August 29, 2003
NEWS FROM AFGHANISTAN
A couple emails from "D.," a colleague with the Canadian contingent in Kabul, recently received.
In another email, D. also praises the work of National Post imbedded reporter Chris Wattie for coverage of the Canadian contingent. I'd concur. Wattie is actually former CF himself, and knows the score.
Had an interesting day today and was out on the range. On the half hour trip there in our armoured personnel carrier, we passed through an abandoned Soviet base with literally hundreds of tanks, armoured fighting vehicles and mine layers, all sitting in the desert with rust. Some had significant battle damage and others looked almost new. The buildings on the base had a lot of
damage, complete with roof plates waving in the wind, almost beckoning, but in a sinister way. There was even a grave yard for the Soviet soldiers, now long forgotten in this spooky ghost town. Lots of caves and bunkers which the Taliban also used.
The whole place is mined, and the range area was in the middle of the desert with a very dramatic mountain as a backstop, also packed with Soviet mines. A few camels went by, pulled along by their nomad masters who looked at us curiously. Some dust devils wandered through as well. They are small tornadoes, and can really kick up the desert floor.
This country is very beautiful, but it is quite haunted. A truly spooky place.
All is well here, and this is the land of surrealism and paradox. For example: you are not allowed to take guns to work, while I am not allowed to be without one. You must do up your seatbelt to save your life. For me the extra seconds in getting out of my jeep would mean my life, so seat belts here are forbidden. The dust storms in the late afternoon are so severe that you can not see more that 500 feet, yet at night, I have a spectacular view of the Milky Way. Here's a good one; I am in the middle of an islamic republic (what's left of it), but on Sundays, our padre conducts our church service in a modular tent. (We leave our pistols and rifles at the door). Our padre is a woman - the locals would love that!
I am in a very interesting job, probably the best one here. In the morning, I leave my tent at about 6:30 for breakfast in the mess tent (pistol on, hat off), then go to my office which is in a heavily battle damaged building. The office is air conditioned. I go to the ___ and get the latest threat estimate and then every position reports on their area. It is back to my office for a little organization. I may have several meetings that day - if they are outside the camp, then the flak vest goes on, the combat vest and helmet too, and then I am off in a vehicle - jeep, armoured personnel carrier, or SUV, to meet a Wakil,
another member of the multinational contingent, maybe a war lord or a mullah (all have their private armies - one of them had a stunning collection of Soviet tanks) and then back to camp. In our HQ are military officers from Germany, Croatia, UK, US, Germany, Denmark, Holland, Sweden - you name it. Every once in a while we sit over a coffee and play "my bombed out building is better than your bombed out building" and other amusing games.
August 28, 2003
BACKING AWAY SLOWLY
"I can assure you there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that there's any terrorist threat anywhere in this country related to this investigation."
That leaves Immigration Canada alone and swinging in the wind with the "Al Qaeda sleeper cell" allegations.
One suspects the Mounties were originally trying to seed the media clouds with the idea that this scam COULD have been, a conduit, someday, for potential terrorists to enter Canada. I don't believe even they were stupid enough to intimate to their friends in the press that it already had become one. But the National Post picked up and ran with it (yesterday's front page was a giant picture of the "threatened" CN Tower) and the Mounties are now risking getting pinned to the board by their own earlier rhetoric.
The final outcome of this one will likely be zero criminal charges, and a bunch of Pakistani immigrants deported for fraud. Nothing wrong with that, of course. But this National Post treatment (cited by Instapundit in toto) is just unconscionable:
Members of the group were caught at the Pickering Nuclear Power plant at night...
Actually those in custody only KNEW a couple people who were once caught on the beach in front of the plant at night. The two actually involved in that incident have not been arrested.
...while another flew over the reactor while training at a flight school in Durham...
There is no restricted fly zone over the reactor, and the individual's flight instructor has said he never went near there. The actual Immigration Canada allegation is that, from his airport, he COULD have flown over Pickering if he had chosen to... a very different thing.
Other members were linked to the theft of radioactive material...
Wrong again... the actual allegation is that one or more members COULD have had ACCESS to industrial cesium gauges. No theft is currently alleged.
and one had ties to a fundraising front for al-Qaeda.
As I understand the allegation, one member knew someone who knew someone who worked for an organization that has been accused of sending funds to the Bin Laden organization. This, of course, all happened before Sept. 11, when people cared less about these things.
Hey, it's remotely possible there's still something here that investigators could turn up. But the accumulated evidence they've made public thus far is worth exactly zero by any reasonable legal standard, and as the RCMP head rightly says, doesn't come close to establishing there's actually a would-be terrorist in the lot.
Note to non-Toronto readers: the Post's Stewart Bell, who's running with this one for them, is a hack, plain and simple. The Globe's Colin Freeze seems to have remained suitably skeptical, but if you really want to trust one version of this story, look to anything bylined by the Star's Michelle Shephard, possibly the best young crime reporter in the country at the moment. I'm glad she's been assigned to this one.
UPDATE: How'd you like to have the guy who said this[immigration adjudicator William Willoughby] as the judge the next time your freedom is at stake: "Just because there's no evidence presented doesn't mean there's no reason to have a reasonable suspicion."
August 27, 2003
ANOTHER NORRATH CASUALTY?
Another interesting game-related tragedy story out of Arkansas this month, with Everquest blamed for a three-year old's car death. The twist is that the mother in question was associated with an anti-EQ addiction group.
Back in May, Christina Cordell, 36, of Springdale, AK, apparently wrote into the Spouses Against Everquest discussion board, "I feel sorry that people get wrapped up into this and destroy their relationships. I just hope that one day they will wake up before it's too late and realize they are alone with no real friends and their family is gone."
On Aug. 8, that seems to be exactly what happened to Cordell. She has since been charged with manslaughter for the death of her three year-old daughter in a hot car while she was inside playing EQ with her live-in boyfriend.
There's about one story a year in the U.S. like this... I've professionally covered a couple of them. It's worth noting that it's almost never the local law enforcement or justice authorities who raise the spectre of EQ addiction... it is almost always brought in as a possible mitigator by friends and sometimes defence counsel, for the actions of a neglectful parent. In one story I did write about in Florida, even the defence counsel laughed at the choice of EQ as a diversion being much use in a courtroom, calling it "the dumbest idea I've ever heard." It's similar in this context to the Columbine shootings, which although certainly at least slightly Doom/Quake-inspired, were never regarded by the police as blamable on any one other than those who pulled the triggers, and possibly those who sold them the guns and trained them in firearms use.
Cordell's posts to the Spouses Against Everquest Yahoo group are archived here.
August 26, 2003
IRAQ OCCUPATION THOUGHTS
A couple thoughts on events in Iraq while I was away.
*The UN compound attack, overlooking all the blogosphere silliness it has engendered, was in intent and execution extremely simple. The audience, the intended audience, was the Iraqi would-be collaborator. "No matter who you are," the message reads, "we can get you." By attacking and successfully killing the best-liked Westerner in Iraq, Sergio de Mello, the message that the Americans cannot protect their friends and fellow travellers was starkly, viciously conveyed. Salam Pax certainly saw that as the message. No matter what else you say about this, this is a significant setback for the American occupation, probably the largest since war's end. It will certainly discourage prominent Iraqis from associating themselves with American interests, and will hobble the efforts of the Iraqi governing council, which only pulled together in the end as a result of de Mello's personal involvement. To say that this only shows the Iraqi resistance is "desperate" is a non-falsifiable hypothesis (ie, the same argument would surely have been made if the attack had failed, or had hit a far lesser value target). From a more dispassionate point of view, the move was brilliant.
*For the record, I don't think American troop levels in Iraq are insufficient, and they are not as far from historical norms as some claim. I don't believe anyone seriously believes the Americans could lose control of the country in any real way, for instance. However, what the recent Balkan occupations did show, if nothing else, was that erring on the side of caution, and flooding a hostile country with peacekeepers even beyond what was really needed, does have a positive quantitative effect on friendly casualty levels. It's a reasonable hypothesis that if the Americans are still suffering 20+ combat fatalities a month with 150,000, they'd be suffering a fraction of that with a larger number. That unquantifiable "delta" in combat fatalities, those (now-dozens of) Americans and British who didn't have to die, are a direct result of trying to do more with less, and should be counted as such in the final reckoning of how the Americans chose to fight this war.
*The larger problem isn't so much with the current force levels, but the inexorable downward slope the American numbers are on, and the failure to find replacements internationally. The withdrawal of the 101st Airborne in February will be the crucible, as in the absence of the second multinational division, there is no replacement force in sight, and, short a major new National Guard callup, no American replacement, either. The Bush administration, loath to engage the Security Council or with Ankara, the only two agencies that could easily solve their problem, for the right price, seem now to be gambling that there will be a major improvement in the internal security of the Iraqi state within four to five months. If there is more to the plan at the moment than simple hope, I confess I'm not seeing it yet.
CLEAR CHOICE, ANYWAY
Hmm... either NATO can elect Canadian John Manley, the human equivalent of WonderBread, as its secretary-general, or this woman. (Tip to Patrick C.)
THE DOG THAT DIDN'T BARK
There's a lot of fuss about the RCMP's busting of a Indian-Canadian immigration scam, with 19 Punjabi immigrants currently being held without charges. The RCMP is painting this as a terrorist bust, but it's clearly not.
Not that I lose a lot of sleep over immigration scammers, but to paint the 19 held as would-be terrorists is rather ludicrous. You don't have to be as anti-WOT as Tom Walkom to see this is something of a trumped-up PR move on the RCMP's part, turning a rather routine bust into a case for more anti-terrorism funding. This is more about duelling agencies than airspace security.
Two significant facts that haven't been made obvious yet, but made me wonder the moment I saw the first article (and are good hints for evaluating these sorts of events in general)... by all accounts this scam probably gave hundreds of Punjabis Canadian student visas, only those who were organizers or were doing something "suspicious" are in custody... finding only one out of those hundreds that enrolled in a flight school once here might actually be rather surprising, in that light.
Second is the complete absence of any involvement by CSIS, the primary Canadian security service. Even if they hadn't been involved, they would have benefitted by the credit if they thought there was anything here. An RCMP-Immigration terrorism release in Canada is the loose equivalent of a Homeland Security/INS release in the US that didn't bear the stamp of the FBI: suspicious on its face. To distort the Holmesian dictum, the anti-terrorism watchdog isn't barking in the night here.
UPDATE: Longtime reader P.J.C. asks me to clarify that the Punjabis in question were from the Pakistani side of the Punjab, not the Indian side. I was using "Indian-Canadian" in its perhaps overgeneralized sense there. (Subcontinental-Canadian?) Thanks for keeping me honest, P.J.
UPDATE: More here.
August 15, 2003
In Ottawa, the eternal Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill was snuffed out by the blackout. --Globe and Mail
"Last June the Liberals pressured the government to issue public-information pamphlets about what to do in a blackout. The [Eves] government, nervous about acknowledging any imperfections in its power-distribution system, accused them of being Chicken Littles." --Globe, again
"I guess in nine months, we're going to see the biggest baby boom we've ever seen," [Toronto mayor Mel] Lastman said [in his sole contribution to the crisis to date. Thx, Mel.]
The real tragedy here is that this will be sufficient excuse for the provincial Tories to cancel this fall's provincial election, guaranteeing us at least six more months of stunningly irresponsible leadership. Woo ha.
Assuming things stay relatively under control here, I'm taking a little time off from blogging and computers over the next week. Play nice.
CAN WE GET SOME CLARITY ON THE WATER THING?
Now, if Phil Carter is right, that the American military gives all its personnel access to considerably more than 3 litres of water per day, cause at only three litres a day you die, then this story, about Iraqi prisoners held by the U.S. for weeks on one-sixth of a litre per day can't possibly be right. Right? Right?
TICK TOCK, GENTLEMEN
August 14, 2003
IRAQ TROOPS UPDATE
Just a quick update on our earlier post on the major contingents other than the Americans and British in Iraq.
Based on this N.Y. Times article, the Americans still don't have firm commitments from two of the 12 nations who we listed as having offered significant forces (South Korea and Fiji) and now apparently have only a non-combat commitment from two of the others (Bulgaria and El Salvador).
So as far as combat forces, the remaining unit- and formation-level commitments are from:
with the British 3rd division--
in the multinational "division"--
Everything else is non-combat, or tokenistic. Once you cut through the long list of countries in the Pentagon press releases, this "group of seven" are the real contributors at the moment. Just in case you were wondering who the U.S.'s real friends in Iraq are (all Europe, it should be noted). We'll keep you updated as the numbers dance.
UPDATE: A keen reader will note I left off Bulgaria's 500-strong battalion, which was on the first list. That was based on some indications I'd read that their use as actual combat troops would be circumscribed. I don't have anything firm on that, so it's possible we're really talking a group of eight.
OVERSTATING THE CLAIM
I have no idea how James Dunnigan thinks he got the number in this sentence, but it's wrong.
Terrorists trying to take down airliners with portable missiles has been a threat for a long time. Actually, over the last thirty years, it's been a reality. Some 29 commercial aircraft have been shot down by such missiles.
Either Dunnigan is counting small planes, or military transports, or other kinds of antiaircraft weapon in that total, because that's a much higher number than I've ever seen elsewhere. It's certainly not the generally accepted number for "commercial aircraft" brought down by "portable missiles." Here's the complete list of commercial aircraft, downed or possibly downed by ground-based anti-aircraft fire.
As you can see, the number is 23. Of those, only 5 are confirmed "portable missiles" (SA-7 and Stinger), and 4 have been confirmed as distinctly non-portable kinds (naval missiles), or other gunfire. One is from before the introduction of man-portable missiles (1965). So at absolute most, the number Dunnigan's looking for is 18. Of those, fully 10 are considered "possibles," meaning that while a missile hit has not been ruled out, there's insufficient evidence to determine whether it was a missile, some other kind of AA fire, like a gun or larger missile, or in some cases a air-detonated bomb or some other cause altogether. If I had to guess, I'd say the real number was around 14, about half what Dunnigan claims.
UNITA has claimed two missile kills on Angolan planes, but neither has ever been proven (just straight-out crashing has not been ruled out in either case); another five are from the peripheries of the Vietnam War, with planes crashing in jungle over fighting with little way to determine what really happened; and two lighter planes have gone down in suspicious circumstances in African countries that had fighting ongoing. Presumably Dunnigan is counting all those, plus a whole bunch of others that don't even fit his own definition.
What it is fair to say is this. Since at least 1978, when the Rhodesian rebels brought down two propeller craft with SA-7s, portable SAMs have constituted a minor threat to civilian air in some areas of the world. In general, attacks with man-portable SAMs follow certain characteristics: they are almost always aimed at a plane as it's taking off. They generally take place in areas of civil strife, where the civilian authority has poor airspace and airport perimeter control. The leading confirmed killer to date is the SA-7, which requires rather precise siting and a smaller slow-moving target to succeed. Better missiles are now becoming available, and attacks of this kind are likely to become easier to accomplish than in the past as a result.
Size of aircraft definitely matters, as Dunnigan points out. Breaking down the 18 accidents that did or could conceivably have been caused by a man-portable missile by airframe, you get 9 involving two-engine prop aircraft (382 fatalities total), 4 with 4-engine props (156), two with twin-jets (157), two with trijets (161) and one with a quad-jet aircraft (0).
In all confirmed cases, the pilots retained at least some control of the plane initially; most fatalities in these cases actually happen as a result of the failed one- or two-engine emergency landings that follow. In one case in Afghanistan, everyone walked away from a four-jet aircraft after their plane was hit by a Stinger, although the plane itself was a write-off; in another, in Rhodesia, fatalities were compounded because the missile team was able to reach the crash scene before rescuers and finish the survivors off on the ground.
I would totally support the Schumer proposition that anti-missile systems, once they've been widely adopted by military transport fleets first, should be extended to international planes with routes that take them into high-risk areas. I just don't see missiles as a serious threat to commercial domestic air, requiring a $10-20 billion dollar quick fix. Yet.
PS: While I'm at it, saying "most" of these incidents occurred in Africa, which is why the West never hears about them, is also incorrect. Of the 23 confirmeds and possibles on that comprehensive list, note that only eight occurred in Africa. North Americans are just as capable of ignoring the news about other countries, too, it seems.
UPDATE: Dave L. writes in with a clue as to the apparent source for the Dunnigan "29" claim, which is apparently an FBI report. If so, it's got to be a misquote on somebody's part, either including military transports (which would be highly misleading) or smaller private aircraft and helicopters, or possibly even known misses as well as kills. But as the number of missile strikes that "shot down" civil fixed-wing aviation, it's certainly overstated.
August 13, 2003
SOME PEOPLE, INDEED
"There is a difference between saying that our dealings with Saddam have to be viewed in the context of the September 11 attacks and claiming that he was behind them. Some people still can't grasp that."
--Bill Herbert, today
“Evidence of a meeting in Prague between a senior Iraqi intelligence agent and Mohamed Atta, the Sept. 11 ringleader, is convincing,."
--Richard Perle, New York Times, December, 2001
"Mohammed Atta met Saddam Hussein in Baghdad prior to September 11. We have proof of that, and we are sure he wasn’t just there for a holiday... the meeting is one of the motives for an American attack on Iraq.”
--Perle again, in an interview with an Italian newspaper, September, 2002
MORE ON SAMS
Josh Marshall has probably said everything worth saying on the SAM sting. But for easy reference, here's the Flit post from the last attempted missile attack on an airliner. The conclusion, in short, still stands: "Firm reports of [modern SAMs] in terrorist hands, when it eventually comes, will be considerably more alarming." This wasn't it.
The fake SA-18 that was offered up to the arms merchant dupe is an early model of the current Russian shoulder-launched heat seeker. The "Igla" slightly less effective than the current first-line military SA-16 (the "Igla-1"), but the launchers look very similar. The SA-16, is of course, the missile responsible for arguably the most significant anti-aircraft kill in history, the assassination of the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi that plunged central Africa into chaos in 1994.
Chuck Schumer is calling today for countermeasures for civilian aircraft... it's hard to imagine what kind of countermeasures could make a difference against this threat, though. The attack point, if the target is a commercial jet, is going to be shortly after launch. Pilot visibility to the rear and below is notoriously bad, and other than visual indications (ie a smoke trail) there's no way to tell a heat-seeker has located you (at least with readily available technology today: see below). So pilot-activated countermeasures are likely to be about as useful as a pistol in a cockpit. More efforts like this sting, to put fear into the middlemen who could arrange the export of missiles like this into the country for any would-be terrorist, is likely to be far more cost-effective.
Compared to the Sa-7s used in Kenya, the likely launch zone is somewhat wider in the case of modern all-aspect missiles, but it's still basically predictable. The launch area, if and when this is attempted, will be in a more or less straight line off one end of a well-used launchway, so the shooter is not dealing with a crossing target. A kill against a multi-jet airliner by a single small missile is rather unlikely anyway... you'd want to maximize your chances by firing when there's fuel in the tanks, not when they're empty and the plane's more maneuverable, so landing approach is right out. Mid flight is, as we discussed before with the TWA 800 conspiracists, impossible for any smugglable missile.
Okay, so the attack will likely come shortly after launch. But odds are a multi-engine jet would survive a single missile attack, particularly if the terrorists hedge their bets by leaving the proximity fuzing on the warhead on, so the missile goes off behind one engine and showers the engine and wing with shrapnel. Pilots are trained to respond to the loss of an engine on takeoff, and absent major structural damage, they could well recover from a single missile hit. So if a commercial airliner were the target of serious terrorists, we'd almost certainly be talking multiple missiles (as was the case in Kenya), and a team of trained individuals, who had previous experience with the weapon (these are powerful weapons to launch off your shoulder, trust me, and success by a first-time launcher, even for an easier-to-use missile like the SA-16 or Stinger, can't reasonably be expected). Even the Rwandan hit used multiple launchers, against a small aircraft that was probably ballistic wreckage after the first hit.
That kind of team would be a somewhat easier target for domestic intelligence to pick up, as they'd likely have to have been trained outside the U.S... there's no equivalent to civilian U.S. "flight schools" for missiles. They'd need at least part of the team to have conducted extensive reconnaissance of airports beforehand, including an extensive familiarity with local terrain, and launch schedules... there'd be nothing worse than going through all this effort and taking out a FedEx plane by mistake. It's by its nature a much more complex effort than something like Sept. 11, because now you're importing expensive equipment (likely coming by sea), as well as people (likely coming by air), and marrying them up in a foreign city. Doable? Possibly. But one can't help feeling that when this kind of attack is finally attempted again, it'll be in a country that's easier to enter, ie, not across an ocean. An airport in Delhi or Moscow (or Djakarta) would have a much higher chance of payoff for the effort required.
So I'm still not too worried about North American commercial air at the moment. Well, I am, but I'm more worried about hijackers or bombs than missiles. If that's any comfort to you.
UPDATE: I should add that air forces are making rapid progress with developing passive infrared countermeasure systems, which would enable detection and automatic reaction to a missile launched at a commercial liner. This technology is still in the real early stages, though, and its cross-fleet deployment right now, before it's been successfully deployed on a similar military aircraft fleet and the many bugs to come worked out and the cost brought down, still seems rather premature.
The most likely candidate at the moment for Schumer, et al, would be something like the AN/AAR-47, which detects incoming missiles by their jet plume and can be linked to a flare dispenser. This system currently protects some of the USAF's C-17 Globemaster III fleet, which is at least a comparable airframe. (Other similar systems protect much of the largebody Special Operations fleet, and are gradually being extended to helicopters and fast jets.) The cost per system for a modern passive detector is on the order of $3 million US per plane. (Schumer has publicly said the cost for the commercial fleet per airframe would be half that, which seems optimistic based on the evidence: if nothing else, interactions of such a system in a crowded airport environment have never really been evaluated yet, not to mention the interactions of this kind of system with all the other systems on the airliner itself... it's important to remember the Swissair tragedy was caused by a poor installation plan of a new onboard computer gaming system.)
August 12, 2003
HAS NAPALM BEEN BANNED?
(See previous story.) Okay, let's not overclaim. Yes, the Pentagon PR establishment was clearly misleading about the use of napalm at Safwan Hill in the Iraq war. The nub: two frontline Marine officers told an Australian reporter the hill had been napalmed by Navy planes, and then the Pentagon strenuously denied it.
Yes, the Marine officers were using the vernacular, and not using the approved lingo, "firebomb" instead of "napalm." So they didn't read the memo. But to call their story "blatantly false" was simply unconscionable from a PR perspective.
But was the bombing illegal?
Ah, here's where it gets interesting (and dovetails nicely into my last post on "soft power" really being shorthand for attempts to restrain U.S. action by frowning).
The same Australian news reporter, and subsequent reports, now that the full truth is out, have both said that the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons outlawed napalm. Some conveniently add that the U.S. didn't sign that treaty. What's the truth?
The 1980 convention had three protocols, in fact (a fourth on laser weapons was added later). The first two related to weapons that left non-detectable fragments in the body, and the indiscriminate use of landmines. Nearly every country, including the U.S., has ratified those. The third related to incendiary weapons, like napalm or phosphorus or flamethrowers. It does NOT outlaw them, but restricts their indiscriminate use, specifically:
*prohibiting their use against civilians;
*prohibiting their use against military targets in close proximity to civilians; and
*prohibiting their use against forests, unless those forests are being used as military concealment.
Reasonable restrictions, one might say: Canada has no problem signing on to this protocol, too. The U.S., to date, has not. But even if they had, the target they were used on in Iraq, Safwan Hill, was without a doubt not a prohibited use. It was a straight out military target, far from civilians. The U.S. is innocent as charged, by any reasonable interpretation of the protocol.
Unfortunately, reason doesn't seem to enter into these sorts of things much anymore. If we're going to frown deeply at the U.S. every time they actually DO follow the letter of a treaty (one they haven't even signed), because we think they should have taken some larger, more holistic view of military morality than they've so far been even asked to stipulate to, we should fully expect them and everyone else to avoid any and all treaty commitments that possibly could restrain their actions in future. At which point we all lose whatever little purchase on the conduct of wars worldwide that we might have had, and the world is on its way to being a crueler place than it could have been.
There's a good summary of the CCW protocol's restrictions (including amendments to the landmine protocol introduced at the same time as the Ottawa Landmine Treaty) here. The actual wording of the incendiary weapons protocol is here.
THE POWERLESSNESS OF SOFT POWER
U of T prof Henry Farrell (you know, that other U of T blogger) took a run at Steven Den Beste the other day. I thought it was rather petty of him, myself. To the pedantically minded, Den Beste really is the easiest of the blogger targets... he almost never uses one historical example when two will do, or one word when ten will suffice, so there's inevitably a higher absolute number of errors and commentable quibbles than someone more succinct might have. At his best, he's an encyclopedia. At his worst, an online exemplar of the virtue of brevity.
Den Beste has another rather overlong piece today (cited, as usual, approvingly by Instapundit), far too long for anyone with work to do to actually read, on hard versus soft power. The gist: America is unstoppable in either realm.
I could certainly quibble with the arguments (The idea that "moviemakers don't make movies with an eye to the world market in hopes of spreading American ideals elsewhere." is really rather naive, in a time where the prospect of foreign sales on top of domestic are really the only reason movies like Terminator 3 ever get made, or make money when they are. Hollywood's steadfast insistence that foreign countries stop public funding of their cultural industries, or face retaliatory economic actions by the States, is hardly bathed in altruism.) but the essential point is correct. In soft power as well as hard, American dominance is supreme. (And thankfully so.)
Which is why I never understood the argument by those opposed to Canadian military rearmament (Richard Gwyn, Janice Stein et al) that Canada could "punch above its weight" in the soft power realm far more than it could in the hard. In hard power terms, at least the American military stops at the country's borders. But in the soft power realm, we've been losing any battle worth mentioning in our own country to American "cultural imperialism" for decades. And yet some people apparently feel we can export Canadian values and change the world that way we want more cost-effectively than through political-military engagement.
It is often these same people, of course, who worry that Canadian military forces abroad can be too easily proxified, that in the era of the hyperpower we have no ability to deliver any coherent foreign policy independent of U.S. aims if it involves our soldiers. Iraq is the classic example for them: if we had 1,000 troops to send to join the other nations in Iraq now, wouldn't that just be freeing up 1,000 American troops they could use somewhere else, without consulting us? Besides potentially enabling even more unilateral adventurism, how would this help Canadians, or increase good feeling for Canada abroad? (Note I'm not saying I agree, just that I grasp the logic.)
But the same is surely even more true of "soft power." For there's few tangible measures Canada could advocate for internationally that wouldn't benefit the economic powerhouse to the south of us even more. Lowering trade barriers, dismantling cultural protectionism, etc., will, in any country they're enacted, let in far more American values than Canadian into their cultural matrix.
Even our purest cultural products are basically American proxies. Think about it... the TV program Degrassi Junior High was, by any measure, a successful Canadian export. Widely viewed and translated world wide, it was a money maker in foreign syndication, and certainly gave the world a good look at the lives of young people in Toronto in the 1980s, for better and worse. Toronto's a great multiethnic community and that was reflected in the show's casting, and in a mercenary sense, if it showed people everywhere that living in an officially colorblind, pluralistic society was positive for young people, well, that's an exported Canadian value right there.
But... but. The junior high schooler's experience in Canada isn't THAT different from an American counterpart's, really. In the show they're wearing American clothes, listen to American music, use American linguistic mannerisms, and reside in a neighbourhood that, absent some minor differences, could have been in St. Paul or Topeka as easily. Because there aren't Canadian flags waving all over the place on screen, or any other attempt by the filmmakers to show young people's lives as anything more than they actually were (that was the show's charm), it's entirely possible you could watch a season run of DeGrassi and, if you weren't familiar much with North American culture, not even know it took place in Canada. While it's great that the public network here supported the series, and gave work to the Canadian TV industry by doing so, Degrassi didn't do anything at all that was in any way contrary to American cultural interests.
Um, this entry is getting rather denbestian in its own right, but I think the point's made. Canadian "soft power" is just as easily a proxy for American soft power as our hard power is, even more so in fact. The idea we could promote a competing cultural vision to that of the U.S., one that was coherent and compelling to, say, a Middle Eastern observer, is really quite bizarre. Note that we're talking about the active use of soft power, which is what is frequently advocated here as an alternative to military expenditure. If this country just wants to passively live differently than Americans (fewer guns, broader health care, etc.), well, we're going to do that anyway, aren't we? If people like what they see, they're free to try and do it in their countries. Or move here.
I should add that this crossover of our soft power interests has long been used to Canadians' advantage, too. When for instance the Canadian West needed to be populated (or at least repopulated) a century ago, Sifton and Laurier spent a lot on marketing Canada in Eastern Europe, but they were also free riding an already growing reputation that the U.S. had as a land of opportunity for immigrants. (Even then our message was, more or less, "Come to Canada, it's like Kansas but with fewer guns and cheaper land.")
So, if soft power means only our living well, it doesn't compete for resources with hard power. And if it means promoting Canadianness abroad through trade and cultural exchange, then it serves the U.S. interests as well as our own, and we're no more capable of striking an independent path with it than we are with our military.
What I wonder though, if "soft power" as its used in the Canadian political lexicon isn't really shorthand for a third option, though: measures that promote internationalism and multilateralism, at the expense of our own sovereignty sometimes, in an effort to rein in the United States with Lilliputian bonds. The International Criminal Court, the Land Mines Treaty, and the Law of the Sea have all been embraced as soft power initiatives in this manner: promoted by Canadian diplomacy abroad, even at the expense of better relations with our largest trading partner. (Witness our laughable attempt to inject a "Canadian compromise" into the pre-war Security Council debate on Iraq.)
In some case, particularly the Law of the Sea or the Biological Weapons Convention, there are compelling reasons why Americans as well as Canadians could benefit from their signing on, and there's surely value in calmly pointing our neighbours' own self-interest out to them... but in most cases these are largely anchors on America's ability to set its own course now, and are being perceived as such. Soft power in this sense seems often to amount to little more than frowning across the border. It's an idea whose time has passed, and shows only the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of its proponents. Next time you hear the phrase, it may be worth your time to press the speaker on the specifics.
LIKE MASHED POTATOES AT THE WALL
As usual, the real story in the latest Iraq press release is the one that's unsaid.
I'm actually pretty amazed that someone as smart as Glenn Reynolds keeps missing the upshot.
Reynolds approvingly cites an entry on Stryker, pointing to a list of "accomplishments so far" from Iraq that was recently released. It's the latest emergence of any scraps of evidence at all to support the pre-war case for pre-emption.
This is the nut graf:
Iraq agreed to provide chemical and biological weapons training for two al Qaida associates starting in December 2000.
The piece goes on to describe the actions of the Zarqawi Al Qaeda cell in Baghdad, which arrived in June, 2002 (after the U.S. had made it clear Iraq was in their sights, it should be noted) and probably responsible for the assassination of the U.S. ambassador to Jordan, if not much else; Ansar Al-Islam, which supposedly had a "poisons/toxins laboratory" inside the Kurdish autonomous zone (I've never seen much confirmation of this, but regardless the simple fact of their location means they could have had nothing to do with Hussein, who no longer physically controlled it), and a couple other Iraqi offences against the world order (the Abu Nidal asylum, the funding of Palestinian resistance) that were never part of the pro-war argument to begin with.
Missing and presumed specious from the press release, though, are:
*any and all reports of existing WMDs since war's end;
*any and all reports of rockets, ie Scuds, that exceeded mandated ranges;
*the Iraqi biotrailers;
*the rosebush centrifuge;
*the Mohammed Atta "meetings" in Europe;
*the unmanned drones of death;
*any other evidence of useful Al Qaeda collaboration with Iraq other than the one instance above.
If the White House had any faith left at all in any of these things panning out, surely they would have listed it alongside this single, kind of lonely-looking-as-it-is allegation that 2 Al Qaeda members were enrolled in the Baghdad University Institute of Anthrax for a semester. (Of course, to establish that that kind of collaboration was a threat, you'd have to establish that Iraq had some bioweapon production ability or stockpile in 2000 that it could even have lent out through them, something itself looking increasingly doubtful now.)
I hope we'll hear more about this instance, though, which at least promises to be a fruitful line of inquiry. For instance, what other countries did Al Qaeda send operatives to to learn about bio and chemical weapons? And does this bring us any closer to the Holy Grail of WMD, an Iraq-Al Qaeda-Anthrax attack linkage?
But everything else we cogitated over has vanished, like a shadow in the sunlight. It's rather nice to be able to strike off so many at once, actually.
We now have to look forward next to the report of David Kay, who pushed hard for an invasion before the war, was constantly on TV praising the invasion during the war, and was conveniently hired by the CIA after the war to issue the definitive first pass at history on the WMD issue. A more ardent Bush partisan than this one, there isn't. Again, what will be really interesting is all the stuff that he either leaves out or hides in the mouse print. There'll be a whole lot of new fantastic allegations, of course, but it's probably best at this point to treat those as we would another Powell speech, a whole new set of tissues covering lies it'll take another nine months for the Washington Post to get to the bottom of. No, keep focussing instead on the words that are unsaid. You know the warblogs won't be.
August 11, 2003
IT'S A TOSSUP
Good piece on Canadians in Kabul. Choice quote: "The Germans have dubbed the place Camp Krusty. The Canadians are considering Camp Scorpion or Canada House".
Hmm. Decisions, decisions. (Hat tip to Pat C.)
REBRANDING AIN'T JUST FOR TOOTHPASTE ANYMORE
You say tom-ay-to, and I say tom-ah-to;
You say napalm and I say 500 lb Mark 77 firebomb;
Tomayto, tomahto, napalm, firebomb;
Let's flatten Safwan Hill.
Best quote: "A spokesman admitted [firebombs] were "remarkably similar" to napalm but said they caused less environmental damage."
UPDATE: I remember the denials at the time of the Safwan bombing that, despite eyewitness testimony from reporters and soldiers, the Armed Forces PR machine insisting napalm wasn't used. I probably should have commented on it at the time. It's technically true... the old Vietnam-era napalm was chemically unstable and an environmental hazard wherever it was stored. The modern US firebomb material does not pose the same storage hazard. It is also about 50 per cent more destructive per unit weight vs. soft targets. But the modern firebomb is delivered exactly the same way (level bombing under 1000 ft), tumbles in the air the same unmistakable way, and to an observer on the next hill looks indistinguishable from its precursor. Per unit weight, a firebomb is arguably more effective than an AP cluster munition vs. soft targets under most conditions, and against a tightly packed target can do the same damage with a single munition that you'd need several precision high explosive weapons to do, due to its wider area of effect.
I should also add that any firebomb-delivering aircraft is about the best possible anti-aircraft target an AA gunner can hope for: low and level. For that reason, its use on the modern battlefield is limited to situations where the enemy is incapable of mounting any air defence, in addition to close-packed (and, due to the large potential for blowback from collateral damage, isolated from local civilans as well). Even in Iraq, that was a rare combination of circumstances, making the use of firebombs in both 1991 and 2003 still something of a rarity.
August 07, 2003
KAGAN ON IRAQ
The always provocative Fred Kagan on the lessons of Iraq, and the possibility the "RMA" aspects are over-rated.
Decades from now, the American conduct of the Second Iraqi War on the ground will be noted for two specific actions of military brilliance: the launch of ground forces across the start line without an aerial preliminary, which certainly brought the Americans enough Tigris bridges before they could be blown to ensure a quick war; and the "thunder run" into Baghdad, turning every conception of urban warfare in the textbooks completely upside down. Both moves were audacious, surprising, and decisive. Neither, however, was particularly novel, or overly reliant on "network-centric" type capabilities.
That doesn't mean US network-centricity didn't materially assist in American victory, or act as a force multiplier in its own right. Just that the two specific acts that won the ground war could also have been done by a US force in 1991 (or, for that matter a 1940-era mechanized force) if it enjoyed the same sorts of overwhelming advantages in protection, speed, training and morale.
IRAQ TROOPS UPDATE
We've written about this before. Here's the current rundown of troops from other countries headed for Iraq, in order of size of contingent, with a note at the end for what it means for U.S. troop redeployment.
1. Italy (sending 2,800 troops): A mechanized brigade-minus, serving with the British division.
2. Poland (2,300): Sent its troops without any vehicles (don't laugh, Canada did the same thing in Kandahar), which the US is providing for them. About 200 Poles were part of the original Iraq invasion force, making it the fourth-largest combat contingent. Providing a brigade-minus and a divisional headquarters this time.
3. Ukraine (1,800): A brigade-minus for the Polish-led division.
4. Spain (1,300): The U.S. recently rewarded Spain for its support by shifting a contract to build submarines for Taiwan from a German shipyard to a Spanish one. Providing the third brigade-minus for the Polish-led division.
5. Netherlands (1,100): A battalion of marines, augmented with engineers. A sizable contribution for this country. Will fill out the British division continuing on in the Basra area.
6. Fiji (700): Fiji, which had been a major UN peacekeeping contributor for decades, largely in Lebanon, wound up its role there recently when the Israelis withdrew and has been looking for a new way to get international military visibility since. It is currently under financial pressure from unpaid peacekeeping fees from the UN, though, and a parallel need to support the Australian operation in the Solomon Islands. If they go to Iraq, the US will likely be footing a significant bill for them. Would serve somewhere in the Polish structure if they do.
7. South Korea (670): South Korea's contribution is one of the largest on paper, but it's less than it seems, comprising medical and engineering units that are barred from serving in a combat role. Likely folded into the American rear area somewhere.
8. Bulgaria (500): Another early volunteer, Bulgaria is sending an infantry battalion to join the Polish-led division.
9. Romania (405): An infantry battalion, filling out the Italian brigade, above.
10. Denmark (380): One infantry battalion-minus, serving with the British.
11. Honduras (370): Engineers and doctors only. May be of some limited use for the Spanish brigade.
12. El Salvador (360): Unlike other Latin American offers of assistance, these are actually infantry, and will slot in with the Spanish.
All the other countries that are mentioned are either offering only sub-unit level forces (company or smaller size) or are still arguing over it (Thailand, Japan, Turkey).
So here's what you've basically got:
3 (UK) Division will now be at least a third to a half drawn from other countries (over 5,000) mostly from Western Europe... the greatest value from the multinational assistance so far has been in aiding Britain in drawing down its huge wartime commitment rapidly, although it will still have a brigade-plus of its own army in Iraq indefinitely, as well.
The Polish-led "division," that will connect the British and American sectors is still severely understrength, with under 10,000 soldiers, but it presumably has been put in the quietest sector (the Samawah area, south of Baghdad and northwest of Basra), too. It is replacing all of 1 Marine Division, which has had a fairly quiet postwar, allowing the Marines to finally get out and rebuild. It will have little effect on U.S. Army rotations, though.
The US Army, meanwhile is planning to quietly ratchet down its own presence in the centre and north of the country, week by week and month by month. It is already planning to go from 15 brigades to 13 with the withdrawal of the remainder of the 3rd Infantry Division in September (that's being replaced by only one brigade of the 82nd Airborne). The overall plan is to be down to no more than 10 brigades total by April (90-100,000 personnel with support troops), with only the 1st Infantry, 1st Cavalry, and two other regular brigades in country after that point (two National Guard brigades are also augmenting this force for its first six months).
The big drop-off right now comes around February, from about 150,000 to 130,000 soldiers from all countries combined, when the 101st Airborne pulls out of its sector en masse, with nothing at this point on deck to replace it. This may not be a huge problem if things are quieting down, as the other formations can then stretch to fill. But it was a third multinational division (and specifically an Indian contribution), even an understrength, polyglot one like the Polish one, that the Americans had hoped for to slot in in the Airborne's place, and that's almost certainly not materializing now without a new UN resolution.
The only nation that is receptive to committing combat troops to fill this February gap without UN involvement is, of course, Turkey, which has its own agenda in the region. Its offer of up to 5,000 troops is being regarded cautiously by Washington. If things haven't settled down as hoped for by September, and a replacement for the 101st appears to be prudent, the only options left to the U.S. now are going hat-in-hand to the Security Council, or to Ankara.
Speaking of agreeing with stuff, LGF is dead-on today. This is quite possibly the worst serious newspaper column ever written. How any editor could have this handed in to them and not burst out laughing before asking where the real column is, you crazy doofus, is quite beyond me.
Screaming "Ballroom Blitz" to the sky? RRRiiiggghhht...
UPDATE: *giggle* "the calm lake of open-thighed soul?" *giggle*
GO TELL THE SPARTANS
I have to fully agree here. Bettany Hughes is the first of a heretofore unheard-of breed: the History Babe. She could do a lot for PBS's bottom line. I caught the last two episodes of her Spartans series last night and she really is impossible to stop looking at. I think she may have been talking about Greece, but I'm not really sure...
Seriously, it was good old BBC travelogue history in the Michael Wood-Gwynne Dyer tradition, as good if not a better retelling as the recent Peloponnesian Wars series (ironically featuring Victor Davis Hanson). I did think the flaming red outfit at Delphi was a bit much, but I strongly recommend her work nonetheless.
August 06, 2003
LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT
So it's apparently universally accepted now that the Congressional inquiry into Sept. 11 drew no conclusions, indeed, made no inquiries at all apparently, on the question of Iraqi involvement in the WTC and Pentagon attacks. It just wasn't something they considered worth finding out.
What bothers Glenn Reynolds about this? Only that Robert Scheer lied about it.
August 05, 2003
SO LONG, AARDVARK
Looks like the Australians are going to have to give up their F-111s. As noted much earlier, that would leave the U.S. as one of only four countries in the world with any airplane capable of striking a target more than 1,000 miles away, with no one building strategic bombers anymore.
It also raises a point often made here, that buying into the next generation of air superiority aircraft is now beyond even the affluent middle powers' abilities. If Australia is cutting everything else in order to buy Joint Strike Fighters, imagine what the effect on Canada's military bottom line will be.
HATE TO SAY WE TOLD YOU SO...
*cough* February *cough*
As I said back then, regardless of any technology or technology differential, the basic number of forces required to keep an unwilling population in check in modern times has always wandered from 1,000:1 (benign) to 100:1 (oppressive). Now, you can certainly argue, as I did, with the Kosovo/Bosnia levels, which seemed higher than that situation dictated, but it was certainly foreseeable the American levels were unlikely to be much lower than they've ended up. They had to be low, though, because of a unilateral foreign policy approach combined with the new small military.
Which is sort of what bothers me about many hawks' post-war criticism that those who opposed the war are just looking for something new to harp on now. There were lots of people, like me, who said the actual war was likely going to be pretty easy for the U.S., but the post-war occupation would limit U.S. foreign policy options for several years, and ultimately was a serious gamble on the American people's willingness to persist through years of occupation. We also said that, given the paucity of information that indicated active Iraqi involvement in terrorism, or threats of much "mass destruction," that it was better to get a broader international consensus pre-war in order to secure larger numbers of partners post-war.
Well, it looks like the WMD predictions part pretty much came true (I actually may have overstated the threat when I said there might be some leftover chemical left.) The only question now seems to be whether any weapons R&D continued in Iraq AT ALL after 1998 (a reason for international action if it did, but not preemptive strike). And American ability to operate militarily elsewhere has been compromised for some time to come, more so even than I had thought likely. The verdict on the American people's commitment is still out, but I can't help but feeling that an American people that weren't prepared for the open ended commitment this required beforehand, are not as prepared as they should have been.
Okay, so what would you have done, BruceR? The UN sure wasn't going to authorize any action itself that would have suited the American need for a Middle Eastern reconstructivist crusade. There was no reasonable series of events that would have led to an internationally supported occupation of Iraq that I can see. Nor was there one I could see then, for that matter. If there is a "what-if" scenario out of all this in the history books of the next century, it'll probably be something like Robert Wright envisioned with his Thirteen Axioms, and I tried to apply here to the real-world situation.
Of course, THAT post was back in September...
PS: That post itself built on another trio of posts, back in March, 2002.
HOSTAGES OF INTERPRETATION
I'm going to part ways with Jim Henley on the Iraqi hostage-taking incident. The whole accusation of a U.S. war crime to date relies on a single-sentence, from one source, in one news story. If that sentence was even slightly altered or contextualized, the story can veer from straight-up criminality to standard intelligence-gathering. (Presumably the sentence was in Arabic, so at the minimum we're dealing with any opacity due just to translation.)
Take two examples. If the note to the Iraqi general actually was understandable, by a reasonable person, as saying:
"Your family has been taken into U.S. detention so they can be interrogated about your whereabouts. If you'd like them released promptly, you can always turn yourself in, you know."
... then that's legal, and entirely appropriate (indeed, it's more upright than the U.S. handling of, say, the Maher Arar case, where his family was only left to find out days after he was disappeared that he had been secretly deported to Syria).
If on the other hand, the sentence could to the same impartial, reasonable person, be read as:
"Your family has been taken into U.S. detention. The day they'll be released is the day you turn yourself in."
... well, then that's clearly against U.S. army procedure, all common legality, and the Geneva Convention to boot. (Bill Herbert and Max Adragna's defences of this as "just f*cking with [the general]" do not change the fact that such conduct is about as far from any successful hearts and minds strategy as you're likely to get.) That way lies Amritsar, and at least two online commentators with relevant military experience have fully disavowed such actions, if that is in fact how it went down.
So while I would agree with those that say the latter statement would be evidence of American depravity, there's simply not enough evidence yet to assume the facts in question are as they've been understood. A war crime that isn't? Maybe. More accurately, "a war crime that maybe isn't."
JUST A COUPLE THINGS
Okay, lots of email over the Canadian long weekend, largely dealing with how I run the site. Here's my responses, for the record.
1) I have a personal website because I design web applications to assist in corporate communications for a living. More than anything else it's my testbed. I have used it to test out Blogger and now Movable Type, and I've used the lessons I learned doing that in my real job. Any other function the site achieves would be secondary, if I wanted to get mercenary about it. That's why, for instance, I feel no need to ask for donations... this site has already more than realized its value in terms of straight-up costs to me. If you'd like to give someone money, give it to someone like Colby or Damian.
2) I don't have comments enabled in Movable Type because the Quicktopic board solution I have now is the lowest-maintenance one for me in terms of time. If I do replace it someday, it'll be when I find a new discussion board product I want to test out, or some other circumstance. (Of course, I also feel a great deal of responsibility to longtime readers now, too, and I'd never change the functionality of this site again if I wasn't committed to both improving the site, as I believe the Movable Type switchover did, and keeping any new functionality running longterm.)
3) My "absences" this summer have something to do with work, but also a large and increasing list of things that, for confidentiality reasons, it's difficult for me to comment on right now. I would love to talk about the Canadian government or military operations overseas or the university system more someday, but it would be inappropriate at the moment, and likely will be for the foreseeable future. My first responsibility in such cases has to be to live up to my word.
4) I've used the nick "BruceR" online for years, as a discussion board moderator, an online news site poster, a gamer, etc. It's my preferred online cognomen for that reason. That said, there's no secret who I am, or if you wanted to look it up, where I live. All my employers are aware of this site, and I'm not hiding in any way behind any alias here at Flit. (So call me what you like, Jim.)
5) I understand people who like my writing and don't like TMLutas, and more recently, vice versa. That's perfectly cool. I've installed some buttons along the top so you can filter one or both of us out. But barring some outrageous circumstance, I'm going to keep him around, because I like a lot (not all) of his stuff (no doubt also vice versa). If I do anything to address "balance issues," it would be to add still more posters. I have already at least one (as yet unaccepted) offer out there in this regard. If I were to offer it to anyone else, it would be drawn out of the excellent crowd that congregates online at Flitters, where we got TM from.
6) I have sympathy for Ikram's argument that blogs are better if they have an individual voice. But experimenting with Movable Type's multiple-poster functionality has, in addition to livening things up in Flitters and bringing new viewers here, for better and for worse, helped me think through a few ideas I've had related to blog use in a commercial setting. And again, to be mercenary, that kind of testbed stuff is what pays my bills. So even though I'm sure some people feel the individual point-of-view has been weakened recently, from my own point of view it's still been a success thus far.
7) I really do appreciate the commentary to this site, both in email and in Flitters, and especially the kind words I've received. Since the switchover to a blog-type site, I've found I've really had my preconceptions about all kinds of things challenged by you on a regular basis, and that's never a bad thing. While this site sometimes has other purposes, it's your feedback that helps me grow as a person, and I'm very thankful to all of you for that. I hope you'll keep dropping in when you can.
9) Er... that is all.
August 01, 2003
"endearingly macho" -- Mark Steyn
"wonderfully detailed analysis" -- John Allemang, Globe and Mail
"unusually candid" -- Tom Ricks, Foreignpolicy.com
Bill & Bob
Ghosts of Alex