October 31, 2005

Sundry updates

A couple other updates on stories I've posted on in the past:

Iraq Cas plot
Academic colleague Marcin S. sends in this scatterplot of U.S. fatalities in Iraq. Self-explanatory, really... the trend has been consistently and undeniably upward.


Two SA-18 missiles are still unaccounted for after a thwarted European terror plot, the Telegraph is reporting. The SA-18 isn't quite as effective as the SA-16 that is replacing it in military service (the missile that started the Rwandan genocide by shooting down the presidents of two countries), but it is considerably more dangerous than the SA-7s and SA-14s we've seen in airport missile attacks thus far. This is the first credible report of truly dangerous missiles in terrorist hands in a Western country. It should be noted though that a rash of arrests that busted up this group and compromised their effectiveness (to the point which we haven't heard from them since) was three years ago. Some time ago, I predicted the first truly successful shootdown of a jetliner from a major passenger air carrier, if one ever were to occur, would happen at a major non-Western airport (like Delhi's) and would involve SA-16s or SA-18s fired in pairs at a jet on takeoff. I'm standing by that.


The late unlamented Canadian terrorist-in-chief Ahmed Khadr was named in a successful civil suit by the widow of an American soldier killed by Khadr's teenaged son in Afghanistan. Khadr's own widow and family continue to reside in Canada... it's unclear how their circumstances might be affected by this judgment, if at all. Khadr's son remains in Gitmo. The judgment, which cites the terrorist for "failing to control" his son, sounds like an interesting thing to blame a terrorist for.


Lastly, Canadian journalist and author Michael Friscolanti is on tour this week, promoting his new book, Friendly Fire: The Untold Story of the U.S. Bombing That Killed Four Canadian Soldiers in Afghanistan. Friscolanti's coverage of the incident and resulting military hearings and inquiries didn't win me over at the time, but the little bit I've managed to read so far indicates that he's produced a solid account of what went on here. I may post a fuller review at a later date.

Posted by BruceR at 12:53 PM

October 28, 2005

Yes, I did have time on my hands, why do you ask?

Hope the new look meets with people's approval... once again, just using this site to test something out before I impose it on a paying customer... please ignore the blogger behind the curtain.

Posted by BruceR at 08:13 PM

October 17, 2005

Bagram prisoner deaths: update

Just in case you ever wondered, an update on the torture-deaths in custody of the two wrongly detained Afghan prisoners, first discussed here last May:

To date 13 service members have been charged with assault, and two higher-level leaders with non-assault offences. No one has been charged (or likely ever will be) with manslaughter or murder. Of the 13, three have been acquitted, and six convicted, with four trials still pending. So far 12.5 months of jail time has been levied in punishment, an average of just over two months per convicted defendant.

Posted by BruceR at 07:31 PM

The "Zawahiri letter" and Bin Laden's fate

I tend to agree with the learned commentators who are saying the recent Zawahiri-Zarqawi letter touted by the press the day of the President's recent Iraq speech, is not everything it claims to be. The second-to-last paragraph alone, which asks the recipient to "send greetings" to Zarqawi if he's passing through Fallujah (!), indicates at the very least that the intended recipient was not Zarqawi himself. Juan Cole, Billmon, and Fred Kaplan have more.

What I found most interesting, though, was the single, short reference to Bin Laden, in the fourth paragraph. "We received your last published message sent to Sheikh Usama Bin Ladin, God save him." That's the only reference to the head of Zawahiri's and Zarqawi's movement, short and cryptic. Bin Laden is not cited again, or granted the effusion of accolades Zarqawi is at the beginning, by comparison. The choice of phrase ("God save him") seems almost intentionally vague, applying as it could to either a living or dead person.

It's impossible to see Zawahiri writing an immensely long letter containing only that one brief reference to their leader, in a major communique to a key ally, if Bin Laden were still alive. And Zawahiri if all people will know whether he is. One is left then with one of only two possibilities. Either Bin Laden is dead, or the letter writer is not Zawahiri. Someday in the distant future when we find out the date of the man's death, we will also know something of the truth of this letter.

One other curiosity I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere yet: the repeated claims of the damage due to the May capture of Abu Al-Faraj al-Libi (the letter was supposedly dated July). You will recall that at the time a lot of people pointed out that they thought that arrest had been hyped.

I don't believe, by the way, that this is U.S. information ops. It is very likely this is yet another clever forgery, seized upon by the White House as the documentation for a new presidential statement (As Cole and others point out, it's a great letter from a Shia Iraqi perspective, but from a U.S. presidential perspective, it is also the first really clear "statement" from a terrorist leader that they really do want to form a pan-Islamic caliphate, etc., etc. Bin Laden was always much more poetic and indirect in his language. For it to be released the same day as Bush first used the threat of Islamic aspirations of global supremacy in a speech is certainly not coincidental.)

It's not like we haven't been down this road before... the whole thing is very reminiscent of Niger uranium.

PS: Of course, Dan Darling and Wretchard both fell for it.

Posted by BruceR at 06:34 PM

October 12, 2005

Iraq troop strengths: wait a minute

I think Yglesias are getting confused again about troop strengths, saying there were no more troops to commit to the 2003 Iraq invasion. What they're confusing is how large the American surge-sized force for the brief war period could have been, vice how many American soldiers could police Iraq on a sustained basis. The latter number, as we have seen the last couple years, is fairly inflexibly set at around 150,000, insufficient to control that country under current conditions.

The initial number of troops at the outset, however, had some greater level of flexibility to it. The invasion force ultimately amounted to approximately 15 brigade-sized elements from the Army, Marines, and Britain. Another 8 U.S. army brigade sized units were en route or being readied for Iraq when the apple dropped: the 4th Division, the 1st Cavalry Division, and the 2nd and 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiments. These units would ultimately be used as part of the second "roto" into Iraq, but by the summer or fall of 2003 they all could have been (Turkish permission would have helped with the 4th) lined along the border ready to contribute to the invasion force. With supporting units, this would have pushed Coalition troop strength up to the 250,000 mark.

Would this have made a difference? Impossible to tell. Certainly a greater presence would have contributed to to limiting early looting of ammunition dumps and cultural artefacts, and could certainly have improved the chances of capturing more of the senior Iraqi leadership early on. This could have had a significant impact on slowing the growth of the insurgency and buying the occupation more time. The tradeoff is that the numbers would have had to drop to a sustainable level in pretty short order, or greater concessions would have had to be made to either bring in more foreign support, keep parts of the Iraqi army in being, or both. Also, there were climactic and political reasons not to further delay the invasion past March, as well.

Yes, saying there should have been 420,000 troops in Iraq all this time, as Yglesias quotes Larry Diamond as saying, is basically saying the war should not have been fought. But saying there should have been a 250,000 troop commitment for the first few months rather than a 150,000 one is neither unrealistic nor illogical.

Posted by BruceR at 03:57 PM

October 04, 2005

The end of free will

I am probably the last person in the world who should advise anyone on issues of morality, but come on:

"I, like all employees, and all citizens of this city, I'm human, and I cannot regret that I came to care deeply for another person," she said. "I did not choose to feel this way, but it was a life event for me." --suspended Toronto licensing chief Pam Coburn.

I'm sorry, but if free will does not apply in the case of a middle-aged manager who hires an attractive younger married man, and then immediately thereafter starts into an office romance with him, then it doesn't apply to anyone. Open the prisons: none of them chose what happened to them, if Pam Coburn didn't. Close the churches, too, while you're at it... there is no salvation coming to automatons, either. Pathetic.

UPDATE: Toronto mayor David Miller evidently agreed, and fired her ass. Good for him.

Posted by BruceR at 03:02 PM

October 03, 2005

More about my thing for Myrna Loy

Saw The Thin Man on the soon-to-be-no-longer-on-strike CBC last night (gottatellya... haven't missed em). The retelling of the fine little Hammett novella was an instant classic back in 1934, and is notable for some of the most ludicrous women's fashion mistakes ever put on celluloid. Still the cracking dialogue between William Powell and Myrna Loy is worth the price of admission... as is, of course, Ms. Loy herself (although to my mind she was even cuter in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer).

I think the groundbreaking thing about The Thin Man movie was at the time it was one of a scant few cultural bulwarks that gave a view of middle-aged married life that could be cosmopolitan, urbane, witty, and fun... much different from early TV sitcoms, with all their steadfast homemaking, or indeed, the real thing. In their time, they were that rarest of cultural icons: the Cool Parents; parents a teenager would want to have, in other words. (Did Jane Austen's Mr. Bennet serve a similar function in Pride and Prejudice in her day? I wonder.) I have no idea what the equivalent icons today would be for young, pre-married people today... most on-screen parental figures seem... harried, haggard, something. Definitely not cool. The most recent epitome of cool, Josh Whedon's Buffy series, has no real parental figures at all.

The other interesting thing about Thin Man, viewing it today, is the completely casual attitude towards police heavy-handedness. This is very much a reflection of Hammett, of course, but it's a useful reminder that our current ideas of civil liberties are of very recent vintage. In the 1920s and '30s, a character like Inspector Gill (nice guy, but tough, and not constrained by fear of civilian complaints) would have been run-of-the-mill for real cops, or his portrayal in book and on screen would not have been as believable. The classic exchange is when Gill, having come into Powell and Loy's apartment in the middle of the night, says "frisk the place" to his underlings. Powell says, "not without a warrant," and Gill says, "so you say," (ie, "do you really want to escalate this?") and Powell immediately backs off and lets him search. Imagine that in a Law and Order episode today.

By historical standards, it's important to remember that we are at something of a nadir in police powers, or at least we were in 2001. Of course, back in the interwar years, most of the real abuse was directed at people who were beyond the pale... trade unionists, communists... not actual criminals that preyed on innocents. The police had greater powers because they had a generally accepted role in preserving the social order, in addition to their crime-fighting job... a role that the press was actively complicit in. How many police brutality stories were there in the 1920s papers, do you think? Not too many.

Posted by BruceR at 10:18 AM

Another in the plus column

I don't see much point in blogging if you're going to repeat conventional wisdom and shun your own predictions. Of course the upshot of that is one is often fantastically wrong. Nice to see I wasn't on this one.

Posted by BruceR at 09:53 AM