August 12, 2003


(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.

Posted by BruceR at 06:46 PM


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.

Posted by BruceR at 01:23 PM


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.

Posted by BruceR at 12:38 AM