September 27, 2007

Keep it up Steve, II

$27 billion off the national debt in two years. Freaking awesome.

It would have been so easy to give in to the urge to spend that, in any number of ways. Some I'd have supported, some I'd have hated, no doubt. But the discipline being shown here is admirable, regardless.

Posted by BruceR at 02:13 PM

September 24, 2007

Guy should have spoke more often, maybe

"Among those kids [killed by the Nazis] was maybe an Einstein, a Mozart, somebody who (would have) found a cancer drug," he told reporters in 2000. "That is why we have a great responsibility. Let us love one another."
--Marcel Marceau, 1923-2007

UPDATE: In like vein.

Posted by BruceR at 06:19 PM

September 20, 2007

Who are the undercontributors in Afghanistan?

A brief chart, possibly of some utility to someone:

Currently, non-US NATO countries have 24,010 troops in Afghanistan, out of a total NATO-wide standing army (excluding the US) of 2.75 million, or 0.87% of the total (in other words, one out of every 115 NATO regular force troops, navies and air forces included, is in Afghanistan right now). National contributions vary, with Canada the highest at 4.01% of its standing armed forces committed, over four times the NATO average, and many countries significantly lower than that.

It's all well and good to say that some countries aren't contributing, and counting the three countries pushing to join NATO right now (Macedonia, Albania and Croatia), there are 27 troop-contributing nations to draw from other than the U.S. But the simple fact is many of those countries have armies of such a small size that pushing their contribution up to the NATO average wouldn't change very much.

So the best measure of free-riderism, as it pertains to the NATO commitment to Afghanistan, would be the difference in actual troop numbers between how many soldiers they have in Afghanistan now, and how many they would have if they were only sending the NATO average. Crunching those numbers gives you something like this chart. Countries with plus-signs, like Canada, would have to bring their contribution DOWN by that amount to be in line with the NATO average; countries with minus-signs would have to bring their contributions UP.

Czech Republic

Now there's all kinds of reasons for this (Iraqi commitments, Lebanon UNIFIL commitments, etc.) but the simple fact is there's only about four NATO countries that are in a military position today to "step up the plate" if Canada or the Netherlands leaves Afghanistan in the next couple of years with 1,000 or more replacement soldiers of their own, while still staying close to or under the NATO average contribution level: France, Spain, Greece and Turkey. The other big countries (Germany and Italy) actually have troop levels above the mean, and the rest have armies that are simply too small to make a major difference. The relative absence of Turkish troops, not only in terms of numbers but as representatives of the Muslim world, is particularly unfortunate.

This is separate from the separate issues of national caveats preventing effective combat action, or some countries operating in safer operational areas than the Canadians and Dutch, which have also led to some inter-NATO bickering. For this reason, one can see that the Globe and Mail headline today is somewhat misleading; Canada's foreign minister notably isn't "twisting arms" visiting the countries he's visiting, all of which are, like Canada, already over-contributors. He may be shoring up support, or strategizing with his counterparts on how to turn the undercontributors around, but he can't reasonably expect greater troop commitments from the allied nations that are on his trip list this time.

Posted by BruceR at 11:03 AM

September 19, 2007

Must-read of the month

This is a brilliant paper on counter-insurgency.

Posted by BruceR at 01:32 PM

September 18, 2007

On negotiating in Afghanistan

This is an excellent article, I thought. The only quibble I would have is that dating the start of the Afghan insurgency to the start of 2002 or thereabouts is oversimplifying. NATO/US casualty figures indicate a start for a serious insurgent push to challenge NATO forces for control of the south and east of the country starting in the summer of 2005. Before then, Afghanistan was really pretty quiet, by historical standards, for over three full years. (There were fewer than 100 total NATO and US combat fatalities in the 43 months prior to June, 2005.) I'd have said we're just going into our third year. Which would suggest that we're definitely too early, at least in theoretical terms, to be expecting a negotiated solution yet.

Posted by BruceR at 12:11 PM

September 17, 2007

LOL for the day

"Over ninety percent of the surveyed crustaceans were "aware of the launch" and held a "strong desire to purchase," even though their massive claws and aquatic habitat make using the product impossible."
--Penny Arcade

Posted by BruceR at 03:14 PM

Hitchens today: wow, that was dumb

Perhaps one of the dumber things Christopher Hitchens has written recently is online at the moment.

"Take a moment to imagine what would have been written in the liberal press had the old military class been preserved and utilized to "stabilize" Iraq. I can write the headlines for you..."

Of course, there were numerous such headlines in the early years of West Germany, and to a lesser extent, Japan, as potential war criminals. Those headlines did not, however, make those occupations unsuccessful.

To take the German example, the Western governments kept German soldiers on the payroll, sans any elaborate hierarchy of officers, and used them as a labour force to help rebuild the country for that first crucial year. That kept them and their families from starving to death, making off with their weapons, organizing a resistance, etc., until longer-term reconstruction efforts could start to kick in. It was utterly separate from any de-Nazification efforts (either criminal or political), and, because this was clear from the start, did not contribute to the junta-fication of the country. It was this precedent and example that the Iraqi reconstructionists blithely ignored in Iraq in 2003.

"Nor is it a defense of the very abrupt and peremptory way in which Paul Bremer dismissed the officer corps almost overnight."

If it had just been the officer corps, it would not have been anywhere near as bad. It was everybody, extending to civil servants in many cases. It is not a horrendous overstatement to say Bremer et al fired the entire public sector, without a pension, or even their last month's wages.

"If there was one thing about U.S. foreign policy that used to make one shudder, it was the habit of ruling by proxy through military regimes."

It is possible to believe that Iraqi labour battalions in the German model would have been better than nothing, without believing that the country should have been immediately handed over to a new dictator. As I recall, the only one advocating that approach was some fellow named Chalabi and his friends.

"However, I think it stands to the credit of the United States that it did not insult the population by grabbing and using the existing reins of repression..."

The Presidential Palace. Abu Ghraib.

"People say that the poor management of this issue led to an insurgency from quarters that would have hated a change of regime from whichever source it had come."

Like those big Saddam-backers Sistani and Sadr.

Posted by BruceR at 01:40 PM

September 14, 2007

Rex Murphy: ugly, but harmless

While I'm on the CBC, I also forced myself to sit through Rex Murphy's end of show comment last night. Murphy, who is becoming more and more like Andy Rooney every day, did his schtick on the question of whether Muslim women should be allowed to vote veiled. Short version: "I don't know what this is all about. What's going on? Why is this an issue? I have a photo ID, as do you. Do you know what this is all about? I'm confused."

I could get more insightful commentary from a lemming.

Look, it's a very simple issue to understand. All the Canadian political parties are opposed to veiled voting because they've currently all got something to lose in three tight Quebec by-elections this week, and they all can't afford to alienate the Francophone nativist vote at the moment. Saying that this issue is a complete waste of political capital would be the equivalent of saying to those voters, "you're all a bunch of bigoted bumpkins." So the charade goes on.

The only person who comes out of this looking good is Canadian Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand. He may or may not be the most principled Canadian civil servant in a decade, but that's the role he's playing on TV. Basically saying we can fire him before he'll let a parliamentary subcommittee unilaterally change the verbatim meaning of a federal law, he's providing more effective opposition to government power overreach than we've seen from any single protester or politician in either North American jurisdiction in decades.

If this were about veils on driver's licenses, or refusing to confirm one's identity before flying, it would be political stance reasonable people could support. But this is about infringing everyone's longstanding right to vote if they don't have a photo ID, for whatever reason (providing an equivalent standard of proof of identity can be met) and Mayrand's stance is the principled one, whether certain sectors of rural Quebec think so or not.

Posted by BruceR at 11:52 AM

Nahlah Ayed: cute, but a problem

I've now sat, for no obvious reason, through two Nahlah Ayed reports from Iraq on the CBC national news. The girl has drunk the Petraeus Kool-Aid, I'm afraid. Her constant message through the last two nights has been that the U.S. is successfully fighting Al Qaeda with Sunni help in Anbar. Not "Al Qaeda in Iraq," or "Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia," or a "possibly mythical terrorist spin-off group". Al Qaeda, unmodified, which she uses repeatedly (last night three times in the same sentence). According to CBC and Ayed, the U.S. is fighting Bin Laden himself. It's a real low point for the CBC's coverage of this conflict.

I'm reminded of one of the better Internet putdowns of the last couple months, from Robert Chung dismantling David Kane on Deltoid:

"...the best professors do whatever they can to dispel ignorance and promote knowledge. Yes, in many cases that does mean answering questions; however, in your particular case, the situation is far more complex. You actually destroy knowledge, and your paper creates ignorance. In this situation, the way to be true to my professional responsibilities is to not be your enabler and to assure you that I ain't your monkey."

This week, the CBC has been destroying knowledge in Iraq.

Look, journalists, it's not that hard. People really don't mind acronyms sometimes (PLO comes to mind). If saying "Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia" is too long, or confusing to read, just start calling these guys the "AQM terrorist organization" (or AQI, or whatever you agree on). When you say "Al Qaeda," unqualified, you are repeating a propaganda point unfiltered, and inaccurately. Until an operational link of some kind can be demonstrated between these shadowy Sunni insurgents and the Al Qaeda mothership, you are destroying knowledge about them. People would understand from the first two letters that AQM draws ideological inspiration from Bin Laden's group, without perpetuating the lie that, more than any other save the one on WMDs, has sucked the West into this self-perpetuating conflict in Iraq.

Posted by BruceR at 11:39 AM

September 13, 2007

A note to Americans

To any U.S. readers out there: You might want to read the post where John Cole asks the question that nearly every non-American I know has been asking stridently for the last couple of years, now, but he does it much more succinctly than we generally do.

When we do, of course, it generally sounds more like P.J. O'Rourke's classic statement:

"What the f__k? I mean, what the f__king f__k?"

Then, at least in Canada, we have another donut, toast the rising dollar with our Timmy's, and go about our business.

ADDENDUM: It's rare I can honestly say this anymore, but reading the title of the Michael Goldfarb article skewered in this post was a swear-to-god LOL. Thanks for the chuckle.

Posted by BruceR at 07:04 PM

September 11, 2007


Matthew Yglesias is right: this is a good idea from John Edwards.

Posted by BruceR at 03:48 PM

September 10, 2007

This is an interesting development

'We're ready to talk': Taliban

What's interesting here is the daylight between the two official insurgent spokespersons quoted, with Yousuf Ahmadi saying only unidentified "limited" preconditions remain unresolved, while the Hezb-i-Islami Hekmatyar spokesman (from a group based in the Jalalabad area, less Durrani-dominated, and under considerably less military pressure compared to Council Taliban adherents in the South) sticking to the previous position of a full foreign troop withdrawal as the essential precondition.

It was common knowledge that all negotiation options in the Afghan context have been held up for over a year on the unified Taliban insistence that all foreign troops must withdraw first. This is the first PR pronouncement from Ahmadi's group that did not strongly reiterate that a full pullout as a precondition, at least that I'm aware of.

UPDATE: So much for daylight.

Posted by BruceR at 02:27 PM

More from the annals of minor life accomplishments

Also on my "minor things I've checked off the life list" was finally finishing System Shock 2, rightly considered one of the great computer games of all time.

Yes, I know it came out in 1999. But I had to clear it off the hard drive to make more room for Bioshock, which i hope to finish some time around the end of the first quarter-century, so August was the month. Hey, it was totally worth the wait. SS2 was superlative story telling, and I have no doubt the spiritual sequel will be as well. As Tycho of Penny Arcade put it, "If Bioshock isn't 'art,' then art is the poorer for it."

Posted by BruceR at 02:09 PM