November 10, 2003


Little entry devoted to blog gossip here.

Riverbend, the anti-American Iraqi weblog, has vanished. Wiped from Google, the whole bit. Whoever wanted to get rid of it was certainly efficient.

Meanwhile, the famous Iraqi blogger, Salam, has posted an entry that is somewhat wierder than usual, too.

Diana Moon, who had much to do with Salam's somewhat dangerous (to Salam) level of popularity back in the day Saddam was still running things, is back, on the other hand, and quite as insane as ever.

Little Green Footballs nearly got hacked through its own referrers page, which is interesting.

And one of the more interesting blogging voices, Arthur Silber, has apparently quit in disgust.

UPDATE: Riverbend's been phasing in and out, apparently. I'm not sure what this would have to do with Iraq, as some have suggested, as presumably that's not where Blogspot's servers are, but what the hey? Glad she's back.

Posted by BruceR at 10:46 PM


Daniel Benjamin gets the lead story spot in Slate today with a somewhat alarmist piece on surface-to-air missiles.

There are, as one might expect, numerous factual errors:

Benjamin writes: "In any case, even the best of these devices are estimated to perform effectively just 90 percent to 95 percent of the time."

This figure is extremely high. If "perform effectively" means the number of attempted launches divided by the number that kill or damage an aircraft target, first-generation missiles like the SA-7 would have a lifetime rating of somewhere in the single digits, less if not well-maintained. Comparing numbers of missiles fired to successful kills in after-action reports from the Falklands, Israel and other conflicts gives a pretty good idea of what successful kill rates are in target rich environments, and they're never anywhere near 90 per cent. If you looked at just helicopter targets, or just small aircraft, maybe you'd get somewhat higher numbers, but "just 90 percent" is needlessly alarmist. It also confuses the threat assessment... SA-7s are not high rate-of-return missiles, but some of the newer ones in, say, Russia's arsenal, like the SA-16, certainly are. Lumping them all in together masks the truly threatening ones... for instance I believe the American pressure on Nicaragua to get rid of its SA-7s is probably misplaced, in part due to muddy thinking like this.

Benjamin says the majority of his 40 "attacks" on civil aviation with MANPADS or RPGs (no idea on the provenance of that number... the actual number of kills is much lower) occurred in Africa. As we discussed, that's not true. He also says the small plane (not a civilian airliner by any stretch) that was shot down over Rwanda in 1994 was brought down with a SA-7. It was not; in fact it was a much more effective SA-16.

Most importantly, though, Benjamin does not distinguish between the difficulties of attacking North American civil air and civil aviation elsewhere in the world. I readily concede the latter faces a threat... there is little evidence air travel on this continent does, however. Yet. The situation in Iraq does not change that. Yes, the fallout of an even unsuccessful missile attack in the United States would be high, but as Benjamin points out, if it's missiles that were all that was lacking, this could have happened long ago: there's no shortage of these things. That it hasn't happened yet suggests the system is not ideal for the target in this case. Officials in countries that share a border with Iraq or are only a couple countries away could well make a different risk assessment, though.

One more thing Benjamin doesn't mention. There is one recorded instance of a man-portable SAM successfully engaging a four-engine jet, in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation. The plane landed hard, but all its passengers survived. Success rates against smaller aircraft are proportional to their size, as well; the more engines, the safer you are.

Posted by BruceR at 01:58 PM


Idle thought for the morning: if Americans want to viscerally grasp how the rest of the Western world regards them now, for the most part, they might want to see the movie Mystic River, or see it again.

The movie, of course, has nothing to do with Iraq, nor was it intended to, as far as I know. But, just for a thought experiment, think of the Tim Robbins character as Iraq (maybe not guilty of the crime he's accused of, but certainly guilty of something awful, and probably insane to boot), the Sean Penn revenge-seeker keen to make things right through cathartic force, and the Kevin Bacon cop as the guy just trying to make things right (find the WMDs?) through slow, due process. At the end of the movie, Penn is feeling guilty he moved too fast, and Bacon guilty he moved too slow.

Not a perfect analogy by any means, but I suspect how the average viewer sees the situation at the end has a lot of similarities to how non-American Westerners view the United States, Iraq, and our UN "authorities." We understand Penn, even if we can't condone him; we fear Robbins, without wishing him the fate he receives; and we wish the UN-like Bacon wasn't... well, Kevin Bacon. Because no one, given a choice between Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon, in any context, is going to pick Kevin Bacon. I dunno. Like I said, random thought for the morning.

Posted by BruceR at 10:12 AM