October 29, 2004

Not that it matters now, but...

Just saw the Pentagon press conference today. The ordnance major specifically states that he only entered or removed his ordnance from bunkers that were unlocked on April 13. He also stated that there were "no troops awaiting my arrival," ie no sentries of any kind on that date.

So here's the most plausible scenario at the moment, to wrap up this story... all the HMX explosives were still under seal after Baghdad fell. The ammunition removal team came onto the site (possibly through holes in the north barrier wall punched through by the 3rd Inf Div, the Pentagon spokesman confirmed) on April 13, and recovered 200+ tonnes of ammunition and explosives from the bunkers that were, as the major said, "easily accessible." He left the locked bunkers alone.

On April 18, a 101st recon party opened up at least some of those locked bunkers, including probably bunker 47, containing the IAEA's 3 tonnes or RDX in "Yugo drums," to see what was inside them, and then left the site with those bunkers now unlocked.

What happened after that was that the remaining explosives, including all of the IAEA's HMX, RDX and PETN, were swept up and destroyed by some subsequent ordnance removal team, with at least some of it probably being taken by looters in the interim. Because the search and recovery effort at this site does not seem to have been extremely methodical, it's possible we may never know what happened to it more precisely than that. By itself, it's not a big deal. But it is becoming a very well documented microcosm of what no doubt happened at countless sensitive sites across Iraq postwar. Pending further information about those other, later ordnance recovery efforts, though, there's going to be little new to add to this one.

Posted by BruceR at 06:59 PM

!!

"It was not obvious when the [new Bin Laden] video was recorded." -- BBC

Well, if he refers to "entering the fourth year since Sept. 11" and a Kerry nomination (locked up March 15), I think it's safe to say now that whole Tora Bora thing didn't work out.

Posted by BruceR at 04:50 PM

Bunker bingo update

QaQaa aerial

The image you're looking at is the southern third of the Al QaQaa bunker complex, oriented to north. You can see the fence around the whole area, and individual bunker buildings.

The bunkers in red are those that were inspected in January 2003 when IAEA inspectors returned, found to be still full of tonnes of HMX stored in cylindrical drums, and resealed. All these explosives are now reportedly gone. The two on the left in a somewhat darker red also had HMX, but it was stored in boxes, not drums, according to the IAEA. There was one more IAEA-sealed bunker farther north in the complex, off the top of this image: in total 194 tonnes of HMX are alleged to be missing from the nine sealed bunkers at Al QaQaa.

The bunker in yellow (bunker #47) is the bunker that in January contained 3 tonnes of RDX explosive in 77 "Yugo drums," and 3.5 tonnes of PETN explosive in boxes, now all apparently missing as well. This bunker was NOT sealed by the IAEA, as they were only interested in tracking the amount of RDX Iraq had at Al QaQaa, not completely denying its use. It is thus conceivable that bunker 47 would have had other sorts of munitions in it as well. (The rest of the missing RDX (125 tonnes) was supposed to have been in another bunker complex altogether, 20 miles away, the IAEA confirmed yesterday.)

The bunkers in green are those where reconnaissance photos released by the DOD yesterday indicate there was some activity in the days just before the war. As you can see, they are not the sealed bunkers, or bunker 47.

The news team accompanying the 101st Airborne said they approached from the southeast of the complex (bottom of the picture), so they were almost certainly in one or more of these bunkers in this photo. (They don't mention going over what would presumably be a chain link fence, so they likely came in through that gate southeast of bunker 47.) Their footage appears to show American soldiers cutting the locks off a non-sealed bunker, which had a large number of containers resembling "Yugo drums" inside, mixed in with some other, non-proscribed munitions. It also showed at least one other bunker nearby with its IAEA seal left intact.

This has been a public service to help you make sense of my and others' previous blathering on this subject. The photo has been lifted from the globalsecurity.org site, cropped and turned so up is north, and the bunker numbers and contents cross-checked with the IAEA January report.

UPDATES: The NY Times says today:

"Mr. Caffrey said the soldiers used bolt cutters to cut through chains with locks on them, as well as [IAEA] seals."

CNN makes the same statement: "...the troops broke a seal to get inside, where they found barrels filled with powdered explosives, according to reporter Dean Staley."

This is not, however, what the news station's own report says or shows. It only shows the soldiers looking into a still-sealed bunker through a high window, and openly wondering what's inside it. The bunker they open up with bolt cutters and enter does not have a seal on it, according to the tape.

This isn't a key point, but it should be clarified. If the soldiers specifically avoided cutting IAEA seals and only opened up the other "Saddam government property" bunkers (including #47 with its RDX), they could be seen as somewhat less culpable for any later theft of the HMX. And if they did have any footage from inside a building that had had a seal on it (so far they have not shown any) that would be a stronger indication whether there was still a quantity of HMX onsite postwar, and whether the Saddam government had respected the IAEA seals prewar.

The Washington Post, meanwhile, has a confusing typo: "That figure was based on a Hussein government declaration in July 2003 of what existed at the site." A declaration from the spiderhole?

Marshall makes a mistake here: "They even have footage of the IAEA seal being clipped off the warehouses as they're going in." No, they don't... they have footage of a door with a seal that was left alone, and another door without a seal that was entered.

Posted by BruceR at 10:38 AM

Reader feedback on "game, set, match"

Rob. W provides a link between Flit's saying "game, set, match," yesterday, and David Kay, Aaron Brown, Atrios, and Marshall all using the phrase last night.

"I sent a link of your site and quoted you in an E-mail to Josh at 3:00 EST yesterday. I bet that's where he got it. Aaron Brown picked it up too and prompted even David Kay to say it. You get full props."

I don't want props, I want royalties, dammit.

Posted by BruceR at 10:13 AM

October 28, 2004

"Here come the sons of dogs"

"On a recent afternoon, two Iraqi National Guardsmen at a [Ramadi] checkpoint at the government center watched as a group of marines walked up. "Here come the sons of dogs," one guardsman said to an Iraqi reporter."
--NYTimes, "Ramadi is slipping into chaos," today.

Yep, this is going well.

Posted by BruceR at 09:27 PM

They might have been in the bunker next door

More on Al QaQaa: looking over the FOX news copy of the January IAEA report, something stands out... the container types.

Much of the now-missing HMX and RDX were both stored in so-called "Yugo drums," described as a "cylindrical carton drum," 40 cm x 70 cm, each carrying 50 kg of HMX or 40 kg of RDX (Both types of explosive were stored in them.) Bunker #47, containing all the RDX and PETN and the one bunker described as "not sealed," contained 77 such drums of RDX (3 metric tonnes), and 100 "China wood boxes" (elsewhere described as a "rectangular wood box" 30x40x50 cm), each of those carrying 35 kg of PETN explosive (3.5 tonnes). Nine other nearby bunkers, which seem to have held nothing but HMX, were resealed with IAEA seals in January, 2003. (As mentioned before, a quantity of HMX was the necessary condition for a plutonium bomb, and would have been of greater interest to an international nuclear inspection team.)

Also of note, bunker 47 and all but one of the HMX bunkers are shown as along the southern edge of Al QaQaa, the direction the embedded local news crew drove in from.

It's also fairly clear at least some of the stuff in the bunker the news crew looked around would have been of no interest to the IAEA... artillery fuzes, etc. That suggests that they were looking around an unsealed bunker, not a sealed one. Also, when you see the footage of the Americans breaking the lock, there's no sign of an IAEA seal on that bunker.

However, we know, thanks to Fox News, that bunker 47 was not officially sealed (it was, though, right next to a couple other bunkers that were) and was filled with exactly the kind of drums you see in the photo to the right.

So two possibilities remain: either the news team entered an Al QaQaa bunker that was not being monitored by the IAEA at all, but happened to contain what looks like tons of explosive anyway, or they are in bunker 47 itself, having caught on tape American soldiers breaking the padlock on it, and that picture to the right is what 3 metric tonnes of the best high explosive you can steal looks like.

In other news, the IAEA countered the ABC news report (quoted by Dick Cheney) that a ludicrous amount of RDX was missing by saying that report that ABC was relying on (the same one Fox has posted) was for the Al QaQaa facility only, and didn't include the Mahaweel facility, 20 km farther south, where the rest of the RDX (120-plus tonnes) was stored. In other words, the IAEA is now saying the Americans failed to keep TWO massive explosive stores from being cleaned out, not just one. You'd think if they were trying to bring down the President, they'd be a little more organized about it.

Also, I don't know why the Pentagon decided to release some irrelevant imagery today, but globalsecurity.org is right that the trucks are parked at the wrong bunker... but they're right for the wrong reasons!

Look at the picture, left column, third from the top. If you look at that, it shows trucks clearly parked at the bunker at the 3 o'clock position (bunker 44), two days after IAEA inspectors left for good, and three days before the start of the war. Globalsecurity.org says that's in the wrong part of the bunker complex completely... but it's not, not quite. The Foxnews PDF clearly says that there was 25 tonnes of HMX in bunker 41. Globalsecurity missed that line evidently, because bunker 41 is in fact in that same picture... it's the one in the 9 o'clock position. Still, it is true the truck is parked at bunker 44... which is not an IAEA-identified bunker. But if that truck had been two bunkers over, it would be strong evidence that some funny business was going on here.

What the Pentagon picture does show is that the U.S. did, in fact, have pretty good eyes on this complex in the few days before the war started, suggesting they probably would have caught any mass "Russians through the slats in the walls" evacuation of high explosive. I wonder if that's the point they were trying to convey today, however.

PS: I want it noted that I said "game, set, match" first, dammit. Atrios? Marshall?

MORE EMBARRASSING QUOTES: Ralph Peters: "None of the Screaming Eagles found any IAEA markers even one would have been a red flag to be reported immediately."

ONE FINAL THING: The problem here is that there is, in the end, only one way to take the pressure off the political leadership in a case like this: that is to blame this mistake on the troops, as at Abu Ghraib. And there is growing and ample evidence that someone at a lower level was not acting particularly responsibly when those images were shot. But the Bush campaign can't say that... they'd start losing red states if they openly criticized soldiers right now. So they have to blame Kerry for criticizing soldiers, even though he's not.

COUPLE FINAL NOTES: Globalsecurity.org has updated their graphics to correct the error I was making above. And now David Kay is saying "game, set, match." I'm trying to decide if people are reading this, or I'm just a couple hours ahead of the zeitgeist.

Posted by BruceR at 07:43 PM

Yakking about explosives

There's a good comment thread going here, where I end up more or less retracting the "2.5 tonnes" math, below. Cecil T.'s there, and a couple other readers, hashing out the latest explosive news.

Posted by BruceR at 05:24 PM

Yep, look like explosives to me

Apparently the 101st Airborne guys actually took bolt cutters to the bunker locks to show off a little to the Channel 5 Eyewitness News team. Game, set, match, I'd say.

UPDATE: That single photo of the soldier leaning over the crates shows roughly 60 stacked crates, each shown in another photo as "40 kg net weight." If that's how the missing explosives were packed (you can see the explosives stickers on them, so they're certainly something), that would be 2.5 tonnes of HE in that one photo alone... and that's not even getting into the other "barrels as far as the eye can see" photo. By the way, the "1.1D" on those dangerous goods placards on both the crates and barrels stands for "secondary (non-volatile) high explosive." PETN, RDX, or HMX would all normally be labelled with a 1.1D placard. (However, so would gunpowder, and some makes of artillery proximity fuze, so that's not definitive by itself.)

UPDATE #2: Meanwhile, LGF continues the sale of his soul to the devil... labelling a story about doubts about the RDX numbers as "380 tons becomes 3 tons." In fact, if you read the piece linked, you will know that the IAEA verified that there were 194 tonnes of HMX, plus at least 3 tonnes of RDX explosive at Al QaQaa. (The IAEA was less concerned about the RDX, because it's the HMX, or at least an HMX/RDX blend, that's the necessary condition for a plutonium implosion device.) That's at least 197 tonnes (217 tons) confirmed missing, not 3. He has, predictably, closed his comments again, making a perfect echo chamber for his acolytes on this.

FURTHER UPDATE: If you ever wanted to see an IAEA seal, there's a good picture here. Note it's on the outside of the building, and is nearly unnoticeable.

REGRETTABLE QUOTE UPDATE: "The idea that various Army units showed up at the weapons facility and strolled around a few minutes before moving up the road to Baghdad, leaving the lights on and the front door unlocked, looks more and more ridiculous." --Captain's Quarters. I agree it's ridiculous, but it seems that's exactly what happened. I should add that I was a logistics officer once, too, and while the CQ analysis from a logistical point might appear sound, it is all based on one big assumption... that the Iraqis only had quarter-ton pickup trucks to draw on. Assume the use of just one civilian 5-tonne, and the numbers change dramatically... plus the "breaching huge steel doors" argument is now officially defunct, thanks to the Eyewitness News team.

MORE REGRETTABLE QUOTES: "There is little question in my mind that the explosives at al Qa Qaa were gone by the time the first American set foot in the facility. What remains is for us to prove it. Go!" --Tacitus

And this one is a logician's catastrophe: "Kerry is trying to frame this issue as a Bush Administration failure - but in reality, even if what Kerry claims is true, this was a failure of troops who were in the midst of fighting the war in Iraq. We shouldn't let him get away with criticizing soldiers acting in the line of duty, and blame that on the President."

Posted by BruceR at 11:13 AM

Mythbusters: best science show on TV

I'm a big fan of the Discovery series "Mythbusters," now in its second season. The premise is that two seasoned Hollywood SFX guys take the urban legends of our lives and the movies (will a Bible stop a bullet, can you build a hovercraft out of a vacuum cleaner?) and put them to the test. It's a great science show, not just because there's a hidden lesson about chemistry or physics or engineering in there somewhere each time, but because each challenge is a little test in the scientific method, with hypotheses formulated, then dropped, then modified and reposed... with no one quite sure what the outcome is going to be. There's frustration, there's humour, there's personal injury... plus the hosts are the best two-man comic team on television. If you get a chance, you really should check it out. This is the kind of show that gets kids interested in science classes again.

Posted by BruceR at 10:14 AM

October 27, 2004

Rather droll, this

Sometimes you still see Canadians possessed of that British-like flair for quaint understatement. Check the last line of this Montreal Gazette story.

"A Canadian military reservist based in Saguenay led police on a wild chase from Alma to Quebec City early yesterday with speeds reaching up to 150 kilometres an hour.

The Surete du Quebec finally caught up with the suspect in Ste. Foy, a suburb of Quebec City, after a 200-kilometre chase.

Police say a motorist twice rammed the back of a military police vehicle at Canadian Forces Base Bagotville on Saturday night. The military police were unable to stop the driver, who then turned up at his father's home, where he fired a couple of shots. He was dressed in combat gear and was wearing a gas mask, police said.

After slipping past the Saguenay municipal police, he fired a couple of shots at the Surete police station in Alma.

On Highway 175, the fugitive managed to avoid a spike carpet at a roadblock, and fled at high speed for Quebec City.

The 20-year-old man was trying to get inside his sister's home near the Laval Hospital when he was caught, said SQ Constable Ann Mathieu.

He had crashed his car into a police roadblock before fleeing on foot. A hunting rifle was found in the car he was driving, police said.

An SQ spokesperson said the man is suspected in a rash of crimes, including arson and gas theft as well as firing shots.

No one was injured.

A Canadian Forces spokesperson said the man had not been on assignment.

'We are going to review the employability of this reservist,' she said. "

Posted by BruceR at 02:34 PM

Subs update: we did pay for them in the end

There was a bit of a bombshell in Monday's Commons committee hearings on the Royal Canadian Navy's submarines. That was, that after concluding an elaborate "contra" deal with the British, to trade leasing fees for Canadian Forces bases in return for discounted subs, National Defence declined to enact their part of the agreement and paid cash on the barrelhead instead... meaning I was incorrect previously when I minimized the cost to the taxpayer of the second-hand submarines.

I wouldn't have been surprised if it had been revealed that the British leasing offsets had not been what was forecast, but a lot of people besides me must have been surprised that our part of the deal was never enacted at all, in the end.

It's worth noting that buying four new subs would certainly have cost $3 billion CDN or more... an impossible expense at the time. It really was these four or nothing for the RCN.

UPDATE: Good article summarizing the case for submarines here.

Posted by BruceR at 02:26 PM

No thanksgiving for Turkey

I'm getting a little tired of this "perfidious Turkey" angle, too, and how if they'd only let the 4th Infantry Division drive through their country and invade Iraq from the north, everything would be all right now.

Look, Turkey was saying quite clearly back in November, 2002 it would not participate in any action against Iraq without Security Council sanction. If the Pentagon plan absolutely relied on them changing their minds about that, without any backup plan whatsoever for how to use the 4th, then it was either a stupid plan, or the 4th was considered non-critical to accomplishing the objective. Which is sort of the point.

Posted by BruceR at 10:14 AM

October 26, 2004

A little bit on explosives

Josh Marshall is all over the missing explosives story. Just a couple things you should know when you read stories like this:

The "600,000 tons of explosives" Saddam Hussein had is a number of dubious provenance. The occupying authorities have admitted to locating 405,000 tons. While the number that Hussein had is certainly somewhat larger, certainly no one's arguing the Americans have lost 200,000 tons of explosives to terrorists, are they?

Of that 400 kTons of ordnance, much of the weight will be the weight of the shells/bombs themselves, not the explosive. Assuming they were all 105-155mm HE shells, which is generous (many could have been hand grenades, landmines, etc., all with lower ratios of explosive to shell), we're talking dividing by a factor of roughly five at the least. So that's really 80 kT of actual explosive. Actually, don't forget up to half of that by shell weight would be illumination, smoke and other non-HE ordnance types. So 40 kT.

Now, at most, artillery explosive is about half as powerful as RDX/HMX... so to compare apples to apples, we're really talking 20 kT. And remember that artillery shells start to lose sealant and become inert in 10-20 years. Since most of the purchase dates on all those UXOs were probably before the 1991 embargo, at most a fifth of that HE would likely be recoverable now. Mostly it was just junk.

So on the one hand, you have, scattered around a huge country for the terrorists, about 4,000 tons of RDX/HMX equivalent, to be generous. Recovering HE from UXO shells, by the way, is extraordinarily difficult and dangerous... with a high risk of explosion if you don't know what you're doing. It should be noted there have been suspiciously few reports of terrorist screwups of this nature in Iraq. On the other hand, you had 300-plus tons of the best explosives you can make sitting there, catalogued, well-stored, and ready to be trucked away.

Yes the looting of Al QaQaa was not a necessary condition for car bombs. But boy, did it sure have the potential to help.

It should also be said that it's pretty easy for the forensic types to determine how many of those car bombs and other IEDs that kill American soldiers used recovered ordnance explosive vice RDX/HMX. The American military certainly already has a pretty good idea how many times they've been attacked with the better explosive so far. Wonder what the answer is? Or did it all go to Iran in a big convoy?

UPDATE: That other 400,000 tons, it should also be noted, was scattered in some 10,000 locations, according to the White House. So it's fair to say the average Iraqi cache contained around 40 tons of munitions, which works out by the ratios above to 0.4 tons of RDX-equivalent explosive in each. The Al QaQaa stash, which remember was one of the few that was completely documented, amounts to over 700 times the average amount of exploitable explosive.

UPDATE #2: You know, if the Marine operations officer occupying the next town over said at the time Al Qa Qaa had been left unguarded and then ransacked, and that's why his men were dying, I'm going to assume he knew more than some jackass on Fox News does now.

Posted by BruceR at 04:40 PM

October 25, 2004

Really more of a "grove"

From Josh Marshall, quoting George Bush:

"Now my opponent is throwing out the wild claim that he knows where bin Laden was in the fall of 2001, and that our military passed up the chance to get him in Tora Bora. This is an unjustified criticism of our military commanders in the field."

"The field" = "Tampa"?

Posted by BruceR at 06:39 PM

Peacekeeping brigade qualms

The current government's campaign promise to add a fourth full-time "peacekeeping brigade" never made much sense. First, there is no money: the Canadian Forces are currently running a $1 billion annual deficit, and there's been no promise of new funding. Second, there are no troops: the Forces are currently 7,000 positions understrength, and at current recruiting rates will take six-to-ten years just to fill up, before starting any expansion. Third, there are no recruits: Canadians have no interest in signing up, for the most part. A four year-long drive to increase the size of the army reserve has managed a net increase of 750. Adding 5,000 full-timers is unlikely in the current employment environment. So any reasonable projection for doing this right puts the success point somewhere in Prime Minister Martin's fourth consecutive term of office.

Tactically, the current CF force restructuring is focussed on domestic ops, lightweight (Haiti-style) ops with non-US partners, or medium-weight ops with substantial US support. There are lots of restructuring examples one could look at, but focus for the moment on air defence. The recent decisions to take both the .50 cal heavy machine gun and Javelin SAM missile (and the 35mm AA gun) out of service mean Canadian battalion-or-smaller forces overseas have no integral air defence capacity of any kind, and can only operate in an air-hostile environment under US air cover (or possibly our own scarce CF-18 jets). Otherwise, all the other side needs is one jet trainer or modern attack helicopter and we're finished. If it were to be sent overseas, the brigade-level ADATS system is effective enough for main area defence, but will be too valuable to send out with detached forces, convoys, etc. (It's also going to be relied on now as our long-distance tank killer).

So either a) the Americans are there, in which case it's not likely to be "peacekeeping", or b) the Americans aren't there, in which case it's a theatre so lightweight that air power is not an issue. (The same calculation can be made for heavy artillery, tanks, and a couple other systems we currently lack.) In most such cases you could as easily send civilian police volunteers (as has been done in Haiti). The "peacekeeping brigade," in a way, is risking becoming to Canada as ballistic missile defense is to the United States: an expensive program that saps military funds for political reasons.

Posted by BruceR at 10:21 AM

October 22, 2004

Samarra bridge-pushing update

From the Army Times, yesterday:

"The Army has dropped conspiracy charges against two soldiers accused in the drowning death of an Iraqi civilian after complaints that higher-ranking soldiers were treated more leniently.

"First Lt. Jack M. Saville and Sgt. 1st Class Tracy E. Perkins of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team still face charges of manslaughter, assault, making false official statements and obstruction of justice in the Jan. 3 death...

"Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., whose district includes Fort Carson, had criticized the Army for giving lesser, administrative punishments to three senior officers who acknowledged in a hearing that they ordered Saville and Perkins to lie about the death."

For the record, those three officers who urged their soldiers to lie to military investigators were deputy CO Maj. Robert Gwinner, company commander Capt. Matthew Cunningham, and CO Lt. Col. Nathan "heavy dose of fear and violence" Sassaman.

Update: Other quotes from Nate Sassaman: "No one knows the town better than we do, we're gonna clean this place. They've made a mistake to attack U.S. forces. We will dominate Samarra."

"You've got to meet aggression with controlled violence. A lot of people will say violence leads to more violence, I'll tell you that controlled violence leads to no more violence."

"You need to understand that these people are Muslim, and their values are just different from Judeo-Christian values. They aren't for doing things for other people like we are; they're only out for themselves."

Sassaman apparently thought the drowning accusation was a plot by his brigade commander against him: more here. Two days before the drowning, he had held his mortally wounded close friend as he died. At one point, he threatened to forcibly relocate the entire village of Abu Hishma. The month before the drowning, he took 83 of the 85 male residents of the village of Abu Siffa and sent them to Abu Ghraib. He also did some nice things for a 13 year-old girl who lost the use of her legs and five of her family members in an American artillery attack.

Posted by BruceR at 12:19 PM

Your slip is showing

For the record, I don't think prior military service is evidence of anything. There's lots of soldiers and vets I know that probably shouldn't be trusted with a hatstand, let alone elected office. I might even count myself in their number.

But I still think referring to anyone's Vietnam tour with a combat unit as "a few months' target practice on some guys in pyjamas" is far more demeaning to the writer than the subject, Colby.

Posted by BruceR at 09:42 AM

October 21, 2004

Okay, this was funny

Former student papers colleague Clive Thompson specs out the android Geddy Lee.

Posted by BruceR at 08:59 PM

Subs sinking slowly

As I warned here, the end is approaching for Canada's naval subsurface capabilities.

Posted by BruceR at 11:48 AM

More of me in print

My article for the Canadian Forces Maple Leaf on Capts. Pickersgill and Macalister is up, here.

Posted by BruceR at 11:44 AM

Stories from pacified Samarra

The new Iraqi army that "retook" Samarra bears a lot in common with the old Iraqi army, apparently:

"About 300 Iraqi soldiers abandoned their 750-man unit after being deployed to Samarra last month for a joint U.S.-Iraqi operation to retake the militant-controlled city..."
--USA Today, yesterday

Meanwhile, things are returning to normal in Samarra.

Posted by BruceR at 11:04 AM

October 19, 2004

Exactly right

A remarkable Phil Carter caution on the limitations of military reservists.

Posted by BruceR at 11:12 AM

October 18, 2004

Louis Riel, call your agent

The CBC's "greatest Canadian" list has been whittled down to the top 10. No doubt regrettably, only two are currently employees of the CBC (David Suzuki and Don Cherry).

They compete with three prime ministers (Macdonald, Pearson and Trudeau), two inventors (Bell and Banting), The Great One, Terry Fox, and the founder of public health care.

Predictably, no military figures made the top 10... those that placed in the top 100 at all were Romeo Dallaire (#16), Arthur Currie (#24), Brock (#28), Tecumseh (#37), Billy Bishop (#48), William Stephenson (#54), war poet John McCrae (#76) and sneaking in at the bottom even though he wasn't in the CBC's initial list of suggested great people, Sam Steele (#99). I'd say around half of those eight deserve the honour, along with others unrecognized, but you'll have to read my own greatest military Canadian posts to figure out which ones. Read on, if you dare.

This is part of the reason I don't place a lot of faith in any honours system, populist ones included. (I'm not crazy about the current AIDS-conspiracy-touting Nobel Peace Laureate, either.)

NOTE: Also interesting are the people the CBC initially suggested, but who didn't make the final top 100, suggesting they have zero name recognition among Canadians outside the CBC studios: WWI aces Barker and Brown, French-Canadian world war heroes Vanier and Menard, modern generals De Chastelain and Mackenzie, Native American legends Kondiaronk and Joseph Brant. (Gabriel Dumont, a talented fighter who was not on my list, because he was, well, an anti-Canadian guerilla, also went poof.)

All had bios on the CBC site initially, that have now dropped down the memory hole due to their failing to develop good brand identity in their lifetimes, apparently. That would seem to put our largest collective mil-hist knowledge gaps as Canadians in the areas of the Indian wars, armed services other than the army, Quebec's military contributions, and everything since V-E Day: if I were on a history curriculum committee somewhere I might think about that.

And please note: the CBC suggested 15 military figures in their first list. The Canadian public knocked that down to only eight, allowing more room for singers and hockey players, suggesting the public as a whole sees military matters as even less relevant to their lives than our public broadcaster does. You might want to think about that next time you hear someone talking about the silent majority of Canadians who support the military despite all the bad press. They're certainly awfully silent... if they're out there at all.

It doesn't actually surprise me, though. My recent epiphany has been that the purpose of this blog as it goes into its fourth year is largely as a chronicle from a serving member's point of view of the coming culmination of Canada's bold and decades-long historical experiment: the first major industrial nation to disarm ourselves completely. It's still a couple decades away, but I'm not going anywhere. I'll keep you posted how it's turning out.

Posted by BruceR at 11:25 PM

GREATEST CANADIAN MILITARY FIGURES, #1-4

With the announcement of the "ten greatest Canadians" list yesterday, it's as good a time as any to finish off my greatest military Canadians list. If you want to see the precursor posts to this, they're here:

part 1 (Brutinel, Fitzgibbon, Crerar)
part 2 (Dextraze, Foulkes, Grant, Salaberry)
part 3 (Hoffmeister, Birchall, Simonds, Collishaw)

Funnily enough, the Canadian military figure who I humbly suspect I most resemble (in disposition, but not ability), didn't even make my own list. That doesn't mean he wasn't a remarkable fellow in his own way, though.

You see, a lot of people see E.L.M. "Tommy" Burns, commander of 1 Canadian Corps and UNEF, as a flawed figure... distant, dour, unapproachable, sarcastic... relieved of command while in Italy in 1944 for command failure. The men called him "Smiling Sunray," because he never did. A World War One vet, he had intelligence in dollops, but not so much wisdom, it seems... his career was one long series of personal disasters, followed by startling comebacks. The final comeback, of course, was when he just happened to be a military observer in Palestine in 1956 when the first ever UN peacekeeping force needed a commander, and Tommy Burns came in from the cold for the last time.

But it's not those characteristics (or his surprisingly tumultuous romantic life, or his time in India) that endears Burns to me. It was his pseudonymous writing, under his superiors' noses, as "Arlington B. Conway," military expert for H.L. Mencken's American Mercury, one of the most controversial journals of the day. In the 1920s, "Arlington" wrote a series of reasonably perceptive articles for Mencken on the way modern war was going to change, and also made some forays into other areas, such as playwriting. A deeply cynical man about some things (he believed Canada was doomed to be absorbed by the United States), Burns' odd puckishness in this shows a man stifled by peacetime soldiering, even if he would be promoted past his competence level, and disgraced again, once war finally came. If they'd existed at the time, no doubt Burns would have been the first soldier-blogger.

I have actually met one fellow who served in Burns' Corps. Brig. Gen. H.E. Brown and I run into each other from time to time... most recently at the Pickersgill-Macalister memorial. He's an amazing fellow... still ramrod straight, and fierce when he needs to be (it's rumoured the men called him "High Explosive"), but he's always had a kind and supportive word for me when he hears what I've been up to. He's really quite a wonderful man and a soldier. Running into him in the halls for me is like that scene at the end of "Saving Private Ryan." I want to go find a friend and be reassured that I'm a good man leading a good life.

So here we go: the final top 4:

4) Col. Joseph Thayendanegea Brant (1742-1807): Adopted son of British-factotum-to-the-Mohawks William Johnson, Brant may be the most successful American Native war leader ever. His unbroken string of victories over the Americans began in 1777 at Oriskany. Fighting a losing battle against what was, in effect, the ethnic cleansing of Britain's Indian allies in western New York post-Saratoga, his attacks repeatedly stung the Americans with their superior cross-country speed and ferocity. His organization of the near simultaneous raids at Andrustown and Minisink, 100 miles apart within 72 hours of each other, still amazes those who study it. The German Flats and Cherry Valley raids in 1778 were brutal attacks that sent pro-rebel colonists fleeing in the hundreds for Albany. Laying low while furious American reprisals missed his own people, instead largely destroying the pro-American Oneida nation in frustration, Brant returned to the field again in 1780, repeating his raid-then-run-flat-out-for-two-days-and-nights-then-raid-again strategy, sacking Minisink a second time. Later the same year, Canajoharie and the Schoharie Valley were burnt flat. An estimated 200 homes and 150,000 bushels of wheat were destroyed. The Americans simply could not predict or anticipate Brant's Mohawks' absolutely amazing mobility, remarkable even by Indian standards.

Brant lived in an inhuman moment in time, but he was not without some charity, in his own way. When American Col. Archibald Lochry walked his unit into Brant's trap in 1781, Brant killed two-thirds of the Pennsylvanians and had the rest at his mercy, but then stopped the slaughter and let the remainder escape. When the infamous Indian Department agent Simon Girty taunted him for showing such weakness, Brant calmly put his sabre through Girty's cheek.

With the war over, Brant withdrew with his now-refugee people, their homes and fields burnt and destroyed, to the Grand River settlements in Ontario to start their new life. He remained peaceable and loyal to the British Crown throughout, and the Grand River became a sanctuary of sorts for Indians headed north from American land grabs. In the War of 1812, his son John would return with the Grand River Mohawk to the battlefield again; that time, for once, they helped stop their historic enemies long before their own hearths were endangered.

3) Maj. Gen. Sir Samuel Benford Steele (1849-1919): What can you say about Sam Steele? The John Wayne figure of Canadian history, he really does seem to have come about "legend in his own time" status honestly. Historical revisionism hasn't laid a glove on him yet, but I suspect he'd still typify Western Canadian machoism even if it did.

Okay, where do you start? He was a private in Wolseley's 1870 Red River expedition to establish military control over Manitoba, an expedition that was hailed across the Empire at the time for crossing an unbelievable stretch of trackless wilderness without human loss. Then, one of the first recruits for the new Canadian Permanent (Regular) Force army in 1871. He then joined the newly formed North West Mounted Police, and headed west with the first contingent as its sergeant-major. The usual legends ensue; then in 1885, he's in charge of the Canadian army's scouts, pursuing Big Bear across Assiniboia. In 1887 he single-handedly resolved the "Kootenay Crisis," between Indians and settlers in B.C. Then from 1898 to 1899, he more or less kept the peace in the Yukon by himself, in the middle of a gold rush, no less. Then he was off to South Africa with the army again, as first CO of Lord Strathcona's Horse. He stayed on there to form and run the South African Constabulary. World War One comes, and the old guy signs up again, and runs things in the big Canadian base camp at Shornecliffe, Britain.

There seem to be more stories out there about Sam Steele than there are about Mufferaw Joe. If half of them are true, he was a tank of a man indeed. But throughout, he remains best known as a peacemaker and peacekeeper, bringing law to places where there was none, with a soft word AND a gun. Although it wasn't just him, he as much as anyone laid the foundations for a Canadian tradition that may just be more valuable and deeper-sown then medicare or multiculturalism. You could even say that, in Canadian military history, the titanic struggles of 1914 and 1939 were noble levee-en-masse aberrations, and that our true military tradition is that unbroken line of frontier peacekeeping from Steele, through to Bosnia and Afghanistan today.

2) Col. John Graves Simcoe (1752-1806): Simcoe the kids will know. The founder of Upper Canada (Ontario), he had the dual blessings for history teachers today of a wife who was good at diarizing, and just happening to be the first British governor to declare the abolition of human slavery. (With a colony to build from nothing but snow and trees, Canadian black Loyalists were in a position to bargain.)

What they don't talk about in history class was that Simcoe was also an accomplished officer. A student of light infantry tactics, he inherited command of the Queen's Rangers, the green-clad Loyalist skirmishers of the American Revolution, in 1778. Captured in 1779, he was exchanged, and returned to command in 1781. At the head of one of Cornwallis's raiding columns, along with the better-known Arnold and Tarleton, he led a brilliant little action at Charles City, Virginia, then defeated Von Steuben at Point of Fork, and fought Lafayette to a draw at Spencer Tavern, before the curtain closed on them all at Yorktown. He wrote a well-received book on light infantry fighting in 1787, and then returned to North America as a lieutenant-governor from 1791-1798. As governor, it is widely related, he showed incredible energy, if not always in the wisest ways. But the colony, some of whose settlers had fought in Simcoe's regiment, thrived under his leadership. A man who was capable of raiding and destroying, he turned into someone capable of building and rebuilding when the shooting subsided. He was a great soldier and leader of men, who was also a founder of this country. Let this stand as a request that people try to see him as both, rather than just the latter.

1) Gen. Sir Arthur William Currie (1875-1933): For those who don't know the name, and there are many, many Canadians who do not, Currie commanded the Canadian Corps from mid-1917 to the end of the First World War. A failure and embezzler in his civilian life, he was saved from personal ruin by the onset of war, when his Victoria militia colonelcy actually began to mean something. His famous pear-shaped physique (a result of a sedentary lifestyle as much as genetics) made him ungainly in any uniform. The troops didn't think much of him, either. Brooke, Britain's chief soldier in the next war, served under Currie and thought of him as a colonial amateur. And yet, based purely on his record of success, he was the best Corps commander, bar none, the Allied armies had in the First World War.

currieLots of reasons have been put forward why the Canadians did better than average British (or American) troops in Flanders. Many can be at least partially attributed to Currie. He resisted the urge to put a two-Corps army in the field, turning down the promotion it would have meant for him, to keep his four divisions at greater-than-average strength (and his volunteer-to-conscript ratio higher than the British). Canadian troops had more machine guns per company than British troops. They spent more time when out of the line training than British troops. Canadian brigades, unlike British ones, had dedicated intelligence staff in the headquarters, and disseminated intelligence more effectively to lower levels. Written orders were more thorough and passed on more rapidly than in the British formations. Currie insisted on detailed rehearsals and after-action reviews at every level.

Most importantly perhaps, nearly everyone who actually worked for Currie (the "band of brothers," as British subordinate William Ironside termed it) was fiercely devoted to the man. The exception was Brooke, his one-time artillery chief, but one history prof I know suspects this was largely because of Currie's mission-focussed way of sometimes jumping the chain of command when he wanted answers, rankling Brooke by bypassing him. Otherwise, Currie gathered talent around him, and by all accounts man-managed them spectacularly well. Currie has been called the "CEO general"; I see that more flattering to CEOs than to Currie. Although stiff in public, he was collegial and human with his inner circle, constantly encouraging and demanding any new ideas from below that could staunch the ongoing trench slaughter.

Currie's greatest strength and greatest flaw was he was not at all diplomatic. Arriving late and mud-spattered for an orders group where he was supposed to take over the Passchendaele battle from Monash and the Australians in 1917, he disagreed when Monash announced how many artillery pieces the Australians were turning over to him, saying in reality there were significantly fewer guns, scattered over miles of frontage. Monash, embarrassed, demanded proof, to which Currie replied dryly, "I've just been counting them." The two had other differences, but put them aside to jointly fight and win the greatest "British" victory of the trench war, at Amiens.

Winning was everything to Currie, and heirarchies, formalities, and niceties be damned whenever they threatened to get in his way. Fearless under shell fire, he worked even after his troops were in contact with the enemy to the point of physical collapse. His "colonial" eccentricities were frowned on by Haig and the British generals, but respected by politicians like British prime minister Lloyd George and Borden. Lloyd George, who came to rely on the Canadians to tell the truth of what was actually going on in Flanders, called him "brilliant" and privately wished he could have given him (and Monash) a British army to command.

As a new brigade commander at Second Ypres, with his troops dying horribly in the first-ever use of gas in warfare, Currie couldn't understand why the British 27th Division to his left wasn't moving to plug a gaping hole in the line that threatened to cut him off entirely. Leaving his headquarters, he walked alone for a direct confrontation with the very-oldschool British Maj. Gen. Snow in his bunker... the resulting Currie-Snow affair would rocket down through the history books for decades. (Snow lost his temper, and later declared Currie should have been shot for impertinence.) It led to considerable Canadian military discontent with their continued "colonial" status, in much the same way Gallipoli made Australians think twice about their future in the Empire.

The CBC, which is behind this current "greatest Canadian" shtick, ran another of their McKenna revisionist history documentaries a few years back, accusing Currie of losing men unnecessarily when the Canadian Corps captured Mons on Nov. 11, 1918 (in reality only one Canadian was killed on the final day, and Currie had given no orders to attack, just keep on the Germans' heels). Currie had sued the first paper to run the allegations in 1927 (first made by controversial Canadian soldier-politician Sam Hughes, who disliked Currie because he had passed over his son for promotion, among other things, and who by that stage of his life was, in retrospect, quite mad). Currie won in court: apparently a libel suit victory in this country only means the Mother Corp has to wait 60 years or so to resurrect the old lies again.

Currie had left the army in 1920, after only five years of full-time soldiering, and never returned to it. Instead he became and remained principal of Montreal's prestigious McGill University for the rest of his life, despite never having a university degree himself.

Public broadcasting's efforts notwithstanding, Currie's role in establishing 20th century Canada is assured. The postwar gains in Canadian self-determination were entirely a tribute to the battlefield performance of the men he led, which also contributed to the beginnings of a distinct Canadian identity separate from British immigrant roots. His on-the-job pupils would command Canada's army units for the next 30 years. And not the least, his determination to win at the lowest cost in Canadian lives probably saved some number of lives in Canada's own "greatest generation" of future leaders in other fields: Pearson, Banting, Bethune, etc. He brought home everyone he could, and then they all went back to building a country together. For that, he is indubitably Canada's greatest soldier.

LIST UPDATE: Since beginning to write this, regrettably the one living Canadian on the list, Air Commodore Len Birchall (#7) passed away on Sept. 10. As I feared even as I wrote about him, the death of one of Canada's greatest military heroes went largely unmarked by the public.

Posted by BruceR at 10:39 PM

He's got a point, but still...

"The idea that two groups are arguing over the best way to kill coalition forces is something that I find difficult to differentiate... If one thinks it's better to kill and not behead, and the other group thinks it's better to kill and behead, it has the same effect on our forces."

--Brigadier General John Defreitas III, deputy chief of staff for intelligence of the Multinational Force-Iraq, in the Boston Globe, today

I'm not sure that's the deepest analysis from an intelligence officer I've ever read... anyway, the article goes on to state the current intelligence picture has the Iraqi insurgency at 12,000 strong actually in arms, not counting "weekend warriors," enablers, and non-armed supporters. It's not clear whether that includes Shiites, or is just the Sunni insurgents.

UPDATE: It is up, however, from the last official estimate, in November, 2003, of 5,000 insurgents... along with 20-50,000 active supporters... assuming that that number has also grown commensurately, that'd be 100,000 now actively working against the Americans. One could argue that American actions over the last year, by their own estimates, have only served to increase the size of their enemy's force by 150%.

UPDATE #2: Here's another way to look at it: last October, the Iraqi army had one trained battalion (800 men), half of whom would desert within a month. As of last month, it had seven battalions, counting the commando battalion (5,600 men). So in a year, the Americans added 4,800 trained Iraqi soldiers to their combat strength; the insurgents, according to American estimates, added 7,000 insurgents to theirs.

Posted by BruceR at 05:34 PM

This is an amazing thread

The Canadian Army has had troubles with discussion forums. When Land Force Reserve Restructuring had a website, there was an attempt to create a consequences-free discussion space. It was remarkably well-moderated by an overtasked army public affairs major, but closed down along with the rest of the site (leaving an awkward 404 at the top of the Google results for LFRR to this day).

The know-it-alls then gravitated to an all-army discussion board, which didn't last long.

Now they're over at army.ca, where the government is not responsible for the content. It's thriving there: it is probably the easiest way today to get an honest picture of Canadian land force service issues, and one of the most effective communications tools to reach today's soldiers, as well. They're not reading the CF newspaper, the Maple Leaf, or any other official products. If you're lucky, though, they may drop by this website.

What's remarkable is the occasional military leader who recognizes this. Particularly one colonel I've met a couple of times. A complaint thread about the food at the latest army reserve exercise took an entirely new turn here when that officer, going by the handle "PPCLI Guy," as in the guy who actually ORGANIZED that exercise, dropped in to take it on the chin and dish it out in turn. It's freaking amazing communications work, on every level. Good on you, sir.

Everytime I consult on people about discussion forums, I tell them the same thing: the discussion about your product/service is going to go on anyway... better to have it where you can listen in, in almost all cases. The alternative, of course, is to spend PR dollars actively monitoring the places online where it does happen, and inserting the big dog when appropriate. (Computer games companies are particularly good at this.) Most people, however, haven't caught on yet, in the military or out.

Posted by BruceR at 02:22 PM

The reason for subs

So what is the point of submarines anyway? Nearly every commentator on the fatal fire on HMCS Chicoutimi has questioned that one, to the point where it seems increasingly likely the major upshot of the tragic death of a naval lieutenant will be the abandonment of any subsurface role by the navy.

Before that happens, it is probably worth pointing out that the four diesel submarines are the only dedicated, full-time maritime sovereignty vessels Canada has left. The only ones. If you're a Canadian hypernationalist, or if you believe Canada should help the United States defend the maritime approaches to the country, they're the only naval resources left you should have the slightest interest in.

What about the surface vessels, you ask? Canada's 16 remaining destroyers and frigates are only enough to put one or two out at sea per coast, at a time. (For much of the rest of the time, they are filling out American or NATO surface groups somewhere in the world: putting more frigates on the coast approaches would require reneging on most of those commitments, which the navy is manifestly unwilling to do.) The 12 Naval Reserve minesweeper-sized coastal defence vessels are slow and non-threatening, and dependent on the availability of reservist volunteers (there is no job protection for reservists in Canada, remember). Coastal aircraft are in short supply, and have their own limitations (and are also frequently called on for foreign deployments).

The subs on the other hand are entirely dedicated to knowing what's on Canada's maritime approaches. That is their only role.

Subs are a huge force multiplier for a coastal defence operation. Tracking them is extremely difficult, even for allies: underwater they're as fast as a surface ship, and can stay out on station at least as long. It is not inconceivable that, if Canada had only surface vessels to patrol with, a well-financed immigrant smuggling/drug trafficking/illegal fishing concern could, with a guy with binoculars at Halifax or Esquimalt and a little basic surface radar capability, keep track and avoid any Canadian surface naval vessel that might intercept them. (You could track the subs leaving harbour, too, but after that, they're gone like Keyser Sose.) Whether your activities are being watched goes from being a known known to a known unknown with subs, and there's no doubt that the kinds of clandestine activities above have governed themselves accordingly in the past.

Subs are so useful in continental defence that it is inevitable that, if Canadian subs aren't available, US Navy subs will take their place in those waters, either on our request, or to reassure themselves that Canada's coasts are being sufficiently watched. (As I mentioned previously, if we lacked that capability themselves, it is entirely likely they would not tell us everything their subs find, either.) We have already handed over significant swathes of Canadian sky to American air interdiction... removing the subs from service now would erode actual physical maintenance of national sovereignty, in favour of American overwatch, far more than the loss of any other major weapons system.

Yes, with subs the coverage is somewhat more ephemeral... no ensigns fluttering in the breeze. But this hopelessly optimistic page may give you an idea what kind of resources would be required for actual visible coverage of Canada's waters... given the funding situation, the navy will never see that kind of money. So the real choices are either shaky coverage, with the subs providing an element of doubt, or much less than the kind of naval panoply envisioned there.

No, they're not going to dramatically rescue any lost fishermen, or probably ever fire those torpedoes in anger, either. But those four Victoria-class subs now nearing the block were envisioned as doing more than their share of the job of actually securing Canadian waters until at least 2020. Commentators who question the need for them, in favour of other funding priorities, need to be whacked with a clue bat. Hard.

You wait, though. This whole thing is coming more and more to resemble the Arrow-Bomarc saga, where Canada destroyed its domestic fighter aircraft industry (which the newspapers at the time, it should be remembered, criticized as costly and unnecessary) in favour of purchasing a supposedly cheaper surface-to-air missile net that never worked: what we're going to see now, if that parallel plays out, is more and more people proposing in the papers that we can decommission those nasty subs and use that money to fund something like the defence minister's proposed "peacekeeping brigade" (or maybe even daycare). That's how knee-jerk responses to costly programs that columnists can't see the military value of normally end up.

Posted by BruceR at 12:17 PM

Now with extra curd

Like all Canadians (admit it) my first thought when I read Matt Yglesias' "creeping Putinization of American life" post was that but for want of a vowel or two it could have been "creeping Poutine-ization of American life."

Which, come to think of it, also works.

Posted by BruceR at 10:01 AM

October 15, 2004

English on army reform

A correspondent pointed me at a thought-provoking piece on army reform here.

His solution is a short-service army. Up to 50,000 men and women would volunteer for an 18-month stint -- six months for training, one year serving overseas.

English may have a point that the military structure in this country is ossified and overpaid, but I really think he's running against the flow of history on this one.

Fifty thousand people a year is about one-sixth of the total number of male 18 year-olds in this country... the idea you could ever get that kind of national mobilization again in the absence of a world war is incredible at best. (Women are unlikely to ever enrol in a tenth the number men do, Quebecers have a centuries-long disinterest, and remember that the Forces doesn't accept landed immigrants, either, so your recruiting pool, English-Canadian male citizens, would be even more oversubscribed than that, perhaps one in three.) The assumption, of course, is that young people will work for considerably less than the $48,000 a trained full-time corporal would make... perhaps a takeaway for their year-and-a-half of $35,000? Sure, university tuition is expensive, but would many Canadians send a son to Kabul for that? Given that the military can't recruit to fill its open spots now, its hard to see the national groundswell of support that would produce the numbers English needs.

(Getting young people to work for cheap is touted as a cost-saver in web work, too. It can certainly be a great way of getting surge capacity for web development, but in my experience you can't rely on it to support core functions. Yes, we probably need to reduce the average age and rank of the military, but it's hard to see how this gets us there.)

This site has advocated short-service before, as a way of living within our means. But it was advocated here as a means of stopping the coming rot, and saving something from the ongoing collapse in support for defence spending among Canadians. I wisely didn't put a number on it at the time, but I'd have said we could probably afford about 9,000 full-timers and 30,000 reservists of all ages, with less of a distinction than English makes between "short-servicers" and reservists generally (you would end up deploying overseas units of both, along with a reg force cadre). This is basically what Finland does now. Using this system, Canada could probably sustain commitments of c. 1,500 lightly armed non-professionals for low-intensity/ UN-type duty, within what we're spending now for the military overall.

The key decision to make is not where the soldiers come from, but rather to decide, once and for all, to abandon medium-intensity ops (we abandoned high-intensity by default over a decade ago). Once you accept our soldiers shouldn't ever have to fight, much, there are a number of ways, including short-service, that you could drum up the manpower to show the flag more efficiently.

Now if you still want a pretense of medium-intensity capability in another decade, follow English's logic to its end (that Canadian soldiers are too expensive) and form a Canadian Foreign Legion to benefit from those developing world labour rates. Sometimes it really is more cost-effective to outsource.

Posted by BruceR at 12:48 PM

October 14, 2004

Don't feel so bad about our systems security anymore

American voting software is based on Access '97? Sheesh.

Posted by BruceR at 05:01 PM

October 13, 2004

Instapundit: not a news service

"When bad news matters and is undercovered -- which sometimes happens, if it requires actual understanding to appreciate -- I do try to mention it, as ... with regard to Zeyad's war crimes reports -- go here for a roundup and follow the links for earlier posts."

--Glenn Reynolds, today. The roundup he's taking pride in there ends with the four American soldiers being charged with drowning Zeyad's cousin in Samarra. Reynolds has yet to report on two of those charges being dropped earlier this summer.

Meanwhile, in other news from American custody...

Posted by BruceR at 01:52 PM

Hersh on the ethics of massacre allegations

"You know what I told him [a U.S. army lieutenant]? I said, fella, I said: you've complained to the captain. He knows you think they committed murder. Your troops know their fellow soldiers committed murder. Shut up. Just shut up. Get through your tour and just shut up. You're going to get a bullet in the back. You don't need that. And that's where we are with this war."

--Sy Hersh, speaking at Berkeley

Posted by BruceR at 10:20 AM

October 12, 2004

More reader mail

The estimable Cecil T. responds to my "blading" post, below:

"We're still a ways apart on the Iraq War, but I think you and Saletan missed the obvious on this one:

"Bush doesn't agree the war is "screwed up" (nor do I, by the way). And far from "blading" his subordinates, he was defending the plan and the process. This is similar to the flap over Rumsfeld citing Franks as the author of the invasion plan (when many were saying he was "distancing himself" from it to avoid blame) to give credit. Kerry showed remarkably good sense in letting this one go by, as his credibility on defense issues would likely have suffered even more by engaging."

Posted by BruceR at 09:24 AM

Canada's subs: rejoinder

Rick G. offers an eloquent rejoinder to my submarine post, below. From his email:

"I take issue with your statement 'most of the generally unlettered ostensibly 'save our military' criticism at the moment (hint: any article on the Chicoutimi that uses the words 'rust bucket,' 'Iltis' or 'Sea King') is only enabling that response.' Unlettered, I can accept, but as a Canadian voter who doesn't live in a cave, and measures his own opinions and attitudes against the opinions and attitudes of those who do get published, I fail to understand how hiding potential embarrassments for the current federal government is going to help those who work for the Canadian military. If there is no political cost to cancelling or neutering military programs that embarrass the government, then what is stop the government from scuttling the whole lot of you? There isn't much of a future in trying to protect the water you are swimming in, if the sink is draining. You might outlast some of your colleagues, but in the end, everyone gets left high and dry.

"Every time one of these 'rust bucket' stories come out, a certain number of Canadians lose their apathy about keeping a military in this country. The professional granola munchers and all the other assorted fanatical peacemongers don't amount to a hill of beans, unless they can rely on the silent, wavering majority to stay uninvolved. If there is no countervailing activism, then their special interest (and self-promoting) agendas sail right along. The key is to get just a portion of the inert mass of Canadian opinion mad enough to actually get up and impede the anti-military crowd. By definition, that anti-military crowd is a bunch of cowards, anyway, so once you convince them you are serious, they quickly disband and go onto some other pet cause, that won't get the population so riled up. Every time a 'rust bucket' story comes out, we are that much closer to turning the tide. Don't be so pessimistic, my friend."

Posted by BruceR at 09:01 AM

October 09, 2004

The clincher, if I'd needed one

"I remember going down to the basement of the White House the day we committed our troops as a last resort, looking at Tommy Franks and the generals on the ground, asking them, "Do we have the right plan with the right troop level?" And they looked me in the eye and said, "Yes, sir, Mr. President." Of course, I listen to our generals. That's what a president does. A president sets the strategy and relies upon good military people to execute that strategy."

Saletan has it right. Any serving or former soldier who supported the current U.S. president after he BLADED his military subordinates on national television like that, blaming them and them alone for the Iraq War, hasn't the self-respect God gave a goose. Anyone who did something like that to me in our military would meet me again in the parking lot, and I would expect the reverse to apply. Whether Kerry picked up on it or not, the sentiment is inexcusable from anyone in the chain of command.

Posted by BruceR at 11:30 PM

We're waiting

Postulate: any blogger who hereafter mentions the Oil-for-Food program without asking that all the American profiters, names redacted by the U.S. government, really should also be named, is fundamentally unserious about fighting terrorism. We have no valid reason yet to believe the list isn't just something Ahmed Chalabi pulled out of the "people who hate me" section of his diary, but even so, fair is fair.

Posted by BruceR at 01:18 AM

He hid the WMDs in a planetarium?

I agree. The intro to the Duelfer Report is the most bizarre intro to a major government report ever written. Unless you count Earl Warren's preface to the first Kennedy Commission report, where he discussed how, as part of their investigation he, Henry Ford, Arlen Specter, his Tongan legal advisor, and two Armenian stewardesses barricaded themselves into the honeymoon suite at the Palms with a trampoline, four flamingos, and thirteen litres of extract of nutmeg.

Yeah, I know. I wish it had happened that way, too.

Posted by BruceR at 01:11 AM

October 08, 2004

Fallujah video: jury's out

British audiences are puzzling over a recent F-16 video of a bomb annihilating a running crowd on a street. It's claimed to date from the April fighting in Fallujah. The Americans say it's an advancing enemy force. Shades of the Kandahar bombing? Impossible to determine. The clip and voice track is far too short, and the details of the incident too unclear, to make any useful determination on it, other than that American bombs continue to be deadly.

(Hat tip to Pat Cain).

Posted by BruceR at 01:40 PM

October 07, 2004

Tragedy beneath the waves

A Canadian naval officer, with two small children at home, perished yesterday. When it comes to military personnel lost, however it happens, I wish journalists were... smarter, frankly. Case in point: the National Post's Don Martin, who decides today would be a good day to denigrate the submarining profession. (subscriber only)

Me, I'm not inclined to take too seriously on naval matters the opinion of someone who doesn't know what a "fire control system" is. Hint, Don... it has nothing to do with fires.

UPDATE: A couple facts you may have missed from the story... the sub "purchase" was actually more of a barter deal, with the British continuing to use CFB Suffield for tank exercises, in return for the subs. Although the value was pegged at $750 million, this was never "real money" for either side... if the Canadians hadn't picked up the subs, the Brits likely would just have stopped using Suffield, in the same way the Germans recently closed down their leased tank ranges at CFB Shilo. Basically the Canadian government put the submarine costs into a shared account, which is then drawn down over the years to pay the base rental fees. Another way to look at it is the Brits gave the Canadians a shopping cart for their military's leftover equipment warehouse and a $750 million coupon, in return for driving rights on a large swathe of prairie we weren't going to use anyway. So we basically got the subs for free (or, with overrun costs, maybe $150 million of actual taxpayer money, tops); it was these four, or nothing. The sub deal itself should not be the issue here.

Nor should the existence of Canadian subs, either. I find it unfathomable that people who believe Canada should concentrate on territorial defence don't see the value of a weapons system that even your allies are never quite sure is there. Indeed, it's fair to say that American sharing of naval operations and intelligence data with Canada is largely just to cover themselves, because THEY'RE never sure... a Canada without subs would rapidly lose any advance notice of American naval activities in our own waters: everything else the USN can pretty much see coming. Subs should be Canadian nationalists' favourite military system.

There are some legit questions about the sub program, and HMCS Chicoutimi in general, that could be asked here, in addition to the necessary investigation into the fire itself. Like why the Canadians chose to delete the British Upholders' significant sub-to-surface missile capability, which could have had peacemaking and land force support value. Or why a frigate wasn't in escort for the Chicoutimi's first Atlantic trip (there's the funding issue that should be hammered on). But the Canadian military experience for the last couple decades has been, if it's embarrassing, the government will shut it down. I fear we're going to see that same kind of knee-jerkism here, again, and most of the generally unlettered ostensibly "save our military" criticism at the moment (hint: any article on the Chicoutimi that uses the words "rust bucket," "Iltis" or "Sea King") is only enabling that response.

UPDATE 2: For thoroughness' sake, I should have mentioned that continued British use of the Goose Bay air training facility was also one of the rents on the sub deal balance sheet, as well as Suffield. But Suffield was the key asset: indeed, the last defence minister, David Pratt, then serving as chair of the Commons defence committee, described it in the Commons as "We essentially traded the costs for the use of Suffield, Alberta, by British forces." I'm still waiting to see that mentioned in an article on the fire on the Chicoutimi, though.

Posted by BruceR at 05:18 PM

Baffled AND rattled

Andrew Sullivan is baffled. And rattled.

At least the logical fallacy here's easy to spot. The revealing sentence is the fourth one of the "simple question" post, beginning "the war was launched because..." where Sullivan conflates his own reasons for supporting the war with the actual reason it occurred. When he figures that one out... hoo boy.

Posted by BruceR at 02:16 PM

October 04, 2004

Apparently Dr. Evil was in charge of invoicing

The "Cybercast News Service," part of Christian conservative Brent Bozell's web-harem, which played a small role in unmanning Dan Rather recently, claims to have 42 pages of Iraqi documents that show ties to Al Qaeda and WMD. Yah huh. How seriously should we take this at first glance? Well, here's one quote worth remembering:

"To protect against the Iraqi intelligence documents being altered or misrepresented on the Internet, CNSNews.com has published only the first of the 42 pages in Arabic..."

Geez, bet CBS wishes they'd thought of that. It should go without saying that the one image of a source document they provide is too small for the Arabic to be readable, and the translation says little of intelligence value (an unidentified speaker saying they should find a way of attacking American troops in Somalia in 1993).

Okay, so they're unverifiable. But are the translations believable? Well, apparently the price for the "three ampules of malignant pustule" was 100 million billion Dinars... that's 1 followed by 17 zeros. I'm not going to bother checking how much a prewar Iraqi dinar was worth, but I suspect they might want to check with their translator again.

All the terror-related evidence seems to hang on one supposed 11-page 1993 memo, with a laundry list of groups the Iraqis had recent contact with. Al Qaeda isn't there -- that would be too easy -- but Egyptian Islamic Jihad is, along with the Afghan psycho warlord Hekmatyar, who was never Al Qaeda or Taliban, but shares "most wanted" status with them in Afghanistan today because of his attacks on UN peacekeepers. Hekmatyar was actually prime minister of Afghanistan in 1993, three years before the Taliban and Al Qaeda put a price on his head... Iraqi government contacts with him in that year would hardly have been unusual, and are no evidence of any connection with present-day global terror in any case.

As for the meeting with Egyptian Islamic Jihad the alleged memo references, it was in December, 1990, at a time when Egypt, along with the United States, was about to go to war with Iraq. That Saddam would really like to have seen Egypt descend into turmoil in that month will come as no surprise to anyone.

Still, 50 cents gets you a dollar Cheney makes some reference to this tomorrow.

Posted by BruceR at 07:24 PM

Poland: it's okay, you can forget us if you want

"Polish troops will start to withdraw from Iraq in the New Year and all will be out by the end of 2005, the country's president has promised."

--Sky News, today.

(As an aside, I've found it remarkable how little complaint there's been about the Italian government's decision last week to ransom off its hostages in Iraq, rather than stay the course against terrorism. Not that I expected a whole repeat of the "perfidy of Spain" stuff, but it's notable the usual jingopundit suspects are silent.)

Posted by BruceR at 06:37 PM

An inaccurate artillery piece

This piece, on a comparative shooting competition between a modern Canadian Forces 105mm howitzer, and a Civil War gun, is ruined by two rather egregious historical errors.

First off, the gun is not a "Parrot Gun;" in the 1860s it would have been called a "Parrott rifle", with two T's, after its inventor, William Parker Parrott. Second, as one can guess from the previous sentence, the Parrott was not a smoothbore, but a rifled muzzle-loading cannon, revolutionary for its time. From the picture it appears to be a 10-pdr Parrott, although I'm more interested in what the brass gun behind it is supposed to be.

Civil War artillerymen used a mix of rifles, like the Parrotts, and older smoothbore guns. Smoothbores, which could spray canister rounds like big shotguns, were more effective at close range; artillery rifles were better at long range, but were less effective against infantry close up. Add to that the infantry's own rifled small arms, which in theory at least could outrange the effective range of the smoothbore cannon, and the result was a complex rock-paper-scissors match of comparative situational advantage. It'd be nice when people wrote about it, if they tried to get the basics straight.

Posted by BruceR at 05:22 PM

Samarra, Samarra (always a day away?)

People seem happy that the American forces have restored control of Samarra. By all accounts this was a creditable military operation, but it's probably important just to take quick stock of what's really been accomplished.

Samarra was, as Reuel Marc Gerecht says, one of the more American-friendly cities in Sunni Iraq in April 2003. Its tribal leadership had not done well under Hussein, and the populace were initially ambivalent about the change of national leadership.

That would change, however, following a vicious little firefight that was previously praised in its own time as a turning point against the insurgency, that also killed a number of civilians without American loss, and uncertain effects on the "enemy." Picketing the increasingly angry city from outside, American soldiers would be accused of a smattering of irresponsible acts, including the drowning death of an Iraqi blogger's cousin.

Unlike Fallujah, there have been few claims yet that Samarra has been a significant hiding place for globally-backed terrorists, or Al Qaeda offshoots. It has been a "no-go zone," however, and in early June the city council, intimidated by the local rebels, asked the Americans to just stay out for good. The rebels then used the summer to destroy anything remotely related to the new U.S.-appointed Iraqi government in Baghdad, including the national guard and city council buildings.

In early September, the American military appointed a new mayor and police chief and forcibly but non-violently installed them in Samarra, in what was, again, at the time regarded as a significant American victory by some. An amnesty was declared by the U.S. commander for the local rebels' past acts, again suggesting quelling terrorism wasn't an issue in this city's case... intelligence officials at the time suggested there were maybe 40 foreign fighters and 60 hardcore locals in the city of 250,000, admittedly among a generally supportive populace.

Last week, the populace marched in the street, protesting their newly imposed local leadership. Some carried banners supporting the Zarqawi faction. That was enough provocation for the occupiers, who moved on the city with 3,000 American and 2,000 Iraqi troops this weekend, and have enjoyed at least initial success. On the other hand, civilian casualties have been significant, and none of those alleged foreign fighters have yet been confirmed killed or captured.

I'm not much of a libertarian. But I still have qualms with any unqualified exulting the installation by force of an appointed ruler on any unwilling populace, or the casualties incurred in doing so. As much as one has to concede that even the most enlightened states have sometimes used the military to restore civil authority (Shay's Rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion, the Canadian Red River and North-West Rebellions, etc. etc.), and any military operation that keeps friendly and neutral casualties low is laudable, one shouldn't pretend this advances the ball in the war on terrorism, per se. At best it improves the chances for a restored Iraqi state... quality of said state still to be determined.

Posted by BruceR at 12:08 PM

Franco = Hussein?

Andrew Coyne's right that the Kerry line about invading Mexico after Pearl Harbour makes no sense as an analogy to Iraq.

A better analogy would have been FDR hypothetically choosing to invade Spain in 1942 after Hitler's declaration of war on him. You could make a perfectly good geopolitical argument that Spain offered a shorter path to liberating Europe for American forces than North Africa-Sicily-Italy-Normandy, and the country was fascist, if still non-aligned.

It is, of course, highly likely that such an action would have resulted in at least a low-level insurgency in Spain that would have tied down American forces, much as it has in Iraq... not to mention the Pyrenees mountains compare unfavourably with Normandy as one's main entry point into Europe. But the case could have been made, and if it had then gone south, one expects it would have been an issue in the 1944 election.

The better analogous counterfactual involving Mexico for Kerry would have been from a different war entirely: supposing Wilson responded to the 1917 Zimmermann Telegram by declaring war on the Mexicans, rather than Germany. But I suspect either analogy was judged as flying over the heads of too many viewers. Pity.

UPDATE: Just to note that Kerry was actually quoting Richard Clarke, who originally made the Iraq-Mexico analogy.

Posted by BruceR at 10:12 AM