March 31, 2004
THOUGHTS ON FALLUJAH
I know it was only last week, but it's important to note what was going on in Fallujah then, to help understand what's going on now:
"FALLUJAH, March 26 -- A U.S. Marine was killed and several others were wounded Friday in a running gun battle that also left 15 Iraqis dead as Marines conducted house-to-house searches in this restive city west of Baghdad.
"A U.S. military spokesman said there were no other details of the casualties and refused further comment on the "offensive operation" in Fallujah because it was "still ongoing" more than 15 hours after the shooting started at about 8:30 a.m....
"The fighting began when Marines came under fire from Iraqi insurgents clad in civilian clothes and armed with mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles, witnesses said. As the fighting continued intermittently, a number of Iraqi civilians wandered into the battle zone without apparently realizing that they were in danger, residents said.
"In addition to the 15 Iraqis killed, hospitals reported that 25 others were wounded, including several children.
"Among the dead were an Iraqi freelance cameraman working for ABC News, the network confirmed, and at least one woman and a child. The cameraman, Burhan Mohammed Mazhour, was shot in the head, Iraqi doctors reported, although it was not clear who shot him...
"A spokesman for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, Maj. T.V. Johnson, said the operation in an industrial area on the eastern edge of Fallujah was aimed at rooting out "rogue elements and thugs."
"The Marines took over responsibility for Fallujah from the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division a week ago, and Friday's battle was their first major engagement since returning to Iraq...
"According to some Iraqis who said they were witnesses and a physician who treated the casualties, the dead and wounded Iraqis were shot by Marines. The doctor based that assessment on the bullets removed from the bodies of dead and wounded, which he said came from U.S. weapons rather than those ordinarily fired by insurgents...
On Thursday, one U.S. Marine had been killed and two others wounded when rebels attacked their convoy east of Fallujah."
Analysis (to steal a Phil-Carterism): Things in Fallujah, which as in Samarra, had settled down to a stay-out-and-let-live policy after some earlier unsuccessful attempts to bring the town under control, ratcheted up after the Marines rotated into the area and decided to try again. They responded to a fatal convoy ambush, the latest in a series of deadly attacks on them, with raids into the city the next day... raids that may have involved some indiscriminate shooting, and certainly seem to have angered the local population. Elements of that population struck out four days later at the nearest target they could kill.
Does that justify the mutilation of the bodies of 4 American mercenaries today? Of course not. But it does help put it into a more coherent framework. It's important to note that a large part of the consistently low U.S. bodycount up until now has been a policy of staying out of hotspots like Samarra and Fallujah as much as possible.
(Earlier incorrect surmise on the contractors replaced.) The dead contractors were from Blackwater Security Consulting, which according to the website means they were "veteran military, intelligence and law enforcement professionals" with "roots in the Special Operations community." (The website currently features a rather inappropriate jpg of a burning car, evidently at some domestic company training facility). So if it's any consolation, the dead men were almost certainly locked and loaded when they were attacked (in fact, guns and american military ID were found on them). One would not be wrong in calling them mercenaries. "Civilians" would seem a bit of a stretch, in any case.
Interestingly, the stories say they were "providing security for food deliveries" in Fallujah... deliveries to whom is not specified, though. It's hard to understand, given that they had to have known what had gone on in the city just five days before -- given that they were trained professionals, and that they departed from an American base -- why they thought they'd be safe driving through the scene of recent fighting in a two-car convoy.
ALSO OF NOTE. There was much praise for the Iraqi police in Fallujah a couple weeks ago, when, fighting for their lives, they only asked Americans nearby for "more ammunition." (Probably because the Americans apparently only allowed them 14 bullets per gun.) Yesterday while Americans were getting strung up the Iraqi police were nowhere to be seen. Maybe the Belmont Club was right... maybe that attack in February will forever be seen as their finest hour. It's all been downhill since for them, anyway.
(That entry Sullivan praises was another fine example of the work of the second of the self-proclaimed terrorist psychoanalyzers to appear on the blogs, Wretchard, btw... blaming al Qaeda international masterminds for what it turned out, in retrospect, was just a violent prison break by the local organized crime element in Fallujah. The first was of course, the always-amusing-to-read Dan Darling. Darling, like Instapundit, says today that the American punishment should be the cessation of its reconstruction efforts in Fallujah. Actually, I suspect there hasn't been any reconstruction attempted in that city for months now, as Darling should surely know. The hostility in Fallujah isn't new; what's new this week is the Marines attempting to bring the city under control for the first time since war's end. Their lack of knowledge of what was going on today until it was well over suggests they still can't keep any military presence in the city for any length of time.)
THE SPIRIT OF NAPSTER LIVES
"The mere fact of placing a copy [of a copyrighted song] on a shared directory in a computer where that copy can be accessed via a P2P service does not amount to distribution... Before it constitutes distribution, there must be a positive act by the owner of the shared directory, such as sending out the copies or advertising that they are available for copying."
--Canadian federal court judge Konrad von Finckenstein, today.
This is a big blow to anyone trying to crack down on file-swapping in Canada. Finckenstein was expected merely to rule that ISPs are not required to turn over the identities of their customers, which would have been roadblock enough. But his supplemental ruling that opening your computer to the internet alone does not constitute a willingness to contravene copyright, that a "positive act" is required, until it's overturned or new law is drafted, makes restricting file-sharers in Canada effectively impossible. In Canada, at least, it's open season on music-sharing again.
ON CLARKE, AND THE JINGOPUNDITS
Blogging's lost a lot of its interest for me recently, as I've belatedly come to recognize that to a great degree this medium is just repeating the errors of older media.
There was a time you could go to American political blogs and find new stuff, but now, on Buzzmachine and Instapundit, all you get is Republican party talking points.
If I wanted this, I could just go to the party websites. And I've more time to read a real paper on the subway.
The shark-jumping for me happened with Richard Clarke. If you believe, as Glenn Reynolds evidently does, that saying one thing when you're in the employ of someone, and another thing after leaving that employ, means you have "no credibility left," then you're simply not living in the same world I am. We ALL do that. If I left one of my employers today, and then said something critical about them in this space, would I also be pilloried for not bringing it up earlier?
Caught Clarke on Jon Stewart last night. I'm not a big fan of whistle-blowers generally, but as far as I can tell for a whistle-blower he has carried himself about as well as a Cassandra can. And no one thus far has answered, or even for the most part dared to address, his fundamental argument (presented subtly, evidently to avoid self-aggrandizement) about the pre-WTC situation... that the "security strategy" that Bush and Rice pulled off the shelf and implemented after Sept. 11 was for all intents and purposes the same security strategy he had given them in January, 2001... making Clarke, not Rumsfeld or Ashcroft, the principal architect of the successful counter-terror war of 2001-2003.
The corollary of that, of course, is that Rice's insistence that a "better strategy" than Clarke's had been created under Bush's auspices is a through-and-through lie, and they'd done nothing at all on the terrorist file until after the attacks. If Clarke (who has seen the plan he wrote and the plan that was executed) is right in saying there are no significant differences, a righteous nation would be naming schools after the guy, not painting this stoic and honorable man as an embittered closet-case as they're doing now.
AND FURTHERMORE: All the Rice lobby has to do to impeach Clarke for all time, of course, is point out one thing in their September "strategy" that was not in Clarke's January plan. They likely won't declassify the relevant documents now, but in 50 years or whatever, Clarke's contributions to national security should become clear to posterity.
In the end, Richard Clarke, when he was on the job, was dedicated to making Americans' lives (and by extension, my life) safer. I find it intolerable that that lifetime contribution can be so easily ignored because it happens to be politically inconvenient at the moment for some.
AND FURTHERMORE, PART 2: Kaus and Easterbrook (and Reynolds) are into the glue. Strong criticism of your country's military plans, with war and fatal casualties only days away, is not something any devoted national servant would ever consider. The fact Clarke's criticisms of Bush were measured and mild, right when the president was leading the country to war, is a sign of a deep personal propriety, not hypocrisy as they would have it.
March 25, 2004
'CAUSE THE NEXT TIME A CARPENTERESQUE THING OR AN X-FILES BREEDER COLONY IS FOUND, WE WANT CANADIAN SOLDIERS TO BE THE ONES WHO FIND IT
Seriously, this is not a stupid idea.
March 24, 2004
CANADIAN BUDGET: SHOULD HAVE JOINED THE FOREIGN SERVICE
Here's the story, see? The Canadian military couldn't get any funding increase in yesterday's budget, because we still need that defence and foreign policy review that is now a decade overdue. We need to know what we're doing before we spend any more money on defence or foreign aid.
So what happened to the foreign aid budget? Oh, it went up 8 per cent.
NOTES: The overseas-service tax exemption is nice, although I suspect the specific exclusion of the Bosnia mission (because it's too safe there now) and naval deployments will come back to haunt DND. Obviously you have to draw the line somewhere, or everytime I went to the States for something I'd get a tax holiday, but I'm not sure that's the best place to draw it.
The one bright spot is that the air force seems to have gotten its capital purchase of new search-and-rescue aircraft unfrozen. Not a bad thing generally, if it frees up the overused Herc transport fleet a little. Curiously, the other military capital purchases that were frozen when Martin became PM, particularly the new Mobile Gun Systems, seem still to be on the backburner pending further review. That's likely going to hold up any significant army or navy retooling for yet another year. (The little air force lobbying victory also suggests the army, which everyone said was getting preferential treatment from the previous defence minister, is now back in its customary back-of-the-line position again.)
Still, basically it's another year in funding limbo. I haven't done the figures, but I suspect military spending as a percentage of GDP has actually dropped again.
March 23, 2004
IF YOU FEEL LIKE WRAPPING YOUR HEAD IN A PRETZEL...
...Try reconciling this 2002 story with ANY version of the "Richard Clarke's Al Qaeda plan was no good/Clarke didn't have a plan/Clarke was out of the loop" back-biting going on this week.
Everyone seems to agree Clarke first presented his plan in January, 2001, but it was rejected as the "takes too long" Clinton plan. But he's also apparently the author of the plan (really the same plan it seems, contrary to the linked story) that was sitting on Rice's desk on Sept. 11, which she said after the attacks would have gone to Bush for approval, oh, some day real soon.
UPDATE: Marshall has more about this um, kinda major contradiction. The questions that need to be asked are this: what specifically changed between the January 2001 plan, generally conceded to be authored by Clarke, and the September plan, authored by the "NSC terrorism" people (at least nominally still headed by Clarke, and probably still actively led by him, Condi's claims notwithstanding)? Because the administration has long conceded they just took that September plan "off the shelf" and executed it, as far as Bin Laden and Afghanistan were concerned. So... what got added to this plan, which turned by default into the war plan, that Clarke's not responsible for? And if it wasn't Clarke, who added it?
Or, to put it in starker terms, Clarke's big military component in his January, 2001 plan was "arm the northern alliance;" an idea in a plan Bush now says he rejected because it wouldn't pay off quickly enough. He then did nothing for nine months while his staff allegedly made a better plan, which he didn't see before Sept. 12, when it was too late to save American lives. This better plan then became the Afghan war plan. Its big military component is, of course, "arm the northern alliance."
Unless Bush et al can point at one specific thing that they did that Clarke didn't recommend in January or otherwise come up with himself, the only conclusion you can draw is that the "September plan" was just Clarke's "January plan," maybe with a newer cover. That means Clarke (not Rumsfeld, or Hadley, or Bolton) was the principal architect of the highly successful early U.S. response to 9/11... and the Bush people are only responsible for all the stuff that came after Kabul and Kandahar fell. And so now, because he doesn't support their Iraq policy, they're crucifying him. (CLARIFICATION: I'm not saying that's what's happening; I'm saying that's the logical upshot if the "January plan" and "September plan" prove to be essentially one and the same.)
SECOND UPDATE: Kevin Drum muddies the waters even further, quoting Clarke saying in 2002 the January "plan" wasn't significantly different from a previous Clinton plan.
WARNING! WARNING! HE'S OFF THE RESERVATION!
Mil-blogger Phil Carter comes out and says it. The Iraq war was wrong, and the White House decision structure under Bush is hopelessly politicized, endangering Americans.
Carter is one of those middle-of-the-road reluctant doves like Drum and Marshall, so the conclusion itself isn't that much of a surprise. It's that as a reservist military officer he feels comfortable, in the wake of the Clarke allegations, in saying it so bluntly.
March 22, 2004
THE FIGHTING 49TH
Colby Cosh's find of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography online is truly a treasure... particularly because the search is not just name-only, but full-text. So you get the fun of typing in organizations, such as military regiments, and seeing who was working together when, and how they ended up in the history books.
Take for instance the 49th Regiment of Foot... Brock's unit, which came with him as its commander to Canada in 1802, and formed the linchpin of Upper Canada's defence in 1812-1813 (the 41st Foot, the other British regiment in what is now Ontario, is generally conceded to have been of rather lower quality, partly because it had been in the colony even longer... more on that another time).
There's a historical novel somewhere in the early years of the 49th before it and Brock's date with destiny... it shows up continually in British interwar history, Zelig-like... in Holland as part of Sir John Moore's brigade... back before Moore became famous as the trainer-in-chief of what would become Wellington's army; on the boats with Nelson as marines in the Battle of Copenhagen, etc. Then to Canada, and immortality, of a sort.
Coming over in 1802 you have, in no particular order (all from their DCB bios):
Senior Lt. Col. Isaac Brock, aged 33, already commander of the unit for the last 5 years, wealthy, tall, ambitious, "attractive and compelling," and suicidally reckless. He would of course, win at Detroit and die at Queenston;
Junior Lt. Col Roger Sheaffe, 39, joined the unit only four years ago, an American loyalist, cautious, haughty, cold. He would win at Queenston, and lose at York in 1813, ending his career;
Senior Maj. John Vincent, 38, with the unit for 19 years already, like Brock strangely uninterested in women, and already passed over by the younger, wealthier man, competent but limited. After succeeding Sheaffe in overall command he would lose at Niagara in 1813, then win at Stoney Creek despite falling off his horse in the dark and getting lost, finally being relieved of command when some more experienced general officers became available;
Junior ensign Frederick Heriot, 16, also never to marry, otherwise a typical English gentleman, a horseracer. He would later help raise the Voltigeurs, superb Quebecois light infantry, and fight with them (alongside his old British unit) at the Crysler's Farm victory. He would grow old and die a wealthy Quebec landowner;
Sgt. Maj. James Fitzgibbon, 22, deeply, deeply Irish, soon to take a promotion from the ranks, pushed by Brock (who it would seem was neither classist nor prejudiced in this); like his CO full of personal initiative, and with a penchant for scouting enemy positions in disguise. He would take the American surrender at Beaver Dams as a lieutenant, before leaving the unit to join another of the native Canadian regiments, the Glengarry Light Infantry. He would later become an adjunct member of the ruling Anglican elite of what is now Ontario.
A young dynamic CO, with a cranky old Yankee second-in-command, a jaded major, a boyish ensign, and a Mick sergeant-major as his pet personal growth project... all going off to Canada together to find their fortunes. That would have been an interesting officer's mess to take dinner with, don't you think? Even if they hadn't been running into Nelson, and Moore, and Tecumseh, and fighting Americans, and all that.
This is why it's a shame there's no Canadian war movies. The base material's actually pretty good.
UPDATE: A couple other ideas for DCB-related lines of research, while I'm thinking of them: in terms of leadership quality, the American army in 1812 was to their Revolutionary predecessors as the British army in 1776 was to that same American garrison in 1755-60. Discuss.
Also, those crazy white guys who made up the British Indian Department 1760-1813, basically going native (Girty, McKee, Caldwell, Elliott, Johnson, etc.), what's their story, anyway? How do you end up deciding to do THAT with your life? And why did they and their ostensible white soldier allies who only FOUGHT like Indians, the rangers (Butler, Rogers, etc.), never seem to get along with each other? (The Spencer Tracy biopic of Rogers, Northwest Passage, captures his antipathy for Johnson and his men vividly.) And why were the largely Swiss soldier-emigres who made up the Indian-fighting 60th Royal American Regiment generally unimpressed with either of them? Throw in the Scottish clique, which seemed to hate everybody, and the English regiments that were, you know, the only real English in this whole frontier equation, and it's not just a miracle that the British finally defeated the French, it's a miracle they managed to keep from killing each other in the process.
SECOND UPDATE: I was remiss in not mentioning another member of the 49th who made the mil. hist. books, but didn't rank a DCB entry... the giant Scottish sergeant Alexander Fraser, 19, who captured the American brigadiers Winder* and Chandler single-handed at Stoney Creek after, along with the 49th's then-acting CO, Plenderleath, and Fraser's younger brother William, overrunning the American guns by themselves and creating their own personal Jet Li action scene.** I've commented before that so many heroic British officer tales from this period involve some slight little minor noble with a fencing hanger being backed up by some behemoth NCO swinging a pole-axe/ramrod/asses' jaw, what have you, that I'm almost convinced it was an unwritten expectation among the better officers that you gave some stripes to the toughest mofo in the battalion, regardless of any other virtues or faults in their character, in anticipation of just such occasions. Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe books got that one right, anyway.
*Winder is of course, the same William Winder who was also in charge of the failed defenses of Washington D.C. in 1814... the British wisely traded him back in a prisoner exchange so he could royally screw up twice in the same war.
**Of 55 American casualties in this entire Stoney Creek action, 11 were at the hands of the Fraser brothers in this one isolated melee. Plenderleath was badly wounded in the charge, which in addition to the two generals also captured 2 U.S. cannon. It's one of those rare documented cases in history where a single NCO's act of desperate bravery not only won a local fight, but changed a strategic situation; the leaderless Americans retreated the next morning, and would never advance that far up the Niagara peninsula again for the rest of the war. (Which of course begs the question why Fraser's not in the DCB, I suppose.)
AH, SPRING, WHEN FLOWERS START TO BLOOM, AND AFGHANS KILL THEIR AVIATION MINISTER
That's two civil aviation heads shot dead in two years. A saner country would just impose term limits, but I guess the old ways still have their charms.
WE'RE KINDA BUSY TODAY. TRY CALLING US NEXT WEEK
"An Israeli security official said that there are no immediate plans to kill the Palestinian president..." --The Globe, today
MORE THOUGHTS ON TANK REPLACEMENTS
The second think-piece on the CASR site about alternatives to the tank in general, and the 105mm wheeled Mobile Gun System (MGS, or Stryker MGS) in particular, is up. Particularly notable is the comparison of the profile between a modified vehicle-MGS and a hypothetical MGS designed from scratch.
You may have noticed the contretemps between Tacitus and Charles Johnson over the weekend. You may not have noticed my calling Charles on another of his factually misleading posts from late last week (actually, one three posts away from the one Tacitus picked on).
People used to say of Johnson that his commenters were vile, but he was still a news source worth reading. I don't think you can say that, anymore: he seems to have lost any personal desire for the pursuit of objective truth, at least when it comes to Muslims or what he sees as Muslim-enablers (Canada, the UN, etc.).
Or, as David Warren might say, "Screw truth."
UPDATE: Johnson is now posting links to the "best" photos of the corpse of Sheikh Yassin. The word choice is significant... especially when you consider this is the same site that regularly calls Palestinians "Paleos" for taking an admittedly-at-times-unseemly interest in touching the remains of their people killed in the recent violence. At least in the past when it was Israeli casualties Charles showed his graphic pictures of, there was a political point; this is just ghoulish voyeurism. But I guess they have their ghouls, and we have ours.
SECOND UPDATE: There's now a thread dedicated to this blog at LGF, in which, after some prodding, Johnson says he was only joking when he said twice the UN had evacuated its civilians from Kosovo at the first sign of trouble last week. Joking. Check.
March 19, 2004
OKAY, THIS WAS FUNNY
No, no post. I just really liked this icon.
THIS JUST KEEPS GETTING BETTER AND BETTER
"Screw democracy." -- David Warren, re Spain.
March 18, 2004
HACK WATCH: ANDREW SULLIVAN
"Rumsfeld never said that the threat from Iraq was imminent, or immediate, but that he could not know for sure."
--Andrew Sullivan, today
"No terrorist state poses a greater or more immediate threat to the security of our people and the stability of the world than the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq."
--Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sept. 19, 2002
ANOTHER NON-WORTHWHILE CANADIAN INITIATIVE
Oh, come on, who are they kidding? That "hun" is awful. Wildlife and/or people, please. The bowdlerized Peacekeeping Monument on the 10 was bad enough.
YET ANOTHER BROWSER SWITCHOVER
I've now switched for browsing purposes from freeware Opera 7.12 to Mozilla Firefox (nee Firebird) v0.8. I still prefer IE6 for Movable Type, but for regular browsing, this is the best non-IE out there yet. The history feature and lack of ads alone maks it superior to Opera, and the Google bar and tabbed browsing beats out standard IE.
March 17, 2004
A FRAYING COALITION
Honduras has said it is withdrawing its 300 troops from Iraq in July, now, too.
It should be noted this has little to do with the Spanish election outcome... as I've said before repeatedly, no country with the exception so far of Poland and Britain have yet publicly made longer-term commitments than the June 30 "handover" to Iraqi rule. Several were expected to quietly pull out at this point... it's only the fact that it was an election promise in Spain that has shone light on what was already an uncomfortable fact for U.S. military planners.
It's somewhat unclear who those commitments would be made to, for that matter. The new Iraqi Basic Law says that the Iraqi military will remain under exclusive American command, similar to the Indian army pre-1947, to take one example. Foreign contingents working for the Americans would presumably therefore be working solely for the Americans, as well, proving by their presence that the "handover" was less than the supporters of a rapid transition have claimed it might be.
The Spanish pullout is significant beyond its numerical value because the Spanish were providing a lot of the logistical backbone for the Polish and Ukrainian brigades that make up (with the Spanish-speaking brigade) the "Multinational Division" (MND) (which is separate from the British division, that incorporates the other participating NATO countries.) The Polish have now said they can keep their troop level constant if need be, but need another NATO (ie, Western) country to pick up the logistical side. That's going to be tricky... the U.S. has steadfastly rejected NATO taking a role in this formation per se, and presumably the countries that wish to play a lead role in Iraq are already doing so. The most likely outcome is the US Army taking over the MND's logistical support functions, which makes it rather less multinational than I'm sure some would like.
The whole refusal to get a NATO imprimatur, by giving the European countries a sector of Iraq and leaving them to man it, is incomprehensibly short-sighted. None of these foreign commitments were ever on a stable footing... any citizenry will eventually balk at sending soldiers on a foreign adventure under the absolute control of another nation (this fact, more than any other, rules out even token Canadian post-war involvement, for instance; Canadians have been picky on that score since at least Second Ypres). Regardless of their feeling about the war, the Spanish people evidently did not see themselves as partners in Iraq's reconstruction, and in fact they are not; they are just another kind of military contractor, providing and paying for troops to replace American soldiers, and they've now decided the payoff to them (in terms of allegedly increased personal security) isn't worth the price.
The resistance of the U.S. government to formalizing their new alliances in any way will in hindsight surely come across as mistaken as their earlier decision to disband the Iraqi army was... the Poles are reportedly very concerned about the slowness of the U.S. on the various international diplomatic issues the Poles had hoped their significant Iraqi role would leverage. If the Americans are going to rely on coalitions of the willing in future, rather than established alliances, they really need to put more thought into how they're rewarding their friends. "America won't forget," says Den Beste. If the slowness to show any payoff keeps up (Remember the British and Pakistani tariff issues?) it may become more accurate to say, "America won't remember."
PS: Australia's got a lot of nerve, don't they? After pulling out their Iraqi contingent entirely a year ago, they now feel they can urge Spain not to do so? Silly Sheilas.
As said here before, perhaps the more valuable statistic is fatal casualties, the ratio of which for Spain to Australia is currently 73:1.
This website says there are 1,000 Australians participating in the Iraq coalition. That's really only a state of mind thing, though; Australia has not been a player in the ground occupation in the way the other countries on that list have since war's end. That number consists of 250 troops in country, including a 90 person air operations det (traffic controllers) and a lot of little groups and individuals serving on attachment with various American units (some Canadians are still there, acting in a similar, but unrecognized capacity). There are also some embassy guards, and a 650-person naval/air detachment in the Persian Gulf, manning a frigate, 2 Orion patrol aircraft, and 2 C-130 transports. Last summer, when Canada had a larger naval/air detachment in the Persian Gulf (it was there for the war as well), also, coincidentally, manning several frigates, 2 Orion-type patrol aircraft and 2 C-130 transports, it was not considered part of the Iraq mission, because it was part of the global "war on terror" instead. (Canada is now down to one frigate in theatre at a time, as well, and it's still not being counted as part of the coalition, presumably because we want it that way.) For two-plus years, the Canadian and Australian sailors and airmen have been doing exactly the same thing... protecting military and commercial shipping in the Gulf, often as part of the same task force, with the Canadians conducting the majority of surface boardings, and the Australians getting all the credit with the States. If that makes any sense to anyone, please go get your head examined.
THE PRICE OF POWERLESSNESS
Paul Knox in the Globe laments the inability of Canada to prop up the Aristide government with its military:
When the French and the Americans gave up on Mr. Aristide, should Canada have acted by itself? Militarily, the rebels weren't much -- a couple of hundred gangsters and former soldiers, most armed with vintage rifles and shotguns.
Knox concludes the will wasn't there, and Canada should have just issued a statement supporting Aristide, galvanizing the U.S. and France to act contrary to their interests and actual actions in the end. That would have been one great speech if it had accomplished that.
It's worthwhile noting that Australia, a smaller country with a smaller military, had no problem launching a similar-sized unilateral intervention to stabilize the Solomon Islands earlier this year.
Leaving aside the question whether propping up Aristide was a good idea or not, the simple fact is this: this "G8 nation" could not, on order, rapidly deploy a few hundred soldiers to its own backyard to support a government foreign policy objective. Even if Canada had not actually engaged in what would have been a risky endeavour, the demonstrable capability to do so would surely have put some actual weight behind the External Affairs Minister's statements on the matter. Simply the process of military deconfliction would have forced the American and French leaders to attempt to accommodate Canada's political objectives to a degree. None of that, of course, needed to happen in this case; the Canadians who arrived in Haiti yesterday long after the Marines took over are now quite irrelevant to determining the country's future.
The outcome in Haiti was, like it or not, the latest installment in the price of Canadian military powerlessness. Until that starts to bother people, strongly worded statements will be our only foreign policy tool. A rather useless tool at that, it seems.
March 15, 2004
SPAIN: MORE DEEP THOUGHTS FROM THE JINGOS
Bill Quick to the Spanish people: "More Spanish blood will flow, never doubt it. And when you ask what you did to deserve your misery, I will point to this day. Cowards."
Also worth reading at Bill's today is this post, where he (in the seventh comment from the top) spells out, as concisely as you're going to get, exactly what a nontrivial number of Bush-foreign-policy-supporters think a vote for Bush is really going to be a vote for, sotto voce: two to three more dominoes.
Everyone's saying the vote in Spain was all about terrorism, regardless of the no doubt numerous motivations that could have been behind casting votes in either direction; similarly in the rest of the world, the coming American election is being seen, more or less, as entirely a simple referendum on the Bush policy of invasions-without-casus, which if Bush wins, will lead to a lot more of them; but I'm sure many of those same American commenters who are being so reductionist when it comes to the Spaniards now would insist on a greater allowance for complexity and mixed motivations when they cast their own votes next Nov. 2.
But from this perspective, I'd say that Quick is being unusually clear-eyed. A vote for Bush in November, as a stand-in ratification of the Iraq adventure, will almost certainly lead to another by-historic-standards-unjustified military intervention, in Syria and/or Iran, before 2008. That is what the interventionists want. And militarily, once you've got Iraq, it's actually pretty easy; the Brits took all three in 1941 (with a little help from the Russians) after quelling the Iraqi Revolt gave them the centre position to strike west and then east, and they didn't have near the military superiority the Americans do now. Keep Putin on board (and American tolerance for their ludicrous electoral processes will help with that) and there should be no serious problem.
Of course, keeping them for any length of time would be fiscally and militarily unsustainable for the States at the moment, as it has proven in Iraq, but some would say the dual act of bringing the Iranian nuclear aspirations to heel and taking the Iranian-Syrian pressure-by-terrorist-proxy off Israel would be worth it. They might even have a point, at that.
This isn't, as far as people can tell from abroad, an election about the candidates' stands on "fighting terror" or even on staying involved in Iraq. This is an election about affirming the extension of Monroe Doctrine interventionism-without-cause to the entire globe, about the candidates' stands on further pre-pre-emptive war. And it is the fault of the challenger if that has not already been made blindingly obvious to the American electorate. It certainly seems pretty obvious to everyone else on the planet, who, if they don't have the benefit of nuance, may have the benefit of distance in this case.
March 14, 2004
SHORTER ANDREW SULLIVAN, ON SPAIN
Al Qaeda targeted Madrid because of the Iraq invasion. Al Qaeda targeted Madrid long before the Iraq invasion for other reasons altogether.
Thanks for clearing that one up, Andrew.
March 12, 2004
Is it just me, or does anyone else suspect all this Spanish-American solidarity in the face of terrorism is going to be a little politically inconvenient, if this does turn out to be just an ETA/Basque thing? The United States policy under Bush has been quite clear on the distinction with international terrorists, that must be hunted down, and "local" terrorists, who are not a U.S. problem (hence Hamas, for instance, does not require Special Forces intervention). Just asking.
UPDATE: It's looking more and more like an Al Qaeda job, in fact, but that didn't stop the governing party from losing at the polls in the wake of it, which has led to another kind of backlash. Ah, yes, the left and the terrorists, hand in hand; trenchant analysis, that.
A couple facts you may not have noticed in the uproar:
*The Aznar-supported government slate wasn't promising to keep Spanish troops in Iraq, it was promising to dramatically increase their number (by around 1,000), to make up for an expected Polish reduction this summer, according to a Reuters piece (no longer online). In fact, one can expect the lion's share of the multinational forces to withdraw between now and the fall; the American military leadership has done next to nothing yet to include them in their strategic warplanning, or formalize their continued presence through NATO or the UN, so most are probably cutting their contributions back, anyway.
*The victorious Socialists under Zapatero, as far as I can discern, do not in fact, have any opposition to Spanish assistance in the NATO/UN-mandated ISAF force in Afghanistan... only to the non-internationalist coalition of the willing in Iraq. (They currently have 2,200 soldiers with NATO missions abroad: Bosnia/Kosovo, as well as Afghanistan.) So basically, their position now being condemned by a myriad of jingobloggers is... well, the Canadian position, actually: yes to Afghanistan, where there actually were terrorists once and where there is a world mandate, no to Iraq.
*The Spanish so far have given, assuming you accept the "war on Islamic terror" construct, 73 of their soldiers' and intelligence officers' lives to its prosecution in those two countries (including 62 in an unfortunate plane crash) by my count... more than any other non-U.S. country, including Britain. Maybe, just maybe, they've given enough? It is an entirely rational position, it seems to me, to wish your government focus on the terrorists at home that are actually killing you, rather than spend your blood and treasure supporting a distant war, that, as far as protection of actual Spaniards are concerned, may very well turn out to have zero actual value. Al Qaeda involvement in the Madrid bombings does not automatically make the Iraq adventure justifiable... and not trusting your adventurist government to protect you at home any longer does not necessarily mean you have lost sight of the big picture when it comes to terrorism.
A DELIGHTFUL SUBVERSION
I also read Hugh Bicheno's Rebels and Redcoats this week. A revisionist history of the American Revolution, it is a must-read... quite possibly the most anti-American screed I have read in some time, systematically dismantling the American founding myth from the ground up. The introduction alone is devastating to anyone's pretense of Yankee exceptionalism, written by an author and skilled historian who doesn't just detail his personal contempt for what he sees as the layers of propaganda slathered on the "Founding Fathers," but positively revels in it. It is not only that remarkable thing, readable military history in the Keegan-Holmes vein; it is also probably the most subversive paperback in the bookstores today.
A few other thoughts on Bicheno:
1) As in all military books, some textbook figures come off as overrated, others are not. Bicheno leaves the reputations of many American generals more or less where they are. He savages Gates, Greene, la Fayette and Revere among many others, preferring the underrated John Stark instead. The four senior British generals in-theatre fare little better, but some of their subordinates shine, and for reasons I hadn't appreciated: Simcoe (like Stark, a protege of Robert Rogers), tricking Steuben himself out of a victory at Point of Fork; the always controversial Tarleton, about due for a burnishing; and the remarkable Mohawk Joseph Thayendanegea Brant, who in 1778 somehow managed to fight and win two major raids (Andrustown and Minisink) 100 miles apart, within two days of each other. If there's a comparable feat in the annals of footsoldiering at any time in history, I can't recall it.
2) Brant and Simcoe, of course, would later become major characters in the Canadian founding myth, as well, but in this country they are known as noble postwar peacemakers (Simcoe for freeing Upper Canada's last slaves for instance), not the brilliant soldiers they had been; Canadian texts rest little on their younger days, which is a great pity... it's great that high schoolers can read the diaries of Lady Simcoe, no doubt, but it's clear our own myths need a little "revisioning" of its own. Current Canadian high school history treats the Loyalist settlers who fled the Colonies in 1781-84 as essentially peaceful refugees; it's important for our own self-understanding to remember that these were in many cases hardened men, even in some cases what today we would consider war criminals.
3) For the record: my objections to the Gibson film travesty "The Patriot," which Bicheno also obviously detests, were not, in fact centered on the British being portrayed as excessively brutal, which was what so many in Britain objected to when the movie was playing. Yes, it's true, there were very few recorded events of off-battlefield brutality involving the bona fide English redcoats, and certainly nothing like the Oradour-sur-Glane ripoff the movie chronicles so flippantly.
However, anyone who thinks great cruelty was not a feature when homegrown Loyalist units were fighting the Rebels, and vice versa, is kidding himself. That includes Banastre Tarleton's troops "portrayed" in that movie, the self-titled "British Legion," in fact a unit composed almost entirely of American-born Loyalists (led, as was common, by a British commander).
When Loyalist troops were involved (or Scots, or Hessians), while there may not have been any Oradours, there were certainly numerous Malmedy-style POW massacres. (On the other hand, it's also true American mythmakers magnified some of their defeats in fair fight, such as Waxhaws and Paoli, into "massacres," as they had done before and would again afterwards, too.) It's also fair to say the closest real-life events to the movie massacre would probably be Rebel vigilante depredations against suspect blacks in Georgia in 1775, or against the peaceful "civilized" Indians at Gnadenhutten in 1782.
No my objection to that movie is to the bizarre caricatures of Tarleton and Marion/Morgan (Gibson), bearing no relation to the fascinating originals that I have read about, and in a just world that would be a pity, dammit. Tarleton, for instance, is the movie's thinly disguised murderer and arsonist; you can't even detect the same real-life man who, having raided Monticello in an attempt to catch Thomas Jefferson, would respectfully depart leaving it still pristine. Tarleton was by all accounts disturbingly good looking, loved by his men (and sundry women), only 26 years old when he was tangling with Marion and Morgan... character actor Jason Isaacs doesn't conjure him up well, at all, in those respects.
But the movie's depiction of a cruel war in general terms is not a wholly unfair one: it was cruelty from both sides, though, and as Canadians and inheritors of the losing argument, we might do better to remember that. This is our founding myth, too, after all.
4) It's nice, as I said above, to uncover a little bit more of some of those luminaries our own historians here ave been steadfastly burying for decades, such as the invincible Frederick Haldimand, first Governor of postwar Canada, probably more responsible than anyone for setting the conditions that allowed this country to grow into something, and possibly the most brilliant "British" commander-in-chief North America ever saw. (Quotes because Haldimand was, in fact, a Swiss mercenary-aristocrat.)
5) Bicheno raises fascinating and tantalizing questions throughout. He reasonably establishes that the Concord Raid wasn't to capture Adams and Hancock at all, but rather the three 24-pounder cannon Pitcairn found hidden there, weapons far more powerful than any other local militia had, or could be allowed to have. As the author points out, though, there is no explanation whatever for how they got there. This, and the fact Washington lost more cannon in the New York campaign than are known to have ever been put in his hands, suggests the covert military intervention of a foreign power (probably France) in American politics even before 1775. More research needed there, obviously.
Bicheno also makes the point in passing that, rather than being sniped by American marksmanship, British officer casualties in the war's battle were actually close to the norm... what wasn't was the American officer casualties, which were often surprisingly low compared to other armies, elsewhere. The implication should be obvious: but again, more research would be nice.
Anyway, best book of the year so far for me, bar none. If you've ever been able to read military history, buy this book. If not, at least try to choke down Bicheno's vicious Introduction in the bookstore aisle. You won't regret the resulting cranial freefall, not unless you've given up the whole "try to see all sides" thing somewhere along the way.
UPDATE: Edited this morning to fix, oh, all kinds of problems. Note to self and others: do not blog right after a long day's travel, when all the facts and names are mixed up in your head, and eight hours somnolence are obviously urgently required. Or, if you do, please fix it up first thing when you wake.
Bicheno is always an extremely controversial historian, and I would certainly not claim him ever to have the last word... his complete disinterest in sound sourcing can be maddening. But because he's an enfant terrible, I think some people tend to sniff at him too much. (My favourite Bicheno sniff-review is this one, which concludes with the masterful paragraph, "It is regrettable that faulty research and careless editing detract [sic] the text... It is unfortunate that the text was not proof read [sic] more closely. Gettysburg is [sic] insightful, challenging, and fresh approach to the study of the battle, yet simultaneously it is regrettable that faulty research and careless editing impair the text." Yeah, we all know how that can suck.) Anyway, I'd place him in terms of reliability about one step above his fellow iconoclast Christopher Hitchens. But I still read Hitchens, too.
BACK, WITH MORE THINGS THAT PLEASE ME
Sorry about the absence... army business took me out of circulation for a little while. The travel time gave me the chance to finish two books... more about the second in a minute. I just wanted to praise hidden Canadian treasure Robert Sawyer, whose novel "The Terminal Experiment" pleased and surprised me, as have many of his other works.
Regardless of what you may think of the science-fiction detective/philosophy vein he mines, I can think of no writer who has ever written as accurately, even lovingly, about Canada and particularly Toronto, as Sawyer does. He instils the place with more romance than it probably deserves, in fact. He is a true, and generally underappreciated, national treasure.
March 05, 2004
CANADA VOTES FOR OWN HEMISPHERE
After some serious behind-the-scenes horsetrading, the Canadian military has gone with a new Haiti deployment, over extending the Kabul and Bosnia missions.
As said here, before, the Canadian military currently has a sustainable deployment capability of 1,200 infantry, more or less. And you need infantry to do these missions. Add an 1:1 leavening of support personnel (from engineers to medics) and the total deployable land force package is roughly 2,500. That's the more-or-less rigid personnel planning envelope to work in. It's also a number we've been rather consistently exceeding for over a decade, which is a large part of where the forces are now.
Currently, the foreign commitments are: Afghanistan (2,000), Bosnia (1,200) and the Golan (200). That absolutely had to come down, ideally from either drawing the larger two down to minimum strength, or ending one of them altogether. But Haiti was calling, too. And a lot of people, this call sign included, were deeply skeptical that the pressure to keep the Afghan and Bosnia missions going would end up the winning argument, as it always has before. But apparently that pressure has abated somewhat.
t's hard to imagine the Defence Department could have reasonably agreed to another 450 troops for Haiti without some understanding with the Foreign Affairs office, on paper, signed, in blood, that Kabul, Bosnia, or even both would actually be really drawn down this time. And this seems to be what has happened, in fact. By the fall, assuming the second Haiti rotation is of a similar size to the first, which seems likely, those commitments will be reorganized to Haiti (450), Bosnia (600), Afghanistan (500) and the Golan (200)... under 2,000 in total, basically a heavily reinforced infantry company group or two in each of the first three, which will give enough headroom for proper reconstitution and a restarting of the army's moribund training establishments.
The problem now is going to be resisting what will be HUGE diplomatic pressure from NATO to keep Bosnia/Afghanistan going even further. There's some serious foreign affairs triangulation going on here... a couple inches closer to the US (which wants Haiti support) and the UN, and backing off a bit from NATO. But the big dread in National Defence HQ now has to be that the Foreign Affairs office will welch in a few months or so, and insist on keeping one or both of the NATO missions going at high tempo, ie still at a battalion-plus strength. Were that to happen, it could be extremely hazardous, both to the troops, and to the Forces' longterm planning.
UPDATE: It goes without saying that this force is significantly smaller than what was sent to Haiti the last time (750).
March 04, 2004
BILL SAMPSON UPDATE: QUICK, SOMEONE CALL MEL GIBSON
Death by partial beheading and crucifixion? Partial? Good Lord.
It's mind-boggling that the Saudis can say with a straight face, and expect us to believe, that they planned to execute a couple Westerners in the most painful way they could ever devise, but firmly deny they were ever the least bit mistreated during their prior captivity. They really do think we're that stupid, it seems.
Also today, the Saudi lawyer who got them out gets a prize.
(TRIVIA NOTE: The Order of the British Empire is an interesting decoration, meant to honour non-combatant service to the British Crown. It has five levels, of which Commander is third; achieving either of the top two entitles a British subject to call themselves "Sir" or "Dame". The closest Canadian equivalent to the decoration in this case, the CBE, would be Officer of the Order of Canada (OC).)
March 03, 2004
THIS IS THE FUNNIEST THING I'VE READ ALL DAY
Sirens intended to warn Pickering residents of a safety risk at the nearby nuclear plant are gathering dust in a warehouse after local politicians refused to install them, calling them Cold War "monstrosities" and a threat to property values... "We believe in the need for an alerting system, but these sirens just don't cut it," said Pickering Councillor Kevin Ashe. "We have asked them to go back to the drawing board and come up with a better way to notify residents of any imminent danger from the nuclear plant."
The Star, today. Yes, what we need here is a system that nobody has to see, or preferably, even know about, before the day of an actual disaster, at which point we expect it to be efficient, unmistakeable and thoroughly effective. That shouldn't be too hard, surely?
(For the record, I grew up down the road from a couple nice-sized reactors, including one which was the site of the largest nuclear near-disaster in Canada. I could go into details about how by far the most likely, possibly the only disaster scenario involving Candu-type heavy water reactors is one involving increased exposure over time, meaning even those living close have several hours, if not days, to evacuate... in which case a couple megaphone trucks bought for the local police and fire departmentments could do everything that needs to be done in the way of emergency notification. But I'm not going to convince many people, so I won't bother.
No the need for panic-inducing sirens is coming from the "No Safe Dose" camp of anti-nuclear activists demanding evacuation of whole cities in minutes rather than let anyone get a single millirem more than they need to, and, like depleted uranium hysteria, is not grounded in any provable science on the effects of radiation exposure. In reality, the casualties due to panic these sirens would produce if they ever went off (heart attacks, car accidents, etc.) would almost certainly exceed any radiation-related maladies they managed to prevent.
HAITI, contd.: IT BEGINS TO SINK IN
We won't have the [military] capacity that...we would like, but we are going to be able to make an important contribution, [Prime Minister] Martin said.
--the Globe and Mail, today.
Chile's already anted up in Canada's place, to join the Franco-American interim force, which the U.S. has said will handover to a new UN force in three months. Presumably Ottawa's looking at what, if anything, it can contribute to that UN effort (joining the initial intervention seems never to have been an option). Civilian police advisors mostly, is the safe bet. 'Cause we all know what Canada needs these days is fewer police at home.
March 01, 2004
I REALLY DON'T THINK PEOPLE ARE GRASPING THE GUN REGISTRY OUTRAGE
AXIS OF....? HOW DID THAT PHRASE GO AGAIN?
Apparently the Iranian nuke threat and ongoing trade embargo don't mean you can't still do a little business when you need to. Now THAT's detente.
Ollie North would be proud... I look forward to the usual jingopundit non-reaction.
HAITI, contd.: WHAT WE HAVE HERE IS A FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE
Some within government even perceive a barely veiled attempt [by the Canadian Forces] to throw up roadblocks in order to make the point that the military needs substantially more resources. Haiti has traditionally been a focus of Canadian foreign policy no country in the Americas gets more development assistance from Ottawa and Mr. Martin's government would be sensitive to any suggestion that the Canadian Forces just can't do what's required there.
"It has been like pulling teeth with them," a government official said.
--The Globe and Mail, today.
No doubt every senior Canadian military officer is grinding their frequently-pulled teeth over that one. It's real easy for a government to say the foreign policy priority of the week trumps the need for soldiers to see their children once every couple years or so, or for any new soldiers to be trained, or to deploy with sufficient equipment... especially from anonymity.
But as easy as it would be from this perspective to make the obvious comments about water from a dry well, and such like, there's another point this should highlight, as well. That's that the DND leadership's vision that after pulling out of Afghanistan this fall there will be a couple years for the Canadian Forces to "reconstitute" itself is simply not sound, and probably never was. The tempo we are maintaining now is not prone to being turned on and off, on and off. It's a consistent, steady demand on a dwindling military force structure. Two years or more without Canadian Forces units of some description overseas just simply ain't gonna happen.
The best that can be hoped for is that the military is able to clearly define what is their sustainable level of constant overseas commitment, and that the government of the day can be persuaded to think twice, or at least see the need to fund above the budgetary baseline, before exceeding that level whenever the next crisis arises... as it inevitably will.
Yes, "pay up or shut up" is often a fair rejoinder, regarding Haiti and elsewhere. But if anyone still honestly thinks we have a couple years coming up later in the decade when we'll be able as a military to sit back, relax a bit, and pull all the current loose ends together, they've been into the glue again.
"endearingly macho" -- Mark Steyn
"wonderfully detailed analysis" -- John Allemang, Globe and Mail
"unusually candid" -- Tom Ricks, Foreignpolicy.com
Bill & Bob
Ghosts of Alex