Friday, December 31, 2004

Good Points, Badly Made...

Once again I find myself frustrated by a fairly sloppy accumulation of rhetoric, even though I find little to disagree with regarding the sentiment behind it. VDH can do much better than this. Given the political nature of the article I would normally forbear to comment (Hah! Right!), but given that so much of it focuses on the sins, real and imagined, of the political Left in the international arena, it seems to me to be worthy of a breakdown.

Taste the rising tide of bile...

VDH makes reasonable points on matters such as Kyoto, the tendency of the left to coddle unpleasant people as long as they are "anti-imperialist", the deafening silence of swathes of the Left when it comes to the matter of events such as the murder of Theo van Gogh and ludicrous naivete regarding the UN. But the methods by which he makes his argument are frankly beneath him in my view:

Quit idolizing Europe.

Good call.

It was a far larger arms merchant to Saddam than was the United States

This is a fact that deserves to be recognised more. The notion that the USA and Britain were Saddam's key armourers is too often the received wisdom, when in reality the leading suppliers of arms to Iraq were (in order) Russia, France and China with (in order) Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom trailing as distant runners up. That said, it would add transparency to VDH's argument is he acknowledged that a lot of the heavy metal purchased from Russia, France and China was bought with American money.

The American military, at great risk and cost, alone in the world saved Kosovars, Afghans, and Iraqis from tyranny.

Balls. Don't get me wrong, the US armed forces played the lead role in each of these operations and kudos to it. But speaking as a pro-American European I find the broad brush of this, even if it is admittedly a piece of rhetoric, offensive. In Bosnia the US took the lead diplomatically and enormous kudos goes to the various people in Washington - perhaps most notably Bob Dole - who licked the opposition into touch. In Kosovo the lead interventionist was not in Washington but in 10 Downing Street. The man in 10 Downing Street (for whom I have never voted and will not vote) was also an advocate of the deployment of ground forces - and was prepared to back up his rhetoric with the committment of combat units of the British Army - but was told to shut up by the White House because it was judged that the American public, rhetoric by some commentators regarding a willingness to selflessly sacrifice all for altruistic purposes aside, would not stand for losses in a war with no obvious strategic purpose in the cause of people about whom they knew little. The campaign was conducted largely by airpower and on this basis (and that of logistics - areas in which the Europeans were and are shamefuly deficient) the American armed forces took the lead and carried out the directions passed to them by their civilian leaders with enormous professionalism. But let's not get dewey eyed over this - the planning for the entire campaign was constructed on the foundation that even one American body bag would be a body bag too far. Hardly an example of the notion that the USA will "pay any price" in pursuit of misty eyed altruism disconnected from the national interest. As a result of this policy NATO was almost humiliated by a third rate tinpot dictatorship and a policy of ethnic cleansing was able to continue under the noses of those who were supposedly hell bent on stopping it. In Bosnia the USA has again taken the lead in terms of airpower and logistics (along with the priceless diplomatic clout outlined above) but the ground presence has almost always been predominantly European. While American commentators on the Right relish in poring over the (admittedly appalling) grotesque abdication of largely European UN forces of their committment to protect Bosnian Muslims seeking refuge in the so-called "safe zones", the vital work done by the Anglo-French Rapid Reaction Force (which engaged in aggressive and successful peace enforcement operations and went toe to to with Serb artillery emplacements - and which was, sad to relate, the brainchild of a certain Jacques Chirac) is frequently ignored completely (as is the fact that the USA was at this stage refusing to provide ground troops to police the safe zones themselves).

I think Afghanistan and Iraq represent recent enough history for me not to need to dwell on them at any great length - except to note in passing that a third of the front line ground troops in the Iraq War were British and to make the point that if Bush administration supporters are going to persist in wheeling out the rainbow coalition of nations who have supported and are supporting operations in Iraq they might at least have the decency to give them some f***ing credit rather than wheeling them out when it suits them and then pretending they don't exist when it doesn't.

Stop seeing socialists and anti-Americans as Democrats.

Coming from a country that produced Clem Attlee, Hugh Gaitskell and Ernie Bevin I fail to share VDH's assumption that socialism is either a definite evil (though I personally don't like it) or by definition anti-American and therefore don't suffer from the taste of rising bile when contemplating the notion of socialists in the Democratic Party (Oli, if you're reading this, I told you I didn't have a closed mind!!!). Broadly though, the point is well made that the Left is increasingly coddling the Far Left and that it should stop. However...

Firebrands like Al Sharpton and Michael Moore are the current leftist equivalents of 1950s right-wing extremists like the John Birchers.

Personally, I find it whimsical that VDH thinks he needs to go back to the 1950s to find a right wing equivalent of Al Sharpton and Michael Moore. I'd have thought that Jerry Fallwell and Pat Robertson fill that slot (ooh-er!) fairly nicely and they are altogether more recent... I can understand why VDH might not like to bring that up though.

Everyone's a bastard!

As I stated previously, it's not that I disagree with most of VDH's criticisms of sections of the Left. I just find the way he's gone about making the argument insufferable. The notion that the USA is not merely an altruistic entity but a uniquely altruistic entity is complete guff. Coalition troops are not in Iraq and Afghanistan today because the American public stood tall and in one clear voice demanded that the US should go on an epic international charity drive! None of this makes what America is doing perfidious (or at least not uniquely perfidious...) but let's get real folks! Some of the arguments that have been emerging recently are so self-referential it's getting to be the political equivalent of spending the afternoon checking out your own arse in the mirror.

Nice and Spicy

None of this means that I am in any way averse to the idea of doing nice things in the international sphere. I supported the Iraq War because as far as I was concerned it represented a happy convergence of self-interest and the possibility of actually doing something that might have good humanitarian consequences in the medium to long term (I may have been horribly wrong on both counts). But it would be a matter of epic intellectual dishonesty and personal delusion for me to sit here and claim that it's all about altruism. Show me somebody who claims he is prepared to spend a trillion dollars of tax payers' money and the lives of thousands of American servicemen in pursuit of an end goal that has a purely moral backdrop and exists in a strategic vacuum and I'll show you a liar. Now, you can argue that a successful grand strategy can be served by spreading democracy (or at least liberalism) and respect for human rights (or, if the notion of "human rights" makes you gag on your Lucky Charms, the rights of freeborn Englishmen), by various means including, from time to time, military force - and I might even agree with you. But that's strategy. Not altruism.

This post will be followed by another piece dealing specifically with the UN issue as raised by VDH and the role and nature of multilateralism.

New Years Reading

There are a couple of good pieces up by leading thinkers now at the Foreign Affairs Website. Anybody with a little time on their hands after so much drinking and merry-making over the past week or two could do worse than to check them out.

John Lewis Gaddis - Grand Strategy in the Second Term

Jim Dobbins - Iraq: Winning the Unwinnable War

Anbody who is not already aware of it might also like to check out Dobbins' edited volume on nation building, available from the RAND website - here.

Orange Smarties

I may as well express a small squeal of glee at the victory of the Ukrainian opposition. I think I probably express a general consensus in saying that this is pretty unequivocally a Good Thing. Nice to see some good news for once.

Of course, as well as being splendid news in and of itself, it comes with the added bonus that it will piss off all the right people.

Jonathan Steele is, of course, as predictable as the phases of the moon. How very unpleasant. Expect a similar portion of bile from John Laughland to appear in the same publication at some point in the next few days.

Of course, the man of the match regarding the Ukraine situation also writes for the Guardian. But he takes a rather different view to the likes of Jonathan Steele. Thank God for some intellectual honesty.

Everybody's Happy Nowadays...

According to Sidney Blumenthal, the purge of the Bush 41 Old Guard among the Bush administration continues.

Don't stop me now, I'm having such a good time, I'm having a ball...

I've been asked a couple of times over the past few months what influence I reckon Father Bush and his people have over the White House. A lot of people seem to think it's quite a bit. My typical response is that I don't think they have much and I'd like them to have a lot more. Well, at least this serves to validate the main plank of my hypothesis...

I rather like Brent Scowcroft and it's a pity he's apparently getting canned. Probably the most noteworthy factor here is the fact that Condoleezza Rice seems to have been powerless or unwilling to stop his eviction. Given that Rice learned pretty much everything she knows at Scowcroft's feet and that Scowcroft is meant to be some sort of father figure to her, one might think she'd have come out shooting on this one. One can only assume that a) she doesn't have as much class as I thought she might or b) she simply can't hit hard enough. I suspect it's the latter. Certainly her performance during President Bush's first term has been widely perceived as demonstrating an inability to butt heads and get her act together when it came to inter-agency cat fights. Oh well, we'll see.

Robert Blackwill's departure is old news, of course. In many ways a shame - by reputation (at least from what I've heard) he was a solid operator with a better than average grasp of the intelligence process. Flawed personality though - and you can't really ignore smacking a female employee about.

Baby, love really hurts without you...

The real pisser here is the apparent rift with James Baker, whose judgement I'd trust over... well pretty much anybody, frankly. His service under both Reagan and Bush 41 was exemplary (though there are numerous areas where I'd disagree with him). He's a cynic par excellence of course - far more cynical than me... - but in spite of the fact that I go all gooey more readily than he does, I'd trust a competant and ruthless cynic more than an incompetant idealist any day of the week. I'm not sure that the entirety of President Bush's team combined is worth one James Baker. If Baker is spitting blood there's probably something wrong somewhere.

Of course, all this hinges on Sidney Blumenthal being a reliable and straight-shooting source. And from what I can tell Sidney Blumenthal is as slippery as a buttered skink. Most of it has a ring of plausibility though.

Happy New Year?

Well. It's that time again. Another year another opportunity to wait around until midnight and then hover awkwardly in the background nursing a drink and examining the CD collection while friends embrace and schmooze with their loved ones. Marking the inevitable passage of time, you can't beat it.

Meanwhile, it seems that a leading Indonesian diplomat is claiming that Indonesia's death toll my be as high as 400,000. I hope that this report is erroneous. If not, let us hope that the year has not begun as it intends to go on.

Frankly, barring positive developments on the Israel-Palestine front regarding new Palestinain leadership, I see little cause for optimism.

Everybody get wrecked!

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Mandelbaum! Mandelbaum!

No, not Izzy... I just finished reading Michael Mandelbaum's The Meaning of Sports: Why Americans Watch Baseball, Football, and Basketball and What They See When They Do and was pleasantly surprised. As a sports fan, particularly baseball, and as someone interested in the literature of "strategic culture," this title interested me. You see Mandelbaum is also a bit of a sports nut as well as a leading American analyst of foreign affairs. In this book, Mandelbaum surveys baseball, football, and basketball and compares them with American tendencies from the agrarian, industrial, and information ages. It reads a tad "pop sociology" in places, but all-in-all I thought he offered some useful insights.

I am working on something now that will illustrate American geostrategic culture using some sports analogies. When I complete that, I'll come back and lay out some more details. In the meantime, if you enjoy sports and foreign policy, Mandelbaum's book is time well spent.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Mouldy Persian Rug

Ross, one of the young upstarts holding the fort at Andrew Sullivan's site (I predict it's going to end in some sort of The Shining scenario...) takes issue with the AEI's Michael Ledeen on a number of fronts, most recently including this piece over at the National Review Corner.

I give Ledeen points for optimism, but I'd be more convinced that "a bit of guidance in the methods of non-violent resistance, a bit of communications gear, and many words of encouragement" will bring down the mullahs in Iran if there were a single example of a successful democratic revolution anywhere in the Arab world that Ledeen could cite. I'd be more convinced of the aptness of the Ukrainian parallel if there was any similarity at all between a struggling parliamentary democracy like Ukraine and a five-decades old tyranny like North Korea. And I'd be more convinced of the reality of "revolutionary forces" that we "can't always see" because they're inside "oppressive countries" if I hadn't spent months listening to, and at times believing, the same argument about WMDs. (Sometimes we can't see them because they aren't there, it turns out.)

Finally, and not to get too old-fashioned-realist here, but . . . the Iranians are not "our people." Neither are the Syrians, the Saudis, the Chinese, or the North Koreans. And they do not become "our people" just by believing in democracy, or even by establishing democratic self-government. An Iranian democracy would be a good thing in countless ways -- but it would also probably be just as hell-bent as the current regime on acquiring nuclear weapons, flexing its muscles in Iraq, and perhaps even sponsoring anti-Israeli terrorism. As such, it would be our strategic rival, not our brother nation, even were its constitution copied word-for-word from ours.

Ironically, in terms of tone I think the NRO Corner post was one of the better things Ledeen has produced. It was relatively measured and obviously quite heartfelt. However, I think Ross raises a string of important points.

Lock of the Month

First of all, the groupthink on this issue is that in Iran the alternative political narrative to wacky-funster Mullahocracy is liberal democracy. One would hope that this is indeed the case. However, it is every bit as possible that the alternative is, in fact, Persian Nationalism. This is almost certainly preferable to the status quo in Tehran, but it ain't necessarily a cast iron guarentee that a newly free Iran is going to march in lock-step with the USA. I am also deeply, deeply sceptical that a democratic Iran would abandon the quest for nuclear weapons, any more than a democratic China would suddenly become conciliatory towards Taiwan - in each case the government involved is actually employing a popular nationalist initiative in order to lend a veneer of legitimacy to what is to all intents and purposes an illegitimate regime. It also has to be said that meddling in the affairs of its Arab neighbours has always been a characteristic of Iranian policy, regardless of the kidney of the government in power. I see little reason to believe that a strongly nationalist, secular regime in Tehran would be any different. In his excellent book Bad Elements, Ian Buruma discusses various matters with Chinese dissidents, many of whom are now based in the West (including leaders of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations). These are instructive - virtually to a man, liberal democratic Chinese dissidents backed the Chinese regime passionately and angrily over both Taiwan and the bombing of the Chinese embassy during the Kosovo conflict. In the case of Iran, where badly handled diplomatic interventions by America have coincided with dips in support for reformists and a rise in support for the reactionaries who run the show, we may be seeing a similar phenomenon in action.

Of course, many of the most strident boosters of the notion of a "democratic revolution" (the idea of revolutions tends to instinctively cause any conservative's gag reflex to kick in) are lapsed Marxists. While I don't doubt the good intentions of (most) of the people in this camp, I do think there's a danger of making the same mistake the Russian communists made during the Great War - namely to tie ourselves to a modern day version of the assumption held dear by the Bolshies and Trots that "the workers" of one state would be more inclined to solidarity with "the workers" of another state than they would be to solidarity with the middle and aristocratic classes of their own countries. They were proven wrong on an epic scale. Only time will tell whether democrats will be inclined to solidarity with foreign democrats in preference to their own national interests and pride. But I'm sceptical.

Shoe-in of the Week

There is another issue about which I am somewhat wary. Most of the Western contacts with Iranian opposition movements seem to revolve around student groups operating out of the West. Michael Ledeen alleges extensive contacts within Iran itself but these friends of his are almost always anonymous and therefore pretty much impossible to either verify or discredit. This is understandable and unavoidable on a number of levels because presumably if they're all they're cracked up to be and he names them they'll end up locked in a basement somewhere with their goolies wired up to a car battery, but it's fairly unhelpful because Ledeen effectively has to be taken on trust. Or not. Given that there are alarming similarities between some of the stuff that's going on between well meaning activists and Iranian dissidents and the stuff that went on between well meaning activists (often the same people) and Iraqi opposition groups prior to the Iraq War and given that the promises, guarentees and info provided by the Iraqi opposition groups and backed up by their Western boosters turned out to range from misguided and unrealistic to, to put it mildly, complete and utter horseshit, trust is in rather short supply at this point.

All this said, I feel that good liberals within regimes such as Iran deserve our support. I am strongly of the view that a decade or two down the line, Britain's role in all this will be seen to have been insufficiently supportive of the aspirations of ordinary Iranians. More could be done and should be done - perhaps along the lines suggested by Mark Palmer (a man I consider to be not mad, though others whose opinions I respect highly disagree) in his Breaking the Real Axis of Evil (rubbish title, good book). However, it seems to me that after the experience of Iraq and given the situation as it stands it is simply not responsible to try to build a serious strategy around the presumption that the Iranians are going to suddenly turn into Canada. The similarities to the now thoroughly discredited tearoom fantasies that surrounded too much of the planning for Iraq (remember how Ahmed Chalabi was going to be an Iraqi version of Charles de Gaulle? Or how a democratic Iraq would suddenly be pro-Israeli?) are too apparent and the salesmen are largely the same people. Maybe it will prove a tragedy for the world and for the people of the Middle East that people like Michael Ledeen have more or less used up all their credit, but used it up they have (A recurring theme at Defense and the National Interest has been the idea that those Americans who most enthusiastically boost the idea of an American Empire paradoxically tend to be those Americans most unsuited to actually running one. Unfortunately, this arithmetic could increasingly be applied to some of the noisiest democracy-promoters).

Oh, Roger Simon has a rebuttal to the piece from Andrew Sullivan's site. The man's golden. Golden. Ceasar's wife. But wrong I fear.

UPDATE: There's a rebuttal to Roger Simon's rebuttal up now. Basically it says everything I've said in the above piece of writing - only in a significantly more lucid manner. Bugger.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Thinking Outside the Box, but Staying within the Circle

Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson contend in the current issue of The National Interest that the task of assisting the government with contemplating, conceptualizing, and creating a new grand strategy for the global war on terrorism is too important to be left to academics or think tanks. Their advice is to establish a new Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC; eg. RAND, the Institute for Defense Analyses, the CNA Corporation, etc.) or draw together individuals from preexisting FFRDCs to work on these issues.
This recommendation would certainly make things much easier from the vantage point of producing classified research and allowing more open access to policymakers, but something about it seems limiting to me. (Although this may perhaps be because I work for a think tank....) Instead, I think we need to foster more public and private partnerships utilizing federal research and private philanthropic dollars to build a cadre of educated and informed citizens across ideological lines to be able to work to think, write, and advise about the global war on terrorism whether it be in academia, think tanks, the military, civilian agencies, or non-governmental organizations. This would not preclude the establishment of an FFRDC, I'd just hate to see the government or policymakers self-limit themselves to particular channels of analysis.

Non-Anonymous Prescriptions

Michael Scheuer (the artist formerly known as Anonymous) has a piece worth reading in today's Washington Times. He starts off by praising the Bush Administration for not taking Pakistan's President Pervez Musharaff to task during the latter's recent visit to Washington, but then admonishes the Administration for relying too much upon surrogates, such as the Pakistanis, to achieve objectives for the Unites States. In particular:

So before Musharraf critics find their voices, it is worth recalling that America's dependence on Pakistan is part necessity and part Cold-War leftover. Necessity because of geography — Pakistan abuts Afghanistan — and leftover because we are asking Pakistan and many other countries to do our dirty work. The Cold War era was pre-eminently one in which America and the Soviet Union had others do their dirty work: We backed the Contras, Moscow backed the brothers Ortega; we backed the South Vietnamese, Moscow and Beijing backed the north; we supported Jonas Savimbi, the Afghan mujahedin and a collection of Cambodian groups, while Moscow backed their opponents. We committed money and political support, our surrogates contributed blood.

This arrangement suited the Cold War era because it keptnuclearswords sheathed. Today it is a recipe for disaster. The pressures and realities of the Cold War are gone, and with them the acceptedparametersin which armed conflict occurs. Cursed with an abject fear of losing the lives of U.S. soldiers, Washington since 1988 has continued to depend on others to do our dirty work. First, Iraqi Shias and U.N. sanctions were to defeat Saddam after we failed to finish the firstGulfwar (1991-2003); then the Saudis were going to capture bin Laden so we did not have to risk CIA officers (1998); and then Afghan warlords were going to capture bin Laden for us at Tora Bora (2001). Next, Hamid Karzai and the Northern Alliance were to win the war and install an Afghan democracy (2003-present); then Mr. Musharraf's Pakistan was going to capture bin Laden for us (2001-04); and, in the future, a rebuilt Iraqi army is to win the insurgency in Iraq (2003-?).

Simply put, the thinking that expects others to do our dirty — and very bloody — work should have died with the fall of the Berlin Wall. If America is to win its worldwide battle with Islamist insurgents and terrorists, it will have to do its own dirty work whenever it has a chance to do so, even at the cost of heavier human casualties than we have suffered to date. This is not to say we do not need allies, for we surely do. What we need, however, is a consistently commonsense perspective that sees that no two nations have identical national interests; that no country will ever do all we want; and that to survive we must act with U.S. military and CIA assets whenever a chance arises, even if supporting intelligence is not perfect. This modus operandi will take a steady application of moral courage at a level unseen in Washington for 15 years.

In weighing the foregoing, readers might ask themselves two questions: 1) How can it be that Pakistan's military has suffered far more casualties than U.S. forces in the war on bin Laden?; and 2) Whatever happened to the "Major 2004 Afghan Spring Offensive" that the Pentagon's multi-starred general-bureaucrats leaked news of to the media back in January 2004? At least one answer to each question is that our governing elites are still desperate to find others to do our dirty work.

This is an important discussion to be having. During the run-up to the 2004 Presidential Election here in the States much was made about the reliance upon proxies at Tora Bora. I have said before in print that the U.S. should rely more upon its own organic punitive strike capabilities, but a case such as Pakistan raises questions. For instance, is it better to use only U.S. means to achieve presumably, but not necessarily, better tactical/operational/strategic outcomes on the ground in Pakistan, but in doing so massively de-stabilize Musharaff's leadership in Peshawar? Or, is it better to have a partner who is willing to show political courage in the face of massive domestic opposition, but have to deal with sub-optimized tactical/operational/strategic performance as a tradeoff? When one factors in Pakistan's possession of nuclear weapons, the possibility of a major theatre war with New Delhi, and the fragility of Karzai's hold on the reigns of government in Kabul, my thinking tends towards favoring sub-optimized performance from a genuine partner.
The global war on terrorism ensures that there is, and will continue to be, plenty of "dirty work" to go around. Depending on U.S. strategic interests there will certainly be times when we must do the dirty work ourselves, other times when our interests dictate that we farm it out, and still other times where we divide the tasks between ourselves and others.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Black and Tan Fantasy

At the time of writing, it appears likely that the IRA was responsible for last week's £22 million bank raid - the biggest heist in British history.

Outside certain districts of Boston, it should come as no surprise that the Provos had their fingers in this pie. In the face of a (supposed) peaceful political settlement, the paramilitary terror wings of both sides of the conflict in Ulster have retrained and are now putting their skills to use in the less glamorous world of organised crime (though let's face it, they were doing that anyway). As Kevin Myers points out in today's Sunday Telegraph, however, we can't say that. Let not light shine upon magic!

Saturday, December 25, 2004

We're SWEATING wisdom for you people!

I'd just like to put out a big "Hoo-ah" to Mark for throwing off his mental block and laying down a deadly accurate creeping barrage of pithy insight on this of all days.

I hope his wife echoes my sentiments!

Right, I'm off to continue in my attempt to eat and drink myself to morbid obesity over the course of a single 24 hour period.

E Ticket Ride in Fantasyland

If you're going to go for a ride in fantasyland, you might as well go big.

Tom Ricks has a piece in the Washington Post today which I sort of like to think of as a Very Special Christmas Edition of "What Were You Morons Thinking?" In truth, there's not much new here. It's just another voice telling us what we've heard before:

"There was no Phase IV plan" for occupying Iraq after the combat phase, writes Maj. Isaiah Wilson III, who served as an official historian of the campaign and later as a war planner in Iraq. While a variety of government offices had considered the possible situations that would follow a U.S. victory, Wilson writes, no one produced an actual document laying out a strategy to consolidate the victory after major combat operations ended.
The difference, as Ricks notes is:

Similar criticisms have been made before, but until now they have not been stated so authoritatively and publicly by a military insider positioned to be familiar with top-secret planning. During the period in question, from April to June 2003, Wilson was a researcher for the Army's Operation Iraqi Freedom Study Group. Then, from July 2003 to March 2004, he was the chief war planner for the 101st Airborne Division, which was stationed in northern Iraq.
It is only a matter of time before some General makes a comment to the effect of, "Well, Major Wilson's paper is interesting, and it's a good effort by one of our brightest junior officers, but it reflects his youth and inexperience." What is interesting here is that Williams was the Chief Planner for the 101st. Presumably he knows what came in his plans shop from higher. When we start seeing rebuttals, it would do well to keep in mind that at least one other division had a similar experience:

3ID (M) transitioned into Phase IV SASO with no plan from higher headquarters. There was no guidance for restoring order in Baghdad, creating an interim government, hiring government and essential services employees, and ensuring the judicial system was operational. In retrospect, perhaps division planners should have been instructed to identify and address these issues earlier, given the likelihood that higher would not provide such information.

General: Pentagon Fretted About Postwar Planning
USA Today, November 6, 2003, Pg. 12

The Bush administration put off much of the planning for the aftermath of a war in Iraq out of concern that such planning could precipitate war, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Congress.

"We did not want to have planning for the postwar make the war inevitable," Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace told the House of Representatives' Armed Services Committee.

Not just a river in Eqypt

Denial, according to Tony Cordesman of CSIS, is also a method of Counter Insurgency Warfare.

As late as July 2004, the Administration’s senior spokesmen still seemed to live in a fantasyland in terms of their public announcements, perception of the growing Iraqi hostility to the use of Coalition forces, and the size of the threat. They were still talking about a core insurgent force of only 5,000, when many Coalition experts on the ground in Iraq saw the core as at least 12,000-16,000.

Such US estimates of the core structure of the Iraqi insurgency also understated the problem, even if the figures had been accurate. From the start, there were many part-time insurgents and criminals who worked with insurgents. In some areas, volunteers could be quickly recruited and trained, both for street fighting and terrorist and sabotage missions. As in most insurgencies, “sympathizers” within the Iraqi government and Iraqi forces, as well as the Iraqis working for the Coalition, media, and NGOs, often provided excellent human intelligence without violently taking part in the insurgency. Saboteurs can readily operate within the government and every aspect of the Iraqi economy.

The piece is not long – 23 pages – but it’s worth reading. Or rather, I think it’s worth reading because it corresponds nicely to my own way of thinking about the situation and I feed on that sort of self-affirmation. It’s fun to compare Cordesman here:

These Ba’ath groups are not generally “former regime loyalists,” but rather Sunni nationalists involved in a struggle for current power.

To the Wall Street Journal editorial board in “The Enemy in Plain View" here:

"[The killing of the election workers in Baghdad] ought to put to rest the canard that what we are facing in Iraq is some kind of "nationalist" uprising opposed to U.S. occupation. The genuine Iraqi patriots are those risking their lives to rebuild their country and prepare for elections. They are being threatened, and murdered, by members and allies of the old regime who want to restore Sunni Baathist political domination. Or to put it more bluntly, we haven't yet defeated Saddam Hussein's regime."

Talk about fantasyland. Does this sort of thing explain these poll results?

Opinion is even more sharply divided over the outcome of elections. Seven in 10 Democrats and five in nine independents believe elections will not produce a stable government in Iraq, while more than two-thirds of Republicans believe they will.

But I distract myself. Anyhooo, that difference matters, because it then influences how you combat the insurgency. As I wrote elsewhere last week, discussing the pull out of the major U.S. contractor because they couldn’t manage the security challenge, a lot of people were focusing on the deteriorating security aspect to this piece. And very rightly so. The security challenge is a problem, no doubt. But how about the departure of these contractors? Is that a problem? Well, it is if you are like Cordesman and believe that we are facing an insurgency in Iraq that draws recruits from pools of disaffected Iraqis because as long as those Iraqis are without the basics and without jobs they’re going to be prime candidates to join the ranks of the insurgents.

If, however, like the WSJ, you see the Iraqi enemy as a finite number of die-hard Baathists, the last gasp of the Saddam Regime, then the pull out of contractors shouldn't present that much of a strategic problem. If that were the case, couldn't we just suspend reconstruction efforts and just focus on finishing killing leftovers from the regime, get that done with, and then return to reconstruction tasks? Wouldn't everything else naturally fall into place? (As an aside - you ever notice how estimates of enemy strength never seem to fall by anything near the estimated amount of enemy killed. Why is that?). Sure it might disappoint the Iraqis waiting for the water and power to be turned back on, but if this isn't a nationalist, or perhaps better "popular" uprising, then what's the strategic cost? I mean, it's not like your random non-regime-die-hard Iraqi would be inclined pick up arms, right? And then we could turn to reconstruction in a more peaceful environment and probably complete projects faster in the long run anyway.

But my money is on Cordesman's assessment.

Friday, December 24, 2004

But during this festive period we need to remember that bad news never takes a holiday...

Oh dear, it seems that Fidel Castro is up and about. One had felt that he might have done the decent thing for once in his life and dropped dead.

Oh, and Oliver Stone ought to be ashamed of himself. The big conspiracy theorising, smug, fellow-travelling, Commie browneye-licking, geriatric dictator's bell end polishing tosser:

Get-well messages were sent to Mr Castro from high-profile friends around the world.

Film director Oliver Stone joked Mr Castro could play the role of "Superman's grandfather" for his speedy recovery, according to AP news agency.

Why don't you leave your vast bank account and coterie of crazed Chomskyite sycophants and yes-men behind and go to live in Cuba if you love it so much, Oliver? Try making one of your subversive films there, mate. See what happens to you then. Honestly, what a complete gimp. It's enough to make me turn all Rush Limbaugh.

Wounded BBC Security Correspondent Gives First Interview

Frank Gardner, the BBC Security correspondent who was shot and terribly wounded in a ghastly attack in Saudi Arabia six months ago, has been talking about his experience.

Gardner may not be familiar to American readers, but he's a pretty familiar face to regular viewers of the BBC's 24 hour news channel. He's good too - another name that deserves exemption from the criticism I outlined here. It's doubly horrible that a man who evidently has a significant amount of empathy for the Muslim and specifically the Arab worlds - I believe, though don't quote me on this, that Gardner is something of a protege of the late Wilfred Thesiger - should have ended up coming a cropper this way. We can only wish him a speedy recovery.

Fried Gold

He shoots...

If this reading of events on Haifa Street emerges as an item of received wisdom (at least up to the level of the NRO Corner) over the next few weeks I will be very, very disappointed. Though far from entirely surprised.

He scores!

Thank you, thank you, I'm here all week.

Weekend Reading... Perhaps

In case anyone is bored over the holiday weekend, take a look at the most current issues of Military Review and Naval War College Review. You can also take a look at these other quality, free, full-text journals: Parameters, Joint Force Quarterly, Air & Space Power Journal, and the Australian Army Journal.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Colour Me Unconvinced

A friend has drawn my attention to this article in the International Herald Tribune, in which a case is made that incitement is not a problem within the Palestinian Authority education system.

Given various time constraints I am not in a position to follow up on the various sources referred to in the article, so I don't feel able to conclusively dismiss it, but I think I may as well say straight away that what the author has to say flies in the face of a not insubstantial body of research that has appeared in the leading (peer reviewed) academic journal dealing with terrorism, Terrorism and Political Violence. Certainly my experience points to quite the opposite of what the article alleges. I also have to say that I am surprised to see the author cite the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace in support of his thesis, given that an article appeared by one of the Institute's researchers in the Spring 2003 edition of T&PV (Vol. 15, No. 1) entitled "Education, Indoctrination and Incitement: Palestinian Children on Their Way to Martyrdom" in which it was argued in a manner that appeared to me both well sourced (one presumes the extremely high powered editorial board thought so too) and pretty conclusive that the Palestinian Authority systematically indulges in anti-semitic indoctrination and incitement of the most rancid variety through the Palestinian education system, using not only textbooks but videos and educational TV programming and that the Palestinians have been in consistent violation of the non-incitement committments they undertook in order to receive aid from, among others, the EU. On a more circumstantial note, a television documentary prepared by British journalist David Aaronovitch (hardly a rabid pro-Sharon partisan) recorded film footage of alarming anti-semitic indoctrination in Palestinian schools.

Perhaps all this is "taken out of context" and really is perfectly innocent. Just as we are constantly told that exhortations by various "well respected" Islamic scholars and "community leaders" on the legitimacy of beating your wife or the social desirability of throwing gays off cliffs are being taken out of context. But unless the research has been systematically gerrymandered and falsified I am at a loss as to quite what the correct context could be.

Quotation of the Day

Via this site, I am reminded of one of my favourite quotations of all time. You couldn't make it up.

In 1948, an American radio station decided that getting in touch with various leading foreign ambassadors based in Washington D.C. and asking them what one thing they would most like for Christmas might make for an interesting seasonal programme...

French Ambassador: "Peace on Earth."
Soviet Ambassador: "Freedom for all the people in the world enslaved by imperialism."
British Ambassador: "Well it's very kind of you to ask. I'd quite like a box of crystallised fruit."

Merry Christmas everybody.

An Interesting Dilemma

There appears to be a growing movement in Canada to ban the sale of veterans' medals.
This is interesting. I'm quite familiar with the emotional trauma that can be associated with the private sale of military decorations. In the United Kingdom, regimental museums and associations often struggle to keep medals awarded for valour - notably the Victoria Cross - in the country and in regimental hands when the families of the recipients decide to sell. The market for such things is fierce and regiments are often reduced to frantically trying to rustle up charity in their attempts to outbid wealthy private collectors (often American or Japanese). Of course there is also a second scenario in which such medals tend to come up for sale - many early VCs were, tragically, sold or pawned during the recipient's lifetime in the face of hard times following retirement from military life (many of the Rorke's Drift VCs awarded to Other Ranks ended up being disposed of out of financial desparation). In this case, the medals may have been floating around the open market for some time.

That said, I'm not sure what to think of this move. On a moral level, I must confess that I would instinctively (perhaps unjustly, motivations are many and varied) look unfavourably on any family that tried to sell on an inherited Victoria Cross. My grandfather served in Africa and Italy with the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry and won a number of minor gallantry awards, never being in line for anything like a VC, and I would lever off my own kneecaps with a soup spoon before I'd even begin to consider the possibility of selling his medals on. But is this a matter for legislation? I'm not so sure. There seems to me to be something fundamentally wrong with the government intervening to tell people that it will be, in effect, illegal for them to dispose of their personal inheritance as they see fit. I'll have to give this one some thought - in the meantime if anyone has any views on the matter, drop me an email and I will update this story accordingly - especially if you can convince me one way or the other!

The Johnny Caspar Slot (or, Weapon of Choice Part 3)

Something else on the torture/prisoner abuse situation. A good number of months ago now I made a point to Phil regarding the professional reading lists compiled for U.S. military officers that I think bears repeating here. The lists have been updated in a manner that provides significantly more coverage to counterinsurgency and issues like "4th Generation Warfare". This is undoubtedly a Good Thing, though I am unconvinced that it goes quite far enough. But I digress. The point I wish to raise is that fact that books on military ethics and the ethics of war are notable by their complete absence. I think Phil and I were in agreement in taking the view that this is not a good thing and that recent events should perhaps have encouraged the powers that be to take steps to rectify the matter.
There may be a number of reasons for the current reading list situation, of course. One arguably does not want to create too many barrack-room lawyers out of the lower ranks. In addition, some work in the field of ethics can be rather abstract and may arguably not repay the effort required to gain true understanding from them.

This line of reasoning can only go so far, however. Phil and I tend to boost different books on the topic - Phil likes Michael Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars, which is indeed the recognised standard text on the subject and a very fine book. My personal plug - purely for reasons of personal preference - goes to A. J. Coates' The Ethics of War. Neither of these books should be beyond the intellectual grasp of any half way tuned in junior officer or senior NCO. Even easier to digest are books that have emerged dealing explicitly with the current War on Terror, such as Michael Ignatieff's The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror or Jean Bethke Elshtain's Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World, both of which are first class (though of the two, my personal seal of quality probably goes to the Ignatieff book).

Or are we all just jerking off?

Would exposure to these works really change anything? I honestly don't know. As Charles Callwell noted over a century ago, theory isn't worth terribly much if practice points the other way. It's also a bit much to expect the Lyddie Englands of this world to spend their evenings working through Walzer and Coates and Ignatieff. But there are people higher up (and not that much higher up - I think we should be looking at starting at the NCO level here) who have a duty of care and direction toward the Lyddie Englands and it seems to me that there is a responsibility to at least prod these people into thinking about the issues (not that all have not considered them, by any means). I would argue that the historical record indicates that ignorance has caused as much misery in this world as stupidity (which is not the same thing) or wickedness - and unlike the latter two factors, it is eminently rectifiable.

Let us start now.

Historical Pornography

I've been working on an extended and highly modified adapatation of an essay I've written on the current state of military history for posting on this site. Given its length I plan to post it up in parts (at current measure probably at least four) over the next few weeks. The first part will go up at some point after Christmas Day.

You must understand that I don't expect readers to get... er... clammy with excitement over this, but I figure that if I make this post it means that I will feel obliged to get on with finishing it and getting it posted and, thus committed, will be less likely to spend the entirety of the next two weeks sitting on my arse, eating and drinking myself into insensibility, playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and watching the entire series of 1980s cartoon series Dungeons and Dragons on DVD.

Damn it! I don't have to justify myself to you...

I'm a nice guy!

Lest readers begin to labour under the misperception that I am some breed of rancid and bitter curmudgeon, I thought I'd flag up a couple of pretty good articles over at NRO that mount defences of Don Rumsfeld (Chris - if they were all like this I'd like it a lot more!) - here and here.

Not that I'm saying I'm convinced, mind...


UPDATE: There's some rebuttal up at Andrew Sullivan's website. Get there quick though because there are no permalinks. Aieeee!

Not-so-Pulp Fiction

Instead of giving an account of my favorite books of 2004 a la Anthony, I thought I'd try something a little different. Below is a list of some of my favorite works of fiction dealing with martial and/or security issues--broadly defined. Furthermore, I have teamed the books up to give "perspective clusters." This list is hardly all-inclusive and I welcome any suggections in the comments section below--and Cogs, the Flashman series is in my cart at Amazon, I just need to find the time!

Development and Security. The Ugly American by William Lederer and Eugene Burdick and A Man of the People by Chinua Achebe. Both of these works offer excellent perspectives about political instability and development. See also Max Havelaar or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company by Multatuli.

Military Culture. Once an Eagle by Anton Myrer and Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae by Steven Pressfield. Two quite amazing, but different, accounts of the military ethos and profession of arms.

Civil-Military Relations. Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein and A Soldier's Duty: A Novel by Thomas E. Ricks. Read in tandem these books offer an interesting investigation of what constitutes proper civil-military relations and the place of the military in society.

General Interest. Owen Parry's (aka Ralph Peters) historical fiction novels are also quite exceptional. This series follows the exploits of Major Abel Jones, a Welsh immigrant formerly in the Queen's service, throughout the American Civil War. They are written more in the detective genre, so do not expect to be reading about battle after battle.

(Ralph's novels on contemporary and future military affairs are also quite good. While individual mileage may vary, my favorites are Twilight of Heroes and The Devil's Garden. The former book deals with counterdrug operations in South America and the latter deals with the geopolitics of oil in Azerbaijan.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

And furthermore...

Speaking of CSIS, there are two new papers by Anthony Cordesman available as PDF files on the CSIS website. I haven't had a chance to read them yet, but I thought I'd flag it up as Cordesman's stuff is always well worth reading.

Shock and Awe, baby.

Harlan Ullman has the first in what promises to be a series of related articles in the Washington Times. Well worth a read.For those of you who are not familiar, Ullman is a close friend of Colin Powell and a well regarded defence thinker. Rather topically, the so-called "shock and awe" campaign that opened the conventional campaign in the Iraq War was at least partly (Ullman has not been uncritical) based on Ullman's ideas. Ullman is currently at CSIS, where you can find a short bio.

Anyway, I shall follow this series and try to link to articles as they get posted up. It'll be interesting to see what a certified grown-up has to say.

Weapon of Choice, Part 2

Phil's post on the torture situation has been updated with a link to this really very, very good piece of writing on the reasons why conservatives (among whose ranks I count myself) should be just as pissed off as everyone else - if not more so - at the way in which things seem to be going.

Here's a snippet:

If the prisoner torture should piss off anyone, it should piss off Iraq hawks the most. Although my views of the war are well-known, I know that there were many good-faith supporters of the war who believed strongly in the cause and who believe strongly in democracy promotion. But there is nothing – and I mean nothing – that undermines our efforts and our mission more than the torture of Muslims, especially when that torture is coldly calculated to exploit Arabs’ religious views. The whole thing has a level of sophistication far beyond what nineteen-year old reservists from West Virginia could devise. And to those we most need to persaude, it vindicates bin Laden’s claims that we are hostile to Islam.

You can’t defeat an insurgency – whether in Iraq or in the war on terror, which is essentially a global insurgency [I highlight this because it is the exact framework through which I believe, and have believed for some time now, we must view the "War on Terror" - Anthony] – by military force alone. That’s because an insurgency isn’t finite. Its numbers and resources expand and contract with public opinion. (This is the main reason why the whole "so-we-don't-fight-them-at-home" line doesn't make much sense, logically speaking. Our efforts have increased the ranks of those that hate us.) We can raze every city in the Sunni Triangle (and we’re well on our way), but we will never defeat an elastic insurgency if we can’t win the hearts and minds of the local population. If you care about the success of this mission, both in Iraq and more globally, logic demands outrage.


But all of the legalistic jargon pales in comparison to the more important point – it’s just wrong. Horribly wrong. The things we are doing to people violate the tenets of every major world religion. If you are religious, and you support this administration, I think you need to ask yourself some tough questions about whether what we’re seeing is consistent with your religious views. If anything, I would expect activist Christians to follow the path of their ancestors when they were the moral vanguard in the fight against slavery and for civil rights. I would expect them to be louder than anyone.

But no one seems to care. We’re torturing and murdering prisoners and no one seems to care. It is becoming more and more clear that this torture was directed from on high, and no one seems to care. It’s time to get madder about this, especially if you’re a conservative. The torture undermines the war, threatens your foreign policy visions, jeopardizes our soldiers, exposes them to danger and death, undermines the rule of law, and violates the core tenets of your religion.

It’s time stand up for your values or shut up about ours.

Just read it. Read it all. Right now. I wish I'd written it.

I'd like to just revisit the last line of Phil's original post:

...the damage done by this constant flow of leaks makes me think that maybe we'd be best served, in the long run, by simply coming clean about what we're doing.

I think everyone seeking to formulate an opinion on this matter would be guilty of dereliction of duty by not reading the treatment of torture in Alan Dershowitz's Why Terrorism Works. I'm not saying that I endorse everything in it - or even most of what is in it. However, it's an intriguing and provocative argument that shows some indirect similarities to James Gow's worldview (though I suspect that on the matter of torture their views would differ). Dershowitz argues that it is simply not practical in the real world to claim that torture should never take place. However, he takes the stance that the best thing, both in terms of practical effectiveness and in terms of not undermining our liberal democracy, is to have an open debate, thoroughly thrashed out in the public arena and to look into the idea of torture taking place under very exceptional circumstances with official judicial oversight - "torture warrants".

Regardless of whether you believe that an absolute prohibition on torture is a ghastly example of misty eyed idealism and a failure to connect with reality or not, it seems to me impossible to make a decent case that the situation in which we find ourselves is not offering us the worst of both worlds. The torture is happening - we probably don't know the half of it - and it is happening with nods and winks and sniggers. I see nothing in the status quo that is suggestive of either "moral clarity" or a leadership cadre that exemplifies "character". There's some bad shit going down and everyone should be concerned, regardless of party political loyalties.

Semantic Gooseberry

The curious case of the Associated Press photographers develops - though at the time of writing it has not, contrary to my predictions, reached so far as the NRO Corner. I'd just repeat the point that I find the parallels in tone between the coverage of this issue at the Belmont Club and the "nudge nudge, wink wink, I'm making no accusations, but isn't it curious, I'm just throwing these questions into the public domain..." style so evident in Michael Meacher's Guardian output.

Again, though, I suppose it's just a matter of taste. Me, I'm kind of wondering how you square the circle of heavily armed insurgents being able to concentrate at platoon strength in the very centre of the capital of Iraq, strike with impunity and melt away without a trace with the repeated assertion by various people that all sorts of corners are being turned, progress being made and whatnot.

Ah well, it takes all sorts.

Books of the Year

It struck me a few days ago that it would be a good idea for us to come up with our personal picks regarding the best books to emerge over the past 12 months (Mark and Michael may add to this at some point, I don't know).

Now I think about it, it may not have been such a good idea, at least from my perspective. Around half my book collection (including most of my books on military history, contemporary security and strategy) is still sitting in my flat in London and there are a number of titles that I've considered that I can't verify a publication date on. On top of this, of those books that I've read this year and found most inspirational an annoying number seem to have been published in 2003. Go figure.

Anyway, for what it's worth, here is my take on what deserves to be seen as the cream of the crop of 2004:

Jeremy Black - Rethinking Military History - Black has been at the forefront (along with people like Mark Grimsley and John A. Lynn) of an intrepid group of military historians who have been taking a long, hard, self-critical look at the discipline - as well as being an RMA-sceptic and against technocentrism, which just gets him even more kudos in my book. Rethinking Military History is a one stop shop to get the distilled essence of that ongoing debate. Black deals with the state of military history today, Eurocentrism, Technocentrism and examines military historiography by historical period. My feeling is that it should be a foundation text for any introductory military history or strategic/war studies course. All students should get hold of a copy. So should everyone else. Oh, and it's an extremely easy read.

Colin S. Gray - The Sheriff - I love Colin Gray's books (his work has played a lead role in my intellectual development on a number of levels - most alarmingly manifested in my penchant for long, conversational and bitchy essay footnotes) so this was a no-brainer for me. The post-September 11th period has seen the emergence of numerous books with big theories about the nature of the world we live in, or trans-Atlantic relations or the goodness of wickedness of American power. The quality of these books ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous but one thing too many of them have in common is a degree of immediacy which means that in a couple of years, if not months, they will be overtaken by events and amount to little more than historical curios. One of the beauties of Gray's contribution to the debate is that it involves the application of time-tested and unchanging strategic principles to a contemporary problem. On this basis I believe that it will retain a freshness and utility long after much of the other post-9/11 zeitgeist output has been consigned to the bin. It's a real keeper and, with the possible exception of Fareed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom (published in 2003 and therefore ineligible for nomination), it is my favourite of all the "Big Idea" books to emerge in the recent period.

Loch K. Johnson and James J. Wirtz (eds) - Strategic Intelligence: Windows into a Secret World - This is a first class collection of work on various aspects of intelligence as it relates to the U.S. policy process.The books is divided into sections dealing with issues such as collection, analysis and the relationship between the intelligence professional and the policymaker. The editors (both of whom have great track records) provide excellent introductions providing contect to the various chapters and the contributors are of an extremely high calibre, including the likes of Michael Herman, Mark Lowenthal, H. Bradford Westerfield, Richard Betts, Shlomo Gazit and Robert D. Steele. Another book that deserves to be a foundation text for students, but which should also be in the Christmas stocking of policy makers, budding intelligence professionals and journalists alike. Really high quality stuff - and, in common with Colin Gray's The Sheriff, criminally under-promoted.

Robert Lyman - Slim, Master of War - In some respects I found this book disappointing, as it purported to be something of a crossover between military history and strategic studies. On that level I don't think it worked - I'm unconvinced that the author's arguments regarding the role of 14th Army in the development of modern warfare hold up and I reckon he takes some of his arguments a little too far. However, as a campaign history with a focus on the work of Slim himself it's a very solid piece of work and taken on those terms it's one of the better books to emerge over the past 12 months. The author's other case, that Slim was the best British general of the Second World War (and a possible leftfield candidate for best Allied commander overall) is in my view well made and entirely plausible (though I was convinced of the case before reading the book).

Marc Sageman - Understanding Terror Networks - Sageman's book consists of an analysis of what makes al-Qaeda terrorists tick - why they do what they do. Sageman has undertaken extensive empirical research on this subject, using a large sample of AQ members as a case study. In doing so he has provided a valuable service and tackles some of the myths that have sprung up regarding terrorist motivation and recruitment. In many ways the book is mis-titled, as really it helps us understand only one terror network - al Qaeda. If Sageman's methods were applied to other terror groups - Palestinians for example - it seems unlikely that the results would be the same. However, this is a relatively minor quibble, as Sageman has provided a useful analytical template that could be gainfully employed by others in the future to study different terrorist gropuings - especially as Sageman relies largely on readily available open sources. This should be required reading for anybody with a serious interest in the current "Global War On Terrorism".

James Gow - Defending the West - Another provocative Big Idea book. Professor Gow argues that things really have changed since September 11th and from that start line goes on to provide a critique of both those on the American Right who believe that international norms and standards are a sham and that America can go it alone and those on the Left and Right (largely, though not exclusively in Europe) who argue that international laws and norms are perfection attained, set in stone and as applicable today as they were fifty or more years ago. In arguing that an increasingly interventionist, expeditionary stance must be adopted to defend the West (which both exists and needs defending) Gow argues that this must be done via a recognised and consistant framework. In doing so he advocates an approach of "Constructivist Realism". In many ways it's a strangely British approach and one with which I feel a significant amount of sympathy. Required - though quite tough - reading and, again, a book that has been annoyingly underpromoted.

Straw man arguments! Git chore straw man arguments here!

This gives me hope that I may one day earn pant-wettingly large amounts of money in exchange for the appearance of my fevered ramblings in the pages of a high-circulation bastion of the print media.

Before today, had I been pressed to name the most breathtaking visual spectacle I have experienced in my short life, I might have chosen the cinematic masterpiece that is North By Northwest (none of that Bullet Time shit, prithee) or the experience of standing in awe before the Palace of Westminster, the cradle of modern democracy, for the first time (and every time since). These things pale into insignificance in the face of one man's ability to rubbish the criticisms of an increasingly bipartisan group of critics by spending two thirds of his thesis talking about the Crusader artillery system, about which most of the aforementioned recent critics have dwelt upon not at all, and the bravura literary coup of slagging off defence downsizing in the 1990s without once mentioning the fact that the man who started the whole sorry process off is currently Vice President of the United States of America.

I'll tell you something, if Mr Blankley is as accomplished a contortionist in the bedroom as he is at his writing desk, the oyster dinners are on me.

Give the kid a cigar

So inspired am I by this masterpiece of commentary that I hereby institute an entirely new order of merit that will stand aside the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Academy Award and the Order of the British Empire in the annals of human achievement and creamy goodness. Tony Blankley, will you please step up to the podium to receive the very first Daniel Bedingfield Prize for Opinion Journalism*. You inspire me and give me hope, sir. God bless you, God save the Queen and God bless the United States of America. I'm here all week, try the veal, don't forget to tip the waitress.

*The Daniel Bedingfield Prize is new a multi-category (Physics, Chemistry, Literature, Peace, Helping Ugly People Get Laid) award that is distributed to notable achievers on an annual basis or whenever my blood pressure gets ratcheted up high enough, whichever comes first.

Quotation of the Day

"...I've always been mindful of the illusion of influence. Usually the people you're trying to influence have already charted their own direction and embrace your work principally if it serves as an argument in favor of what they plan to do anyway. Barnett can push PNM with the zeal of a dope dealer but it doesn't mean anyone with real clout will mainline it. They're more likely to cut it and re-sell it to whatever group and in whatever way will further their own interests.

I once spent a summer at RAND Corporation researching European collaborative aircraft programs--the Jaguar, Tornado and Alpha Jet programs. Supposedly this was to be "objective," but really it was to help make the (futile) case that the Europeans should scrap the EFA and Rafale projects and buy our F-16Cs instead. I candidly didn't give a shit. I got to spend three months in Santa Monica and make several times my grad student stipend and I had no complaints. But a good friend of mine who went to work as a CIA analyst eventually left in frustration when his reports, which concluded in effect that such-and-such was "white," were revised so that white became first "beige," then "grayish-white," and not infrequently ended up "coal black." It's one thing to do this sort of thing on summer break. It's another thing to make it a significant chunk of your life's work."

- Mark Grimsley

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Weapon of Choice

This post over at Phil Carter's Intel Dump incorporates the notable bonus of linking to a variety of Phil's other writings on the issue of torture and prisoner abuse. Phil has, entirely to his credit, I would add, been all over this issue from the very beginning - and will no doubt continue as the subject shows no sign of being exhausted and the full facts show no sign of having fully emerged at this stage. I'd urge all readers to spend some time going over Phil's work on the matter of torture, partly because I find virtually nothing in it with which to disagree and partly because it really is astonishingly extensive, as I realised to an even fuller extent when searching the Intel Dump archives while composing my post on Counterinsurgency literature. Even leaving aside the matter of Phil's commentary, the internet links from his accumulated posts over the past few months add up to a pretty comprehensive reader on the topic as it has been covered in the various news media and official reports.

I can't. They've tied my shoelaces together...

Gah! One of the major drawbacks of the decision to develop a site with a specialist orientation is that you don't get to indulge yourself with stuff like this.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Let's play a fun game - it's called, "Get A Grip".

Roger Simon, whose website I like to read from time to time as he is clearly one of the most patently nice and decent people around (which is going to make this rather more painful for me than for him [especially on the basis that he's never going to read it...]), gives shelf space to this "characteristically provocative" piece of writing that is up at the Belmont Club relating to the murder of Iraqi election officials.* Says Roger:

he wonders how Associated Press photographers just happened to be at the scene of the assassination of two Iraqi electoral officials the other day.

I spend a lot of my time wondering about things. When I'm not wondering I dedicate a significant portion of my waking hours to pondering. I have also been known to mull. Let's just say that our priorities are obviously somewhat different when it comes to organising our mental exercise schedules.

The odds are, indeed, extremely long--rather like my happening on a gang killing with my camera ready in Los Angeles. In my thirty-some years here that has never happened.

I'm unconvinced that Roger spends a great deal of time in "da Hood". I would agree with him that the odds of a successful Hollywood screenwriter and mystery author - who presumably doesn't go looking for opportunities to get his codlings sheared off - stumbling over somebody taking one between the eyes are "long". I do not find this scenario a convincing juxtaposition with the odds of professional journalists being present on a major thoroughfare (Haifa Street - which can be found clearly marked on this map - is the main road along the West bank of the Tigris as it runs through central Baghdad and is in the immediate vicinity of, among other things, most of the Tigris bridges, much of the governmental infrastructure and most of the media headquarters in the capital) noted for newsworthy clashes, in the capital city of an insurgency-riven country during peak time rush hour.

Wretchard reminds us of the disturbing story of the reporters for Paris Match who accompanied some terrorists on their mission to shoot down a DHL Airbus in 2003. Could this be a repeat?

Of course it could. But common sense and a minimum level of basic exploration using readily available open sources reveals - should have revealed - in short order that it is hardly a likely scenario, certainly not likely enough to be worth dwelling upon in place of various other issues - such as those related to the security situation - that this attack raises.

Of course, there could be some innocent explanation.

Yeah, but the point is that if we work from that standpoint then we might have to openly accept and look square in the face some of the rather less palatable issues that these horrible events might raise. Far better to develop an elaborate and superficially intriguing thesis that gives us a free pass to look everywhere but.

On the basis of what I have read so far, I remain as thoroughly unconvinced by the notion of a dark conspiracy in this instance as I am by the fevered ramblings of Michael Meacher in the Guardian (though Meacher is far worse as he should know better - how the man ever rose so high as to hold serious office in Her Majesty's government is utterly beyond me. The dotty old crank). If this reading of events on Haifa Street emerges as an item of received wisdom (at least up to the level of the NRO Corner) over the next few weeks I will be very, very disappointed. Though far from entirely surprised.

Forgive me, I've been drinking and I'm in a filthy mood. But (unlike some of my pronouncements in a state of irritability or... er... mild tipsiness) I expect to feel entirely correct when I wake up tomorrow morning. If this post is still here for you to read I was clearly correct in my predictions!

* I fear that on the basis of two of my contributions to this site over its very short existance, the impression may be gained that I have it in for the Belmont Club. I don't. I just happen to think that two of his recent items are notably flawed.