fa rumore, as the Italians have it; human beings love to make noise. Indeed after a long day of quiet hiking together, we ourselves really went at it over the meal, yelling about the partisan Supreme Court, the Electoral College, and what to do with ISIS prisoners languishing in camps.

Our group prepares for a final hike before leaving Shenandoah National Park. UD‘s inappropriate backpack, foreground.
Au Metro, on my way to a rally.

Congressional progressive caucus; against the government shutdown. If a crazy person with a gun shoots me, I become an icon of the far left.

Maybe Bernie Sanders, only Senator in the caucus, will engage me in conversation.

“Any chance you’re a Vermonter?”

“No, but I’m an old friend of Peter Galbraith’s.”

“He’s not popular in the State Senate.”

“Tell me about it.”

The nutty right has royally fucked the country; I will stand with the nutty left against it. I will stand in the rain (it’s raining) and scream crazy shit with the crazy ass progressive caucus.

I don’t know what the p.c.’s platform is. I’m sure I’m opposed to most of it. But a student in my mo/pomo seminar told me about the rally, and I’ve been spouting off in class about postmodern political passivity (in my weaker moments I tell myself this blog, this daily attack on corrupt elements of the American university, constitutes…) and… I dunno. Sometimes there’s no unpacking motive. I’m on the train. I’m going.

Maybe they’ll cancel it due to inclement weather. Optimal outcome. I get points for going without having to listen to the crazy ass progressive caucus say dumb shit. Without having to worry about Our Polarized Nation.

UD‘s wearing her uniform (boots, jeans, black turtleneck, scarf). The other day she attended a meeting of GWU’s highest administrative team, and the contrast between their suits and her jeans was stark. Thready old hippie UD. Representing the humanities faculty whether they like it or not.


Postlude. Wow, it’s wet out there. Chilled damp UD takes her place on the red line train back to Garrett Park. She carries a red sign with white letters that read


Capitol trees, bushes, and grasses trembled beautifully around UD as she walked from Union Station to the rally. One tree in particular, planted in circular groves on the grounds of various buildings, had a complex birch-like peeling bark (maybe the tree was a river birch?) and a thick coat of reddening green leaves with black berries. Blue jays shrieked and crows called out from lamp tops. Panicled pampas grass was paired with humpy mums – not a good look.

Employees at various federal entities streamed in to a park at the foot of the Capitol. They banged pots and chanted WORK NOT HURT. One of them gave UD the sign. T-shirts were also available, but who was going to put one on over her poncho? The rain flooded down, and the air was cold.

One guy tromped through the crowd trying out various chants. “We’ve got a Norma Rae,” said one attendee to another, and they laughed.

Police and their dogs were everywhere. At one point a bunch of them converged on an oddball wearing sunglasses, but he was just an oddball.

“Are you on furlough?” a reporter asked UD.


He walked away.


Jesse Jackson spoke. He sounded drunk and old. He offered a halting potted American history. We won in 1862… and… uh… in 2012… Now it’s 2014 and we won’t forget… He didn’t even bother coming up with one of his famous rhyming couplets.

Snapshots from Home

UD‘s been having rather trying summers lately.

True, she doesn’t teach during the summer, which means that her reading and writing time is her own. This fact alone makes her summers enviable from the point of view of most people, who have to go to workplaces.

On the other hand, last summer, as she prepared to go to her houselet in the hills of upstate NY, Righthaven came calling. No traditional birthday dinner for UD at Woodstock’s Bear Cafe. She had to stay home and deal with that.

This summer, which was going to involve a variation on the Bear Cafe birthday — an event at Peter Galbraith’s house in Vermont was planned — is also messed up, because she’s having surgery mid-August. Nothing scary, but she’ll need a few weeks recovery, etc.

Mr UD came up with the idea of their taking a little trip the week before the surgery, so today they drive to a bed and breakfast in Luray Virginia, where they will explore caves (this will impress you). UD will of course blog throughout the week.


Longtime readers know that Les UDs – for reasons of Soltan family history – own a fifty-acre snail farm in Latgale, Latvia, not far from the town of Rezekne. (“It’s not a snail farm,” Mr UD just said, and indeed no snail farming goes on there; but someone imported snails to the property a long time ago, and they’re crawling all over the place, and someday maybe we’ll farm them, so I call it our Latvian snail farm.)

Time and priorities being what they are, UD has never spent a summer, or any other season, on the snail farm, but there’s a story in today’s news that reminds her she should visit the region.

Vilnius, Lithuania is a couple of hours away from the snails, and its mayor the other day took an armored vehicle and crushed a car illegally parked in a bicycles only lane.

UD’s off to Vermont…

… where she’ll celebrate the New Year and Peter Galbraith’s birthday.

Right now she’s off for last-minute shopping in Cambridge.

I’ll post when I can.

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