December 24, 2003


I'm obviously not posting much this month... January is a month of many trials, and I'm trying to clear the decks of a few other things in the meantime so I'm not completely snowed under.

In the meantime, another thought on Return of the King. At least twice so far I've seen the criticism in print that Tolkien just uses the device of giant eagles to get his characters out of an impossible jam... in the movies to rescue Gandalf in movie 1 and to rescue Frodo in movie 3. In fact, it's worse than that... adding in The Silmarillion and The Hobbit, as Anne Petty points out in her excellent (and essential for the Tolkien fan) work, Tolkien in the Land of Heroes, elves and men are "rescued" by the same eagles, in one form or another, at least 15 times in the whole history of Tolkien's world.

Those who have not immersed themselves in the world may well wonder why, for instance, Frodo doesn't just ride an eagle over to Mount Doom, drop the ring in, and end the story in book one, as a for-instance.

To use the same impossible device twice may look like carelessness, but one can only assume in that kind of frequency design is involved. And Petty makes clear that that is, in fact, what's going on. In the books, giant eagles are the main instrument by which Tolkien's gods, the Valar, "help those who help themselves." They are one of the last remaining ways the gods intervene in the affairs of Middle-Earth. They cannot be summoned, or bidden, by those still on earth; their arrival cannot be reasonably hoped for. They are a miracle in times of distress that only comes to those who have clung steadfast to hope past the point of reason, and as in any mythos, there were many times that people pass that point and meet their end, and the eagles don't happen to drop in. In Norse myth, they are akin, Petty, points out, to the two eagles that sit on the arms of Odin. Seen through the light of our own "mythos," they are akin to the Old Testament forms of overt godly intervention.

The first LoTR movie muddies this somewhat by making it appear as if Gandalf can summon an eagle to his rescue, using a moth messenger. This is rather a necessary movie device if his escape is not to be completely mysterious... however, if it makes anyone feel any better, think of Gandalf's moth as a symbol of his plea to the gods for aid, any aid... but if we are remaining true to the Tolkien theodicy, he can have no real control, however, on how, when, or even if that aid appears.

PS: The other reason that Gandalf cannot walk into Mordor himself and settle Sauron's hash is also left obscure by the movies. That is that Sauron has, as the original One-Ring-bearer, a supernatural awareness (and in the case of the Nazgul, control over) the other ringbearers. The Nine Nazgul are his instrument, but it's reasonable on the base of the mythos that he also has an extrasensory awareness of where the three remaining rings in Middle-Earth, and their bearers, are at any given moment. Those bearers being of course, Galadriel (the last original owner), Elrond and Gandalf (who inherited theirs).

In other words, Gandalf has to assume that Sauron can sense him coming from miles off. Of all the beings in the world the wizard is the last who could ever sneak into Mordor. As Sam and Frodo contemplate in the Emyn Muil rocks, Gandalf kept his whole plan to himself, and what ended up happening was not what the wizard had expected. To the degree his original plan was mapped out, however, presumably it would have to have involved him drawing Sauron's eye with his own presence as a decoy outside Mordor (with Aragorn possibly as a potential second feint), and still sending a Ring-bearer on alone, or nearly alone, for the final trek on foot.

Which sort of explains why the whole Frodo-eagle thing wouldn't have worked. (Gandalf, of course, is also circumscribed by his being an Istari (Wizard), explicitly prohibited from doing more than advise elves and men... the rule Saruman breaks, and gets cast out of the order for.) Now, if someone else can explain why Elrond doesn't just give the whole Fellowship horses and speed up the first part of their journey, that would be helpful...

PS: I always thought a great modern work of fiction (hey, I'd buy it) would be interpreting the War of the Ring from some of the other, less developed, points of view. (Better, at any rate, than the various attempts to transplant hobbits, elves, etc. to other, more D&D-merchandisable faux Middle-Earths that comprises much of what passes for fantasy fiction these days.) Just as I had a secret appreciation for Mary Stewart and Marion Zimmer Bradley's alternate viewpoints on Malory's Arthurian mythos (even though the more literalist-modernist T.H. White still reigns on this bookshelf), I'd love to see an accomplished writer take on the perspective of Sauron, or Eowyn, and cast new light into those more obscure corners of the work. What makes Lord of the Rings, the movies, watchable at all is that Jackson is as big a fan of the writer as we are... as obviously were large swathes of his production team, as well. It is , in the best sense, an homage... just as Petty, Tom Shippey and others have done their own homages through solid literary criticism. It's a wonder that there are no Tolkien fans among established writers who could put together an homage print volume of related fiction. (Hey, even Steinbeck "homaged" Arthur, after all.) I'm still holding out hope, however.

Posted by BruceR at 01:22 PM

December 19, 2003


Okay, more on Canadian foreign policy options.

Earlier, we've argued that Canadian military activity has previously leaned towards altruistic motives. Because our own actual security needs are so narrow, when Canadians do serve and fight overseas, it is always in the name of something larger than the Canadian interest alone. Historically, this has meant either war to make the world a better place, or war in order to stand alongside our allies when they are in extreme danger. Every one of Canada's foreign deployments was at the time, justified to the public on one or both of these grounds. Canadians are resistant to arguments that "war will make Canada safer," or "war will make Canada richer." They are susceptible, however, to statements along the lines of "the West's interest is Canada's interest."

When we perceive a threat to Canada, in other words, it is more of an existential one. Those who we would go to war with, we feel, must first pose a danger, not to us alone (because that's pretty much impossible), but to some aspect of the world order we're comfortable with; "civilization itself", almost. In the Boer and Great Wars, "civilization" was seen as synonymous, by English-Canadians, with the British Empire, and its prosperousness with our own. World War Two was about preventing German hegemony in Europe, and a diminished Britain. Since Korea, it's been about the UN international system, offering a bulwark to communism, upholding the NATO alliance, or some combination of the three. These are the calculations only available to those who otherwise feel wholly secure and safe. It is, in the absence of some unimaginable upheaval, unlikely to change.

(The standard rejoinder to this, as seen in a recent Globe and Mail letter, is that if Canada was suddenly moved to Central Asia, we wouldn't be able to behave this way any longer. Well, yeah... so?)

The corollary of only ever going abroad when more than our own interests are at stake is that we will always, always have allies. Even if unilateral military action were logistically possible for Canadians, it is psychically impossible. Mark Steyn and others have portrayed this as a country that wishes to hand over its power of judgment to the UN or NATO councils. It's subtler than that, though. It seems it is only the existence of those allies that can confirm to us that we are, indeed, engaged in a just struggle. Are the nations we respect divided on the scope of the threat? Then perhaps it can't be as great a threat as some suspect. If we define our vital interest as tied to the collective's vital interest, then we are going to inevitably be guided in part by the collective's decisions... be it the Commonwealth, NATO or the UN.

Alliances in this context have historically meant a mixture of fixed alliances like NATO, standing councils like the UN, and bilateral arrangements like NORAD. Canada has used any and all of these. What we have not been a part of, traditionally, are more ad-hoc, “this war only” arrangements. (The first deployment to Afghanistan in 2002 was a notable exception to the rule.) This may well be implicit in any kind of value-driven warmaking: if an alliance is more than just a marriage of convenience, presumably it’s of some value even in the absence of hostilities.

Foreign policy then, at least on the military side, is largely a question of how Canada juggles its alliance commitments. In the upcoming Martinite foreign policy review, this is the key question that Canada’s defence establishment will be looking for an answer on, and will be the key contribution from that process to the parallel defence policy review.

The reason a review is required is because there has been considerable change in the last ten years in the balance and perceived utility of these commitments, both here and elsewhere. The UN and NATO are perceived as flawed, even broken, by many in the alliances’ largest partner, the U.S. Rather than tools to craft an international order around, they are seen by some as obstacles to surmount. The meaning of these developments, and Canada’s reaction to it, thus become the biggest questions for Canada’s foreign policy. The options would seem to total three: withdrawal, reinforcement, or replacement.

Withdrawal, in this sense, would mean downplaying some or all of Canada’s alliance arrangements, because they are seen as no longer effective, our previous willingness to contribute military forces to the world no longer useful, and our real defence needs minimal. This could presumably be accompanied by a decrease in defence spending and capability and a reinvestment in other aspects of Canadian life. It’s fair to say that there is almost no interest in Paul Martin’s Ottawa for this option.

Reinforcement would mean throwing Canada’s diplomatic weight behind the restoration of functioning to those alliances deemed broken by others: specifically the UN and NATO. Some reinventing might be necessary. This would almost certainly be seen as opposition in some American quarters. Some might even consider it quixotic… to reimpose the idea of NATO and/or UN being the appropriate fora in which to plan military action, after a war in Iraq that involved neither body, would even seem unlikely to succeed.

Replacement, however, seems even more dodgy to some. Supplanting existing alliances with new ones would first require some other alliance to join. If there seems little interest in the U.S. in rebuilding the UN and NATO, there seems even less in figuring out what should replace them. The major American defence strategy documents assume an America that eschews new treaties and commitments. History suggests this kind of ad-hockery will show its limits in time, but it’s not clear that will be any time soon.

The Martin foreign policy review may decide to embrace one of these approaches across the board, or differing approaches to different commitments… replacing NORAD with a treaty more reflective of today’s needs, for instance, while reinforcing NATO and the UN. The important point from the defence analysis is that, in order to rebuild old alliances or replace them with new ones, a substantial federal defence spending increase would seem almost certain. In our current state, we have far too little to offer at present.

The recently completed British defence policy review is an interesting indicator of one way the Canadian review could end up. The British policy, post-Iraq is, by the definitions above, a reinforcement/replacement hybrid, dedicated to restoring the military arrangements of NATO and the UN that have gotten such bad publicity lately, and also creating an independent EU military capability. The British government accepts that major operations, in the absence of American support, are no longer possible, even for them, but evidently believes that NATO and the UN need to be restored to their previous place of primacy, rather than be superseded or let lie. It’s a remarkable position given the times we're in, and leaves open the possibility that Canada’s “new foreign policy” could reinforce and tie into the British lead.

Posted by BruceR at 04:52 PM


Britain's final after-action report on the Iraq War is now online here.

Posted by BruceR at 03:47 PM

December 18, 2003


Saw LOTR 3: Frodo's Revenge last night, and I have to say I'm partial to the Jon Last analysis in the Standard.

It's not that the movie isn't a lush and remarkable visual spectacle... some of the images haunted my dreams all night. But in terms of actual story-telling, it's weaker than the other two movies, and far weaker than the text. In the end, given the power of the visuals and Howard Shore score (in retrospect, a key element to all three movies), I was still almost wholly unmoved.

The movie does, it should be said, faithfully follow the book, particularly in the retelling of Frodo and Sam's stations of the cross across Mordor. I really can't fault them for anything there. But I have some sympathy for those who have said there are far too many lingering closeups on crying eyes. The final farewell scene is deeply painful. Regular film reviewers have largely forgiven this, saying it's Jackson's treat for the fans. Um, I'm a fan... a big one... and I was looking at my watch along with everyone else there.

It probably didn't help that the other false endings before it are also overly full of slow-mo and weepy closeups. And Aragorn's coronation scene is just bizarre, with the Mauling of Arwen(tm), a bizarrely weepy Agent Elrond Smith, a Frodo who looks throughout like he's worried he's left the stove on, and an unpardonably cranky Eomer (what, the guy's king of Rohan now, couldn't he crack a smile for once?) Yes, I know the original book is focussed on the manner of people's goodbyes, too, but at least there the enlarged Fellowship parts and re-parts with some attempts at dignity.

Anyway, that's not the real problem. I'm actually going to go out on a limb here and say that the extended version of The Two Towers is the deep movie in this box-set, with far more lasting value than the others combined (I have a lot of respect for Fellowship, too, but I don't feel it's markedly better than the second, as some do.)

I disagree, however, that this is a result of the scale growing larger, as Last suggests. Rather, at least in the case of my own emotional reaction, there was something far more primal at work, specifically relating to the whole House of Theoden subplot.

The Edoras family story, of a king restored, an heir killed, a courtier banished, a people's hope renewed, and the ongoing triad of father and surrogate son and daughter, ending in a duel with the Witch King and the offering of a new family to Faramir, who has lost his own, is... deeper than the rest of LOTR in a way. In its rough-hewn love, its deep fatalism, its balancing of honour, fealty, and free will, it brings unbidden to the unconscious mind all kinds of connotations from earlier stories, some of which we seem to know in our hearts even before we hear them. Wagner's somewhere in there, and Homer, and Malory; Roland and Beowulf both.

I joked to my companions before the movie that if we had taken our ancestors 50 generations back out for the LOTR triple bill last night, my Irish/Scottish/English/Swedish forbears would likely have appreciated Fellowship as a well-told children's story from their day, with cute supernatural creatures doing supernatural things. But when the scene shifts to Edoras in The Two Towers, I think they'd have sat up and noticed. This, to them, would have been the real point of the whole epic. From the moment you first look on the hill city, you're deep in Joseph Campbell territory, in a story that, for all our superficial civilization, I'm convinced we remain almost genetically programmed to be stirred by. It's somewhere deep in our hearts... a place of smoky huts on a cold night, an endless dark outside, and a life that can only ever be nasty, brutish and short.

I think once you're in that headspace, communing on some unconscious level with the experience of the vast majority of your ancestors through history, it's hard to go back to the children's story. But in his third movie, Jackson gamely tries to refocus our sympathies on the four hobbits. I'm afraid I simply couldn't easily follow him back into their realm of the comic.

Without spoiling it, what remains of the Edoras subplot in the third movie is rather unsatisfying. Bernard Hill is very good again, and Miranda Otto is superb (She reminds me of someone, but I can't say who) but they have simply too little to work with. Eomer remains a cipher, and his own journey to kingship, paralleling Aragorn's, is left on the cutting room floor, along with Faramir's finding a family and a future again after his own has failed him. The emphasis is skewed... the Edoras plot is not just about a nice king with a rebellious, loving daughter, but in the end that was pretty much all that was left here. I suspect my hypothetical ancestors would have said, "nice CGI dragons," and headed back to the concession stand for mead refills.

I loved and revered The Fellowship movie largely because I was just so happy that this kind of movie could be made, of a book I truly loved, in my lifetime. But it was the second, I felt, that brought me in touch with something deeper inside myself. The third is a wonderful spectacle, worshipful of Tolkien again... but by that point I was dealing with raised hopes I'd find something more.

UPDATE: Perhaps the reason the two previous movies sank in for me more was because they really made me appreciate Lord of the Rings in new ways. Specifically, re the Edoras subplot, it was only after I saw Two Towers that I really grasped that this family was the second group of *regular people* in the books... the first being, paradoxically, the hobbits. Where the hobbits show the virtues of friendship in a crisis, Theoden's clan shows the virtues of family, as a series of ever more bizarre and supernatural events washes over both groups. 2,000 year old Gandalf, 150 year-old Gimli, 87 year-old Aragorn, these are mystical characters, incorruptible, magical: we identify with them, if we do, the way we would with angels, or saints. The events these mystical beings are part of setting in motion snatch a group of run-of-the-mill friends from the Shire and change them... in Rohan, those same events also smash like waves on rock onto a patriarch and his heirs, and profoundly alter each of their lives, as well. You see this (in the book) in Eomer's wonder at running across the fellowship, and in the movies in Eowyn's unrequited love for the unattainable Aragorn. In the end, you can do everything you want to humanize the nearly supernatural Aragorn and his friends, but in the end people can't really identify with a person trying to decide whether to take up his 1000-year old inheritance of world domination, and what that will do to his romance with an immortal being... at least not as easily as we can grasp the various all-too human problems of the Theoden clan.

Posted by BruceR at 10:57 AM

December 16, 2003


There's been a good debate, as almost always, in Flitters, about Canadian defence recently. It started with the odd suggestion that Canada consider a nuclear deterrent, but has recently brought that back around to the cold reality of national interest. Insofar as it helped crystallize a few thoughts in my own mind, I'm thankful.

This is an important debate right now, as Canada launches its Martinite foreign policy and defence reviews. The question about getting nuclear weapons is an important one. In actual fact, a Canadian nuclear strategy was considered, and rejected in the late 1940s, because no one could consider a viable scenario under which Canadian interests would be served by having them. (Interestingly, at the time, Canada also had a relatively huge stockpile of botulinum toxin for freefall bombs, that it later disposed of, as part of the same rejection of deterrence politics.)

As bizarre as a debate about Canadian nuclear weapons might seem, the simple fact is that any argument one raises against them can be used even more effectively to argue against any kind of conventional deterrent force. Indeed, in Canada's case, there's no linear relation whatever between military spending and public safety. We can spend $22 billion a year or zero, and Canadians will feel just as safe as they do now.

The rational calculus underlying this is that Canada has no natural enemies in the world, and what threats it has ever had launched against it, or ever will, are a result of its alliances with other countries... specifically the U.S. And rational analysis indicates that, if an enemy can launch an attack against the North American continent, it will attack the higher value target to the south of us. Even if it does not, by declaring itself an enemy of American values, it guarantees the same retribution whether the attack lands in Edmonton or Boise.
Indeed, the only plausible scenario where Canadian interests could be attacked would be if those interests diverged from American ones: a fact that can be addressed just as easily (and more cheaply) by foreign policy free-riding as it can by military expenditure. In any case, it's hard to conceive of an attack on the North American continent that could be deterred or mitigated by any military force Canadians could reasonably apply.

Canada's need for a defence policy of its own, in any real sense, ended in 1885 at Batoche, if it even existed then. Since that date, the only reasons Canadians have fought and died, or expressed any interest in funding the fighters and die-ers, has been two-fold: altruism, and support for allies. Canadian military effort has always in the last century been dedicated towards advancing larger, for lack of a better word, "Western" values, to places we thought in our cockiness could benefit from them. It has been, in 1914, 1939, and 1992, an entirely selfless policy. If we chose as a nation to abandon our altruism, we could cut defence spending down to $6 billion a year, tops, providing solely the kind of local maritime sovereignty task (ie fishery and smuggler patrol) our naval leaders have decided cannot exist alongside our current international commitments. Pacifist isolationism is, for us, the default option, that lacking some other argument, we will always naturally return to.

To spend dollar one on defence past that, you must cast about for a larger Canadian role. It by definition must be in alliance with others. And it must be in support of values so clear that Canadians will continue to support them over the long run. The trouble is, at the moment, there are no such alliances. The American "coalition of the willing," as much as the UN, can not count on Canadian popular support: the values dear to those organizations no longer appear to be our own. So we cling to NATO as the be-all and end-all of our foreign and defence policies. And if it turns out to have been irreversibly sundered by recent events in the Middle East, too, then further rapid Canadian disarmament is the only popular course. Possibly the only sensible one, too.

Posted by BruceR at 06:18 PM

December 15, 2003


Anthony Cordesman's extremely long Iraq War after-action review is readable here.

UPDATE: BTW, I just noticed I drove right by my two-year anniversary of using some kind of blogging tool to generate this site, without even noticing. Damn, that means I'm going to have to redesign, now...

Posted by BruceR at 02:05 PM


It'll be interesting to see whether the Hussein capture will lead to a lifting of the cap on Kurdish and Shiite resisters, as Juan Cole's wife suspects. The expected post-Ramadan reduction in guerilla activity over the next few months that I've been anticipating will likely be attributed to the capture, regardless. There's little evidence many of the active resisters were centrally controlled, and the state of Hussein's hideout would seem to confirm that.

Of obvious value here in this analysis is that guerrilla's interview with a French journalist that we translated. That fellow won't stop attacking American planes because a Saddamite restoration is now impossible. He's stopping because he's run out of easily available missiles. But unless they happen to tell us that (as this particular fool did) how would we know?

More information on that strike, BTW, via Colby. The plane, it turns out, had a total hydraulic failure. If the second SA-14 on the ground hadn't been fired five seconds too late, and failed to close, or if the Iraqi team had been better able to anticipate the plane's takeoff, and not have engaged at extreme range in the first place, the plane likely would have crashed outright, and left French journalism with a whole new dilemma. This, more than anything else, seems the saving grace for the Americans in Iraq: there have not been a lot of trained professionals among their opposition up 'til now.

I should add that I think Bush and Dean both struck the right notes in their statements on the Hussein capture, one cautionary, the other congratulatory (UPDATE: Clark did well, too), and that our new PM Paul Martin, in congratulating the Americans and Iraqis on behalf of all Canadians, did so as well. No matter how much one may doubt that the final outcome -- when cut with the realities of American electoral politics --might be positive for the Middle East, this is evidence once again that betting against the American military almost always amounts to a losing proposition, historically. They're like the Roman legions, in a way: while the quality of the Emperors/Consuls/horse-senators at home may vary, but if you find yourself going up against them out in the provinces in this epoch, you can say reliably that it's you who are going to end up on the wrong side in the history books, sooner or later.

UPDATE: Of all the blog posts I've read (my own included), I have to say Andrew Sullivan came the closest to striking the right note for the occasion.

Posted by BruceR at 10:34 AM

December 12, 2003


As it turns out, the final major speech by outgoing defence minister John McCallum. As you can see, he gets it.

Posted by BruceR at 06:13 PM


Quick! What's the one Canadian military unit ever to be immortalized in a major Hollywood motion picture?

Don't know? Canada's new defence minister does.

David Pratt, MP has succeeded John McCallum as Canada's Minister of National Defence in the new Paul Martin government, starting today.

Pratt, a former Ottawa city councillor and PR manager, has previous experience in defence, having been chair of the Commons standing committee on defence issues. He is known as an advocate for increased defence spending and smarter defence policy generally. Next to McCallum staying on, he's probably the best the military could hope for.

Pratt is probably best known among soldiers, however, for a proposal he made in his MP's role earlier this year, which was shot down in flames by the Canadian Forces senior leadership. That was his proposal to rename Canada's special operations unit, Joint Task Force 2.

JTF2 is Canada's part of the whole Delta/Seals/SAS special ops nexus, and its members served with those units in the early fighting in Afghanistan (where they got the defence minister-before-last in trouble for taking Taliban prisoners and sending them on their way to Guantanamo, despite Canadian policy against that American practice). The name means little, being chosen more to play down the unit's existence than anything else (JTF1 was the name for the Canadian contribution to the 1991 Gulf War).

Pratt's idea was that the unit, which is ever more likely to be the main Canadian contribution to anti-terror operations, should adopt the name of Canada's only other previous commando unit, the World War Two-era 1st Special Service Force ("The Devil's Brigade").

1SSF was actually a "Can-Am" unit, formed with volunteers from both armies, and organized loosely on the lines of an American Ranger regiment, with an American commander and a Canadian 2iC. It was originally conceived as an elite mountain and cold-weather operations brigade, for deployment in an area like Northern Norway or perhaps Alaska, but in 1943 it was reroled as a general purpose commando formation and sent to the Mediterranean, where it served with distinction in Italy and the south of France. The myth is that it was composed of all the soldiers who other commanding officers in both armies wanted to get rid of for disciplinary reasons. Its exploits, particularly in night raiding operations, were legendary, to embrace the hackneyed but appropriate phrase in this case. In late 1944, after heavy casualties in a year of continuous operations, it was disbanded and its remaining members sent to flesh out the two armies' airborne units.

In 1968, the unit was immortalized on film in The Devil's Brigade, starring William Holden, Cliff Robertson, Claude Akins, Richard Jaeckel, Carroll O'Connor and Richard Dawson... the only Canadian military unit to ever make it to the silver screen.

While the unit is seen in the States as the progenitors along with the OSS of America's later Special Forces and Special Operations units, it was Canada's army that perpetuated the name after the war, where it was used for a time for the combined grouping of the Canadian Airborne Regiment together with the other all-arms units that would theoretically parachute with it into battle (artillery, engineers, etc.). When Canada disbanded its airborne capabilities in the 1990s, the name fell into disuse. (The name is not mentioned at all, curiously, in Jack Granatstein's massive history of the army, which I recently reviewed for the Literary Review of Canada.)

Pratt's idea was that JTF2 should inherit the name and tradition. It was panned widely by soldiers as a cosmetic and pointless tweak. But perhaps the fellow was on to something here. Pratt, who shares my own civilian profession, was clearly thinking in marketing terms... and savvy marketing is part of what the Canadian military really needs right now. Canadian disinterest in our own military affairs is near-total... the citizens' respect the old World War One and Two stories, but see no real connection between those soldiers and today's. Due to the hollowing out of the reserves, military participation rates among the populace are at a historic low, and that is translating into profound apathy when it comes to questions of taxpayer support.

It's patently obvious from a PR point of view that drawing connections between the old special ops unit and the new could only enhance public support for JTF2 in the long run, and provide a public opinion bulwark against any future parsimonious attempts to cut special ops funding. Canada's military leaders should have seen that; that they didn't only demonstrates the increasing gulf between their opinions of themselves and the public's. Publicly embarrassing the next defence minister, in retrospect, was probably also a bad idea. (When Pratt proposed the idea, he was just one MP; now he's in charge of the organization, and can presumably rename JTF2 Papa Sha Mu Mu's Magic Trombone Band, if he feels like it.)

Just a word for the outgoing minister John McCallum, now shuffled off to the low-rent Veterans Affairs portfolio. McCallum, whatever his other personal failings (he seemed just a little too weedy for the defence community to warm to him), received a high level of grudging respect from CF leaders by the end, largely because he did what none of his other predecessors in the last 20 years could... get a significant increase in funding for Canadian defence, based on a truly results-oriented approach to military restructuring. During his tenure, he stanched the hemorrhage. It is entirely his accomplishment that Canada had anything left to send to the ISAF force in Kabul at all by this point. Criticized for being army-centric, it's also possible that was just an honest realization on his part that peacekeepers, as opposed to frigates or fighter jets, are what today's world situation demands the most from Canada. No doubt he will be missed. One wishes his replacement as much success, and more.

Posted by BruceR at 12:11 PM

December 11, 2003


"[President Bush] thanked me for what we're doing in Afghanistan and the offer of money for the reconstruction of Iraq... and he told me that the mention of Canada in some press that we were to be excluded from economic activities in Iraq was not appropriate, and he was telling me basically not to worry."

--Jean Chretien, today

Posted by BruceR at 05:15 PM


Um, well, thanks. Um, I guess.

I'd just like to return the favour by saying Colby Cosh is the least annoying Albertan I've ever had to deal with.

Posted by BruceR at 03:28 PM


Got to say, if I didn't already love them both dearly, I'd have new respect for comedian Rick Mercer and musician Tom Cochrane today, for heading to Kabul to entertain Canadian troops.

"I wouldn't do it for a million dollars. I've seen it up close and I still wouldn't do it," said Mercer.

"They're better men than I. I just come in and do a show, tell a few jokes, get back on the plane and go home."

Posted by BruceR at 02:46 PM

December 10, 2003


This is not encouraging.

Neither is this.

This is disappointing.

This is really sad.

This is criminal.

(Not one of these links found via Instapundit.)

Posted by BruceR at 05:02 PM

December 05, 2003


So, Jim Baker is in as the Iraqi debt czar. No surprise there, but I look forward to all the condemnations of the Bush government for using a man long in the pay of the Saudi government for this task, after the same people accused Joe Wilson of being in the Saudis' pocket due to his (apparently non-paid) Middle East Institute connections. Turnabout is fair play, after all...

Posted by BruceR at 06:12 PM


Jim Henley has been badgering for this site to say something useful about the recent firefight in Samarra, where the Americans claimed 54 fatal casualties on the other side to none on their own. It's hard to add anything novel to the story-parsing he and others have already done, though, unless it's drawing on history for guidance.

For frankly, from the start, the coverage of the whole thing reminded me more than anything of that classic event from early North American history, the white soldiers' forays into Indian country.

The confused and illogical accounts are akin to what you see over and over again in primary accounts from Jackson's army in the Creek War or Harrison's on the Northwest Frontier in 1811-13, to name the two I'm most familiar with. If unverifiable body counts from the Creek conflict (a conflict, it should be noted, that saw pro-American and pro-British Creeks fighting each other, and an American army not particularly interested in sorting out the subtle differences sometimes) are added up, Jackson's army must have killed every combatant Creek male several times over.

Farther north, William Henry Harrison would get elected President in part for his "victory" at Tippecanoe, a victory only in the sense that the Americans held the field at the end of a night of battle, having been surprised by only a small portion of their enemy, had their lines driven in, and in all likelihood inflicted fewer casualties on their opponents than they suffered, despite all Harrison's later self-aggrandizing claims to the contrary (Notably, Harrison's electoral backers, like the American PR officers in Samarra, would argue that the number of Indian corpses was so low because the Indians must have spirited many of their fatalities away). You see it again, and again, all the way down to the frankly ludicrous enemy casualty figures in some accounts of Little Big Horn (and by Canadian troops at Cut Knife Hill in 1885, for that matter; it's not just an American thing). I'm sure careful study of Phillipine insurgency battle accounts from 1900 would show something similar.

There's no reason in the case of Samarra to doubt French reports that only a couple dozen attackers were involved, of which perhaps two were killed, and half a dozen civilians were killed, as well. It also seems clear from Iraqi and U.S. reports that at least some of those "civilians" spontaneously picked up arms or otherwise assisted the Iraqi guerillas in blocking the Americans or escaping. The most likely interpretation at this point is that guerillas tried their usual touch-and-run on the first Americans to enter their city in strength in a while, the Americans responded with more than usual force, and possibly this led to a small insurrectionist response, until the Americans packed up and left. If it wasn't for the superior performance of today's American soldiers under fire, and the surely-not-quite-as-noble aims of these particular insurrectionists, one could compare it to Lexington and Concord on that basis, as well.

UPDATE: What I really find amusing is people, like this fellow, who believe that this is somehow a sign that the co-ordinated Iraqi high command is making mistakes. Um, is it not obvious yet there is no coordinated high command? It's a bunch of loose bands, little more than bandits in some ways. The American analogue would be the Civil War in Missouri-Kansas, or for that matter, the rise of banditry in the West generally in the 1870-1885 period. No one then assumed the James and Billy the Kid gangs were in cahoots. Yes, gradually over time these groups will tend to coalesce, as the American Indians attempted to do in their various confederacies, to pull off more coordinated attacks. And there is evidence (that Paris-Match interview and the recent one in the New York Times) that some cells are more Saddam-friendly than others, and that remnants of the previous leadership are trying to funnel funds and arms to the more successful groups. But it's not a question of a central headquarters ordering changes of tactics... it's much more Darwinian than that, with multiple groups trying multiple approaches on their own; some failing, some succeeding, some starting to fail (with fatal results for the group that uses them) when the Americans adapt, and so on. Tactics that initially prove successful (remote-controlled explosives, for instance) are virally transmitted to other groups through the media.

Left to itself, this kind of organic resistance can do little more than perpetuate a steady low-level American casualty count (insignificant, compared to most wars), so long as they stay in country. As weapons and funds dry up, it will likely fade; its high-water mark has probably even passed already. But it will never be entirely defeated, and can easily spark up into something much worse if Kurds or Shiites come to conclude that their interests are not well-served, the Americans slacken their grip, or some neighbouring nation sees value in supporting the resisters.

FURTHER UPDATE: Relevant, perhaps, is Custer's official report on the "Battle of the Washita River" in 1868, now generally recognized as something of a massacre, and portrayed as such in the movie The Last Samurai, opening today. Two facts to keep in mind while reading: a subsequent Congressional investigation established that the 100-strong band Custer's 800-man force initially attacked had only 11 males of fighting age (as Custer does describe, other Indian bands descended on the Americans later; one of those was responsible for most of the the American casualties in this action when it surrounded and eliminated a small outlying group of Americans. Custer would later be criticized for retreating with those men still unaccounted for and possibly still holding out.) and the annihilated band had gathered near an American fort and sent out emissaries in order to offer their surrender, an offer that had been refused by the local American commander.

Posted by BruceR at 10:58 AM

December 04, 2003


An absolutely devastating report from the Conference of Defence Associations Institute out this week, on the future, or lack thereof, of Canada's armed forces. The whole document is here: long story short, at current levels of spending ($12 billion a year) the air force will have to effectively disband by 2013, and either the army or navy by 2018, due to the massive equipment and personnel shortfalls brought about by three decades of bad planning.

To just keep where we are now will require $18 billion a year, a 50% budgetary increase... $3 billion or more to replace the equipment now wearing out, and the remainder to reinforce the deeply decayed training system (few people know this, but regular force training in this country is basically moribund at this point due to our overseas commitments) and as a funding buffer for foreign operations (as the report rightly points out, every time the government makes a UN or NATO commitment, most of the funding for that comes out of the equipment budget, delaying vital purchases.)

Of course, that kind of funding increase isn't going to happen. So, while the report understandably doesn't want to address the defeatist question of what's got to go, it may merit some extended discussion here:

So far, we've seen three proposals for the Canadian Forces in the 21st century, two of which we've discussed before, and the third implied in this latest document. They are, with price tags:

1. The Canadian Alliance Platform ($22 billion a year): Basically, give the military everything they've always asked for. We derided this at length here. 'Nuff said.

2. The status quo ($18 billion): Basically doing everything we're attempting to do now: a medium-weight sustainable brigade-sized infantry force for UN/NATO deployment, plus a sustainable frigate squadron and a modern jet fighter squadron. This is the position of the CDAI, above. It is probably above Canadians' acceptable funding ceiling, as their report pessimistically concedes.

3. The Land Force-dominant concept ($15 billion): Expressed by wiser people elsewhere, I tried to outline what this would look like here. Basically, continuing the brigade-sized infantry force at all costs, and reorienting the air force and navy to the primary task of supporting its operations... probably at the cost of discontinuing the independent jet fighter and frigate squadron roles. Based on the assumption that if our armed services were to disappear tomorrow, the one that would be most missed in today's world would be the land force.

4. Living within our means ($12 billion): This is probably what we will end up with, one suspects. And because no one's going to say that, we will probably end up with a more inefficient version of this than we could have for the same funding.

So let's look at it another way. What if the Canadian people said tomorrow that that $12 billion, adjusted for inflation, is all the Forces are ever going to get? What would the optimal force structure be?

Well, it wouldn't be pretty. But I think you could still do something with it. The big problem on the Land Force side is that by 2008, the combat units due to regular recruiting/retention calculations, will be down to 50% strength. Foreign deployments are increasingly relying on reservists again (an organization that is also stagnating, but never mind that for a moment), forming 25-30% of some units now. At some point, the pendulum is going to swing back, with a majority of reservists even in foreign-deployed units? What would that look like? How could you make it sustainable?

It's not impossible. Finland and other countries rely on conscripts and reservists, with a small cadre of regular soldiers, for their UN deployments. A mostly part-time/short-service unit could never fight in even a medium-intensity conflict like Iraq or Rwanda, but it could still be useful in a place like Bosnia, or Cyprus, doing the traditional UN Green Line role.

Prior to World War Two, that was the role of Canada's professional forces, in fact: to act as a cadre for the vastly larger number of citizen soldiers that were expected to be called up in case of war. The regulars only expanded to their current dominant role in the early 1950s, as it became apparent that having forces ready to fight was more important in a nuclear world than depth. That, as this recent report points out, has changed... now countries need depth, because the number of brushfire conflicts is only growing.

So imagine what a sensible $12 billion army would look like. The regular forces culd be drawn down to three all-arms battalion groups, based on the three original single-battalion regiments. The groups would each have a Mobile Gun system squadron, a recce squadron, and a mortar/artillery battery, basically integral to them, with the regiments for those combat arms essentially stood down. The remaining strength of the sharp end units would be distributed as increased cadre to all those part-time army reserve units scattered across the country. The primary role of the professional army would then become to keep its own strength up, and support the much larger reserve component.

The political leadership would have to accept that short-notice or risky foreign deployments would be impossible... at most the country could contribute a battalion or two at a time of short-service soldiers to those kinds of extended UN deployments that seem never to end. Organization of these units would come out of the nine reserve brigade groups, and would require lengthy planning time. Units would deploy with a reduced equipment scale, suitable for light operations only.

Like I said, not very palatable, but it is what other countries do now. Building up the reserves would require compromises in all other kinds of places, too, though: undergraduate military education at Royal Military College would be unsustainable, leading to the conversion of that institution to graduate-only work, and regular force officers receiving their training through civilian universities; the cadet program would also be hard to sustain, as it would compete for armoury space, and would probably be spun off. Any funds released in this fashion would have to go towards increased pay incentives for reservists and their civilian employers, to encourage recruitment, retention, and foreign service.

You'd also have to see a shift in Canadian Forces recruiting practice. A professional force this size (about 6,000) would be largely self-sustaining, through transfers of reservists wanting to make this their career. Recruitment would have to focus on bringing in short-service volunteers, with some kind of enrolment incentive that would encourage a large number of them to consider "taking a year off" in their lives for foreign service.

The navy and air force in this model could continue their currently largely independent roles, as their support for rapid foreign deployments by the army would no longer be necessary... being the 20th rotation in Bosnia, you can get there by civilian airliner and have your ammunition FedExed... the air force, basically left by underfunding out of the new "Space Command" continental defence arrangements of the Americans anyway, and without aircraft modern enough to be useful for combat overseas, could focus on a more limited national air sovereignty and air transport role. The navy could focus on addressing the grievous deficiencies in maritime sovereignty that have recently been identified, largely foregoing its deep water role. A new continental maritime defence treaty would be more valuable to both Canadians and Americans, anyway, in a time when we fear merchant ships with nukes on board arriving in Baltimore, than the Cold War relic of NORAD.

A Canada with secure shores, with its military involved overseas in only the most peaceful of foreign assignments... a threat to no one and of little real help to few... it would be hard to argue that this isn't what Canadians, all along, have always wanted from their armed forces. It's certainly what they've historically been ready to pay for. It would, however, take an act of supreme political leadership to bring the ambitions of those who wish Canada to play some role on the world stage back in line with the undeniable fact that they have no demonstrable interest in the price of doing so. The more likely course is just the irrational and wasteful steady diminishment of our existing resources past the point of crisis, absent any clear vision, that I fear we're seeing now.

Posted by BruceR at 12:42 PM

December 01, 2003


In what is rapidly becoming the most documented portable SAM attack in history, Cryptome has posted photos of the damage to the same DHL Airbus that has been discussed in exhaustive detail in previous posts.

Posted by BruceR at 08:15 PM


Just a recommendation. If you're into veal, at all, and you're in Toronto (Damian!), then may I strongly recommend Piero's at Adelaide and Duncan. The house veal is exquisite, and the proprietor, Mike, has always been truly wonderful to me and my friends. Go even if you just like Italian food the way it should always be done, for that matter. And please tell Mike that Bruce sent you.

Posted by BruceR at 01:58 AM


"Immediate Actions on Encountering a Plan"

(via Sensing)

Posted by BruceR at 12:06 AM