July 30, 2003
WORTH A LOOK
In case you were looking for something else to read.
ASK THE EXPERTS
With all this talk of forecasting terrorist attack through derivative markets, one might want to consider finding the guys who are already apparently doing it. They might have something useful to add.
July 29, 2003
THE USUAL SUSPECT
"Here come the anti-U.S. protesters again. Everything in place?
"Riot control gas?" "Check."
"Shields and batons?" "Check."
"Security barriers?" "Check."
"Jaggi Singh arrested?" Check."
OF PATRIOTS AND PASSIONS
Concerns that the new Mel Gibson movie The Passion is going to be anti-Semitic rather miss the point, to my mind. Any religion's founding myth either implicitly or explicitly makes all the other competing myths look bad. Central to the foundations of Christianity is that the new faith was not embraced by either Jews or Romans: but all the sane branches of the Christian tree long ago forgave both.
The real problem is this is yet another example of the relentless "historicity" marketing trope that precedes every Gibson production now. Braveheart was supposedly the Wallace revolt as it really happened; The Patriot was the American Revolution as it really happened; now we have the Crucifixion as it really happened. You don't need to be a history buff to know all the myriad ways, in tone and content that the last two Gibson efforts wholly belied this lie of a claim, and recent criticisms of The Passion's screenplay and trailer should be enough to prove that once again, Gibson, due to some misguided cryto-Rankeian facet of his soul, is doing exactly the same thing to history, and to the historians who misguidedly give him any assistance at all.
If Mad Mel were doing a Road Warrior sequel, he'd no doubt say this one was the Post-Apocalypse as it really will happen, too.
PS: Yes, I know, lots of historically themed movies have historicity problems: particularly two on my all-time favourite list, Glory and Memphis Belle. I think there's other distinctions in intent and accomplishment worth making, but the key difference is other movie makers rarely if ever make the "real history" claim that falls so easily from the contemptible Gibson's lips.
PPS: The Simpsons did a great episode on this topic, with Gibson's active collaboration. Gibson knows the charge. He just apparently doesn't care.
July 24, 2003
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT'S DUE
Reading Lileks today just reminded me of one thing I left out of my Monday post on what's wrong with Wi-Fi today. Largely because I always forget to send a nice note to the company I just want to say for the record that I'm entirely pleased with the hi-speed service provided in the Toronto area by Rogers Cable.
Look, I'm a guy that loves to patronize the littlest available businessman. Brewery/microbrewery? Micro, no exceptions. FutureShop/College Street? Get down where the geeks roam, I say. AMD/Intel? ATI/NVidia? Don't even start with me. If someone in T.O. was offering hi-speed service out of the back of their van, I'd probably sign up out of pure principle.
And I hate being put on hold.
Which is why I surprise myself more than anyone to say Rogers Hi-Speed service is damn good. In however many years it's been, outside of moving, I've made two service calls, both at really odd hours. Both times, including the one this last weekend, the night desk or whatever they have solved the problem instantly. No fuss, no waiting. Now admittedly, I'm probably one of the easier people they have to help. But for the record, their service is really, really, really, really good. There. I've said it.
AUSTRALIA, WE LOVE YA, PART 3 AND A HALF
In other completely unrelated news, this is the funniest post I've read all week. And alarmingly, it has already managed to secure itself the "I feel lucky" spot any time you search for "I vomit remains at Christian filth" on Google. Since I happen to do that a lot, I blame Tim Blair.
July 23, 2003
WILL YA MAKE 'ME' TEA? PUT 'ON' THE 'TELLY'?
This time, I have to agree with LGF... the BBC website seems to have lost any grasp it might have had of when scare quotes (or should I say, "scare quotes") are appropriate in a headline and when they're not. It's not just the Iraq stories, either. The current front page has:
Tests 'show Saddam's sons died'
BBC 'taped Kelly's WMD concerns'
AIDS 'threatens economic collapse'
Indian actress 'slapped'
Oh, come on. Either she was or she wasn't. If it was just the stories that tick off Andrew Sullivan I'd agree it was moral relativism rampant, but it seems more like a complete unwillingness to exercise any kind of news judgment whatsoever.
July 22, 2003
In the short run, though, the [Billboard download] numbers are so modest that a well-coordinated effort by a band with a devoted fan base and at least one song for sale on iTunes, Liquid Audio, Rhapsody, or one of the other services included in SoundScan's numbers could theoretically push that song to No. 1. (The chart doesn't track file-sharing services like Grokster.) For that matter, a moderately influential Weblogger could probably pick a song at random from the current inventory, harangue his or her audience to buy it during a particular time period, and put in the Top 10.
Well, I don't think I'm influential enough for that, but I would say that if the electronic download chart numbers ever convinced, say, Curse Mackey to revive the *cough* Grim Faeries again, *cough* that would almost make shutting Napster down worth it to me.
ON TWA 800
I meant to comment on this earlier, but I got distracted. Rand's site raised questions last week about TWA 800, and whether, as twa800.com and other conspiracy sites believe, the destruction of that jet could have been precursive terrorism. I don't think that case is easily made.
Of course, if you want to believe in government cover-ups, no evidence is sufficient to disprove the shadow government's responsibility for anything. But as a former member of an air defence unit, I thought I'd look at the purely technical facts that both "sides" in this debate stipulate to, and see if there's an air defence weapons system that could have brought down that plane under those conditions back in 1996. In other words, assume for the purpose of argument that we KNEW this was a terrorist missile attack... how could it have to have been carried out?
This much is pretty much universally agreed upon. TWA 800 was blown out of the sky by a massive explosion, sufficient to cut the power to both black boxes simultaneously, at 20:31 pm on July 17, 1996, while flying east out of New York, over water south of Long Island. The plane had been flying for 12 minutes, and at the time of the explosion was at 4,200m altitude and still climbing, with a forward airspeed of 685km/h. There was a Navy P-3 Orion in the close vicinity, along with other forms of surveillance, and so considerable evidence suggests the nearest surface vessel contacts were at least 5.0 km away from the point of detonation (the land was considerably farther), and were well to either side, making the plane a crossing target to our hypothetical missile unit.
The minimum slant range (6.5 km) by itself easily rules out any shoulder-launched or short range SAM solution, either heat-seeking or optical, even the Stinger. No, to get that kind of range you need a medium-range missile solution, which implies a fairly large and stable firing platform... we're not talking a rowboat here. Probably a large motor yacht or trawler, in fact.
To narrow it down further, you'd need to make a couple more assumptions. First off, the fact the missile was shot when it was still quite bright outside (contributing to the large number of witness accounts) would tend to rule out any solely radar-guided systems... given the easily visible signature of the firing unit, and the safe to assume idea that the terrorists wanted to escape, a radar-guided unit could have afforded to wait two more hours and get the cover of night to help with evasion. (It's also fair to say that any unusual radar emissions would likely have been detected by the P-3.) Also, any missile that caused a 747 to entirely cease functioning and then rapidly disintegrate would have to have significant explosive power... at least as much as one of the Standard SAMs that disintegrated an Iranian A300 airliner in 1988.
So what would the guidance mechanism be? Well, larger heat-seekers would seem to be ruled out... Chaparral could make the slant range, but its Sidewinder-sized warhead could never do that kind of damage. That leaves command and optically guided systems, including radar-guided systems that had an optical guidance backup system. Given those assumptions, only two missile systems in the world at the time really qualify. The American Hawk/I-Hawk, and its Russian counterpart, the SA-6/SA-11 system (in Russian naval service, the SA-N-7). No other missiles in the world at the time combined the deadliness, the fire-without-radar capability, and the performance envelope... Rapier doesn't have the range, Crotale and Roland and the SA-8 don't have a large enough warhead, SPADA is radar-only, etc.
Procuring a Hawk/SA-11 is not theoretically hard... they're ubiquitous, pretty much. The key would be fitting a large enough surface boat to house and fire at least one... fairly obvious modifications that would be detectable from a distance. These things are huge. You then have to postulate that this modified trawler was able to make its way to the States, fire its missile in broad daylight, and then escape without detection. You also have to accept that the missile itself was somehow previously rendered untraceable, as any part turning up in the wreckage would have otherwise clearly identified the initial purchaser, and provide a trail back to the group. You also have to accept that the terrorists were somehow able to surmount the training delta... firing an I-Hawk on backup optics and scoring a hit on a crossing target at the edge of visual range, even a 747, on the first try, would be Lee Oswald-lucky. You also have to accept that, having pulled this massively complex attack on the American homeland, that the terrorist organization responsible chose not to claim any responsibility or victory for it, and never attempted to repeat it again.
Too many assumptions for me, at this point. Of course you could always buy into the deep government conspiracy stuff, which if nothing else is non-falsifiable, and postulate that further evidence of the terrorist trawlers is being suppressed by a cast of hundreds to reassure the airgoing public or what have you (or alternatively, if you believe that sort of thing, that a USN ship or plane made a terrible mistake). But the burden of proof for any kind of "innocent" missile explanation, i.e., that this was just a SAM hit that has been mistaken for something else by the experts, is just too high to spend too much time thinking about.
(POSTSCRIPT: The twa800 site, before its founder's death, seemed to be leaning toward another explanation, involving an Iranian AIM-54 Phoenix refitted for passive radiation homing, on a civilian airliner's radio frequencies, as their "missile on the trawler." Suffice it to say that no such guidance system has ever been known to have been deployed on either a SAM or air-to-air missile, that converting an air-to-air Phoenix instead of a Hawk doesn't add anything to the equation other than dead certainty of the terrorists' state sponsor when the debris shows up. Only Iran ever bought the Phoenix.)
July 21, 2003
Interesting aside in the current New Yorker's Sy Hersh piece on how Syria's been falling over itself trying to ingratiate itself with the Americans since Sept. 11 and D.C. has more or less responded to all the diplomatic overtures with insults and random border skirmishes.
Syria also provided the United States with intelligence about future Al Qaeda plans... The Syrians also helped the United States avert a suspected plot against an American target in Ottawa.
What can that refer to, I wonder? Surely not the Maher Arar case, of which we've written before. Is American intelligence still counting that as a victory for the good guys? If not that, then what?
THE KELLY AFFAIR
Jeff Jarvis, et al, can spin all they want, but there's no way the recent death of Dr. David Kelly ends up making the BBC look bad. There's really only two logical scenarios for the known facts.
Assume Kelly met with the BBC reporter Gilligan, and said that the government's Iraq WMD evidence was questionable at the time of their public statements;
Kelly then went before Parliament, and told them the exact opposite, that the WMD evidence was NOT questionable to his mind, then or now;
Kelly then killed himself, either out of his own guilt because his testimony was false, or because someone pressured him into lying. Either way, the government looks bad.
Assume Kelly met with the reporter, and said that the government's evidence was unquestionable;
He then went before the Parliament, and said the same thing again, is congratulated by the MPs for his honesty, etc., etc.
He then kills himself... well, why, exactly? Because he was guilty over the damage he'd done to public broadcasting? Because he feared some unspecified BBC retaliation? Even if there was a tape of the original interview, it could logically only back his claim to honesty... so presumably the BBC had no power over him (other than the usual ways the press has to make your life hell, but Kelly would have to be extraordinarily fragile to see that alone as enough to make life unlivable).
So basically, those are your two scenarios: either Kelly was pressured into lying (or pressured himself out of loyalty), and found he couldn't live with that after; or he was an inherently unbalanced (albeit honest) individual in a position of high government responsibility, and a promoter of the war, who fell apart at the slightest push.
(Note that Gilligan's own credibility, which is all but shot, is irrelevant to these scenarios. Calling Kelly a "senior intelligence official", as opposed to a mere scientist, was a straight-out lie, for which he will certainly be sanctioned, but it can hardly have had any impact on Kelly's own thinking. What Kelly couldn't live with, apparently, was the fallout from his own Parliamentary testimony... why?)
UPDATE: Notice Jarvis' real agenda, with his little aside that a public broadcaster is "insane journalistically." Why, because it criticizes the government too much? C doesn't follow from A...
UPDATE 2: The comparison I haven't seen made yet, which is surprising since Kelly's death was almost 10 years to the day (July 20, 1993) later, is to the death of Vincent Foster. Presumably the BBC is just as responsible for Kelly as the Wall Street Journal was for Foster's. Without believing any of the conspiracist lunacies surrounding it, it's also fair to say that situation saw the effects of conflicting loyalties between honesty and team loyalty could have on an unstable man.
Spent Friday and the weekend, like Instapundit, away from the computer, so I'm catching up on three days news, too. Actually, "away" from a computer for me is relative... I'm on deadline on a couple freelance pieces, and at least part of the weekend was spent switching the house over to a wireless setup.
Wireless computing is remarkably cheap and painless now, actually, if you're hesitating on the brink. The one thing that surprised me in the otherwise painless process was that the PC commercial world doesn't have a widely available wireless repeater product (as opposed to a signal booster), to reliably extend coverage in the home environment.
The trouble with a booster, like the one Linksys sells, is it adds bulk in the place where you may not want to add bulk... ie, where the cable modem and router already are, next to the coax point in the wall which connects you to the big wide world. Presumably that puts it in the proximity of either your home entertainment unit or a desktop computer as well, so adding another box to the clutter is not exactly optimal. (Nor are home users likely to be too enthralled with longer antenna units on the router or the computers, for the same reason.)
The aesthetically elegant solution would be to put a repeater, which just receives the wireless signals and rebroadcasts them again, up in the attic somewhere, to ensure cross-house coverage. Apple has this capability, with its AirPort Extreme setup (not cheap, mind you), but the PC world is lagging. D-Link sells a repeater, although it's supposedly not compatible with other companies' hardware, and D-Link doesn't have the distribution network of a Linksys or Microsoft or Netgear, at least in Canada. A lot of stores are giving away low-end wireless routers with every laptop they sell now, so there's a lot of non-standard equipment out there, too, that would be part of the installed base for any cross-compatible solution. It shouldn't be a serious technological challenge... to create a repeater you're more or less stripping technology out of the wireless access point products those other companies already make (no routing, no Ethernet hookups, no DHCP). It's really surprising none of those other companies is selling them yet.
It's hard to imagine, if a dedicated PC repeater product showed up in the big store chains that was advertised as widely cross-compatible, under $100 US, and stable (or at least easily remotely rebootable, so you could put it up in the rafters and forget about it) that every laptop-possessing home owner wouldn't consider picking one up the next time they go by. Marketing-wise, it's got to be close to a sure thing (the only trick is deciding whether the old WiFi-B or the new WiFi-G standard would sell you more boxes): everyone can always use more signal, or at least isn't averse to the idea. If you heard of a company coming out with something like it in the next year, I'd recommend buying stock.
July 17, 2003
GAGGING JUDGE MERRITT?
Instapundit mentor Gilbert Merritt is in the news a bit these days. Currently, he's criticizing the gag order he says was imposed on him by Paul Bremer when he was in Iraq as part of a judicial reform commission.
Of course, the minute Merritt landed back state-side and out of Bremer's hands, he published a piece in the local paper about an Iraqi newspaper clipping he found while overseas that finally appeared to tangibly link Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden. The implied criciticism of U.S. intelligence efforts was obvious. Several bloggers, including Instapundit, have commented favourably, and criticized the media for not talking to Merritt more.
Merritt's piece wasn't new, though. The same clipping had previously been noted by the Weekly Standard. The problem with it was that it clearly wasn't a centrally approved government document, judging by the preface: "This is a list of the henchmen of the regime. Our hands will reach them sooner or later. Woe unto them."
How a "soon to be put against a wall and shot" list by the Iraqi opposition appeared in a government-censored Baghdad newspaper is still an open question, but it obviously says little new of value on the Saddam-Osama issue by itself. The fact that Merritt made a big deal of it, however, and notably without mentioning the uncomfortable preface, does seem to put Bremer's gag order on the 67-year old judge in a more positive light. Assuming we can fully believe him on that score, of course.
FOREIGN TROOP CONTRIBUTIONS UPDATE
How's the U.S. doing so far on collecting soldiers from other countries to allow it and Britain to draw down on its Iraqi contingents? Well, four countries have committed to battalion-strength or larger units so far: Italy (3,000) Poland (2,300), Ukraine (1,640), and Spain (1,100). This could fill out, with smaller countries committing a company or platoon each, to as many as 10,000 soldiers... nothing to sneeze at, but still short of the 2-3 divisions the U.S. announced it was prepared to accept, and unlikely to have any huge effect on American redeployment schedules. The Americans had hoped, originally, for a division from India, a half-division continuing on from Britain, and a division-and-a-half from everybody else. Britain's still solid, but India's pulled out and the smaller countries are still undersubscribed. The biggest and most easily deployable fill-in force would have been Turkish, but that's not going to work for all kinds of reasons... which is why, after all is said and done, it looks like the U.S. may have to go back to the UN after all.
UPDATE: And call up the National Guard, while they're at it.
July 16, 2003
IF NOT NIGER, WHERE?
The "Bush didn't lie" story keeps changing, interview to interview. The current iteration is that the State of the Union address was truthful enough, because the British government still believes that there were attempts by Iraq to import uranium ore from countries in Niger other than Africa (For the record, there's only four African countries with a uranium export business... Gabon, Namibia, and South Africa are the other three.) Instapundit approvingly cites one such arguer today.
Unfortunately, that's NOT what the British are saying.
PM Tony Blair is himself conceding the September 2002 British intelligence report only referred to Niger, and is arguing that it's technically correct, too (After all, all IT said was "there is intelligence" that Iraq had "sought" uranium ore in Niger, not that they definitely were, or had actually gotten any... the British line, not to put too fine a public point on it, is that the Americans overstated the British case. What other evidence Blair has in his pocket, other than the pre-existing Iraq-Niger export relationship, is still unclear. But there's almost certainly no evidence relating to any other country, and the British at least, are not pretending there is.
July 15, 2003
"IT'S NOT GAMES THAT KILL PEOPLE" UPDATE
News from the antisocial games and activities watch: Hunting for Bambi. Pictionary, the killing of virtual cops, and pellet guns.
Marv Glovinsky is a clinical psychologist. He says Hunting for Bambi is every man's fantasy come true.
No, it's NOT. Every moron's fantasy, maybe. (from Simberg)
The Toronto Star, meanwhile advocates extending the same legislation that was successfully used in Canada to ban lawn darts to pellet guns: Air pistols and rifles should be every bit as difficult to obtain as other firearms. That means air-gun owners should be screened, there should be a 28-day waiting period and they should be listed in a national firearms registry.
On the other hand, I see the noble movement to ban computer games that portray the shooting of law enforcement officials continues to struggle with technicalities like constitutionality...
July 14, 2003
WELL, THAT WENT OVER LIKE A LEAD BALLOON
European leaders refused today to endorse the Canadian-backed International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty's plan that would put more guidelines on international intervention in civil war situations.
The ICISS report, which came out in December, 2001, is a curious artefact of the pre-Sept. 11 time. It was originally meant as a way to fill the gap in prior peacekeeping practice that the Kosovo military intervention had created, when the U.S. and NATO acted in the absence of any UN mandate, in an internal insurrection situation. Many at the time thought this created an uncomfortable precedent, including many Canadians, whose policy even after is that a Security Council affirmation should be necessary for all military interventions.
The ICISS report called for two things, basically: a General Assembly declaration that, for the first time since the UN was created, acts of genocide internal to one state (such as Rwanda or Kosovo, or arguably Iraq vis a vis the Shiites and Kurds) would be recognized as within the UN's authority to intervene to stop, as well as conflicts between states. And secondly, that the veto powers on the Security Council would be enjoined from blocking any country's proposal to intervene in such cases, provided that the situation met certain pre-agreed conditions: in particular evidence of real or planned mass killing, and also a sort of neo-Augustinian "just war" acid test (last resort, minimum necessary force, etc.).
Whether it made it more powerful or not, the changes to UN procedure would certainly have made the UN more relevant. The trouble is, it's foundering on the practicalities of the post-Sept. 11 world. As we know, there are only three Security Council members with the logistical base and philosophical bent to intervene in another country's civil war for humanitarian reasons: the U.S., Britain and France. The policy was drafted to liberate the three countries, and by extension, NATO, from the threat of Russian or Chinese vetoes. But the drafters could not have guessed how bad Anglo-US relations with the French were going to get in the meantime. Speaking practically, the US and Britain are still unlikely to ever veto each other, nor are they likely to ever object to French unilateral interventions in their former colonies or what have you. So all this really amounts to now, in short-term realpolitik terms, would be limitations on France's ability (and to a lesser extent, Russia and China's, whom it was originally aimed at) to veto resolutions supporting American or British military interventions.
Canada's motives in pushing this here seem, as usual, almost entirely altruistic. UN hum-hawing has led to a lot of dead people over the years, and the plan would increase the UN's ability to at least address internal genocides within some kind of precedental framework. But Germany and France, who would have supported this two years ago, are now the big objectors. And without their support, it seems doomed to enter the history books as yet another "worthwhile Canadian initiative."
In today's entry of the Trent Telenko Watch (who really does add something... I'm not sure I can describe what, to the Winds of Change site), he stands by his earlier accusation that Jessica Lynch was violated, and calls for the immediate invasion of Iran!
July 12, 2003
DON'T TRUST THE REVIEWS
I don't care what anyone says, Pirates of the Caribbean is a darned good movie. I really did enjoy every minute. Depp is a wonder, the script is lighthearted, and the sea battle scene in mid-movie is exquisitely filmed. A lot of reviewers have dinged it for being based on a theme park ride, or having a line in the publicity kit about being an "Austen-style bodice-ripper," (and rightly so, there's a publicist that should be shot), but once you get through the antihype it's a nifty little movie with a non-formulaic screenplay, interesting, well-cast characters, and a great setting. The movie's not true to the historical pirates, of course, but it is true to the Stevenson-Sabatini fictional world of piracy... alarmingly so, in fact. I think even old Robert Louis would have liked this movie.
(One minor note: I know there's no point in criticizing a movie with the undead in it for historical accuracy, but the movie, which one can tell from other cues is set after 1700 and before 1725, makes landfall at two ports, Port Royal, Jamaica (the law abiding port) and Tortuga, Haiti. Port Royal's right... after the 1692 earthquake wiped out the buccaneer settlement there, it re-emerged as a proper English colony, but Tortuga, its rival buccaneer haven, was shut down by French authorities around and about 1688. In the early 18th century, if you were a pirate leaving Port Royal for a place to recruit a new crew, you'd have gone to New Providence (now, of course, called Nassau), in the Bahamas. Just a quibble.)
UPDATE: Lileks agrees. Come on, now, that really should be enough for you. See this movie!
July 11, 2003
A tremendously disappointing and bizarrely illogical rant by Canadian Islamic Congress president and University of Waterloo computer science prof Mohamed Elmasry in the Star today.
Elmasry portrays the pro-Israel lobby in America as Christian extremists ("the enemies of peace") bent on hastening the "second coming of Christ" by repressing Palestinians. "Can the road map have any chance of success under such warped conditions?" he asks.
Not if Hamas is disarmed as part of it, he declares:
If American and Israeli pressure convinces [Abbas, et al] to completely "dismantle" Palestinian factions -- including Hamas and Islamic Jihad -- before any final settlement, the road map could be doomed to failure.
If I understand the argument, he's saying that if Hamas is repressed by the Palestinian Authority and the terrorist attacks on Israelis stop, then the Israelis will then be free to throw away the "road map" as their Christian overlords are demanding.
It's telling that, nowhere in a piece entitled, "Israel must deliver on its side of the bargain," Elmasry makes any mention at all of anything the Palestinians must deliver at any point. The entire piece is a flat out demand for unilateral Israeli surrender and a disturbing apologia for terrorism.
SOMEONE'S PROJECTING, AGAIN
As the accusations continue to fly on the Niger evidence scandal, I feel someone has to point out the obvious. Shortly after the war, a large number of bloggers concluded one reason the Iraqi leadership had not just opened up their country to inspections if they had nothing to hide, and thereby avoided war, could have been that the dictator himself was being badly advised by his fearful subordinates on the WMD issue, and so himself thought he had WMDs when he didn't. To pick an example purely at random:
The leaders in these kinds of nations [like Hussein] have a tendency to hear what they want to hear, or at least to not hear about bad news and unpleasant surprises and problems.
Those horrible dictatorships... where national leaders can't trust their minions to tell them the truth... sad, really. Thank god we live in democracies, where leaders can't be so easily misled.
(For the record, I favour the much more Occamite explanation that Hussein thought the UN teams would be as spy-ridden as the last time, and appearing to prostrate the country further could only weaken his own hold on the populace. Seeing as he was already part of the "Axis of Evil," he figured he had nothing to lose.)
THE RIGHT TO DIE
The Ontario Human Rights commissioner has forbade mosquito spraying, because it interferes with the rights of asthmatics (Friday's Toronto Star, not yet online... come on, Patrick, huptcha now.)
I'm not sure why Keith Norton thinks he's the agency of record on a public health issue, but I know one thing for certain... when some plague does hit, this same idiot will likely use the same logic to oppose the mandatory vaccinations or quarantines the doctors use to fight that, too. And as the weakened survivors lift our plague-ridden corpses into the industrial cremators, at least they'll be able to say the virii found us in a state of human rights grace.
CROSS-BORDER DISEASES WATCH
Canadian beef is safe, the Americans admit. They still don't want any, though.
In other news, this is troubling.
THE AXIS OF JUST-AS-EVIL
Calpundit points out that Liberia's "Cannibal Charles" Taylor, unlike Saddam Hussein, certainly collaborated with, and possibly helped bankroll Al Qaeda. (He also notes Pat Robertson, who is heavily financially beholden to Taylor is also heavily engaged defending him, which is more than enough for me to condemn the Cannibal outright.) If there really was a Bush Doctrine, or if anything that's going on today had anything to do with Sept. 11 anymore, surely Taylor would have been a victim of an air-launched cruise missile accident long ago. Or has the US. government been keeping a Bin Laden sympathizer in power only because they fear Muslims might take over when he leaves?
Best sidenote: the conclusion of the WashPost article linked to, which cites evidence linking Bulgarians, Nicaraguans, and an Israeli arms dealer in a plan to provide Taylor's Al Qaeda houseguests with shoulder-launched SAMs. Tom Clancy can't make up stuff this good.
UPDATE: Winds of Change links to a TNR piece, same topic. The case can be made that a Liberian intervention, by straightening out the diamond field wars and removing one more lawless place for terrorists to base from, a la Afghanistan, could do as much in net terms to reduce international terrorism as the Iraq invasion will.
(I'm not saying here the Iraq invasion was unjustified. From the start I've supported it, cautiously, but for reasons entirely unrelated to the threat of international terrorism... specifically the plight of its citizens, and, secondarily, the removal of a regional threat to Israeli-Palestinian peace. I never bought into the Wolfowitzian "drain the swamp" line, or the WMD arguments, making the current "Bush knew" refrain rather academic to me. The Civil War was a just war started ostensibly for the wrong reasons, too.
The only answer, in the long run, to global terrorism, is global reach by a military/investigative apparatus that can reach and strike anywhere, and deny the terrorists haven, whether in Liberia, Afghanistan or Peoria... How robust or multilateral that should be is a subject of useful debate. The historical analog I've long favoured is the various attempts by the Western Powers, principally Britain, but also America, Holland, and others, to combat sea piracy, c. 1650-1850. A Liberian intervention fits into that model, too. Which is, of course, absolutely no reason to go see Pirates of the Caribbean this weekend, but I probably will anyway.)
SECOND UPDATE: Trent Telenko evidently wildly disagrees, and calls for an American foreign legion, a complete reform of the American army reserve system, and an immediate return to the draft, all in the same post! I'm not sure his solution of garrisoning Iraq with a combination of badly-armed, newly non-combat-capable National Guards units and newly recruited Mexican immigrants would help matters much, but it would certainly make for a much more culturally interesting Middle East. Just a note: Telenko cites the two divisions of other nations' troops going to Iraq this fall, but the only firm national commitments that have been announced thus far to that to my knowledge, are the British division-minus that's part of it (meaning Trent is double-counting them) and 2,000 Polish soldiers. I'm sure there will be others, though.
507TH MAINTENANCE INQUIRY REPORT
The army's report, as pointed out in Flitters, on the destruction of Pvt. Lynch's convoy in Nasiriyah, can be found here, among other places. It's worth a read. Heartbreaking, really.
Phil Carter has said everything worth saying on the weapons issue. I'd only add it, along with the Rolling Stone series Carter also praises, shows the danger to all soldiers everywhere whenever a junior officer is off his game. Appointed leaders that are exhausted, ineffective, or just unlucky are still the most dangerous threat to any army, and every soldier knows that.
July 10, 2003
LYNCH STORY UNTRUE: CANADIANS BLAMED
In a classic example of why some people are not ready for the awesome power of the "submit" button, a thought-provoking post about Jessica Lynch turns in the comments into an extended debate on why Canadians cannot be trusted.
CANADIANS GO GREEN
At the moment, in Middle Eastern peacekeeping tours, it seems differentiation from the American "look and feel" is not always seen as a bad thing.
Interesting trivia note: Gen. Leslie, the Canadian commander in Afghanistan is as much a military scion as Canadians get... a third-generation general officer, his grandfather was the controversial soldier-scientist Andrew McNaughton.
July 09, 2003
AND AS I WAS SAYING...
...Because he's made such tremendous contributions to Flitters, and because he doesn't yet have a weblog of his own -- and because I don't want to feel guilty if I leave the discussion for a couple days now and again this summer to do other work -- I've asked TM to become Flit's first guest poster. I've always thought TM's contributions to Flitters thought-provoking and, more important in this line of work, link-filled. (I'm also told he's a Mac user, but I'm trying not to hold that against him.) Welcome, and have fun, TM.
A HEARTFELT THANKS
I just wanted to say that, even when I don't feel like posting, the comments at Flitters keep this site going all the same. Erudite, informed, and always valuable to me, they're really something I look forward to checking into. Thanks everyone, for setting a high standard for me to live up to.
As you may have noticed, I'm now running Flit off a shorter URL (www.snappingturtle.net/flit). Any old links should still work, but feel free to update any bookmarks accordingly. More soon...
OH, THIS SHOULD HAVE THE LGF CROWD JUST SPITTING
July 08, 2003
IT'S ABOUT THE ONLY HOPE THEY'VE GOT, FRANKLY
It may surprise some that I don't share Jim Henley's skepticism about the proposed Liberia mission. Given my opposition to the various half-baked ideas for Congo interventions I've heard, how is this any different?
Well, a couple ways. First off, it's a chewable bite: we're talking a country of limited land mass and only 3 million people. Given the historic peacekeeping ratios of 1:1000 (for pacified countries) to 1:100 (for total occupation), ratios that seem surprisingly immune to the advantages of technology, the proposed 1:600 force that 5,000 American led peacekeepers would amount to seems within reason. The proposed internal force ratio (no more than 40% American) also seems sound. Using Western troops as a force multiplier to create a larger force, one with a built in local auxiliary component, is and remains the soundest peacekeeping model. Also, unlike Congo, mission victory is definable (a peaceful transition from the accused cannibal Charles Taylor*, to any kind of remotely stable replacement government), the value of a peacekeeping intervention is universally recognized and welcomed by all the internal combatants, and the spin offs (in terms of greater peace in the country's three neighbours, two with serious insurrection problems of their own) are potentially huge. It's classic African peacekeeping, with a methodology used successfully by the UN in Eritrea, by the British in Sierra Leone, etc. etc.
Liberia, in fact, is basically the kind of mission that for nearly 2 decades pre-Sept. 11 the other Western powers, including Canada, were basically begging the U.S. to consider more often. One hopes they follow through.
*"Accused" is being kind. Even well-known Liberia expert and Oxford professor Stephen Ellis supports more sensationalist reports that Taylor engages in cannibalism. Taylor once promised to sue Ellis for libel, but dropped the suit rather than leave the country to contest it.
WELL, WE CAN HOPE, ANYWAY
Steven Chapman, on the optimal conclusion of a Hollywood actioner:
At this point the theatre audience should depart feeling mildly violated...
July 07, 2003
YOU KNOW, THEY'RE RIGHT
Movable Type really is better. Lots more changes to come, but that's enough for one day.
UPDATE: Still cleaning up the archive pages for this new design... there's enough broken internal links over the nearly 1,000 individual entries I just ported over to keep me busy a while, anyway. The old monthly archives still match up, and the new search feature should make it easy enough to find any old stuff... it's the image links I'll have to go back and work on... that and the double-titles on older entries. Still, it's a start. There was a lot more I wanted to do with this space and now I've got the tool that can do some of it. So, farewell, Blogger... it's been great, but I had to move on to the better hammer.
July 03, 2003
OLD FRIEND IN THE NEWS AGAIN
My old colleague John Thompson has a new report out, apparently. The thing I do like about his Mackenzie Institute is he really seems determined to keep it out of anyone's particular pocket. It's still mostly just John, but his is still a Canadian military thinktank whose reports are always worth reading.
NB: In the as-witty-as-usual comments thread for the LGF post above, this site is referred to as a "bunch of crap," and the Canadian military as "sissified momma's boys." Thank you, come again...
July 02, 2003
ONCE THEY WERE CALLED "AUXILIA"
Phil Carter comments on the recent Rumsfeld trial balloon of a multinational force led by the United States. He wonders why the U.S. army doesn't just do this itself. Which kind of misses the point. (Paul Knox had a piece on this in the Globe today, still not online, which is even farther off the mark.)
Rumsfeld is clearly musing about the constabulary forces needed to sustain hegemony long-term. Already Iraqi occupation is dulling the edge of a fine military and tying it up so it's less a threat to others. It seems a necessary corollary of the "Rumsfeld doctrine" is rapid disentanglement of the combat elements after any war... that way there's still a threat in being for the next opponent.
Okay, so there has to be an occupation force for the Iraqs of the future. Well, the UN comes with political baggage, and is combat-ineffective. NATO is, if nothing else, regionally confined, and there's apparently no guarantee the interests of its group will always mesh any longer. America is seeing in stark terms the limits of its own reservists for long-term foreign occupation, and expansion of the professional force is anathemic and cost-ineffective. You could not have, for instance, two classes of American infantry soldier, those trained for the fighting divisions and those for the security divisions, and so presumably less trained, or more lightly armed... it would be, if nothing else, seen as deeply inegalitarian. And expanding the army by the 25 per cent required, and purchasing them the equipment and training to be ALL up to modern networked mechwar standards would be an absurdly expensive solution for the actual problem.
So it's not going to be Americans then, but it will be American-led. So what are the options?
1) Locally raised forces in the occupied countries. Obviously this would be ideal, but hard to do. Weeding out the war criminals and the disloyal and bringing the rest up to American standards is a process of years, as Afghanistan and Iraq are showing. Because wars are promising to be faster (see below) more forces are needed sooner than American trainers working with local volunteers can reasonably expect to generate.
2) Private contractors. There's no better way to get your local antiwar activists to a boil, likely, than to turn over aspects of the governance of a subject domain to a mercenary corporation. Plus mercenaries, if anything, are better paid than soldiers from your own country. No cost savings there. Mercenaries and PMCs still have a place in the world, in niche jobs, but they're unlikely to replace armies any time soon.
3) "Coalitions of the willing." This seems to be what's being tried out in Iraq and Afghanistan now, with international coalitions taking up part of the burden. In Afghanistan it's a coalition free of US command; in Iraq, the increase of Allied troops from one division to two announced this week is all under American command. While it holds promise, two problems with basing occupation armies on this model are the same that have bedevilled the UN for years: the forces inevitably have their own national sovereignty issues, and the force structure is inevitably based on whatever conglomeration of often non-interoperable equipment is made available. Basically, you're recreating a UN peacekeeping force, but without the UN as its overall commander. It can be assumed combat-effectiveness will not be a strong suit. And worst of all, because it has to be ad hoc by definition (how could you plan for it ahead of time), you've got about as much institutional memory as UN military operations have, if even that.
4) Auxiliaries. This is basically where Rumsfeld seems to be going, where Colby Cosh once memorably said he'd be going*, and what every historical megapower has ended up doing sooner or later... a parallel military structure, involving non-citizens and reserved for the dirty work of occupations. Hessians. The Foreign Legion. The Sepoys. The Roman Auxiliaries. It can be made up of the forces of nations who are happy to give up some of their sovereignty (a la the Gurkhas), or via individual recruitment. But it has the virtues, when done right, of an inexhaustible force pool, of a force-in-being as soon as the main force combat ends, tremendous economy, interoperability, and unified national (imperial?) command.
Inevitably, this seems to be where the logic of occupation is taking the U.S. No doubt there will be components of all the above options in any solution. But a return to some kind of American auxilia seems almost inevitable. Phil Carter asks, "why can't these be Americans?" The point is, obviously, because Americans, voting Americans with voting families back home, are exactly what you don't want in Baghdad right now, any more than you can absolutely avoid.
*can't find the link, Colb. L'il help?
RANDOM IRAQ OCCUPATION THOUGHTS
*Decades from now, even if the military occupation of Iraq had seemed a total failure to us at the time (country fractured, new strongman taking over, what have you) it will still be seen by history as a success. In the end, this IS an attempt to stop terrorism against the continental U.S; Baghdad's just the current stop on the train, after all. And by putting tens of thousands of American service people in harm's way in Iraq, if nothing else the Bush administration has provided a far easier-to-reach target for the global terrorist than any target in the U.S. would be. Bush's accomplishment, if nothing else, is to take the war out of Manhattan, and back to Afghanistan and Iraq... where it can simmer, with a steady drip drip of military casualties, for several years, if need be. Speaking in the most ruthless terms for the moment, that still counts as a success. Lots of leaders through history would have loved wars that promised to confine their fatal effects just to their willing military volunteers, and some foreigners. (And there have been other, more marginal upsides... the Kurds are freer from fear, and some of the funding for the Palestinian terrorist resistance has certainly dried up.)
*The question now is not whether WMDs will be found... the evidence, if it ever turns up, is almost certain to be open to wide interpretation, to put it at the most optimistic. The question is not even whether not finding WMDs will compromise American credibility and hence international freedom of action for further intervention. It won't... there really is no one much left to alienate outside the U.S., and Bush's core constituency would still stay with him if "hot pursuit" took the Americans into Iran or Syria right now.
No, the question is how much the run-up to the first pre-emptive war in American history, with all its curious side paths, etc., has and will contribute to Iraqis' future prospects. It's a tough one. If you take as your initial assumption that war was necessary to purge Hussein from power, was there another path to war that held a higher prospect of post-war success? I'm not certain that case can be made. (More divisions? Lighter divisions? Quibbles.) The best second-guess I can come up with on that assumption would have been timing a wider Guard/reservist callup for the war itself -- when there was some patriotic fervour out there -- it would have been easier to use the manning flexibility that introduced into the system to help ease into this initial period. My biggest concern if I was an American now would be that the administration's political fears associated with a Guard call-up, now after the war has been declared to be over, may be what's really overstretching soldiers in the field and limiting whatever prospects for successful reconstruction may exist.
*In a way, the war was almost "too quick." The whole transition period was so jarringly short that all the infinite ways a society readjusts to a total change to their entire circumstance are happening now. Some have faulted the Americans for failing to plan the postwar Iraq before the war started... if they had, of course, that would have been criticised by the same people as the height of hubris. The time for planning a postwar phase is surely only once the favourable resolution is within sight... by then there were only a few days to figure out what came next. Certainly any kind of national debate on the question was essentially impossible before May. The sketchiness of everything was a necessary byproduct of a fast war.
*Notice how the Americans are not hot to find the Hussein family, by the way. Finding them now only increases the pressure to start handing off to the Iraqis, who, to be fair, do not have an extant political apparatus to take up any of the slack yet. Far better for the moment to add them to the big list of question marks. As opposed to Bin Laden, who retains a cult of personality effect, and whom Bush would no doubt dearly like paraded in chains, ideally during primary season, no one's going to ever be telling Swamp Fox-like folktales about the wily Saddam Hussein. No, the Americans' main problems are now what the basically secular Hussein's were when he was in power... separatist Kurds, heretic Shiites, and extremist Muslims among the Sunni population. That, and a whole lot of new resentment and humiliation at the U.S. humbling of the Iraqi national myth. It's hard to say who would have the higher chance of assassination walking alone among the population right now, Saddam or a highly ranked American official... but it'd be a closer call than you might think.
*What that means, of course, is that any realistic prospect of crimes-against-humanity tribunals in Iraq is going to be vigorously resisted by the U.S. The enemy of the enemy is your friend... instead, expect some McCloy-style pardons, rehabilitations, etc., for anyone short of Hussein and his immediate family alone. (This, of course, only undermines the "we invaded Iraq for the Iraqis" argument, but that's just how this plays out. In the final analysis, not too many Nazis saw harsh justice, either.)
TIME FOR A NEW WARBLOGGER CATCHPHRASE
"Whiskey... mumble mumble... sexy?"
In other news, someone needs to send Staff Sgt. Pollard home. Right now.
BAD DAY FOR FROG BLOGGING
The lesson from this week's ludicrous French war museum flag fracas has to be: "If you're determined to make a fool of yourself online, at least step back a few paces and get the whole scene in your disposable camera viewfinder so we can see what a dope you are immediately and stop wasting our valuable time."
Or you could always read the freaking plaque, I suppose.
TAKING A SANITY BREAK
Unlike other bloggers, apparently I don't announce these in advance. Back soon.
"endearingly macho" -- Mark Steyn
"wonderfully detailed analysis" -- John Allemang, Globe and Mail
"unusually candid" -- Tom Ricks, Foreignpolicy.com
Bill & Bob
Ghosts of Alex