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