October 26, 2007

"Our Great Strength Is Our Ideals"

During the confirmation hearing for Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey I blogged about yesterday, John Hutson, former Rear Admiral and Judge Advocate General of the US Navy, testified, not in opposition, but to "highlight some of the concerns" he had. During his remarks, he made the case for upholding our principles in a time of war better than I ever could:

[I]n [the global war on terror], the enemy cannot defeat us militarily. They don't have the lift, they don't have the command and control, communications. They don't have the weapons systems. They can't defeat us militarily.

Winning for the enemy is to cause us to change, to bring us down to his level, to cause us to be something different than what we have been.

Our great strength, the support of human rights and the rule of law. Thomas Paine said that, The cause of America is the cause of all mankind. The great more recent geopolitical commentator Bono said that, America isn't just a country, it's an idea.

We are engaged in an asymmetric war. And in an asymmetric war, the strategy is to pit your strength against the enemy's weakness, unlike World War II, for example, where it was often strength against strength.

Our great strength is our ideals. Thomas Paine and Bono had it right.

The enemy is abjectly devoid of ideals. So the enemy can't defeat us -- certainly can't defeat us militarily, but we can commit national suicide by disarming ourselves of our ideals.

July 15, 2007

Power and Its Limits in Today's World

Retired British Army general Michael Rose recently wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times comparing the effect on Britain of its loss in the War of Independence to the possible effects on the US of either withdrawing from or hunkering down in Iraq. You know where he's going from the title, "How a Revolution Saved an Empire":

Britain was near bankruptcy when peace with America was officially signed. [William] Pitt [the Younger], however, realized that because of industrialization his nation was about to experience unprecedented economic growth. He rose to prime minister in 1783 and set about creating the necessary economic conditions for Britain to become the workshop of the world.

Pitt also passed the India Bill in 1784 -- thus ensuring that the sort of poor administration that had soured relations with the American colonies would not be repeated in Britain’s other territories...

Most important, Pitt set about rebuilding the British Navy and Army, for he could see that war with France was looming once again. He would often visit the yards to ensure that ships were being constructed on time. Under the energetic direction of the Duke of York, the king’s second son, the army was reorganized and retrained. New commanders were appointed for both services -- men like Nelson and Wellington -- who were determined not to make the same mistakes as their predecessors. It is hardly an overstatement to say that had Britain not ended the American War of Independence when it did, it could never have been in a position to defeat Napoleon.

Rose then goes on to draw an explicit parallel with the United States in 2007:

Today, of course, the United States finds itself in much the same position as Britain in 1781. Distracted and diminished by an irrelevant, costly and probably unwinnable war in Iraq, America could ultimately find itself challenged by countries like China and India. Unless it can find a leader with the moral courage of Pitt, there is a strong probability that it will be forced to relinquish its position as the global superpower -- possibly to a regime that does not have the same commitment to justice and liberty that the United States and Britain have worked so hard to extend across the world over the past two centuries.
There are a variety of forms of power that states wield to advance their goals: not just military, but economic, intellectual, and even moral. After 9/11, the Bush Administration made the conscious decision to fight terrorism primarily with military power. We even have a "War on Terror", which Jerry Brown insightfully called a "war on a strategy".

Rose is absolutely right to point out that the United States has challengers coming on strong. Could we take any country in the world in a stand-up fight? Of course, but then we should expect nothing less given that we spend more on defense than the rest of the world combined (or we did the last time I checked). But that's today.

We've lost the moral power we had prior to and even immediately after 9/11 -- after invading Iraq on false pretenses, and then showing disregard for our own standards of civil liberties, who takes our President seriously? If I don't believe him when he talks, how can I expect someone in Europe to do so -- much less someone in, say, the Middle East? Without that moral power, we may find that we don't have quite so many friends ready to help us when we need it -- and note that we are working with much of NATO just to deal with the insurgency in Afghanistan.

Economic power? Yes, we're still the greatest economic power in the world. But the massive deficits we're running are creating a hole out of which our children and grandchildren will have to dig themselves, just as China is becoming directly competitive with them on virtually every front.

Intellectual power? The US is in many fields still the preeminent source of innovation in the world today. Thank goodness for our university system and our venture capital community, as well as our inherent risk-taking, fault-tolerating, entrepreneurship-celebrating national psychology. But in certain fields, we could find ourselves lagging, if we're not doing so already. Restrictions on stem cell research mean that some of the best work is being done overseas. Failure to enact useful environmental legislation is causing us to fall behind in green technologies.

So if our moral power is nearly gone, our economic power on a long, slow, deficit-induced decline, and our intellectual power inconsistent across industries, what does this mean for us? The days of relying on military power alone to maintain one's position in the world are long gone, for a variety of reasons. One is that the world economy is so interconnected that for one major state to attack another would rightly be seen by all sides as self-destructive, and so highly unlikely. Another is the law of accelerating returns (per Ray Kurzweil): with the rate of progress itself progressing, very slight advantages become dramatic. Technology in the year 1007 AD looked nearly identical to technology in the year 987 AD. But look at how profoundly technology has altered our world in the last two decades. If we fall behind our competitors even by a few years, we could find ourselves at a serious disadvantage.

Rose doesn't offer any prescriptions beyond an implied recommendation that we extricate ourselves from Iraq. That's a good start, one that I believe would make the US and its allies safer almost immediately. But there needs to be much more than that. We need to reiterate -- through actions, not words -- our commitment to human rights and the rule of law. We need a government that brings its fiscal house in order and returns to the budget surpluses of the 1990s. We need to ensure that in every critical industry, we're doing everything we can to be the most competitive nation in the world.

For the sake of the US -- and the rest of our interconnected world -- I hope our next president and the congress he or she inherits are up to these tasks.

October 26, 2006

$380,000 for Every Extra Minute

From a New York Times column (subscription required) by Nicholas Kristof:

In the run-up to the Iraq war, Donald Rumsfeld estimated that the overall cost would be under $50 billion. Paul Wolfowitz argued that Iraq could use its oil to "finance its own reconstruction."

But now several careful studies have attempted to tote up various costs, and they suggest that the tab will be more than $1 trillion -- perhaps more than $2 trillion. The higher sum would amount to $6,600 per American man, woman and child.

"The total costs of the war, including the budgetary, social and macroeconomic costs, are likely to exceed $2 trillion," Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel-winning economist at Columbia, writes in an updated new study with Linda Bilmes, a public finance specialist at Harvard. Their report has just appeared in the Milken Institute Review, as an update on a paper presented earlier this year.

Just to put that $2 trillion in perspective, it is four times the additional cost needed to provide health insurance for all uninsured Americans for the next decade. It is 1,600 times Mr. Bush's financing for his vaunted hydrogen energy project...

We still face the choice of whether to remain in Iraq indefinitely or to impose a timetable and withdraw U.S. troops. These studies suggest that every additional year we keep our troops in Iraq will add $200 billion to our tax bills.

My vote would be to spend a chunk of that sum instead fighting malaria, AIDS and maternal mortality, bolstering American schools, and assuring health care for all Americans. We're spending $380,000 for every extra minute we stay in Iraq, and we can find better ways to spend that money.

October 17, 2006

"They're Saying the War Can't Be Won"

I was talking the other day with a business associate -- a retired Army officer, still deeply involved in the defense industry. He's a conservative guy, perhaps even very conservative, clearly a long-time Republican voter. What he said took me aback, not because of the sentiment, but because of the person expressing it:

Officer: The generals' reports out of Iraq are sanitized before we see them, but if you read between the lines, what they're saying is that the war can't be won.

Me: The generals are saying we're losing the war?

Officer: They're saying the war can't be won.

September 21, 2006

Hanging Our Soldiers Out to Dry

I saw an excerpt (via Andrew Sullivan) of President Bush's press conference from earlier this week, and it has been bothering me mightily ever since. Here's a question by David Gregory and the relevant section of his subsequent exchange with the President:

Q Mr. President, critics of your proposed bill on interrogation rules say there's another important test -- these critics include John McCain, who you've mentioned several times this morning -- and that test is this: If a CIA officer, paramilitary or special operations soldier from the United States were captured in Iran or North Korea, and they were roughed up, and those governments said, well, they were interrogated in accordance with our interpretation of the Geneva Conventions, and then they were put on trial and they were convicted based on secret evidence that they were not able to see, how would you react to that, as Commander-in-Chief?

THE PRESIDENT: David, my reaction is, is that if the nations such as those you named, adopted the standards within the Detainee Detention Act, the world would be better. That's my reaction. We're trying to clarify law. We're trying to set high standards, not ambiguous standards...

Q Sir, with respect, if other countries interpret the Geneva Conventions as they see fit -- as they see fit -- you're saying that you'd be okay with that?

THE PRESIDENT: I am saying that I would hope that they would adopt the same standards we adopt; and that by clarifying Article III, we make it stronger, we make it clearer, we make it definite.

Let me see if I can't rewrite and expand on this exchange to be clearer and more explicit while preserving the facts:

Q Mr. President, if a CIA officer, paramilitary or special operations soldier from the United States were captured in Iran or North Korea, and they were subjected to procedures some people would consider to be torture, such as waterboarding, and those governments said, well, they were interrogated in accordance with our interpretation of the Geneva Conventions, and then they were put on trial and they were convicted based on secret evidence that they were not able to see, as well as on evidence obtained using waterboarding and other similar techniques, and if based on this evidence, and in accordance with the laws of the country in question, they were subsequently executed, how would you react to that, as Commander-in-Chief?

THE PRESIDENT: David, my reaction is, is that if the nations such as those you named, adopted the standards within the Detainee Detention Act, the world would be better. I would hope that they would adopt the same standards we adopt.

Can you even begin to imagine the uproar if a Democratic president expressed approval of the use of torture, secret evidence, evidence derived from torture, and execution based on such evidence by any other country against US personnel? Republicans would be outraged -- and rightly so. And I'm outraged by this. The president who has fought harder than any other against the right of any other nation to try US soldiers is now willing to hang them out to dry in the Iranian and North Korean equivalents of Camp X-Ray in order to preserve his own desire for state-sanctioned torture and military kangaroo courts. It's astonishing.

September 19, 2006

"Head-in-the-Sand" Liberals and Conservatives

I've seen this referenced on a variety of blogs: an editorial yesterday for the Los Angeles Times by self-described liberal Sam Harris, the author of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason. The editorial's title? "Head-in-the-sand liberals: Western civilization really is at risk from Muslim extremists":

On questions of national security, I am now as wary of my fellow liberals as I am of the religious demagogues on the Christian right.

This may seem like frank acquiescence to the charge that "liberals are soft on terrorism." It is, and they are.

A cult of death is forming in the Muslim world -- for reasons that are perfectly explicable in terms of the Islamic doctrines of martyrdom and jihad. The truth is that we are not fighting a "war on terror." We are fighting a pestilential theology and a longing for paradise.

This is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims. But we are absolutely at war with those who believe that death in defense of the faith is the highest possible good, that cartoonists should be killed for caricaturing the prophet and that any Muslim who loses his faith should be butchered for apostasy.

Unfortunately, such religious extremism is not as fringe a phenomenon as we might hope. Numerous studies have found that the most radicalized Muslims tend to have better-than-average educations and economic opportunities.

Given the degree to which religious ideas are still sheltered from criticism in every society, it is actually possible for a person to have the economic and intellectual resources to build a nuclear bomb -- and to believe that he will get 72 virgins in paradise. And yet, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, liberals continue to imagine that Muslim terrorism springs from economic despair, lack of education and American militarism.

I don't disagree with Harris' points here. Radical Islamism is a serious threat to the Western way of life. But let's not delude ourselves that liberals have a monopoly on head-in-the-sandedness. The last sentence above would be just as accurate if it read:

And yet, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, conservatives continue to imagine that Muslim terrorism springs from a lack of democracy.
Iran is a democracy and its leader wants to wipe Israel off the map. Palestine is a democracy and elected Hamas as its government. Lebanon is a democracy and openly tolerated a rocket-armed Hezbollah militia within its borders. But conservatives would have us believe that Iraq will be different, that somehow, democracy there will lead to something other than extremism. Where is the evidence for this belief?

I've come to believe that Islamic terrorism springs not from economic despair, nor lack of education, nor American militarism, nor the absence of democracy (though some or all of these issues might aggravate the problem). I have my thoughts on what it does spring from, but I'll keep them to myself until I'm better able to articulate them.

August 12, 2006

"The World Is Appalled Only When a Muslim Is Killed by Israelis"

Via Andrew Sullivan, from a translation of an editorial by André Glucksmann:

The outrage of so many outraged people outrages me. On the scales of world opinion, some Muslim corpses are light as a feather, and others weigh tonnes. Two measures, two weights. The daily terrorist attacks on civilians in Baghdad, killing 50 people or more, are checked off in reports under the heading of miscellaneous, while the bomb that took 28 lives in Qana is denounced as a crime against humanity. Only a few intellectuals like Bernard-Henri Lévy or Magdi Allam, chief editor of the Corriere della Sera, find this surprising. Why do the 200,000 slaughtered Muslims of Darfur not arouse even half a quarter of the fury caused by 200-times fewer dead in Lebanon? Must we deduce that Muslims killed by other Muslims don't count -- whether in the eyes of Muslim authorities or viewed through the bad conscience of the west? This conclusion has its weak spots, because if the Russian Army -- Christian, and blessed by their popes -- razes the capital of Chechnian Muslims (Grosny, with 400,000 residents) killing tens of thousands of children in the process, this doesn't count either. The Security Council does not hold meeting after meeting, and the Organization of Islamic States piously averts its eyes. From that we may conclude that the world is appalled only when a Muslim is killed by Israelis.
The original editorial from Le Figaro reads as follows:
L'indignation de beaucoup d'indignés m'indigne à mon tour. Pour l'opinion publique mondiale, certains morts musulmans pèsent le poids d'une plume, d'autres des tonnes. Deux poids, deux mesures. Le meurtre terroriste d'une cinquantaine de civils chaque jour à Bagdad est relégué à la rubrique des faits divers, tandis que le bombardement qui tue vingt-huit habitants à Cana est élevé au rang de crime contre l'humanité -- seuls quelques rares esprits comme Bernard-Henri Lévy et Magdi Allam, rédacteur en chef du Corriere della Sera, s'en étonnent. Pourquoi les deux cent mille massacrés du Darfour ne suscitent-ils pas le quart de la moitié des réactions horrifiées qu'éveillent les victimes deux cents fois moins nombreuses du Liban? Lorsque des musulmans tuent d'autres musulmans, faut-il croire que cela ne compte pas, ni pour les autorités coraniques ni pour la mauvaise conscience occidentale? L'explication est boiteuse, car lorsque l'armée russe, chrétienne et bénie par les popes, rase la capitale des musulmans tchétchènes (Grozny, 400 000 habitants) et tue les enfants par dizaines de milliers, cela ne compte pas davantage. Le Conseil de sécurité ne tient pas alors réunion sur réunion, et l'Organisation des États islamiques détourne pieusement les yeux. Force est de conclure que seul le musulman tué par des Israéliens vaut indignation universelle.
A more literal translation of the first line would read:
The indignation of many of the indignant in turn makes me indignant.
Less eloquent, but perhaps more accurate.

In any case, this author asks something I've been wondering myself. Why is it that so many Muslims around the world are indignant, angry, and outraged when an Israeli kills one of their own, even accidentally, and so appallingly silent at the Shiite-versus-Sunni horror show taking place in Baghdad? Muslims are killing one another there in staggering numbers and in unspeakable ways on a daily basis. Where is the indignation, the anger, the outrage at that?

June 21, 2006

"You've Covered Your Ass, Now"

Via Andrew Sullivan, from a Washington Post review of the new book The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11:

The book's opening anecdote tells of an unnamed CIA briefer who flew to Bush's Texas ranch during the scary summer of 2001, amid a flurry of reports of a pending al-Qaeda attack, to call the president's attention personally to the now-famous Aug. 6, 2001, memo titled "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US." Bush reportedly heard the briefer out and replied: "All right. You've covered your ass, now."
It's beyond me that some Americans can still believe that President Bush is the right person to protect our country from threats. Most of the evidence I've seen suggests that, prior to 9/11, he couldn't be bothered with Al Qaeda. After 9/11, and after a well-advised, widely supported, but cheapskate invasion of Afghanistan, his major effort has been to go to war with Iraq on false pretenses.

Supporters of the war point to the terror in Iraq as evidence of a connection between Iraq and 9/11, but this is an ex post facto claim: terrorists flocked to Iraq after the invasion, not before. And does anyone seriously believe we're reducing their numbers? We're living out a lame Doritos commercial. "Crunch all you want," the terrorists say. "We'll make more."

June 08, 2006

Not Dramatic Enough?

Perhaps my previous entry on the subject of Baghdad's murder rate wasn't dramatic enough. One commenter wrote:

If your figures are close to the truth, then I'm forced to concede that I had no idea DC was such a dangerous city.
Another wrote:
I think it is quite amazing that it is only 4X more likely to be murdered in Baghdad in the middle of an emerging civil war than in Washington D.C.
This reminds me of what Douglas Hofstadter once called "number numbness" -- the "inability to fathom, compare, or appreciate really big numbers or really small numbers" (definition here). So I'm going to recast my my numbers as percentage increases. In other words...
[Y]ou're 4.27 times more likely to be murdered in Baghdad as you are in the most dangerous city in the US.
becomes "[Y]ou're 327 percent more likely to be murdered in Baghdad as you are in the most dangerous city in the US". Here goes:
  • You're 780 percent more likely to murdered in Baghdad as you are in Chicago.
  • You're 1,017 percent more likely to be murdered in Baghdad as you are in Los Angeles.
  • You're 2,577 percent more likely to be murdered in Baghdad as you are in New York or San Francisco.
  • You're 4,242 percent more likely to be murdered in Baghdad as you are in Seattle.
  • You're 9,671 percent more likely to be murdered in Baghdad as you are in Honolulu.
Is that better?

June 06, 2006

Baghdad's Murder Rate

According to this report from the BBC, violent deaths in Baghdad this year have passed 6,000 through the end of May:

The bodies of 6,000 people, most of whom died violently, have been received by Baghdad's main mortuary so far this year, health ministry figures show.

The number has risen every month, to 1,400 in May. The majority are believed to be victims of sectarian killings.

But observers say the real death toll could be much higher.

A sidebar gives monthly totals:

  • January: 1068
  • February: 1110
  • March: 1294
  • April: 1155
  • May: 1398
This makes for a total of 6,025. The numbers are fuzzier than I'd like. The BBC says that "most" of the 6,000 died violently. They don't say what the proportion is. On the other hand, they say "the real death toll could be much higher", and later in the article say, "no-one believes these are the true figures from the violence in and around Baghdad as many bodies are not taken to the morgue, or are never found". So for the purposes of discussion, let's say that 6,025 is the correct number. Over a 12-month period, that would be 14,460 violent deaths (though as noted, the total has risen each month and could well end up much higher).

According to Wikipedia, Baghdad's estimated population as of 2005 is 7,400,000. That makes Baghdad's murder rate 195.41 per 100,000 residents.

According to this page, the murder rate for the US in 2004 was 5.5 per 100,000 residents. That means you're 35.53 times more likely to be murdered in Baghdad as you are in the US. But perhaps it isn't fair to compare an urban area to an entire nation. Fine. According to this page, the highest murder rate of any US city in 2002 was that of Washington, DC, at 45.8 per 100,000 inhabitants. That means you're 4.27 times more likely to be murdered in Baghdad as you are in the most dangerous city in the US. As long as we're at it, and drawing city murder rates from the same page:

  • You're 8.80 times more likely to murdered in Baghdad as you are in Chicago.
  • You're 11.17 times more likely to be murdered in Baghdad as you are in Los Angeles.
  • You're 26.77 times more likely to be murdered in Baghdad as you are in New York or San Francisco.
  • You're 43.42 times more likely to be murdered in Baghdad as you are in Seattle.
These are all rough figures. A more detailed analysis would involve projecting the trend line of murders in Baghdad (which isn't good), estimating the proportion of bodies brought to the mortuary that are murder victims, and estimating the number of deaths not accounted for by the mortuary.

"We Were Duped"

From a blog entry by Andrew Sullivan:

If I had been informed in early 2003 that the liberation of Iraq would be conducted outside the Geneva Conventions, I could not have supported what would have been an unjust war in its execution. Period. If the president had been candid and explained that this war would require America to jettison its long history of humane detention policies and become a nation that practices and outsources torture, I would have been unable to support the war. Those of us who believe in the American tradition of humane warfare and in the moral boundaries of just warfare are not fair-weather hawks. We simply expected America to retain its honor in warfare. We were duped.
I couldn't have said it better myself.

May 29, 2006

"Rapes Within Rapes"

I think that Part I, "Rapes within rapes", of this article by Johann Hari on the ongoing civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (found via Andrew Sullivan) is possibly the most horrible thing I've ever read. I was thinking of quoting it here, but just couldn't bring myself to -- it's that difficult to read. How can human beings do such things? How?

August 31, 2005

"The Strategy Has One Virtue. It Might Work"

I respect David Brooks, columnist for the New York Times. He's intelligent; conservative, but not rabidly so; and he's willing to call a spade a spade. Even given his outspokenness, still, to see him turn on the Bush administration over Iraq makes me wonder if there's anyone left who thinks the Bush team is doing a good job managing the war. (I'm including his entire column here because it's important and because soon it won't be accessible via the Times site.) (Thanks, Eric!)

Winning in Iraq

Andrew Krepinevich is a careful, scholarly man. A graduate of West Point and a retired lieutenant colonel, his book, "The Army and Vietnam," is a classic on how to fight counterinsurgency warfare.

Over the past year or so he's been asking his friends and former colleagues in the military a few simple questions: Which of the several known strategies for fighting insurgents are you guys employing in Iraq? What metrics are you using to measure your progress?

The answers have been disturbing. There is no clear strategy. There are no clear metrics.

Krepinevich has now published an essay in the new issue of Foreign Affairs, "How to Win in Iraq," in which he proposes a strategy. The article is already a phenomenon among the people running this war, generating discussion in the Pentagon, the C.I.A., the American Embassy in Baghdad and the office of the vice president.

Krepinevich's proposal is hardly new. He's merely describing a classic counterinsurgency strategy, which was used, among other places, in Malaya by the British in the 1950's. The same approach was pushed by Tom Donnelly and Gary Schmitt in a Washington Post essay back on Oct. 26, 2003; by Kenneth Pollack in Senate testimony this July 18; and by dozens of midlevel Army and Marine Corps officers in Iraq.

Krepinevich calls the approach the oil-spot strategy. The core insight is that you can't win a war like this by going off on search and destroy missions trying to kill insurgents. There are always more enemy fighters waiting. You end up going back to the same towns again and again, because the insurgents just pop up after you've left and kill anybody who helped you. You alienate civilians, who are the key to success, with your heavy-handed raids.

Instead of trying to kill insurgents, Krepinevich argues, it's more important to protect civilians. You set up safe havens where you can establish good security. Because you don't have enough manpower to do this everywhere at once, you select a few key cities and take control. Then you slowly expand the size of your safe havens, like an oil spot spreading across the pavement.

Once you've secured a town or city, you throw in all the economic and political resources you have to make that place grow. The locals see the benefits of working with you. Your own troops and the folks back home watching on TV can see concrete signs of progress in these newly regenerated neighborhoods. You mix your troops in with indigenous security forces, and through intimate contact with the locals you begin to even out the intelligence advantage that otherwise goes to the insurgents.

If you ask U.S. officials why they haven't adopted this strategy, they say they have. But if that were true the road to the airport in Baghdad wouldn't be a death trap. It would be within the primary oil spot.

The fact is, the U.S. didn't adopt this blindingly obvious strategy because it violates some of the key Rumsfeldian notions about how the U.S. military should operate in the 21st century.

First, it requires a heavy troop presence, not a light, lean force. Second, it doesn't play to our strengths, which are technological superiority, mobility and firepower. It acknowledges that while we go with our strengths, the insurgents exploit our weakness: the lack of usable intelligence.

Third, it means we have to think in the long term. For fear of straining the armed forces, the military brass have conducted this campaign with one eye looking longingly at the exits. A lot of the military planning has extended only as far as the next supposed tipping point: the transfer of sovereignty, the election, and so on. We've been rotating successful commanders back to Washington after short stints, which is like pulling Grant back home before the battle of Vicksburg. The oil-spot strategy would force us to acknowledge that this will be a long, gradual war.

But the strategy has one virtue. It might work.

Today, public opinion is turning against the war not because people have given up on the goal of advancing freedom, but because they are not sure this war is winnable. Why should we sacrifice more American lives to a lost cause?

If President Bush is going to rebuild support for the war, he's going to have to explain specifically how it can be won, and for that he needs a strategy.

It's not hard to find. It's right there in Andy Krepinevich's essay, and in the annals of history.

July 07, 2005

London, Yesterday and Today

Yesterday morning, I was driving to a meeting in Virginia when the winner of the 2012 Olympics was announced. There was that moment of suspense as Jacques Rogge paused appropriately, and then when the word "London" came out, I actually cheered in the car. I love France, and Paris is a beautiful city, but like so many Americans, London feels like going home to me. London was the underdog for the Olympics, and the Parisians were acting like it was theirs, so naturally, taking all into account, I had to cheer for the Londoners. What a delight.

This morning I woke up to the news that London had been bombed. I hope and believe I'll never be shocked again as I was by 9/11 -- at this point, I'd be horrified but not shocked if I woke up the news that New York had been hit with a briefcase nuke -- but still, it was hard to hear. Such a wonderful city, such wonderful people. I didn't ask "Why them?" I know why them, or at least think I do. They're perceived as being staunch allies of the US. They have troops on the ground in Iraq and have since the invasion. But that doesn't make it any less horrific, or any less barbaric, or any less wrong -- utterly and completely wrong.

To the people of London, you have my condolences. And please know that not only will I visit your city later this year as planned, I will actively look for more opportunities to make my way there.

March 30, 2005

Live from Baghdad 1

A good friend of mine who's in the defense contracting business has been working in Baghdad for a few weeks now. He has been kind enough to send along updates, partly to reassure me that he's still alive, and partly because he sees and does such interesting things there. He calls his messages "Live from Baghdad", which is a satisfying double entendre. Anyway, he has graciously allowed me to post sanitized excerpts here. From his second message after arriving:

Several days have been surreal. In describing this scene I am not being flip, because I have been on the bad end of this situation, but I have to set this scene that may remind you a bit of Apocalypse Now with Wagner playing on the attack helicopters.

The other day I left the Green Zone with a guy that I work with here, and with our State Department and DoD clients. We need to go to the Baghdad International Airport, to Camp Victory, and to Abu Ghraib where we have warehouses. We need to check on the receipt of 3.2 million rounds of ammunition and some cases of AK-47s.

My friend M is driving our $250,000 level six hard-car (an up armored Toyota Land Cruiser). I am the front seat trigger guy riding shotgun with an AK-47, an MP-5, and a Glock. There are an Army Colonel and a Navy Commander in the back armed with AKs.

We hit Check Point 12 where we leave the Green Zone to head north on Route Irish towards the Airport. The procedure goes like this: The guard waves us through; everyone locks and loads all weapons, all sending the bolts home at the same time; M pushes play on the CD player; and Axl Rose starts belting out "Welcome to the Jungle" and M hits the gas. We're off zipping through and around traffic, heads on swivels.

An IED had just gone off about two hours earlier on Irish when a convoy passed. Our nice hard car is good against small arms fire, and against IEDs that are not too close. But an IED going off as a direct hit tend to knock a hard car over, and then you have to get out and fight on the ground. Not a good thing at all. There are several bridges over Irish and it is very interesting to slam the wheel hard on such a heavy vehicle to come out under the other side in a different lane than the one in which you entered.

We made the trip with no delays, and at mostly 80 plus miles an hour.

October 04, 2004

The Return of Thomas Friedman

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is back from leave to write a new book, and to say he's angry about how the Bush administration has conducted operations in Iraq -- and pessimistic about the prospects for a decent outcome there -- would be an understatement of the highest order:

This war has been hugely mismanaged by this administration, in the face of clear advice to the contrary at every stage, and as a result the range of decent outcomes in Iraq has been narrowed and the tools we have to bring even those about are more limited than ever...

Being away has not changed my belief one iota in the importance of producing a decent outcome in Iraq, to help move the Arab-Muslim world off its steady slide toward increased authoritarianism, unemployment, overpopulation, suicidal terrorism and religious obscurantism. But my time off has clarified for me, even more, that this Bush team can't get us there, and may have so messed things up that no one can. Why? Because each time the Bush team had to choose between doing the right thing in the war on terrorism or siding with its political base and ideology, it chose its base and ideology. More troops or radically lower taxes? Lower taxes. Fire an evangelical Christian U.S. general who smears Islam in a speech while wearing the uniform of the U.S. Army or not fire him so as not to anger the Christian right? Don't fire him. Apologize to the U.N. for not finding the W.M.D., and then make the case for why our allies should still join us in Iraq to establish a decent government there? Don't apologize -- for anything -- because Karl Rove says the "base" won't like it. Impose a "Patriot Tax" of 50 cents a gallon on gasoline to help pay for the war, shrink the deficit and reduce the amount of oil we consume so we send less money to Saudi Arabia? Never. Just tell Americans to go on guzzling. Fire the secretary of defense for the abuses at Abu Ghraib, to show the world how seriously we take this outrage -- or do nothing? Do nothing. Firing Mr. Rumsfeld might upset conservatives. Listen to the C.I.A.? Only when it can confirm your ideology. When it disagrees -- impugn it or ignore it...

We have to immediately get the Democratic and Republican politics out of this policy and start honestly reassessing what is the maximum we can still achieve there and what every American is going to have to do to make it happen. If we do not, we'll end up not only with a fractured Iraq, but with a fractured America, at war with itself and isolated from the world.

Remember, this is someone who supported going to war in Iraq -- not over WMDs, or over terrorism, but to create an example of democracy in the Middle East.

September 13, 2004

"Be Silent; I See It, If You Don't"

By then-Representative Abraham Lincoln (italics in the original):

Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so, whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose -- and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after you have given him so much as you propose. If, to-day, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada, to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, "I see no probability of the British invading us" but he will say to you "be silent; I see it, if you dont."

The provision of the Constitution giving the war-making power to Congress, was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons. Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This, our Convention understood to be the most oppressive of all Kingly oppressions; and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood.


June 08, 2004

"The Rest of Us Have Been Given a Pass"

This column by Bob Herbert in the New York Times says more eloquently than I could how I feel about the Bush Administration's handling of the war in Iraq right now:

Last week the Army had to make the embarrassing disclosure that it did not have enough troops available to replenish the forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. So in addition to extending the deployment of many of the troops already in the war zones, the Army announced that it would prevent soldiers from leaving the service -- even if their voluntary enlistments were up -- if their units were scheduled to go to Iraq or Afghanistan...

In any event, the Army is so over-extended, stretched so dangerously thin, that most knowledgeable observers, whatever their take on the war in Iraq, have described the stop-loss policy as inevitable...

The stop-loss policy is the latest illustration of both the danger and the fundamental unfairness embedded in the president's "what, me worry?" approach to the war in Iraq. Almost the entire burden of the war has been loaded onto the backs of a brave but tiny segment of the population -- the men and women, most of them from working-class families, who enlisted in the armed forces for a variety of reasons, from patriotism to a desire to further their education to the need for a job.

They never expected that the failure of their country to pay for an army of sufficient size would result in their being trapped in a war zone with the exit doors locked when their enlistments were up.

Meanwhile, the rest of us have been given a pass. The president has not asked us to share in the sacrifice and we haven't demanded the opportunity to do so. We're not even paying for the war. It's being put on credit cards issued in the names of future generations.

For America's privileged classes, this is the most comfortable war imaginable. There's something utterly surreal about a government cutting taxes and bragging about an economic boom while at the same time refusing to provide the forces necessary to relieve troops who are fighting and dying overseas.

We should stop the madness. A president who is sending troops into the crucible of combat has an obligation to support them fully and treat them fairly...

Mr. Bush has always been quick to characterize himself as a wartime president. But he's never been candid about the true costs of war, about the terrible suffering and extreme sacrifices that wars always demand.

May 27, 2004

How Could This Have Gone So Wrong?

If I remember correctly, the argument for going to war in Iraq went something like this:

  1. Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and so is a threat to its neighbors and to US interests.
  2. Iraq has encouraged and/or sponsored terrorism, including acts committed by Al Qaeda.
  3. Saddam Hussein has a long history of torturing and killing innocent people.
Now, let me see if I have this straight:
  1. We have found no stockpiles of WMDs.
  2. The war in Iraq has actually "spurred on" Al Qaeda.
  3. The US has conducted "widespread" abuse of prisoners, potentially including several deaths during interrogations.
In other words, the justifications for the war have either disappeared or we have undone them ourselves through our actions.

How could this have gone so wrong?

August 26, 2003

An Awful Milestone

An awful milestone has been reached:

The number of United States soldiers who have died in Iraq since May 1, when President Bush declared the end of major combat there, has surpassed the number of American deaths in the first stage of the war, which began on March 19.

June 20, 2003

Intelligence, Iraq, and WMD

In the debate about whether the Bush administration distorted the truth in order to make its case for war with Iraq, I haven't seen a better, more concise summary than this e-mail from

On March 17th, in the eve of the Iraq war, President Bush told the American people that "intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." (2) White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer said simply, "We know for a fact that there are weapons there." (3) And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld elaborated: "We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat." (4)

Now, after two months of searching by the most skilled teams in the military, not a single piece of solid evidence of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons programs in Iraq has been found. The top 87 sites identified by U.S. Central Command have turned up only vacuum cleaners, a swimming pool for Iraq's Olympic team, and a license plate factory. (5)

Officials in the CIA and other intelligence agencies have complained for months that they have been under pressure to "cook the books" on Iraq intelligence. (6) Worse, a number of the key pieces of evidence that the Bush administration has released have come unraveled:

  • The President's State of the Union claim that Iraq possessed an active nuclear program was based on fraudulent documents that included the forged signature of an official that weren't even in office at the time. (7)
  • The dossier that Prime Minister Blair and Secretary Powell relied upon in critical presentations turned out to have been partially plagiarized from a graduate student's paper from 12 years ago. (8)
  • The claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes, first made by Prime Minister Tony Blair, now appears to have been fabricated. (9)
  • The administration's claim that two tractor trailer trucks found in Iraq housed "mobile weapons labs" has now been disputed by numerous experts inside and outside of the military. An official British investigation has concluded that the trailer trucks were "exactly what the Iraqis said they were -- facilities for the production of hydrogen gas to fill balloons." (10)
It seems to me that three possibilities exist:
  1. The administration accurately reported the findings of the intelligence community, but these findings were severely flawed.
  2. The intelligence community's assessment of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was accurate, but this assessment was distorted by the administration in order to make stronger its case for war.
  3. Flawed intelligence data was then distorted to make it further suit the administration's purposes.
In other words, either our intelligence community screwed up, our administration lied, or both.

What I find sad about American politics in general is how reflexive it is. Republicans who investigated Clinton for allegedly lying about an affair with an intern don't see the point in investigating Bush for allegedly lying about the reasons for going to war. Democrats who didn't have a problem with Clinton's possible perjury want to go after Bush for possible distortion and exaggeration.

June 18, 2003

Friedman's Theory of Everything

At the risk of overdosing on Thomas Friedman, let me clear out my backlog of Friedman items with this entry on his "theory of everything". I've tried to edit it down as much as possible, but it's a fairly dense and integrated argument...

After 9/11 people wondered, "Why do they hate us?" speaking of the Muslim world. After the Iraq war debate, the question has grown into, "Why does everybody else hate us?"

I've sketched out my own answer, which I modestly call "A Brief Theory of Everything." ...

During the 1990's, America became exponentially more powerful -- economically, militarily and technologically -- than any other country in the world, if not in history... The net effect was that U.S. power, culture and economic ideas about how society should be organized became so dominant (a dominance magnified through globalization) that America began to touch people's lives around the planet -- "more than their own governments," as a Pakistani diplomat once said to me...

As people realized this, they began to organize against it in a very inchoate manner. The first manifestation of that was the 1999 Seattle protest, which triggered a global movement. Seattle had its idiot side, but what the serious protesters there were saying was: "You, America, are now touching my life more than my own government. You are touching it by how your culture seeps into mine, by how your technologies are speeding up change in all aspects of my life, and by how your economic rules have been `imposed' on me. I want to have a vote on how your power is exercised, because it's a force now shaping my life." ...

[According to] Michael Mandelbaum... "One prominent international relations school -- the realists -- argues that when a hegemonic power, such as America, emerges in the global system other countries will naturally gang up against it. But because the world basically understands that America is a benign hegemon, the ganging up does not take the shape of warfare. Instead, it is an effort to Gulliverize America, an attempt to tie it down, using the rules of the World Trade Organization or U.N. -- and in so doing demanding a vote on how American power is used."

There is another reason for this nonmilitary response. America's emergence as the hyperpower is happening in the age of globalization, when economies have become so intertwined that China, Russia, France or any other rivals cannot hit the U.S. without wrecking their own economies.

The only people who use violence are rogues or nonstate actors with no stakes in the system, such as Osama bin Laden... [who] says to himself, "The Saudi rulers are insignificant. To destroy them you have to hit the hegemonic power that props them up -- America."

Hence, 9/11. This is where the story really gets interesting. Because suddenly, Puff the Magic Dragon -- a benign U.S. hegemon touching everyone economically and culturally -- turns into Godzilla, a wounded, angry, raging beast touching people militarily. Now, people become really frightened of us, a mood reinforced by the Bush team's unilateralism. With one swipe of our paw we smash the Taliban. Then we turn to Iraq. Then the rest of the world says, "Holy cow! Now we really want a vote over how your power is used."

This theory feels right to me. I don't have much sympathy for the intellectual rigor of Seattle-type protesters -- flying Qantas to attend demonstrations where they use Nokia phones on AT&T's network to protest against globalization -- but reduced down to a cry for a check on America's power, their complaints make more sense.

June 09, 2003

Friedman on Why We Went to War

Thomas Friedman on why we went to war:

[T]here were actually four reasons for this war: the real reason, the right reason, the moral reason and the stated reason.

The "real reason" for this war, which was never stated, was that after 9/11 America needed to hit someone in the Arab-Muslim world... [A] terrorism bubble had built up over there -- a bubble that posed a real threat to the open societies of the West and needed to be punctured...

The only way to puncture that bubble was for American soldiers, men and women, to go into the heart of the Arab-Muslim world, house to house, and make clear that we are ready to kill, and to die, to prevent our open society from being undermined by this terrorism bubble... [W]e hit Saddam for one simple reason: because we could, and because he deserved it and because he was right in the heart of that world...

The "right reason" for this war was the need to partner with Iraqis, post-Saddam, to build a progressive Arab regime... Helping to build a decent Iraq as a model for others -- and solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- are the necessary steps for defusing the ideas of mass destruction, which are what really threaten us.

The "moral reason" for the war was that Saddam's regime was an engine of mass destruction and genocide that had killed thousands of his own people, and neighbors, and needed to be stopped.

But because the Bush team never dared to spell out the real reason for the war, and (wrongly) felt that it could never win public or world support for the right reasons and the moral reasons, it opted for the stated reason: the notion that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction that posed an immediate threat to America.

Here's the question I'm left with: I want you to let me do something. You might not like my reason for wanting to do it, so I give you three other reasons I think you'll like better. As a result, you let me do what I want. Was I being dishonest with you?

June 07, 2003

Spinsanity on Iraq

The always even-handed, always excellent Spinsanity has a new column answering common questions about Iraq:

  • Have weapons of mass destruction been found in Iraq?
  • Has evidence of links between Saddam Hussein's regime and Al Qaeda been found in Iraq?
  • Were thousands of items looted from the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad?
  • Where did the American flag come from that was placed on the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad?
  • What actually happened to Pfc. Jessica Lynch?

April 16, 2003

Timing the War

At Michael Jordan's final home game Monday night, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was introduced to the crowd before the game. (He received a loud ovation, by the way. If Wizards fans are representative of the larger world, Rummy is more popular than I would have thought.) He was there to present Jordan with a flag that was flying at the Pentagon on 9/11.


He was introduced as "Secretary of Defense and Wizards season ticket holder Donald Rumsfeld," which led me to the following conjecture:

  1. Rumsfeld is a Wizards season ticket holder.
  2. Rumsfeld knows Jordan will be playing his last home game on 14 April.
  3. Rumsfeld wants to attend that game.
  4. Rumsfeld feels that it would be unseemly for him to be seen at a basketball game while a conflict with Iraq is going full-force.
  5. Rumsfeld feels that it will take less than a month for US military forces to achieve victory in Iraq.
Could Jordan's final home game have influenced the start date of hostilities?

Okay, I'm just kidding. No hate mail, please.

April 13, 2003

Friedman on Saddamism

From Thomas Friedman's latest column in the New York Times:

America was not just at war with Saddam, but with Saddamism: an entrenched Arab mind-set, born of years of colonialism and humiliation, that insists that upholding Arab dignity and nationalism by defying the West is more important than freedom, democracy and modernization.

Throughout this war, Saddamism was peddled by Al Jazeera television, Arab intellectuals and the Arab League. You cannot imagine how much distress there is among certain Arab elites that the people of Iraq preferred liberation by America to more defiance under Saddam.

It's a sad thing that so many Arabs would rather see their nations defy the West and remain unfree rather than embrace the West and achieve democracy and modernization.

The problem with Saddamism is that it doesn't work. It took the US-led coalition only three weeks to effectively win the war -- this speed surprising many, including me -- because our economies are not only ahead of those in the Arab world but continue to accelerate away. As long as Arab nations fail to democratize, fail to modernize, fail to take responsibility for their own problems instead of blaming their ills on the West, then Western nations will not only maintain but increase their economic and military superiority over them -- and buying jet fighters from the US or France is not a fix for this.

The attempt to uphold Arab honor by defying Western political and economic systems ensures not only more conflicts between the two worlds but more humiliating defeats for the Arabs. For their sake and ours, I hope the US helps the Iraqis build a stable, prosperous, and democratic nation that serves as an example to the rest of the Arab world.

April 05, 2003

Dramatic Ideas for Post-War Iraq

Two dramatic ideas for post-war Iraq:

Via Plastic, an article in the New Yorker proposing that Iraq repudiate its international debt:

In 1979, when Saddam Hussein took power, Iraq -- thanks to the oil boom of the seventies -- had a foreign surplus of about thirty-five billion dollars. A decade later, after the war with Iran, it had a foreign debt of some fifty billion dollars. And today, after more war and a dozen years of missed interest payments, the country owes, by many estimates, more than a hundred billion dollars. Its creditors, which include Kuwait, Bulgaria, and the Korean conglomerate Hyundai, are already jockeying for position to be repaid after the war.

Iraq has no hope of ever repaying its debts. Its annual gross domestic product is a mere thirty billion dollars, and even if this war does relatively little damage to the countrys infrastructure it will take years -- and tens of billions of dollars -- to repair the damage that Saddam has done to the Iraqi economy. Presumably, the U.S. and others will invest heavily in reconstruction. But, if Iraq is to become stable and prosperous, it needs to spend public dollars on public goods (health, education, roads), not on debt payments to creditors who willingly lent money to Saddam.

Even if the Iraqi people could afford to pay back Saddam's debts, it's hard to see why they should. Most of the money that Iraq borrowed in the past twenty years went either to Saddam's military misadventures in Iran and Kuwait or to his internal security apparatus. Asking the Iraqi people to assume Saddams debts is rather like telling a man who has been shot in the head that he has to pay for the bullet.

Oddly, though, thats pretty much what international custom seems to require. Lenders and borrowers still believe that debt belongs to a state, not to a regime. As a result, only a handful of countries have ever repudiated their debts. Even when tyrannical regimes have been deposed -- Somoza in Nicaragua, Mobutu in Zaire, the apartheid system in South Africa -- their successors have dutifully, if reluctantly, assumed their debts.

It might be time to change all that and consider an old idea that has recently been resurrected: the doctrine of odious debts. First articulated in the twenties by a former tsarist minister named Alexander Sack, the doctrine holds that a country is not responsible for debts incurred by a "despotic regime" and used for purposes "contrary to the interests of the nation." Both criteria have to be met for the debt to be considered odious. (In other words, profligate Argentina couldn't repudiate its debt, because it's a democracy.) The idea is that when the despot falls his debt disappears with him. The Harvard economists Michael Kremer and Seema Jayachandran have proposed the creation of an international institution that would have the authority to declare a regime "odious." Such a system would likely persuade lenders to avoid tyrants, as they would no longer expect to be repaid...

Perhaps Saddam's successors should turn theory into practice and, when the time comes, repudiate the debts that Saddam incurred to stock his arsenal and maintain his power. That would vastly improve Iraqs economic prospects, and establish a worthy precedent: lend to tyrants, and you will get stiffed. The U.S., at least, is unlikely to object -- two of Iraqs biggest creditors are Russia and France.

And via InstaPundit, an idea to pass much of Iraq's future oil wealth directly to its people:

Our government should announce -- soon -- that the new postwar Iraqi administration will "personalize" the nation's oil revenues by establishing an Iraqi national investment trust -- The Iraqi People's Freedom Trust -- that will receive a major share -- say, 50% -- of all future Iraqi oil earnings.

The rest can go to central government and federal regional governments on some per capita basis.

Each Iraqi -- man, woman or child -- would be eligible for a personal investment account in the trust once they register as citizens of New Iraq...

Funds in the trust may be invested in New Iraq government bonds, domestic equities, venture capital investments in Iraq or international markets. But legal ownership will be vested in each individual Iraqi -- not the tribe, clan region, power-broker etc. Any Iraqi over age 21 may withdraw funds or borrow against their balances -- for any reason at all...

The effect -- immediately -- would be to establish irrefutably that the U.S. is NOT waging this war to somehow steal Iraqi oil -- but rather to return this resource to the benefit of the Iraqi people themselves -- directly. One person at a time.

It would give all Iraqis a clear sense of the profound policy difference between liberators and corrupt thieves like the Ba'ath regime who have exploited, stolen and misused oil revenues in way that infuriate ordinary Iraqis -- and endanger the world...

By ensuring that all Iraqis will have access -- on reaching adulthood -- to significant sources of money -- it would spur entrepreneurship, revitalize the whole economy, distribute real resources to the most remote and poor regions of the country and create a very strong interest among all ethnic and confessional groups and tribes in ensuring their nation's future stability.

We're not talking small money here. Once its oil facilities are repaired and production is ramped up, Iraq can earn $50 billion a year from its oil. 50% of that would be about $1,000 a year per person...and funds would accumulate for young people to even more significant sums -- until they came of age... I would suggest to you that such a proposal, properly structured and publicized, would have the kind of impact -- in Iraq and on world opinion -- that Lincoln's emancipation proclamation did on the domestic politics -- and nternational [sic]diplomacy -- of our own Civil War. It would be the same kind of profoundly moral -- and revolutionary -- stroke.

Though, as the conquering power, the US will have the ability to impose these ideas on Iraq, it shouldn't do so. But encouraging Iraq's new leaders to take such steps -- and working with them to make doing so possible -- has great appeal.

I don't agree with how we got into this war, but as Thomas Friedman says, now it's time to take our lemons and make lemonade. A post-war Iraq along these lines -- a secular, democratic nation of 25 million people, debt-free, with half its oil revenue kept in trust for the direct use of its people -- is a powerful idea.

April 01, 2003

Seymour Hersh on Rumsfeld

Seymour Hersh's New Yorker article on Donald Rumsfeld and the development of the war plan for Iraq that has generated so much discussion (including my post over the weekend) is now available online.

March 31, 2003

My Old Unit in Iraq

This didn't strike me until last week, but the Army unit in which I served from 1982-1984, the 103rd Military Intelligence Battalion, is deployed in Iraq along with the rest of its division, the 3rd Infantry Division.

Back then, I held MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) ratings of 98G (Voice Interceptor, Russian) and 74B (Information Systems Operator-Analyst). I'm not sure how useful either of them would be in Iraq right now -- especially the Russian translation.

When I was in the 103rd, we were stationed in Würzburg, in what was then West Germany. Virtually all our voice interceptors were trained in Russian, except for a few who knew German and a few who carried an additional rating in Korean from a previous tour there. Now, I'd be surprised if there are more than a handful of Russian speakers in the 103rd -- the vast majority is almost certainly Arabic-speaking.

How times have changed.

March 30, 2003


This isn't Donald Rumsfeld's week. Although I've been cutting back on the time I spend following the conflict in Iraq, I had long drives on Wednesday and Friday, and listening to NPR, I could sense the rising temperature of the hot seat he's on. Now, according to the BBC, the New Yorker magazine has just added fresh fuel to the fire:

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld forced his military chiefs to accept his idea that a relatively small, lightly armed force should go to war with Iraq, it is being claimed.

The New Yorker magazine quotes unnamed Pentagon sources as saying that Mr Rumsfeld insisted at least six times before the conflict on the proposed number of troops being reduced.

In an article to be published on Monday, the magazine says Mr Rumsfeld overruled advice from the war commander, General Tommy Franks, to delay the invasion of Iraq...

A senior Pentagon planner said Mr Rumsfeld wanted to "do war on the cheap" and thought precision bombing would bring victory.

"He thought he knew better [than military officials]. He was the decision-maker at every turn," the unnamed planner said.

The article says General Franks wanted to delay the invasion until the American troops denied access to Turkey had been brought to Kuwait, but Mr Rumsfeld overruled him.

It says the defence secretary also rejected recommendations to deploy four or more army divisions and to ship hundreds of tanks and other heavy vehicles in advance.

Instead, Mr Rumsfeld preferred to rely on equipment which was already in Kuwait, but was insufficient, the magazine says.

To listen to those on the right here in the US, the fact that some people predicted a quagmire in Afghanistan is proof enough that we don't face a quagmire in Iraq. To say that success in Afghanistan implies success in Iraq would be as much a leap of logic as to say that failure in Mogadishu implies failure in Baghdad -- which is not what I've said in previous posts. What I've said is that it's a worrying possibility.

I have no special insight into the thinking of Donald Rumsfeld, and certainly am not privy to his private discussions. With that said, my hunch is that, prior to the start of military operations, he believed the chances to be good that the government of Iraq would fall quickly -- thanks either to a lucky US strike, to an internal coup by generals looking to secure their post-war positions, or to an overall collapse fueled by scenes of happy Iraqis welcoming their liberators along the paths of invasion. None of these scenarios has happened. My hunch is that Rumsfeld believed the worst-case scenario to be for Saddam Hussein to cling to power long enough to force an urban battle within Baghdad. Barring a non-linear breakthrough, that seems to be exactly what we are facing. And so I am worried that a street-by-street, house-by-house battle for Baghdad might -- might -- carry with it human and political costs that would ultimately render a victory in Iraq a Pyrrhic one.

If my concerns are unfounded, I'll be among the first to congratulate Rumsfeld on his brilliant war plan, and I'll publicly revisit and criticize my own commentary on the subject, including this entry. But if the worst comes to pass, then the neoconservative pundits who instigated the plan and the civilian government officials who architected it will have a heavy price to pay.

March 29, 2003

The Neoconservatives' Real Agenda?

Via Rafe Colburn, an article by blogger Joshua Micah Marshall on the neoconservatives' true plan for the Middle East:

Imagine it's six months from now. The Iraq war is over. After an initial burst of joy and gratitude at being liberated from Saddam's rule, the people of Iraq are watching, and waiting, and beginning to chafe under American occupation. Across the border, in Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, our conquering presence has brought street protests and escalating violence. The United Nations and NATO are in disarray, so America is pretty much on its own. Hemmed in by budget deficits at home and limited financial assistance from allies, the Bush administration is talking again about tapping Iraq's oil reserves to offset some of the costs of the American presence -- talk that is further inflaming the region. Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence has discovered fresh evidence that, prior to the war, Saddam moved quantities of biological and chemical weapons to Syria. When Syria denies having such weapons, the administration starts massing troops on the Syrian border. But as they begin to move, there is an explosion: Hezbollah terrorists from southern Lebanon blow themselves up in a Baghdad restaurant, killing dozens of Western aid workers and journalists. Knowing that Hezbollah has cells in America, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge puts the nation back on Orange Alert. FBI agents start sweeping through mosques, with a new round of arrests of Saudis, Pakistanis, Palestinians, and Yemenis.

To most Americans, this would sound like a frightening state of affairs, the kind that would lead them to wonder how and why we had got ourselves into this mess in the first place. But to the Bush administration hawks who are guiding American foreign policy, this isn't the nightmare scenario. It's everything going as anticipated.

In their view, invasion of Iraq was not merely, or even primarily, about getting rid of Saddam Hussein. Nor was it really about weapons of mass destruction, though their elimination was an important benefit. Rather, the administration sees the invasion as only the first move in a wider effort to reorder the power structure of the entire Middle East.

There's a great quote near the end of the article:

Ending Saddam Hussein's regime and replacing it with something stable and democratic was always going to be a difficult task, even with the most able leadership and the broadest coalition. But doing it as the Bush administration now intends is something like going outside and giving a few good whacks to a hornets' nest because you want to get them out in the open and have it out with them once and for all.
In his blog, Marshall takes off the gloves and goes straight for the jugulars of two of the leading neoconservatives:
[I]s it time -- strictly for humanitarian reasons -- to set up a journalistic no-fly-zone to give some sanctuary for the hawks who've been telling us for months that a few good SWAT Teams could take down Saddam's regime.

I mean, think about Ken Adelman, who a year ago said that Iraq would be a cakewalk. (Okay, what did he really say? Ummm, well "I believe demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk." I think that counts as calling it a cakewalk.) Now he's been driven to the hills by reportorial fedayeen. He's run ragged, exposed to the elements, and short on food. Or what about Richard Perle, who said Saddam's regime was "a house of cards [which would] collapse at the first whiff of gunpowder." Sure, AEI would like to send out a relief mission. But most of their troops have run off to the hills with those makeshift tarp-and-cardboard tents like Adelman and Perle. And well -- how to put this? -- let's just say they're just not in much of a position to beg relief from the UNHCR. Can't we at least protect these war-hawk worthies from fixed-wing aircraft, if nothing else? Toss 'em some MREs from the spare C-130? I mean, just for humanitarian purposes.

I don't pretend to understand Beltway politics enough to render a judgement on whether Marshall's theories are completely accurate. But he certainly makes a compelling and frightening case.

This Made Me Laugh

From the current issue of the Onion:

I suppose I played too much Missile Command way back when not to laugh at that...

March 28, 2003

Mogadishu and Baghdad

From Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down, about the aftermath of the battle in Mogadishu in 1993:

The Somali death toll was catastrophic. Conservative counts numbered five hundred dead among more than a thousand casualties.

I've seen other estimates of Somali dead -- in what they call the Battle of the Black Sea -- ranging from 2,000 to as high as 5,000. Note that this battle lasted approximately 14 hours from start to finish.

The US military has yet to disclose its plan for taking Baghdad. This could be for one of at least two reasons:

  1. They don't want to give the Iraqis advance warning of their planned tactics.
  2. They don't have a plan, because Secretary Rumsfeld's doctrine of transformation predicted that the the government of Iraq would have capitulated by now, either from outright destruction at the hands of US air power, or as a result of a popular revolt fueled by images of the same from Basra and other cities to the south.
I know that Black Hawk Down has been an extremely popular book within the US military. I hope they have created new urban warfare strategies in its wake. If Secretary Rumsfeld did indeed predict a joyous entry into the city by this point, I hope the military leaders created backup plans in case he was wrong.

The alternative -- Mogadishu a decade later, on a massive scale -- is too terrible to contemplate.

March 27, 2003

Mark Bowden on the Battle of Baghdad

Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down -- making him arguably the most knowledgeable journalist alive when it comes to modern urban warfare -- has written a thoughtful opinion piece for the New York Times on the battle for Baghdad:

Saddam Hussein... might be on the verge of delivering the "mother of all battles" he promised 12 years ago.

He... has left pockets of determined loyalists in cities large and small. These troops, many dressed in civilian clothing, will shoot at coalition forces from densely populated areas, daring return fire...

It is a strategy both cunning and cruel, and it may work. The outcome will depend in large part on the people of Baghdad, each of whom has a decision to make...

Saddam Hussein is betting that his people will rally around his crack troops. The allies are betting they will betray the dictator and flush out his enforcers. I'm afraid the odds at this point favor Saddam Hussein. Even those Iraqis eager to turn against the regime are still caught between the guns, and won't dare make a move until they are sure one side has the upper hand. Neighborhood by neighborhood, they will have to decide when it is safe to make their move.

If Saddam Hussein wins his bet, then coalition forces could face fighting reminiscent of the 1993 battle of Mogadishu. There would be important differences, of course. The 150 American troops trapped in the streets of Mogadishu were members of a light infantry unit cut off from backup or supply, without armor, dependent on a small number of helicopters for air support. Allied troops in Baghdad would number in the tens of thousands, with full armor and air support, and, as soon as the coalition manages to buttress its overextended supply line, a huge support system.

But no matter what kind of power can be rolled into Baghdad, if it faces a hostile population, as our troops did in Mogadishu, the scene could turn into a nightmare. Soldiers would be moving in a 360-degree battlefield with obstructed sight lines and impaired radio communications, trying to pick out targets from a civilian population determined to hide, supply and shield the enemy, unable to attack Iraqi firing positions without killing civilians. Even in victory such a battle would outrage the Arab world and fulfill the fears of the war's critics.

In other words, the battle of Mogadishu rendered 10 or 100 times larger. It's a frightening thought.

March 25, 2003

More on the Geneva Convention

Joi Ito has linked to my previous article on Al Jazeera and the Geneva Convention, with a discussion going in the comments there.

To my mind, there are two questions to be asked:

  1. Is the US correct in claiming that video footage being shown of US prisoners of war held by Iraq is a violation of the Geneva Convention?
  2. Is the US stance on this issue inconsistent with its treatment of prisoners captured within Afghanistan?
For reference, here's a link to the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.

Article 13 of the Convention states:

Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Convention. In particular, no prisoner of war may be subjected to physical mutilation or to medical or scientific experiments of any kind which are not justified by the medical, dental or hospital treatment of the prisoner concerned and carried out in his interest.

Likewise, prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.

I think the US has a case -- though certainly not an open-and-shut one -- that showing video of prisoners is a violation of the Convention's prohibition against "public curiousity." However, it's not clear to me why footage taken of Iraqis surrendering to coalition forces and being taken into captivity by them is not a violation of this same provision. The US government's position appears to be that to film the surrender and capture of forces is acceptable, but to film them afterwards is not. That seems to me to be a very fine distinction.

More seriously, and as argued here previously, the US government's position on the treatment of prisoners of war in Iraq is utterly inconsistent with its position that prisoners captured within Afghanistan are "unlawful combatants," not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Convention. It is hypocrisy of the highest order to deny Geneva Convention protections to prisoners taken in one conflict, then to show indignance over relatively minor and arguable violations of the Convention by one's opponent in a subsequent conflict.

March 24, 2003

Agreeing with Al Jazeera

I find myself squarely on the side of Al Jazeera on a human rights issue. From an article posted today:

There is nothing wrong with Article 13 of the Geneva Convention that the world adopted in 1950 for enshrining rights and privileges of a captured prisoner in war. Prisoners of war must at all time be humanely treated..POWs must at all time be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insult and public curiosity," it stated.

The problem is that the US is seeking to take refuge under provisions of the United Nations when the war they are waging does not have UN approval.

There is more to the US double-standards.

The US is holding 158 Taliban and Al Qaeda detainees in one of its high-security bases in Guantanomo Bay in Cuba for the past one year without even having them face a trial.

Taken prisoners in the Afghanistan war, the US has even denied them the status of Prisoners of War.

"They were not POWS but unlawful combatants," Rumsfeld has maintained while warding of accusations that the US was denying the detainees their fundamental rights to defend themselves in courts. The underlying logic has been that the detainees had no rights since they were not POWs.

Rumsfeld's bluster has not silenced the critics. Does a US defense secretary have the authority to determine who is a POW?

The accepted principle in the world hitherto has been that anyone detained in an armed conflict is presumed to be a POW, unless a competent court or tribunal determines otherwise.

But the Guantanomo detainees haven't had the luxury yet of being produced before a court.

An application filed by Human Rights groups before the US federal court seeking an end to the arbitrary detention got thrown out last fortnight because the "detainees held outside US territory were beyond the jurisdiction of US courts."

Robbed of any legal recourse, the Guantanomo detainees have been chained, manacled, hooded and forcibly shaved.

On each score, the US has erred. Forcible hooding, even temporarily, is violation of the 1984 convention against torture and reality.

Forced shaving of beards is in contravention to the 1966 convention of civil and political rights.

The continuing ill-treatment of the Guantanomo Bay detainees bodes ill. "The violations there will undermine the ability of the US government to ensure adequate treatment as and when US citizens are captured or held," said Michael Byers of the International Law at Duke University, North Carolina.

I don't know if Hell is actually freezing over, but let's say it feels more than a little strange to find myself on the same side of an issue as the editorial staff of Al Jazeera, in opposition to my own country's Secretary of Defense. Wow.

March 23, 2003

Geneva Convention Hypocrisy

From an interview of US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld conducted by CNN's Wolf Blitzer this morning:

BLITZER: [W]ithin the past few moments, the Al-Jazeera Arabic language television network has broadcast Iraqi television video of American POWs that they say are now in the hands of Iraqi officials...

RUMSFELD: ... [T]he Geneva Convention makes it illegal for prisoners of war to be shown and pictured and humiliated. And it's something that the United States does not do. And needless to say, television networks that carry such pictures are, I would say, doing something that's unfortunate... it's a violation of the Geneva Convention for the Iraqis to be -- if, in fact, that's what's taking place, to be showing prisoners of war in a humiliating manner...

BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, this broadcast is being seen live around the world, including in Iraq. What is your message to those Iraqi government officials who now have control of these American prisoners?

RUMSFELD: That they treat those prisoners according to the Geneva Convention, just as we treat Iraqi prisoners according to the Geneva Convention.

The Bush administration wants to have its Geneva Convention cake and eat it, too.

In Afghanistan, facing an opponent incapable of mounting organized resistance, and deploying extremely limited numbers of its own ground troops, the US declares captured enemy soldiers to be "unlawful combatants," ships them to Guantánamo Bay, out of the reach of US courts, and declares it can hold them indefinitely without access to counsel or family. In Iraq, facing an opponent capable of fierce opposition and able to capture US personnel, and with large numbers of US troops on the ground, the US gives notice that it expects its prisoners to be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

International agreements are not meant to be optional, observe-them-when-it-suits-you accords. They are meant to apply in all cases. In the specific case of the Geneva Convention, its power derives from the explicit agreement of all signatories to observe it all times. Each signatory should be able to reasonably expect that all other signatories will observe it, with reciprocal humane treatment of prisoners of war the end result. If, though, a nation chooses to ignore its obligations under the Geneva Convention in one conflict, it has little basis to believe that opponents in future conflicts will observe theirs.

Besides the obvious erosion of civil liberties being committed at Guantánamo, by ignoring its obligations with regard to prisoners of war, the Bush administration is endangering captured US soldiers, both in the the current conflict and in those to come.

March 22, 2003

This Is Not a War... least not for most Americans. It's a war if you're a combat troop deployed in the Middle East, and it's certainly a war if you're an Iraqi, but for the rest of us, this is not a war.

Most Americans alive today -- including me -- don't know what it's like to be in a real war. This is because we haven't been in one since World War II.

Wars involve sacrifice. In World War II, everyone had to sacrifice -- everyone. Many consumer goods were rationed. Travel was curtailed. In this war, except in what so far are very few (and certainly sad) cases, we don't have to sacrifice. Some politicians are calling for a tax cut and not the tax hike so typical of war. The stock markets are up.

Wars involve uncertainty, taking on a foe who might best you. When we entered World War II, Japan and Germany were powerful nations. A reasonable observer could have concluded that we might lose to either one of them. There is absolutely, positively no question of that now. We aren't threatened militarily in any way, shape, or form.

Wars are for the long haul. From the time we entered World War II, it was 1,364 days until the surrender of Japan. The conflict in Iraq started less than 3 days ago. We expect a quick victory. If we haven't won within a couple of weeks, people will undoubtedly begin to question the competence of our leadership and our battle plan.

For the vast majority of us, this conflict brings no sacrifice and no significant uncertainty. In historical terms, it will undoubtedly be over quickly.

We should not delude ourselves by thinking that this is a war for us. We should not delude ourselves by thinking that we now know what it is like to be in a war. We should not delude ourselves by thinking that we know how we would respond to a real war.

This is not a war.

March 21, 2003

Debunking Myths about Iraq

Spinsanity has an excellent article that debunks myths about Iraq:

  • Was Iraq connected to the September 11 attacks?
  • Did a 1998 IAEA report say Iraq was six months from developing a nuclear weapon?
  • Did Iraq try to obtain aluminum tubes to produce fissile material?
  • Did Iraq attempt to purchase uranium from Niger?
  • Was it Iran, rather than Iraq, that used poison gas on Kurdish civilians?
  • Is this a war for oil?
  • Doesn't the war in Afghanistan prove that a war in Iraq will kill thousands of civilians?
  • Is this a "unilateral" war?
  • Did a majority of Americans approve of the present course of action at the time President Bush announced his final decision?
In their typically laudatory fashion, Spinsanity takes on myths propagated by both the left and the right. Well done.

March 19, 2003

Debunking Taranto Again

I feel as if I'm spending more and more of my time defending the eminently reasonable Thomas Friedman (Pulitzer-winning New York Times columnist) from the ever-nastier James Taranto (Wall Street Journal's Best of the Web Today editor).

Today, Taranto had this to say:

Alone in the Crowd
The New York Times' Thomas Friedman is feeling lonely:
We're riding into Baghdad pretty much alone. . . . Here we are, going to war, basically alone, in the face of opposition, not so much from "the Arab Street," but from "the World Street."
So we are "pretty much alone." As Reuters notes, quoting Colin Powell, it's just us and Afghanistan, Albania, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Uzbekistan.

That's 30 countries, and Powell says there are 15 more that do not want to be identified publicly. The Heritage Foundation enumerates 16 countries that aren't on Powell's list but "have publicly offered either political or military support for the war": Bahrain, Canada, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Jordan, Kuwait, Norway, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, Taiwan, Ukraine and United Arab Emirates. Well, it's a stretch to count Canada, Germany and especially France as allies (Reuters reports today that "Paris had to clarify remarks by its ambassador in Washington that gave the false impression that France would join the fight in Iraq if Baghdad used chemical or biological weapons"), and it's true that American troops will do most of the work (with a lot of help from the British and a significant contribution from the Australians) -- but even so, and contrary to Friedman, isn't it getting a bit crowded in here?

Taranto gives the lie to his own comment. It's easy to say "we support the Americans." (It should be noted that only 30 out of 190 countries around the world have issued such a public statement of support. I suppose this puts our poll numbers at 15.8 percent.) It's another thing entirely to say "we support the Americans and will put our troops in harm's way to do so." Only two other nations in the world have made such a commitment: the UK and Australia. In that light, Friedman's statement, "We're riding into Baghdad pretty much alone," seems completely reasonable.

"The Bush Team Needs an 'Attitude Lobotomy'"

In what will most likely be his final column before the war begins, Thomas Friedman once again stands out as one of the most rational voices on the planet:

This column has argued throughout this debate that removing Saddam Hussein and helping Iraq replace his regime with a decent, accountable government that can serve as a model in the Middle East is worth doing -- not because Iraq threatens us with its weapons, but because we are threatened by a collection of failing Arab-Muslim states, which churn out way too many young people who feel humiliated, voiceless and left behind. We have a real interest in partnering with them for change.

This column has also argued, though, that such a preventive war is so unprecedented and mammoth a task -- taking over an entire country from a standing start and rebuilding it -- that it had to be done with maximum U.N legitimacy and with as many allies as possible.

President Bush has failed to build that framework before going to war. Though the Bush team came to office with this Iraq project in mind, it has pursued a narrow, ideological and bullying foreign policy that has alienated so many people that by the time it wanted to rustle up a posse for an Iraq war, too many nations were suspicious of its motives.

The president says he went the extra mile to find a diplomatic solution. That is not true. On the eve of the first gulf war, Secretary of State James Baker met face to face in Geneva with the Iraqi foreign minister -- a last-ditch peace effort that left most of the world feeling it was Iraq that refused to avoid war. This time the whole world saw President Bush make one trip, which didn't quite make it across the Atlantic, to sell the war to the only two allies we had. This is not to excuse France, let alone Saddam. France's role in blocking a credible U.N. disarmament program was shameful.

But here we are, going to war, basically alone, in the face of opposition, not so much from "the Arab Street," but from "the World Street." Everyone wishes it were different, but it's too late...

The president's view is that in the absence of a U.N. endorsement, this war will become "self-legitimating" when the world sees most Iraqis greet U.S. troops as liberators. I think there is a good chance that will play out.

But wars are fought for political ends. Defeating Saddam is necessary but not sufficient to achieve those ends, which are a more progressive Iraq and a world with fewer terrorists and terrorist suppliers dedicated to destroying the U.S., so Americans will feel safer at home and abroad. We cannot achieve the latter without the former. Which means we must bear any burden and pay any price to make Iraq into the sort of state that fair-minded people across the world will see and say: "You did good. You lived up to America's promise."

To maximize our chances of doing that, we need to patch things up with the world. Because having more allied support in rebuilding Iraq will increase the odds that we do it right, and because if the breach that has been opened between us and our traditional friends hardens into hostility, we will find it much tougher to manage both Iraq and all the other threats down the road. That means the Bush team needs an "attitude lobotomy" -- it needs to get off its high horse and start engaging people on the World Street, listening to what's bothering them, and also telling them what's bothering us.

After we've amended the Constitution to permit Tony Blair to serve as US President, can we appoint Thomas Friedman as Secretary of State?

March 17, 2003

The Rights of the "Unlawful Combatants"

This is a New York Times editorial from last week. I'm reproducing it in its entirety because I think it's important to do so:

Forsaken at Guantánamo

It has been 14 months since the first prisoners from the Afghanistan war were taken to a naval base at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. The Bush administration says it can hold the detainees indefinitely, without allowing them access to family or legal counsel. Yesterday, a federal Court of Appeals threw out a challenge by some of those detainees to their confinement. The administration and the court are wrong. The detainees may not have the same rights as American citizens, but they are entitled to more due process than they are being given.

The United States military is holding hundreds of prisoners accused of Taliban or Al Qaeda ties at Guantánamo. Many were seized in the heat of battle, but others were turned over in exchange for rewards or bounties. Advocates for the prisoners maintain that one-third or more are being held on the basis of bad intelligence, or simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The Guantánamo detainees are in legal limbo. The Bush administration refuses to designate them prisoners of war, a label that would entitle them to immunity from prosecution for acts committed during a lawful war, among other things. Nor is the administration treating them as ordinary criminal defendants, entitled to know the charges against them and allowed to contest their confinement in court. The government's position is that the detainees are "unlawful combatants" who can be held incommunicado indefinitely.

Whatever their legal status, the Guantánamo detainees must be given a chance to contest their confinement. Those who were wrongly caught up in the military's net must have an opportunity to make their case.

As noncitizens captured in wartime, they may not have the right to have their claims heard in United States courts. But they must be given some forum, like a military tribunal, in which to contest their continued imprisonment. The rules of evidence, and the standard of proof for holding them, may be different from those in ordinary criminal trials. But there must be rules, and at least some individualized proof, for the detentions to be proper.

The ruling, from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in a suit filed by Kuwaiti, British and Australian detainees, said that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear claims by the Guantánamo prisoners who contend that they are being wrongfully held. It is a disturbing decision that gives the administration essentially unchecked power to imprison foreigners. The court abdicated its role by not exercising any oversight in this important matter.

In refusing to let the Guantánamo detainees challenge their confinement, the administration is trampling on their rights. It is also damaging America's reputation for fairness. The administration should rethink its policies, and the Supreme Court should reverse yesterday's unfortunate decision.

It would be easy to forget about these men. I presume that many of them were in fact members of Al Qaeda, or Taliban soldiers fighting on their behalf. Al Qaeda members committed a heinous act of terrorism, and the Taliban refused to hand them over. We were within our rights to pursue and destroy both organizations, and the world is better off without them (though the extent to which we are free of these movements is certainly an open question).

Having said that, none of this changes the fact that these men -- however grave their alleged crimes -- are human beings with certain rights. If they are prisoners of war, then they must be treated in accordance with the guidelines to which we have agreed for the treatment of such prisoners, including contact with the outside world and release after the end of hostilities. If they aren't prisoners of war, then they must be treated in accordance with our own laws for criminal suspects, including the right to legal counsel and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Instead of following either of these paths, the Bush administration has invented a new legal concept to describe the prisoners, "unlawful combatants," which it claims frees it from any of these obligations, and then has used the peculiar territorial status of the US base at Guantánamo to keep the detainees out of the reach of US courts.

Watching the behavior of governments over time demonstrates that small programs targeted at a few often grow far beyond their originally promised purposes. If we allow our government to continue to deny the rights of hundreds of prisoners in Guantánamo, and justify this on the grounds that they are terrorists, we may wake up one day to find that it is no longer hundreds, but thousands. We may wake up one day to a frontal assault on the Bill of Rights and belatedly realize that it began here and now.

March 15, 2003

TSA Leaves Nastygram in Luggage?

From the Seattle Times, a story of a traveler who found a little something extra in his luggage:

Seth Goldberg says that when he opened his suitcase in San Diego after a flight from Seattle this month, the two "No Iraq War" signs he'd picked up at the Pike Place Market were still nestled among his clothes.

But there was a third sign, he said, that shocked him. Tucked in his luggage was a card from the Transportation Security Administration notifying him that his bags had been opened and inspected at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Handwritten on the side of the card was a note, "Don't appreciate your anti-American attitude!" ...

TSA officials say they are looking into the incident. "We do not condone our employees making any kind of political comments or personal comments to any travelers," TSA spokeswoman Heather Rosenker told Reuters. "That is not acceptable."

If the TSA is serious about this, they'll find the employee who wrote the note and fire him or her. (It shouldn't be difficult. After all, they have a clear sample of the person's handwriting, and they have a precise list of suspects -- the employees on baggage inspection duty at Sea-Tac that day.) If the story just fades away, then we'll know that they don't really care about their employees harassing and intimidating travelers.

March 13, 2003

The End Game at the Security Council

Once again, Thomas Friedman talks sense in his latest editorial for the New York Times:

My main criticism of President Bush is that he has failed to acknowledge how unusual this war of choice is -- for both Americans and the world -- and therefore hasn't offered the bold policies that have to go with it. Instead, the president has hyped the threat and asserted that this is a war of no choice, then combined it all with his worst pre-9/11 business as usual: budget-busting tax cuts, indifference to global environmental concerns, a gas-guzzling energy policy, neglect of the Arab-Israeli peace process and bullying diplomacy...

Mr. President, before you shake the dice on a legitimate but audacious war, please, shake the dice just once on some courageous diplomacy. Pick up where Woodrow Wilson left off: fly to Paris, bring the leaders of France, Russia, China and Britain together, along with the chairman of the Arab League summit, and offer them any reasonable amount of time for more inspections -- if they will agree on specific disarmament benchmarks Saddam has to meet and support an automatic U.N. authorization of force if he doesn't. If France still snubs you, the world will see that you are the one trying to preserve collective security, while France only wants to make mischief. That will be very important to the legitimacy of any war.

In his Best of the Web Today column yesterday, James Taranto saw fit to label Friedman one of a group of "liberal hawks turn[ed] chicken":

Now that the liberation of Iraq seems imminent, several center-left commentators who previously backed it are calling for more delay. Mickey Kaus dubs them the "balking hawks." ...

The most charitable interpretation of this sudden hesitation is that our liberal friends are confused about ends and means...

There's a more cynical interpretation of the erstwhile hawks' change of heart. It may be that as partisan opponents of the president, they hope to deny him a success -- or to be able to say "I told you so" if something goes wrong in Iraq.

This is a ridiculous assertion in the case of Friedman, and Taranto should know it. (Have I become more "center-left," or has Taranto grown more partisan, more prone to throwing out red herrings, more prone to ad hominem attacks over the last year? I can't be sure.) Friedman has been and remains in favor of going to war, with or without unanimity on the Security Council, provided the US puts forth its best effort to obtain the support of its allies. In early February, he wrote (and I later blogged):

No question -- Saddam never would have let the U.N. inspectors back in had President Bush not unilaterally threatened force. But if Mr. Bush keeps conveying to China, France and Russia that he really doesn't care what they think and will go to war anyway, their impulse will be to never come along and just remain free riders.

The allies also have a willful blind spot. There is no way their preferred outcome, a peaceful solution, can come about unless Saddam is faced with a credible, unified threat of force. The French and others know that, and therefore their refusal to present Saddam with a threat only guarantees U.S. unilateralism and undermines the very U.N. structure that is the best vehicle for their managing U.S. power.

We need a compromise. We need to say to the French, Russians and Chinese that we'll stand down for a few more weeks and give Saddam one last chance to comply with the U.N. disarmament demands -- provided they agree now that if Saddam does not fully comply they will have the U.N. authorize the use of force.

Unfortunately, we didn't do this back then. Instead, we waited until March, and then offered an extremely short extension, and the French are balking. After a brilliant performance in securing Resolution 1441, the US has handled the end game at the Security Council incompetently.

Having said that, the French position is foolish and counterproductive. The UK is offering -- with the US reluctantly agreeing -- to negotiate an extension for Iraq to come into full compliance with 1441, along with a series of specific, measurable steps -- just as I proposed when I wrote:

I believe the Security Council should unanimously say to Iraq, "If you do not immediately comply fully with Resolution 1441, the international community will disarm you by force, with the full blessing and support of this Council. For you to be considered in compliance with Resolution 1441, within one month of the date of this resolution, UN weapons inspectors must affirmatively certify that you are in compliance with a list of highly specific requirements. Should the weapons inspectors fail to so certify your compliance with any of these requirements within the month, you will be considered in breach of this resolution, which will result in your forced disarmament with no further resolutions or negotiations."
The French response is to say they will veto any resolution leading to automatic military action under any circumstances. Do they not see that this increases the likelihood of war? Can anyone argue with a straight face that Saddam Hussein has taken what steps he has toward disarmament for any reason other then the credible threat of US-led military action? France is attempting to take such military action off the table. The US knows this will be the end of any progress towards disarmament, and so has made it clear that, if it cannot reach agreement on a resolution with fellow Security Council members, it will take action on its own.

What is France's wish? To prevent war? It doesn't look like it. To disarm Iraq? It doesn't look like it. Or is the French wish simply to appear to wish to prevent war while disarming Iraq?

March 12, 2003

Everything I Need to Know...

...I learned from the two women sitting next to me at my son's soccer game on Sunday:

  • The war in Iraq is all about the oil.
  • If we invade Iraq, 500,000 Iraqis are going to be killed or seriously injured.
  • Invading Afghanistan to capture Osama bin Laden was like invading North Carolina to capture the abortion clinic bomber hiding in the hills.
  • Gasoline costs US$3.00 per gallon in Canada.
  • The president's brother was on the board of the firm responsible for security at the World Trade Center. That can't be a coincidence.
  • The US military doesn't teach its recruits any useful skills. They say they do, but they don't.
  • The US military is blackmailing schools into allowing them to recruit their students.
Glad we got all that straightened out.

March 07, 2003

Compare and Contrast

From President Bush's State of the Union address, 29 January 2002:

The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons.
From an article in the Los Angeles Times, 5 March 2003:
The Bush administration has concluded that it probably cannot prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons and is focusing on managing the geopolitical fallout, informed Capitol Hill sources said Tuesday.

In closed briefings and private conversations with members of Congress over the last several weeks, administration officials have indicated that they expect North Korea to begin reprocessing its plutonium stockpiles soon, perhaps within a few weeks, the sources said. Once reprocessing begins, North Korea will be able to produce enough plutonium for one nuclear weapon a month.

A Senate staff member who is privy to the briefings said the administration was "preparing people up here for a de facto, if not declared, North Korean nuclear state and saying that this is something we can deal with through isolation, sanctions, deterrence and national missile defense."

During his press conference last night, the following question was asked of the president:

If North Korea restarts their plutonium plant, will that change your thinking about how to handle this crisis, or are you resigned to North Korea becoming a nuclear power?
I'm not quoting the president's response because there was nothing quotable in it. He said nothing. The question made it easy for him to say nothing. I would have liked to see the following question asked instead:

Mr. President, in your State of the Union address in January of 2002, you labeled North Korea as part of an "axis of evil," then said, and I quote, "The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons." Last month, CIA Director Tenet testified before Congress that North Korea probably has one or two nuclear devices, as well as the ability to reach the west coast of the US with a ballistic missile. How do you reconcile the promise you made to the American people with your intelligence director's latest testimony?

Helen Thomas rightfully complains about the paucity of press conferences in the current administration. She should turn a critical eye on the White House press corps itself -- given the few chances they have to ask questions, it's imperative that their questions be good ones.

February 27, 2003

Juan Benito on Iraq

Following up on my blog entry in which I invited blog-less friends to publish their views on Iraq, here's a message I received from Juan Benito:

OK. Here's the Deal with Iraq

First, we should recognize that there are no good guys in the current situation; there are only bad guys and worse guys. The US was instrumental in bringing Saddam Hussein to power in the late 70's. We know the reason why: Iraq has a lot of oil, and Hussein was ready to serve US interests in the region (back when Iran was Public Enemy No. 1). In short, although he was nasty, he wasn't as nasty as the Iranians and, more importantly, he Played Ball.

I'm not saying that Hussein is a victim here. He deserves all he gets. He is a horrible little man and his time has come. However, we should fully realize that we helped make him a horrible little man with an awful lot of power. The US has done this on numerous occasions in South America (Pinochet, anyone?), Africa, and Southeast Asia. We're pretty good at installing dictators when it suits our economic plans. Democracies in little, piddly, yet resource-rich countries tend to make up their own minds about American business, and often times don't want to Play Ball. We don't like that -- political self-determination is a right reserved only for very powerful countries like ourselves. And maybe Europe. Maybe.

Luckily, nasty little dictators don't mind us pillaging their lands as long as we make sure they get all the limos and palaces they could want. Keep this in mind the next time an American president extols the virtues of spreading democracy around the world. When you look at the record, it's clear that expedient economic considerations, not lofty political philosophies, determine US foreign policy. After the event of war in Iraq, watch carefully if the Bush Administration fosters a democracy in the country. Even money says they won't.

In the late 80's however, the situation changed and it became clear that Hussein no longer went along with the wishes of the US. He became unpredictable. He invaded Kuwait. The little pipsqueak had gotten too big for his britches, so the US decided to get rid of him. He gets kicked out of Kuwait, but allowed to stay in charge of Iraq. This was done so as not to ruffle the feathers of the bigger boys in the region, and in particular the Saudis.

In the present time, Bush II decides it's time to take Hussein, a Frankenstein of his father's making (back from when he was Director of the CIA), out of the game, all in the name of "War on Terror." The Bush Administration thinks it's in a pretty good position -- they can safely claim Hussein has WMDs (for how, exactly, does someone positively prove the non-existence of a thing?). If he has them, the inspections help disarm Iraq before the troops move in. If he claims he doesn't have them, but then uses them in response to a US-led invasion, the US will be vindicated. And if he doesn't in fact have any WMDs, well, we'll just have to forget about all that.

The transparent incoherence of this policy may be better appreciated when one considers the problem of North Korea. Kim Jong Il not only possesses WMDs, the means to deliver them to the California coastline, and the announced willingness to use them if pushed, but he is also a dictator who oppresses his own people by atrocious means. However, one doesn't see Bush II assemble any "coalition of the willing" to take him out. Why? Two main reasons: 1) doing so would piss off China, Russia, and quite probably Japan, and, 2) more importantly, North Korea has no natural resources to speak of (read: oil). Thus, a "diplomatic approach" will be employed toward Kim Jong Il. Which means paying him off with oil and food until he shuts up.

At this point, I must a take a brief moment to point out what a monumental travesty the War on Terror and the Department of Homeland Security have become. Bush II has performed an amazing act of legerdemain -- according to a study by the Council on Foreign Relations, two-thirds of Americans believe Saddam Hussein, not Osama Bin Laden, was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Although the Bush Administration has never overtly stated this view, it is clear that they benefit from such a confusion, and do not make any attempt to clear it up. In fact, they hardly mention Bin Laden anymore, but rest assurred they'll find him -- yeah, right.

To my eye, Tom Ridge has already proven his own incompetence with this whole Terror Alert System debacle. How many times can one claim a credible threat without citing specifics? Specifics are precisely what make threats credible. Specifics would in fact be most helpful to people who wish to avoid terrorist attacks. And what, exactly, does it mean to be at Orange, as opposed to Yellow, Alert? The system is nonsense. Ridge and John Ashcroft would have to be mentally disabled not to foresee that these unhelpful, imprecise, and hollow warnings would inspire fear and anxiety in the population at large. As I don't think that either one is actually mentally disabled (however grudgingly), I can only conclude that the effect was exactly what they intended. In short, I'm led to believe that one of the chief aims of the Department of Homeland Security and it's Terror Alert System is to manipulate public opinion towards the goal of maintaining support for war in Iraq and to legitimize the positions of our current, inept administration. They are using fear to shape public opinion during very troubled times, and I think that is absolutely despicable.

I could go on and on. Don't even get me started on NATO, the UN, and Euro-American relations. However, I must wrap things up:

Is Hussein a bad guy? Undoubtedly.

Should we go in and use military force to take him out? Actually, yes. Sure. As long as it is with full UN support and Iraq us allowed to determine their own system of governance, under UN aegis.

Should we also remove our current US administration, and forge a foreign policy that is sane, humane, and coherent, instead of allowing a cabal of military-industrial interests to wreak havoc upon developing nations the world over, in turn giving rise to problems the American people are then expected to pay for, not only with dollars, but with their very lives? I don't think I need to answer that one.

Juan is currently attending Columbia University. We've been friends since he worked for me when I was running Virtus Studios. Juan was just out of high school, but clearly had tremendous game design instincts, so he became the game designer for Tom Clancy SSN. Later, Juan was a founding member of Red Storm Entertainment.

February 25, 2003

Diplomatic Resource Allocation

From an article in the New York Times:

Saddam's refusal to destroy the missiles could generate support for the Security Council resolution submitted Monday by the United States, Britain and Spain...

France, Russia and Germany, which oppose military action against Iraq, circulated a rival plan to pursue peaceful disarmament through strengthened weapons inspections, which was backed immediately by China.

The 15-member Security Council will meet Thursday to discuss the two proposals. Eleven members have endorsed the idea of continuing weapons inspections, but the United States has dispatched some of its top negotiators to Security Council capitals in recent days to push for the resolution.

I wonder where the administration's "top negotiators" are spending more time: the capitals of the nations representing the swing votes on the Security Council, or the capitals of the nations in geographical proximity to North Korea?

February 22, 2003

Playing Devil's Advocate

On Howard Rheingold's Brainstorms conference, I recently used a devil's advocate forum to argue against war in Iraq. I strongly believe that one must be able to coherently argue both sides of an issue in order to understand it. I thought it would be interesting to reproduce my post here.

I'd like to argue that we should not go to war with Iraq. Here's why:

International support. Do we have support for military action from at least 20 nations? Yes. But do we have the support of the world's largest economies? No. According to this chart, only two of the world's six largest economies are on record as supporting our stand. Do we have the support of the UN Security Council? No. Three of the five permanent members do not support military action, nor do 11 of the members of the full Council. Do we have the support of the world's most populous countries? No. Of the world's largest countries by population, only one, the US, supports military action. What about by geographic area? Has any country from South America announced its support? Africa? Asia? No matter how you slice it, the world simply isn't with us. And like it or not, we must pay attention to this. It's the flip side of globalization. You're a Republican and want the world's economies integrated so corporations can make the big bucks? Fine. But now you actually have to pay attention to what other countries think. Get used to it. Remember, they sneeze, you catch cold.

More pressing problems. Is Al-Qaida destroyed? Clearly not, as the latest episode of the radio show This Week with Osama bin Laden shows. Is Afghanistan secure and on a path to democracy and rebuilding? Hardly. Have we dealt with North Korea, a state with as tarnished a history as Iraq, longer-range missiles, and probably already possessing nukes -- a state that theoretically has the capability of striking Alaska right now? Not by a long shot. Why not deal with those more pressing problems first? The French and Germans want to triple the inspectors? Fine. Cut a deal with them. Leave our forces in place around Iraq. Send in more inspectors -- whether they're effective or not is irrelevant. Give them six months or a year to do their work. In exchange, get an ironclad resolution from the Security Council: if Blix and ElBaradei fail to certify x, y, and z by a certain date -- and make them highly specific, crystal-clear certifications -- then everyone's going in, no questions asked, no more discussion, no more resolutions. Now take that window of time and deal with the other crises you're facing. Finish off Al-Qaida. Fix the political and security situation in Afghanistan (which will, by the way, come back to bite you if you don't deal with it now). Stare down the North Koreans. When you're done, Iraq will still be there.

In formulating these arguments, it helped that I agree with aspects of them -- that I would like to see us take action with additional support, and that I'm worried that we're taking our eye off of other, more pressing problems. But, to my mind, neither issue leads to the conclusion that we should allow the inspection process to go on indefinitely.

February 21, 2003

Two Fish and Baldie

The article I wrote about yesterday includes this anecdote about two female pilots:

Two Fish and Baldie were midway through a sortie when an AWACS assigned them an important target, a convoy of trucks. Baldie estimated the speed of the vehicles to be 100 miles an hour. ("How fast would you be driving down the road if you knew that an F-15 was trying to kill you?" she asks.) She made a rough calculation of where the trucks would be when the bomb reached the road, and cleared Two Fish to pickle [release the bomb]. Guiding the GBU [Guided Bomb Unit, or laser-guided bomb] with her laser, teasing it along with her hand controller, like a kite at the end of a string, she put it right through the lead truck's front grille.

"You have just been killed by a girl," Two Fish said.

Can someone tell me once again why America's armed forces don't allow women into every combat position on a fully equal basis?

February 20, 2003

War is Hell

Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down, wrote an article for the Atlantic, "The Kabul-ki Dance", on the air war over Afghanistan, as seen from the viewpoint of pilots of the 391st Fighter Squadron out of Idaho. Air Force practice is to make the lives of pilots as comfortable as possible while on the ground, so as to make them more focused and efficient while in the air, and Bowden describes in detail what this means in daily life:

[F]light crews are, by virtue of being flesh and blood, one of the weak links in the war machine. The Air Force tries to regulate them like delicate instruments, with pills to clog their bowels and pills to clean their bowels, "go" pills to speed crews up and "no go" pills to slow them down. The crews are pampered, not out of kindness but out of necessity. The job demands a great deal of mental and emotional clarity. So the base at al Jaber [Kuwait] is by no means a hardship post. Crew members share air-conditioned mobile homes with a bathroom and a shower, cable TV, a DVD player, and PlayStation 2. They have hearty food, workout facilities, and an officers' club with a paperback library, twenty La-Z-Boy recliners, a big screen for movie viewing, a popcorn machine, and snacks (but no alcohol). The cable TV carries all the major networks and European MTV, and -- perhaps owing to the generosity of the installer -- receives unsolicited X-rated fare late at night. AJ got to see more of his beloved Green Bay Packers' games that fall than he ever gets to see at home in Idaho.

The crew members were entitled to one fifteen-minute satellite phone call home each week, and unlimited Internet access, resulting in constant e-mail traffic with spouses, family, and friends. Some of the fliers got in trouble for revealing too much in their excited stories. They quickly learned that the recipients were forwarding their private electronic messages to other friends, who forwarded them again, until the crews were getting return mail from perfect strangers all over the world. Each crew usually had a sortie to Afghanistan only every three or four days, and although they also flew missions over the no-fly zone in Iraq, there was still plenty of downtime. When she wasn't dropping bombs, Baldie, ever the multi-tasker, spent much of her time completing course work for a master's degree in engineering from Oklahoma State University. (Her professors FedExed her videotapes of their classes.) Some of the fliers drove into Kuwait City on occasion to dine out at restaurants or shop at the Western-style malls. AJ and some others even attended an air show in Dubai, the third largest in the world. War was never like this before.

"War is hell," indeed.

February 16, 2003

"They Wanted Him Dead"

An interesting article in today's New York Times, talking about war with Iraqis out of the reach of Saddam Hussein:

The Iraqi men [interviewed in Amman, Jordan] talk of a coming conflict, and what it will mean for them and their families. Since all gatherings inside Iraq take place in the shadow of Mr. Hussein's terror, with police spies lurking in every neighborhood, the talk in Amman offers a chance to discover what at least some Iraqis really think, and what they hope for now.

Almost to a man, these Iraqis said they wanted the Iraqi dictator removed. Better still, they said -- and it was a point made again and again -- they wanted him dead. The men, some in their teens, some in their 50's, told of grotesque repression, of relatives and friends tortured, raped and murdered or, as often, arrested and "disappeared."

But their hatred of Mr. Hussein had an equally potent counterpoint: for them, the country that would rid them of their leader was not at all a bastion of freedom, dispatching its legions across the seas to defend liberty, but a greedy, menacing imperial power.

This America, in the migrants' telling, has enabled the humiliation of Palestinians by arming Israel; craves control of Iraq's oil fields; supported Mr. Hussein in the 1980's and cared not a fig for his brutality then, and grieved for seven lost astronauts even as its forces prepared to use "smart" weapons that, the migrants said, threatened to kill thousands of innocent Iraqis.

The men refused to accept that their image of the United States might be distorted by the rigidly controlled Iraqi news media, which offer as unreal a picture of America as they do of Iraq. But when it was suggested that they could hardly wish to be liberated by a country they distrusted so much -- that they might prefer President Bush to extend the United Nations weapons inspections and stand down the armada he has massed on Iraq's frontiers -- they erupted in dismay.

"No, no, no!" one man said excitedly, and he seemed to speak for all. Iraqis, they said, wanted their freedom, and wanted it now. The message for Mr. Bush, they said, was that he should press ahead with war, but on conditions that spared ordinary Iraqis.

The conflict should be short. American bombs and missiles should fall on Mr. Hussein's palaces and Republican Guards and secret police headquarters, not on civilians. Care should be taken not to obliterate the bridges and power stations and water-pumping plants that were bombed in 1991. And America should know that it would become the enemy of all Iraqis -- and Muslims -- if it prolonged its military dominion in Iraq beyond the time necessary to dismantle the old regime.

So, to listen to Iraqis themselves -- at least the subset so disgruntled, oppressed, or scared that they have fled Iraq -- the US should invade, but do so carefully, destroying as little as possible and leaving as soon as we can.

Thinking Alike

In my entry on the war two days ago, I wrote:

I believe the Security Council should unanimously say to Iraq, "If you do not immediately comply fully with Resolution 1441, the international community will disarm you by force, with the full blessing and support of this Council. For you to be considered in compliance with Resolution 1441, within one month of the date of this resolution, UN weapons inspectors must affirmatively certify that you are in compliance with a list of highly specific requirements. Should the weapons inspectors fail to so certify your compliance with any of these requirements within the month, you will be considered in breach of this resolution, which will result in your forced disarmament with no further resolutions or negotiations."
As it turned out, Thomas Friedman had written a column two days earlier that I hadn't seen when I wrote my piece:
No question -- Saddam never would have let the U.N. inspectors back in had President Bush not unilaterally threatened force. But if Mr. Bush keeps conveying to China, France and Russia that he really doesn't care what they think and will go to war anyway, their impulse will be to never come along and just remain free riders.

The allies also have a willful blind spot. There is no way their preferred outcome, a peaceful solution, can come about unless Saddam is faced with a credible, unified threat of force. The French and others know that, and therefore their refusal to present Saddam with a threat only guarantees U.S. unilateralism and undermines the very U.N. structure that is the best vehicle for their managing U.S. power.

We need a compromise. We need to say to the French, Russians and Chinese that we'll stand down for a few more weeks and give Saddam one last chance to comply with the U.N. disarmament demands -- provided they agree now that if Saddam does not fully comply they will have the U.N. authorize the use of force.

Yesterday the Times itself weighed in:

The only way short of war to get Saddam Hussein to reverse course at this late hour is to make clear that the Security Council is united in its determination to disarm him and is now ready to call in the cavalry to get the job done. America and Britain are prepared to take that step. The time has come for the others to quit pretending that inspections alone are the solution.

The Security Council, as we said the other day, needs to pass a new resolution that sets a deadline for unconditional Iraqi compliance and authorizes military action if Baghdad falls short. Without that, the French proposal that Mr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei report again in mid-March is the diplomatic equivalent of treading water. It practically invites President Bush to take the undesirable step of going to war without the support of the Security Council...

There is ample evidence that Iraq has produced highly toxic VX nerve gas and anthrax and has the capacity to produce a lot more. It has concealed these materials, lied about them, and more recently failed to account for them to the current inspectors. The Security Council doesn't need to sit through more months of inconclusive reports. It needs full and immediate Iraqi disarmament. It needs to say so, backed by the threat of military force.

I feel like I'm in good company.

February 15, 2003

JoI Ito on Iraq

Joi Ito has posted an entry on warblogging. He has decided not to get involved at this time, with good reasons:

The War with Iraq is very important, but I have many things that are important to me and committing to taking a strong position and defending it would undermind my ability to cause a revolution in Japan, think about North Korea, run my business and try to understand democracy.
While Joi understandably lacks the time to fully engage in an Iraq debate -- which, on account of his position, would be a far more consuming task than it was for me to post my thoughts on the subject -- he does briefly summarize his position:
I have decided to be against the war after listening to a variety of people who I trust and who have thought about this a lot... My feeling after hearing all of the arguments is that there is no obvious position. So, when in doubt, my position is, don't kill people. Also, I believe that the US one of the best democracies in the world and that we should all push the US to hold the link and maintain its integrity. Judges face cases where they KNOW the defendant is guilty, but throw it out due to technicalities. Rules are rules. First-strike, torture are bad no matter what the reason. Due process should be protected no matter what the reason. If you let these principles slip, you're losing what you're fighting for. I'm not going to go into any more specifics in this entry because for every argument, there is a counter-argument.

So my fear in taking the anti-war position is that we may be allowing another Hitler to happen. Having said that, Sadaam does not have nearly the support or the power the Hitler had so we still have time. We are allowing the bin Laden to unite the Arab/Islam world against the US with this war and strange bedfellows are united. This is dangerous. We are also pushing Sadaam to strike first. The cost of a long war on the global economy and the difficulty of "running Iraq" is immense and I dread the thought of a drawn out US occupation of Iraq. That's what's on my mind.

So my humble position is to let the inspectors continue, work through the UN, get the rest of the world on board with a "smoking gun" and talk to the rest of the Arab nations more for ideas about hot to unseat Sadaam.

As I said in a comment on Joi's entry, while we have agreed to disagree, I have the utmost respect for his position, and for that of others opposed to the war. Let no one again suggest that anti-war protesters are anything other than patriots expressing their legitimate and heartfelt opinions on a matter of the utmost gravity.

February 14, 2003

Paul Gustafson on Iraq

From Paul Gustafson:

I agree with your analysis regarding Iraq. To me, this is a very simple issue:

There are bad guys in the world who are trying to kill us and our friends. We cannot, and will not, allow it. Period.

That said, we cannot overlook, forget, or deny the history of events that has led us to this point. Over the past hundred years or so, the countries in this region of the world have been subjected to a tragic series of world events. To think that we haven't had a hand in creating the dire situation we face is, I believe, naive. Let's pay attention to our past missteps, take responsibility for our errors, and move on.

As we disarm Saddam with force, and in the aftermath, we must truly reform our attitudes and actions toward this region of the world. We cannot continue to tolerate oppressive governments in the name of security and self interest. We must, as the United States of America, continue to be the world's beacon for justice, freedom, and the peaceful pursuit of happiness. These "unalienable rights" are not unique to us or our people -- they belong to mankind. Upholding them is our purpose, our duty, and our destiny.

Thanks for leading this discussion.

Paul is the founder of Market Pioneering, a technology marketing consultancy based in Silicon Valley. We've been friends ever since working together at Adobe Systems in the early 1990s, where I was the original product manager for Adobe Acrobat and Paul ran developer programs in the systems division.

Anonymous on Iraq

A friend who wishes to remain anonymous had the following to say on Iraq:

I think the points you make are very good and the course of action as well. But the only thing I would add is the following for me personally. It is to look at this situation in world context. After 12 years of Iraq not complying, we choose now to make Iraq comply. It could be because Iraq's activities are advancing dangerously or it could be because we have shifted from one threatening group, Al Qaeda to another one at a time that could not be worse. What is our hurry all of a sudden? Timing for us to go to war could not be worse with giving al qaeda and others reason to unite and attack. What is the plan after attacking Iraq? Who will be in power then? What is the long-term plan to stablize Iraq? Most countries we have fought or toppled the leader have been replaced with similar or worse regimes. We have no historical success in long-term stabilization. And finally and a little off-topic, we cannot fight terrorism long-term due to financial constraints. If we continue to throw money around like we are, we will go bankrupt. The hatred toward America comes after 60 years of inconsistent, imperialistic, self-interest foreign policy. This is a situation which will be around for a while. And we cannot afford to spend our money on war, rebuilding countries, security and military for the next 60 years while terrorism will still be around and they are in no hurry to achieve their goals. They will slowly and consistently threaten and attack. In regards to long-term change, we need a whole new outlook and new consistent inclusive foreign policy.
To this friend, I wish I could have credited you, but I respect your desire for privacy.

Jon Blossom on Iraq

From Jon Blossom:

I have been thinking a lot about this topic, as have most of us, and I have come to similar conclusions. Saddam is quite obviously developing WMD, in clear breach of Resolution 1441. But the resolution seems poorly written, particularly vague on two key points. First, it draws no line in the sand regarding the amount and type of proof required to declare Iraq in material breach -- so the UN is split, with France and others arguing to give the inspectors more time. Second, it does not specifically describe the threatened "serious consequences," especially whether those consequences should be military or diplomatic. It seems clear to me (as a special envoy to the Security Council, of course) that Iraq IS in material breach and that the "serious consequences" were intended to mean "military action." I would much prefer not to go to war, especially not without the full and unanimous support of our allies, yet it looks like we have no choice but to continue in that direction.

What troubles me most, however, is the position in which we find the UN. They must back up 1441 or else why should anyone listen to them again? If the US moves without UN support, it effectively renders them irrelevant... but if the UN decides now to back a military action, they more or less look like US lapdogs.

Add that to the NATO trouble surrounding Turkey, and you find the Bush Administration in a position to invalidate these two (arguably most important) major international bodies with a single stroke. Further add in our recent withdrawal from our long-standing non-proliferation treaty with Russia/USSR, our furious attack on Afghanistan (and subsequent total disinterest in Bali), and our withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, and you'll see a disturbing trend of unilateral action on the part of our current president.

Can you remind me exactly which country is the rogue state we should be worrying about?

Jon is the founder of Bopscotch, a developer of physical and computer-based toys. We've been friends since he began dating Eve Helfman (now Blossom), whom I've been fortunate enough to count as a good friend for over 15 years now.

Reid Hoffman on Iraq

From Reid Hoffman:

Here's my highlines on these issues.
  1. Iraq is bad, there is no question. And, the only use for weapons of mass destruction is threatening or using them on other nations. (Now, we should all remember, the U.S. also has weapons of mass destruction; Iraq has merely showed an inclination to be an aggressor using them. We'll ignore Hiroshima for the moment.)
  2. On the Iraqi side, I am very worried about what Hussein intends to do with the weapons. He doesn't need them to consolidate his internal power. Furthermore, he's probably exploiting our unfortunate position that we'd rather than him there as a secular government rather than fundamentalist alternative. (E.g. preparing for external aggression.) There really shouldn't be a fear of external aggression, since look at what this costs the U.S. already.
  3. There's a set of conflicting interests. France owns significant rights to Iraqi oil. U.S. is concerned about oil flow due to it's large consumption. It makes it hard to identify just, fair positions. It's one of the reasons why I tend to feel that there should be a U.N. coalition, with at least UK and Germany in favor. (Maybe Australia too.)
  4. The PR of this war is bad. It's after the Hajj, thereby easily positionable as anti-muslim -- the last thing in the world we need.
  5. Bush is mishandling this, in my opinion, due to ego issues. Why do we need this war now on this clock? (I'm a big man; I'm the president of the U.S.; when I talk, others should listen; ???)
  6. For example, I don't think that Iraqi security is organizing anti-war protests as recently leaked by the land of homeland security. It's not credible, and it's an attempt to use slander to limit democracy. I honor the war protestors.
  7. I guess my view comes down to this. I strongly hope that this is a negotiation / bluffing game. This, I would endorse. If it isn't, I wonder why there aren't more intermediate steps before war; e.g. an escalation of stronger sanctions and coalitions. The rush to war, ignoring consensus building on the allies, bothers me.
Reid is in stealth mode at the moment (and requests that he be contacted through me). Previously, he was EVP Business Development for PayPal. We've been friends since meeting a couple of years ago through our mutual friend Eve Helfman.

Muddling Toward Iraq

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Joi Ito asking me if I was for or against war in Iraq. I've given a great deal of thought to this question since (here and here). At last I've come to a position, thankfully before the war actually begins.

One thing I find striking is that I know of no one personally on any side of this issue who believes that the government of Iraq is being truthful in claiming that it has in no way, shape, or form been pursuing the development or acquisition of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Now, with that in mind, here are some of the more relevant terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1441:

Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations under relevant resolutions...

Iraq, by this resolution, [has] a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations under relevant resolutions of the Council...

[T]he Government of Iraq shall provide to UNMOVIC, the IAEA, and the Council, not later than 30 days from the date of this resolution, a currently accurate, full, and complete declaration of all aspects of its programmes to develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other delivery systems...

[F]alse statements or omissions in the declarations submitted by Iraq pursuant to this resolution and failure by Iraq at any time to comply with, and cooperate fully in the implementation of, this resolution shall constitute a further material breach of Iraq's obligations...

[T]he Council has repeatedly warned Iraq that it will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations...

Remember, the Security Council voted unanimously for this resolution.

So, if no one believes that Iraq has been truthful with regard to its WMD programs, and if the Security Council unanimously passed a resolution warning of "serious consequences" of failure to comply with its terms, which include an "accurate, full, and complete declaration" of Iraq's WMD programs -- yet at the same time many of these people do not believe that we should take steps to disarm Iraq -- then I'm missing something.

As worrisome as I find other security situations around the world, especially North Korea, and as disappointed as I may be with aspects of how the Bush administration has handled this and other crises, the issue for me is this: the world community -- through the Security Council -- came together and spoke with one voice, saying that Iraq must make a truthful declaration and provide full cooperation. This action -- and Iraq's half-steps toward cooperation since -- only occurred because the US made it clear that it was willing to go to war over the issue. Now, with Iraq not complying with Resolution 1441 (though offering additional half-steps as US attack grows imminent), certain members of the world community want to take forced disarmament -- the threat of which is what has brought what cooperation we have seen -- off the table, undermining the resolution they themselves supported.

In the words of Thomas Friedman (emphasis mine):

The French position is utterly incoherent. The inspections have not worked yet, says [French foreign minister Dominique] de Villepin, because Saddam has not fully cooperated, and, therefore, we should triple the number of inspectors. But the inspections have failed not because of a shortage of inspectors. They have failed because of a shortage of compliance on Saddam's part, as the French know. The way you get that compliance out of a thug like Saddam is not by tripling the inspectors, but by tripling the threat that if he does not comply he will be faced with a U.N.-approved war...

I also want to avoid a war -- but not by letting Saddam off the hook, which would undermine the U.N., set back the winds of change in the Arab world and strengthen the World of Disorder. The only possible way to coerce Saddam into compliance -- without a war -- is for the whole world to line up shoulder-to-shoulder against his misbehavior, without any gaps. But France, as they say in kindergarten, does not play well with others. If you line up against Saddam you're just one of the gang. If you hold out against America, you're unique. "France, it seems, would rather be more important in a world of chaos than less important in a world of order," says the foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum, author of "The Ideas That Conquered the World."

If France were serious about its own position, it would join the U.S. in setting a deadline for Iraq to comply, and backing it up with a second U.N. resolution authorizing force if Iraq does not.

Like Friedman, I want to avoid war, but I believe that experience has shown conclusively that the only way to avoid war while ensuring that Iraq does not gain access to WMD is to threaten war and be willing to back up that threat with action. Like Friedman, I believe the best path forward is for the world to stand together.

I believe the Security Council should unanimously say to Iraq, "If you do not immediately comply fully with Resolution 1441, the international community will disarm you by force, with the full blessing and support of this Council. For you to be considered in compliance with Resolution 1441, within one month of the date of this resolution, UN weapons inspectors must affirmatively certify that you are in compliance with a list of highly specific requirements. Should the weapons inspectors fail to so certify your compliance with any of these requirements within the month, you will be considered in breach of this resolution, which will result in your forced disarmament with no further resolutions or negotiations."

What if the permanent members of the Security Council are unwilling to accept such a bargain -- the delay of military action in exchange for their unequivocal and irrevocable cooperation should it be necessary? Then I believe the US would be both justified and correct in pursuing military action without further UN resolutions and without the blessing of any specific nation. What if the Bush administration chooses not to seek such a bargain and simply acts on the basis of non-compliance with Resolution 1441? While I would be less enthusiastic about this course of action, I would nevertheless support it.

Last November, the UN made clear to Iraq the steps it would need to take to avoid "serious consequences." Iraq has not taken these steps. Iraq remains controlled by a dictator who has in the past invaded his neighbors, lauched missiles at Israel, and used chemical weapons on his own citizens. This is a dictator and a regime that must not be allowed to acquire weapons of mass destruction. We may be too late in the case of North Korea, but we have the opportunity to deal with Iraq before it becomes the next North Korea. We must take this opportunity -- preferably with the support of a united international community, gained through proactive and constructive dialogue, but on our own if need be.

In the words of Woodrow Wilson, speaking at an even more portentous moment than we face today:

It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance. But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things we have always carried closest to our hearts.
"The right is more precious than peace." Or, as Teddy Roosevelt said:
"Peace is generally good in itself, but it is never the highest good unless it comes as the handmaid of righteousness; and it becomes a very evil thing if it serves... as an instrument to further the ends of despotism or anarchy."
Powerful words from two men noted for their efforts on behalf of peace.
After finishing this entry, and having read other war-related blog entries, I began thinking about how many friends I have with diverse points of view, but who don't have blogs -- at least not yet -- and how the world would be missing out on their perspectives. I decided to send a number of my friends a draft of this entry and allow them to respond, with their responses to be posted here. The blog entries that follow are the messages I received in reply. To those who contributed, thank you for giving my readers the benefit of your experience. If I left you off the list, and you would like to contribute to this discussion, I invite you to contact me.

February 12, 2003

"Peace... Is Never the Highest Good Unless..."

I'm determined to reach a personal opinion on a potential war with Iraq before we actually go to war. While I have yet to come to a decision, certain writings are weighing heavily on me as I consider the issue. This is one of them:

We must ever bear in mind that the great end in view is righteousness, justice as between man and man, nation and nation, the chance to lead our lives on a somewhat higher level, with a broader spirit of brotherly goodwill one for another. Peace is generally good in itself, but it is never the highest good unless it comes as the handmaid of righteousness; and it becomes a very evil thing if it serves merely as a mask for cowardice and sloth, or as an instrument to further the ends of despotism or anarchy. We despise and abhor the bully, the brawler, the oppressor, whether in private or public life, but we despise no less the coward and the voluptuary. No man is worth calling a man who will not fight rather than submit to infamy or see those that are dear to him suffer wrong. No nation deserves to exist if it permits itself to lose the stern and virile virtues; and this without regard to whether the loss is due to the growth of a heartless and all-absorbing commercialism, to prolonged indulgence in luxury and soft, effortless ease, or to the deification of a warped and twisted sentimentality.
This was Teddy Roosevelt's lecture upon acceptance of the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize. In other words, Roosevelt used the occasion of receiving the world's most famous prize for peace to argue that peace in and of itself should not be our "highest good" -- that peace for the wrong reasons would be a "very evil thing."

February 10, 2003

"Vote France Off the Island"

From Thomas Friedman's most recent column in the New York Times, titled "Vote France Off the Island," in which he suggests replacing France with India on the UN Security Council:

[T]he whole French game on Iraq, spearheaded by its diplomacy-lite foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, lacks seriousness. Most of France's energy is devoted to holding America back from acting alone, not holding Saddam Hussein's feet to the fire to comply with the U.N.

The French position is utterly incoherent. The inspections have not worked yet, says Mr. de Villepin, because Saddam has not fully cooperated, and, therefore, we should triple the number of inspectors. But the inspections have failed not because of a shortage of inspectors. They have failed because of a shortage of compliance on Saddam's part, as the French know. The way you get that compliance out of a thug like Saddam is not by tripling the inspectors, but by tripling the threat that if he does not comply he will be faced with a U.N.-approved war.

Mr. de Villepin also suggested that Saddam's government pass "legislation to prohibit the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction." (I am not making this up.) That proposal alone is a reminder of why, if America didn't exist and Europe had to rely on France, most Europeans today would be speaking either German or Russian.

I also want to avoid a war -- but not by letting Saddam off the hook, which would undermine the U.N., set back the winds of change in the Arab world and strengthen the World of Disorder. The only possible way to coerce Saddam into compliance -- without a war -- is for the whole world to line up shoulder-to-shoulder against his misbehavior, without any gaps. But France, as they say in kindergarten, does not play well with others. If you line up against Saddam you're just one of the gang. If you hold out against America, you're unique. "France, it seems, would rather be more important in a world of chaos than less important in a world of order," says the foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum, author of "The Ideas That Conquered the World."

How badly must a nation conduct its foreign policy to make even a committed and thoughtful internationalist like Thomas Friedman tell them it's time to put out their torch and leave the island? Now we know.