Friday, August 11, 2006

Leaving on a jetplane

On the basis that I am probably not going to be in a position to reasonably keep things up (ooh-er) here with a high enough volume of posts to keep it interesting, I will from now on be a wholly owned subsidiary of Professor Mark Grimsley of Ohio State University and can be found at Blog Them Out Of The Stone Age.

The site will stay up for future reference, but otherwise follow the link.


Friday, July 28, 2006

She was too old for Yentl...

James Joyner notes that there has been yet another case of a gay military Arabist being discharged from service.

Now, it's unlikely that we are going to lose the war on the basis of 55 discharged gay linguists, but it's pretty hard to argue with Joyner when he notes that:

Whatever one’s thoughts on the suitability of homosexuals for infantry duty, it’s rather difficult to fathom the argument for tossing out a linguist–let alone a critical Arab linguist–on the basis of finding out he’s gay via anonymous emails.

It’s said there are no atheists in foxholes; there probably aren’t a lot of translators there, either. Further, it’s rather clear his fellow All-American paratroops had no clue he was gay; it’s unlikely, therefore, that he was harming the esprit de corps. Conversely, the potential loss of life because there’s nobody around to translate in a critical situation could be quite bad for morale.

Well, quite. The story is not made any less whimsical by this delightful footnote:

On December 2, investigators formally interviewed Copas and asked if he understood the military's policy on homosexuals, if he had any close acquaintances who were gay, and if he was involved in community theater.


Excuse me, are we a little teapot?

Of course, it's a much kinder, gentler military these days. It wasn't all that long ago that there was a brouhaha when, following vague watercooler rumours that an (married) NCO was not as other NCOs, military investigators subjected his wife to a series of interviews in which the questions included, but were not limited to, "Does he ever ask to fuck you in the ass?"

What a delightful window dressing.

Just on a final note, it seems to me that the worst bit is this:

"The director brought everyone into the hallway and told us about this e-mail they had just received and blatantly asked, 'Which one of you are gay?"' Copas said.

As far as I can tell this came before any of the interviewing or whatnot. By acting this way it strikes me that the senior officers made it completely impossible for it to be kept under wraps. Had they played it somewhat more softly softly catchee monkey, it seems that it might have been that his mates need never have known and things could have ticked over more or less as usual - especially given that the chap involved had apparently gone to great lengths to keep his sexuality and his military service hermetically sealed from each other. That said, it may, of course, be that this was precisely the result the officers involved wanted.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Dangleberry Shebang

So, anyway, can the Israelis win? Well, I'd say that they can though it's a hypothetical that requires a large number of things to happen and quite a few not to happen.

If, by their attacks, the Israelis can focus enough foreign attention on the Lebanon to result in a genuine peace enforcement force to be deployed to Lebanon with a mandate to empower the current Lebanese government and block attacks against Israel, then things might just turn outl... well I won't say well, but at least not disastrously.

I say this as somebody who has very, very little confidence in the UN. The point is that I just don't see a better solution.

The problems are many.

First off, the buffer zone currently being proposed is at least 30 miles too shallow to put Israeli residential areas out of range of Hizballah rocketry (though it might make them have to launch their ordnance from less friendly parts of the country).

Second, I'm not sure who would make up this force. The US is almost certainly not trusted enough. The UK doesn't have the manpower. The French might take a role but that isn't enough. Additionally, although the Israeli notion of a NATO force is attractive, I don't know whether such a force would be broad-based enough to not cause serious problems with the Lebanese. Ideally it should include Muslin countries, but then the trust factor flips and questions would no doubt arise over their willingness to move to disarm Hizballah terrorists to the benefit of Israel.

Third, I still don't know whether or not even a muscular UN force (assuming that isn't a contradiction in terms) will be accepted in Lebanon to a degree that will prevent the place splintering.

So there are a load of ifs. But it strikes me as the biggest hope.

Boom Bang-a-Bang

Another big news story of the day is the growing brouhaha over the deaths of UN observers.

The received wisdom has rapidly become - as it tends to in these situations - that the Israelis blasted the UN people on purpose. I have to say that even allowing for the calls for them to stop bombarding, I tend toward the cock-up theory rather than conspiracy. It seems to me that the only people with anything to lose from the deaths of UN personnel on Lebanese soil are the Israelis.

Michael Totten

They (I say they because until recently there have been people filling in for him) have been blogging up an absolute storm at Michael Totten's site. Totten and his friends are cut from the "muscular liberal" mold, broadly pro-Israeli and generally strong boosters for democratic transformation. So when they think things are going badly wrong, their views deserve to be taken with a fair amount of weight.* Plus, he's actually, you know, been in the Lebanon, which helps.

An admittedly fairly lengthy sample:

I spent a total of seven months in Lebanon recently, and I never could quite figure out what prevented the country from flying apart into pieces. It barely held together like unstable chemicals in a nitro glycerin vat. The slightest ripple sent Lebanese scattering from the streets and into their homes. They were far more twitchy than I, in part (I think) because they understood better than I just how precarious their civilized anarchy was. Their country needed several more years of careful nurturing during peace time to fully recover from its status as a carved up failed state.

By bombing all of Lebanon rather than merely the concentrated Hezbollah strongholds, Israel is putting extraordinary pressure on Lebanese society at points of extreme vulnerability. The delicate post-war democratic culture has been brutally replaced, overnight, with a culture of rage and terror and war. Lebanon isn't Gaza, but nor is it Denmark.

Lebanese are temporarily more united than ever. No one is running off to join Hezbollah, but tensions are being smoothed over for now while everyone feels they are under attack by the same enemy. Most Lebanese who had warm feelings for Israel -- and there were more of these than you can possibly imagine -- no longer do.

This will not last.

My sources and friends in Beirut tell me most Lebanese are going easy on Hezbollah as much as they can while the bombs are still falling. But a terrible reckoning awaits them once this is over.


Israeli partisans may think this is terrific. The Lebanese may take care of Hezbollah at last! But democratic Lebanon cannot win a war against Hezbollah, not even after Hezbollah is weakened by IAF raids. Hezbollah is the most effective Arab fighting force in the world, and the Lebanese army is the weakest and most divided. The Israelis beat three Arab armies in six days in 1967, but a decade was not enough for the IDF to take down Hezbollah.

The majority of Lebanon’s people were wise and civilized enough to take the gun out of politics after the fifteen year war. Lebanon was the only Arab country to do this, the only Arab country that preferred dialogue, elections, compromise, and debate to the rule of the boot and the rifle. But Hezbollah remained outside that mainstream consensus and did everything it could, with backing from the Syrian Baath and the Iranian Jihad, to strangle Lebanon’s democracy in its cradle.

Disarming Hezbollah through persuasion and consensus was not possible in the first year of Lebanon’s independence. Disarming Hezbollah by force wasn’t possible either. The Lebanese people have been called irresponsible and cowardly by some of their friends in America for refusing to resume the civil war. Unlike Hezbollah, though, most Lebanese know better than to start unwinnable wars. This is wisdom, not cowardice, and it's sadly rare in the Arab world now. They are being punished entirely too much for what they have done and for what they can't do.

Israel and Lebanon (especially Lebanon) will continue to burn as long as Hezbollah exists as a terror miltia freed from the leash of the state. The punishment for taking on Hezbollah is war. The punishment for not taking on Hezbollah is war. Lebanese were doomed to suffer war no matter what. Their liberal democratic project could not withstand the threat from within and the assaults from the east, and it could not stave off another assault from the south. War, as it turned out, was inevitable even if the actual shape of it wasn’t. Peace was not in the cards for Lebanon. Its democracy turned out to be neither a strength nor a weakness. It was irrelevant.

Holding up as a democracy in a dictatorial region isn’t easy. Chalk this up as yet another thing Israel and Lebanon have in common with each other that they don’t have in common with anyone else in the Middle East -- except, perhaps, for the Kurds in Northern Iraq. Unlike Israeli democracy, though, Lebanese democracy may not have the strength to keep breathing. Already some right-wing American "realists" are suggesting Syria return its forces to Lebanon. (Bashar Assad may be as much a foreign policy genius as his late father.) The March 14 Movement, the Cedar Revolution, may be too weak to survive until the region as a whole is transformed. If the Lebanese, the Americans, and the Israelis are not wise in the coming days, weeks, and months it could die the same death as the Prague Spring in the late 1960s, crushed under the treads of Soviet tanks and smothered until the day the world around it had changed.

Go and have a read.

*I note, just in passing, that as far as I can tell Totten has largely ceased to be quoted by swathes of the internet commentariat in the wake of the Lebanon situation.


An example. A quick search of Roger Simon's site shows that until the end of May this year, he used to refer to Michael Totten's postings perhaps an average (rough guess) of once a week. Since the current crisis started - bear in mind that Lebanese issues are very much Totten's are of specialisation and where his stuff should carry MOST weight - Roger hasn't referenced him once.

Coincidence? Maybe.

Quotation of the Day

"The death penalty? I'm all over the map. I'm not anti it, but I'm anti the wrong guy being executed. And I do ask the question, 'When was the last time we executed a rich guy?' If I'm governor, there won't be anybody executed - except for the few that really need to die."

- Kinky Friedman

Bombing to Lose

One of the problems faced by the Israelis has undoubtedly been the (understandable) reliance upon air power. If the effort is truly to destroy Hizballah, then an airpower driven effort is surely doomed to fail and I can think of no happy precedents to convince me otherwise. Even if the aim is rather less than this, it still represents an extremely high-risk/low-payoff way of going about things.

In the event of an extended bombing campaign against what is to all intents and purposes an insurgent group, the Israelis are going to rapidly find themselves running out of viable targets. This leaves three main options:

  1. Call a halt
  2. Broaden the target menu and rules of engagement
  3. Launch a land invasion

If the first option is taken, it begs the question - what was the point in the first place? At the tactical/operational level the Hizb will be back to full strength in a very short period of time. Stockpiles can be replenished. There is a large manpower pool. The Israelis will have inflicted a temporary inconvenience, quite possibly (though not certainly) at the cost of destroying the Lebanon. It's very hard to spin this as other than a strategic defeat.

The second option will lead inevitably to higher civilian casualties, greater outside condemnation and an even greater chance of internal Lebanese collapse, with no matching increased likelihood of strategic success.

Option three is fantastically risky to the point of being nuts. Of course, you can listen to the funny little people in sections of the commentariat (you know who they are) who have convinced themselves, apparently with the help of the usual unnamed "sources", that the Lebanese people will be just cock-a-hoop at a semi-permenant Israeli presence in their country. You are, of course, fully entitled to take the view that Munich 1938 has more to tell us about the current situation than... oh, I dunno... the Lebanon 1982-2000. But I wouldn't commend it. What will be guarenteed is mounting Israeli and civilian casualties and the real risk that Hizballah will be energised and the Anglo-American position in Iraq further compromised.

As for the Cedar Revolution - forget about it. Although it suits us to focus on the pretty, young pro-Western, broadly favourable to the Israelis, photogenic type people who seemed at the forefront of the action, like most successful revolutions the Cedar Revolution represents a broad coalition of interests. Let's forget for a moment the fact that the bombing campaign has alienated many of the previously pro-Israeli young liberals. Another, perhaps more important, grouping are those Lebanese who are simply fed up of communalism and outsider interference. These nationalists, perhaps best exemplified by General Michel Aoun, may be anti-Syrian but that does not make them pro-Israeli. The idea that they are going to welcome the Israelis using their country as a field for their own battles, or will buy into US rhetoric about Middle Eastern transformation, is naive to the point of criminal foolhardiness.

But in order to "win" in the Lebanon, the Israelis will have to find coalition partners from within the Lebanese population. For reasons noted above, they are likely to find this harder in 2006 than they did in 1982. However, even if they can the implications hardly bear thinking about. Effectively to further their purposes they will have to stoke, encourage and cement precisely the sort of inter-communal, inter-confessional tension that so many people, both in the West and among the Lebanese population, have been working so hard to minimalise.

Now, it's become abundantly apparent - and this is something I'll try to address at a later time - that sections of the US commentariat think this is a price that it would be just peachy to pay.

I non-respectfully disagree.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Blood pressure roller-coaster

So what is it with art gallery websites that feature various bits of artwork and then, instead of providing you with information on how much it costs, provide a little note indicating that they will provide the price on application?

We will get it, by hook or by crook...

It seems to me that there are two possibilies here. The first is that they like people to email because it allows them to calculate how much of a gullible schmuck the potential buyer is ("In case you are wondering, I'm not some sort of easy mark...") and adjust the price accordingly.

The other, more likely option, it seems to me, is that it's simply a snob thing. In which case they might as well be upfront and just say "If you need to know how much it costs before buying, you can't afford it".

In fact why not go hog wild and have an introductory flash animation going "Please, no riff-raff"? Bastards.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Anyway, to cut a long story short...

Well, I had planned on putting up a series of posts culminating in my* view on what the only potentially workable, albeit drastically imperfect, solution might be.

Too late...

However, it seems that events have overtaken this and the Israelis have come to this realisation themselves anyway.

Always assuming that this represents something not a million miles away from the ultimate endgame, one wonders whether the Israelis always had this in mind but were of the view that in order for the international community to actually get off their backsides and come up with an enforcement regime with teeth it was a necessity for stuff to explode. Perceptive insight or NRO Corner-style wacky horsecrap? God knows.

*deeply unoriginal

Never rub another man's rhubarb...

First and foremost it is important to note that the Israelis have a legitimate grievance.

  • They pulled out of the Lebanon, a fact accepted by the UN
  • In exchange - also as mandated by the UN - Hizballah was meant to be disarmed
  • For whatever reason, this did not happen
  • A UN force was inserted into the border region in order to observe what was going on and ensure that the terms of the agreement were upheld
  • They were not upheld and the UN troops proved ineffective at doing anything to constrain the Hizb
  • For several years the "international community", instantaneously hysterical over Israeli action, managed to raise scarcely a murmer over the ongoing activity of Hizballah against Israelis.

So the Israelis have a right to be pissed off. They have a right to take some sort of action - including within the military sphere. In addition, when they don't take seriously the urgings of international opinion on this issue, it should come as no great surprise.

However, even taking all this into account there is much with which to be concerned. I'll try to put down a few things of note in the not distant future, but it seemed worthwhile to set out my stall as regards who I consider the "good guys" in all this. Hopefully that might lend some extra weight when I make arguments that are seemingly extremely critical of said good guys.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Herbie Goes Bananas. And by Herbie I mean Alan Dershowitz

I know a lot of people, notably Le Professeur, who think that Alan Dershowitz's never ending one man argument about torture is pretty appalling and should not be given house space. I'm not one of them. Not that I agree with him - I don't. However, I think he makes a provocative and not entirely bonkers argument and that it deserves to be taken seriously.

This article, however, not only demonstrates a woeful lack of understanding of how things like counterinsurgency, how can I put this, work, but is also wrong, bonkers and just plain nasty. In fairness, there is the germ of a decent argument in it somewhere, albeit to a lesser degree than with the torture issue. Once he gets to the specifics though, he's all over the place:

Turning specifically to the current fighting between Israel and Hezbollah and Hamas, the line between Israeli soldiers and civilians is relatively clear. Hezbollah missiles and Hamas rockets target and hit Israeli restaurants, apartment buildings and schools. They are loaded with anti-personnel ball-bearings designed specifically to maximize civilian casualties.

Hezbollah and Hamas militants, on the other hand, are difficult to distinguish from those "civilians" who recruit, finance, harbor and facilitate their terrorism. Nor can women and children always be counted as civilians, as some organizations do. Terrorists increasingly use women and teenagers to play important roles in their attacks.

The Israeli army has given well-publicized notice to civilians to leave those areas of southern Lebanon that have been turned into war zones. Those who voluntarily remain behind have become complicit. Some — those who cannot leave on their own — should be counted among the innocent victims.

Define "cannot". Cos there's like a, y'know, a continuum. There's the lame and the halt. There's babes in arms. There's the chap off Jerry Springer where they have to cut the roof off his house in order for an industrial crane to airlift him to the cardiac unit.

Then there are a lot of people who will take the devil they know over the devil they don't. Especially when a) all their worldly posessions, their family and in many cases their only means of financial upkeep are contained within the four walls of their house, b) they have nowhere else to go and c) the pamphlets they get telling them to leave also say something along the lines of "By the way, you might not want to use the transport netowrk either because we reserve the right to blow seven shades of crap out of it". In this situation, the instinct of a lot of people is to sit tight, keep their fingers crossed and hope for the best.

Call it human nature at work. Call it thick as pigshit. But what it isn't is complicity in terrorism. Of any kind.

We saw it in Fallujah, where gormless coalition public affairs officials stood around and responded to complaints of civilian casualties and bits of the city being flattened by air power and gunnery by going "But we sent out leaflets telling the locals that they had 24 hours to leave the city".

We saw the same thing in New Orleans, where there was less danger in leaving, more likelihood that the infrastructure would exist to support you once you'd left and substantially less likelihood that, once you'd shoehorned the kids, granny and a biscuit tin full of cash into the station wagon, you'd take a Hellfire missile up the exhaust pipe while pulling out of the cul-de-sac.

It seems to me that it should not take a rocket scientist to see that this doesn't work. Now, does this make the Israelis as bad as the Hizb, who are deliberately out to kill women and kids? No, it doesn't. Have the Israelis sacrificed a degree of operational effectiveness in dropping the leaflets in the first place, thereby giving the bad guys advanced warning of what's likely to be happening when and where? Yes, they have. Does (non-voluntary) population relocation, carefully managed have a role in counterinsurgency? Historically it certainly has and, depending on context, it may well do again. But among sections of both Israeli and US opinion, dropping a few leaflets going "We suggest you leave because it's all going to kick off" seems to be seen as some sort of magic talisman that removes responsibility for any carnage that might ensue and furthermore provides moral sanction for deploying whatever intensity of firepower happens to be operationally and tactically expedient.

Which is dubious and worrying. Suggesting that those who don't heed the warnings somehow sacrifice a chunk of their civilian status is beyond worrying, it's appalling.


How long this will last I don't know, but I've been finding myself mulling over various aspects of the Lebanon situation and it strikes me that one of the best ways to organise my thoughts is via the medium of writing. So... I suppose this seems like a good way of doing it. It probably isn't, actually, as once something like this dies off for six months (largely due to a massive workload, decreased internet access and a lack of inspiration compounded with a decreased tolerance for ploughing through the news [which ain't great in this line of work...]) I don't know that you can really go back. But ho hum.

No guarentees as to quality, however. If I say anything over the next few days take it as an assessment of probabilities - nothing's definite!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Burnin' Down the House

Well, this isn't very good is it?

A prized collection of antiquarian books - including a rare edition of works by Sir Walter Scott and a complete collection of the writings of Rudyard Kipling - was destroyed.

Mr Linklater said the destruction of irreplaceable bound manuscripts of books by his father, Eric Linklater, was "a devastating loss".

Bloody buggery bollocks, as I seem to remember they used to say in Ab Fab.* Not a very good way to see in the new year.

Apropos of not a lot, I'm often interested by how little even quite important manuscripts sell for. Rick Gekoski estimates the handwritten manuscript of Lord of the Flies at the high end of a £50,000-250,000 estimate, were it to go to auction, which seems to me to be very little money. Well, it's an eye-bulging amount of money obviously. But were I, for example, a Captain of Industry or generic Bond Villain, it seems to me that I could happily spend that and then some and not come away feeling I'd been fleeced. The top carbon from the typescript of The Kraken Wakes was on sale not so long ago for a low four figure sum. Even given that it was the carbon, it doesn't seem like that much to me, if you've got the disposables. I think I'd prefer that to a plasma screen TV*. Of course I can't afford either, but that's not the point.

*Though that may have been part of a fevered dream, I'm not sure.
**Which is why I will die alone and unloved, possibly known by local youths as "The Scary Book Guy".

Snyder Rifle (urrrgh)

Jack Snyder's one of the good guys. Julian sitting in for Andrew Sullivan flags up the fact that he's got a new co-written book out the warns that when it comes to the old Democratic Peace theory, all may not be well in the garden of shag. The Cato event that's on next week may well be worth checking out if you have the time.

On a similar note, anyone who hasn't read Fareed Zakaria's "The Future of Freedom"... er... should read it.