Friday, October 31, 2003

Military Intelligence

On NPR yesterday, I heard an admirer of Donald Rumsfeld describe how Rumsfeld is never manipulative. So, obviously, the following was not an attempt at manipulation of the truth, the public, or of his past statement....
"What we have done is we've put out a very straight forward, accurate, to the best of our ability, and balanced view of what we see happening, and what we believe to be the case," Rumsfeld said.

"From the very beginning we've said that this global war on terror is a tough one. It's going to take a long time. It's going to take the cooperation of a lot of countries."

He cited a dictionary definition of the word "slog" as "to hit or strike hard, to drive with blows, to assail violently."

"And that's precisely what the U.S. has been doing and intends to continue to do," he said. "It's not only the Oxford dictionary's preferred definition. It's mine."

A reporter cited a definition of slog in another dictionary as "to walk or progress with a slow, heavy pace" or plod.

"I've seen that one. I read the one I liked," Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld, seeming a bit narked, then explained that he had to depart to drop the key to his car off at the tyre shop, as the clerk had rung up to let him know that he couldn't get into the boot. He mentioned that on his way out, he intended to knock up Condoleeza Rice, who was nackered after a long road trip, and that they had plans that evening to share a joint with his family.


Thursday, October 30, 2003

An Intolerable Sacrifice

It must be a peace without victory.... Victory would mean peace forced upon the losers, a victor’s terms imposed upon the vanquished. It would be accepted in humiliation, under duress, at an intolerable sacrifice, and would leave a sting, a resentment, a bitter memory upon which the terms of peace would rest, not permanently, but only as upon quicksand.

- Woodrow Wilson, January 22, 1917

Many months ago, I read an editorial which decried the "war-loving liberal" - a category of liberal which embraced military force as a way to effect social change in oppressive nations. The editorial touched on some history which suggests that military force is often not the best way to effect such change, and can have unexpected costs and effects which may in fact make matters worse.

Still, whatever your political persuasion, if you care at all about human rights there had to be a part of you which wanted to see Saddam Hussein go. That is, unless you were woefully uninformed about the situation in Iraq under Hussein, as many Americans were. (This widespread ignorance facilitated the reinvention of the invasion as a "liberation", as well as the ability of the Bush II Administration to avoid recognition that many of Hussein's worst offenses took place while he was allied with the Reagan and Bush I Administrations.)

I recall the first time I learned of Hussein's reign of terror. It was back in the early 1980's while I was still in high school, and a news magazine show (perhaps Canada's W5) described the horror Hussein inflicted upon the Iraqi people. I was young enough that it still surprised me that the U.S. would ally itself with such a butcher, even in the context of supporting the enemy of Iran. (Shortly afterward, National Geographic described how President Reagan insisted that the Khmer Rouge be regarded as the official government of Cambodia in exile - because the Cambodian people had the misfortune of being liberated from Pol Pot's genocide by Vietnam. When it comes to politics, how long can one remain both informed and naive?)

Moving forward many years, during a trip to Southeast Asia a Vietnamese man described to me his nation's experience as an occupying power in Cambodia. Within that context, he expressed sympathy for the U.S. occupying forces, which in many areas saw smiling, welcoming faces by daylight, but nothing but Viet Cong fighters once darkness fell. (The official U.S. maps, still hanging in the former Presidential Palace, reflect that reality, with large areas of the South shaded in a color which designated U.S. daytime control and enemy control at night.) The Cambodian people apparently drew a lesson from the Vietnamese experience, and nighttime in Cambodia was an extraordinarily dangerous place for Vietnam's occupying forces. The context for this discussion was Son My, a town that Americans know better as My Lai. The subtext was that Vietnam had acted comparably against smiling Cambodian villagers suspected of harboring guerrillas.

I admit that, since I first learned of his ways, I wanted Hussein (and all like him) removed from the world stage. I believe, however, that there are limits on what can be achieved by military force, and that the aftermath of the application of force can be catastrophic if proper steps aren't taken - steps that can be exceptionally painful and expensive for the outside power seeking to impose "regime change". The consequences of an intervention gone wrong range from the genocide in Cambodia to totalitarianism in Vietnam to the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. I also recognize that there are geopolitical realities that, whatever their origins, can make it difficult to depose a tyrant without significant concern that the subsequent situation will be worse. (Lon Nol was a corrupt, incompetent leader, whose policies led to the deaths of 10,000 Vietnamese nationals living in Cambodia. His successor, Pol Pot, was far worse.)

Thus, I found myself in a situation where I could not feel comfortable embracing either the "anti-war" position on Iraq, as I cannot stomach the thought of accepting (or refusing to acknowledge) a status quo where rulers like Hussein can impose their tyranny without consequence. (While Hussein's tyranny had clear consequences for his people, he and his cronies continued to live the high life.) At the same time, the calls for "regime change", and the insistence that the post-war occupation and "transformation" of a nation would be easy, reflected either an absurd level of naivete or complete dishonesty. I always expected what even Rumsfeld has now described as a "long, hard slog". While I certainly had concern for the welfare of Iraqi citizens during the course of an invasion, my gravest doubts about the proposed invasion were that we would either mishandle the occupation, withdraw before stabilizing the region, or substitute a new "Hussein" for the one we deposed (a "strong man" who can hold together a fractious nation, while perhaps being more discreet in his associated acts of oppression so as not to immediately embarrass us.) Wasn't it largely the CIA which gave us Hussein in the first place?

My sentiments toward the invasion of Iraq were colored somewhat by the fact that, from the day Bush announced his desire for regime change, I viewed invasion as all-but-inevitable. The Bush Administration's declarations on the war, and how cheap and easy the transformation of Iraq would be, inspired grave reservations about whether the Bush Administration was demonstrating exceptional dishonesty or willful ignorance, whether they were truly prepared for what was likely to happen following invasion, and that they were setting Iraq up for catastrophe due to a probable domestic reaction to the costs and realities of being an occupying power. Failing in the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq carries potential consequences for the region which are extraordinary, and the most probable outcome is devastating for peace, democracy, and security from terrorism.

So now we are the occupying power, and we are facing an inevitable resistance to the occupation. And as the reality of serving as an occupying power becomes more obvious, we are served with endless analysis, often contrived to fit with the author's previously expressed rationalizations for or against invasion. Thomas Friedman, whose positions on the invasion of Iraq may well have inspired the editorial about war-loving liberals, today declares It's No Vietnam, and tells us,
The people who mounted the attacks on the Red Cross are not the Iraqi Vietcong. They are the Iraqi Khmer Rouge - a murderous band of Saddam loyalists and Al Qaeda nihilists, who are not killing us so Iraqis can rule themselves. They are killing us so they can rule Iraqis.

Let's suppose that he is correct - that it is the Iraqi equivalent of the Khmer Rouge. Does that place us in the position of Vietnam, which liberated Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge only to confront a population which violently resisted its many years of occupation? And no, Thomas, that resistance was not premised upon their desire to see the return of the Khmer Rouge and its killing fields. Granted, the history of conflict and enmity between Cambodia and its neighbors goes back for centuries, but within the context of the occupation of Iraq, how different is that from the growing Arab antipathy toward America?

Worse, we now face a political reality where Bush appears concerned that the occupation of Iraq may cost him reelection. So as Maureen Dowd notes in Eyes Wide Shut we are being told that things only look bad because they are getting much better. Bush won't commit the forces necessary to provide adequate security because he fears a domestic backlash, and perhaps ultimately a military commitment in Iraq that will leave the U.S. military unable to fulfill its mission elsewhere without implementing a solution that probably would constitute political suicide for the President who implements it - conscription. Bush apparently wishes that things will improve over time, or that other nations will commit forces, so as to alleviate the present security crisis. (In Grumpier Old Men, Burgess Meredith had a memorable line about wishing.)

Perhaps of more consequence are editorials such as Richard Cohen's Vietnam It Isn't, or Johann Hari's The real threat to Iraqis is coming now from Western defeatists, which attempt to convince their increasingly skeptical audiences in Britain and the United States that we have to see things through - even though we still have no idea what that will take in terms of time, lives and money.

On the other side, we have people like Ivan Eland, director of the Center on Peace and Liberty at the Independent Institute, telling us to Cut losses: Leave Iraq, and hope that Iraq's own police will be sufficiently supported by military forces from other nations to handle the resultant vacuum. Isn't that how Cambodia achieved "democracy" under the supervision of the UN, following Vietnam's withdrawal? A "democracy" which was never implemented, as after the self-congratulatory withdrawal of the UN and NGO's, Pol Pot's former associate Hun Sen determined that it was better to maintain power by military force than to respect the outcome of an election?


Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Language Barrier?

A friend asks, "one has to wonder, are they even looking for the correct language specialty?"
Most military linguists working in Iraq and Afghanistan only posess, on the average, a 2/2 Forces Command (FORSCOM) rating (which basically gives them the ability to tell the difference between a burro and a burrito).

Operation Outreach Newsletter, October 3, 2003 [PDF Format].


Adoptions & IQ Tests

A couple of stories to highlight the law of unintended consequences, and its effect on our nation's children.

In Cash Incentives for Adoptions Seen as Risk to Some Children, the New York Times details how reforms in child dependency laws have, in some cases, turned "adoption" into a form of extended foster care, and how pressure to find permanency for children has sometimes resulted in a lack of due care when approving these state-subsidized adoptions. Once the adoption is complete, the state's obligation to monitor a child's progress and wellbeing ends.

In an APA press release, we learn that renorming of IQ tests to compensate for the "Flynn Effect" (the steady rise of IQ scores over time) can have a significant effect on educational placements for children with borderline or mild mental handicaps. Some tested with an earlier version of an IQ test are excluded from services that a renormed test would allow. Some tested with a "renormed" version are excluded from services that their more capable peers, who happened to be tested on a prior version, receive. Also mentioned are the impact of the "Flynn Effect" on low-IQ death row inmates, and members of the military.

Granted, social engineering is never without risk. In the former example, there is good cause to desire permanency for children in foster care, and many adoptive placements are in the best interest of children whose relationships with their parents have been severed by the courts. In the latter case, it is necessary to have some criteria by which schools can assess the needs of children, and allocate resources to assist those with learning disabilities.

At the same time, perhaps the problems in both situations result from looking for a fast or easy solution to a complicated set of issues, and attempting to apply a "one size fits all" model to situations which call for greater case-by-case analysis. While looking at individual circumstances is more time-consuming and expensive than applying standard rules which apply to all cases, when it comes to organizations which are involved in critical decisions relating to human beings, bureaucratic efficiency and actuarial tables are rarely the best measures of success.


Tuesday, October 28, 2003


Today, in an editorial suggesting that we do ourselves a disservice by not trying to understand the root causes of terrorism, A Willful Ignorance, Paul Krugman makes mention of U.S. support for the government of Uzbekistan. In Tony Blair's New Friend, the London Guardian magnifies Krugman's comments, while criticizing British policy toward that brutal regime. Possibly a future source of "blowback"?


Monday, October 27, 2003

Turn Left at the... er... make that right... um...

In today's New York Times, A Better Roadmap, Jackson Diehl suggests that a Middle East road map to peace should include a destination. (A plausible argument - would you buy a roadmap which included a lot of twists and turns, but ultimately did not define your destination?)


Sunday, October 26, 2003

Flatter Will Get You Nowhere

On Friday, USA Today published an editorial by Dick Armey, who is now "chairman of Citizens for a Sound Economy, a group dedicated to lower taxes", entitled Simplify Tax System. The editorial makes many good points, although it omits some important facts. The tax code is absurdly complex, and gets worse every year. The alternative minimum tax (AMT) was not intended to apply to the middle class, and it should be adjusted for inflation. Reforms should be implemented to reduce tax shelters which protect some of the extremely wealthy from paying a fair share of taxes. Increasing the powers of the IRS may raise more money, but there is a definite cost to law-abiding taxpayers likely to get swept up in new random audit programs.

At the same time, while Armey asserts that the wealthiest 1% of the country pays a third of federal income taxes, he neglects to mention that they also control approximately forty percent of the nation's wealth, and that as the middle class has seen the real dollar value of their wages decline the wealthiest of the wealthy have seen substantial real dollar increases in their income and assets. It is not per se unreasonable that the population that owns more than a third of the nation should pay a third of the nation's income taxes.

Also, while Armey laments the AMT, he subsequently argues that the tax system should be made "flatter". While nominally this "flattening" of the tax rate would be to ensure that wealthy tax dodgers pay some taxes - the goal the AMT was originally created to achieve - Armey neglects to mention that the AMT has the very effect he supposedly desires. It creates a "flatter" tax system to help reduce the effect of tax loopholes otherwise expolited by the wealthy.

So what does Dick Armey mean when he concludes that "the federal government should stop hounding honest taxpayers and instead replace the tax code with a system that is flat, fair and simple"? Does he mean that a flat tax is automatically more fair than a progressive tax system? Obviously, a theoretical tax code that is customized to the specific circumstances of each individual tax payer, while absurdly complex, could be far more fair than a flat tax. Does he mean that a simple tax system is always more fair than a complex system? While obviously a flat tax is simple, and may reflexively seem more "fair" than having higher marginal tax rates for the wealthy, most "flat tax" proposals are unabashed efforts to shift a greater tax burden onto the poor and middle class.

Given the concern Armey expresses about the fact that the middle class is being affected by the AMT, his own comments suggest that he doesn't want a flatter tax system unless it places an additional burden on the poor. When the CME proposes "a simple flat tax of one low rate with no deductions or special interest loopholes" - that is, the elimination of those tax benefits which most affect the middle class (deductions for dependents, deductions of mortgage interest), is it truly being sincere that it wants a fairer system for everyone? They propose a 17% flat tax - who is going to make up for the gargantuan 50% tax cut they propose for the wealthiest of the wealthy, whether through higher federal taxes, higher state taxes, or direct payment through services government can no longer afford to offer? Quite obviously, the middle class.


Saturday, October 25, 2003

Bitter Lemons

Looking for an unbiased source on the Israel-Palestine conflict? Good luck. Most sources that claim to be unbiased are hopelessly biased. Most sources that strive for actual balance come under relentless attack, often from both sides, with demands that they be more sympathetic to one side or the other, or complaints that their depiction of one side's suffering wasn't sufficiently balanced by an account of the other side's suffering. This pressure has, in my opinion, resulted in some excessively cautious and ineffective reporting in the west. If you want to find out what is actually going on in Israel and the occupied territories, you must often turn to Israeli sources such as Ha'aretz, which is willing to publish perspectives that the western media seems afraid to touch. (Still, as Israeli peace activist Uri Avery recently pointed out, Ha'aretz often comes close to mirroring the positions of IDF spokespersons, when it comes to the facts of the conflict.)

I can, however, suggest a source that tries something a bit different. Rather than trying to present a balanced image, and coming under attack from both sides for anything that can be construed or misconstrued as "bias", this source presents essays from a variety of perspectives. The essays are available by email subscription, and the weekly emails include two editorials from an Israeli perspective and two from a Palestinian perspective. And yes, it is possible to read through all four and disagree with every major point raised in every editorial - this week's efforts by each side to claim "moral superiority" perhaps being a case in point. This source provides a valuable means by which to obtain all points of view - and if you never listen to positions with which you disagree, how can you test the validity and reasonableness of your own beliefs?

The source is bitterlemons. Also available, bitterlemons-international, which provides multiple international perspectives on the various conflicts in the Middle East.


Pollution and Overpopulation

An editorial in today's London Guardian, The planet's polluters should be put in the dock, laments pressure on the world's environment from callous corporations and an exploding population in the developing world. ("The UN projects global population to rise to 9.3 billion by 2050, by which time almost 90% of the world's people would live in developing countries.") While the article's suggestsions go beyond merely proposing a new international court to prosecute environmental offenders, I think the author's press for criminalization comes from the expectation that nations will not implement the legal and regulatory reforms he sees as necessary to reign in some of the worst corporate practices.

Left unmentioned is the fact that, no matter how many new regulations or criminal penalties are imposed on corporations, no corporate reform is likely to affect population growth. With much of the population growth likely to occur in nations which already have grave difficulty providing sufficient food and potable water to their present populations, this population growth could leave us facing environmental, political, and probably military pressures that we have only just started to acknowledge.


Friday, October 24, 2003

Going Nuclear Over Iran

If you have been following the news lately, it is hard to miss the consternation arising from Iran's nuclear program - what most reasonably believe to be a nuclear weapons program. Some argue that it is hypocritical for the U.S., which has a gargantuan nuclear arsenal and has expressed strong desire to develop new forms of tactical nuclear weapons, to be criticizing Iran (or any other nation) for attempting to develop nuclear weapons. But, even conceding an element of hypocrisy, the fact remains that nations in the developing world are more likely to use nuclear weapons if they have them and, with their less stable governments, pose the risk that even a responsible government will lose control of its nuclear arsenal.

When the Bush Administration announced its policy of preventive warfare, I speculated that the policy might result in what I call BIRP (Bush-Inspired Rapid Proliferation). Rather than intimidating nations into abandoning "WMD" programs, my assumption was that they would instead accelerate their development. Granted, nations like North Korea and Iran were developing nuclear weapons prior to the Bush Administration's pronouncement, but I think the threat of "preventive war" likely resulted in the acceleration of those programs while diminishing the probability of successful diplomatic efforts to terminate those weapons programs. I am not sure to what extent the past two years have proved me right, but they certainly haven't proved me wrong.

Yesterday's New York Times included an editorial, The Mullahs and the Bomb, which states what I believe to be obvious - Iran may make all sorts of promises and representations about its nuclear program, but it can't be trusted either to tell the truth or to keep any promise to terminate its nuclear program. The editorial suggests that the West should impose economic pressure on Iran to encourage it to abandon its program, but I am not sure that such pressure would work. Granted, it is fear of economic sanction which has led Iran to "cooperate" with the International Atomic Energy Agency, but if Iran were facing economic sanctions despite making those concessions it might have simply chosen to miss the deadline. If London's Guardian is an indication of European sentiment, their editorial, Iran has made its promises. Now the west must, too, argues that it is through expanded economic interaction that we can resolve Iran's nuclear aspirations.

It is interesting to contrast the Guardian's editorial with today's piece in the Washington Post, Iran's European Bargain, which suggests that France and Germany are "gloating" over a successful defeat of the Bush Administration's hard-line stance toward Iran. (Is anybody else tired of media potshots at "old Europe"?) I will grant the Post this: I agree with their ultimate conclusion that Europe, the United States, and Russia should work together to achieve verifiable action by Iran. I just don't think the constant second-guessing of Europe's motives is helpful - after all, even when the observation is true, no small part of Europe's presently cautious and sometimes resentful attitude toward the United States (and, for that matter, the rest of the world's similar attitudes) results directly from inept U.S. diplomacy.

While Iran, which is high on the Bush Administration's list for "preventive" intervention, probably does fear military consequence, it is no doubt aware that the U.S. military is in no position to simultaneously occupy both Iraq and Iran. I fully expect it to exploit that fact, and to attempt to complete its nuclear weapons program under the noses of the IAEA inspectors, such that it can be relatively certain of deterring any future U.S. invasion. It isn't, after all, difficult to comprehend why Iraq, a caged beast, was targeted for attack, while North Korea, with perhaps the most reprehensible government on the planet and which poses a clear and present military threat to its neighbors, gets diplomacy. At the same time, the loss of life that would result from a war with North Korea would likely be appalling - a military option remains, but the probable consequence would include hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths as well as military casualties at a level which would likely shock the American public.

As with so many things in life, and particularly in issues of international conflict, there are no easy answers. Sorry if I rambled - obviously, I should be asleep right now.


Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Ann Anger and Ed Coulter

This isn't a judgment - it is just an observation. A friend of mine recently pointed out to me that "Ann Coulter is Ed Anger". At that time, I am not embarrassed to say, I was not aware that Ed Anger is a "columnist" for the Weekly World News. In case you have not heard of her, Ann Coulter is a right-wing columnist, best known for being a skinny blonde, and secondarily known for her shrill accusations that everybody who disagrees with her is guilty of treason. Having now reviewed a number of Ed Anger columns, and a number of Ann Coulter columns, I have to say that my friend had a valid point.

There are some very interesting stylistic similarities between Ed and Ann. Both like to commence their editorial pieces with scorching invective which, if recited in an elementary school setting, would ring of precocious immaturity. That is, one would not expect a child so immature to have their vocabulary, but otherwise.... Well, judge for yourself.

Ed Anger rants:
These yahoos think we're the bad guys and that the real problem in the world today is "American imperialism" -- not that nutcase Saddam having enough anthrax and nerve gas to wipe out the human race 10 times over.

Ann Coulter rants:
In the wake of Dean's success, the entire Democratic Dream Team is beginning to sound like Dr. Demento. On the basis of their recent pronouncements, the position of the Democratic Party seems to be that Saddam Hussein did not hit us on 9/11, but Halliburton did.

Ed Anger rants:
We're the most powerful nation on Earth and we ought to act like it, by jiminy. I say, let's shove peace down the throats of these foreign rascals -- no matter how many people we have to kill to do it. ... Once we have the whole Earth speaking one language everyone can understand, united under America's thumb, we'll finally have world peace.

Ann Coulter rants:
We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.

Ed Anger rants:
Sen. Hillary Clinton -- Old Thunder Thighs' only "qualification" for office is that she looked the other way while Bill played hide- the-cigar with some porky intern..

Ann Coulter rants:
According to an ABC poll, 48 percent of Americans have an unfavorable impression of Hillary, 53 percent of Americans don't want Hillary to ever run for president, and 7 percent of Americans have been date-raped by Bill Clinton.

Now let's look at the structure of their work. Ed Anger likes to use numbered lists, e.g., Let's Recall These Liberals Too!. Ann Coulter likes to write similar things, but using bulleted lists, e.g., I Guess You're Right: There Is No Liberal Media Bias. A distinction without a difference? And obviously, both like to take potshots at "liberals", without being particularly clear on what a "liberal" is (beyond somebody who disagrees with them).

One small point of difference may be that Ann Coulter will occasionally interrupt her invective with a complaint that "liberals" engage in name-calling. I haven't seen that Ed Anger has ever been that hypocritical. Oh yes - and Ed Anger is a joke. That is a difference, right?


But All My Friends Are Doing It....

I have to admit that I have more than a bit of skepticism about "blogging". From what I have read, while it is popular for people to write blogs, very few people read blogs. That is, beyond a few well-known blogs, and a few which develop a small clique of followers, most of what bloggers write is really for their own benefit. A public diary with the disadvantage, as it were, that most people seem more interested in reading private diaries than public ruminations.

Still, I have a lot of opinions, and at times I probably bore my friends. So even if nobody reads what I have to say here, at least I'll be sparing them some of what they have historically endured. And if you are here of your own accord, reading what I have to say, well... you assume all risk.

In case you're wondering, I'm one of those people who see the world and the myriad issues we face as being more than "black and white" or "good and evil". If you have a problem with that (what I might deem a problem with thinking), I am sure you can find a different blog to read.