Monday, July 31, 2006

Just go read Ezra

Nothing makes you feel inferior then reading people who are far, far better at this "blogging" thing than you. Read this one on how the main dividing line between good and bad parenting is the amount of time parents have to spend with their kids (correlates with class) and then read this one on why some guys are deliberately staying out of work, out of ego.

The hollow army

In an interview today with Fox News’ Neil Cavuto, President Bush declared, “We have a very strong military and we can deal with any threat to the homeland there is and will if we have to.” In reality, “the Army is showing the wear and tear of constant battle after nearly five years of war.” Rep. Ike Skelton, the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, recently reported: "Army readiness is in crisis. The administration has brought us here because of a lack of planning and a lack of funding. Today two-thirds of the brigade combat teams in our operating force are unready."

Further Perils to CO2 Sequestration

There's a post at Treehugger that simply destroys the idea of CO2 sequestration, quoting heavily from Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers:
All of this suggests that the best case scenario for geosequestration is that it will play a small role (at most perhaps 10 per cent by 2050) in the world's energy future.

Because action is needed now to combat climate change, both the public and the marketplace need to see proof of geosequestration's potential. Big coal should already be building trial coal gasification plants with geosequestration as a test of the economic and technological viability of their approach. Yet, despite offers of government assistance, very little is happening with geosequestration. [...] Imagine the cost of building the new generation coal gasification power plants, the separation, storage, pipelines, compressors and injection wells.
For more Flannery goodness, listen to this MP3 of his interview on NPR.

New Post up on Gristmill

My latest is up there, and this one is about the perils of carbon sequestration, and why junkies don't need to be bargained with. I get a kick out of showing the punch line without letting you know the rest of it*, so here it is:
Addicts of all sorts find innumerable excuses for why they can't quit their habits. (Anybody who's been to an intervention can attest to that.) But at the root is a stubborn refusal to admit that yes, it's a problem, and yes, it's hurting people. Jaccard -- and his numerous followers -- want to pretend that it's not our addiction that's the problem, just the occasional mess it makes.

Or, to put it more bluntly: Our society is currently reaping the consequences of our fossil fuel addiction, flopping around on a bathroom floor with a syringe in our arm and a dirty spoon nearby. And Jaccard thinks all we need is a mop.
*I'm a sucker for well-written non-linear storytelling, so consider this my homage to Memento.

Our first black President

Rob at LGM: of the things that has disappeared in a cloud of Lebanese dust over the past two weeks has been Condi Rice's reputation as a diplomat.... Certainly, it looked as if her SecState performance was an improvement on her NSA work.... the "Condi for President" line seems not long for this world.

Meanwhile, in the Middle East

As American bombs keep falling on Lebanon (via the Israeli Air Force) the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has basically thrown down the gauntlet in Iraq:
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - Iraq's top Shiite cleric demanded an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon, warning Sunday that the Muslim world will ``not forgive'' nations that stand in the way of stopping the fighting.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued the call following the Israeli airstrike that killed at least 56 Lebanese, mostly women and children, in the village of Qana. It was the deadliest attack in nearly three weeks of fighting.

``Islamic nations will not forgive the entities that hinder a cease-fire,'' al-Sistani said in a clear reference to the United States.

``It is not possible to stand helpless in front of this Israeli aggression on Lebanon,'' he added. ``If an immediate cease-fire in this Israeli aggression is not imposed, dire consequences will befall the region.''
Oh, and the Syrians have moved up a notch on whatever passes for their version of DEFCON:
DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told the Syrian military on Monday to raise its readiness, pledging not to abandon support for Lebanese resistance against Israel.

"We are facing international circumstances and regional challenges that require caution, alert, readiness and preparedness," Assad said.

"The barbaric war of annihilation the Israeli aggression is waging on our people in Lebanon and Palestine is increasing in ferocity," Assad said in a written address on the occasion of the 61st anniversary of the foundation of the Syria Arab Army.
In all this, Kevin Drum writes:
There is, essentially, no one left in the entire world that supports our position on Lebanon.
Just like a bloody Yank. Always forgetting Canada, all tucked away down there.

So basically it's Canada, Israel, the United States vs. the other, oh, 6 billion people on the planet.

Of course, Harper - before he disowned his own words - supported one diastrous war in the Middle East. Maybe he's just pissed off that he missed his chance to get in on that fiasco. But I really don't want to think about where this is leading.

Checklist Liberalism

So the must-read blog post for the day is Mark Schmitt's piece about Joe Lieberman:
It’s a great expression of the Democratic Party of 1996: You got your enviros, you got your minorities, you got your women. Each group has one issue.... There are a couple others, but those are the basic buttons you press to be credentialed as a good liberal Democrat. After you press them, you can do whatever you want.

But has Lieberman failed to press those buttons? No! In fact, he’s been pounding on them like that guy at the elevator who thinks that if he presses “Down” hard enough and often enough, eventually the elevator will recognize how important and how late he is.

But it’s not working. Why? Two reasons: One of course is that Iraq, and the constellation of foreign policy and security failures it represents really is huge. And while Democrats can accept a fairly wide range of viewpoints, roughly from Biden’s make-it-work to Murtha’s get-out-now, only Lieberman’s stay-the-course is ridiculous....

The second reason is that Lamont supporters actually aren’t ideologues. They aren’t looking for the party to be more liberal on traditional dimensions. They’re looking for it to be more of a party. [emphasis mine - J] They want to put issues on the table that don’t have an interest group behind them - like Lieberman’s support for the bankruptcy bill -- because they are part of a broader vision. And I think that’s what blows the mind of the traditional Dems. They can handle a challenge from the left, on predictable, narrow-constituency terms. But where do these other issues come from? These are “elitist insurgents,” as Broder puts it - since when do they care about bankruptcy? What if all of a sudden you couldn’t count on Democratic women just because you said that right things about choice - what if they started to vote on the whole range of issues that affect women’s economic and personal opportunities?
For a citizen who inherited the other, better form of democracy - England's - the idea of this kind of "bipartisanship" is really, really weird. Indeed, it's very noteworthy when an MP in a Parliamentary system "crosses the floor" - it's usually a permanent thing. Parties may vote for or against a particular bill, but the idea of one MP playing Lieberman's kind of freelance games - while insulting his own party, no less - must be nearly unheard-of in Westminster-style legislatures.

Atrios has an excellent follow-up:
The bankruptcy bill is the perfect example of legislation no one claiming to be a Democrat should support, and more than that one that every good Democrat should have opposed by any means at their disposable (including filibuster, Joe). It's the kind of legislation which is often marked as "centrist" by the media, as it's supported by a coalition of evil Republicans and self-described "moderate" Democrats, but there's nothing centrist or moderate about it. Unlike some other awful Republican legislation which conservatives have been trained to support (any tax cut, tort reform...) there was no popular support for this bill. It was a complete givewaway. It was just stealing from people and giving to campaign donors.

Failing to oppose the bankruptcy bill is one of the reasons brand Democrat has such problems. It's the type of thing which shouldn't require outside pressure. The bill was wrong. Everybody knows that. It was an evil sadistic piece of legislation which will destroy lives. Good Democrats shouldn't have needed to be pushed to oppose it.
The sadism and psychopathy of the American Republican Party has pushed away all pretenses to bipartisanship (which was almost always bad politics anyway.) All we need now is a few constitutional amendments, a President and Cabinet elected from the House of Representatives, and maybe - please Jeebus! - the misbegotten experiment of American "Presidential" democracy can be tossed to the ash-heap.

Explosive Growth in oil demand...

In Saudi Arabia, apparently.

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. The money we spend on gas is inevitably going to be spent on things like cars and other oil-intensive activities when it reaches the oil-producing states. What it means is that we're doubly screwed: We pay high prices to countries that subsidize their own oil prices, which encourages domestic consumption, which drives up global prices, which means we send more money to the Persian Gulf... etc.

Jane, get me off this crazy thing!

Carbon Sequestration looking worse and worse

CO2 sequestration, the last best hope of the carbon lobby, has been touted as a way that we can keep burning oil and coal, but bury the CO2 underground so we never have to worry about it ever again, just like Love Canal.

Actually, Love Canal may be a good analogy for sequestration: It looks like injecting CO2 into deep geological formations causes some nasty changes in ground water, potentially fouling drinking water.

We keep trying to find anything short of actually not emitting CO2 and we keep finding that, no, there really isn't any substitute for just not burning the stuff in the first place. Not planting trees (which we should be doing anyway), not giant space mirrors, not burying the stuff.

Just stop. It's that simple.

Survival Options

Here's an interesting find: A greenhouse designed to take in seawater and desalinate it while cooling and irrigating the crops. The cool and humid air reduces the need for irrigation (by a factor of 8, apparently.)

The design is pretty neat - low energy, not terribly complex, and would open up new areas of land for agriculture. It's the usual problem with these kinds of projects, though: High capital costs and low operating costs.

I can think of at least one problem with scaling this up, though: A network of seawater pipelines feeding a large number of these farms poses a potential disaster in the making. A burst saltwater pipeline could ruin a large patch of land.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Not sure I agree

Greg is pessimistic about a peace-making mission to Lebanon. I'm not saying he's wrong, but I'm not sure it's hopeless, either.

The trick, it seems, is to find a force that is a) not by definition seen as a tool of the international Zionist conspiracy of whatever, and b) is competent. (I return to China.)

If we can muster such a force - and by no means do I think that's a certainty - and if Canada can play a role without violating condition A (something our PM has almost certainly ruined) then I say we go in. Of course, this is all conditional on my usual two rules for the use of Canadian force:

1) Can military force help?

2) Can Canadian military force help?

As always, if either of those answer is no, then we don't have any reason being there.

All of that being said, we need to remember that in the early days of this war - before Operation "Piss off all of Lebanon" got in to full swing - Hezbollah was not welcome in Lebanon. Israel's arsenal and accuracy have taken care of that for now, but eventually the Lebanese are going to want their country back. If we can get the stamp of approval from the Lebanese government, then I think we can play a meaningful role.

Of course, re-reading this post, I'm looking at a whole bunch of pre-requisites, all of which have to come together. So maybe Greg's right - we're doomed! DOOOOOOMED!!!

The Left is right about everything, always, pt. MMCXVII

Gee, who could ever have predicted this?:
The stakes are high for Hizbullah, but it seems it can count on an unprecedented swell of public support that cuts across sectarian lines.According to a poll released by the Beirut Center for Research and Information, 87 percent of Lebanese support Hizbullah's fight with Israel, a rise of 29 percent on a similar poll conducted in February. More striking, however, is the level of support for Hizbullah's resistance from non-Shiite communities. Eighty percent of Christians polled supported Hizbullah along with 80 percent of Druze and 89 percent of Sunnis.

Lebanese no longer blame Hizbullah for sparking the war by kidnapping the Israeli soldiers, but Israel and the US instead.

The latest poll by the Beirut Center found that 8 percent of Lebanese feel the US supports Lebanon, down from 38 percent in January.


At Obsidian Wings, Hilzoy notes that if Israel is faced with two choices:

A) Not respond to the occasional provocation by Hezbollah, such as a rocket or border ambush, or;

B) Respond with such a gross overreaction that you incite the Lebanese population in to Hezbollah's arms, and yet still fail to stop rocket attacks or Hezbollah ambushes,

the choice should be clear.

Similarly, if the United States is faced with the choice in Iraq of either:

A) Leaving now, and letting the civil war take it's course, or;

B) Staying, failing in any way to prevent the civil war, and succeeding only in getting additional Americans and Iraqis killed,

the choice should be equally clear.

Look: military forces aren't metaphors. They are real, steel-and-gunpowder things that kill people. Using military force "to send a message" about how big and tough you are is an incredibly bad idea, as both Iraq and Lebanon show. What happens when the other guy calls your bluff?

Well, you look even weaker than you did before you did a stupid thing, except this time your troops are in the middle of a war.

The one advantage to Clinton's policy of the "air force only" war was that it demonstrated America's ability to bomb the occasional Serbian hospital without opening America up to counterattack. Whatever we may think of that ethically or morally, it certainly allowed America to demonstrate its power without risking defeat.

Trying to respond to provocations - or, in the case of Iraq, zero provocation - with military force and failing to accomplish material aims is pretty much the worst of all possible worlds.

Shhh, you'll queer the deal!

The US state department has dismissed as "outrageous" a suggestion by Israel that it has been authorised by the world to continue bombing Lebanon.

"The US is sparing no efforts to bring a durable and lasting end to this conflict," said spokesman Adam Ereli....

At talks in Rome on Wednesday, the US, UK and regional powers urged peace be sought with the "utmost urgency", but stopped short of calling for an immediate truce. That prompted Mr Ramon to declare Israel had received "permission from the world... to continue the operation".

But questioned by reporters on the sidelines of a summit in Kuala Lumpur, Mr Ereli said: "Any such statement is outrageous."
I think if I had one wish, it would be that all government officials be forced to concede publicly what there actions make obvious. So Bush would have to admit he doesn't care about Iraqi democracy, finding Osama bin Laden, or even if Israel manages to do anything but bomb Lebanon to the ground. Just so long as some terraists get blown up but good, Georgie will sleep well tonight.

Defining Victory Away

It's astonishing to watch Israeli sources constantly lower the bar for what the destruction of Lebanon was supposed to achieve. We've gone from "destroy Hezbollah utterly" to "control a chunk of Lebanon with no defensive value until we get tired and go home." Essentially, we've gotten to the point where the IDF is shelling Lebanese towns for just a bit longer so that they can try to preserve the illusion that this entire fiasco hasn't been a gigantic fuck-up from day one.

Steve Gilliard mentions something important:
But I think the first time I saw Hezbollah soldiers with helmets, I would have spent a half hour puking. Guerrillas don't use helmets, soldiers do. And Israel should have realized that this was a cat of a different color.

Hezbollah has studied the Japanese, the Vietnamese and the Iranians on how to fortify towns and hide bunkers. This was not just thunk up and done, this took a military mind. For all the hype about the Mossad, they didn't perform their primary function and give the IDF accurate intel on Hezbollah capabilities. When IDF commanders say they were surprised by a network of bunkers in a town they have a million pictures of, someone failed.

A Lebanese border town should hold no secrets for the IDF. The fact that it did, much less the fighting style of Hezbollah shows a fatal level of arrogance on the part of the IDF.
Ironically, the last time the Mossad had a truly unqualified success may have been the first time it was revealed publicly - with the capture of Adolph Eichmann in May of 1960. If you look at the history of the 1973 war, Mossad's failure nearly destroyed Israel. Meanwhile, the hunt for the members of Black September (most recently fictionalized in Munich) had a number of important mistakes, ending with the most embarassing failure in the Mossad's history, and Israeli agents arrested in Norway for murder.

We haven't got solid numbers on how many Israeli soldiers have died and how many Hezbollah have died, but judging from the published numbers, I'd say it's a pretty solid bet that Hezbollah has roughly held its own in terms of casualties. This is crucial - western armies are used to massively lopsided casualty figures. Five, even Ten to one ratios of enemy killed to friendly deaths is not unheard of. Israel claims that it's killed over a hundred Hezbollah fighters, but let's just say that Israel's definition of an enemy soldier hasn't been terribly rigorous lately.

If Hezbollah is holding its own, or even taking "only" 2:1 losses, it might just be the most effective Arab army Israel has ever faced. And that means Israel's security policies have entered a new and very scary place.

Your Morning Optimism

A California family that grows enough food to supply 3/4 of their food needs on 1/10 of an acre.
Jules Dervaes, along with his three grown children, lives on 1/5 of an acre in suburban Pasadena and cultivates about half the property, or 1/10 of an acre. Given that the average American's diet requires 1.2 acres of farmland per person, the Dervaeses are eating quite well off one-fiftieth of the land the rest of us require.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture reports that most California corn or rice farms produce an annual yield of less than a 1/2-ton per acre and the average bean farm 1/5-ton per acre. The Dervaeses' operation is about 60 to 150 times as efficient as their industrial competitors, without relying on chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Puts a smile on my face. Read the rest of the article - this is a family living the model of a sustainable lifestyle. Including a biodiesel SUV.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Prick up yer ears, ya little freaks!

Fred Clark makes it simple for you:
It's been awhile so it seems again it's time for a helpful reminder that noncombatant immunity isn't just a good idea, it's the law.

In other words: You're not allowed to kill civilians.

Killing civilians is against the law. Killing civilians makes you a criminal.

Yes, but ...

No buts about it. You're not allowed to kill civilians.

And, also: You're not allowed to kill civilians....

The common thread in all of these scenarios -- hypothetical or actual -- is the idea of double effect. A doctor, for example, is bound by oath to "do no harm." Slicing someone with a razor-sharp knife would certainly seem to constitute doing harm. But if the doctor is slicing someone with a scalpel because this cutting is an inescapable part of surgery needed and intended to heal, then the doctor may -- perhaps even must -- perform such slicing without violating her oath.... If there is any possible way to achieve the intended effect without producing the unintended effect, then double-effect does not apply -- the doctor may not slice, the general may not attack. If there is any possible way to achieve the necessary intended effect without producing the unintended effect and you act, instead, in a way that produces this secondary effect, then you have not produced "collateral damage," you have simply slaughtered civilians.

The other shoe just dropped

Well, you knew this was coming: Now that Al Gore has just about gotten the most attention climate change science has ever gotten in the United States, the coal, oil, and gas industry is going to fight back with a propaganda blitz. From Ross Gelbspan:
Big coal -- in the form of the National Rural Electric Association, Koch Busted Industries, American Electric Power, the Southern Company, the National Association of Manufacturers and others are planning a major blitz against efforts to fight global warming....

The "Vampire Memo" from the Intermountain Rural Electric Association (IREA) draws on the work of such industry-funded skeptics as Pat Michaels, Fred Singer, Robert Balling and Craig Idso -- as well as such ideologues as Richard Lindzen and William Gray who have long been laughingstocks in the community of mainstream climate scientists. It notes that the IREA alone has paid Michaels at least $100,000 -- and is soliciting more money for Michaels et al from other coal outlets. Among other initiatives, the memo notes that several of the participating companies are planning to finance a major film to counteract the influence of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth."...
Okay, but this is where it gets funny. I didn't know it, but apparently I'm motivated by my dream of eating more Tofu. Now, tofu can be tasty, but apparently I'm crazy for the stuff:
According to the memo, environmentalists' efforts to combat global warming would realize the environmentalists' "dream of an egalitarian society based on rejection of economic growth in favor of a smaller population, eating lower on the food chain, consuming a lot less and sharing a much lower level of resources much more equitably."...

The campaign is basically the resurrection of a similar campaign launched by the Western Fuels (coal) Association in the early 1990s -- long before the state of climate science was mature. ...But given the warnings of the world's leading climate scientists -- that humanity has 10 years or less to avoid passing a "point of no return" -- they are displaying a truly sinister disregard for us and our children. Unchecked, global warming will trash our planet and truncate our future -- all because of the truly sinister and truly unconscionable pursuit of profit. This, in short, represents the triumph of greed over the most basic human instinct -- that of survival.
Actually, as I've written before, my environmentalism is often in conflict with my belief that what the universe needs is more people, a belief I maintain in the face of every possible fact and reason. Hey, at least I'm not a creationist. I can only square my belief that humans are nifty, and more humans is niftier, by hoping some day for a mass exodus from the planet, to leave the Earth as a garden to recover from our presence.

And yet very next post below this one I talk about being a "realist". Man, I'm conflicted.

John, Enemy of Freedom

In collusion with Nicholas Gvosdev:
I believe in evolutionary change for sustainable societies, not hey-presto! sudden revolutions.

I believe that you have to set priorities in relationships with other states, especially when you don't have leverage. If the US wants to be a force for freedom, move to energy independence and cut back on wasteful consumer spending. Otherwise deal with the real world as it is....

Criticism has to be part of a larger strategy and has to be weighed against other objectives to be coherent. Grandstanding never seems to work, especially when we are vulnerable to charges of double standards....

I do not believe that words speak louder than actions, or that intent is better than results.
I count myself among the many people I know who, in the calm waters of January 2001, called himself a liberal internationalist. By, oh, March of 2003 I was listing heavily to port away from idealism and humanitarian wars. In three years, my sense of international justice has taken repeated blows below the waterline. By July of 2006, I've stopped even trying to bail out the waters.

I honestly don't know why I decided to go with a clumsy nautical theme, but I did. Moving on...

The point about leverage is an important one. In the fall of 2001, America was running over with leverage. All over the world, America could compel countries to obey, for fear of what Colossus would do when enraged. Even before 9/11 America had incredible power to compel, and more importantly convince, countries to join with America.

It turns out that leverage can disappear in a few years. Like any resource, it needs to be harvested sustainably. And a few years of drought and all your leverage is gone. (Man, I'm all about the odd metaphors tonight.) It's bad enough that large countries like Russia and China don't even pretend to cooperate with Washington anymore - but Venezuela? Seriously? America can't push around Venezuela anymore?

It's odd that this even needs to be said, but our enemies aren't ever going to judge us based on our intentions. It is impossible to prove to bin Laden that, even though we've made cesspools out of multiple Muslim countries, we meant well. But that's what we're trying to do - if not convince bin Laden, we're at least trying to convince those who would follow him.

Even I get tired of making arguments about equivalence - for example, would our Prime Minister have been so cruel and stupid if Hezbollah, and not Israel, had killed one of our soldiers in a blue helmet? But there's an important point to make about the other side, in whatever war we're fighting: They're just like us. Yup. Get over it. Nazis? Like us. Japanese? Like us. Vietnamese? Like us.

In any case, they're still people, and basically motivated by the same motivations we all have - patriotism, family, God, etc.

So however you think you'd react to Canada or America being attacked by a vastly superior force (the Martians?), there's probably someone in Lebanon right now doing exactly that. And if you don't think you'd hand over your brother, son, or father to the enemy, why in God's name would you expect the other side to?

We need to stop imagining that the enemy can be compelled if only we kill enough of their family. Not even the US Army believes that shit anymore.

Oh, Brilliant

Sure this won't lead anywhere unpleasant:
Russia signed a £1.6bn arms deal with President Hugo Ch├ívez of Venezuela today, risking a confrontation with the US, which has imposed an arms embargo on the South American country.

The outspoken Venezuelan president, who has claimed that America wants to assassinate him and pledged cheap heating fuel for London's poor, also told reporters in Moscow that his country could develop its own nuclear programme.

"Maybe some day we will start using nuclear energy," he said, according to Interfax. He did not specify when or how he might obtain nuclear power, but his ambitions will rile a Bush administration already deeply concerned by Iran's nuclear programme. Moscow has agreed to build nuclear power plants for Tehran, despite Washington's claim that the scheme is a front for a nuclear weapons programme.

Oooh! Contrarian!

Robert at LGM links to an essay by Daniel Davies in praise of agricultural subsidies. And it's a good one!
You would not think, in the normal course of events, that a sensitive and intelligent person would go to Ghana, spend a few days walking round and talking to locals, have in-depth briefings on the local economy and come away with the following policy prescription:

"What a great country! You know what they really need though? More expensive food!"
I swear this is a good post, and more than that it's along the same lines as what My Favourite Economist (tm) Dean Baker has been saying for years - that agricultural subsidies have mixed results, and there are almost certainly bigger fish to fry:
To put the problem in perspective: the World Bank, one of the world's most powerful advocates of removing most trade barriers, has estimated the gains from removing all the rich countries' remaining barriers to merchandise trade -- including manufacturing as well as agricultural products -- and removing agricultural subsidies. The total estimated gain to low and middle income countries, when the changes are phased in by 2015, is an extra 0.6 percent of GDP. In other words, an African country with an annual income of $500 per person would then have $503, as a result of removing these barriers and subsidies.
Now, as Matthew Yglesias has noted, farm subsidies are pretty bad for the US and especially the American taxpayer, regardless of their impact on the global poor. So if we want to be rid of them, it shouldn't be that hard. Obviously, we don't really want to be rid of them that badly.

On that note, I should say something about the collapse of the Doha round of the WTO talks. There is nothing I can think of that shows quite as clearly how little we actually care about free trade than this collapse. If we're serious about free trade, then it makes sense for us to lower our tarriffs and subsidies, regardless of what the other side does - cheap imports should be good for our economy regardless of what the other guy does, right?

But the WTO, the IMF, and the World Bank have never really been structured for any kind of free trade, much less economic fairness or (God forbid!) justice. The driving motivation behind the IMF and the WTO especially has been mainly to constrain the development options of the third world. Read, oh, anything by Robert Wade to get a sense of what developing countries used to be able to do under international law that is now forbidden.

The whole fascination with agricultural subsidies seems to me to reflect the old European mentality of "civilized" development - that nations need to progress in stages, and you need to start with mastering agriculture before you can move on to the big boy toys. Of course, the United States and Europe will never, ever, ever stop subsidizing companies like Boeing, Lockheed, GM, or GE (or their European equivalents) because of their military supplies.

So good luck to the third world exporting jet engines, airframes, or any other higher-tech industry. If we were serious about using trade as a tool for development - and I'm pretty sure we aren't - we might even raise tariffs on imported food, but encourage foreign production of cars, electronics, and other industries while simultaneously making a global push for better labor rights, including here at home. Pushing up wages in the developing world, while giving them meaningful, value-added jobs, is a tried-and-true method of development.

The interesting thing is that, totally without western doing (indeed, against our interests) booming Chinese and Indian demand has caused a commodity price surge that is already helping Africa and South America. It's not just oil, either. Which still leaves us the other half of the puzzle - improving labour rights worldwide. Which we should be doing whether we care about development or not, because they're called rights for a reason.


Angelica has this link up, and I'd really encourage any and all of my readers to take a look. (Quicktime required.)

It seems to me, however, that the wrong lesson to learn from images like this would be "the Israelis are bastards". Rather, this is what happens when you apply airpower or artillery of any kind to a dense urban area - whether it's Beirut or Baghdad.

One of my ongoing gripes about both the rhetoric from American leaders, and the media coverage of the American military, is the illusion of "precision" in warfare. It allows both the leadership, the military generally, and individual soldiers to evade moral responsibility for their actions.

Any American liberals who are now decrying the "disproportionate" use of force against Lebanon ought to be positively disgusted at their own use of force in Iraq.

Technical Difficulties

Blogger was titchy all morning for me. Anyone else?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Speaking of China...

I haven't in a while.

China may be one of the only - if not the only - countries in the world that is frantically (you could say desperately) trying to slow its economy down. Now, you can't really blame Beijing for being a bit nervous. Not every country's economic growth is roughly equal to adding all of Ireland to your GDP in a year, but that's roughly what China did in the last year, adding approximately US$200 billion to the mainland economy. (Actually, that's a guess on my part. Having a hard time finding statistics on China that agree.) This was China's fastest rate of growth since 1994.

And they're desperate to stop it.

I don't know if I mentioned it here or on Gristmill, but China announced a few months back that it was dropping plans to draw up a "green" accounting of national growth. They didn't say why, exactly, but it's not hard to guess: If China used any kind of rigorous statistics, any honest green GDP measurement would show negative growth, when you take environmental damage and social disruptions in to account.

A let's not kid ourselves, Wen Jiabao isn't worried about the environment, not when he worries that the social fabric of China is coming apart. I can't read his language, much less his mind, but if I were Wen I'd be scared to death of inflation. It was a period of (relatively) slow growth and inflation that coincided with the Tiananmen uprising, and that was when Zhao Ziyang ( Wen's old boss) did something incredibly brave and incredibly foolish, and found himself under house arrest until he died last year.

The problem is what to do. The main ways to fight inflation are to slow the economy - which they're trying to do, and failing. Alternately, they could try and redistribute some of the incredible sums being made in the economy downward, but that might just exacerbate the inflation. Meanwhile, no matter how fast or slow the economy grows, the unrest grows. China went from having 58,000 protests in 2003 to almost 90,000 last year.

It's weird to think of one of the planet's biggest economies (either #2 or #4, depending on how you measure) being as weak as it is, but the fact is the Beijing is not nearly as powerful a government - in some areas - as we think it is. If China had the kind of regulatory regime that, say, the United States has, it would be in a much better shape to slow the economy, control inflation, and maybe ease some of those protests.

And while the environment probably isn't at the top of either Hu's or Wen's minds, they aren't exactly ignorant of it, either. Adding one Ireland every year comes with its costs, especially in a country where 75% of the electricity is generated by coal, and the average energy efficiency makes even Canada and the US look good. The human cost of that kind of air pollution is pretty steep.

I don't quite know where to go with this post from here, but the immensity of the challenges that China faces in the future - and the challenges that China poses for us all - continue to boggle my mind.

This is a reason?

Rumsfeld on why Iraq isn't in the middle of a Civil War. Really:
Oh, I don't know. You know, I thought about that last night, and just musing over the words, the phrase, and what constitutes it. If you think of our Civil War, this is really very different. If you think of civil wars in other countries, this is really quite different. There is -- there is a good deal of violence in Baghdad and two or three other provinces, and yet in 14 other provinces there's very little violence or numbers of incidents.

So it's a -- it's a highly concentrated thing. It clearly is being stimulated by people who would like to have what could be characterized as a civil war and win it, but I'm not going to be the one to decide if, when or at all.
A bunch of things here:

1) Yes, the Iraqi Civil War is very, very different from the American Civil War. Similarly, the American Civil War was very different from the English Civil War of the 1640s.
Confederate General Don Rumsfeld: President Davis, we really shouldn't be talking about the "civil war". Really, we aren't seeing any beheadings and pikes. Now, if you started calling yourself Lord Protector Davis, then we'd have a civil war!
There's a little thing called linear time, and I know conservatives have a hard time with that idea, so we'll let this pass for now.

2) The "2 or 3 provinces" that are in chaos are the same "2 or 3 provinces" that have been in chaos since, oh, April of 2003. And the US Army has been trying to sell this "most of the country is calm" line for just as long. Fact is, most of the "calm" provinces are either controlled by the Kurds or the Shia. The US Army gets the remainder of the provinces, and controls none of those.

3) Rumsfeld gets one thing right: He doesn't get to decide when the war started. Emphasis on the past tense.

Color me shocked

Okay, given the prominence that N'Sync had during my high school years, I was really tempted to write something snarky like "One down, four to go" when I heard that Lance Bass had come out of the closet. Largely because of the countless number of girls who were certain that there were no five men in America more heterosexual than the guys of N'Sync.

But two things have checked my snark valve: First, Bass is apparently a southern Baptist, and this might not be easy for his family relations.

Secondly was this quote from People:
"The thing is, I'm not ashamed; that's the one thing I want to say," he explains of his decision to come out. "I don't think it's wrong, I'm not devastated going through this. I'm more liberated and happy than I've been my whole life. I'm just happy."
Maybe, just maybe, that will enlighten a few people. So tonight I raise a glass to Lance Bass, perhaps the shittiest gay musician in history.

Missed that Suez moment

Yesterday, I noted how absurd it was to talk about Suez and conclude that we should back Israel. Well, Marc Lynch (Abu Aardvark) says that the US should really, really have taken the opportunity to pull a Suez - meaning, calling for a cease-fire and reining in Israel. (In case you've lost track, that would be the reasonable interpretation of a Suez-like response.)
America is totally alone on this. And more than most Americans might realize, America is being blamed for Israel's actions. The shift in Arab public discourse over the last week has been palpable. For the first few days, the split between the Saudi media and the "al-Jazeera public" which I wrote about at the time. Then for a few days, horror at the humanitarian situation, fury with the Arab states for their impotence, speculation about the endgame, and full-throated condemnation of Israeli aggression. But for the last few days, the main trend has been unmistakable: an increasing focus on the United States as the villain of the piece. (That the Israeli bombing of Beirut stopped just long enough for Condoleeza Rice's photo op certainly didn't help.)
And, ominously, the rhetoric from the Arab media is getting pretty strident:
While there's disagreement as to whether Israel acted on behalf of an American project, there is near-consensus about American responsibility for not stopping what al-Jazeera is now calling "the sixth [Arab-Israeli] war".
Oh goody.

Elsewhere, AA says that Rice's now-infamous remark that Israeli bombs were the "birth pangs" of the New Middle East will go down as at least as callous a remark as Madeleine Albright's famous decision that 500,000 dead Iraqi children were "worth it" to keep Hussein bottled up.

Not a good thing.


Robert Farley at LGM sez China should send troops to Lebanon. On the surface, I like it. The Chinese are about as likely as anyone to actually be honest brokers, never mind trying to look like it. Moreover, all sides have a lot to lose by "accidentally" firing on a Chinese mission.

It neatly avoids the US and NATO attachments that would be problematic from the Arab point of view.

For China - if they can pull it off - it gives them two things they want: 1) Operational experience far from China's borders, something any military can use, and 2) It further improves China's standing in the Arab world - and probably elsewhere - while lowering America's. China would be the country that "saved Lebanon" and stood up to the US and Israel, while the US would be the country that let the war start and continue.

I have no doubt that the US will fight tooth and nail against this happening.

The Amazon is dying

The vast Amazon rainforest is on the brink of being turned into desert, with catastrophic consequences for the world's climate, alarming research suggests. And the process, which would be irreversible, could begin as early as next year.

Studies by the blue-chip Woods Hole Research Centre, carried out in Amazonia, have concluded that the forest cannot withstand more than two consecutive years of drought without breaking down.

Scientists say that this would spread drought into the northern hemisphere, including Britain, and could massively accelerate global warming with incalculable consequences, spinning out of control, a process that might end in the world becoming uninhabitable.... [emphasis mine - sorry Gar!]

The trees managed the first year of drought without difficulty. In the second year, they sunk their roots deeper to find moisture, but survived. But in year three, they started dying. Beginning with the tallest the trees started to come crashing down, exposing the forest floor to the drying sun.

By the end of the year the trees had released more than two-thirds of the carbon dioxide they have stored during their lives, helping to act as a break on global warming. Instead they began accelerating the climate change.

...the Amazon now appears to be entering its second successive year of drought, raising the possibility that it could start dying next year. The immense forest contains 90 billion tons of carbon, enough in itself to increase the rate of global warming by 50 per cent.
Anybody know where I can buy a good escape pod?

UPDATE: Gar says that the words "world becoming uninhabitable" need greater explanation, and I agree. I'm looking for the original research to figure out what the researcher meant. If anyone has access to the journal Global Change Biology, let me know in comments or via email.

UPDATE II: Just got an email back from the main researcher, Daniel Nepstad. He says that an official response is on its way, but for now "The Independent writers never interviewed [the scientists], and their article is full of errors."

My God. They didn't even interview the researchers? I've never even been to Journalism school, and I would think at some point they would have covered the whole "talk to your subjects" thing.

Chronology Matters

I know it's hard to remember - you know, two weeks is a long time - but stay with me here:

Israel didn't start attacking Beirut in retaliation to Hezbollah's rockets.

Israel started bombing Beirut - a large, urban area - because the Israeli Army lost two soldiers. Two. Hezbollah only started firing missiles after the Israeli bombing began.

Hezbollah, after two days of Israelis bombing Beirut, started firing missiles deeper in to Israel.

So all this talk of Israel needing to "defend itself" with a massive air and ground campaign is missing the most important point - if Israel hadn't "defended itself" so intemperately earlier, it wouldn't have to "defend itself" now.

In short, Israel has overreacted from the beginning, and now has to deal with the consequences. As Matt Yglesias says:
But, having decided to go all-out in response to Hezbollah's raid, what choice did Israel have? The international community doesn't seem to want to send a force in. The Lebanese government can't do what the Israelis are asking it to. The IDF can't "crush" Hezbollah. And having committed to going in and cleaning this up, the Israelis don't want to admit it was all a mistake and "look weak" by going home. No doubt Hezbollah expected "the usual, limited response" to their July 12 raid because a limited response is what it would have made sense for Israel to do.

Losing Turkey

Jim Henley:
The mere fact that the government felt the need to create exemplary democracies in the Arab world acknowledges that its audience, elite and mass Arabs alike, aren’t sold on the virtues of the liberal state. What they now see in both cases are exemplary democracies failing the most basic tests of the nation-state: securing the borders and maintaining internal order. The Lebanese lesson is even more dire: American speech and action since Israel began retaliating for Hezbollah’s prisoner grab announces that democracy gains an Arab state exactly no leverage when Arab and Israeli interests collide.
Now, Newsweek:
Since the beginning of the year, attacks on Turkish military garrisons and police stations have esca-lated across the country's southeast, along with random shootings, bombings and protests—many of them, authorities suspect, organized in Iraq. Already the Turkish military has laid detailed plans for possible helicopter-and-commando assaults, government sources tell NEWSWEEK. Meanwhile, Ankara's frustration with Washington has grown palpable. For all the Bush administration's repeated promises to crack down on the PKK, little if anything has happened. With elections coming next year, Erdogan could be pardoned for soon concluding that his forbearance might prove politically dangerous. "Moderate, liberal people in Turkey are becoming increasingly anti-American," warns Turkey's Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul. "That isn't good."
Man, if I were Turkish I'd be just about ready to write off the whole western experiment. No amount of reforms has been sufficient to get Turkey in to the EU, while white countries are given the green light. Israel is allowed to bomb a fellow Muslim country in to the dark ages, but Turkey is told to hold its horses while Kurds attack Turkish soldiers from American-held Iraq. Meanwhile, the forces of Muslim fundamentalism get stronger in the country every day.

Fundamentally, we've sent the message to Turkey - and other Islamic countries - that we will not support you, even if you do everything right. And may Jesus help you if you do anything wrong.

So exactly when do we start caring about losing a strategically crucial ally?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Coulter on BBC

"Ann Coulter, your publicist sent us the first chapter of your book.

Does it get any better?"

See what happens when an actual journalist goes up against the Queen of the Harpies.


Regarding my post below re: the Suez example, I don't actually think we need a security council resolution censuring Israel, for two reasons.

1) It would probably never happen, and if it did happen it wouldn't really accomplish anything. The international community needs to commit to actions it can effectively back up.

2) Israel has, for the first time... well, maybe not the first time ever, but certainly the first time since I've been alive, Israel has accepted that it cannot meet its security needs alone. In asking for a NATO peacekeeping force, Israel has taken a big step, bigger than I think most people realize. It's been the cornerstone belief of Israeli security that the Jewish state relies on no one, not even the Americans. (You could say that Israel's independence was hallucinatory, but then again they did nearly sink a US warship once.)

There's some problems with the NATO force, apparently. Namely, where the hell we'll find the troops. If NATO doesn't work out, maybe - just maybe - we can get the Israelis to accept an armed, combat-mandated UN force. Certainly, the Lebanese government should be begging for one. It would have more legitimacy in the Arab world to begin with, we might be able to get a non-belligerent arab-speaking country to play a role (though that probably wouldn't fly, in all honesty.)

Of course, as slim as that all sounds, it goes out the window if we drop a UN resolution on Israel.

Jesus wept

50% of Americans believe that Saddam had WMDs.

Compared to 36% last year.

But it gets better! 72% believe that, genocidal civil war notwithstanding, the Iraqis are better off today than they were under Saddam!*

Most amusing of all, the Washington Times article states "Americans remain in touch with the realities of Iraq..."

Some liberal media.

*Surely nobody serious thinks that the Iraqis are actually better off than they were in 2003, right?

China in Africa

Open an American newspaper any time in the last year or so, and you'll inevitably read an article about how China is recently cutting deals with many African nations, both securing military cooperation and lucrative natural resource deals. Most prominently, China has been backing Sudan while getting delicious oil.

Now, in a world where the US-Saudi alliance exists, you'd think American commentators would be humble about economic and military ties to pretty noxious regimes.

And you'd be wrong, and a Communist. Possibly a homosexual. Because you wouldn't believe the caterwauling the US press is capable of when it comes to China's actions, even when they are positively benign compared to the US.

Well, today, there is an additional wrinkle (via LGM). The reason China's been having such a free hand in Africa? Because the US has let them.
The Bush administration and Congress have slashed millions of dollars of military aid to African nations in recent years, moves that Pentagon officials and senior military commanders say have undermined American efforts to combat terrorist threats in Africa and to counter expanding Chinese influence there," writes Mark Mazzetti....

Since 2003, Washington has shut down Pentagon programs to train and equip militaries in a handful of African nations because they have declined to sign agreements exempting American troops from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
It's bad enough that the US is demanding these agreements in the first place, but to whine like mules when the natural reaction happens is comical. Way to go, Washington.

(Clarity: Clinton was, in practice, just as anti-ICC as Bush has been.)

I'm sure this won't matter at all in the future

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia - who I think controls a small amount of oil, right?
Saudi Arabia warned that resistance to a cease-fire would erupt into a large scale war.

"Saudi Arabia warns everybody that if the peace option fails because of Israeli arrogance, there will be no other option but war," said King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Reuters reported.
Oh, but what could possibly happen in Saudi Arabia to jeopardize our precious, precious oil?

Putting the "special" in "special relationship"

I do hope that some day, a British Prime Minister will have the spine to announce that which is obvious to the rest of us: There is no "special relationship" or "connection" between the UK and US. There's only a one-way street: The US has the power, and you have the option to obey or obey. Welcome to the club!
When Tony Blair offers himself as a Middle East peace envoy, he is casually rebuffed by the American President between bites on a bread roll. Told by Bush that 'Condi is going', the normally fluent Blair is reduced to inarticulate jabbering. 'Well, it's only if, I mean, you know, if she's got a... or if she needs the ground prepared as it were... Because obviously if she goes out, she's got to succeed, if it were, whereas I can go out and just talk.' Yeah, just talk.

It was awful for Tony Blair to be caught asking for permission to go to the Middle East. It was dire to hear George Bush saying he wouldn't let the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom go out - not even on a pointless trip. It looks even more humiliating when the French Foreign Minister is going.

In the build-up to the action to remove the Taliban in Afghanistan, George Bush was delighted to let Tony Blair go globe-trotting as an ambassador-at-large. The American President was happy to use Mr Blair in the same way on the road to war in Iraq. When it does not suit the White House, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is grounded.
(via Kevin Drum.)

Is that the best you can do?

A National Post article tries to argue that Canada's neutrality is not all it's cracked up to be:
What is rarely mentioned about the Suez Crisis is how non-neutral Canada was. Before Pearson brought forward his motion to end the conflict, he voted in favour of an Indian resolution that explicitly condemned Britain and France for their international aggression. This move was so unpopular among those still loyal to the Empire at home that some have suggested it was one of the key reasons the Liberals lost the 1957 election to John Diefenbaker's Conservatives. During that campaign, Diefenbaker used Suez as an example of how the Liberals had been selling Canada out to the interests of the United States.

At Suez, Canada was clear: The British and the French were wrong. Yet when it came to mediating between the two sides, the world still listened.
The short answer to this is that the world listened because the world agreed with Canada. Indeed, about the only two countries who didn't agree that Britain and France were wrong were, um, Britain and France.

The long answer makes this even more ridiculous. The Suez Crisis started when Britain and France responded to the nationalization of the Suez Canal by urging Israel to go to war with Egypt, so that the UK and France could seize the Canal as a "peacekeeping" force. (Yes, they said that with a straight face.) That the UK and France stage-managed the whole thing is not even seriously debated anymore, and it was not exactly a secret at the UN back then. So a resolution condemning the UK and France was not exactly earth-shaking.

How is this relevant today? Glad you asked. Israel - who had been enduring on-and-off raids by Egyptian and Palestinian forces for years - used the pretext of those raids as an excuse to begin the invasion of Egypt. Again, this was at the explicit urging of the UK and France.

The UN responded with near-unanimous resolutions condemning Israel, France, and the UK for what was transparently imperialist meddling in Egyptian affairs. Canada supported these resolutions, and later offered the famous resolutions that led to the creation of the UN's first peacekeeping force.

Also relevant, everybody knew that Egypt had been arming the Palestinians who were raiding Israeli settlements. The Egyptians were even accused of taking part. But that still didn't stop the UN from condemning Israel for the invasion of Egypt.

So: Israel - with the support of a major power - takes a small border incident with what we would now call terrorist forces, and escalates it in to a major war. Canada, as part of the UN, forcefully condemns Israel and the major power that was behind the escalation. The UN steps in, the belligerents are separated, and the world moves on to the next crisis.

If you were a rational human being, the lesson is clear: Canada - and the UN - should forcefully condemn Israel and the United States for the attacks on Lebanon and the support the US has provided. Moreover (if we follow the Suez example) the fact that Iran or Syria have been arming Hezbollah doesn't change the fact that Israel has overreacted, and needs to be censured. A UN force should then separate the belligerents, and we all move on to the next crisis.

But if you're a Conservative, Canada should support Israel. Huh?

Memo to Conservatives: This effort sucks, try again.

I Hate Canadian Nazis

I never expected much from the Western Standard except virulent anti-Islamic screeds, but even I have to confess to being surprised at this:
Straight out of Kristallnacht. I've excerpted this piece, but I haven't edited anything or even, you'll notice, corrected the spelling.

If I were a Conservative, I'd want to dissociate myself from these people, fast. These are posts on a prominent partisan Conservative magazine's website, not some troll bait in a random bloggers comment thread.

But maybe if I were a Conservative, I'd be used to this crap by now. Because looking through the most recent posts at the Blogging Tories website, I see a whole lot of really nasty, nasty rhetoric. Even the not-horrible stuff is apparently unselfconscious about their rhetoric. Joanne's Journey posts this little nugget about divided loyalties:
What bothers me though, is this issue of dual citizenship. How is it possible to declare allegiance to two different countries? When push comes to shove, which one would you choose? And how would you not bring your attitudes and prejudices from one country to the next? How can you park those feelings of anger at the border?
I want to specifically say that Joanne is not remotely comparable to the stuff I quoted above in terms of the outright racism and hatred. But if the right is going to criticize the left for anti-Semitism (read the Blogging Tories site to see how popular that is) then maybe, just maybe they should read about other groups who've had to answer questions about their "divided loyalties".

And let me ask this: I don't remember the 1980s all that well, and I wasn't alive for the 1970s, but I also don't remember learning in school about the cries to expell the Irish during the Troubles. The Irish in Canada and the US donated considerable sums - to put it mildly - to keep the IRA in business. This was common knowledge. There were, in short, at least as many reasons to question the loyalties of the Irish in Canada. So can somebody offer a non-skin-tone-based explanation for why the Irish were welcome, but the Muslims aren't?

Cohen Unleashed!

The Iron Rule of Richard Cohen: He can always get worse.

(Previous posts here, here.)

Today, Cohen makes it very clear that not only has he not learned anything from Iraq, he is trying desperately not to.
The list of those who have accused Israel of not being in harmony with its enemies is long and, alas, distinguished. It includes, of course, the United Nations and its secretary general, Kofi Annan. It also includes a whole bunch of European newspapers whose editorial pages call for Israel to respond, it seems, with only one missile for every one tossed its way. Such neat proportion is a recipe for doom.

The dire consequences of proportionality are so clear that it makes you wonder if it is a fig leaf for anti-Israel sentiment in general. Anyone who knows anything about the Middle East knows that proportionality is madness. For Israel, a small country within reach, as we are finding out, of a missile launched from any enemy's back yard, proportionality is not only inapplicable, it is suicide. The last thing it needs is a war of attrition. It is not good enough to take out this or that missile battery. It is necessary to reestablish deterrence: You slap me, I will punch out your lights.
Nice. If you think Israel's being disproportionate, you're a bloody anti-semite. Apparently, this is true even if you happen to be published in Irsraeli newspapers, and have a name like Nehemia Shtrasler or Ze'ev Maoz. (Obviously, members of the Aryan Brotherhood.) Rarely are right-wing talking points stated so baldly. Thank you, Richard Cohen, for your honesty. Especially this bit of honesty in particular:
It's clear now that those boundaries -- a wall, a fence, a whatever -- are immaterial when it comes to missiles. Hezbollah, with the aid of Iran and Syria, has shown that it is no longer necessary to send a dazed suicide bomber over the border -- all that is needed is the requisite amount of thrust and a warhead. That being the case, it's either stupid or mean for anyone to call for proportionality. The only way to ensure that babies don't die in their cribs and old people in the streets is to make the Lebanese or the Palestinians understand that if they, no matter how reluctantly, host those rockets, they will pay a very, very steep price.
You see, the Lebanese don't have babies, or old people. The perfidious arabs emerge fully grown from bomb-proof eggs, like the kind you see in Ridley Scott's Alien. When they get old, they become vaporous and ghost-like, impossible to bomb or kill. You should ignore all the video and photos of dead and wounded Lebanese, as this is all crafty Arab propaganda.

Also, note very clearly that while Israelis who die are "children" or "old people" (i.e., humans) Israel's opponents are merely "the Lebanese" or "the Palestinians."

Whether you agree with Israel's tactics or not, trying to hide the fact that Israel has so far inflicted 3 or 4 civilian casualties for every one it has had inflicted on it is simply ghastly. Let's all - at the very least - admit to the horror of war before we start arguing blame.

But no, for Richard Cohen, thinking of the Lebanese (much less the Palestinians) as living, breathing humans is simply cover for anti-Israel, anti-semitic rhetoric. Which would simply be horrific if America weren't currently at war in Iraq, having followed exactly Cohen's tactical advice: Massive, disproportionate retaliation against civilian areas that support insurgents.

And, having worked so well in Iraq, we should definitely listen to Cohen now.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Cost of Knowing

Just finished The One Percent Doctrine. Fantastic, as many reviews will attest to. What struck me most is Suskind's barely-concealed pain at what the Bush Administration has done to the national security of the United States. Whether it's the military, the CIA, or the National Security Council (an underappreciated organ, vital to executive decision making) the Bush administration has turned it all to shit. This is just the most obviously important part of the US government - the Bush Administration has ruined everything from the Interior Department to, most recently, NASA.

The central character to Suskind's story is George Tenet, who comes off basically as the kid in the group assignment who does all the hard work, and then has to share the credit with slackers. Except that in this case, when it comes time to get the marks back, Tenet is walking away with an F for all of history. Probably the most telling thing about this book is this: The so-called "slam dunk" that George Tenet used to describe the WMD case for Iraq never happened. Suskind never comes right out and says it, but he makes it clear that the "slam dunk" story was invented by Bush's partisans to smear Tenet, and blame him for the fiasco.

These people are slime.

The other thing that Suskind wants us all to remember is that we have ethical guidelines for even the dirtiest jobs for a reason. Suskind (p. 346):
"The traditional warning against "the ends justifying the means" carries a corollary. Without clear, attainable ends, means have a way of becoming unbound, improvised, born of dictates of the "gut" and unexamined assumptions."
If you wonder how the US ended up at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, that's it right there.

Wars by the bushel, wars by the pound

Andrew Bacevich, reviewing Cobra II:
Implicit in the Powell Doctrine was the assumption that the wars of the future would be large, uncertain, expensive and therefore infrequent. Implicit in Rumsfeld’s thinking was the expectation that future American wars would be brief and economical, all but eliminating the political risk of opting for force. Rumsfeld believed that technology was rendering obsolete old worries about fog, friction and chance. Why bother studying Clausewitz when Shock and Awe could make a clean sweep of things? For Rumsfeld and his coterie, this was the appeal of having a go at Iraq: a swift victory over Saddam would validate Rumsfeld’s ‘vision’ and discredit those who were obstructing his reforms. According to Cobra II, he was certain that a ‘rapid defeat of Iraq on his terms would break the spine of army resistance to his transformation goal once and for all.’...

In the event, these assumptions proved fallacious, even with Saddam Hussein doing his best to help out: convinced that the US would never actually try to take Baghdad, Saddam concentrated on threats from Iran and from within Iraq itself; as a consequence, the Iraqi general staff had no plan worthy of the name to defend against an Anglo-American attack. When that attack began, the anticipated mass defection of Iraqi forces did not occur. The Iraqi army did fight, though poorly – and some US troops found even this level of opposition disconcerting. ‘Why would the Iraqis shoot at us?’ one army captain wondered to himself. ‘We are the good guys.’
Once again: Complaints about how Rumsfeld didn't assign enough troops miss the point. Rumsfeld didn't assign enough troops not because he was incompetent - though he is - but because of calculation. If Iraq had been successful, Rumsfeld believed it would clear the way for future wars against Syria and Iran. Despite the deaths incurred because of Rumsfeld's stupidity, it is probably better for the world that he turned out wrong. Given the chaos that has emerged from their war on Iraq, the world would be a much worse place if the United States had waged war against Iraq, Syria, and Iran.

Let me also just say that when someone is only restrained from unleashing massive military force because of the "political price" they may incur, that person is certifiably insane.

Oil news

Cantarell, in Mexico: Down 7% since the beginning of the year. Already at the levels of July, 2005, when Hurricane Emily blasted through the Gulf. As a supergiant that's had extensive oil-recovery techniques applied to it, Cantarell may very well be a bellweather for much of the oil industry.

Meanwhile, in response to American snubs, Moscow is shutting US firms out of new oil field development.

And oil still hovers around $75 a barrel.


Atrios has been asking today - how did Iraq, of all things, get moved from the front page?

Obviously, Israel/Lebanon is the new hot thing, but Jesus - the forgotten war? Forgotten by whom? Probably not the 20 million Iraqis in the middle of it.

My head may explode

John "blow up the UN!" Bolton goes on Bill "no, kill them all then blow it up!" O'Reilly's show, and defends the UN's record.


Love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal

Scott Lemieux has a simply fantastic post today:
See, to generalize there are two kinds of groups who oppose progressive social change. First, you have outright reactionaries. Then you have people--JFK liberals, let's call them--who wish the world was a better place, and nominally support long as it doesn't affect them in any way, and they don't have to do anything, or make any difficult political choices....

The struggle for civil rights is all "I have a dream" while the Scottsboro Boys and Little Rock and Dynamite Hill and Selma sort of get written out of the picture--you'll catch more flies with honey than vinegar, you know! Proponents of the countermobilization myth like to think that political changes just sort of happen, that there's a natural, unidirectional progress that will inevitably push things in the right direction if the victims of injustice will just be quiet and not press rights claims too loudly until each and every state in the union is no longer offended by what courts in other states might do. But there's nothing natural or inevitable about social change; it's the result of conflicts, many of which involve largely incommensurable positions, and these changes will be strongly opposed by the people threatened by them no matter which institution goes first.
It's amazing to me that somehow the entire civil rights struggle in the United States has been reduced to "non-violence" and "Martin Luther King", when there's so very much more - including a hell of a lot of violence - to the story. And yet the American narrative has incorporated this myth that America changed because of King's sweet reason (this story really begins and ends in 1961 with King's dream) and not, say, because of Medgar Ever's militancy, or the Black Panthers, or any number of actors who played their role.

(For the record, I'm no fan of the Panthers. Read some of their autobiographies if you think they're swell and want to be disillusioned.)

This is all even more ridiculous considering how one-sided the body count in the 1960s was. I'm sure the occasional Jim Crow-loving cracker got killed by an angry black man, but our side lost every one of the great leaders - the Kennedys, Evers, King, Malcolm X - whatever you thought of all these men, they were inspirational and visionary leaders (the only part of Scott's post I disagree with is the characterization of JFK) and they all met the assassin's bullet. The only loss on the other side was Wallace, and he survived.

Anyway, read the whole thing.

Adults in charge, II

The Washington Post is running a series of excerpts from the upcoming book Fiasco, about the American occupation of Iraq. It's pretty unbelievably bad, from the point of view of Washington. As in, "Oh my God how could they be so mind-bogglingly stupid?!" The first part is here, and contains nuggets like this:
Yet they frequently were led poorly by commanders unprepared for their mission by an institution that took away from the Vietnam War only the lesson that it shouldn't get involved in messy counterinsurgencies. The advice of those who had studied the American experience there was ignored.

That summer, retired Marine Col. Gary Anderson, an expert in small wars, was sent to Baghdad by the Pentagon to advise on how to better put down the emerging insurgency. He met with Bremer in early July. "Mr. Ambassador, here are some programs that worked in Vietnam," Anderson said.

It was the wrong word to put in front of Bremer. "Vietnam?" Bremer exploded, according to Anderson. "Vietnam! I don't want to talk about Vietnam. This is not Vietnam. This is Iraq!"

This was one of the early indications that U.S. officials would obstinately refuse to learn from the past as they sought to run Iraq.

One of the essential texts on counterinsurgency was written in 1964 by David Galula, a French army lieutenant colonel who was born in Tunisia, witnessed guerrilla warfare on three continents and died in 1967.

When the United States went into Iraq, his book, "Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice," was almost unknown within the military, which is one reason it is possible to open Galula's text almost at random and find principles of counterinsurgency that the American effort failed to heed.
The article makes it clear that, only now, in 2006 is the US Army getting around to admitting to itself, and training its soldiers for, the insurgency that its in.

Also "amusing" is the story of the CIA warning Bremer in 2003 that disbanding the Baath Party, the military, and the police force would destroy Iraqi society. As someone who was raised suspicious of everything the CIA does, it's weird for me to be takign the CIA's side so regularly these days. When there are forces out there who can rival you paranoia even of the CIA, be afraid.

The second part to the Washington Post series is up today, and all I will say is that these men have so very, very many people to answer to. For example, the soldiers they've turned in to monsters:
A few months later another 4th Infantry soldier, the staff sergeant overseeing the interrogation section at the division's main detainee holding pen in Tikrit, was reprimanded after an Iraqi was beaten with a baton while being questioned.

"These acts could . . . bring extreme discredit upon the U.S. Army," Lt. Col. Conrad Christman, the commander of the 104th Military Intelligence Battalion, warned him in writing on Nov. 6. The incidents of abuse of the detainee, his letter added, "show a lack of supervisory judgment on your part."

The sergeant, whose name was redacted from official documents before they were released, hurled those conclusions back at his chain of command.

"With the exception of myself, all interrogators at the TF IH ICE [Task Force Iron Horse Interrogation Control Element] were, and most remain, inexperienced at actual interrogation," the sergeant wrote. The division's intelligence efforts generally were "cursory," he added, because of "insufficient personnel, time and resources."

Nor had the Army prepared the sergeant and his soldiers for the job they'd been assigned. "Our unit has never trained for detention facility operations because our unit is neither designed nor intended for this mission. . . . [My soldiers] are assigned a mission for which they have not trained, are not manned, are not equipped, are not supplied and . . . cannot effectively accomplish."
Note to geniuses in Washington: Soldiers trained for combat don't make great jailers. In fact, they make pretty piss-poor jailers. Especially if you give them a wink and a nudge about torture.

Adults in charge

This Washington Post piece, via ThinkProgress, points out something that should have been obvious to, oh, anyone more mature than your average six year-old.
Lesson No. 4 is that even superpowers have to talk to bad guys. The absence of a diplomatic relationship with Iran and the deterioration of the one with Syria -- two countries that bear enormous responsibility for the current crisis -- leave the United States with fewer options and levers than might otherwise have been the case. Distasteful as it might have been to have or to maintain open and normal relations with such states, the absence of such relations ensures that we will have more blind spots than we can afford and that we will have to deal through surrogates on issues of vital importance to the United States. We will have to get over the notion that talking to bad guys somehow rewards them or is a sign of weakness. As a superpower, we ought to be able to communicate in a way that signals our strength and self-confidence.
This is a long-standing US policy - that ignoring certain regimes is a perfectly good substitute for accepting reality. To be totally fair to Bush, previous presidents have done the same thing. Nonetheless, it's childish and self-defeating.

Of course, if America actually tried talking to outlaw regimes, it might not have to go to war for no reason whatsoever. And that, obviously, would be a tragedy.


The Toronto Star ran this piece on Harper's foreign policy over the weekend, and this particular passage troubles me:
Holmes argued that "Norway, Denmark and Canada have achieved reputations for flexibility and non-conformity," while "countries like Australia and New Zealand have been considered ineligible for some of the duties and opportunities of middlepowermanship because of reputations for excessive partisanship."

Now, Harper is looking much more to the clarity of Australia's robust approach to foreign policy — emphasizing the role of a military configured for combat, rather than peacekeeping — rather than the mediating approach taken by Norway, which played a key role in the (ultimately unsuccessful) peace processes in both the Middle East and in Sri Lanka.

"The two foreign policy leaders are Harper and (Chief of the Defence Staff Gen.) Rick Hillier," says Carleton University historian Norman Hillmer of the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. "It is a kind of Harper-Hillier foreign policy that is very heavy on rhetoric about muscle and clout and toughness."
There's two things that upset me about this, and the first is simple: Harper is leading the smallest minority government in Canadian history, and is treating it like a royal seal. But I imagine that complaint won't make the Conservative rethink this foolhardy policy, so let me propose a second one.

If Hillmer is right, and Chief of Defense Staff Rick Hillier is playing a leading role in Canada's foreign policy, then we should all be concerned. I have no doubt that Hillier is a good, competent soldier, and I've generally been in favour of a lot of his initiatives, lately and during the Liberal government as well. Full disclosure: I went to school with his son, though I've never met the man myself.

All that said, it worries me that a military officer would have such a strong influence on foreign policy, for the very simple reason that the militaries of the world have not had a stellar record when it comes to ending the fighting. This cuts across all sort of political systems and ideologies - when foreign policy gets put in the hands of the military, the fighting lasts longer than is good for the country. The most obvious example is wartime Japan, but we can also point to post-war France and other democratic countries who relied to heavily on their military.

Now, as things continue to go balls-up in Afghanistan my concern is that with Harper believing he needs to look tough, and with Hillier providing that muscular credibility, there's going to be a reluctance to withdraw from Afghanistan if things go from worse to awful. The Canadian military would see withdrawal as a failure on their part, even though the failure has really emanated from Washington. If we're unwilling to admit defeat, and unwilling to sacrifice little Stevie's precious manhood, then we could be waist-deep in Afghan fighting for a long time to come.

Now, that's a hell of a long way for me to go based on one quote from a story, but it does confirm a lot of the language we've seen from both this government and the military. Anyone with contrary evidence is welcomed to send it in.

How the mighty have fallen

A refresher course on conservative rhetoric:

Shortly after the United States walked away from the UN process in the runup to the Iraq War, Richard Perle wrote:
Saddam Hussein's reign of terror is about to end. He will go quickly, but not alone: in a parting irony, he will take the UN down with him. Well, not the whole UN. The "good works" part will survive, the low-risk peacekeeping bureaucracies will remain, the chatterbox on the Hudson will continue to bleat. What will die is the fantasy of the UN as the foundation of a new world order. As we sift the debris, it will be important to preserve, the better to understand, the intellectual wreckage of the liberal conceit of safety through international law administered by international institutions.
Note here that Perle's disdain was not just reserved for the UN in particular, but for the idea of international law and multilateral institutions in general. If you agree with Perle, even NATO is useful only insofar as it furthers American interests.

Boy, Perle - who also helped write Netanyahu's "clean break" plan to ditch Oslo - must be curled up somewhere in a fetal position right about now:
KIRYAT SHMONA, Israel, July 23 — As Israel again pounded southern Lebanon from the air and ground on Sunday and the Hezbollah militia rained dozens more rockets on Israel’s north, diplomatic efforts increased with growing discussion of a multinational armed force being placed in the area.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Israel was interested in a NATO-led force, and the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, spoke of one consisting of European Union members with combat experience and the authority to take control of Lebanon’s border and crossing points.
Now, I'll be the first to say that this is hardly a great example of multilateral peace-building on anyone's part. The US, the EU, the UN, not to mention Israel all dropped the ball by not demanding international disarmament of Hezbollah earlier. That said, Israel has opposed international involvement in its affairs for a long, long time - something I am overjoyed to see changing, if only in fits and starts.

So things we know so far: There's going to be a cease-fire. There's going to be international involvement in disarming Hezbollah, which will stay as a political party in Lebanon. These facts are already being conceded by Israel. There's almost certainly going to be a prisoner exchange, as distasteful as that's going to be for Jerusalem.

(Catty side note: I told you so, Damian.)

What strikes me most is that realization that seems to be growing that the era of easy wars in the Middle East is over. Between Israel's legendary victory in 1967, it's miraculous survival in 1973, and the American victory in Gulf War I, there's been a conceit among western leaders that the Arabs couldn't fight. Well, we're learning otherwise.

It's similar, though in the reverse, of what we learned in WWII. The Nazis and the Japanese had basically an unbroken string of victories until roughly 1942 or so. This was due entirely to one fact: the poor quality of leadership opposing the Nazi advances. However, given decent training and good leadership, the Nazis and the Japanese were defeated in the field just as easily (or with as much difficulty) as any other enemy.

One of the earliest commanders to prove this was the American Gen. Stilwell, who proved the Japanese could be fought and beaten in Burma.

Now look at the history of western "zionism and crusading", in bin Laden's words, through bin Laden's eyes. The mujahideen defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and the resurgent Taliban are doing well against allied forces there today. The godless Hussein was destroyed by the Americans twice, but the religiously-driven insurgency in Iraq is all but surely going to drive the Americans out of a key Arab country. Now, while the Lebanese government does nothing against Israel, Hezbollah has shown that even the nearly-invincible IDF can be ground to a halt and forced to sue for peace - something the combined Arab armies were unable to do under the secular pan-Arabism of Nasser.

Common thread? The US and Israel have been defeated by religious armies, not secular ones. If bin Laden wanted a clearer confirmation of his ideology - and obviously he doesn't - this is it. While bin Laden probably doesn't want to give the Shia in Iraq and Lebanon the credit they're due, the pattern is clear. By starting wars we're unable to win, we've shown how weak we are, and shown the enemy how strong they are.

Good work, everybody.

One final note: It's possible, even likely, that an international force from NATO or the EU would consist heavily of German soldiers - unless the Israelis objected strenuously. I don't see this happening, meaning that in 2006 the Jewish state's northern borders are going to be secured in part by Germans with guns. And despite all the madness in the world at the moment, that single image makes me smile.

I Agree Completely

Susie Madrak went to a lecture by Scott Ritter and George Ray McGovern [oops!], and reports back. There's a lot of good stuff, but I want to highlight this part especially:
Ritter pissed off many of the attendees with a rant about anti-war demonstrations. “You did nothing,” he said. “It’s a waste of time. Set a goal, achieve something. There are veterans from four wars who would be on your side in this. You just have to reach them.

“Demonstrations are futile gestures that mean nothing.”
As much as I agree with Ritter, the fact is that the options for left-wing voters in that year were pretty thin. The Iraq vote was held after the primary season was over but before the elections. Anti-war voters couldn't exactly say "vote Democrat" when many of the Dems had supported the war resolution. Nor could we move the Dems left until the next primary season, two years later.

Nevertheless, I think antiwar voters need to take Ritter's words to heart - the demonstrations were really more about making ourselves feel better, and had little to no effect on the outcome of the war. Hell, they had little effect on the outcome of the news cycle, didn't they?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Whither the Democratic Peace?

Billmon raises an excellent question.

Noah Feldman joins in to explain that's it's OK to blow Lebanese civilians (and their houses, apartment buildings, cars, etc.) to kingdom come, because, you see, they live in a democracy... But what I want to know is how Dr. Feldman's line of reasoning jibes with the oft-expressed neocon/neolib article of faith that democracies don't go to war with other democracies?

My understanding is that the same question is asked about Finland during WWII - democratic, but allied with the Nazis against the Soviets (and understandably, considering the Soviets' history with Finland.) However, Democratic Peace Theorists have, I believe, generally waved this objection away by pointing out that British attacks on Finland were only directed at the Nazis. I imagine Feldman explains away the inconvenient facts in a similar fashion.

The DPT is one of my pet peeves, as everytime history (or in this case, the nightly news) gives a counter-example, some innovative political scientist finds some way to explain why country X wasn't really a democracy, or why war Y doesn't really count. There's ample empirical evidence that international conflicts are much, much rarer between democracies, which you'd think would be enough for some people. But you'd be wrong.

The Great Ethanol Debate continues

Vinod Khosla presents the argument for replacing gasoline with ethanol. (Google Video link.)

Robert Rapier with the argument against.

I don't really have time at the moment to go in to each, but I generally side with Robert, who elsewhere on his blog has pointed out that the single most important factor in Brazil's "ethanol miracle" has been that the Brazilians use far, far less oil per person than the US does. If the US were as oil-efficient as the Brazilians, ethanol would be unnecessary: America could produce enough crude to run it's own industries - for a while. (Last year the US produced less oil than anytime since the 1940s.)

The United States of America v. Osama bin Laden

Alan Dershowitz, for the defense:

There is a vast difference — both moral and legal — between a 2-year-old who is killed by an enemy rocket and a 30-year-old civilian who has allowed his house to be used to store Katyusha rockets. Both are technically civilians, but the former is far more innocent than the latter. There is also a difference between a civilian who merely favors or even votes for a terrorist group and one who provides financial or other material support for terrorism.

Finally, there is a difference between civilians who are held hostage against their will by terrorists who use them as involuntary human shields, and civilians who voluntarily place themselves in harm's way in order to protect terrorists from enemy fire.

Osama bin Laden, April 27 2006: ("Bin Laden calls for attacks on civilians" was a common headline.)

Furthermore, I say this war is a joint responsibility between the people and the government. War continues and the people [are] renewing their allegiance to their rulers and politicians sending their sons to armies to fight us, and continuing the moral and financial support while our countries are being burned, our houses bombed, our people killed and no one cares about us....

Someone in the Israeli foreign service might want to put a phone call in to Mr. Dershowitz' office. This kind of help, they don't need. It's pretty much the only rule of war we have left that attacks on civilians are to be avoided, not rationalized.