April 29, 2005

The Liberal hypnotoad does it again

Some people are beginning to realize that an election this spring may not be a good idea.

To be narrowly single-issue... again... for a minute, an election right now would be quite possibly the worst thing that could happen from a defence spending perspective. The separatists will take Quebec, and the NDP will take Liberal votes in Ontario. Very little else will change, so it will either be a razor-thin Tory minority that will be defeated in turn on its own first confidence motion, or far more likely, a Lib government with the NDP truly holding the balance of power for a change and a few years of a quasi-socialist coalition. Goodbye defence spending hike, and anything else remotely Tory-positive in the remaining Lib platform, right there.

Harper's got to try, of course, (it's his job) but the odds have always been heavily stacked against him. And the general proposition that a do-nothing government with corruption in its backrooms should be challenged at the polls as frequently as possible is not affected.

Posted by BruceR at 10:05 AM

April 28, 2005

Iraq notes

Recent Iraq reading:

Crooked Timber's DSquared points out that if 13.5% of the American soldiers surveyed by the New England Journal of Medicine feel personally responsible for the death of an Iraqi civilian... that's an awful lot of dead Iraqi civilians.

Before Marla Ruzicka died, she established that civilian fatalities in Baghdad alone from firefights involving U.S. forces were averaging one a day.

Posted by BruceR at 11:34 AM

April 21, 2005

About the helo kill in Iraq

The appalling cruelty of the Iraqi guerrillas who finished off a Bulgarian survivor with a broken leg after his helicopter was shot down should be self-evident.

What is less evident so far is the mechanism of the helo kill, and what the helicopter's actual mission might have been. Officials have said it was a rocket-propelled grenade, not a SAM, which brought the Mi-8 down between Tikrit and Baghdad. It was flying low if that was the case, almost certainly under 100m... this would, however, be confirmed by the fact the killers were able to quickly get to the crash scene... a SAM kill would likely have impacted several kilometres away, not within easy jogging distance. That RPG would almost certainly have had to be fired from under 300m slant range, probably much less, and probably either from directly in front or directly behind, to eliminate lead... a helicopter flying at any kind of speed perpendicular to the line of sight is a nearly-impossible shot with this weapon, even at close range... it suggests that this was either a very regular overflight route, or the ambush location was planned in advance. More than one RPG may have been fired, as well.

As to the six American soldiers-for-hire that were being carried, along with the three Bulgarians and two Fijian "helicopter security guards" (door gunners?), they have been described as providing security to U.S. diplomats (in Tikrit?) when they were killed. It's important to remember that the last time four employees of the same merc company, Blackwater, were killed in Fallujah, they were first described as accompanying a food convoy into that city. It was only determined later that they were actually armed escorts for a convoy of kitchen equipment headed for an American military dining hall... a military logistical function that would have made them fair targets by the standard laws of war. So there's certainly reason to doubt the whole truth is being told in this case, as well.

In this case, the dead men have been described as working for the American State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which would sound on its face like it was a straight-up embassy protection outfit. It should be noted, however, that another BDS function is to oversee the bounty program for foreign enemies (the $25 million price on Osama bin Laden's head, etc.), including paying off the tipsters. I could certainly see a low-level flight to Tikrit on that kind of business.

UPDATE: The Bulgarian spokesperson appears to have said the helo was headed to Tikrit to pick up or drop off "personnel involved in reconstruction in Iraq," because travelling by road was less safe.

Posted by BruceR at 09:41 PM

Submarine purchasing investigation reports

A fairly balanced Commons defence committee report on the 1990s naval submarine purchase. The report makes a good job of making clear that it was either these subs, or nothing... there was never a realistic third alternative (the Australian navy paid $1 billion per for their last subs, whereas Canada obtained four refurbished boats for $750 million), and it castigates the PM specifically for letting the ministerial recommendation, once it was duly arrived at, basically sit on his desk for four years. Herein lies the problem, in microcosm.

The argument was these, or nothing. I think you can make the argument easily that subs are useful enough for national maritime sovereignty purposes alone to justify that kind of expense, and I'm baffled that anyone who seriously looks at the issue could think otherwise. But no one can argue that the four-year dither on this issue helped anybody or anything.

Posted by BruceR at 12:42 PM

April 20, 2005

Silly mass index

As a proud member of the lifesaving overweight BMI category, allow me to take this opportunity to say to all my thinner friends that I'll miss you when you're gone. I'll have to confess, though, that I never put much stock in those BMI categories, anyway. "Normal weight" for someone my height is defined, with some variation depending on the calculator, as roughly 137 to 184 pounds. If I saw someone my height who was 137, I'd feel the compulsive urge to stuff a ham in the ravenous beanpole, but that's just me.

Posted by BruceR at 05:51 PM

The oddest thing

Got the most curious thing last night... the Canadian Forces edition of the New Testament. Roughly the size, and apparently the same translation as your standard hand-out Gideon/"hotel bible" edition and coloured a solid dark green, it left me with only one question: couldn't they have gotten it in CADPAT?

Posted by BruceR at 10:38 AM

The mythical Canadian soldier

A sign of how seriously the Liberals' further policy ambitions are being taken at this point is the complete lack of ANY coverage in the Globe today of yesterday's defence policy review statement. Now, yes, it was Pope Day, so they lost page one right there, and yes, the defence department flacks did court their own failure by burying their most important document in 15 years, at least online (note how the only way you can get to the actual document online from the National Defence homepage is THROUGH the foreign affairs website; there's no direct same-site clickpath from the department's own homepage) but I do have to wonder at the huge story that took up all of page 3 of Canada's national newspaper this morning on the latest Bigfoot sighting... including a giant reprint of a hoary old hoax photo. Flit Rule #113: If you're being pushed out of the dailies by sightings of imaginary animals, yours is not a serious issue.

Posted by BruceR at 10:11 AM

April 19, 2005

Defence policy review: first thoughts

The big document is here. Of note:

*No mention of a CF-18 replacement. As well, in the list of tasks the Air Force must do, the fighters are fifth and last, behind transport and patrolling tasks. On the upside, JDAMS for the fighters are specifically mentioned.

*The subs are still in play.

*Army overseas max strength pegged at 2.5 battalions, 2 battalions sustained. About right.

*Big focus on extending NORAD to land and maritime areas. Watch for Canadian troops offering to deploy to the next big U.S. disaster (earthquake, etc.)... we won't be needed, of course, but the offer will be made all the same. The lack of Canadian government assistance after Sept. 11/01 still rankles in some quarters.

*The U.S. may have rejected the Powell Doctrine, but we still like it, apparently.

*Land Force (ie, Army) Reserve Restructuring Phase 2 is in there, including a new information ops capability for the army reserve. That had been one rumour I'd heard that turns out to be confirmed. I know one staff planner in particular who should deservedly enjoy a beer tonight.

*I like the "identifying opportunities for potential staging bases" reference. Developing defence relationships in Africa, etc. that don't depend on American buy-in is a necessary condition for stepping in in Rwanda-type situations, and it's good to see it pursued.

Achievable? It really depends how large a role the New Democrats, BQ and left-wing of the Liberal Party plays in Canada's governing coalition over the next five years... that's the one direction this can be derailed from. There's nothing here the Conservatives would disavow, on the other hand. But as these plans go, it's not too bad.

UPDATE: Interesting that the Navy and Air Force are both specifically instructed to acquire UAVs, while the Army is only told to obtain "intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems." Reading between the tea-leaves, that either means land UAVs are going to be all Air Force, with the army confined to ground systems, or the army could be restricted to a mini (handheld) UAV capability for close-tactical work.

SECOND UPDATE: Lew Mackenzie points out what I missed (Globe, subscription): no more "peacekeeping brigade."

Posted by BruceR at 04:52 PM

April 14, 2005

Dallaire, contd.

Serving colonel Mike Capstick takes the National Post to task in a letter for their anti-Dallaire piece this week (see below)... it's not a strong showing. It's subscription-only online, but the gist is below the fold:

This column can only be described as an unwarranted and bizarre personal attack on a Canadian military professional who was placed in an untenable position by the international community.

Unwarranted? The man was made a senator this week. At what point would it be warranted?

Gen. Dallaire is one of the few major figures to emerge from this tragedy with his honour intact. In addition, he's the first to admit to the failure of the UN mission and has taken on an inordinate share of the responsibility -- more than can be said of the world's leaders.

I'm not sure we needed someone to "admit" to the manifestly obvious failure of Rwanda. There is no doubt Dallaire is more contrite than nearly everybody else involved. That makes him a good person, even an honourable one, not a model leader or soldier.

I was not in Rwanda with Gen. Dallaire but I have served with him and can attest to his deeply held values and humanity. In addition, I have commanded Canadian soldiers on operations and it is clear to me that the authors have no understanding of the true nature of command in military operations or of the realities of warfare on the ground.

The empty argument from authority above is difficult to credit, when the critics in question used only Dallaire's own words in his own memoir to portray what they saw as his failures.

Gen. Dallaire and tens of thousands of Canadian men and women have performed their duty with honour at home and around the globe. Messrs. Koch and Weissenberger, and the National Post, owe Gen. Dallaire an apology for this character assassination disguised as commentary.

I personally don't feel offended by an honest re-evaluation of Romeo Dallaire's last mission... outside of Col. Capstick, I don't think many soldiers do. Dallaire certainly gets full marks for his self-examination and contrition, at least insofar as his actions relate to the Rwandans (making amends with his own soldiers seems still a bit of a blind spot). If we want to promote an honourable or good man to the Senate solely on that basis, then he's certainly on the nominee list. Just don't elevate him as a "military hero", which means something somewhat different.

To be fair, Canada's always had a soft spot for heroic martyrs, over and above military leaders. It's in a line with remembering Dieppe and Hong Kong, not the Liri Valley or Falaise Gap. You can trace a line back from those military disasters, through Riel, Poundmaker and Big Bear, through Brock and Tecumseh (the only things we remember from our 1812 war of independence, and who both died futilely in temporarily lost causes), through Adam Dollard (a military idiot who fought to the end) to the beatified Brebeuf and Lalemant, the Huronia martyrs.

There's a lot to compare between those Jesuits, captured from amongst a slaughterhouse scene of hacked-to-death Christianized Huron, their converts stripped of the power to defend themselves from their vicious neighbours by Western diseases and their newfound faith, and Dallaire. The Hutu depended on an impassive alien deity for their salvation, too... the UN. The difference was Dallaire was allowed to walk away, to be consumed by inner demons for surviving the unsurvivable. Watching Dallaire walk around African charnel-houses on TV summoned schoolbook memories, in me at least, of Fr. Isaac Jogues. Jogues, his fingers eaten or burned off after 13 months of brutal Mohawk captivity, was ransomed and allowed to return to France. He returned to the same tribe in 1646 to continue to work for their souls, and was killed shortly after.

Posted by BruceR at 05:14 PM

April 12, 2005

Don't let it stop the beatification

A necessary tonic in the Post today on newest Canadian senator Romeo Dallaire. Dallaire is appreciated, generally speaking, by members of the media far more than soldiers, I find. The former group identifies with his witnessing of tragedy and failed attempts to raise alarm bells. To say he has the conscience of a good journalist is not meant as a slight. But in military terms his catatonia in crisis is, at the absolute best, a cautionary example. As the authors correctly observe, his recent best-selling book does not mention his refusal to testify at a Belgian inquiry into the loss of that country's soldiers in Rwanda, but that omission doesn't hold him back from calling them a lot of racist alcoholics, either. It's rare to see a general so overtly blame the dead for his mission's failure, and it does no credit to Canadian arms at all to have it appear in print.

Posted by BruceR at 04:38 PM

April 11, 2005

Scott Reid is a hole-punch!

My first thought when reading the latest Liberal attack line ("Paul Martin is a wire brush") was that the PMO has been hanging out at the surrealist marketing phrase page. Sadly, no, there it seems "Paul Martin is a cricket bat that sweeps away dust!" Which might have been a better metaphor to make flack Scott Reid's attempt at a point there, to tell the truth.

UPDATE: Just in case you were curious, the Surrealist Marketer in question says Stephen Harper "is a handheld scooter that changes colour to reflect your mood, helps the medicine go down and responds to ambient light changes!" Spookily accurate, no? I'd vote for that! Jack Layton, on the other hand, "emits harmful gases."

Posted by BruceR at 12:53 PM

April 10, 2005

Nedohin could have brained a Scotsman with a rock, it still wouldn't have made the front page

The no-doubt significant accomplishments of the other man aside, I was disappointed to see Tiger Woods' photo on the front page of the Globe, Post and Sun this morning, and not Randy Ferbey.

Posted by BruceR at 05:46 PM

Some obscure "Crazy Train" reference here

The third public transit strike in a decade-and-a-half is expected to start tonight in Toronto, which will of course prove a dreadful inconvenience most of all to those people who don't generally have union jobs, and dream of steady employment and 9% salary increases over three years... increases that come just short of sucking up every last cent of the recent transit fare hike, it seems. In fact, as far as I can tell from the papers, this strike is really about giving the employees the remainder of that, while management wants to use it to, you know, improve service a little.

I'm not saying that transit should be deemed an unstrikeable essential service, but the union in this case has done such a hopeless job of explaining their case that I have absolutely no valid reason to believe at this point that they have any "case" at all. When a union says it wants 3% a year, then gets it, then still walks out, well, they've forfeited any pretense of claiming our sympathy, seems to me. All that's left now is the extortion attempt.

UPDATE: See, now if I'd just posted this on Friday, they'd have come to a deal then.

FURTHER UPDATE: I truly appreciate the TTC, you know. And my pre-existing respect for Howard Moscoe and the mayor, for working in collaboration with the union leadership to save this city from what still seems would have been an entirely pointless labour disruption, has definitely risen another notch.

Posted by BruceR at 05:33 PM

April 05, 2005

Okay, this was neat: Google Earthsat

One half of my family tree hails from here. (See how many levels of zoom out it takes for you to figure out where it is.)

Posted by BruceR at 04:33 PM

April 04, 2005

Gable and Stewart's successors? Anyone? Bueller?

I was reading again last night, for no good reason, about American Air Force bomber gunner Clark Gable (B-17s) and pilot Jimmy Stewart (B-24s), and their missions over occupied Europe.

While there was certainly some PR involved, there's no doubt there was some real danger, too for these two established Hollywood stars. There were many others, of course, both British and American (and I don't count Reagan among them). But can anyone name ONE member of the American cultural elite that has volunteered for military service since Sept. 11? Just one. I'm honestly asking here. I'm not a big fan of "Greatest Generation" mythologizing, but there would seem to be something significant in this.

I mean, say what you want about Alan Alda, but at least he really did do a stint in Korea (postwar).

PS: In response to reader emails, yes, I would not count NFL football player Pat Tillman as a Hollywood personality. Brave man and good role model, yes. But it's a different subset of celebrity. There were lots of pro athletes who volunteered for service in WW2, as well... the NHL alone gives us player/owner Conn Smythe (both wars, WIA in WW2), league point-leaders Roy Conacher and Max Bentley, forgotten star goalie Frank Brimsek, and the entire Boston Bruins 'Kraut Line.'

Posted by BruceR at 03:18 PM

Samarra bridge-pushing: final update?

1st Lt Jack Saville was sentenced in March after pleading guilty to two counts of assault in the Samarra bridge-pushing incident. He received 45 days imprisonment, a $12,000 fine, and an army discharge.

Note that this is somewhat less than his platoon sergeant, Tracy Perkins, who is apparently now serving a six-month prison term, received. The reason for the light sentence is because Saville has offered to testify against his superior officer who had allegedly drawn up a list of local Iraqis to be executed on sight.

The interesting question now is whether that officer, company commander Matthew Cunningham, might in turn finger his own superior, army football hero Nate Sassaman, whose loss of his best friend, engineer Capt. Eric Paliwoda, to a mortar attack was a contributing event to a series of violent retributions against suspected Iraqi insurgents that culminated in the bridge-pushing, and the subsequent interference with army investigators following an Iraqi bloggers' request for justice.

Bloggers Jeff Jarvis and Glenn Reynolds, who criticized that first sentence as "light," have so far had no comment on this one that I've read. This story, which began long ago with Zeyad's claims his cousin was killed started a military investigation (and who was widely and viciously attacked for making them) is now apparently over. The Sassaman In Samarra story still may have some legs to it, though.

Posted by BruceR at 02:12 PM

Documenting a profoundly anti-military culture, contd.

I see Homicide:Life on the Street's Clark Johnson is making his return to Canadian television with yet another two-hour drama about corruption in the Canadian army. Oh, joy.

You know, if it went by what one actually sees on TV and in the papers, a friendly space alien would conclude that the Canadian military is somewhere below Haiti's in the public esteem department. Which is, of course, entirely true.

Posted by BruceR at 09:55 AM