December 21, 2006

Delacourt: why she's the worst

Wondering why Susan Delacourt was voted the worst working print journalist in Canada today? All you have to do is read her story on an alleged global warming flip-flop today. It's truly a piece of work.

Delacourt comes up with 3 previous quotes from the PM that she seems to feel contradict his statement yesterday that global warming required "real and substantive action". They are:

1) "As we implement our clean-air agenda, the focus is a little different than the other parties. They focus only on so-called greenhouse gases and ignored smog entirely." (2006)

2) "The science is still evolving." (2004)

3) "It's a scientific hypothesis, a controversial one and one that I think there is some preliminary evidence for. ... This may be a lot of fun for a few scientific and environmental elites in Ottawa, but ordinary Canadians from coast to coast will not put up with what this (Kyoto accord) will do to their economy and lifestyle, when the benefits are negligible." (2002)

None of these statements, it should be obvious, amount to a previous disagreement by Harper with global warming theory. From the last quote, one can conclude that his position has actually been admirably consistent over the last several years: that regardless of whether one believes in the dangers posed by global warming (and frankly, at this point you'd have to be something of an idiot not to), the commitments the previous Liberal government made to this file at the Kyoto conference were impossible for Canada to reach, and would inevitably have to be renegotiated or disavowed. As well, everything in the three statements Delacourt quotes from Harper today is the straight out truth, as was his statement on the matter yesterday.

Look, this kind of drive-by assassination through selective quoting and deliberate misinterpretation should have been beneath any reputable newspaper. Not the Star today, however. It's also fair to say that Delacourt never gave the same treatment of ex-PM Paul Martin, the preferred electoral choice of her paper, who was only rarely capable of holding a consistent position for more than about five minutes or so.

Posted by BruceR at 04:00 PM


The PM:
“The Liberals and the Bloc tell me: 'rebalance' the [Afghan] mission. What does that mean? I mean, what the hell does that mean?”

Posted by BruceR at 11:53 AM

December 15, 2006

Canadian Forces ads thoughts

Long-time reader and occasional blogger in her own right Nina writes, re my John Doyle comments, below:

A long time ago, I came across Doyle's review of the latest episode of "Friends" or something equally innocuous, which began "As the United States slides into a dictatorship..." You can neither use nor expect logic with someone like that.

I am actually pleasantly surprised by the amount of fair and positive coverage the Canadian Forces have been getting. A couple of months back, there was an item on the CBC News about what the work of someone in a submarine and of a pilot was like, which made those jobs sound almost reasonable -- not the final resource of racist illiterates.

I'd love to know what you think of the new [TV] ads, actually. They seem to be aimed at someone who wants to travel to new and interesting places, meet new and interesting people, and then shoot them. Which I suspect is what one wants in soldiers, no?

I like the ads, because I do think they're more honest than some military ad campaigns I've seen. (Here's the link: third from the top is the most controversial one.) I don't know whether they actually work as recruitment ads, but I'd say they're true to soldiers' picture of themselves, and I happen to think that sort of thing is important in government communications. It's not just about convincing parents to let their kids take a year off college anymore: there are important secondary audiences in average Canadians, and the soldiers themselves, that need to be considered. A less honest campaign would likely have backfired with those audiences right now.

One of the dumbest things I've ever heard a politician say, though, came recently in this context: NDP Defence Critic Dawn Black:

"They do need recruits, but I'm not sure Rambo ads are the way we want to portray military service," Black was reported as saying. "I think there's a lot more to the Canadian military than fight, fight, fight and war, war, war."

Um, like what? Cause if we're doing that other stuff you'd think we should be cutting it out, because we seem to be kind of busy with the fighting thing at the moment.

Posted by BruceR at 11:35 AM

Prof misses the point

I liked this comment, from an article about the cops putting a surveillance video from a deadly hip-hop concert on YouTube:

But Mariana Valverde, a criminology professor at the University of Toronto, said while the Internet remains a law-enforcement tool not unlike the telephone and television, officers shouldn't mistake it for a crime-fighting panacea.

The best type of information gathering comes from the "old-fashioned person power," she said.

"I don't think there's anything magic about the Internet," Valverde said. "Just pick up the phone or the TV. Using the Internet isn't necessarily going to provide better or more accurate information than putting out a call to citizens on the evening news."

Wow, way to miss the point, professor. Here's the cluebat: the demographic group of people likely to be attending bloody hiphop concerts does not spend much of their time watching Peter Bobble-head Mansbridge, believe it or not. They do email, IM and blog to each other, which is what the YouTube posting enables. It's an inspired bit of creative policing: I hope it bears fruit for the officers who no doubt took a significant career risk on this one.

UPDATE: It worked.

Posted by BruceR at 11:06 AM

December 13, 2006

Globe TV columnist on Cdn soldiers

John Doyle, in "Canada's national newspaper":

"There were profiles of soldiers who had been decorated for bravery, and interviews with some of them. A few were clearly giddy from the experience of combat. Their perspective on combat was raw and unfocused. Medals for valour they may have won, but logic and truth they have not."

Truth they have not? Does that mean the Globe's TV columnist considers decorated Canadian combat veterans to be liars?

You know, I do have friends whose parents, spouses, kids, are not going to see them this Christmas, because their country sent them overseas. If John Doyle et al now have trouble seeing that reality on television, it would seem there is a fairly simple answer: don't send them in future. But that doesn't help the hardship of those over there now, though, and their families.

Doyle claims to be concerned about the sentimentalization of the military family experience at Christmas time. Wasn't it great in the good old days when Christmas was about nothing but empty niceties and hollow commercialism? I liked those days, too. Of course, they're hard to remember, as I was aged six at the time.

In other news, this is the kind of useful information one wishes the Canadian media might actually report on. Afghans, it seems, actually wants Western help at the moment, still by an overwhelming margin after a violent year for them. Pity we don't have any time or season on our calendar where Canadians historically like to give charitably to those in need, cause it seems they could really use it about now.

PS: Doyle writes, "The debate about Canada's role in Afghanistan is one of considerable scope and complexity." Which is why it's obviously a bad time to have information on the teevee about those soldiers' or their families' experiences. Check. Much better to have the kind of alternative Christmassy fare Doyle lauds in the same column, featuring a drama about "a man's body found gutted, burned and hung up like a scarecrow on the roof." Me, I prefer red-and-blue coloured lights, but hey, chacun son gout.

Posted by BruceR at 03:16 PM

December 12, 2006

CBC: on the job as always

Chronicle Herald:

"The show [showing Canadian comics entertaining troops in Kandahar], which — strangely — won’t be airing in Canada until March, was seen as a chance to give something back to the troops, said one of the producers."

Okay, I give up. Why? The troops are spending Christmas in Kandahar NOW. Their families and friends are eager to see them on TV (smiling, no less) NOW.

Posted by BruceR at 04:41 PM

December 05, 2006

Effect of troop numbers on Iraq, update

The recent UN report on Iraq violence levels gave the effect of two more months of data on the effect of U.S. force levels on civilian casualty levels, so I thought I'd update the charts from this post.

The story so far:
*there is no correlation between U.S.-led coalition force levels and indicators of violence against coalition forces.
*there was an apparent correlation between the UN figures for violence against civilians and overall troop levels, and also between the rate of change in both numbers, but only when using a statistical measure that only went back to January, 2006 (8 data points total).

Adding two more data points sort of throws that second conclusion off, a little, as one can see by the revised graphs below the fold.

Here is the Coalition force vs. civilian violence graph, with two new points provided by the September and October fatality figures:

Coalition Force levels (x) vs UNAMI Civilian Fatalities per month (y), Jan-Oct 2006

What the increasingly flat line here indicates is that the previously assessed correlation between force levels and violence against civilians had no apparent real-world effect in September and October, two months where U.S. troop levels went back up to their historical average but violence remained high (those would be the two points in the top right). If the trendline displayed were perfectly flat, that would mean that there was no effect of U.S. troop levels on violence. Also, the low R-squared value here indicates that we're basically looking at a random distribution at this point.

The comparison of the effect a change in military force size had on any change in violence level by a month later still shows a correlation, albeit a somewhat weaker one than before:

Changes in Coalition Force levels (x) vs changes in UNAMI Civilian Fatality tallies in the same and subsequent months (y), Jan-Aug 2006:

This suggests that troop increases do have an immediate calming effect, and troop decreases vice versa, but the previous graph indicates this can hardly be a permanent one.

Finally, here's the update to the graph used before blending the UNAMI civilian death estimates with the previous Brookings Institution ones, and compared to force levels. It continues to show a fairly linear progression in the level of Iraqi violence, with no lasting effect resulting from the various troop surges over the length of the occupation:

Seasonally Adjusted Iraq Civilian Fatality Variations from Mean (two methods combined), compared with troop level variations

This again indicates that Iraq civilian violence levels are relatively unswayed by changes in U.S. force levels. The two remain, in this comparison, independent variables, with any connection being a fairly transitory one. Again, this pattern might not hold if there were to be a much larger sudden increase in troop levels (50,000-plus), but smaller (10-25,000 size) troop strength increases and decreases appear to have had little lasting impact on the trend up until now.

(The idea that Iraq civilian casualtiy levels have been following an essentially unswayed linear progression would also tend to contradict, it should be noted, a hypothesis proposed here recently, that the rapid drop in U.S. force strength in January/06 had a catalytic effect on Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence in the early part of this year. If rapid troop increases can be demonstrated to have no lasting effect, neither would rapid troop decreases. However, the Brookings Institution numbers used in this graph for 2003-2005 are not so trustworthy that this can be assumed as a point of fact, either.)

Posted by BruceR at 12:05 PM

December 04, 2006

Withdraw to Kurdistan: what does it mean?

This space has long been an advocate for improving the lot of Iraq's Kurds. However, the recent Chas. Krauthammer column advocating a withdrawal of the American presence in Iraq to "Kurdistan" in the next couple months prompts a necessary look at what that really would mean on the ground.

Currently, the Iraqi Kurdistan National Assembly (IKNA) has autonomous control over three northern, rather remote, Iraqi governorates, As Sulaymaniyah, Erbil, and Dahuk. These governorates have a population of about 3.7 million people, total, almost all Kurdish and perhaps comprising three quarters of all Kurds in Iraq. The IKNA is an elected body, with its chosen representatives elected in the same January, 2005 Iraq federal election that elected the Transitional National Assembly. After the Iraqi constitution was passed, the three governorates claimed the status of semi-autonomous Region under its provisions, with the IKNA as the regional government.

The Kurdistan Region as it is constituted presently has two major cities, the regional capital of Erbil (900,000) and Sulaymaniyah (800,000). It's fair to say these three governorates have been fairly quiet since 2003.

Three neighboring provinces that also have large Kurdish populations (effectively, all the remaining Kurds in Iraq) are currently in the process of deciding whether to join the Kurdish Region. These have been somewhat less stable. The governorate of Kirkuk (also known as At-Ta'mim), with a million people, mostly in the city of the same name, and substantial oil resources, is currently planning a referendum for November, 2007. Kirkuk has been the scene of considerable violence since the 2003 invasion. Its current population is estimated in the absence of reliable census data as mostly (60%, or maybe 600,000 Kurds total) Kurdish. There have recently been marked efforts to increase the population of Kurds in Kirkuk, in many cases by the return of Kurdish families who were dispossessed by the Hussein government in favour of Arab migrants.

The governorate of Ninawa, with the violent cities of Tal Afar and Mosul, is possibly 20% Kurdish (c. 500,000), concentrated in its northern (Mosul) end; the troubled governorate of Diyala, possibly 10% (100,000-plus), also concentrated in a small northern area of that governorate. The IKNA has stated it wishes to see referenda in both these provinces, as well (it can hardly expect to win them outright if they were held; more likely this is a gambit to induce a border correction in their favour).

The issue is complicated further by the strong presence in the same region of Iraq's third- and fourth-largest minorities, the Christian Assyrians centered around Mosul and the Turkish-speaking Turkmen centered in Kirkuk province, in both cases in numbers comparable with the local Kurdish populations. Both minorities were also oppressed by Saddam, but are not obviously enthusiastic yet for becoming minorities in an independent Kurdistan, either. American religious interests have expressed concern about the plight of the Assyrians, who have a wide international diaspora, while the Turkish government has set itself up as the Turkmens' advocate.

The most important question to ask when defining the boundaries of Kurdish region right now is whether it includes Kirkuk and its oil, which, if left to any kind of peaceful democratic process, it probably would -- given sufficient concessions by the Kurdish government to the Turkmen to keep them onside.

The second most important question is the disposition of the northern, Mosul end of Ninawa, giving the Kurds a land border with Syria. This could also enjoy majority support in the affected area of Ninawa if an accord with Mosul's Assyrians was reached. (The Diyala Kurds are so tightly concentrated and small in numbers that that will almost certainly have to satisfy themselves with a border correction between the Kurds and their Arab-majority governorate.) The method chosen in any "withdrawing to Kurdistan" will necessarily imply some American decision on these questions, so it might be worthwhile discussing them in advance. Certainly Krauthammer's line that Kurdistan is where Americans will be "welcome and safe" is going to be somewhat situation-dependent.

The Kurds are currently pro-U.S. largely because it's in their obvious best interest. That could change, of course. Possible circumstances where Kurdistan could grow rather hot for U.S. forces there rather fast would include: taking a stance against any border corrections in Kurds' favour for Ninawa or Diyala; declining to support that 2007 referendum in Kirkuk if the country breaks up before then; or allowing Turkish forces, which are currently fighting Kurdish rebels of their own, into the Kurdish region in hot pursuit.

On the other hand, taking the opposing position in any of these questions could put the U.S. up against Iraqi government or Turkish interests, as well. In Iraq's case, to use the U.S. Civil War analogy, these are their "border states:" unlikely to be shrunk or surrendered without the most vehement of efforts.

This is a significant issue because ground-based sustainment of U.S. forces in the landlocked Kurdish region would depend on the goodwill of one or both of these governments. Air-based sustainment would limit the sustainable force in that region to a size insufficient for much more than special forces activities and some basing of air assets. A military solution that keeps American main forces with a ground force projection capability in north Iraq therefore demands the willing compliance of both the Kurds and either the Iraqis or Turks: a difficult circle to square.

If one was purely concerned about keeping a U.S. footprint somewhere in Iraq, the Kurdish region would seem at this point to be a suboptimal solution because of these sustainment and political difficulties. If force preservation was the only concern, the southern and eastern desert (part of the larger Syrian Desert), in the vicinity or to the south east of Ar Rutba (pop. 25,000), would seem a much better option. It's isolated: discounting nomads, there is virtually no one living within 160 km of the Saudi border, or 250 km of the Jordanian. There are still-existing Saddam-era airbases that could be taken over in the area, multiple logistics routes in and out, and a good possibility of being able to support the Iraq government's Syrian- and Saudi-border interdiction efforts, in exchange for the basing rights (the footprint would have to still be small, of course, due to the obvious water shortages; any large main force units would still need to be based somewhere else, like Kuwait).

The one advantage that Kurdish bases do have over a Syrian desert base should be obvious, too: bases in the Kurdish area are much better positioned to support activities within Iran or Central Asia. This cannot be entirely discounted as a factor in U.S. decision making, either.

But as much as one hates to say it, a large U.S. military presence in the Kurdish Region at this stage is not what the Kurds need right now. The most likely outcome of such a deployment would seem to be to bring the civil war north with them.

Other sources: Here's a good map showing the ethnic disposition of Kurds and other ethnic groups within Iraq (also note the 36th parallel, which was the southern extent of the pre-war no-fly zone). Here's another map showing the current geographic distribution of U.S. force fatalities.

Posted by BruceR at 12:44 PM

LAT on 9th Mech

LA Times on the Iraqi 9th Mech Div's recent combat activities.

There's a lot of clagg in the article, but one point stands out, that a divisional senior reconnaissance officer says there were only three hours of darkness, from 0100 to 0400, between warning order and main phase execution of a major op.

There are only two valid conclusions that can be drawn from this:
1) the Iraqi officer, in question, a colonel, is lying and should be fired; or
2) the divisional commander in question does not understand his most basic responsibilities as a leader, and should be fired.

It's fair to say no American (or Canadian) officer would ever allow his troops to be used in this fashion, without tendering his or her own resignation first. The fact that one Iraqi general did, and that his American superiors had no problem with setting his forces up for failure, either, speaks volumes. Operation: Get Behind Darkie" has real-life analogues, it seems.

Posted by BruceR at 11:04 AM

December 01, 2006

Insert witty line about livestock in china shops here

Jacob Weisberg in Slate continues his fine tradition of coming up with good ideas long after the cut-off date:

"For the more intensely military phase, the only real option is NATO. A NATO-led deployment in Iraq could follow the model of Afghanistan, where a 32,000-person NATO-plus-11 force is controlling an insurgency, sustaining a weak but viable government, and preventing multiparty civil war. This is precisely what needs to happen in Iraq."

This was an excellent idea, around about November, 2003. It is now, however, purest fantasy. NATO is not only no longer capable of taking any new tasks, it appears to be at the point of breaking in twain should there be any downturn in the military situation in Afghanistan in 2007. The plausible worst-case situation now is that NATO's second war as an alliance (counting Bosnia-Kosovo as the first) will also be its last.

I didn't previously think it was possible for the American Iraq misadventure to sink support for both unilateral and multilateral forms of military intervention at the same time, but it's coming close to it. If Iraq fails, it will certainly hurt the U.S. internationally. But if Afghanistan should fail, it'd also put the kibosh on NATO-style ground force interventions overseas for decades, right or wrong, UN Security Council mandates or no.

Yglesias talks about the third method, good old UN-style military peacekeeping in the Congo. I really thinking he's missing the lesson of that intervention, though: the success in Congo has more to do with the current excellence of the Indian military that is conducting it (with Pakistani and Bangladeshi assistance) than anything else. The Indian peacekeeping tradition (as originally defined in the 1960 ONUC intervention, also in the Congo, and beautifully typified most recently in their nearly unilateral 2000 rescue of Indian soldiers that had been surrounded in Sierra Leone) is to put up with local non-cooperation until things get really violent, and then go at the bad guys, Kashmir-style: the residue of peacekeeping experience that Beinart attributes to the UN is mostly tied up in places like the Indian army staff college at Dehra Dun, not in New York. Because they operate at a higher level of general staff training than most armies (they have real corps and divisions, and still practice how to use them), and because unlike most more developed countries they have an army still built on a peacekeeping scale making their resources in a low-intensity situation effectively inexhaustible (1.3 million full-time troops), and because, also unlike the U.S., no one outside of South Asia ever successfully made their political point by killing an Indian corporal, they are the ne plus ultra of peacekeeping powers right now. Their capability for close military cooperation in overseas theatres with the other two major UN troop contributing countries, Pakistan and Bangladesh, stemming from common British military traditions as well as the linguistic commonalities, makes them even more formidable.

NOTE: For reference, currently, in addition to the four-battalion brigade with the mission in Congo, the Indians have two battalions on the Chapter VII UNMIS mission in South Sudan, and also a battalion on the Ethiopia-Eritrea border (UNMEE). Pakistan and Bangladesh are committed heavily alongside the Indians in Congo and Sudan, and have their own joint efforts in Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire, as well. The only other countries with large-sized UN deployments at present (over 1,000 troops) are: Brazil, Uruguay and Jordan in Haiti (MINUSTAH); Ethiopia and Nigeria in Liberia (UNMIL); France, Italy and Spain in Lebanon (UNIFIL); Jordan again in the Cote d'Ivoire (UNOCI); and Nepal, Uruguay again, and South Africa in the Congo (MONUC).

Western countries, like Britain and France, can still do spot power projection (Afghanistan 2001, Sierra Leone again) better, but for anti-insurgency, you're never wrong betting on the Indians. It's fair to say the electoral successes of the Congo, such as they are, would never have occurred without their recent involvement.

UN-sponsored interventions seem to fail for one of two reasons: either the mandate is flawed (as with the current UNIFIL mission: that force's mandate clearly states it is there only to assist the Lebanese military in reoccupying South Lebanon and confronting Hezbollah, not do it themselves. Since the Lebanese military has had no interest in confronting Hezbollah, UNIFIL has had nothing to do) or because the countries that do know what they're doing and can ante up, such as India, aren't involved.

India is clearly looking past the Iraq situation, and the post-Iraq world order, and has decided that old-style UN military interventions, not formal alliances or "coalitions of the willing" are the best hope for helping failed states without eroding the international order still further, and so are investing their national capital as a rising world military power into bolstering the largest one. I wish them luck.

Posted by BruceR at 11:10 AM