January 20, 2002



Tony Adragna beats me to it, and calls for the lynching of Kenneth Lay. And Andrew Leonard says he's this close to becoming a communist over it. Now, I'll admit I'm a bit doctrinaire on such things (I'm still waiting for the mass resignations of FAA head Jane Garvey and the CEOs of United and American Airlines over the mass death their reckless cost-cutting contributed to on Sept. 11) but it's clear that in total numbers of lives ruined, Lay and the rest of the Enron 29 have already ruined more American lives through the wiping out of their employees' pensions than Taliboy John Walker EVER will. And made out like bandits while doing so. And dodging federal tax all the time.

So I'll second Adragna's notion, and extend it. Lynch Lay for crimes against capitalism. Along with all his VPs. And their accountants. And their accountants' family pets. And take every cent not devoted to erasing all marks from their paupers' graves, and give it to those poor people who were forced to accept now-worthless stock THEY WEREN'T ALLOWED TO SELL EVEN WHILE LAY WAS MAKING TENS OF MILLIONS SELLING HIS in place of a proper retirement package. That would be the kind of American-style justice the world WOULD respect.
PS: While you're at it, can we also get a little horsewhipping of Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill just for that "genius of capitalism" remark? Bloodsucking leech...

Posted by BruceR at 10:55 PM



The Globe's having fun this weekend with the Canadians in Afghanistan being issued their rules-of-engagement cards (they always are, of course, but because this is our first-ever outing as part of an American force, as opposed to a NATO or UN one, they've needed some rewriting). It's a fair news story, but I'm sure some wag will be making fun of it on the opinion pages soon enough. To whose jokes, I'll say, by way of preemption, where do you want Canada to post its rules of war for its soldiers overseas? On the internet? On their foreheads? What? NOTE: The Globe quotes perennial Canadian military analysts David Rudd (q.v.), and Brian Macdonald, a former colonel in my own unit... and they both sound pretty intelligent.

Posted by BruceR at 09:49 PM



A truly sickening piece closing off tonight's dinner-hour newscast, on the planned state and federal tax subsidies going to California entertainment companies, to keep them from relocating to Canada. Pretty much a shameless Canada-bashing, with no comment from the Canadian side at all... only industry reps and the MPAA's Jack Valenti. More surprising, perhaps, was the utter lack of any American voice suggesting massive taxpayer subsidies to Hollywood might be a bad idea (Valenti in the past has consistently opposed government support for the movie and TV industries abroad as socialistic... guess it's different when he might get a piece, eh?). Also no mention at all of the considerable amount of money NBC stands to gain if both state and federal rebate bills go through... just a few minutes of coverage that could have been written by NBC corporate PR about how this is the most important tax cut America will EVER have... and to cap it all off, it was the piece that segued right into... the NBC Golden Globe preview show!... Wonder what other considerations NBC News had to offer so the network could get that ratings booster, hmm?

In all my career, in journalism and PR, I have never written anything that shameless. The fact that the news heads think they can slip a nakedly self-serving PR spot unnoticed into a national newscast speaks volumes for the quality of TV news... and people wonder what the attraction of blogs is. At least they don't pretend to be objective...

Posted by BruceR at 09:09 PM



Much is being made today of the lack of desert uniforms for the Canadians going to Afghanistan. The first ROTO will be wearing forest green, which is contrasted with the Americans' desert cam. This does allow us to bring up today's Idiotic Quote of the Day, from much-quoted Canadian military analyst David Rudd:

"I expect that our soldiers will be employed within the limits of their capabilities," said David Rudd, at the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies. "They might be restricted to nighttime operations."

Uh, huh. That is "analysis" so bad one can only assume Rudd was misquoted. If nothing else, one could point out that all those Brits in Kabul (left) are in forest green, too, but no one there or here seems so anxious about them coming out in the daylight... but that would require the CBC, who reported the piece, to remember something they aired a couple days previously, one supposes. Never mind... (More on this issue to come in our letters, to be posted shortly.)

Posted by BruceR at 06:34 PM



Here's an example of why a Coyote-centred recce group like Canada is sending is more useful to the Americans than Canadian writers can understand, in a specific Afghan context. Remember the Kabul-Jalalabad road, where bandits killed four foreign journalists back in November? That hundred-mile stretch of mountainous road is also, coincidentally, the march of death which swallowed up an entire British-led Indian army in the winter of 1842...

Now, with just the Canadian recce group (12 Coyotes, 750 men), and no other ground assets, and allowing for redundancy of coverage and troop rotation, you could put that ENTIRE 160 km stretch of road, from Kabul to Jalalabad, under total 24/7 surveillance for six months, with detection of any person's movement within 24 km of the road, and identification (ie, man/woman, armed/unarmed) of any person within 10 km! Night or day. Rain or shine... with soldiers left over to protect your own forces in their positions, and interdict any questionable contacts to get a face-to-face look. With American fast air or attack helicopter support, you could direct an effective, deadly fire on anything threatening you saw, long before it got anywhere near the roadway, if you thought it warranted, too, and a long, long time before they could threaten you or cars on the road. No other ground- or air-based package could do the job as cost-effectively or efficiently. (A JSTARS/Predator UAV combo could do something similar, of course, but the cost of keeping one of those aircraft on station around the clock over Afghanistan, flying from Saudi bases, would be tremendously wasteful, and you couldn't do it with Predators alone.)

I'm not saying that's what the Americans will be using them for (how the hell would I know?) but they could. Prediction: six months from now, you'll see the same Kosovo-style reports that the Americans were very glad to have the Canadians around, and a few veiled hints that they should buy some of those same vehicles for their own troops.

The real pity in all this, of course, is that the Canadians spent so much on ultramodern recce vehicles that they didn't have enough left to make the rest of their ground forces equally up to date and attractive to the Americans when they came calling...

By the way, what I expect really happened with the Canadian-American negotiations for ground troops came down to this: when the Canadians said, "um, what do you want us to do?" the Americans tried to cherrypick our best units, just like the British did (the Brits wanted our help with demining, so they asked for a company of combat engineers, whereas the Americans asked for the Coyote squadron). The Canadians said no to both, that they weren't going to fritter away our best troops deploying in less than battalion strength (and were right to do so); the Americans were the first to say, well, sure, whatever... you can bring bring a (small) battalion if you want... just don't forget those Coyotes...

The British couldn't reciprocate, of course, because of Northern Alliance-imposed limitations on the total number of troops they could bring: they offered to give the Canadians their own battalion-sized spot on the next Kabul rotation, instead, but that conflicted with Canada's "first in, first out" peacekeeping deployment policy... Those, like the Globe's Marcus Gee, who said the Canadians obviously begged to be included don't know how army logistics work. With only three battalions of his own troops on the ground, and a small logistics footprint to match, no self-respecting American commander is going to waste the heavy lift required to bring in an entire extra infantry battalion he doesn't think he can use, with cross-national logistic complications (our equipment is similar, but not that similar) to boot, just to help Canada's prime minister out of some domestic conundrum. Come on...

Posted by BruceR at 02:39 PM



Also looking at Penny, a few people wrote to join the POW debate, partly sparked by Penny reprinting something from Flit at length, offering new and different justifications why the Geneva Conventions don't apply. They're all wrong, of course, but the reasons why are interesting.

Michael Lisby argues that the Geneva Convention thus apparently protects soldiers of a recognized army, even if those soldiers don't follow the laws of war themselves:

Does that mean that a "member of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict" can, basically, commit all kinds of outrages, fight out of uniform and STILL be considered a POW, who must be protected as such?

Bingo. You got it, Michael. The SS, the Japanese, the Vietnamese, the North Koreans, the Iraqis, and Serbs, all of whom violated the Geneva Accords to some degree, were still entitled to its protections. Is the Taliban (again, note: not Bin Laden himself or his foreign operatives... the Taliban) entitled to less? As Grossman points out (see two entries down), the Geneva Accords are much more about saving our souls than theirs.

Megan McArdle writes, similarly:

The Convention isn't some sort of pledge that a nation takes to behave well; it's a treaty, and is applicable only to member nations.

This isn't true. The Conventions aren't a treaty, with some kind of international court to appeal to... they are a set of conventions nations assume unto themselves, to govern their conduct, enforceable through their own military justice systems (that's also why the Red Cross only catalogues Geneva violations confidentially... it's up to the Americans, and only the Americans, if one of their soldiers has committed one in their view, to prosecute them for it). Whether the opposing army is a signatory or not is completely irrelevant.

Angie Schultz writes:

The closest equivalent would be the action taken against pirates---this had its heyday before the GC, and in any case wasn't really thought of as a war, the pirates generally not being as well armed or organized as a state (I need to find me a history of the "war" against the Tripoli pirates).

Actually, piracy is more akin in international law to a war crime or a crime against humanity. If the U.S. wants to claim that all their detainees have committed war crimes (ie, were involved in the WTC attack somehow), that's a whole different ballgame: but they haven't done that, yet. But the question we're debating is, do soldiers in a state that allowed piracy within its border (not the pirates/terrorists themselves) get POW protections? And more importantly, do soldiers on the side of the Taliban who may or may not have also been terrorists (ie John Walker) get POW protections until their status on those more severe charges is determined? The conventions seem quite clear that they do.

But the Tripoli example (ie, the American wars against North African pirates of the early 19th century) is instructive. I have never heard a claim of American atrocities in that war, or unlawful confinements. Even though Geneva hadn't been written yet, even though the pirates were, in all likelihood, what we would think of as terrorists today, even though American prisoners in the pirates' and the Algerians' hands were often treated brutally, the Americans treated their Algerian and pirate prisoners when they took them with humanity and justice. That's part of the 200 years of history of setting a higher example that Rumsfeld has consistently seemed so complacent about throwing out when it doesn't suit his short-term objectives.

Posted by BruceR at 01:29 PM



Damian Penny rightly pointed out the oddness of normally opposing Globe columnists Marcus Gee and Rick Salutin agreeing that the Canadian army's presence in the Afghan war has been "pathetic." He also points out that, despite Gee's claim, they actually disagree, with Gee saying the Canadians won't be allowed near the action, and Salutin saying they'll be used at cannon fodder.

Which just proves neither knows what he's talking about, when it comes to the Canadian military.

The key is in the equipment. The force sending over is about 750 strong, centred on a squadron (12) of Coyote recce vehicles from the Strathconas. If you want to know what the Canadians will be doing with the 101st, that's the key. It is the Coyotes, according to press reports, that the Americans specifically wanted. The reason being that the Coyote's surveillance suite (infrared/radar/telescopic optical, etc.) makes it arguably the best underarmour surveillance vehicle ever created. It's a rolling, high-tech observation post. As a recce vehicle in the traditional sense (ie, "reconnaissance by fire"), it's not spectacularly useful, even overpriced. But put it on a hill, and give it time to camouflage itself and setup, and you can provide 24/7 surveillance of a broader area more effectively than any other land-based asset in any army in the world. The Americans know that, and also know they have nothing like it in their own inventory, at least not yet.

So why do the Americans want Coyotes? There's only one answer. They want the ability to put a large hunk of real estate (about 1,800 square km per Coyote deployed) under surveillance so tight, they'll know if a bug has gone for a walk. The Coyotes can do that for them. It may be an extended perimeter around the Kandahar airport, it may be some other Main Supply Route somewhere in southern Afghanistan, it might be somewhere else. But you don't get to command a brigade in the American airborne forces without putting your equipment where you can take best advantage of it... I can't believe the American brigadier on the ground would use them differently.

What he won't do is use the Coyote squadron (and the two companies of infantry coming along with them, probably for the mounted and dismounted recce tasks to support their surveillance net) as "cannon fodder" (Salutin) or "standing sentry on street corners" (Gee). He'll give them a map with a great big plot marked out of his tactical "flanks" (not necessarily real flanks, mind, just somewhere away from his main effort he doesn't want to worry about for awhile) and tell the Canadians that if anything out there moves, night or day, he wants to know about it. And, just as in Kosovo, where they did exactly the same thing, the Canadians are going to do that, very, very well.

BTW, Gee's whining that the Canadian's are not in a combat role is just stupid. There isn't a soldier in the world who would feel ashamed working shoulder-to-shoulder with the Marines and the Airborne... are those outfits also, because all they've done or are likely to do, is "guarding the airport" at Kandahar "not really part of the war effort?" I'd say I'd love to see Gee try and explain to a randomly selected Marine, a paratrooper, and a Patricia that they're not really warfighting soldiers in a bar some day, but in my experience both the Americans and Canadian would likely be too polite to shove Gee's teeth down his throat where they probably belong. That's the sensitive 90s army for you, I guess.

Posted by BruceR at 01:08 PM



I actually place a fair bit of stock in David Grossman in some things. He doesn't know what he's talking about with video games, mind you, but his actual psycho-historical insights into military history, as typified by his book On Killing, were definitely worth internalizing. In the quote below, he's talking specifically about the ultimate atrocity, the killing of prisoners, mind, but I would want the soldiers under my command to apply it to all Geneva Convention questions. (Note: this is the conclusion of a multi-chapter treatment of atrocities in wartime, that I can't do justice to here. Read the book, if you haven't already.)

Those who cherish liberty, justice,and truth must recognize that there is another force at large in this world. There is a twisted logic and power resident in the forces of oppression, injustice, and deceit, but those who claim this power are trapped in a spiral of destruction and denial that must ultimately destroy them and any victims they can pull with them into the abyss.

Those who value individual human life and dignity must recognize from whence they draw their strength, and if they are forced to make war they must do so with as much concern for innocent lives as humanly possible. They must not be tempted or antagonized into treading the treacherous and counterproductive path of atrocities. For, as Gray put it, "their brutality made fighting the Germans much easier, whereas ours weakened the will and confused the intellect." Unless a group is prepared to totally dedicate itself to the twisted logic of atrocity, it will not gain even the shortsighted advantages of that logic, but will instead be immediately weakened and confused by its own inconsistency and hypocrisy. There are no half measures when one sells one's soul.

If asked about Afghanistan, I imagine Grossman would say that you can't possibly rate the Taliban (not Bin Laden, not Mohammed Atta... the Taliban) as more inhuman or dangerous to the world than the SS, whose group psychology he has studied in depth. But Americans applied the Geneva Conventions in full to their SS prisoners, or faced their own military justice if they didn't, and, to Grossman's mind (and mine) they were right to do so. It's not about recognizing their humanity. It's about preserving our own.

Posted by BruceR at 12:31 PM