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Catfish and Cod
Monday, May 02, 2005
OneStat code

Because Frassle doesn't allow Javascript code directly, I'm plopping my OneStat counter here. I don't know if this will work...


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Thursday, June 03, 2004
An interesting reminiscence.
(Link path: Slashdot, X-Com: Tactical)

Anyone remember X-COM? It was a dinky little '90s PC game I played back in high school, mostly on my room-mate's machine. It has a couple of sequels, bad graphics (and slow, even for the time), and a hackneyed plot based on a combined Roswell/Cydonia/Lovecraft mythos.

But the combination of tactical and strategic combat that the system allowed was a hard combo to beat. I occassionally still go back and play, just to experience the great gameplay. Like Star Control 2, and Dune II, and a few other games, the gameplay is so perfectly balanced (simple yet diverse and compelling) that the outdated graphics and controls are mainly irrelevant.

Now these guys come up with a paper version of the Tactical game, all on their own. For the board-war-game crowd, these will be a godsend. For me, they're just a nice taste of nostalgia. It isn't for everyone, not by a long shot, but if you find this stuff nifty, take a look.
Thursday, May 27, 2004
What a complete joke!
(Link path: UPI)

This is most blatantly ignorant "news analysis" I've ever read.

* We didn't necessarily think it would be "easy" to knock out al-Sadr. We just knew we had to.

* Riding the coattails of his father: true, but said coattails have now been run ragged.

* "There is no closure". Hmm. Fallujah is quiet. Karbala is quiet. Basra is quiet. Kufa has been taken, and Najaf is under a cease-fire. Is this not "closure"?

* "Shi'ites stick together". Normally that is indeed the case. But al-Sistani is bucking the trend, and upbraiding those who blindly rally 'round the flag no matter who raises it or for what cause.

Bottom line: only someone ignorant or prejudiced could possibly have written this.

I'm going to write him.
Family's here.
(Catch of the day)

This weekend's blogging forecast is light...

Monday, May 24, 2004
Oh no! Undue accumulation of power!
(Link path: Yahoo/Reuters)

You know, I bash the Right sometimes for seeing "media bias" where there isn't any. But there are some media that are biased, and European media tend to be worse at that than others. The Beeb's bias was exposed when its man-on-the-scene took Baghdad Bob's pronouncements as straight news during the invasion. The Mirror's was made evident by its eagerness to swallow the British soldier abuse hoax.

Now here's a Reuters release on the newest UN resolution:

Iraq Resolution Gives Wide Powers to U.S. Forces

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States on Monday asked for U.N. endorsement of a hand-over of power to an interim government in Iraq (news - web sites) but proposed the U.S. force there could "take all measures" to keep order and set no date for it to leave.

Gasp! You mean they didn't provide the enemy with the schedule they needed to set up their coup? How could you do that? And you actually authorized force? Used by Americans? Don't you know the only legal military actions are those undertaken by peacekeepers, and then only when they don't have the authority to blow their own noses without explicit orders from New York?

Okay, sarcasm off. Seriously, what other possibility could there be? Unless the other powers of the world want to take responsibility for Iraqi stability, there has to be a US presence in Iraq. And unless you want that force to be completely pointless, you have to give it authorization to shoot.

And unless you want to give terrorists, anarchists, mafiosos, and other assorted "bad guys" a light at the end of the tunnel, you don't broadcast the date of your departure, either. You leave when you feel you can leave without the place collapsing behind you.

Look, not only does the draft mandate a yearly review, the Iraqi government can request review (in other words, ask us to leave) at any time. And this is only the first draft. Do you really think the UN is going to pass this resolution as is? You never start a negotiation by giving the other side what it wants!

What Reuters is really concerned about, but won't talk about, is that the US will continue to be in effective occupation of Iraq, and that we will control the Iraqi government. As if setting a date of departure or restricting troop powers in a UN resolution would stop such a thing! The real negotiation is over what powers the Americans will have over Iraqis in a sovereign yet foreign-occupied Iraq. That's the real issue; if the diplomats want guarantees about undue influence, they ought to discuss such things directly.

This raises another point. Isn't anyone worried about the US - Iraq relationship being spelled out by a UN resolution? If Iraq really is going to be sovereign, shouldn't it make its own decisions about its relationship with ths US?

Okay, okay, Iraq isn't going to be fully sovereign yet. The same principles that justified going to war (nations have the right to defend the law despite UN deadlocking, and sovereignty is not absolute) also justify the UN acting in loco parentis while the Iraqis are not fully sovereign. But how far does this go? How much right does the rest of the world -- the US or anyone else -- have to go mucking about in what are, after all, Iraqi affairs?

Something tells me that Iraqis are not happy with the French, or Russians, or Chileans, deciding what their rights and duties vis-a-vis the Coalition are any more than they're happy having Americans do it. Iraqis should be running Iraq, they say. And so they should; but how do we get to that point? And what precedent does this set for the future?

These are not easy questions, and pat answers such as UN hegemony or Pax Americana will not solve the problems raised.

And it certainly doesn't help to have Reuters be clearly skeptical of proposals that are simply practical in nature.

(Link path: The New York Times, free and pointless registration required)

I don't know if Joseph Wilson is telling the truth or not about his wife and that trip to Niger. I don't know if the Yellowgate accusations were true or false. What I do know is that a CIA agent had her cover blown for political purposes, and that's wrong at best and criminal at worst.

But Joseph Wilson made one statement that resonated with me perfectly:

Wilson is not antiwar. Rather he is "anti-dumb-war."

That's it exactly. I'm not anti-war, I'm anti-dumb-war. I supported the broad purpose of taking out Saddam but think the diplomacy, the postwar strategy, and the implementation were all muffed. If we are to succeed in Iraq, it will be by the hair of our chinny-chin-chin, and no thanks to the neocons who planned this whole escapade. And it's still not clear at all what we do after Iraq.

Many elements of the Second Gulf War were planned out far in advance of 9/11. This was not really due to some grand conspiracy. Everyone knew Saddam had to be taken out sooner or later, because the sanctions couldn't (and shouldn't!) last forever and Saddam would attack someone the minute he got the chance. After several failed coups, the US started planning the war that was now recognized as inevitable. 9/11 changed the circumstances and even the meaning, but it was still an inevitable war.

A lot of the planning up to now was made in two stages: in the 1990's planning regarding Saddam and in the frantic days after the Eleventh. We've now run out of steam. What's the next step? We're not really sure, although the new sanctions against Syria give a hint of what the neocons envision. If there are any specific policy ideas here, though, no one has shared them with us.

There's little evidence of dextrous, careful implementation of the grand strategy in the Administration. There isn't even a sense of carefully engendered experimentation, what is usually called "fumbling around". Instead, we send interns to manage national budgets.

I'm no peacenik, and I know what a tough slog we have to go. I just would like some competence to be displayed by "All the President's Men". I'm not antiwar. I'm just anti-dumb-war.
First, remove the beam in thine own eye.
(Link path: The Footballs of Rabid Pro-Semitism, Hollywood Reporter)

LGF links a story noting that Bush, inexplicably, has chosen not to request airtime on the Big Four networks for his Army War College speech defending his Iraq policy.

Before clicking on the comments button, I said to myself, "You know, this is poor strategy on the part of the White House. If they intend to convince the voters, they really should get their attention. But I suspect that LGF and its commenters will blame the media for not being pro-Administration."

And you know what? I was right.

Only one person -- one person! -- was willing to consider that the Administration might have made a mistake:

I think everyone has missed the point. The question is:
Why hasn't the Bush Administration requested that these networks carry the speech??? This is a critical time and POTUS should be demanding them to carry it.

And, by long tradition, if the White House had insisted the networks would have carried it, and everyone would have heard about it beforehand. There are few ways to get a hundred million people's attention, but cancelling their favorite TV show is one of them.

But is that Bush's fault for not asking. Not a chance! To balance the one comment that maybe this was a mistake, most of the other eighty-seven blame the media. Let's listen in:

The big four don't give a damn about patriotism. they accuse others of caring only about the bottom line, well well, looks who is only caring about the bottom line now?

I'm not sure what you mean about "accusing others", but I'm quite certain that the Big Four networks don't hand out free airtime because they feel like it. And if national security is at stake, then isn't the Administration's job to insist?

It's now clear that the bushitler junta has a total control of the media and no dissent is any longer allowed.

I see. So FOX News is just a fluke, then, I take it. They put Hillary Clinton on this Sunday, clearly indicating that they have succumed to the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy. Rupert Murdoch is being brainwashed right now, and Sean Hannity is next in the chair.

This shit is beyond the pale. The airwaves belong to the people, and to not air a speech intended to update the population on the situation in Iraq is appallingly stupid.

Let's see, the speech will be on all three cable news networks, the Internet, and radio. It will be dissected in tomorrow's newspapers. Very few people have nothing but broadcast television as a news source anymore. You can hardly claim that the President is being muzzled.

Down towards the end, Blackman accurately assesses the situation:

Maybe the major networks can recognize political speech when they see it and for the most part, that is what it is. an attempt to stop the hemorrhage of falling popularity numbers. The networks have no obligation to give Bush or Kerry free air time for political purposes. Bush already gets an enormous amount of free coverage just by virtue of being the president. Yet, spin that the press is liberal and antiBush as the cause of this slight naturally follows.

But the problem is not just that the Right spends its time bashing the Left and other perceived aggressors against their point of view. It's that they use these tactics as a means of avoiding their own problems, such as bad strategy on the part of the White House, or excessive credulousness when presented with enticing WMD data by Ahmed Chalabi & Co.

The Footballs regularly points out, and rightly so, that the Palestinians and other Arabs routinely use their "victim" mentality to avoid fixing their own internal problems, preferring to spurn their enemies and construct elaborate conspiracy theories around them. It is ironically tragic that the LGF community cannot perceive the similarities in their own behavior.

Neither the Left nor the Right wants to deal with their own systemic problems right now; they're far, far happier bashing away at each other.
And whose fault is this?
(Link path: CNN)

Headline: Sharon proposes revised withdrawal plan

Palestinian response: "Palestinians opposed Sharon's withdrawal plan, saying it is unilateral and leaves out Palestinian interests."

To which I say: why should Sharon negotiate with Arafat? Why shouldn't he act unilaterally?

* You don't carry out your agreements. Why do Palestinian schools still deny the existence of Israel?

* You're not capable of enforcing a cease-fire. Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah are independent players from you and make their own decisions.

* You kept rejecting proposed peace plans, even when they were in your favor, because it still wasn't enough.

* You continue to hold to impossible "red line" demands, such as a full "right of return", long past the time when holding them became diplomatically counterproductive.

* You walked away from the negotiating table and restarted conflict rather than compromise, or even rather than presenting an alternate plan.

* You undercut the authority of Palestinian prime ministers empowered to make further deals to secure your own power.

So what good is negotiation? It can't be enforced anyway, and as long as the Palestinian people don't rise up against Hamas et al. Palestinian good will won't stop the attacks. (Besides which, Israeli policy is not much geared towards encouraging Palestinian good will at this time.)

At this point, I don't have any problem with Sharon acting unilaterally at all. I do criticize him, but it's because I don't think is government is acting in Israel's best interests. It would make far more sense to abandon all the isolated settlements, pull in behind one single wall, and defend their borders rigorously. That means, for example, paying damages to the villagers whose olive groves were dozed to build the wall, so they don't try coming through, and so forth. It also means leaving fool settlers who insist on staying in Palestinian territory without the protection of the Israeli army. If Israel really means to relinquish sovereignty over the Palestinian territories, if it really means to leave Palestinian problems to the Palestinians, then it had best do so.

That means Palestinian civil war; everyone knows that. I doubt there's any way to stop that war now. But 'twere best done quickly -- and with as many Israelis out of the crossfire as possible.
Saturday, May 22, 2004
Installing TrackBack and upgrading comments with HaloScan!
(Catch of the day)

Excuse our dust...

UPDATE: Hmmm, TrackBack seems to be installed properly, but I can't ping anyone without permalinks -- and permalinks are still down. It's not the archive pages, just the links. To my loyal readers (all seven of you) -- anyone know Blogger well enough to help?

UPDATE: The plot thickens. My permalinks exist, I just don't link to them properly. Hmmm...

MORE: OK, I'm going to figure this out if it takes me all evening. It appears that the <$foo> tags in the template are the key to this. I just need to get the tags in the right order to generate the right URL.

<$BlogItemURL$> just sends me to /2004/05/. That's not right.
<$BlogItemPermanentURL$> sends me to /2004/05/http://catfi.... That's not right either.

Ah ha! The problem was that the link was "./<$BlogItemPermanentURL$>", NOT "<$BlogItemPermanentURL$>". Now let's make sure everything's right...

FINALLY: It all works. Dinnertime!

Oh my God I was wrong it was Iran all along.
(Link path: BoingBoing, Making Light, Newsday.com - National News; Talking Points Memo)

TPM is *all over* this story. Go there for the latest dirt.

It appears now that Chalabi didn't just meet an Iranian intelligence agent -- he hired one. His chief of intelligence -- the guy that's been digging up all the dirt for Chalabi to blackmail people with -- was an agent for Iranian intelligence.

This is very very very bad. First, this guy is sure to have used his year of grace to gather all sorts of information about the current political situation in Iraq. This is pure gold for the Iranian intelligence service, which is still loyal to the mullahs. (They are almost the only major element of the Iranian government that still is, as the army and the Republican Guard appear to be quietly anti-American at this point.)

Second, Chalabi's intelligence service is the sole source of the original oil-for-food accusations, and he still (unless they were taken in the raid) holds the documents proving the connections. We know he was holding on to them, not allowing their authenticity to be proven. Now that we know that additional agents were involved in Chalabi's service, those documents now have an extra layer of suspicion layed upon them. My gut feeling is that they are real -- they are too juicy not to use, and they fit in well with Chalabi's anti-Ba'athist schtick. I have to wonder, though, if an additional purpose was to induce turmoil among the Western powers. Controlling these documents meant the ability to control the timing and development of the UNSCAM scandal. Such control could be very useful for certain people.

But the final possibility is the most ominous. Either Chalabi was taken in by this guy, or he too was coordinating with the Iranians. Since Chalabi is an expert con man, it's hard to believe he could be easily conned himself, which suggests that Chalabi was an Iranian agent. Since Chalabi was instrumental in encouraging the neocons to support and execute the war, and in sabotaging -- I don't think that's too strong a word -- the postwar planning, it is therefore possible (not proven, but possible) that the entire Second Gulf War was induced by the Iranians.

Needless to say, this has major implications.
Penny wise and pound foolish.
(Link path: The Footballs of Rabid Pro-Semitism, National Review Online)

The Footballs links a disturbing piece by Byron York in the National Review, suggesting that Rumsfeld's policy changes to permit greater flexibility in killing, capturing, and interrogating prisoners, was "a good idea". In other words, he argues that the rewards in intelligence and military action outweigh the cost in goodwill, in diplomatic influence, in prestige, and in national morale.

The initial impetus is described by York (paraphrasing Hersh):

As Hersh tells the story, the secretary of defense was "apoplectic" after U.S. forces blew a chance to kill Afghanistan's Mullah Omar because a military lawyer wouldn't approve the strike. "Rumsfeld was apoplectic over what he saw as a self-defeating hesitation to attack that was due to political correctness," Hersh writes. To which many people might say: It's about time. That's precisely the reaction a secretary of defense should have.

And indeed, it was the correct response. The situation was analogous to the problems of British Bomber Command in 1942, when attacks on munitions plants in Germany were held up by legal complaints from British investors, who owned stock in the companies running the plants. There are some things that go out the window in wars.

The disturbing -- nay, shocking -- mentality advanced by York, and applauded at the Footballs, is that most other restraints on warfare should be loosed as well. York similarly lauds the removal of restraints on capturing suspected terrorists (tolerable in some cases), interrogating and torturing suspected terrorists (dishonorable), and the extension of these methods from the fight against al-Qaeda to the fight against Iraqi insurgencies (foolish and strategically unconscionable).

In York's world, the ends justify the means. The Footballs agrees. To this brand of true-believer neocon hawks, nothing -- nothing -- is more important than the defeat of the enemy. They are willing to let us lose our honor, lose our leadership of the world, and endanger our way of life in the process, and do not even count the cost.

Arguments that corrective systems, such as the investigations and court martials at Abu Gharib, are operating as designed do not wash. Nor do arguments that the abuses there did not directly stem from the change in policy. When you direct a part of your organization to do things contrary to your overall purpose (in the case of Iraq, the rule of law and a legitimate government), you get an organization working at cross purposes. The troops work to establish civil justice while the interrogators make people disappear without right of habeas corpus. The torturers violate the Geneva Conventions while the CPA works to establish respect for civil institutions.

And as your organization continues to grind its gears, the sounds of an organization in agony grow louder and louder. This New York Times piece (free and pointless registration required) is just one example. While the President insists that the Geneva Conventions apply to Iraq's prisons, the Pentagon's lawyers draw up contradictory statements. This is not an accident, and it's not an accidental breakdown in the chain of command. It is the result of a deliberate reversal of policy within a section of the military, a situation that is causing some parts of the government to work against their own co-workers. It is as if your left hand were pushing to close a door that is pinning your right wrist.

As Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said, "If we're the good guys, shouldn't we act like the good guys?" To do otherwise jeapordizes not only our standing abroad but our own national morale and willpower. And as I discussed last week, the memetic space is the space in which the war will be won or lost. (I'd link it but permalinks seem to be down. The post is "The only battlefield: II.")

Launching attacks without regard to legal niceties is a sad necessity of war. Grabbing suspected terrorists, likewise, although restitution should be made when we make mistakes. But harsh interrogation and torture are counterproductive, not only in terms of the intelligence received, but in terms of the wider conflict. It is tactically wise and strategically stupid; it is penny wise and pound foolish.

Checking up on the commercial Nostradamus.
(Link path: The Economist, TradeSports)

Remember that disturbance last year about a DARPA project to predict the likelihood of future events through online trading? I wrote about it last year. (Look for "Public idea futures: I must dissent!"; permalinks seem to be inoperative that far back in the archives.)

Well, Tradesports has taken up the job (as I said private companies would, and legally could). The idea is now respectable enough that the Economist, that London-based pulpit of the moneyed cognoscenti, refers to their trading levels in their analysis of the election. And among their offered contracts are state-by-state electoral college victories. How well do they compare to the Election Projection referred to below?

Well, the overall scores for Bush have been dropping rapidly since the start of the year from their Saddam-capture high. Right now, TradeSports' PRESIDENT.GWBUSH2004 contract is selling at 55.2 cents, indicating a 55.2% chance of re-election.

Now how about the state-by-state results? They show a slightly better story for Bush than the poll numbers do. (That may be because more Republicans play these sort of free-market games than Democrats, or it may be due to a greater lag in the response of the trading system compared to polls, or both.) Right now, the numbers (tallied through the National Archives' electoral college calculator) show a 283-255 Bush lead.

But that lead is razor thin. Ohio and Pennsylvania are trading at, respectively, 51 and 50 cents. If they drop just a little, 21 electoral votes are reassigned to Kerry, giving him a 275-263 lead. While Bush could make this up with gains elsewhere, no other states are as close to tipping (according to TradeSports) than these two.

Conclusion: Bush really is in trouble. He has to show compelling good news or avoid any more bad news whatsoever, or he loses.

P.S.: The full data used to make the calculations for this post are in an Excel file. Email me if you want the full data.
Electoral College update.
(Link path: Election Projection - 2004 Edition)

So what's the effect of all the recent foofooraw on the 2004 election?

It is, of course, a long way to Election Day. But that doesn't stop people of all persuasions from trying to prognosticate the results of the election. That's why we have election prediction polls, for instance, and job approval ratings, and right track/wrong track predictors, and so forth.

Now these indicators are all very nice, but when evaluating the election of a President, the only thing that matters is the Electoral College. And with a winner-take-all system such as we have had for over a century now, only the states that might go either way have a real say in who the next President will be. That's why neither party is spending any money on ads in Massachusetts or Mississippi. What's the use? Massachusetts will vote Democratic; it would if the nominee were a potted plant. Mississippi would vote Republican even if the potted plant switched parties and became the Republican nominee instead. Only the "battleground states" matter.

Election Projection is an attempt to project, based on state-by-state data, the 2004 election. Now, bear in mind that EP is run by a Bush supporter, so if there were any bias (and I don't think so, his methodology is open and honest), it would be towards Bush.

His current projection?

Electoral Votes: Bush 211, Kerry 327
Popular Vote: Bush 45.48%, Kerry 52.69%

Wow. The popular vote totals aren't impressive by themselves; they continue to reflect the 50/50 Nation so discussed in 2000 and 2001. But on electoral votes, Kerry blows Bush away.

This goes against conventional wisdom. Bush does better in sparsely populated rural states and Kerry does better in densely populated urban states. Now, rural states have a larger say than urban ones in determining the Presidency. How's that? Well, let's consider the least and most populated states, Wyoming and California.

WYOMING. Population: 493,782 Electoral Votes: 3
CALIFORNIA. Population: 33,871,648 Electoral Votes: 55

Each electoral vote of Wyoming's represent 164,594 people. In contrast, each of California's electors represent 615,848 people. It is easy to see, then, that Wyoming's voters get more say in who the President will be than California's. Of course, these are the two most extreme cases; the bias towards rural votes is much less than the three-to-one spread shown here. Nonetheless, the bias is real and is built into the Constitution, as a protection against the tyrannny of the majority.

Now, since Bush is a rural and suburban candidate, and Kerry is an urban candidate, Kerry must overcome this rural bias in the Electoral College to be elected. In other words, Kerry should be fighting an uphill battle.

But according to Election Projection, he's not, because a large number of small, rural states are going Democratic. Among them are the Northeastern swing states of New Hampshire and Maine; the corn states of Iowa and Missouri; and Southwestern states like Nevada and New Mexico. These states add to Kerry's small-state bastions of southern New England and the Pacific Northwest, which are long-time Democratic strongholds.

A coalition of urban states cannot alone command the country. The Founding Fathers were deeply concerned about that possibility. Then, it was intended to prevent economic and demographic powerhouses like New York and Virginia from dominating the Union. Today, it serves to prevent a left-liberal coalition of the West and East Coasts from commanding an increasingly conservative heartland.
But a coalition including the coasts and a selection of rural Midwestern and Southwestern states will just do the trick.

Friday, May 21, 2004
(Link path: War Liberal)

I've written extensively before on Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shi'ite religious character formenting rebellion in Iraq. Most people, in Iraq and in the West, now recognize him and his goons as completely self-interested jerks. Muqtada vows to throw the Americans out on general principle; he desires a Shi'ite Iranian-style theocracy (with himself in a high position of power, of course). His goons confiscate, loot, harass, burn, pillage, and generally make life difficult for any and all areas they inhabit, to the point that the people inevitably rise up against them. Only in areas where the only news of Muqtada comes from al-Jazeera does anyone like him, and this support is only the superficial support granted anyone who "opposes the infidel".

But everyone assumes that Muqtada is some Muslim phenomenon. Such things just don't happen in the West, right?

Meet Roy Moore, or "St. Roy" as Mac Thomson at War Liberal likes to call him. Roy Moore is a former lawyer who has based his entire judicial and political career on a single issue: attempting to establish the Christian religion in the United States. His chosen weapon is the Ten Commandments, which he alleges are the basis of United States law.

Like al-Sadr, St. Roy uses spurious claims to religion to fuel his rise to power. Like al-Sadr, he seeks to impose the tenets of his religion on the laws and the society that surround him. And, like al-Sadr, his associates actually care less about the rights of their fellow citizens than their own rights to hold and acquire as much power and wealth as they can.

Yes, that's right: power and wealth. The Constitution Party, which is desperately seeking Roy Moore as its candidate for president, is primarily about money: securing rights to "life, liberty, and property", by which they mean the right to have everyone live as they desire, the liberty to impose their own ideas about government on everyone else, and the right to hold and acquire property without any checks or accountability. In other words, they want to be able to do whatever they want. I'll analyze the Constitution Party in a seperate post, but I'll just briefly state that they are the most brutally honest people you'll run across in politics. I mean it! They are completely, wholeheartedly selfish, and they make no bones about it (except when speaking religiously, in which case decorum requires them to pretend to charity). When you see this level of honesty, it actually makes you thankful for some politicians' prevarication.

These guys are the ones Robert Heinlein warned about, the core that could propel a Nehemiah Scudder to power. But our experiences in Iraq (and Iran, where the Ayatollahs did take power) may help us avoid this particular political pitfall. Let's make Roy Moore a household name -- one to be despised and ridiculed, as someone who has no idea what America is about.
Where did that sarin come from?
(Link path: Hugh Hewitt, Citizen Smash, Castle Argghh!, The Corner on National Review Online)

Newly acquired data indicate that the sarin shell is very interesting indeed.

Joe Frye, a reader on the Corner, notes that the shells were unmarked, and suggests that the conventional and chemical weapons were mixed with each other in the stockpiles. This has the benefit that Iraqi commanders could not refuse the order to use chemical weapons, as they could not distinguish between conventional and chemical shells.

But more importantly, the chemical weapons may have been hidden by the Purloined Letter method, i.e., in plain sight, mixed in with regular munitions.

The problem with this theory is that numerous weapons dumps have already been seized and destroyed. Wouldn't the chemicals have shown up before now?

Smash notes that the sarin shell design indicates a post-1988 design.

There are three possible explanations for the presence of this shell in an Iraq IED, especially one that was not known by the IED's designers to be a chemical weapon.

1) It was Syrian.
Syria is well known to be supplying weapons, personnel, and various other forms of support to the Sunni insurgency. Syria could also be the supplier of the chemical weapons shell. In this scenario, the serial numbers were removed to prevent Syrian complicity -- "it must have been from Saddam's stockpiles" they can say, and disclaim all knowledge.

The problem with this theory is that I don't know whether Syria ever developed a binary sarin shell. I know they have a stockpile of sarin, and some of it is in artillery shells; but whether they developed a time-of-flight binary weapon was not a question amenable to a quick Google search.

The other problem is, if Syria was donating precious chemical weaponry, why didn't they tell the insurgents what it was so they could use it effectively?

2) It was a mistake.
Under the doctrine, "never assume malice when stupidity explains the facts", we can posit that this shell was not meant to be unmarked, and was never intended to be mixed with conventional shells. What does this imply about Saddam's actions with respect to WMD?

At a minimum:

Sometime between 1988-95, Saddam developed and manufactured sophisticated, “mix-in-flight” binary chemical weapons.
He failed to declare these weapons, as required, to UN weapons inspectors.

Under the "mistake" idea, the presence of this one shell doesn't imply that a whole stockpile exists at the present time. It does imply that a stockpile did exist, but whether that stockpile was destroyed, spirited to Syria, or whatever, is not known.

3) The marking and mixing was intentional on Saddam's part.

This is the problem scenario. It implies that the weapons inspectors were fooled by the simple expedient of hiding the weapons they sought in plain sight, disguised as ordinary munitions. If this becomes a standard tactic, it follows that only testing of a large representative set of all munitions will reveal chemical weapons stockpiles. The implications for the effectiveness of weapons inspectors is worrisome.

It also implies that the chemical weapons are still in Iraq. Since they were widely distributed, it follows that they were not moved elsewhere, as gathering them together again would have been a major logistical challenge. Hence, the stockpiles are still in Iraq. Presumably, with this knowledge, the Iraq Survey Group (the current weapons inspection team) will jump hot 'n' heavy on searching through known conventional stockpiles, looking for unmarked weapons that might be disguised chemical munitions. If this scenario is true, we should know in a few weeks or months where the weapons went.

And then we can all breathe a little easier.

Footnote: Hugh Hewitt, stereotypically, sees this as a way to bash the Left. He thus ignores moderates like me, who think the war itself was right but that Bush is too incompetent to be allowed to lead it. I also don't believe (or like) people who claim that Democrats are all Kucinich isolationists. I don't think all Republicans are Richard Perle neocons, either.
Thursday, May 20, 2004
The only battlefield: III. Mystical vs. realistic goals.
(Fishmonger's wares)

Reader Joshua Scholar points out that al-Qaeda does not act in a completely Clausewitzian manner.

"You're assuming that AQ has a world view similar to ours and that their thinking is more logical than mystical...Logic and planning are not the realms of AQ thought, mysticism is. Murderous mysticism."

Joshua has clearly read Al-Qaeda's Fantasy Ideology, by Lee Harris. Harris points out that many al-Qaeda members believe that their actions will have effects that a scientific, rational analysis would not posit. Instead, al-Qaeda is acting out a sort of politico-religious passion play or grand-scale theater, in which their effects are mainly geared towards their own followers and not toward actual results.

Unfortunately, al-Qaeda's fantasy ideology does align somewhat with rational goals. Suborning the enemy through propaganda means is one of them. Even more unfortunately, al-Qaeda does seem to have some long-range planners -- an al-Qaeda General Staff, if you will -- who are not blinded by their own Qutbist rhetoric used for propaganda, recruitment, and general public relations. Zarqawi is one of them; the Zarqawi memo is more logical than mystical in its reasoning. The al-Qaeda General Staff is not numerous, and has taken attrition since September 11; but a number of them remain close by bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, and while this isolates them somewhat it also protects them.

Joshua also points out that the Superpower Caliphate, al-Qaeda's current goal, is not their final one:

"They intend to make war, literally until judgment day because their version of the scriptures states that Allah won't find them worthy of the his coming and bring on judgment day until they, among other things, kill the Jews (that probably means ALL of the Jews). So while a caliphate is a short term (!!!) goal, nothing stops with its creation, not if it's an Al Qa'eda run caliphate! Note that even Hamas has stated that their own war will continue "until Islam rules the universe".

Joshua is probably correct concerning al-Qaeda's final goals; he is certainly correct in the proposition that jihad, under Qutbist doctrine, does not end until Judgement Day. But rational assumptions, and even al-Qaeda's own estimates, conclude that al-Qaeda would have to retrench and develop its own internal state structure in the unlikely event that it acheived all its goals and became a Pan-Muslim Caliphate. This would necessitate a truce, or a slowing of jihad, and this can be taken as a reasonable estimate of the end of the current conflict. It is also reasonable to believe that al-Qaeda's goals would not change until this list is complete, as (even in its fantasy ideology) it considers this list vital to its final victory.

Thus, I can use this list as a good description of al-Qaeda's goals. I can also describe some of its actions as rational attempts to acheive those goals. Other attempts are indeed mystical attempts to invoke the power of Allah; but such mysticism can be incorporated into a rational framework as propaganda targeted at Muslims. It is certainly regarded as such in the West, and it may be regarded as such by the al-Qaeda General Staff (who are, by definition, those who are thinking of planning al-Qaeda actions in rational and not mystical terms).

I wish al-Qaeda's plans were pure fantasy; they would be easier to defeat if they were. But they do sometimes do the rational thing, and we must oppose those efforts as well.

Next up: the promised strategic analysis!
And now, to completely confuse you....
(Link path: Tacitus, Daily Kos, Washington Post)

Early reports (from Arab sources known to be opposed to American occupation) indicate that American jets bombed a wedding ceremony.
Later reports (from American sources) indicate that those killed were actually legitimate military targets.
The Washington Post gives both reports (demonstrating their "balance").
The Left chooses to believe only one report (the wedding report), and disdains the Right for believing the other.
The Right disdains the Left for believing that report, while failing to consider that, were the reports true, so too would be the Left's criticisms.

See now why being a principled moderate, as I am, is so difficult these days? The data available to me indicate that the American version of the story is more likely to be true. At any rate, data supporting the assertion that the target was a wedding celebration are slim; Arab-based reports cannot agree on the time, target, or number of casualties. In addition, most of the reports come from hundreds of miles away, suggesting they were relayed by phone and are therefore second- or third-hand. The American report at least has the virtues of being clear, concise, self-consistent, and plausible.

I can't make that conclusion without being labeled as Right: without accusations that I am succumbing to the propaganda of the evil Bush administration. It's as if either side now has its own perception of reality; the two camps act in two different worlds, and each and every event has two sides, two versions, two perceptions, and two lessons to be drawn. And heaven forbid you should consider the arguments of the other side.

But understanding is a three edged sword: your side, their side, and the truth.

I stand for the Truth. Though I know it not, it still is more constant than the Left or the Right.
The European worldview.
(Link path: [email from Andreas], Catfish and Cod, USS Clueless, [email from Andreas])

Andreas responded to my post. That's a C&C first. Thanks, Andreas! I hope my reply enlightens you.


I'm Andreas from Sweden, the guy who merely asked a Steven Den Beste a
simple theoretical question but got accused for all sorts of things. :)

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm not angry with you, you're just wrong.

Just wanted to tell you that I read your posting and that I found it
interesting, but I'm not sure I agree. In some ways what you write is
true ofcourse, but I think that you tend to see the european union as
the united states.

There are many ways in which the European Union is similar to the United States, and there are many ways in which the two are different. There are some elements of the US that I think the EU would be better off adopting, and there are some elements of the EU that I think the US would be better off adopting. The major difference between myself and Andreas is that I think the EU needs more work than the US, and he thinks the opposite.

We don't look upon ourselves as europeans but swedes, englishmen,
frenchs, and citizens of the world.

Well, I've read quite a number of articles, many of them written by Europeans supportive of integration, that say different. But let's take your statement at face value for a moment.

Before the Civil War, US citizens also saw themselves as primarily affiliated to their home state. They were Virginians, or New Yorkers, or Georgians, or what have you. They were Americans second, and America was primarily a trade and defense union, as the European Union is today. In that respect, the EU could be looked upon as a proto-United States. Certainly many of the architects of the EU hoped for such an outcome; Winston Churchill, in a speech sometimes considered the inaugural event of European integration, explicitly called his desired end-state the "United States of Europe".

But there are also ways in which the EU is not a proto-US. One of them is bound up in that simple phrase, "citizens of the world".

The phrase "citizens of the world" implies that the EU worldview is not meant to be confined to EU boundaries. Europeans believe that their international system really does apply to everyone. Why shouldn't it, they think. It's been so successful for us. And, indeed, the European international system is designed to expand, to encompass new states and bring them into the international / EU system. Hence the growth of the EU from six original states to twenty-five today, with countries as far away as Morocco and Azerbijian desirous of membership.

The phrase "citizens of the world" implies that the international system is intended to be universal. Thus, Europeans get upset when the system fails somewhere. The system is also designed to compel consensus (remember, it's designed as a corrective mechanism when states fail to appreciate the link between their own self-interest and everyone else's). Hence, a failure of the system is interpreted by the system as a failure to achieve consensus, and the system acts to compel consensus as it understands it.

Here are three examples:

September 11, 2001: The World Trade Center is attacked by terrorists.
The immediate consensus is that action must be taken.
The international organizations, including the UN and NATO, approve action.
Action is taken (initially by the US and UK, but eventually by many nations).
Consensus is not disturbed.

January, 2003: Saddam Hussein defies United Nations demands.
There is no consensus: US, UK, Spain, Poland argue for action against Hussein; France, Germany, Russia argue against action.
The international organizations, including the UN and NATO, fail to approve action.
Action is taken (initially by the US and UK, but eventually by many nations, some of whom later reconsider).
Consensus is disturbed: consensus was not reached before action was taken.
By the internationalist paradigm, it is therefore assumed that action was not in the best interest of the community.
The system has failed.
The assumption by dissenting elements is that member(s) of the community (US, UK) broke consensus and must be brought back into consensus; diplomatic measures to that extent are taken.

March, 1999: Slobodan Milosevic initiates ethnic cleansing against Kosovar Albanian Muslims.
There is no consensus: US, European powers argue for action against Milosevic; Russia, China argue against action.
The international organizations, including NATO (but not the UN), approve action.
Action is taken (initially by the US and NATO, but eventually by many nations).
By the internationalist paradigm, it is therefore assumed that action was not in the best interest of the community. (Many Europeans, especially those most devoted to the European integration program, came to this conclusion.)
The system has failed.
The assumption by dissenting elements is that member(s) of the community broke consensus and must be brought back into consensus; diplomatic measures to that extent are taken. (In this case, Belgium, Russia, and other wavering nations were convinced by US diplomacy; but their main argument against NATO action was that NATO had broken consensus in the UN.)

In the European internationalist system, the measure of correct action is the degree of consensus acheived among the other nations in the system. What I suggest is that this measurement does not accurately reflect the best interests of the community. The majority is not always right.

The union was in reality formed to
ease the trading as it's pretty hard to buy things from your neighbor
if you have a different currency, different taxes and so forth. For
example norwegians still today travel on secret roads to Sweden to buy
rice in large amounts. Sounds silly eh?

Indeed, and such silliness was rampant in the years between our independence and the adoption of the Constitution. States were imposing duties and tolls at their border; each state (and sometimes cities) were printing their own incompatible currencies. It was a mess, and one of the key aspects of the Constitution was the imposition of a free trade zone and a common currency throughout the United States. But the United States was much more than a trade union; and the European Union has become much more than a trade union, as well.

Back to the discussion, I think that we believe that we believe that
americans are citizens of the world, just as we think ourselves to be.

As I said: you believe your paradigm applies to us equally as well as it applies to you. I humbly suggest that such is not the case. I do think America, and Americans, are citizens of the world, but I think that implies different obligations from what you think it implies.

Where americans perhaps believe that there's the US and then there's
Europe and the rest of the world, we believe that we all live in this

Thus denying that there is any real difference between Europe and the United States, or between Europe and the rest of the world, exactly as I said.

that we have equal rights to it,

Rights in principle are wonderful things. The trick is to have institutions that defend them. Or, if you'll pardon the quote, "to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

that we have to get along and respect each other

Despite the disagreements we've had, America and Europe still seem to be getting along: not as well, but they're getting along. The difficulties have occurred when either side attempts to compel consensus. Europe doesn't want to be forced to accept American decisions and America doesn't want to be forced to accept European decisions.

The major disagreements, I point out, occur when some third party completely rejects the internationalist ideas and says that someone has more rights than others, and doesn't have to get along or respect others. The traditional way to compel consensus in international affairs has been force; but European internationalism rejects force as a way to compel consensus, and hasn't found any effective tool that can compel consensus yet. Hence Europe doesn't have many options in trying to bring Milosevic's Serbia, or Hussein's Iraq, or Arafat's Palestine, or bin Laden's al-Qaeda, into alignment with the international consensus.

and know that the decisions made affect alot of
people all around the globe.

I'm intrigued by the idea that America, the number one proponent of globalization, is accused of being ignorant of the global import of its actions.

If there's a world problem one has to take
action to, like Iraq, we try to solve it together while at the same
time respecting the culture and history of the country.

Horrific disgraces like Abu Gharib aside, I don't think the American intervention in Iraq has entirely failed to respect the culture or history of Iraq. For instance, great care has been taken to deal with all major aspects of the Iraqi culture (Shi'ite, Sunni, Kurdish); the lessons learned by (or should I say inflicted upon?) the British in their 1920 invasion of Iraq have been taken to heart; and the Americans have not attempted to violate major aspects of Iraqi culture, such as try to modify the basic Islamic character of the country. This is in contrast to similar interventions undertaken by Europeans, and some by Americans in days past. I'm not saying we accomplished these tasks perfectly -- indeed, I am of the strong opinion that we made many egregious errors in the planning of the Iraqi intervention. But we haven't failed at it. Please note also that the best way to be able to respect the culture and history of the country is to interact with a government in that country that accurately reflects its culture and history. I think we can agree that that entails some form of democracy.

I should note that the phrase "respecting the culture and history of the country" is sometimes used as a diplomatic code for other actions, such as "respecting the sovereignty of the present ruler" or "allowing a certain faction to assume power". I'm not entirely certain what you, Andreas, mean by it.

I also note that, again, you assume that consensus is more important than the actual action taken. This has collorary implications, for instance, that consensus is more important than the results of the actions taken. This was the argument made by France during the discussions in March, 2003; that it was better to leave Saddam in power than to break consensus.

Another thing about this whole war which makes us uncomfortable is the
US history with Iraq, al Qaida and Afghanistan. US has been in the area
for a long period now, taking away leaders, putting new leaders at high
positions (Saddam f.e), breaking down, building up, fighting the
citizens and giving them new weapons and support at the same time.

These are, of course, also actions that the European peoples took during their imperial phase of history. Most of the actions you refer to occurred during the Cold War; few coups have occurred since. While some coups during the Cold War took place at direct U.S. instigation, others took place at Soviet instigation, while yet still more occurred without either U.S. or Soviet instigation. Even when the coup occurred without intervention by one or the other superpower, one or the other or both powers were often taking action to try to bring the new leader into one or the other orbit, usually by offering weapons and support.

Popular uprisings also occurred quite frequently during this time period, as they usually do when coups occur. Some of these were genuine resistances to oppression; others were instigated by one or the other superpower, in an attempt to remove a client regime of the other superpower. Weapons and support were also distributed at this time.

All these activities were, of course, brought to a halt by the end of the Cold War. As support and weapons were withdrawn, a new round of fighting began worldwide, as power balances became determined by local conditions rather than the positions of pieces on chessboards in Washington and Moscow. Intervention for pure purposes of dominion was heavily frowned upon by US policy during the 1990's, as stability was seen as paramount.

Of course, many of the nations and regimes being dealt with during and after the Cold War (America was not very involved in the Middle East before the Cold War) were themselves set up by Europeans, using exactly the methods you describe; and it is the bad experiences Europeans had with the results of those actions that has lead to their current feelings towards them.

Perhaps the situation wouldn't been if US hadn't given them the weapons
and training in the first place.

I am not exactly certain what you mean by the situation.
* The presence of Saddam? Saddam came to power entirely on his own; this is well documented and requires no explanation.

* His posession of weapons? Surely the US sold weapons to Saddam; but the Soviet Union sold him more, and the Europeans sold him weapons as well. Saddam's arsenal is hardly the US' fault alone; the international consensus during the Cold War held that weapons had to be sent in order to prevent dominance of one side by the other.

* His potential possession of WMD? Again, more materiel was sold to Saddam by Europeans, particularly the French and the Russians, than by the United States. He failed to procure nuclear weapons only because of the bombing of a French-built nuclear reactor (sold without approval of the consensus) by an Israeli airstrike (conducted without approval of the consensus).

* The existence of al-Qaeda? Certainly the Afghan Arabs were aided by CIA funds and training during the 1980's. But it was the intervention of the United Nations (conducted according to the consensus!) in Iraq, coupled with Saudi domestic policy (adhering to the consensus!) that convinced al-Qaeda to go rogue.

* The presence of large amounts of weapons in the world? Surely you cannot blame this on America alone. There are many other countries in the world that know how to manufacture weapons, and do so with great abandon; and they will not stop because we do, or because we demand that they do too. Many of the countries that build weapons for export, it should be noted, are European.

It's only speculations ofcourse,

Thanks. For the record, I could be wrong too.

there comes a point where enough is enough and you have to stop the

This makes the naive assumption that the violence continues only because of our instigation of it. It ignores the possibility that, even if we retire from the field, the violence will continue. Our own analysis, as well as the evidence of the bombing of Madrid and the subsequent attempted bombings in France, appear to indicate that such is the case.

and the interference. Perhaps the US will reach that point

You have demonstrated another of my points. You believe, as previously stated, that the US is undergoing the same experience that Europe had, and therefore must make the same choices. My point is that such is not the case, and that the US response is different because its experience is different.

Europe made its interventions in the Middle East from choice: the desire to profit, to convert, to dominate, to improve, to enslave, to save, and to prevent takeover by a rival power. America felt that its interventions in the Middle East were of necessity: the necessity to prevent military defeat and nuclear holocaust, and to prevent the economic collapse that would induce defeat. The scale of intervention thus dwindled once it was perceived as no longer necessary; subsequent interventions up to 11 September 2001 were considered "cleaning up after oneself" and "finishing old business".

Interventions since 2001 have been conducted from a different position. These interventions are intended to eliminate the need for future interventions, by establishing a self-perpetuating, self-regulating system (of democratic Arab governance) that can operate free of further military intervention.

Europeans, in their assumption that the US is following their well-trodden path, assume that the American plan for intervention follows their own: an Imperial system, one which required installation of puppet rulers and frequent military intervention. Mindful of the pitfalls of the European approach, America is attempting a different solution, in which self-perpetuating democracies establish law, order, and prosperity; patrol for terrorists and other breachers of the peace; and reduce the desire to make war among the Muslim peoples. This solution requires neither puppet rulers nor frequent military intervention, but it does require a heavy up-front set-up cost, including (in the case of Iraq) isolated use of military intervention.

By the way, I don't think military intervention is the sole solution, nor is it always productive. For instance, Iran will probably soon become a democracy and a participant in the international consensus without the need for military intervention. While the secondary effects of military options must not be forgotten, these secondary effects do not necessitate the removal of military options from the table.


Throughout his message, Andreas makes several assertions I continue to disagree with:

* Andreas believes that the European internationalist paradigm is universally applicable at this moment in history. (I wish it were! But it's not, sadly, and I can't maintain my empiricism without recognizing and dealing with that fact.)

* Andreas believes that consensus in international affairs is the yardstick by which success in international affairs should be measured. (Consensus can be wrong.)

* Andreas believes that consensus in international affairs accurately reflects the positive or negative effects on the international community of action by a state. In other words, because current consensus disapproves of, say, intervention in Iraq, Andreas believes that it necessarily follows that intervention in Iraq will not improve the international community. (This is not necessarily the case.)

* Andreas believes that America is pursuing policies essentially identical to those practiced by 19th and 20th century Europeans; i.e., imperialism. (Despite current fears, America cannot bring itself to be imperial in the sense that most Europeans understand the term.)

* Andreas believes that America will make the same mistakes as said Europeans; i.e., heavy-handedness and unwelcome imposition of culture and government. (All reports show that even the bumbling Bush administration is handling this challenge better than the average European government did. A competent administration will do even better.)

* Andreas believes that America will eventually come to the same conclusions as current Europeans regarding its present policies; i.e., that wars and interventions are unproductive or counterproductive. (This assumes that American policies will fail, an assumption unsubstantiated and yet to be demonstrated.)

* Andreas believes that America is likely, in the course of time, to adopt European internationalism as a philosophy. (Unlikely, for reasons already stated in previous posts.)

None of this is to suggest that I support all the policies that discomfort Andreas; nor do I believe that all of America's current policies are correct or productive. I simply disagree with the assertion that America is doomed to walk the path already tread by Europeans. We can learn from European mistakes, and from American mistakes too.
The need for information tracking.
(Link path: King of the Blogs, Belmont Club)

Wretchard is right -- we need to be able to know how our knowledge is evolving, over both space and time. Knowledge should not be viewed as discrete events, but as part of a continuum, complete with interactions.

But this need goes well beyond the news, or the "public intelligence service" as he puts it. Adaptations of the same software could well be used to track the evolution of a medical patient's disease, or the development of a scientific theory, or the concept drawings and script revisions of Hollywood, or...

The list of applications is endless! Why isn't someone developing this software? (Actually, someone probably is and I don't know about it.)

A related useful tool would be something I call "Reverse Track Changes". Microsoft Word has a mode where it displays all the changes made to a document, with different colors to indicate different authors and revisions. At each stage, you can generate a new document incorporating the changes made. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to take multiple versions of a document, such as Wretchard collected in his post, and generate such a document? A program like that ought to be easy to code using multiple iterations of Unix diff. Anyone want to give it a shot? (For bonus points, set up your program to auto-pull its various versions from Google News.)
What were they thinking?
(Link path: The New Zealand Herald/Reuters)

Palestinian demonstrators were killed today when tanks and helicopters fired into the crowd. Israel says it wasn't deliberately firing at civilians.

But what were you doing using tanks and helicopters in a highly urbanized environment in the first place? Everyone knows that leads to civilian deaths -- especially when people are demonstrating against you.

Whether you support the defense of Israel against terrorists or not (and I do), the only conclusion you can draw is that Israel is not concerned about Palestinian civilian deaths, that the life of a Palestinian is not worth as much as the life of an Israeli.

If you accept such tactics, then your strategy must be considerate. There are times when America has judged civilian casualties to be acceptable, most notably in the firebombings of Japan and Germany. But if you go that way, you have already accepted that this is a total war against your enemies that can only end in the surrender of an entire people. You're committed to blowing away every means of making war the enemy has, and to hell with the consequences. Unconditional surrender of one side or the other is the only possible end. Such is a "war to the knife", as Jerry Pournelle puts it. If Israel really wants to do that, it had better relinquish its alliance with America and go to it. The end results will not be pretty, and they will not necessarily be in Israel's favor, but they will be final.

If, on the other hand, Israel has any intention of ever making peace with the Palestinians, and the Arabs using the Palestinians as their proxies and human shields, then they had better abandon such tactics and at least make a good faith effort at conducting a clean war. The Israeli people, far and away, oppose further interventions by their army, settlers, or government in the Gaza Strip. The Likud Party doesn't, but they don't represent Israeli society as a whole and never have. If Israel wants to make a peace agreement, they ought to pull their army and their settlers behind a wall, and tell the Palestinians to go stuff themselves. If the Palestinians start trouble after that it's their fault for not suing for peace, not the Israelis'. But no matter whose fault it is, both sides should respect the others' noncombatant civilians, or lose the moral high ground -- and American support.

I know, I know, that last sentence sounds like a bad joke after all the suicide bombings conducted by the Palestinians over the years. But just as Nick Berg's murder does not excuse Abu Gharib, the Palestinian suicide bombings do not excuse heavy-handed Israeli tactics. Our civilization upholds standards, and one of those standards is that every effort should be made to spare civilian lives, unless it's impossible to conduct the war otherwise.

Israel doesn't have to demolish homes or fire tank rounds or helicopter missiles in crowded urban areas in order to secure its borders. There are other ways to keep the Gazans from attacking Israel, and Israel should use them.
Chalabi's a hoot.
(Link path: CNN)

Chalabi claims that "Ba'athists. controlling the Iraqi Police under the protection of the CPA", are behind the raid on INC headquarters.

Anyone who thinks we support Ba'athists is off his rocker. It wasn't until this month that we started relinquishing an iron policy of strict refusal of all Ba'athists -- regardless of actual loyalty to the party or its higher members. That policy, it should be noted, was strongly supported by Chalabi himself, mainly as a means of eliminating potential rivals.

Chalabi is upset that the CPA won't relinquish control of two keys to power: full control of the Iraqi Army, and -- hey, can I call it? -- full control of the investigation of fraud in the U.N. oil-for-food program.

He's also willing to say most anything to garner what meager support he can. His nephew Salim says that "U.S. military personnel and Iraqi police entered his uncle's home with their weapons drawn, threatened Chalabi's security personnel, put a gun to Chalabi's head and threatened him." Sounds much like the description given of the operation to retrieve Elian Gonzalez, doesn't it?

Chalabi's spokesman: the Americans behaved "in a very savage way.... Doors were smashed despite the offer to unlock it. Computers were smashed. Even pictures on the wall were smashed. Even his holy Koran, his personal holy Koran was taken as a document."

Right. We're smashing computers that we're confiscating as evidence. We smash pictures -- just for the hell of it, of course. And of course we make sure to offend Muslims by touching a Qu'ran. Does any of this sound like professional American soldiers? Or does it sound more like a caricature of American soldiers, devised for anti-American propaganda purposes?

Chalabi sez: "When America treats its friends this way, then they are in big trouble" and that his relationship with us is now "non-existent".

All I can say is: payback's a b****, dude.

America is Frankenstein -- and that's a good thing.
(Link path: F*** France, Catfish and Cod, USS Clueless)

I see from the referrer logs that I've been linked to by a American-boosterism page called "F France", who are touting my post as a reason to disapprove of the French and boost American exceptionalism.

That's not exactly what I had in mind. As I said in the last post:

I don't agree with them, but I understand it, and I don't get angry when I hear it. They're not my enemy. They're just wrong.

Contrast this with a FF commenter:

We are a more advanced species because we've taken the best of humanity, accepted a common language and ideology, and moved forward while the rest of the world stood still or went backward.

That's not exactly what's going on.

The American experiment has suceeded where other attempts failed, to a large degree, because of the relatively clean sheet we got to work with. American society started virtually from scratch. We were able to take "the best of humanity" because we were in a New World with few preconceived notions of how a society should be run. That meant we were able to set up societies that simply couldn't exist in Europe -- the Plymouth Colony is a good example.

Every attempt to revolutionize European society (and there were many, all through the Renaissance and the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution) had to start with a basic cultural matrix that was already in place. Attempts to ignore that cultural matrix and apply a completely new template generally ended in failure and brutal tyranny. Examples include the Thirty Years' War, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Paris Commune, the Spanish Civil War, the.... I think you see the point. Only by adapting a political idea to the society in which it was implemented could such an idea be accepted, and only once it was accepted could it succeed.

And one of the biggest impediments to acceptance of a new idea in governance, or in culture, or in politics, was its origin from some other nation. Englishmen didn't want to hear about the Rights of Men from the French. Austrians would never take advice from the British on how to order their government. Peter the Great had to use terror and violence to force Russians to adopt European styles and attitudes, and so on.

The English colonies in America were generated as the result of the English takeover of several other nations' colones. New York was once the New Netherlands; Maryland was New Sweden; and there were Germans and Danes and whatnot scattered along the coast in the 1600's. All these were swept up by 1700 into the block of English colonies that became the United States. From the beginning, then, we were cosmopolitan; after independence, we became more so as people flooded in from every corner of Europe. As a result, we had far less resistance to the idea of adopting ideas from people of other races, colors, or creeds.

Because we had a much weaker "autoimmune system" in our body politic, we were able to stitch together (and add to!) a totally new society from Europe's cast-off parts. The skeleton of that society came from Great Britain; it incorporated a number of things the British wanted to do with their government (and eventually did) but were temporarily unable to enact because of their heritage. Another pile of good ideas came from the French, from the ideas of Voltaire and the Paris salons. You couldn't get people in London to adapt French ideas -- but you could in Philadelphia. Some more ideas, with attached warnings, came from Poland, where the "Democracy of the Nobles" had shown the powers and the pitfalls of republican government for centuries. (Who in England or France would pay attention to the affairs of the Poles? They're having trouble doing it even now.) And a few key ideas, such as seperation of powers, came from our neighbors the Iroquois. (If you think Europeans had resistance to taking ideas from other European powers, imagine their resistance at adopting the ways of a Native American state.)

If you'll look at the ideas underpinning European states today, you'll find that the two countries most like America, the two whose self-concept embraces ideals of citizenship as well as culture or language, are.... Britain and France! The experience of the British Empire caused the British to reconsider the definition of "Britishness"; as a result, there are large numbers of Pakistani, Indian, black, Caribbean, and other races and peoples who live in Britain (and have for generations!) and consider themselves as British as the next man. Being British means embracing the "rights of Englishmen" as well as their ways. In France, too, the whiplash of governmental reinvention over the last two centuries has caused the concept of bring "French" to embody the ideals of securalism and "liberte, egalite, fraternite" as much as the French language or attitude. And while the embrace of American ideals is a key part of becoming American, there is definitely an acculturation process as well, as our immigrants learn to speak, act, and think American. America's differences with Europe are, in many ways, in degree and not in kind.

But there is one glaring difference between the European and American immigration experiences that stands out like a beacon. America believes that its immigrants are essential to its identity as a nation, while Europeans feel that their natural-born are the heart of their identity. As a result, European immigrants are often the least attached to their adopted home, while American immigrants are the most attached.

I don't think that Europe has been "standing still or going backwards". I think the European peoples have been trying just as hard as we have. But they've been struggling under some limitations. The European Union, for all its faults, is an attempt to remove some of those limitations. One of the long-term goals of European integration is the development of a "European consciousness", a sense of allegiance to Europe as a whole, rather than solely to your country of origin. The idea is that a population that puts Europe first would be able to exchange money, ideas, and so forth in the free-form way that America does.

It's a great idea, and I hope it works. I just think it'll take a while, and I think a number of stupid decisions (some of them made by, yes, the French) are impeding that project.
The decline and fall of Ahmed Chalabi.
(Link path: The Command Post, Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

They finally did it. Ahmed Chalabi is no longer under American protection.

For those just tuning in:Chalabi is the head of the Iraqi National Congress. In the 1990's it was touted as a "government-in-exile" by the United States, and enjoyed broad American support. Chalabi's group passed intelligence from within Iraq to the American government, and worked towards the overthrow of Saddam.

However, in 1997, an incident occurred which caused the CIA and the State Department to lose faith in Chalabi as an ally. A coup attempt collapsed; Chalabi claimed credit for fore-warning the United States about the security compromises. The CIA, however, uncovered evidence indicating that Chalabi was actually the cause of the leak. CIA analysts theorized that Chalabi felt that the coup, if successful, would bring a military junta to power and sideline the INC (and himself). He therefore sabatoged it, so as to force the United States to consider options that included making Chalabi a power in the Iraqi government. Naturally, CIA and State took a dim view of such backstabbing, and relinquish their ties and support for the INC.

The Pentagon, however, took Chalabi's explanations at face value, and continued to support his group rhetorically, logistically and financially. In the years from 1997 to 2003, Chalabi continued to feed information to the Pentagon designed to boost the INC position that Iraq, once invaded, would welcome an American imposition of a government headed, naturally, by the INC and by Chalabi. The information also encouraged the theories that were popular within the Pentagon as rationales for war, namely the continued development of weapons of mass destruction. Warnings by State and CIA that Chalabi's intelligence leads did not pan out were ignored by Pentagon planners, particularly after 2001 when prominent neoconservatives were appointed to high civilian Pentagon posts and took control of American military intelligence.

Nearly everything Chalabi told the Pentagon about post-war Iraq was wrong. The country could not easily accept an INC return-from-exile government; the INC had virtually no support among the Iraqi populace; an occupation was required; law and order would break down; no weapons of mass destruction were easily identifiable, and the intelligence as to their whereabouts was entirely incorrect. Most of the Pentagon's assumptions about post-war operations were based on the intelligence provided by Chalabi; as a result, the plans were completely wrong.

Despite this, the Pentagon continued to plan for a handover of power to Chalabi, until it became clear that such a handover would be deeply unpopular and would probably spark rebellion. Chalabi was downgraded from prime-minister-designate to merely one power among equals in the Iraqi Governing Council. Nonetheless, he continued to receive Pentagon stipends for intelligence, a move supposedly justified by the INC's capture of documents from several Iraqi ministries during the chaotic fall of Baghdad.

Chalabi has, over the past year, tried to parley his ownership of Mukhabarat material, especially his ownership of the oil-for-food smoking gun documents, into greater financial and political gains for the INC (and thus himself). Meanwhile, he continues to hand out bogus intelligence on other fronts, scheme for power in Baghdad, and try to curry favor (without much success) among the Iraqi populace. In addition, his cronies have been scheming to pull control of as much money and as many contracts as possible away from the Iraqi government and the CPA and into the hands of the INC, where INC members and associates can be enriched at public expense. And recently, questions have been raised related to Chalabi's potential connections to Iranian intelligence.

Together with his standing convinction in Jordan for embezzlement, Chalabi's connections to the United States have done much to tarnish our reputation with the Iraqi people. Many people in Iraq thought that Chalabi's original role -- as an American puppet, a "strongman" who would execute American policy without attention to Iraqi desries -- was still operational, and looked at us as the sort of people who would hire criminals to do their dirty work.

That's over now. The slush money from the Pentagon has been shut off, and now Chalabi's home and compound are under US surveillance. There's little question but that the purpose of the raids is to seize the documents held by the INC, and to shut down the INC embezzlement and extortion rackets.

At the Command Post, people wonder whether the Oil-For-Food investigation will be helped or hampered by this move. Because Chalabi has been loudly calling for investigations and Bremer hasn't, people believe that Chalabi will aid the investigation and Bremer will try to cover it up.

But the reason Chalabi has been pushing O-F-F is because he expected to gain from it. He wouldn't release those documents to any of the investigators -- Pentagon, State, UN -- without concessions in return. He was an impediment to the investigation. Now that the documents are in US hands, they are amenable to US procedures. The State Department may want to cover the scandal up, but the Defense Department is in actual possession of the documents. The only ways now to stop the eventual release of the O-F-F documents to investigators is classification (politically infeasible) or destruction (illegal and highly likely to be prosecuted). Otherwise, the O-F-F documents are vulnerable to FOIA requests. One way or another, the investigation will now proceed.

Other people believe that the reason for Chalabi's fall is his investigations into the O-F-F scandal. This is unlikely; Chalabi has had the goods for months and has been publishing them for months. Instead, it's likely that Chalabi's fall has been precipitated by media recognition of his key role, his negative influence, and his dubious reputation (brought into the spotlight several weeks ago by 60 Minutes). Another factor is the reduced influence of his Defense Department patrons by the Abu Gharib scandal. The turmoil brought on by the scandal may have empowered some bureaucrat or committee, previously helpless under neocon influence, to cut off the funds and support.