The ad network portion of Pajamas Media is closing up shop as of April 1. Some members of the network are taking it better than others. The bottom line, according to Roger Simon, was red - the network was a steady money loser, with the bloggers getting more than the advertisers were paying. Here's a bit of comment from a venture capitalist's perspective:
I was one of the early readers of what became the PJ Media business plan, due to my friendship with Marc "Armed Liberal" Danziger, who was part of the team at that point. My own fund's prospectus specifically said we would not invest in content, so I wasn't a potential funding source, but I did offer advice and a few introductions to other funds that might have taken an interest in the plan.
My strongest suggestion to the team was to simplify the plan. When I saw it, it included three business ideas:
In the event, PJM found a single source to provide their financing. While having a sole investor inevitably gives up some control, it also lets a team get off the road and on with building the business. At about the same time, the third bullet point above removed itself when Marc left the Pajamas team. That still left two business concepts under one roof, competing for resources.
This week's announcement is just the dénouement of that situation. Anyone who's paid attention knows that the effective CPM for both click-through and exposure ads on blogs s***s. I mean really s***s - like up to an order of magnitude less than run-of-site ads on big, topically diffuse web properties. Gadget, finance or technology blogs can rise above the crowd, but political and opinion blogs tend to be the worst. When readers are focused on a potentially stressing discourse, they don't tend to notice or click on ads. Fancy that! And what did the PJM ad network's stable consist of?
The market has rendered its opinion on the two PJM business propositions, and the ad network came up the shortest. My guess is the combination of the end of election cycle advertising and the recession-driven fall off in general advertising were the last straws. Somebody may figure out how to make blog advertising economic, but it won't be PJM. The company has retrenched into the destination site play, and is trying expand it into the TV-via-Internet market. That's certainly no guaranteed success, but it's also rather axiomatic than a venture investor under duress will plunk on the opportunity that appears to align with a growing market. Is there a play for talking-heads-on-demand? Watch and find out.
Israel's recent war in Gaza was waged for the simplest of reasons: to deter Hamas from firing Qassam and Grad rockets. Whether or not the Israelis succeeded is an open question. An Israeli soldier - who, by the way, was an Arab - was killed by a roadside bomb next to the border with Gaza a few days ago. But if the aftermath of the less successful Second Lebanon War against Hezbollah in 2006 suggests anything, Hamas is likely to cool its guns for a while. Hezbollah's Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah declared a "divine victory" in August of 2006, and most Israelis agreed. Bombastic boasts to the contrary, however, Hezbollah lost, and Hezbollah knows it.
I'm hardly the first to point out that Hezbollah sat out the Gaza war. Somebody fired a salvo of rockets into Israel from South Lebanon on January 8, and Hezbollah couldn't distance itself from the attack fast enough. If the 2006 war was such a success, why wouldn't Nasrallah want to rack up another divine victory? He could hardly ask for a more auspicious time to launch the next round if that's what he was planning. The Israel Defense Forces were busy and preoccupied in Gaza, and much of world opinion had already turned sharply against the Israelis. If Nasrallah's passivity doesn't prove he feels more reluctant to pick a fight than he did in 2006, it certainly strongly suggests it.
There's something else, though, that only a handful of analysts have remarked on. Very few people in Lebanon sincerely think Hezbollah won the 2006 war. It's mostly Arabs outside Lebanon who take Nasrallah's declaration of "divine victory" seriously.
Leave aside the fact that ten times more Lebanese than Israelis were killed in that war, and that the centers of entire towns in South Lebanon were destroyed from the skies. It's theoretically possible that the Lebanese could delude themselves into thinking they won. Most Egyptians, after all, think they beat Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur war, though they most certainly did not. And denial is a river that flows through other lands besides Egypt.
Nasrallah, though, was all but forced to apologize to Lebanese for the death and destruction he brought down on their heads. "We did not believe," he said on Lebanon's New TV station, "even by one percent, that the captive operation would result in such a wide-scale war, as such a war did not take place in the history of wars. Had we known that the captive operation would result in such a war we would not have carried it out at all."
These are not the words of a man who thinks of himself as a victor. Nor are these the words of a man speaking to those who think they have won. He did not issue his apology because he hoped to appease his Christian, Sunni, and Druze opponents in Lebanon. He routinely, and absurdly, dismisses their March 14 coalition as the "Zionist hand." No. Nasrallah apologized because his Israeli adventure devastated his own Shia community.
It's not easy finding Lebanese who are interested in a repeat. I drove from Beirut to South Lebanon shortly after the war to survey the destruction with a couple of Hezbollah's political enemies. My guide Said succinctly summed up the reaction I heard from most when we parked amid the rubble of downtown of Bint Jbail. "So this is our victory," he sarcastically said. "This is how Hezbollah wins. Israel destroys our country while they sleep safely and soundly in theirs."
Don't assume only March-14 Lebanese feel this way. The Shias of South Lebanon feel it more acutely than most since they suffered the brunt of the damage. But even many of Nasrallah's allies elsewhere in Lebanon aren't interested in more of the same. "Both sides lost and don't want to do it again," a supporter of Hezbollah's ally Michel Aoun said to me in Beirut. "The situation in the South is finished. If it happens again, Nasrallah will lose his case."
Predicting the future in a bottomlessly complicated society like Lebanon's is a risky business, to be sure, but a clear majority have no interest in yet another bloody conflict. Most Lebanese, like most Israelis, prefer to be left alone. And most of Nasrallah's supporters will tell you they want Hezbollah to deter Israeli invasions, not to invite Israeli invasions.
From Robert Worth of the NYT:
The emergence of a former Guantánamo Bay detainee as the deputy leader of Al Qaeda's Yemeni branch has underscored the potential complications in carrying out the executive order President Obama signed Thursday that the detention center be shut down within a year.
The militant, Said Ali al-Shihri, is suspected of involvement in a deadly bombing of the United States Embassy in Yemen's capital, Sana, in September. He was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and passed through a Saudi rehabilitation program for former jihadists before resurfacing with Al Qaeda in Yemen.
bq. Although the Pentagon has said that dozens of released Guantánamo detainees have "returned to the fight," its claim is difficult to document, and has been met with skepticism.
bq. A Saudi security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Mr. Shihri had disappeared from his home in Saudi Arabia last year after finishing the rehabilitation program.
It appears that terror rehabilitation programs exist, but their effectiveness seems to be in doubt, and Yemen is delinquent in establishing their program:
Almost half the camp's remaining detainees are Yemenis, and efforts to repatriate them depend in part on the creation of a Yemeni rehabilitation program -- partly financed by the United States -- similar to the Saudi one. Saudi Arabia has claimed that no graduate of its program has returned to terrorism.
The prison at Guantanamo Bay put the United States in an international and Constitutional bind. The US courts have argued against long-term detention without legal recourse for the detainees, and the prosecuting attorneys had to throw away evidence that was revealed while the detainees were subject to US administered torture.
However, this is not the most significant way in which Gitmo failed. President Bush and the penal colony he established in Guantanamo failed to protect the United States from the very people detained. One NYT reader responded, "The article reveals more about the incompetence of the Bush Administration than the difficulties of closing Gitmo.... Dealing with Gitmo isn't as difficult as the article suggests unless one ignores essential facts , and George Bush did just that for 8 years." He continues, "The notion that sending Mr. al-Shihri to a "Saudi rehabilitation program" could reform a known jihadist is absurd. It's as effective as throwing Brer Rabbit into the briar patch: there should have been no surprise that this terrorist would resurface at one of our embassies with a bomb."
Closing Gitmo brings international goodwill to the new administration without denying Americans security. However, countries that fail to effectively cooperate with the US should also be held responsible for their actions. Hopefully, the Obama Administration will find a better, legal way to deal with the detainees and protect the US from future attacks.
Eli Lake of the Washington Times has the best coverage of the Obama Administration's decisions on closing Guantanamo, CIA "black sites," and torture. Lake carefully examines the loopholes through which Obama is continuing some of Bush's secretive policies:
President Obama's executive order closing CIA "black sites" contains a little-noticed exception that allows the spy agency to continue to operate temporary detention facilities abroad.
The provision illustrates that the president's order to shutter foreign-based prisons, known as black sites, is not airtight and that the Central Intelligence Agency still has options if it wants to hold terrorist suspects for several days at a time.
bq. The detentions would be temporary. Suspects either would be brought later to the United States for trial or sent to other countries where they are wanted and can face trial.
If a US President bends the rules to protect the American people, it better be effective.
Until tonight, I really didn't get the culture of celebrity. I grew up in Beverly Hills, hung out with the children of people who were on TV and in the movies, grew up to be interested in politics, and have met and talked with a former President, a Governor (plus I worked for one) and a dabbling of other elected officials (I negotiated with Barbara Boxer over purchasing a surplus school site when she was a County Supervisor). They're all people, and I've always been a little bemused by the chest-clutching regard in which they are held by some.
...tonight I went to a dinner organized by the indefatigable Bob McBarton, at which the lead investigator (boss) of the Mars Rover program (Spirit and Opportunity) was going to talk about the current state of the rovers and the program, and Mars.
Bob took me aside as I came into the Beverly Hills steakhouse where we met. "You'll never believe who's going to be here," he opened. I looked at him cooly. "Who??"
I'll admit I was kind of excited at the prospect of meeting the second man who ever walked on the moon.
Then as the group moved to sit at the large table, a jaunty, white-haired man with a leather blazer walked in and took a seat. Could it be him, I wondered? He took out an iPhone and a Blackberry and proceeded to start playing with them. Maybe...I tried to remember the pictures from the books I have at home, and drew a blank.
Then we all introduced ourselves, and yes, he was Buzz Aldrin.
I suddenly felt giddy. That man had walked on the moon. Those eyes had looked over a strange horizon and seen the Earth. Those hands had held moondust. Those feet had left footprints that I imagine every month on the full moon that I can look up and see.
Steve Squyres led a humane, intelligent, and interesting discussion of the Rover program and the state of the rovers today (including the recent problems with Spirit). And the whole time I was watching Aldrin, turning my eyes slightly to the side so I could try and measure his reaction and interest.
We took a break and I walked up, said hello, and shook his hand. I cannot think of any other time I have done that.
I was weak-kneed with fanboyhood. I Twittered and Facebooked and emailed the world. Buzz-Goddamn-Aldrin is sitting ten feet from me!! He raised his eyes from his iPhone when I asked a question!! I'll never wash this hand again!!
Suddenly I got the impact that celebrity has on people. I was, in fact deep in the throes of it.
I wanted to walk out into the restaurant and grab the diners by their collars and shake them until they realized that the second man to ever walk on the moon was sitting at a table among them.
We all acknowledged his presence; Bob went around the room and we all told what we'd been doing in July 1969. I spent the week on my mom's sofa, missing school, glued to the TV.
When it came to Aldrin, Bob went to skip him, but he interjected regardless: "I was out of town with two other guys." A line he must have used a million times, delivered perfectly - level, flat, and knowingly funny.
And that showed me something about celebrity as well.
I've just had my attention drawn to a blog called the Smart Globalist. A current feature talks about the economic crisis underway, and some of its global aspects that aren't receiving a lot of discussion yet. From "Asia and Germany Need to Wake Up":
"The Anglos had a party by living beyond their means, and Asia began to get rich while Germany got even richer. But the Anglo consumers were borrowing heavily against their credit cards and the equity in their houses to pay for the party. There was bound to be a moment when they couldn't borrow any more.... It is because stimulus alone would simply perpetuate this unsustainable dynamic that rebalancing must be its companion.
....But the surplus countries need to boost their domestic demand as well. Indeed, because they have excess production capacity that can no longer be easily exported, they actually need more stimulus than the trade deficit countries. And this is where things are getting very difficult. So far, the surplus countries have been resisting.... Of course, friendly persuasion and enlightened self-interest are the preferred avenues. However, if China and other surplus countries insist on doubling down on their export-led growth strategies and resisting currency revaluation, the United States uniquely does hold and ace that can force their hands. It can export inflation...."
I've just returned from a week-long trip through Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Israel's border with Gaza, and I'm reminded all over again of what has been beaten into me during my many visits to the Middle East: there is no solution to the problems that vex that region right now. Most Americans are inherently optimistic and think just about any problem in the world can be solved. We put a man on the moon before I was born, but that was easy compared with securing peace between Israelis and Arabs.
The American Jewish Committee brought me and seven of my colleagues to Israel and set up interviews with Israeli military officers, politicians, academics, and journalists on the far-left, the far-right and at every point in between. One of my colleagues asked the eternal question during one of our meetings. "What is the solution to this problem?" He meant the Arab-Israeli conflict, of course, and the answer from our Israeli host was revealing in more ways than one. "You Americans are always asking us that," he said and laughed darkly.
Americans aren't the only ones who have a hard time grasping the idea of an intractable problem. "Unfortunately we Westerners are impatient," said an Israeli politician who preferred not to be named. "We want fast food and peace now. But it won't happen. We need a long strategy." "Most of Israel's serious problems don't have a solution," said Dr. Dan Schueftan, Director of National Security Studies at the University of Haifa. "Israelis have only recently understood this, and most foreign analysts still don't understand it."
A clear majority of Israelis would instantly hand over the West Bank and its settlements along with Gaza for a real shot at peace with the Arabs, but that's not an option. Most Arab governments at least implicitly say they will recognize Israel's right to exist inside its pre-1967 borders, but far too many Palestinians still won't recognize Israel's right to exist even in its 1948 borders. Hamas doesn't recognize Israel's right to exist inside any borders at all.
"We will never recognize Israel," senior Hamas leader Nizar Rayyan said before he was killed by an air strike in Gaza during the recent fighting. "There is nothing called Israel, neither in reality nor in the imagination."
Hamas does not speak for all Palestinians. I've met Palestinians who sincerely despise Hamas and everything it stands for. But let's not kid ourselves here. Hamas speaks for a genuinely enormous number of Palestinians, and peace is impossible as long as that's true. An-Najah University conducted a poll of Palestinian public opinion a few months ago and found that 53.4 percent persist in their rejection of a two-state solution.
Far too many Westerners make the mistake of projecting their own views onto Palestinians without really understanding the Palestinian narrative. The "occupation" doesn't refer to the West Bank and Gaza, and it never has. The "occupation" refers to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. A kibbutz in the center of Israel is "occupied Palestine" according to most. "It makes no sense to a Palestinian to think about a Palestinian state alongside Israel," Martin Kramer from the Shalem Center in Jerusalem said to me a few days ago. "From the Palestinian perspective, Israel will always exist inside Palestine."
"Making peace with the Palestinians is harder than making peace with other Arabs," said Asher Susser, Senior Research Fellow at Tel Aviv University. "With the Palestinians we have a 1948 file as well as a 1967 file. With other Arabs we only have a 1967 file. The 1967 file relates to our size, but the 1948 file relates to our very being. It is nearly impossible to resolve because we cannot compromise on our being."
Let's see how we do on this.
Those manners are kind of a scaffolding around which conversation can grow. They imply a few basic truths which are at the heart of conversation.
The first is parity. When we engage in conversation with someone, the implication is that their words are as valuable as mine. We're peers in the context of this conversation.
The next is agency. We have to believe that whoever is speaking owns their words; that they are speaking from their own authentic self rather than telling us what they have been told or deceived into saying. We respect the speaker as the owner of the words and ideas that they are sharing with us.Next is openness. We have to actually hear and accept what someone else says. In a debate, I will use my opponent's words as a springboard to make my own points. In a conversation I'll accept what I'm told, unpack it, think about it, fit it with my own understandings and beliefs and then respond. The difference is that in one case we are listening to the 'shape' of what is told us and searching for a foothold to use to push it away, and in the other, we are actually open to the possibility that what the other person says could be true - that it could actually change our views.
The mood in Israel during the immediate aftermath of the Gaza war is markedly different from the mood in the wake of the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Things felt precarious and vulnerable then. Confidence in both the government and the military disintegrated. When Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah declared his “divine victory,” many, if not most, Israelis shuddered and thought he might be correct. This time, by contrast, I didn’t meet a single Israeli who thinks Hamas defeated the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza.
The Arab-Israeli conflict is nowhere near finished, and the problems in Gaza will endure for a long time, but the Israeli military and government spent two and a half years intensely studying what went wrong in Lebanon in 2006 and corrected nearly all those mistakes. Most Israelis I spoke to in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem last week feel a tremendous sense of relief and seem more at ease than they have been in years.
The results speak for themselves. The IDF wasn’t able to halt or even disrupt Hezbollah’s Katyusha rocket attacks on Israeli cities in July and August of 2006, but Hamas’s ability to fire its own crude rockets was reduced by almost 75 percent. According to Major General Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, Hamas fired 75 rockets per day at the beginning of the war, 35 rockets per day in the middle of the war, and only 20 rockets per day at the end. At the same time, Hamas was only able to inflict a tenth as many casualties on Israeli civilians and soldiers as Hezbollah did in 2006. During the final ten days of the war, again according to Ben-Eliyahu, Hamas did not kill a single Israeli. Ismail Haniyeh’s predictable declaration of “victory” could hardly sound more empty if he delivered his boast from inside a prison cell.
This article just appeared in the NY Times - 'How Words Might End A War' - supporting my post below by suggesting that material considerations won't settle Israel/Palestine, but also undermining my positionby suggesting that concrete nonmaterial considerations might.
Take a look and let me know what you think.
Greg Djerejian has a new missive up on his thoughts on what new foreign policies ought to be in the new Administration.
I've publicly admired and criticized Djerejian in the past, notably in a post called 'Greg Djerejian and My Heard Heart.'
My core objection to his then-comments on Iraq still resonate in reading his new policy suggestions. I wrote:
What's missing from this, of course, is any sense of context at all for that narrative, any sense that - for example - there was an expansionist and brutal Soviet Union who would have gladly conquered all of Europe - and kept it conquered had we not opposed them. Or that there was a brutal China led my the mad, bad, and dangerous Mao Tse Tung who would have gladly enslaved all of Asia had we not opposed them. I'm more than a little puzzled by Greg's failure to point out that gaping hole in Cohen's logic.
So in that view, why is there war? Because America fights, of course.
There's this weird notion I see in many smart commentators that somehow what we do is the central driver of what happens. It's important, I think, to keep in mind that - as the military says - "the enemy gets a vote."
Reading him last week, I was struck by the notion that somehow Djerejian writes his way around this point.
...I am also suggesting that we re-order our national priorities so that, to be sure, combating extremism (in whatever manifestations) remains front and center, but that the sine qua non of U.S. foreign policy not be carried forward or advertised as part and parcel of the 'global war on terror'. There are too many other threats to confront, and it is overly convenient to rebrand al-Qaeda's brand of terrorism as the new 'ism to replace communism and fascism as decades long center-piece of this country's entire national security apparatus, which to my mind would prove too much of a distraction from the many other pressing challenges which confront us as well.
I think a step back to see what the past eight years have changed in the landscape, and a decision to look coolly (something we're all hoping Obama is truly as good as advertised) things over and make decisions about what we're seeing is a great idea. But the notion that Al Quieda is only as powerful as we make them is kind of silly. It's one thing to talk of a forceful public diplomacy that minimizes them and tries to find different levels of engagement; it's quite another to believe that we can simply decide that AQ simply doesn't matter.
...once the immediate, and inevitable, crisis management clean-up of the recent wreckage in Gaza is accomplished (first we need to help, if through proxies, mediate schisms as between Hamas and the PA, as well as more directly liaise with differing Israeli factions set to squabble mightily during the impending political silly-season there, where we may well end up dealing with the re-emergence of Prime Minister Netanyahu after the elections), thereafter the Taba precedent should be speedily used as launching pad, of sorts, with additionally other bold strokes considered, like asking the Israelis to free Marwan Barghouti, so as to help restore Fatah as credible counter-party to Hamas, and thereafter lead the negotiations on behalf of Palestine with the Israelis. Only a leader with charisma can close a deal of such magnitude and controversy, and Abu Mazen doesn't have what it takes, particularly after Israel's latest operation, given these grim (if woefully predictable) tidings.
There's a certain hubris that I'm seeing in people who keep saying that if only, by gosh, we'd try harder at diplomacy, we'd be able to unwind two generations of poisonous politics and hatred. It's even more amusing when contrasted against those who ridiculed the "Green Lantern" model when applied to the Iraq war.
Look if you believe that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people (raised as abused proxies for the Arab world) is a conflict over exact borders, water rights, trade, or jobs this makes perfect sense. But you know what? I don't think that's what the war is about at all. Because (among other things) if it was, it would have been settled by now. Go watch 'Suicide Killers' and come on back to us, Greg. What we have starts as a deep clash between cultures, and has metastized as we have allowed the Arab world (with US and UN funding) to raise two generations of Palestinian children who have been bred with hatred of Israel's existence as their existential value. And as we've seen Israel harden itself to the plight of it's neighbors in response.
You can't wish that away, or talk it out of existence, or negotiate a document that will somehow settle it.
There are paths out of this that don't involve massive killing; I think and deeply hope so. This isn't one of them in any world that I understand.
Now we move to Iran, where tone matters:
Last, on Iran, we must not forget to employ a new tone in our conversations with the Iranians, something I'd advocated in the cyber-pages of this blog quite a while back here, quoting the Iranian Ambassador to the UN about his displeasure about the usage of 'carrots and sticks' verbiage to describe Washington's approach to Iran.
As the Iranian Ambassador put it:If you deal with the other side as less than a human society, then don't expect to have multiple outcomes. What I'm saying is that in Western terminology, concepts are used that would infuriate the other sides. Even the terminologies used by the United States in the liberal realist tradition...such as "carrot and stick"...are not meant for humans, but rather for donkeys. In studies of Orientalism, the Eastern part of the world is dealt with as an object rather than as serious, real human societies with longer, older civilizations with concerns and needs that have to be dealt with.
Again, the political leadership of Iran calls Jews "pigs and monkeys" and the United States "Satan" demands temperance on our part, and Djerejian moves our insensitivity to a central place in his plans. It's our actions, not theirs...somehow.
He suggests realpolitik with Russia:
There are critical issues where the Russians could be of significant assistance to us (notably nuclear proliferation issues, to include Iran, among many others) and nothing would be more effective to this end than signaling to the Russians that we are not simply hell-bent on extending some fictitious Pax Americana to the outskirts of Moscow and St. Petersburg via 'encirclement' on their southern underbelly (Georgia), and/or to their West (the missile defense issue in Eastern Europe) - which, like it or not, far too many in Moscow believe--rather than helping foster a high-level strategic dialogue with the Russians on these issues (having moved to put these particularly controversial issues on the table to signal our seriousness of intent about trying to forge a re-fashioned relationship).
Stanislav Markelov acted for the family of 18-year-old Elza Kungayeva, whose murder in 2000 became a symbol of human rights abuses in war-ravaged Chechnya.
Markelov, 34, had led legal attempts to block the early release of Russian Colonel Yuri Budanov, who was convicted of her murder. Mostly Muslim Chechnya was rocked by protests last month when a court ruled Budanov should be released.Prosecutors said Markelov's body was found with several gunshot wounds on one of Moscow's main streets. He had just given a briefing to reporters. "What happened to Markelov is just outrageous," said Tanya Lokshina, deputy head of Human Rights Watch in Moscow. She called the murder as shocking as the 2006 killing of Anna Politkovskya, a journalist and outspoken Kremlin critic who reported on human rights abuses in Chechnya.
We do have to deal with Russia, to be sure. They're here.
But, at the same time, the notion of a collegial relationship with people for whom this passes for policy seems like it needs a deeper dig than we have here.
Which pretty much sums up my view of the policies set out here...
I totally agree with this NY Observer report. The experience of spending 2 nihilistic hours with your least favorite people, without any of the leavening humor promised by the teasers or reviews. The Coen Brothers have finally ascended to my "never watch their movies, not even as rentals, not even for free" list.
This paragraph from The NY Observer was better than anything in the movie:
"...the Coen brothers have generally left me with the impression of mean-spirited academic film nuts with little feeling for their hapless victims of terminal clumsiness and ineptitude. No Country for Old Men (2007) was at least ultra-competent in its villainous nihilism, but I did not share in the general enthusiasm for the film, except for its cast of virtuosos. But Burn After Reading has hit rock bottom for me. See it at your own peril."
One wonders sometimes if Hollywood makes movies like this because that's the environment and people they live with all the time, or because they have some strange vision of the outside world that corresponds? Same goes for the critics who liked it.
In contrast, I watched "Edward Scissorhands" for the first time the other night. An enjoyable film about humanity's light and dark sides, made with humanity. The contrast could not have been more vivid.
Guest post by commenter TK - someone who secures these events for a living.
Ever wonder about the politics of political events? Probably not, unless you were at the inauguration or some other heavily attended event, standing in line for a few hours for a seat that you probably can't see anything from anyway, while temperatures, tempers and various levels of discomfort rise and fall around you. As you begin to notice the slight ache growing in your left foot and the warning tingle beginning in your lower back, your thoughts began to display variations of the phrase: "Who the hell planned this shindig?"
And "Why didn't anyone foresee these crowds?" Not to mention: "Who the heck is in charge here?!"
The crowds, you see, are props for the visual effect of the event. When the event is televised, or otherwise covered by the media, the handlers just need the world to believe that every single human on the planet is beating with one happy heart for the political agenda featured at the show. Close ups will only be of the smiling and clapping variety. The press will be in designated areas for the best views of the happiest crowds.
Behind the scenes, everyone is arguing about how to accomplish the desired degree of smoke and mirrors (including security) without spending any money. Law enforcement (usually multiple groups with competing interests) will submit plans that include crowd control, dignitary security, traffic flow, contingency plans and worst case scenarios. Fire safety will submit plans that include emergency medical response, fire response, incident command, traffic flow, crowd control, and worst case scenarios. Rigging companies (lighting, staging, etc) will submit plans that cover load in, set up, load out, truck parking and employees. Talent handlers will submit requirements for green rooms, catering, transportation and lighting. In fact, every single vendor, player, designer, producer or participant of any kind will have their own plan based on their vision of their role. Then comes the battle for the money.
We go back to the young, enthusiastic, naïve, but well intentioned workers for the star dignitary. It is hard for them to believe that a happy crowd will want to harm their candidate or each other, and they will begin cutting in the area of crowd control and traffic flow without realizing that their crowd will be considerably less happy when the lines get longer and wait more uncomfortable. Our planners tend to cooperate when it comes to dignitary security, if it is explained graphically enough and they tend to be big fans of the talent they invite which keeps the plans of talent managers intact. Fire Marshals are actually more powerful than presidents, which usually keeps the fire safety plans intact. That brings us back to crowd control and traffic flow...and so the budget gets cut. The one thing you can count on is that precautions are in place (many of them invisible) to assure the safety of the stars of the show and the rest is a roll of the dice where money spent is carefully weighed against the desired visual impact of the show. Crowd comfort and convenience are far further down the scale of importance and the people who see this as a matter of public safety are generally considered to be paranoid party poopers (sorry for the strong language). The end result is a roll of the dice that someone out in that big 'ol crowd hasn't snuck inside wearing a big coat with a rip cord and heavy belt filled with shrapnel. And as long as that didn't happen this time, the planning will be deemed a success and the back slapping and congratulations on a job well done can commence.
If there is a disaster in the crowd, the Law Enforcement planners will willingly take the bullet in the after action investigation. If they object or tell the truth about what they wanted to do, as opposed to what they were allowed to do, the people who sign their budgets, give them raises, negotiate their benefits, authorize staffing and otherwise control their professional success will be very unhappy with them and they could end up suddenly retired or assigned the command of a small outpost station North of Fairbanks.
And that's just the way it goes.....
The above is my opinion (a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty) based on personal experience and is not intended to offend starry eyed interns, future senators or movie stars, any particular party or religious faith, lifestyle or belief system.
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American Mohist emails me to say:
"American foreign policy establishment (Defense & State) is in the midst of a paradigm shift. Our paradigm was and remains that of the nation-state. The first step of Phase 4 is to set up the national, central government. We have seen how well that worked in Iraq & Afgh.
Many writers have commented on the failed state and the demise of the nation-state as the dominant political force, but that never made it into our dominant security policy thinking. On the other hand, the "Awakening", which is on the tactical level, is exposing the disconnect between the nation-state centric policy and the bottom-up tactics. Events on the ground are slowly driving the policy to change paradigm."
Read his article, and see what you think.
So we're up and around and I'm back online. I'll sort pictures today if I can and get some posted as soon as I do.
But I was to extend the comment I made in my post about the Inauguration, below.
And a huge back of the hand to whoever was responsible for organizing the crowds; there was none and what we had instead were color-coded mobs.
They all paint the picture of a dangerous lack of crowd control. As our part of the yellow-ticket line was being compressed and asked to make a 270-degree turn while we were shoved body-to-body (literally - fortunately the woman in front of me had a thick coat on so my camera didn't gouge her back - I had TG's arm gripped in one hand and couldn't have moved the camera with the other) I commented aloud that "This is exactly how so many Muslims get trampled to death in the Haj" which earned me a shushing from the one person around me that got my point.
We went through three or four chokepoints like this, and combined with the lack of any crowd control, information or really any planning for the lines at all - the yellow line got merged with part of the purple line at one point and we were all shouting out "yellow!" and "purple!" as a bottom-up means of sorting ourselves.
It's amazing to me that no one did the simple math of the capacity of each seating area, the optimal width of the line, the length of line necessary, and laid out simple steel barrier rails to define the length of that line. It's not like there was a shortage of steel pedestrian rail in DC this week.
Bluntly, we should have just waited until they opened the gates and then swarmed into them. My own politeness and rule-following nature (along with twenty thousand others like me in the Yellow line) didn't just get us to the back of the area, but endangered TG's and my lives.
The good news was that the crowd was - overall - extremely good natured, and that the attitude everyone showed for the first three hours of the wait was wonderful. I'm positive that at any other kind of event this kind of insanely stupid and dangerous lack of planning, combined with people's normal aggressiveness would have resulted in dozens of fights.
Look, with all respect, this isn't rocket science. I've been to a Super Bowl, to a Rose Bowl, to Daytona and other places where they move low-six-figures worth of people (note that I'm talking about the elite ticket holders where were between the Reflecting Pool and the Capitol - bot as to the parade, I'll point out that parades with half a million in attendance happen all the time and while this one is different (need for security, etc.) it's not that different. By comparison, the organization of crowd control here was criminally incompetent; only through luck is it that no one was injured because of it.
I'll skip over the unnecessarily hurt feelings of supporters and fans who were treated worse than cattle; what happened yesterday was stupidly, un-necessarily dangerous, and the people responsible need to be replaced.
Now James Joyner points out that the people running the events were incompetent at crowd control because they were only concerned with the safety of the various principals:
Part of the problem is that the people running security are concerned only with the safety of the VIP's, not whether people are disappointed."It was an absolute success," U.S. Capitol Police Chief Phillip D. Morse said of the effort, which involved more than 30,000 law enforcement officers and military personnel from across the country. Although there were numerous complaints about chaotic procedures at security checkpoints, the event went off without serious disruption.
That's just not true. TG and I received only a cursory search as I went through the checkpoint at the end of the lengthy line; whether because of the ineptitude above or the pressure the (very nice, very calm) Capitol police felt to get people moved through. They made two glaring mistakes with us - one I won't point out publicly because it was so serious - and wound up waving me through the metal detector with a pair of Steiner binoculars under my arm. Binoculars that contain as much metal as a small handgun. I didn't realize until I was collecting my cameras that I'd walked through like that.
Now I'll point out that Rob Leatham with a handgun wouldn't have been a threat to any of the principals from the front of the area we were in. But if they didn't intend to keep handguns out, what the hell were they bothering with the searches for at all?
Incompetence, pure, simple and absolute, and a need to make a change at the top.
Fixed embarrassing brain fade confusing Andrew Exum and Marc Lynch.
SocialText's Scott Schnaars scratches a pet peeve of mine, and explains the implications well:
"Question One: When implementing a new system, any new system, for your community, how do you refer to the end users? What if you are implementing social media for your company? Who is going to use the system? Users? Employees?
What about people (maybe the title of the post gave that one away)?"
Yup. This was smart, too - and very applicable in the IT world:
"Listen, you don’t go to the doctor because you are sick. Sickness is the by-product of something deeper, something more concise. You go to the doctor because you have a headache or a stomach ache or numbness in your left arm. If you just show up at your doctor and say your sick, but can’t describe any symptoms, you’ll be given a sugar tab and sent on your way. If you have a more specific problem, you can diagnose it with a very specific solution. Your enterprise social media strategy needs a similar level of specificity in order for it to succeed."
Change "social media" to any other form of IT project, and it still makes a true point. First of all, the only other industry that talks about "users" sells drugs like heroin and cocaine. The second point is that talking or reading about "users" lights up like a neon sign to me, and says "I haven't really thought about them in any depth beyond an abstraction." Why these people then expect to create something that succeeds wildly and helps their "users," rather than something that is in their "users" way as often as not, is one of the great mysteries of technology and human nature.
The Ottawa Citizen's defense reporter David Pugliese reports that the US military is about to spend $100 million to upgrade the facilities at Kandahar, Afghanistan, in order to accommodate up to 26 aircraft for "Task Force ODIN" in Afghanistan. At first glance, this might seem like just another infrastructure play - unless one realizes that Task Force ODIN (Observe, Detect, Identify & Neutralize) may be the second-most underrated fusion of technology and operating tactics in America's counter-insurgency arsenal.
Task Force ODIN was created on orders of Gen. Richard A. Cody, the Army's outgoing vice chief of staff. Its initial goal involved better ways of finding IED land mines, a need triggered by the limited numbers of USAF Predator UAVs in Iraq, and consequent refusal of many Army requests. Despite its small size (about 25 aircraft and 250 personnel) and cobbled-together nature, Task Force ODIN became a huge success. Operating from Camp Speicher near Tikrit, it expanded its focus to become a full surveillance/ strike effort in Iraq - one that ground commanders came to see as more precise than conventional air strikes, and less likely to cause collateral damage that would create problems for them. From its inception in July 2007 to June 2008, the effort reportedly killed more than 3,000 adversaries, and led to the capture of almost 150 insurgent leaders.
With Secretary of Defense Gates paying particular attention to improving ISR capabilities, replication in Afghanistan was inevitable. The coming construction at Kandahar marks the beginning of that effort... but to really understand it, you need to understand what Task Force ODIN is.
Drawing from the Well of Wisdom: Task Force ODIN in Iraq
Task Force ODIN's success stems from a combination of 4 elements. The result is a surveillance/strike package whose elements contribute diverse strengths and cover for each others' weaknesses, achieving results that each element could not achieve on its own:
The first element is inexpensive, modern-day "Bird Dog" type propeller planes like the Cessna Caravan 208B, C-12R "Horned Owl" King Air ISR aircraft, etc. Advanced surveillance and targeting turrets, hyperspectral sensors, and ground-looking radars like General Atomics' APY-8 Lynx, are integrated with these aircraft, which have higher carrying capacities than most UAVs. Manned aircraft also have much wider fields of view than UAVs, and allow pilots to use other senses like hearing.
The second element is UAVs like the Army's RQ-5 Hunters, RQ-7 Shadows, MQ-1C Sky Warriors, et. al. At the high end, these drones are actually more expensive than their companion manned aircraft. Smaller UAVs do offer cost advantages, but all UAVs have the problem of "looking through a soda straw," which makes them better suited to more focused surveillance of marked areas or key infrastructure like roads, power lines, etc. UAVs' biggest advantages are twofold: longer time-on-station for persistent surveillance, and the ability to carry precision weapons like Viper Strike, Hellfire missiles, and perhaps even GPS-guided 81mm mortar bombs that would allow the Army to arm its Shadow UAVs as well.
The third element is math. Its role is highly under-rated, but new and improved algorithms have made both UAVs and manned "bird dogs" more useful, by offering better analysis of what's in their scans. A new technology called "Constant Hawk," for instance, can identify changes in an area, based on multiple scans sing hyperspectral or other sensors. One obvious thing to look for is the signature of disturbed earth or new pavement, which may indicate a new land mine.
Better targeting and attention is the scarcest resource in counter-insurgency operations. Nothing can substitute for human intelligence sources on the ground, but better technologies can mitigate harm by seeing threats in advance - and if their cues are timely enough, they can help begin the capture and interrogation of low-level operatives. This may seem like wasted effort, but with a proper approach, those captures allow investigators to begin working their way up the chain successfully.
The last element is close co-ordination with Army ground elements, including special forces, and army aviation elements like the AH-64 Apache attack and OH-58D Kiowa Warrior scout helicopters. The AH-64's 30mm cannon has received significant use, as a weapon that offers exceptional accuracy, usefulness as an inducement to surrender rather than just being a simple shoot/kill weapon, and almost no collateral damage beyond the identified target's immediate area.
That integration is also a kind of fifth element, beyond the individual resources it calls. Dispensing with the need for special personnel embedded with ground units, long pre-request and decision times for air surveillance, or additional layers of approval up and down both Army and Air Force commands, is another major contributor to Task Force ODIN's success. Minutes matter during the kinds of operations Task Force ODIN carries out. These lower integration requirements both expand the number and type of forces that can both call on ODIN's assets, and expand the forces that can and will be called on in response to the task force's efforts. See "The New Army Air Corps" and its comments for more background in that area, and some of the wider implications of the USAF's expiring monopoly control over combat airpower..
The end result has been success, and now replication.
In the valleys of the blind, the one-eyed king is the man.
Canadian defense reporter David Pugliese, who I happen to respect, is talking about a recent phenomenon in Pakistan. The Taliban and al-Qaeda are going around executing several people in each village, claiming that these individuals have been snitching out their positions and meetings in Pakistan, to trigger Predator UAV strikes.
As a friend put it to me a while ago, "unfortunately, not all of the people killed as American spies, actually aren't." Al-Qaeda probably has little idea, unless the ISI intelligence service is running cell phone intercepts for them (which is possible) - but it doesn't matter. Pick a few of the locals who don't seem happy enough about your presence and conduct, and kill them. Some may in fact be making cell phone calls to the Americans. Even if no-one is, however, the message is clear. And even semi-blind lashing out can end up doing a fair bit of damage to America's intelligence networks in this area. It has before.
This sort of conduct by al-Qaeda builds up a certain amount of desire for revenge, of course, but that will only break into the open if you lose control. With a base of informants and sympathizers in many tribes along Pakistan's frontier, and a very substantial manpower advantage of levies from these tribes, they can probably get away with it for now. Even if pushed, the tribes will remain divided. A united tribe might revolt on its own, though even there, the prospect of strong outside help matters - as it did Iraq's Anbar Awakening. A divided tribe will not revolt, unless confronted by an entrenched enemy that has also penetrated the tribal structure, and can wait for an event that offends the tribe as a whole.
That preparation may exist in some parts of Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda and their Taliban allies can be expected to export this tactic in the near future.
Just back indoors and sitting talking about what we all just saw. I'm in this weird kind of place; this year has been a year of lots of reading about American history and the Founding - and one event that figures over and over again is the powerful one of the transfer of power between political enemies. All I could think of watching the grim face of President Bush on the Jumbotron (we were close but too far to the side to see more than the edge of the actual balcony where the ceremony took place) was that we were watching one of those turnings of the wheel.
And that - even more I think than Obama's ascension today - moved me. Because it's such a central a part of the greatness of the country that I love so much.
Obama looked weighed down - he didn't have the bounce to his step - and his speech while excellent wasn't the inspiration I hoped for. I don't think that people will be citing this speech a decade from now. I wish it had been better - when I get some time, I'll comment in more depth.
And when I get to my own computer, I'll upload some pictures, including one of Bush flying past the trees in Marine One.
But one thing that struck me was the enthusiasm of the crowds - from the full planes flying into DC Sunday to the people we walked with across Capitol Hill into the mobs, to the crowd that stretched as far back on the Mall as I could see from the base of the Capitol.
And a huge back of the hand to whoever was responsible for organizing the growds; there was none and what we had instead were color-coded mobs.
I'm not sure why anyone on WoC would give a hoot, but just thought I'd mention that my high school equestrian unit will be marching in the inaugural parade. They have something of a long history in inaugurals, and I rode with the unit for LBJ's inaugural in 1965. I met and talked with the cadets and equestriennes who are in this parade Sunday night, and they're pretty excited. A college friend has a son in the unit who is a squad leader. They'll be toward the end of the parade (which is where they usually put the horses, for obvious reasons) in Group 6, just behind the Merchant Marine Marching Band.
Glad I'm not riding. Brrrr...
My take on the inaugural address is that Obama is on the verge of being seduced by the Great Republic. He made a number of obligatory references to left-oriented talking points, particularly regarding ecology and "global warming" (which I sure wish would hurry up, given how brutally cold it is at the moment in the northeast) but I think there's a chance that we'll pursue pretty much the same strategy, under a different label. A lot of Democrats are convinced that we're about to abandon Iraq, with very good reason, but essentially all they mean by that is that we'll leave the bulk of the fighting to Iraqis, and that's what one would expect. The notion that we'll abandon the "neocon strategy" of promoting liberal democracy behind the threat of a rather capable military seems something of a pipe dream. There really isn't any alternative to that strategy, so it'll just be re-labeled and re-marketed. That's basically what happened when Eisenhower took over the "containment strategy" established by Truman. There just aren't that many ways to skin the cat.
In the wake of Russia's invasion of Georgia, and Germany's quasi-support for that move, STRATFOR's founder penned "The German Question." It's pretty fundamental, if you want to understand the limits of NATO in the modern world - a subject that's very important if the new administration decides to rely on NATO as a bulwark. STRATFOR:
"Germany does not favor NATO expansion. More than that, the Germans at least implicitly told the Russians that they have a free hand in the former Soviet Union as far as Germany is concerned - an assertion that cost Berlin nothing, since the Russians do enjoy a free hand there. But even more critically, Merkel signaled to the Russians and the West that Germany does not intend to be trapped between Western ambitions and Russian power this time. It does not want to recreate the situation of the two world wars or the Cold War, so Berlin will stay close to France economically and also will accommodate the Russians.
The Germans will thus block NATO’s ambitions, something that represents a dramatic shift in the Western alliance. This shift in fact has been unfolding for quite a while, but it took the Russo-Georgian war to reveal the change.
NATO has no real military power to project to the east, and none can be created without a major German effort, which is not forthcoming...."
Now pair his analysis with observations like the fact that Germany's defense spending is fluctuating around 1% of GDP, and that it has seriously downsized its military and sold off the bulk of its equipment. Europe's unwillingness to defend itself on so many levels is certainly an issue, but STRATFOR points out that there a much larger strategic issue at play in a key country. This issue helps to explain why NATO's eastward expansion has been so slow and difficult, and could not have extended farther east. It also leaves many of the alliance's eastern members is a situation reminiscent of the 1930s - dependent on guarantees that are now worth very little. They have not yet adjusted their fiscal realities to this fact. Time will tell whether they will.
Congressional Quarterly's Jeff Stein would have had a much stronger article if he hadn;t tried to make an unfavorable comparison between the CIA's approach to collection and analysis, and that of journalists. Truth is, both do a pretty questionable overall job, and it's pretty much for the same reasons. But this bit from "Obama Faces Gaping Holes in U.S. Intelligence" was interesting, and may be eye-opening to some:
bq.. "So," I asked a former intelligence agency head over seafood this week, "if I'm President Obama, and I call Leon Panetta into the Oval office and ask him to tell me how Hamas leaders are holding up under the Israeli assault, will he be able to tell me?"
The former official shook his head, nearly blushing.
No. "That's not the kind of information" they focus on.
"Well, what do they focus on?" I asked."
p. Good question. You'd think that sort of thing might be very relevant. The Israelis, who are coordinating their military activities with Shin Bet (FBI equivalent) and enjoying much better success as a result, certainly do. Improved use of armor also helps, and upgrading their approach to the information war helps even more. Hope people in the USA are learning from both of those intel/information steps forward.
This bit on an attempt to use open source methods and approaches in the CIA was also very interesting:
bq. "After much resistance, CIA and DNI finally did set up an Open Source Center with analysts, some of whom don't even have security clearances, working from unclassified material. And they've proved to be very good, some experts say, giving the spy agency a fresh view on developments ranging from Iran to North Korea. The final verdict is far from in, but one well informed former official said that on at least one subject he was familiar with, the regular CIA analysts "couldn't hold a candle" to the Open Source Center's product."
Anyone who had read Dan Darling's material here at Winds, before he started to do those sorts of things as a job for various employers, would not be surprised by that outcome. At all.
I'm intrigued by an Israeli think tank called The Reut Institute, which seems to be a bit ahead of the game in trying to reconfigure the think tank model for the current age. Their focus on real-time systemic strategic analysis actually comes through in their analysis and in their presentation, and there's an interesting potential tie to open-source approaches to collection and analysis down the road.
Gidi Grinstein talks about how the Reut Institute evolved from his experience with the ECF, into an idea:
"Initially, I was responsible for coordinating projects of economic cooperation among Israel, the Palestinians and Jordan. Later, in November 1996, I began to coordinate a project, which aimed to prepare the portfolios for negotiations on a Permanent Status Agreement between Israel and the PLO.... My work in the Bureau of the Prime Minister exposed me to the reality of Israel's decision-making capacities at the highest levels. I saw how meager the tools are at the disposal of those taking historic decisions, the absence of a culture of rigorous analysis of the strategic alternatives and the lack of methodology."
Welcome to pretty much any government, anywhere. From an idea, it became an organization, but only after noticing and then looking to redress a common problem set:
"During this first incarnation, Project Reut attempted to create Israel's most responsive 'think tank'. Modeled after other similar organizations, we recruited dozens of senior experts, generals and professors and organized them in working groups with the mission of offering real-time strategic decision-support interventions.
But ultimately I realized that this model fell short of delivering the output and real-time impact I desired. Many of the experts, who had many parallel commitments, were unavailable when we needed them. Furthermore, ego issues of seniority repeatedly got in the way of convening them.
But, most strikingly, I saw that many of them were no longer willing to 'roll up their sleeves' and get down to the work of creating new knowledge. They would come, offer their perspective - which included both diagnosis and prognosis - and leave. There was no capacity to go into depth, to synthesize or translate knowledge into 'action items'.
A different problem had been the tension between my commitment to a non-partisan and non-advocacy approach, on the one hand, and ECF's mobilization behind the Geneva Initiative, on the other hand. I believed that an enterprise like Project Reut, which came to help frame relevant strategies and assess their merits in an unbiased manner, could not exist in an organization that took strong advocacy positions.
Hence, at the end of 2003, I had to go back to the drawing board."
The resulting approach is interesting. And for an entity like Winds, thought provoking.
Ah, yes, the benefits of cooperation with the rulers of other countries, in order to ensure "stability" rather than those risky adventures. Asia Times:
"In line with a compliance list recently handed over by US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia and Central Asia Richard Boucher, Pakistan was was due on Thursday to launch a crackdown against the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) and other jihadi organizations.
But the operation, which was to be coordinated by the Ministry of Interior, police and the Intelligence Bureau, was halted at the 11th hour by the Pakistani military establishment, well-placed contacts in Pakistan's intelligence quarters have told Asia Times Online.
And instead, powerful National Security Advisor retired Major General Mahmood Durrani was fired.... Durrani has been a crucial link between the US, the government of Pakistan and the Pakistan military...."
Seems that diplomacy, "stability," and law-enforcement as a preferred approach isn't always so stable after all - and it seems that there may not be much law to enforce in some places. Ball in the new administration's court... and in India's.
No question who deserves today's award. Chesley B. Sullenburger III, the pilot who safely landed his crippled Airbus A320 in the Hudson River, and saved all 150 of his passengers and crew after a double bird strike.
Sullenburger has flown for US Airways since 1980, after flying F-4 Phantom II fighter jets with the US Air Force during the 1970s. He owns a safety consulting firm, has served on a board that investigates aircraft accidents, and participated in several National Transportation Safety Board investigations. Experience obviously counts. Now, he has national media attention, a large Facebook fan group, and about 150 life-long friends.
Is he a hero? That's a good question...
The word gets thrown around a lot lately, and I'm not sure that it is, or should be, a simple synonym for "people we admire," as used in the well-known Schoolhouse Rock tune "My Hero, Zero."
Mr. Sullenburger certainly held up very well, and performed very skillfully, in a dangerous situation. If those are hero qualifications, he qualifies. Some of the examples David Blue gave in his article about the "primal heroic response" in each of us would fit that characterization. So I'll definitely agree that Chesley B. Sullenburger III had that response. Which is, in and of itself, a noble thing.
But is he a hero? And what does it mean to say so?
I ask because the way in which we define heroes is no casual thing. It is connected to our understanding of excellence, but adds a unique spiritual dimension. Which is why few questions are as meaningful as whom a culture, a person, a group recognizes as a hero.
The media can never be expected to parse it. They'll just use the word, and probably cheapen it along the way. But it's worth thinking about for ourselves. What are your standards?
Is just saving people enough? I don't think so. The guy who made sure municipal sewers were installed in a town will save many from disease, but unless he put his carer at risk to do it, no hero status.
If "hero" involves knowingly entering a dangerous or risky situation for others' sake, it would no longer be a proper term to us in this situation. Mr. Sullenburger was in a life-or-death situation, but he did not choose to step between the situation and those threatened. Nor could he. He was simply part of that same situation, and waiting it out or avoiding commitment were never options, so there was no real choice. It was just a situation in which all participating, including himself, would survive or not depending on how he did at the controls.
He still gets mad props. He still has mad skillz. Can't take those away. But hero?
If "hero" can also involve serving as a figure who plays a key role in helping others achieve a great quest or noble hopes, and braves hardships and risks to do so, the field becomes more diverse. Key role, noble goal, risks and hardships. Which gives us people like Dr. Mordecai Haffkine, the "Holy Scientist" who found a serum for cholera and tested it on himself. Hero. Apollo 11's astronauts chose to brave great danger to walk on the moon, as other Apollo flights sadly demonstrated. Martin Luther King meets the test; Malcolm X fails for having an ignoble goal. On a lesser note, Curt "bloody sock" Schilling put a generations-long record of city-sapping sports futility to rest, by pitching through pain and injury. Not on the same plane as Mordecai Haffkine or Neil Armstrong, but a lesser hero. Other examples abound.
But the risk Sullenburger braved was the risk of any participant in a forced, unexpected situation. Survival was at stake, but is that in itself heroic? If a car swerves toward us while I'm driving and you're the passenger, and I "brake and avoid" successfully, am I a hero? Or just a cool, skillful customer, who happened to save your neck as well as mine when the unexpected happened? Is that what Chesley B. Sullenburger III is? Or is he something more?
Would Lance Armstrong still be a hero if he hadn't had to battle cancer first? Or just a great athlete? Are they the same thing? Is Michael Jordan a hero? Michael Phelps? Why do you think so - or why not?
What is a hero, anyway? What does it mean to be a hero in your eyes?
Then I think of Stanislav Petrov, the Soviet Lieutenant-Colonel who saved the world by refusing to implement the very procedures he had written. He put his entire country at risk and sacrificed his career, but avoided an unnecessary nuclear war. Was he just a guy like Sullenberger who saw the situation, knew that he and those around him could die or live, and used his brain and skills to come through? Or was there something more, since he did have a choice to take the coward's way out, do it by the book, and hope for the best - and he paid for not doing that.
Is there a critical distinction between Sullenburger and Petrov? If so, what? If not, are they both still heroes, or not? Why?
"If one saves a living soul, it is as if he had saved the world entire." Is everyone who has ever saved a life a hero? If animals are living souls, is every vegetarian a hero? How far does it go? And where's the threshold?
I admire Chesley B. Sullenburger III. He deserves a "Balls of Steel" award from everyone in the country, and from the sounds of things, he's a great pilot.
But is he a hero?
In the end, I keep coming back to choice. For heroism to be meaningful, I think it:
Three out of four isn't shabby at all. Three out of four, in pursuit of a noble goal, is deserving of honor and respect for excellence. But three out of four does not a hero make. Not for me.
How about you? What characterizes your heroes?
Back in 2006, the Asia Times' "Spengler" wrote something that still rings true:
"Eulogies of this kind are becoming more frequent. Perhaps 90% of the world's languages will disappear during the next century.... Many beautiful things will disappear because poor people no longer will suffer to make them. One simply cannot find decent Mexican food in the United States, in part because traditional Mexican cuisine requires vast amounts of labor. Machine-made corn tortillas never will hold the savor of the hand-made article, but Mexicans migrate to the US precisely to escape a life of making tortillas by hand."
As for Mexican food in the United States, it may or may not be authentically Mexican, just as the Chinese food Americans eat is a very modified form of Chinese. What it will be, is... exported. Probably back to Mexico, too, just as Disney took Grimm's Fairy Tales, popularized them, and built Euro-Disney in France. This sort of thing can drive people outside of America slightly crazy, especially when it's their cuisine, stories, et. al. It drives them doubly crazy when the exported returnees proceed to outsell the originals.
But underneath the indignation, it's worth contemplating the moral point. What would be required, in order to preserve the originals? The answer is usually two-fold: far-reaching political control, and/or continued poverty. Which doesn't matter so much, I guess. As long as you're not the one that's poor.
I saw this the other day, and waited for it to get picked up and commented on. It wasn't, so I'll raise it here.
Today a cohort of progressive bloggers unveils a new effort against the planned 20,000-troop increase of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. A website called GetAfghanistanRight, set up by bloggers at the Seminal and Brave New Films - and with the support of Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel - went live today, with the intent of blogging about the morass in Afghanistan this week.
Its mission statement:We oppose military escalation in Afghanistan and support non-military solutions to the conflict.
This was probably inevitable, for two reasons.
First, the actual strategy employed in Afghanistan is rather murky - as Gen. Petraeus' remarks to the U.S. Institute of Peace on Thursday indicate - and, pending some strategy review from the Obama administration and U.S. Central Command, it's by no means clear why sending additional troops stands a greater chance of yielding success. For that matter: what is success in Afghanistan? The fact that there isn't an obvious answer is a sure indication of policy drift. This is something that isn't just a matter of concern for bloggers. Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Penn.) has been warning about the dangers of a military-only escalation, as has Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.).
I'm shocked, just shocked to discover that antiwar people are - you know - antiwar, no matter what. But that wasn't the most interesting part.
Second, for at least four years, there's been something of a dodge taken by liberals when discussing Afghanistan. To speak broadly, liberals have endlessly invoked the mantra that the real center of the war on terrorism is in Afghanistan, rather than in Iraq. But that's been a statement about Iraq, rather than Afghanistan. To put it a different way, liberals, I think it's fair to say, have discussed Afghanistan not on its own terms, but as a cudgel against the Iraq war. That's by no means monolithic. A bunch of progressives - the Democracy Arsenal crew, Matt Yglesias, I daresay myself - have written about Afghanistan (TWI sent me there last year) from that perspective of first-order-national security importance. But lots of us have been content to take the safe position of rallying to the more-popular cause of the Afghanistan war as a way of insulating ourselves to charges of excessive dovishness for opposing the Iraq war. Well, as he's said all along, Barack Obama will be calling that bluff.[emphasis added]
I don't have time to go search for cites, but pro-war bloggers (like me) have been making charges like this for quite some time. I think it's interesting to hear a progblogger like Ackerman acknowledge the claim.
It's a serious claim, for two reasons; first because if the anti-Iraq war commentariat has been lying about their positions - beefing up their hawkish credentials by talking tough on Afghanistan while pushing hard for folding our hand in Iraq - it's something they should be called on (note that Ackerman calls out people who he specifically insulates from that charge - himself, Yglesias, and the folks from Democracy Arsenal). Second, because it's kind of important that Obama not take or withhold military action in Afghanistan for domestic political purposes; I don't want our kids sent somewhere (or not sent somewhere) primarily to make domestic political points; it needs to be about achieving our foreign policy goals.
There's a fine, but important difference between the two - and it's one that I sincerely hope Obama keeps in the front of his mind. Let's keep an eye on that, OK?
Patrick McGoohan, dead at 80.
Israel is in one of the periodic periods of Hot War that it's long-simmering conflict with it's neighbors goes through. And the usual cast of thinkers are out in force, explaining why what Israel is doing is wrong, must be stopped, and - most important of all - why the US must withdraw our support from Israel.
I want to take a few moments and lay out some thoughts on why it is that we're right to support Israel, why it is that our support matters to us and to them, and why our visible support of Israel matters a lot to Israel's Arab neighbors, in the Palestinian proto-state and the surrounding countries.
The major reason to support the people and nation of Israel is because of the kind of people they are. Not the Jewish kind - but the kind of people who have elections and where power changes hands without people being thrown from the tops of buildings. That the Israelis are the kind of people who I believe have the capability to kill all of their enemies, but lack the desire to do so. I think at this point that this represents the truth: "If Israel chose to murder the Palestinians, they would be dead. If the Palestinians chose peace with Israel, there would be peace."
It does not mean that Israel holds no blame or responsibility - not at all. But the people who bitterly oppose Israel - who are products of a culture based in large part on opposing Israel, the West and everything they stand for - are my enemies as well.
But even as my enemies, I am unwilling to write them off.
And here's the problem. As I never tire of reminding people, the disparity in power between Israel and the Palestinian proto-states (and the entire Arab world) is immense, driven in large part by the cultural gap between the westernized Israelis and the balance of the Middle East.
I'm no expert, but I have to believe that the day Israel gets tired of this stalemate and simply starts playing by Hama rules, it will be a matter of days before there simply are no more Palestinian people.
And here's the problem - the same problem I've worried about since 2001. How do we prevent this from seeming like a good idea?
Well, the strongest way is for Israel to know that it's not alone.
And we're doing a worse and worse job of that.
As Western societies increasingly isolate themselves from Israel - as the EU states and the UK backpedal in the face of the one-two pressure from the academy and from the poor Muslin neighborhoods (which sits nicely with the native anti-Semitism of the elites there), one risk is that Israel feels less and less compelled to care about what those countries think, and so less and less restrained in its behavior.
And from the Israeli POV - reading about the government acquiescence in the UK, EU, Australia, Turkey and other countries to demonstrations calling for the elimination of Israel, for the death of the Jews - you have to ask at what point foreign opinion becomes irrelevant to their behavior.
They can't be autarkic - they are tied to the world economy, and still get billions from the US. So there is a clear limit on their disconnection.
But when the issue on the table is their survival - whether the Jewish inhabitants of Israel will have to flee for their lives in the face of the collapse of the state that defends them against people who have been (in part because of Israel's policies, to be sure) raised from birth to hate them and wish them dead - we on the outside need to be aware that Israeli behavior may become less and less constrained as Israelis feel more and more isolated.
Clinton's comments as a Presidential candidate - that she would respond to an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel with nuclear weapons - were designed to reassure Israel as much as win domestic votes. We need to keep reassuring Israel, not only because they are 'our kind of people' but in the interests of the Arab world as well.
Juan Cole (and others) continue to argue that we should massively withdraw our political, military, and financial support of Israel. You have to ask yourself who will be the ones to really suffer from a policy like that.
A Jacksonian does a fine job looking at all of the dinosaur extinction theories out there, drilling into their details and (in some cases) weaknesses. He also looks at why some species survived, including creatures like frogs that are often thought of as vulnerable.
Finally, he asks why the Yucatan asteroid theory went unnoticed and then unrecognized for as long as it did, when the evidence was staring people in the face for some time. If you're into science, or into dinosaurs, it's a good and interesting read.
During the cold war, NATO required reinforcements and supplies from North America, in order to survive a Soviet attack. That meant a second Battle of the Atlantic would have to be fought, in order to keep those sea lanes open. Which meant that Iceland was the hinge upon which all of NATO rested.
Iceland served as a key waypoint for underwater listening arrays, designed to pinpoint and broadcast the locations of Soviet subs as they sought to break out into the open Atlantic. Its air base at Keflavik was defended by American fighters, and would serve as the most important base and waystation for allied sub-hunting aircraft. Even as it operated as a key stopover point for tactical transports like the C-130 Hercules, and for reinforcing fighter jets flying their routes to Europe's front lines. Assuming, of course, that this strategic prize and ally could be defended from Soviet attack and invasion.
A couple of years ago, with the Soviet Union gone and no Battle of the Atlantic on the horizon, the USA left Keflavik AB and went home. In truth, there as little reason to stay. Iceland itself remains a NATO member, but has no standing army, no air force, and a coast guard rather than a navy. All was well, and even Russia's ambitious territorial claims in the arctic and sharp increase in patrols and incursions remained issues for others to deal with. Then along came the 2008 financial crisis, and the country hit real financial trouble. Iceland's President has criticized its Scandanavian neighbours, and the UK, for their lack of help. Russia, on the other hand.... Now Iceland is making noises about looking at new friends, and its President just invited Russia to use Keflavik. Even the Russians were stunned - but if I was Putin, I'd do a deal and base aircraft there for the psychological edge alone.
Another triumph for European diplomacy...
So we'll be flying to DC on Sunday, and flying out Thursday - me to Boston for a meeting, and TG home. We're staying in Virginia with some kind friends.
I just wanted to take this chance to offer a shoutout to the Secret Service folks checking me out online...and to see if any of you folks will be hanging in DC. We will have all day Weds free, once we wake up...
The appointment of Leon Panetta to head the CIA has certainly touched off a wave of head-scratching, second-guessing, and speculation.
Key Democrats on the Intelligence Committees like Feinstein and Rockefeller have protested openly at his lack of qualifications. One could go farther, and point to the facts that this is the guy who helped gut the CIA's human intelligence capabilities as Clinton's Budget Director, then ensured that the CIA had less access to the President than was the case for any administration in recent times when he was Chief of Staff, and finally seemed to define "torture" as "anything a terrorist doesn't enjoy" in more recent days. Former intel officer Ralph Peters does, in "An Awful Pick." Given those indicators, it's easy to see the appointment as a signal that President Obama is gutting US intelligence during an intelligence war, while openly politicizing it and cementing lethal political correctness as the norm for the CIA. The Moneyball theory of politics has to agree with that view, and CIA employees certainly seem unhappy. If this view is correct, Panetta's appointment certainly looks like living proof that all the things said by the Left and the Democratic Party about using improved intelligence instead of military action were lies, plain and simple.
Surprisingly, Panetta's appointment is getting support from people who might be expected to take the above view, including Michael Ledeen, Jack Kelly, et. al.
I'll explain their take - and also the problem. Because both views miss The Elephant in the Room.
The Sunnier Side?
People like Ledeen and Kelly are characterizing the appointment as risky, which is absolutely true if we get another major terrorist attack, but also as being very smart. Jack Kelly sums the view up:
"But as a skilled bureaucratic infighter whose loyalty will be to the president and not to the CIA, Mr. Panetta may be, thinks Michael Ledeen, just the right guy "to watch Obama's back at a place that's full of stilettos and a track record for attempted presidential assassination second to none."
This is meant in a political sense, rather than the grassy knoll sense, but remember it.
Kelly added the suggestion that the National Directorate of Intelligence, headed by retired Admiral and former Pacific Command head honcho Dennis Blair, is where the action is anyway. According to this view Blair seems competent, the CIA's main role has declined to analysis that's increasingly performed elsewhere and ground ops that are increasingly military, and so the CIA appointment doesn't really matter.
The Elephant in the Room
Really, it's not surprising that there are so many diverse opinions on this. When an action makes no obvious sense, people try to make sense of it based on their own preconceptions of how, perhaps, it ought to work or might be working. That inevitably reflects their own views, rather than the views of the person doing the deciding somewhere far away. In intelligence, the trait is called "mirroring," and is seen as dangerous from a quality-control point of view.
The CIA National Intelligence Estimate that said there were no missiles in Cuba, in 1962, because that wasn't what they would have done if there were the Russians, is perhaps the most infamous example of mirroring.
It's happening with analysis of this appointment - and the honest answer is that between Peters and Kelly, we have no idea who is right. But all of it, all of it, misses the real Elephant in the Room.
Here's the elephant, the one Panetta's appointment may be pointing at:
A national intelligence agency that has significant involvement in domestic politics is not compatible with the long term survival of a free republic. Period. In the end, one or the other must go. Will go. The only questions are which one, how, and when.
That's a sobering thought. But if Ledeen and Kelly are right about the reasoning behind President Obama's pick, that's about where we're at.
Barring a position as the sole source of effective physical security for the country, there is no countervailing benefit for a free society that justifies the continued existence of an intelligence agency fitting Ledeen's description. A watchdog that bites the kids will be put down. It might be forgiven once, but cannot, must not, be forgiven a second episode.
I'll say it again: if the CIA fits Ledeen's description, it must be put down. In a "disband, plough, and sow salt in the earth so the lesson is clear" kind of way.
Yes, the members of the CIA exist to protect the American people, who make up the state. "We, the people." That seems to go beyond the government, and the CIA deals with severe threats to those people that involve thousands of lives. I understand the impulse. But remember America's Oath of Allegiance:
"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands..."
To the Republic for which it stands. Because that's the continuation that matters most. Political idiots are always apt to blather on about threats to it, usually identified with the partisan hysteria of the day. But here we have a President who may believe that his #1 priority regarding the CIA is to defend himself against it. The fact that I don't like him doesn't matter. If he really thinks that, to the point where it determines his choice for Director, "the Republic for which it stands" is in trouble. Big trouble.
Predictably, not a single partisan voice that I'm aware of has picked up on that nuance.
Shoot, Cage, or Train?
There may be options here. First, one might argue that descriptions of the CIA as a domestic political player are wrong. I suspect that may be a hard row to hoe, but it's a possible argument and deserves a hearing.
Second, it might be possible to structure the process of intelligence better, in order to remove existing temptations to cross the line. For instance, there's a good discussion to be had re: whether dissenting views should have some sort of official mechanism they can use to put their case in the public arena alongside public official views, similar in concept to a court's minority opinion. This creates a clear line between reasonable dissent that can get one's views heard, and turning the skills and techniques used against belligerent foreign governments, against your own.
It may also have policy value. For instance, USMC Intelligence had a dissenting and much darker view on Pakistan a couple of years ago. The CIA disagreed, for reasons that didn't have much logic to them. And the USMC view has become pretty much the conventional wisdom in the last year or so. The trick is how to find a way to do this that doesn't force the majority view to reveal its intel hand to the public (and hence, one's enemies), in order to defend its viewpoint.
That's part of a "train the elephant" approach. Possibly in combination with what the Panetta appointment looks like, which is a 3rd approach of "cage the elephant." But cages don't hold forever, organizational patterns are persistent, there's still a job to do out in the real world - and some things simply may not, must not, be borne.
So I hope Obama, Blair, and Panetta work to create a safety valve that clarifies where the red line is, and train the elephant. Why? Because as incompetent as the CIA has been on many occasions, the work it is accomplishing matters.
We are in the middle of a war that is, in many respects, an intelligence war. I think Kelly is wrong on a couple of factual points, points which make the CIA more important.
For one thing, Its top source of information is not interrogations, it's foreign intelligence agencies. Which is why the lack of HUMINT (in English, spies) is so dangerous - how can you do any quality control on that information without it? Fortunately, the CIA's HUMINT field networks have received a lot of effort, and appear to have been improved considerably since 2001. Their officers are often found on the ground in foreign countries these days, in less pleasant conditions, instead of on Virginia tennis courts or in well-appointed embassies. The role they play cannot always be played equally well by a member of the military.
The CIA's analysis wing is still very questionable, vid. their poor performance predicting Pakistan, and Pakistan is also a HUMINT exception because the Taliban and al-Qaeda have executed most of the CIA's network in the last couple of years. The sole intelligence bright spots left in Pakistan ironically trace directly to the invasion of Iraq, but that's another discussion. There's a war beyond Pakistan, Pakistan itself has some efforts going on that may mater a great deal, and while I'm not happy with the CIA's performance, I think it's doing a better job than Jack Kelly believes. Which means that it matters more than he believes.
So, contra Kelly, disbanding the CIA, informing all staff above a certain level that they will receive pensions starting now but can never work for any federal agency ever again, taking bulldozers to the building in Langley, digging down 10 feet, laying a concrete pad, and integrating 40 foot tall concrete spikes into that pad to discourage future buildings on site before restoring the 10 feet of ground cover... would have a significant and negative impact on the war. And if we're being real with ourselves, that probably means dead Americans. Maybe thousands of them. We can't know.
And even so, the watchdog may have to be put down. Even so, the bulldozers and concrete may be justified. Or even necessary.
If this kind of relationship with the CIA is indeed real and becomes a pattern with future administrations, or if the red line is clarified and then crossed, my view will escalate to "definitely necessary."
"A republic," said Benjamin Franklin, "if you can keep it." Even if that keeping costs.
Your thoughts, gentle reader?
Steven Erlanger wrote a revealing article in the New York Times about the methods of urban warfare used by the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas in Gaza. He shows that Hamas is committing war crimes against both Israelis and Palestinians, and that Hamas knows better than most that Israelis take great care to avoid harming civilians despite propaganda saying otherwise.
“Unwilling to take Israel’s bait and come into the open,” he wrote, “Hamas militants are fighting in civilian clothes; even the police have been ordered to take off their uniforms.”
Hamas is in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions here, but that’s nothing new. Hamas never agreed to uphold the Conventions in the first place. Its raison d’être is the destruction of an entire country, after all. The laws and ethics of civilized warfare are anathema to groups like Hamas.
Nevertheless, everyone should be familiar with what the Geneva Conventions actually say. The Society of Professional Journalists provides a good summary explanation that most of my colleagues should know well by now:
The Geneva Conventions and supplementary protocols make a distinction between combatants and civilians. The two groups must be treated differently by the warring sides and, therefore, combatants must be clearly distinguishable from civilians… In order for the distinction between combatants and civilians to be clear, combatants must wear uniforms and carry their weapons openly during military operations and during preparation for them… Combatants who deliberately violate the rules about maintaining a clear separation between combatant and noncombatant groups and thus endanger the civilian population are no longer protected by the Geneva Convention.
These protocols have been carefully crafted by leaders of civilized nations and are not to be lightly dismissed. It may be convenient to blame the Israelis when civilians are killed by their air strikes in Gaza, but the Geneva Conventions clearly state that Hamas fighters endangered those civilians by disguising themselves.
Not only do Israelis have a harder time figuring out who is a target and who needs protection, we all have a harder time identifying those who have already been wounded and killed. Hamas says mostly civilians have been wounded and killed in the fighting in Gaza, but its fighters look just like everyone else. They can trot out the bodies of two dead terrorists in front of the cameras and say they’re civilians, thus easily fooling just about anyone. The number of civilian casualties, therefore, appears much higher than it really is. But even if that weren’t the case, far more civilians are being killed in this war because Hamas is fighting dirty.
Israelis, in the meantime, go far out of their way to avoid harming the civilians of Gaza. They have even developed weapons for precisely this purpose.
“A new Israeli weapon,” Erlanger writes, “is tailored to the Hamas tactic of asking civilians to stand on the roofs of buildings so Israeli pilots will not bomb. The Israelis are countering with a missile designed, paradoxically, not to explode. They aim the missiles at empty areas of the roofs to frighten residents into leaving the buildings, a tactic called ‘a knock on the roof’.”
If Israelis were targeting civilians, as Hamas and hysterical critics like to claim, it ought to go without saying that they would never have developed a “weapon” that scatters civilians away for their own protection.
Activists, professors, journalists, bloggers, and other uninformed individuals may believe Israelis kill civilians either negligently or on purpose, but even Hamas knows that’s a lie. Otherwise, Hamas would not ask “civilians to stand on the roofs of buildings so Israeli pilots will not bomb,” as Erlanger reports.
Hamas knows the truth but uses its lie as a weapon. And it works. Millions all over the world believe Israel massacres civilians in Gaza and that claims to the contrary from the military are disinformation and smokescreen.
Israelis, by contrast, don’t use human shields to deter Palestinian rocket attacks. The very idea is absurd. Hamas aims at civilians on purpose, as much as it can aim its crude rockets. A congregation of Israeli human shields would only make a bulls-eye at which Hamas could aim.
Rented the DVD yesterday, based on recommendations they'd been receiving from customers at the counter. Expected the standard slam-bang shoot 'em up. Got a thinking person's terrorism thriller instead, from a team that has apparently done its homework. A rare thing these days, vs. crap like "Syriana", and worth appreciating.
"Traitor" came out in summer 2008 without much promotion, and kind of sank in the quicksand. That's a shame, as it's pretty much tailor-made for Winds readers. I recommend picking up the DVD or stream next time you're looking for a movie rental.
Don Cheadle is the lead and he's excellent as the center of the movie. He had to be, as the script's midpoint is longer than usual and totally revolves around him. Said Taghmaoui shines, and Aussie/Englishman Guy Pearce does a very, very good southern baptist FBI agent. Wish that character had been developed a bit more than it was, but the movie has a lot of moving parts and that limits options. That complexity isn't integrated well enough to make it a "10" in my book, but I definitely give it a solid "8."
NOTE: Some plot spoilers in the comments.
We aren't up for one this year (we didn't deserve one, but watch out for us next year!), and I'll be commenting tomorrow on some of my choices.
But the Battle Royal right now is between Michael Totten and Juan Cole for best Middle East and Africa Blog. It's not just that Michael posts here, that he and I are on a page ideologically; or that that he's a great, generous guy. It's not just that he actually goes out and puts his eyes on what he writes about and offers original reporting, rather than recycled 1950's international politics.
It's that he's an honorable guy, who plays straight in his writing and life. Cole, on the other hand - famous for 'disappearing' his mistakes (scroll to the bottom) on his blog, famous for whining about how MEMRI was lawyer-lettering him - only to have been outed as someone who had done the same thing to Martin Kaplan.
There are first-rate minds who live in second-rate people, and we excuse their behavior because of what they add to our store of knowledge, art, thought, or beauty. Note that I'm not saying I think Cole is a first-rate mind (I'm doubtful - but I haven't read his real scholarship); just that I try and separate the thinking from the living. In Cole's case, though, the living is problematic enough that I'd really hate to see the guy rewarded.
Plus, he's massively wrong on Israel, on the role of 'colonialism' in modern international relations, and on pretty much everything he writes about US politics.
So go on over and vote early and often (you can vote every 24 hours).
My ex-wife's nephew - my ex-nephew? Antoine Pierlot was an irritatingly charming little French kid when I last saw him.
He's now a handsome, talented French kid who made the finals in the Telerama magazine "Victories of Classical Music 2009."
They have videos online, and you can vote - for him, if you think he deserves it (I did, although I was impressed by the bass as well). You can go to this url to vote, and also to listen to/ watch the contestants.
Note that you'll have to give your first name, last name, and email, and the two checkboxes at the bottom of the page are acceptance of the TOS and an opt-in for all kinds of interesting French spam.
A recent development has profound implications for the balance of power between America's armed services, and ties into a growing trend.
The trend is the growing use of Army UAV drones and precision artillery/ rockets, in order to perform close air support and battlefield interdiction roles that were once the domain of the US Air Force. Don't fighter planes and bombers still work? Of course they do. But they cost $8,000 - $20,000 per flight hour to operate, plus $80 million - $1+ billion to replace once their airframe runs out of safe flight hours (usually at 8,000 -10,000 hours). Those dynamics, and the need for constant battlefield coverage, have led to an explosion in UAV flight hours.
Problem: Large UAVs like the MQ-1 Predator are a lot less expensive than fighter jets, but they're still a few million dollars apiece. Small UAVs like the RQ-7 Shadow are cheaper and there are more of them, but they have been too small to arm.
Which seems too bad - because if they could, it would change so many things...
It's too bad they couldn't pick something really light, like a 10-pound 81mm mortar shell, and attack a cheap precision guidance kit to it. That would turn common Shadow UAVs into something that could call in GPS-guided Excalibur artillery shells from up to 25 miles away, GPS-guided M30 GMLRS rockets from up to 40 miles away - or just drop a weapon itself to take out a vehicle, machine gun nest, or other target that's found by the drone or called in by the battalion's front-line troops.
Actually, that process is now underway. Trent Telenko explains the impact:
"Each US Army battalion level tactical operations center is now going to own its own 24/7 precision guided weapon armed air force.
Welcome to the era of federalized airpower.
Airpower that is incapable by design of being used and directed by a centralized theater air commander.Airpower that is organic to ground units and provides close air support and reconnaissance with in its capability to the local ground commander without clearance through six to seven layers and two services worth of military command and control to get the job done."
That was done in World War 2, where "grasshopper" planes provided very useful targeting information for their units' artillery et. al. It was dangerous work, but effective. And now it's coming back. Nobody has to write condolence letters to a robot's family.
The key problem to solve is "deconfliction" - milspeak for "please don't have your 6 foot long drone blindly fly into my helicopter or cargo plane, and kill everyone on board."
That issue needs to be addressed anyway, in order to allow UAVs in civilian air space. Which is beginning to happen for some larger drones on a limited basis. Many government departments in the USA, Europe, and other countries want to see civil UAV usage become common, with smaller and more affordable drones in use beside their larger multi-million dollar cousins.
So, it will happen. Once it does, Small and cheap airpower already in use + Adaptation of an existing weapon + Automatic deconfliction = a change in the way the US Army fights.
Nor are these the only trends pushing the military toward more, and more autonomous, robots on their battlefields. As the Brookings Institution's P.W. Singer explains at length in his new book, "Wired for War." The trends we're seeing will only intensify.
The USAF will fight these trends, hard, and try to preserve its monopoly on combat airpower. Just like any central corporate department, they tout the benefits of "efficiency." IT departments certainly did so, when personal computers began to tread on their mainframe computers. All calculated in a way that totally ignores the opportunity cost of not providing key services. Services that others need to get their jobs done, and can provide on their own if allowed to do so.
The USAF tried to take control of all UAVs back in 2005 and 2007, using the same kind of "efficiency" arguments. They failed. I now believe the USAF will lose the larger fight for control of all combat airpower - and that they should lose the fight. Their loss will be America's gain.
I've often said that my wish for journalism would be for all areas to display the same level of writing and subject expertise we get from sports writers. Mitch "Tuesdays With Morrie" Albom grew up as a sportswriter, and
he's he could have been a pretty good advert for the profession (see comments). Still....
Love letters to Detroit aren't exactly common these days. Not when their NFL Lions have just wrapped up a perfect 0-16 season. Not when its industrial team appears to be gunning for a similar record. And did we mention the Mayor's [Dem.] recent indictment and resignation?
But Mitch Albom pens one. It has more than its share of heartbreak and failure, but also hope. And it deserves to be read, widely. Outside Detroit, as well as in:
"We are downtrodden, perhaps, but the most downtrodden optimists you will ever meet. We cling to our ways, no matter how provincial they seem on the coasts. We get excited about the Auto Show. We celebrate Sweetest Day. We eat Coney dogs all year and we cruise classic cars down Woodward Avenue every August and we bake punchki donuts the week before Lent. We don't talk about whether Detroit will be fixed but when Detroit will be fixed.
And we are modest. In truth, we battle an inferiority complex. We gave the world the automobile. Now the world wants to scold us for it. We gave the world Motown music. Motown moved its offices to L.A. When I arrived 24 years ago, to be a sports columnist at the Detroit Free Press, I discovered several letters waiting for me at the office. Mind you, I had not written a word. My hiring had been announced, that's all. But there were already letters. Handwritten. And they all said, in effect, "Welcome to Detroit. We know you won't stay long, because nobody good stays for long, but we hope you like it while you're here."
Nobody good stays for long.
We hope you like it while you're here.
How could you not stay in a city like that?"
Read it all. And read the comments below, too. I wish I could believe 100% in every word Albom wrote here. It would have made the piece so much better.
We argue about the policy stuff, because it matters. Detroit's current condition is a direct result of a long history of bad policy choices, in government/ union sectors, and in industry. Poor policy produces poverty. No doubt about it.
Beyond that policy debate, among our fellow citizens, there is also a human domain. Bad choices often live there, too, but so do things like hope, spirit, and the daily virtues that are needed to sustain a city, a country, a civilization. We should never forget it.
Sky News discusses Britain's use of its powerful ballistic missile warning radars to track satellites. Why? Because it issues alerts to its troops when commercial satellites will be over operational areas, on the assumption that they can/will be used as a form of sophisticated hostile surveillance.
Joshua Foust of the Columbia Journalism Review looks at Matt Yglesias' American Prospect article about Somalia, which argues that (a) the country's current state is the fault of George W. Bush's "ignored adventure"; and essentially (b) that the USA should have backed the Islamic Courts.
Foust has the wit to describe the first pillar of Yglesias' argument as "laughably false," but it's this point that I really want to draw attention to, because it's a much more important larger truth:
"Indeed, any realistic take on the problems facing Somalia must consider more than just the American perspective. Somalia plays host to Islamists and at least one known al Qaeda terrorist. Somalia is the homebase of a massive and lucrative piracy in the Gulf of Aden. Somalia does not have a functioning central government, and probably won’t for a long time. But none of this is America’s fault - and examining the country only in terms America seems to care about will badly miss the point."
Check out the Indian Government's dossier and timeline on the Mumbai attacks.
This is what was given to the government of Pakistan for their followup and reaction.
Guest post by Marcus Vitruvius
This is a response to Armed Liberal's and Nortius Maximus' questions of where do we go from here, in the Iraq 2009 discussion.
Where we go from here depends on a lot of factors, the most important of which is, "What are we trying to achieve?" I'd say, provisionally, that what we're trying to achieve is the elimination of Islamic terror, without other loss of national power and influence. (Ideally, while increasing it.) That's a tall order. Frankly, to phrase it as the elimination of a tactic from a group makes it completely impossible without eliminating the group, so let's scale that back to a goal of greatly diminishing the prospects of Islamic terror.
One of the central debates of this goal has been whether the reduction of Islamic terror is a military matter or a police matter, and the unsatisfying but correct answer is, "Neither and both." Once terrorists are on our soil, it is (typically) a matter for our police forces. While terrorists are on friendly soil, it is (typically) a matter for the police forces of the friendly nation, even if those police forces are their military. While terrorists are on unfriendly soil, unfriendly police forces may even be complicit, and the task becomes one of delicately convincing that unfriendly nation that it is in their best interest to realign their policies with our, which may require military violence, or the threat of it. Finally, while terrorists are on uncontrolled soil, the task becomes one of building a trustworthy local police force, which may require military force to combat terrorists while more military force is helping strengthen those local police forces. Direct military conflict with terror forces would seem never to be the desired goal, but still seems likely to be necessary in the future.
This is why I have thought for years that this goal, the reduction of Islamic terror, is best prosecuted as the reformation of certain societies. I think of terror reduction as a non-local police matter, requiring that the police forces in the area be strong and opposed to terror, and the society in which those police are based to have a reasonably peaceful outlook.
So much for goals and abstracts. Looking across the board, I see two strategic targets: Iran, and Pakistan. They are certainly not the only strategic targets, but I think they are the most important ones: Iran, because it is a thoroughly vile regime that funds operations across the Middle East; and Pakistan because in its weakness, it allows for al-Qaida and related groups to stage operations into Afghanistan, Kashmir, and India.
Of those, I think Iran is probably more manageable over the short term (five to ten years.) Iran and its terror operations are a grand system, as it any national grand strategy; any strategy to oppose it should look at the elements of the system, and act in a way which maximizes disharmony between the elements of the system.
One large and important piece of the Iranian system is oil money; when the price of oil was high, at unsustainable levels of $150/barrel, the Iranians looked (and must certainly have felt) very strong indeed. With coffers overflowing, they could fund operations elsewhere with impunity, and even play games like threaten to take oil off the dollar standard. With oil prices fluctuating in the $35 to $50/barrel range, that is no longer the case. One thing we should certainly do is act to keep the price of oil as low as possible, for as long as possible. I don't think that will be a problem in the short term of a year or two-- OPEC production threats have been met with giggles by the consumer community, because we are all in recession, at the same time. My gut hunch is that in three to six months, prices will deflate further once the Chinese economy fully digests the impact of a United States and a Europe with less use for Chinese imports.
Now, in similar situations in the past, Saudi Arabia has been convinced to stab OPEC members in the back by refusing to implement meaningful cuts. I have read convincing analyses that their motive here was not altruism to the West, but very long term profit motives, with the idea of damaging other oil exporting countries economies and picking up market share in the long term. It seems at least plausible that the Saudis could be enticed to play this game again.
But, at the same time, Iraq is finally stable enough to think about serious oil exports. Six months ago, Iraq opened six oil fields and two natural gas fields for development. On December 31, they offered up nine more oil fields and two more gas fields. There are something like 45 billion barrels of reserves in those fields, with a projected rate of over three million barrels per day. Even taking those numbers with a grain of salt, half that amount of oil coming on line over the next five years should continue to depress oil prices. Therefore, what we should do specifically in Iraq, about oil, are these things:
1) Continue to act as security guarantor in Iraq for as long as needed. McCain's notion of a Korean-model was not wrong. Physical security in Iraq is essential to continuing oil development
2) Grab as many of those fields as possible, and develop them as cheaply as possible.
3) Try as much as possible to get other Western countries in on the other oil fields to develop them as cheaply as possible.
Those second two points are essential because Western models of oil extraction are extremely efficient in comparison to others. The range of technologies is part of this, as is Western style budgeting and planning. We must get the Iraqi government used to doing these things in a Western style fashion, because it just works better. It might bleed over to the rest of the nation as well.
(Incidentally, low oil and gas prices have harmful effects on the economies of two other governments we don't like: Russia, and Venezuela. To keep the pressure on Russia, as well, we should be accelerating the revival of Libyan oil and gas fields as well, and encouraging Libya to integrate its gas fields with Europe via undersea Mediterranean pipelines.)
Another large and important piece of the Iranian system is its numerous proxies and clients, especially Hezbollah, Hamas, and Syria. It is possible that they are playing games in Afghanistan, too, although I haven't read anything that makes me think that in particular; it is just a motif, and they certainly have the geographic proximity to do so. Part of what makes the proxy problem so difficult to fight is that, when Iran has oil money, it is fairly easy for them to regenerate their proxies, and more so when they have Syrian help. However, if the oil strategy outlined above works, then the regenerative strategies of Hamas and Hezbollah are significantly reduced. Therefore, if oil prices can be kept low for a few years, I would let Israel have a re-match with Hezbollah. I would practically encourage it, and give them whatever technical assistance they need in the gambit.
One certain way to make this easier would be to secure Syria's assistance, which I think is not as far fetched as it seems. Syria and Israel had been making noises about a peace treaty for a large part of last year, and if it is possible for Egypt and Jordan to make peace with Israel, it is certainly possible for Syria to do so. The nominal peace treaty could be achieved in exchange for the Heights, while the deeper matter of flipping Syria out of Iran's orbit and helping dismantle Hezbollah might be achieved in exchange for significant influence over Lebanon. This sounds like a demonic deal. It is. But the Lebanese have not been masters of their fate for a very, very long time anyway. It might be worth it, although I'd prefer to see it happen without promising Syria anything.
A third and final important part of the Iranian system is their demographics. Iran is young, poor, and ethnically and religiously diverse in its traditions, more so than is widely recognized. That the population is young is not really in dispute; it's a matter of demographic record. That it is poor is not obvious, until one realizes how much the Iranian government spends on subsidies to keep its people happy. That it is diverse is not apparent until one realizes that it contains large Kurdish, Baluchi, Arab, Azeri, Turkmen populations and more, and also has a good Sunni minority. Demographically, this is not a stable country, which is partly why it is repressive in the first place, and why they spend so much money. So at roughly the same time that Israel should be encouraged to degrade Hezbollah, and the Saudis and Iraqis are being encouraged to degrade oil prices, the Iraqis and the United States should be doing everything in our power to encourage those groups to assert themselves, with the ultimate goal being a crumbling of the Iranian government and its reformation into something more human.
This strategy is not without its flaws. Any number of players here might simply not play. Or, the Iranian government might not crumble, but shatter, leaving the entire stretch from Iraq to India as mountainous, ungoverned crap. And certainly Iran will be very angry and reacting to this with force of its own, through proxies. But it is a strategy, and it's a little more sophisticated than, "Go home, and hope for the best." This at least has the virtue of turning the Iranian system inside out, causing them to need more money than ever at a time when less is available.
The second strategic target is Pakistan, and the militants (and al-Qaida) within them. Here, the militants have become very adept at using the existing system of India, Afghanistan and Pakistan against us. Clearly, the militants have something of a safe haven in Pakistan, both politically and geographically-- it is nasty, nasty terrain. Pakistan military support is necessary just to keep the militants from striking into Afghanistan, but every time that support gets too meaningful, the militants can play the India card. Meaning, launch a devastating terror attack on India; India is forced to rattle sabers toward Pakistan; Pakistan is forced to move its military from the Afghan border to the Indian border; the militants have far less pressure on them and can continue their efforts into Afghanistan. All of this is exacerbated by the nature of Pakistan's ISI lending tacit support to the militants, Pakistan's overall highly fragile nature, and their status as main corridor into Afghanistan.
This is a Gordian Knot of a problem. I can identify any number of elements of that system which could change and result in a huge advantage for our operations. The problem is, none of them seem particularly likely to happen. India is not going to give up Kashmir. India is not going to stop threatening Pakistan when militants attack it. Pakistan is not going to magically defang its intelligence service and play nice. I don't know how to change our system.
Pakistan's militants are very, very good at never facing pressure from all angles at once. If we cannot change our system, it is tempting simply to let the strategy be, "Force their system under pressure from all sides at once." After some time with Petraeus shaping the political and military ground in Afghanistan, team up with the Indian intelligence forces and declare open season on recalcitrant ISI members and encourage them to launch operations across Pakistan's border to destroy known terror camps.
There are two problems: First, that's harder than it sounds. The strikes would have to be effectively simultaneous. Second, Pakistan could fall, with the attendant problems of nukes getting loose and the loss of our transport corridor into Afghanistan, crippling our operation. They could achieve the second part even without a collapse, by simply denying us transport rights.
I think that leaves us with three alternatives:
1) Make a plan to route around Pakistan, squeeze the Pakistani militant system, and see what happens. Frightening.
2) Work actively with the Pakistani government to help them clean out their military and intelligence services. This would be painfully slow, and who knows if the Pakistani government would even cooperate?
3) Pursue options against Iran, and use Iran as the alternate transport corridor into Afghanistan... then pursue plan 1 above.
Sequencing is important here: Pursuing options against Iran while working with the Pakistani government is certainly an option. Under the best possible circumstances, we would be left with multiple corridors into Afghanistan and a potentially more useful Pakistani government to be used when the time comes.
But admittedly, this second section has been a large amount of words and letters amounting to, "There are no good short term options in Pakistan."
There's a massive amount of crazy talk about 'proportionality' right now, centering on criticism of Israel for their bombardment and invasion of Gaza.
I instinctively was quizzical when the issues was first raised, and want to take a few moments to talk it through and suggest why I think it's an absurd notion - as it is frequently misused in the blogs and newspapers. International law seems pretty clear on it (and shockingly reasonable).
Proportionality also came up during the Iraq war when the issue of Iraqi dead vs. US dead in the 9/11 attacks was raised.
Okay, Mr. Bush...NOW are we even for 9/11? Or whatever reason you went into Iraq?
And somehow it felt very Old Testament to me; kind of well, you killed my brother, raped my sister, and stole 50 sheep. So I'll kill your brother, rape your sister, and steal 50 sheep and we'll call it even.
And as I read the commentators talking about Israel and Gaza - here's Dennis Kucinich:
[The Israeli attacks] do, however, "increase the possibility of an outbreak or escalation of conflict," because they are a vastly disproportionate response to the provocation, and because the Palestinian population is suffering from those military attacks in numbers far exceeding Israeli losses in life and property.
So, in essence, Israel is allowed to kill as many Palestinians as Palestine kills Israelis. With all due respect to Cong. Kucinich, that's nuts.
Look, if someone attacks my wife and I with a knife, and she's armed with a shotgun - she's not obligated to put the shotgun down and go get a knife. A threshold of deadly force allows me to use whatever force is necessary and available to stop the threat (i.e. if she could have stopped the threat with a Taser, but didn't have one, she's not a bad person).
Actual international law is clear in saying pretty much the same thing.
When international legal experts use the term "disproportionate use of force," they have a very precise meaning in mind. As the President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Rosalyn Higgins, has noted, proportionality "cannot be in relation to any specific prior injury - it has to be in relation to the overall legitimate objective of ending the aggression." In other words, if a state, like Israel, is facing aggression, then proportionality addresses whether force was specifically used by Israel to bring an end to the armed attack against it. By implication, force becomes excessive if it is employed for another purpose, like causing unnecessary harm to civilians. The pivotal factor determining whether force is excessive is the intent of the military commander. In particular, one has to assess what was the commander’s intent regarding collateral civilian damage.
So we have three questions to ask when judging this: Is it in response to a deadly threat? Yes, even though folks like Glenn Greenwald seem to think that letting Hamas kill a few Israeli citizens a month is kind of a Jizyah. Is it specifically intended to end the threat while taking reasonable steps to minimize civilian casualties? Yes, again. And is it likely to end the threat? Here we move into more treacherous ground.
Because in reality, the support for Hamas, and Hamas-like positions in Gaza is deep and wide, based both in Hamas' demonstrated willingness to brutally kill anyone who doesn't support their positions and in the generation-long indoctrination of Palestinian youth that we've funded and permitted to happen.
So can Israel accomplish anything with this attack? Because if not, morally, it is certainly questionable.
Marc Lynch raises these questions in a post at his home at the excellent new Foreign Policy blog. (My goal for Winds, by the way, is to be a single-A or double-A farm team for sites like FP)
I spent the morning at a lecture organized by GWU's outstanding Homeland Security Policy Institute's Ambassador's Roundtable Series featuring Israel's Ambassador to the United States Sallai Meridor. It was a profoundly dismaying experience. Because if Ambassador Meridor is taken at his word, then Israel has no strategy in Gaza.
On the other hand, there's this fascinating post over at Kings of War:
Following a link of a KOW reader teegeegeepea I ended up on his rather interesting blog Entitled to an Opinion where he has posted a fascinating presentation by an Israeli intelligence scholar-practitioner Isaac Ben-Israel Fighting New Terror–Theory and Israeli Experience. I think it’s a better guide to Israeli strategy in Gaza than anything else that I’ve seen lately. The gist of it is this:
In general, the underlying idea is: each system has its own critical point. If I know where it is, I hit this point and destroy the whole system. If I do not know this, I will have to go on hitting different components of the system until I accidentally hit the critical point. The more components I damage, even without hitting the critical point, the closer is the moment when the system disintegrates.
And there is a certain connection between "q" - which is the percentage of component interconnection - and "Q" which describes the probability of the whole system collapse.
In reality, my own belief is close to this. That the intention is to degrade Hamas effectiveness - military and other - by hitting as many high-value nodes as possible.
What effect will that have? I'll argue, simply, that the belief is that given time it is likely that Hamas will collapse. And so the issue becomes kicking the can far enough down the road to see if Hamas will simply collapse.
I'm not sure that's probable - possible, certainly.
And so we have a hard question of moral calculus , whether this kind of limited action with the toll it will take (of Palestinians as well as of Israeli soldiers) is worth the marginal improvement in conditions and the possibility Hamas will collapse down the road. It's not a simple question.
And asking it is something that Israel has to do, because - to go back to my homely analogy - the fact that my wife has a shotgun in a confrontation with a man with a knife, even if he is clearly the aggressor and in the wrong, places a especial obligation on her to do everything reasonably in her power to keep from having to shoot him.
It takes a lot to make a tech firm drop my jaw. Apple has a lot of tech that I like, but it takes more than that. The last thing they did that dropped my jaw was iPhone 2.0... and the App Store, which was the real punch.
iLife's Garage Band, which let musicians digitally edit their music now has some new features. Like music lessons - see the guitar (for instance), see the chording, while seeing the notes and watching a video of the instructor. That's step one. Now your software's potential audience just got a lot bigger. On to step 2. Don't just have a guitar lesson. Have Sting teach you how to play a stripped down version of "Roxanne" (or the full version, if he chooses). Or have Sarah McLachlan teach you to play "Angel" on the piano. Not to mention features like having the artist explain the story behind the song. All in Garage Band 09, of course.
That's when the bell tolled.
These are the sorts of things that I could see being part of high-end CD/DVDs on a regular basis. Or just downloaded from iTunes, for $4.99 per song lesson etc. A huge business model that never existed before just opened up for artists - and Apple. Damn, but they really are brilliant.
Calculated Risk notes that The Fed thinks we're in for a long haul. It now projects GDP to decline in 2009 "as a whole," and unemployment to "rise significantly into 2010". The Fed also expects disinflationary pressures to continue into 2010.
Meanwhile, interesting comments here about a "balance sheet recession," which would not respond in the same way as more conventional recessions - and could be longer than 2 years if we make the wrong moves.
KT Cat adds that there's a cultural dimension, and that rings true in a "winter is coming" sort of way.
Also known as “Barn Funnel Weavers”, “Sink Spiders” and “Those Monster Hairy Spiders That Run Like The Wind”. The Backyard Arthropod Project has more.
The good news: they'll keep your house clear of pests, and it's also apparently hard to make them bite you, even if you try. Readers in the know can earn extra spouse credits with that bit of info, just take a quick look first and make sure it doesn't have 2 really big eyes (wolf spider - use a jar) or 6 eyes/3 eye pairs (brown recluse possible if you're east of the Rockies, danger).
Two things I found most interesting: (1) Tegenaria domestica are supposed to live in houses, and don't do well outside; and (2) The author's speculation that they may be speciating and evolving.
I’m not entirely sure how objective I am about the following observations concerning the banality of evil or the utility of user forums, but I’m frankly less concerned about objectivity than complacency. That’s why I’m posting this long discombobulated draft, rather than just tipping another glass. To get to the point, some recent events have suggested that I may be taking much for granted when I assume that logic and rationality are either obvious or compelling to others. I’ve recently noticed what I take to be a significant degradation in the quality of a vital technical resource that I have been taking for granted: “user groups.” Over the years I’ve placed heavy reliance on these technical user groups to give me clues about how to maintain various equipment and software, from bicycles to automobiles and operating systems. But in the past year or two I’ve begun to notice that they’ve become significantly “dumber” than I thought they ought to be. At least that’s the way it seems. And I’m pretty sure that the perception isn’t a result of the fact that I’m becoming smarter, though that would be attractive.
Let me expand a bit. I purchased a mobile phone recently, and had a number of problems. No big deal, but as usual I turned to user groups to provide some answers and insights. I was rather astonished to find that not only were my questions usually left unanswered for days, or weeks, but that there were often a large number of similar queries that also had been ignored... for months or years in some cases. For instance, there are a lot of people wondering how one can determine the model of phone one possesses, so that one would know what kinds of features to expect, either before or after purchase. Whether a model allows memory expansion is important technical information, but the ability to discover which model you own is something I figured a user group would find “elementary.” Well, pardon my naivete’. There were almost no coherent answers to such simple questions. For example, one of the more coherent responses was “Which model does it look like?” My assumption that there must be some objective procedure to identify model, and that this would be a rather simple matter for user groups, was misguided. It turned out that not only are most users ignorant about how to determine what model they own, but there aren’t enough knowledgeable users to inform the ignorant. I found this situation sufficiently “odd” that it required some sort of theory. I have several, including the possibility that people are just tired of providing expertise for which they aren’t compensated, or the possibility that systems have become so complex that most users no longer understand them. But those are just theories.
To take another example, I’ve had a number of significant problems with equipment more costly than a mobile phone. My MacBook recently started shutting down. I’d be typing away on some project and would suddenly get a dialog box asking me if I really wanted the system shut down? Well, I obviously had expressed no such desire, but unless I could click “cancel” within the blink of an eye the system would just drop dead as a doornail. No recovery, and apparently the system didn’t even know that it had shut down. Everything was just... gone. No memory, like a nightmarish version of Momento. In fact, it happened while I was typing this description a few minutes ago, and I had to restart everything from memory. So I’m saving everything I type from now on, obsessively. If I type a semicolon, I save it.
I figured the place to go for some insight about this problem might be the Mac user discussion forum, maintained by the manufacturer. So I went there and as a first approximation conducted a search to see if someone had already discussed the problem. Apparently MacBooks have been shutting down unexpectedly for awhile, but Apple claimed to have resolved the problem by issuing a firmware update. The problem was, my firmware is up to date... so I wondered if anyone had discussed the problem more extensively. Strangely, the threads related to the problem didn’t have much discussion, and no answers other than the firmware thing, so I started my own thread... and waited for a response... and waited... and waited... and waited... which struck me as odd, at least relative to my past experience of user groups. As a general rule they’re very prompt and helpful, even when they don’t have immediate answers.
So I expressed a little consternation about the lack of response to my query, and the absence of depth in previous discussions of similar problems. Shortly thereafter some user suggested that perhaps no one had responded because no one had any ideas about how to solve my problem, which I allowed was unfortunately the case. But my prior experience of user groups suggested that a specialized “solution” wasn’t necessarily a bar to analysis. So why the lack of response?
It’s irritating to have a computer system that one relies upon just go blank without any warning, but it’s even worse when no one in the user group expresses the slightest interest in such behavior. After awhile I drafted what I thought was a fairly literate post about how the user forum wasn’t much help to me, although I admitted that I didn’t really have any explanations for the reticence. But apparently the user group found my suggestion that they hadn’t been enormously helpful so offensive that my post was deleted as a “non-technical rant.” I began to suspect that there might have been other “non-technical rants” on the topic that had just disappeared into the vapors. But I wasn’t really ranting. I just found the inadequacy of responses odd. On the other hand, the unwillingness to even allow such inadequacies to be discussed was a little more... troubling. I could understand how there might be a lot of questions short of answers in such a system.
The experience suggested that there might be a conflict of “values,” that places “feelings” above logic and coherence. Now, this was a really radical theory, and perhaps it’s based on a rather unjustified generalization, but I’m just reporting my own experience here. Maybe my experience is idiosyncratic, but it seems to me that user groups like the Mac discussion group could have became “Marcusean free speech zones,” and that the suppression of any uncomfortable observations might be creating knowledge gaps. Have the values taught in our universities for the past 40 years or so, since Lipset and Ladd’s epic studies for the Carnegie Foundation in the 1970s, and documented by watchdog groups like FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights and Freedom, begun to impact the “nuts and bolts” of the the society? Might we be in danger of losing the ability to reliably find the thread size for a bolt, if the quest offends someone?
Mark Bauerlein wrote a book recently that goes to the heart of this unwillingness to tolerate offense, with the profoundly challenging title: The Dumbest Generation. He suggests that the “digital age” is making young Americans stupid, by placing social considerations above values of logic and coherence. The subtitle of Bauerline’s book is: “How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30).” This is not a new debate, but it may be reaching an unprecedented level of urgency. Mortimer Adler suggested in an essay entitled “This Postwar Generation” (referencing the generation born after World War I) that knowledge is, itself, a virtue... and that Bertrand Russell’s ridicule of such a virtue, in defense of a sentimental preference, was indefensible. Russell’s response was so incoherent, even in his own ears, that he simply took his seat...
The quality of information is becoming subordinate to the intent associated with its expression. For instance, there’s a notion being propagated in universities that gender parity in the sciences is more important than science itself. Such sentiments suggest that information content is not merely becoming subordinate to intent... it’s in the process of replacing coherence with intent.
Again, I realize this is a radical indictment. But it’s profoundly demoralizing to consider that significant swaths of the US population seem to think it’s fair to lob missiles into a civilian neighborhood in a neighboring country, and that it would be patently unfair for the country on the receiving end of the launches to use sufficient military force to ensure such an onslaught won’t be an ongoing “fact of life.” Even Harry Reid, bless him, seems to think this might be beyond the pale.
To be honest, I would prefer to think that the two realms are unrelated--that the quality of technical user forums is unrelated to the quality of political judgment, but I’m beginning to suspect that such optimism is a little unrealistic. It might be wishful thinking.
Now, for a slight time warp:
Almost 150 years ago my ancestors were living a troubled existence in northwestern Arkansas. Their neighbors apparently considered it tolerable that they be conscripted into the Confederate Army at the point of a gun, in order to defend the right of the Confederacy to institutionalize chattel slavery. In late 1862 two of four brothers in my family who’d been conscripted by force into Confederate units were seriously wounded in a battle against Union forces (probably at Prairie Grove), and were listed in company rolls as has having “died at home.” My grandfather always thought they had deserted and had been tracked down and killed by the conscriptors in reprisal for their unwillingness to serve the cause. However they were not listed on company rosters as deserters, so they may have simply been mortally wounded and sent home to die. (Perhaps someone knows whether Confederate units did such things routinely during this period, but it seems likely to me.) Around the same time several pubescent members of my family were also killed by marauders, so my grandfather’s conjecture may have had merit. At any rate, in late 1863 an assemblyman complained to the Governor of Arkansas, Isaac Murphy (a Confederate sympathizer), that these several counties in northwestern Arkansas (Washington and Sebastian) had been “virtually de-populated” in reprisal for their support of the Union. Shortly thereafter the third brother in my family deserted the 35th Arkansas Confederate Infantry, and re-enlisted in the Union 1st Arkansas. The fourth brother, my great great grandfather, deserted the 35th Arkansas and remained in hiding until the end of the war. At the time, his wife was pregnant with my great grandfather, which may be why he didn’t re-enlist for the Union. (She gave birth about two months later.)
Now, I’m aware that finding a connection between current events and the chaos of the Civil War in northwestern Arkansas 150 years ago is a slender thread. But again, I’m more worried about the consequences of not taking that relationship seriously, than of over-emphasis. One might have thought that the issue of slavery was rather straightforward. It certainly doesn’t seem controversial now, but apparently there were large swaths of the population who thought that one had a right to enslave another as a matter of state sovereignty; and that the defense of such a “principle” not only justified forced conscription but the execution of those who disagreed. The majority of my forebears, at least in that branch of the family, did not survive that “disagreement.” I like to think their objections were based on principle rather than sentiment, but they were certainly stumbling in a principled direction... and I sometimes wonder about the fate of Palestinians who might be stumbling toward a principled disagreement with Hamas and Hizbollah over the fate of Israel. How will their sentiments make their way into the public record, if their expression is considered heresy? What sort of world does this create?
So we just got tickets to the Inauguration (long story...).
And managed to get flights to DC, thanks to my ridiculous amount of travel over the last two years.
And now we need a place to stay. Hilton has a bunch of rooms at $2K/night...um, no.
So - anyone out there in DC a) want to host a blogger and his amazingly tolerant wife? or b) know of a reasonable place to stay in DC from Sunday - Thursday?
We're housebroken, disarmed (for this trip at least), great company and happy to buy you nice dinners or offer a reasonable stipend...drop me a note at armed-at-armedliberal-dot-com.
Pass it along...
Part of my time away from blogging was a real effort to mull over what I know and feel about Iraq, and to try and think though my own views - given the facts on the ground - about my own support for the war and my opinions on where it's brought us. this isn't meant as a tour d'horizon on what's going on there today - it's a reflection by someone who supported the war and is looking back and wondering about his own views.
Before the war started, I said that
If we are going to invade Iraq, we need to make two public and firm commitments:
1) We aren't in it for the oil. Not in the short run, anyway. A prosperous, stable Middle East would doubtless want to sell and exploit their natural resources. We'd want to buy them. Sounds like a deal could be made.
2)We're in this for the long haul. We don't get to "declare victory and go home" when the going gets tough, elections are near, or TV shows pictures of the inevitable suffering that war causes. The Marshall Plan is a bad example, because the Europe that had been devastated by war had the commercial and entrepreneurial culture that simply needed stuff and money to get restarted. And we're good with stuff and money. This is going to take more, and we're going to have to be willing to figure it out as we go.
The fecklessness - that Hamlet-like internal debate which clearly signaled our lack of commitment and strengthened the commitment of those we opposed - was our biggest mistake (and knowing we'd be feckless, it's a damn legitimate question to ask whether we should have gone). yeah, I know this is the Glenn Greenwald/Yglesias 'Green Lantern' theory, and when either of them rouses themselves from their Upper West Side torpor and does anything in the world, I'll be happy to discuss the issue with them. People who - you know - do stuff know that commitment matters.
The right-side is happy to stamp their feet, whistle, and point at the left side of the aisle on this, but you know what? It's Bush's fault, pure and simple.
Here's what I said in 2003:
Most wars have to be sold. Seldom is the perceived need for war strong enough overcome people's reluctance to fight until the enemy is at the gates...at which point it is often too late. Much of Thucydides is about the efforts of various Greek leaders to rally the reluctant city-states to support the Persian war.
This is damn hard to do in the modern era, because the ways wars are seen...unfiltered, raw, live on television, tends to focus our attention intently on the costs of war. Blood, carnage, pain, suffering, grief. That's good television. Good visual journalism shows the policeman executing the bound civilian-clad captive with a bullet to the head; it can't give the backstory where the captive was a captured enemy assassin who was executed in the middle of a running battle. I'm far from sure that the backstory justifies the brutal act...but it frames it into an understandable human context, without which it is simple brutality.
And it is especially hard to do in the context of the modern philosophical crisis, in which we in the West seem to almost yearn for our own destruction.
But Bush has failed to sell this war in three arenas.
He has failed to sell it (as well as it should have been) to the U.S. people. The reality of 9/11 has sold this war, and our atavistic desire for revenge is the engine that drives the support that Bush actually has.
He has failed to sell it diplomatically. Not that he could have ever gotten the support of France or Germany; as noted above, even with an AmEx receipt for the 9/11 plane tickets signed by Saddam himself, France would find a reason to defer this war. But he should never have let them get the moral high ground, which they have somehow managed to claim.
He has failed to sell it to our enemies, who do not believe today that we are serious about achieving our stated goals. This is, to me the most serious one, because the perception that we are not deadly serious is a perception that we are weak; and we will have to fight harder, not because we are too strong, but because we will be perceived as too weak.
We needed Churchill or Roosevelt. We got Warren Harding. I believe that Bush is a far better President than he is ranked today. But he could be a far better President than he is given credit for and still be too mediocre for the challenge of the times. Peggy Noonan nails it, in her great book 'Patriotic Grace':
Three facts of this era seem now to be key to the fraying of our national unity.
2002: the Republicans had it all-
One: In 2002, the Republicans had it all - the presidency, both houses of Congress, high approval ratings, a triumphant midterm election, early victory in Afghanistan. The administration had been had been daring and gutsy, but I think the string of victories left them with illusions about their powers. <snip>
Two: It was during 2002, when the administration was on top, when it had proved itself to itself - and it should be noted here that these were people who had been forced to flee the White House by foot on 9/11, that they'd been handed by history a terrible challenge, that they could not know, as human beings, that they would be able to meet it, and then seemed to themselves to be proving they were meeting it every day - that they should have been swept by a feeling of gratitude, and ascribed their triumphs not only to their own gifts and guts but to ... well, let's leave it at a phrase like "higher forces;' and the sacrifices of men and women in the field.
At that moment they should have reached out in an unprecedented way to the Democratic Party, included them in their counsels, created joint executive-congressional working groups that met often, shared the enjoyments of victory in Afghanistan, shared credit for it, thanked them for their support, been politically generous. This would have won for them - for the country - a world of good feeling, and helped the nation feel a greater peace with itself. Instead, in January 2002, barely four months after 9/11, Karl Rove went before an open meeting of the Republican National Committee, in Austin, Texas, and announced the GOP would use national security as a club against the Democrats. This marked the first deep tainting of the political atmosphere by a powerful figure, removing things from the patriotic level and putting them back down on the partisan.
Would the Democrats have been gracious in the same circumstance if they'd been in charge?
Oh my goodness, let's just agree the answer is, "Not all of them!" But that is not the right question. The right questions are: "What did America need after 9/11? What did the country need, a sense of good faith and unity at the top, or a weary knowledge that the old political warfare would once again commence?" Which, of course, it did. And never stopped, not to this day.
Three: The Democrats in Congress were, in general, unserious in their approach to the Iraq war, and not up to the era's demands. When the war was popular with the country they looked for ways to oppose it without political cost. But there's always cost. Thoughtful, tough, historically grounded opposition - and along with that, the need to answer the question "What exactly should we do rather than move on Saddam, what path should we take in the Mideast, and against terrorism; what is best now?" - would have taken a political toll; there was no way around it. When the war was less popular, and then unpopular, Democrats acted as if it were now, finally, a partisan issue that worked to their advantage. But it wasn't a partisan issue. America was on the line,
And then I step back and think; one book I reread over the holiday was McCullogh's Truman; and as I read the section on the Korean War, I realized that incompetence, ignorance, self-interest - the litany of the Flashman model of history to which I really subscribe - really do describe the way the world works.
So I'm not as bothered about the cascades of error, bad faith, and stupidity that are woven integrally into our history in Iraq as some. I think everything we do is like that, and to demand that it will be different - than any human enterprise will rise above our real nature - is to make the demand Portia makes of Shylock - that he recover the pound of flesh he is owed while spilling
...no jot of blood; The words expressly are 'a pound of flesh:'
Take then thy bond, take thou thy pound of flesh;
But, in the cutting it, if thou dost shed
One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods
Are, by the laws of Venice, confiscate
Unto the state of Venice.
Does that mean that I'm content with what has happened?
As I've said before, in terms of the strategic justification that I bought into - of shocking the state sponsors of terrorism against the West into closing down their pay windows - I think it was a failure. The Saudis, Iranians, Syrians, and Pakistanis have taken superficial steps to sweep their own front porches - but from everything I've read it continues to be largely business as usual. We've badly weakened Al-Quieda itself, by financially constricting it, killing or imprisoning much of its senior leadership, and most of all, by letting the Arab world see what psychopathic thugs they really are.
But the overall violent Islamist movement was not truly broken in Iraq.
Let me talk for a second about 'movements.' Because the reality is that we are not fighting Osama Bin Laden; it's not like a conflict with a nation-state where there is command-and-control downward. We are fighting a bazaar, as John Robb puts it - a marketplace in which people, ideology, training, cash and weapons are constantly being exchanged among a like-minded group of people. There is no "head" who can surrender, nor whose death will collapse the bazaar in one stroke.
The major thing we have to do to win is offer alternatives - ideological alternatives, lifestyle alternatives, a counter-ideology that diminishes the attractiveness of joining that marketplace. We've been a colossal failure at that for the last eight years, and that's one of the things I hope will change in the next four.
The secondary thing we have to do is to raise the transaction costs within the marketplace; we've done a decent job of that and continue to do so, and Bush deserves credit for that.
So it's time to step back and think about what Act Two will look like and what our plans, goals, and means will be.
But there's another point to consider before we do, and that is the Iraqi one.
While Iraq may well have been a strategic failure, it may well be developing into a tactical success.
If you mapped the political stability of Iraq against any other Middle Eastern state - excluding Israel - it's on a par, while having - for one of the first times since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire - a real national politics.
The Iraqi people and Coalition soldiers paid a price in blood for that, and the full bill is not yet in. But to have created the opportunity for politics - rather than coup and countercoup, or changes in government that take place by throwing opposition figures off of buildings - is itself a damn good thing, and something that has happened far faster than I believed it would. Talking about Greg Djerejian of Belgravia Dispatch (someone whose entire blogging career filled me with admiration), I commented:
I've been amused at his attacks on the 'six monthers' - those who think the next six months will see all as well. But then again, I've always been more of a 'six yearer' myself. I do think, with some confidence, that the next six years will determine the outcome of this conflict.
This was in 2006; I still tend to think that we'll really be able to judge the soup that we made in Iraq around 2012. But I think it had advanced enough that even today we can say that it's pretty good soup, and that the lives of 28 million Iraqis are likely to be better for the war. Was it a good bet? Would I have supported it for that reason alone?
No, probably not. We can't spend blood and treasure freely everywhere there is injustice.
Will there be an 'ink spot' effect from Iraq, as other Arab people see what political life is like? Can the changes in Iraq be a part of the process of creating an alternative to Islamist politics? That, to me, is what the balance of our effort in Iraq needs to be about.
Glorious things happened in Iraq; the bravery of the people of Iraq, of their own soldiers, the bravery and charity of our own soldiers.
Horrible things as well, some of them done by us.
Whoever wants to engage in politics at all, and especially in politics as a vocation, has to realize these ethical paradoxes. He must know that he is responsible for what may become of himself under the impact of these paradoxes. I repeat, he lets himself in for the diabolic forces lurking in all violence. The great virtuosi of acosmic love of humanity and goodness, whether stemming from Nazareth or Assisi or from Indian royal castles, have not operated with the political means of violence. Their kingdom was 'not of this world' and yet they worked and sill work in this world. The figures of Platon Karatajev and the saints of Dostoievski still remain their most adequate reconstructions. He who seeks the salvation of the soul, of his own and of others, should not seek it along the avenue of politics, for the quite different tasks of politics can only be solved by violence. The genius or demon of politics lives in an inner tension with the god of love, as well as with the Christian God as expressed by the church. This tension can at any time lead to an irreconcilable conflict. Men knew this even in the times of church rule. Time and again the papal interdict was placed upon Florence and at the time it meant a far more robust power for men and their salvation of soul than (to speak with Fichte) the 'cool approbation' of the Kantian ethical judgment. The burghers, however, fought the church-state. And it is with reference to such situations that Machiavelli in a beautiful passage, if I am not mistaken, of the History of Florence, has one of his heroes praise those citizens who deemed the greatness of their native city higher than the salvation of their souls.
If one says 'the future of socialism' or 'international peace,' instead of native city or 'fatherland' (which at present may be a dubious value to some), then you face the problem as it stands now. Everything that is striven for through political action operating with violent means and following an ethic of responsibility endangers the 'salvation of the soul.' If, however, one chases after the ultimate good in a war of beliefs, following a pure ethic of absolute ends, then the goals may be damaged and discredited for generations, because responsibility for consequences is lacking, and two diabolic forces which enter the play remain unknown to the actor. These are inexorable and produce consequences for his action and even for his inner self, to which he must helplessly submit, unless he perceives them. The sentence: 'The devil is old; grow old to understand him!' does not refer to age in terms of chronological years. I have never permitted myself to lose out in a discussion through a reference to a date registered on a birth certificate; but the mere fact that someone is twenty years of age and that I am over fifty is no cause for me to think that this alone is an achievement before which I am overawed. Age is not decisive; what is decisive is the trained relentlessness in viewing the realities of life, and the ability to face such realities and to measure up to them inwardly.
And another great one from Atul Gawande's great book, Complications:
We look for medicine to be an orderly field of knowledge and procedure. But it is not. It is an imperfect science, an enterprise of constantly changing knowledge, uncertain information, fallible individuals, and at the same time lives on the line. There is science in what we do, yes, but also habit, intuition, and sometimes plain old guessing. The gap between what we know and what we aim for persists. And this gap complicates everything we do.
What I am saying, I think, is that to judge the war in Iraq or the decisions to support or oppose it against an unrealistic standard is a serious error, because in reality no human enterprise can be judged against that kind of standard. And looking back or going forward - most important of all, going forward - it's important that we acknowledge and embrace that uncertainty as a real part of what we have to deal with. It's my hope that the left, having hammered Bush over this, will be kinder to Obama. And that the right - who ought to be more attached to the notion of national interest - will be as well.
For myself, I'll leave off with an answer to a question John Quiggin posed in the comments to the post criticizing Yglesias:
Following up, would you like to specify an outcome in Iraq that you would regard as justifying the war. Taking what looks like a pretty optimistic scenario, suppose that the various Sunni, Shia and Kurd groups establish effective control over the areas that they occupy now, violence falls back to, say, 2005 levels, and US troops are mostly withdrawn by 2009. Would you regard such an outcome as proving Yglesias wrong?
I'll interpret this question as asking whether in the end, the costs of the war were worthwhile given that kind of outcome. I think I've covered this above, but let me try again and close by saying that the only justification I imagined for the war was to change the Arab states willingness to support Islamist movements abroad as an outlet for their state interests and as a way of blowing off the pressure built by internal oppression and discontent. I'm far from believing that we've accomplished this goal, and believe that the root of that failure lies in the Bush White House and their flat inability to conduct a real war of ideas or information.
I think we'll easily meet Quiggin's standards, and that the lives of Iraqis themselves will be far improved by the removal of Saddam - which may itself be worth the cost. And that it's important to remember that we were faced with a series of bad choices in 2000 and 2001 regarding Iraq as the sanctions regime collapsed under corruption.
The impact of what our war has created - a real political space within the Iraqi nation - remains to be seen. We have the option of making it a good, even great thing if we can sustain it and help it tip the other Middle Eastern states away from a one-dimensional choice between oppressive secular dictatorships and oppressive Islamist ones.
That's what I believe about Iraq today, and that's what I hope to discuss in the next year.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid went on Meet the Press Sunday and strongly supported Israel’s right to defend itself from the terrorist army in Gaza. “For eight years they’ve been firing rockets into Israel,” he said of Hamas, and went on to describe the dynamic as follows:
They’ve become more intense the last few months. Israelis have been killed, maimed and injured. Sometimes more than 200 a day coming into Israel. If this were going on in the United States from Vancouver, Canada, into Seattle, would we react? Course we do. We would have to…Israel, for–since 1967, controlled Gaza. They gave it to the Palestinians as a gesture of peace. And all they got are a bunch of rockets in return.
He is right, of course, that if the Canadian government were launching missiles at Seattle the U.S. would react, and with force. And we all know the U.S. would not wait eight years.
Reid’s comments are an important reminder of something most of us already know. The United States is more supportive of Israel’s existence and right to defend itself than any other country on earth. The conservative and supposedly pro-Israel President of France Nicolas Sarkozy condemned Israel’s response on the very first day, while the hyperpartisan left-wing American senator stridently defended Israel after more than a week of fierce fighting. Hatred of Israel consumes the mainstream political Right as well as the Left in Europe, while hatred of Israel in the United States is relegated only to part of the intellectual class and to the left-wing and right-wing lunatic fringes.
Not blogging has been interesting; on the good hand, I have more time - and TG has been really, reallyhappy about it. On the other I feel the fur building up in my brain as I relax and don't try and think about things, and worse, don't have my thinking challenged on all fronts. I have come to realize that I like blogging a lot most of all not because I get to write, but because I have to respond.
That goes to the core of what will happen with the new site. It's taken a little longer than it should have - the holidays, a change in vendors (evariste stepped in and bailed my a** out), and my own spread attention delayed it.
But it ought to be ready to launch at the end of this week, along with a work blog that I hope to keep up as well.
So let's talk about what will change.
First, and foremost, the ground rules will change. Commenting will require registration; the mix of writers may change. I'm hoping (a lot) that the tone will change.
We - like many blogs - got dragged into the "Bush sucks/no he doesn't/yes he does" that passed for political thinking for much of the last few years. It was tiresome when it started, and it's doubly tiresome now. Winds is not the place for that, and my profound hope for the next cycle of Winds is that we can avoid the "Obama sucks/no he doesn't" which will be going on through much of the blogs. Obama is President. Let's all deal with that, and try and figure out what real-world facts, issues, policies, and values we ought to be encouraging - I'm just not interested in wasting my hosting costs on "Impeach him!!" or "Convict Bush!!" There are lots and lots (and lots) of places to go have those discussions.
Winds will not be one of them.
What we will focus on are the changes in the world that will affect all of us - a kind of less dogmatic version of John Robb's 'Global Guerillas.' All the problems that were here in 2001 are still here. The question is whether we're better or worse off (and there's a valuable debate to have...) in dealing with them.
Bad things will happen in the next year. The economy is shaking (I'm changing jobs because my old one was eliminated), our politics are fragile and centrifugal when we need them to be robust and centripetal, and the clash of civilizations that the late Samuel Huntington predicted is still tectonic in scale.
Our soldiers - including my son - will be in harm's way, and risking their lives, well-being, and moral compass.
And what kind of polity will we become? And what can we do to make our polity stronger, and the world a better place?
Those are the kind of things I hope we'll debate, and debate vigorously. I'm not looking to limit who can write or comment here in the hopes that we can create a choir. I like it when people disagree with me, and when I have to sit back and think about whether I'm right based on a comment or another author's post. Remember, what this exercise is about for me is learning.
I hope to learn a lot from you in the coming year.
While much of the world engages in hand-wringing, placard-waving, teeth-gnashing, and rocket-launching over Israel’s “disproportionate” response to Hamas attacks from Gaza, it’s worth looking at what the doctrines of “proportionality” actually say.
Making the rounds is a two-year old quote from Lionel Beehner’s paper for the Council on Foreign Relations in which he summarizes the principle of proportionality as laid out by the 1907 Hague Conventions. “According to the doctrine, a state is legally allowed to unilaterally defend itself and right a wrong provided the response is proportional to the injury suffered. The response must also be immediate and necessary, refrain from targeting civilians, and require only enough force to reinstate the status quo ante.”
The precise wording of the doctrine can be found in Article 51, not Article 49 as Beehner writes, of the Draft Articles of the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts. “Countermeasures must be commensurate with the injury suffered, taking into account the gravity of the internationally wrongful act and the rights in question.”
This is vague and open to interpretation, as Beehner admits. And it’s further complicated by the fact that the doctrine was laid out at a time when war was fought between sovereign states with standing armies rather than asymmetrically between a sovereign state and a terrorist gang.
Proportion, as defined by Beehner and the Hague Conventions, is impossible between Israel and Hamas. The Israel Defense Forces are more professional, competent and technologically advanced than Hamas and will inflict greater damage as a matter of course. And Hamas’s war aim is entirely out of proportion to Israel’s. Israel wants to halt the incoming rocket fire, while Hamas seeks the destruction or evacuation of Israel.
Beehner’s proportionality doctrine is therefore unhelpful. Each side’s ends and means are disproportionate to the other. And nowhere in that doctrine are casualty figures or the intent of the warring parties factored in.
In any case, no war has ever been fought tit for tat, and the Hague Conventions doesn’t say any war should be. The American response to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor went well beyond sinking an equal number of ships in a Japanese harbor, for instance. And European Jews certainly were not entitled to execute six million German civilians after the Holocaust.
The proportionality doctrine spelled out here is really only useful up to a point. “It’s always a subjective test,” Beehner correctly quotes Vanderbilt University Professor Michael Newton as saying. “But if someone punches you in the nose, you don’t burn their house down.” That much most of us can agree on. Israel should not – and will not – implement a Dresden-style fire-bombing of Gaza City in response to Qassam and Grad rocket attacks.
So aside from the obvious, we’re wading into murky territory that could be debated forever. Another doctrine of proportionality, though, clearly applies to this war, and it’s found in the Law of Armed Conflict.
The Law of Armed Conflict “arises from a desire among civilized nations to prevent unnecessary suffering and destruction while not impeding the effective waging of war. A part of public international law, LOAC regulates the conduct of armed hostilities. It also aims to protect civilians, prisoners of war, the wounded, sick, and shipwrecked.”
Proportionality, in short and according to the law, “prohibits the use of any kind or degree of force that exceeds that needed to accomplish the military objective.”
In other words, if a surgical strike is all that is needed to take out a Grad rocket launcher, carpet bombing the entire city or even the neighborhood isn’t allowed.
Hamas is still firing rockets; therefore, the IDF is not using more force than necessary to disrupt the firing of rockets. Israel, arguably, is using less force than necessary. And the IDF, unlike Hamas, does what it can to minimize injury to civilians. “Militants often operate against Israel from civilian areas,” the Associated Press reported last week. “Late Saturday, thousands of Gazans received Arabic-language cell-phone messages from the Israeli military, urging them to leave homes where militants might have stashed weapons.” Israeli commanders are even warning individual Hamas leaders that their homes are on the target list so they can vacate the premises in advance.
There is no question -- none -- that Israel's attack on Hamas in Gaza is justified. No nation can tolerate a portion of its people living in the conditions of the London Blitz -- listening for sirens, sleeping in bomb shelters and separated from death only by the randomness of a Qassam missile's flight. And no group aspiring to nationhood, such as Hamas, can be exempt from the rules of sovereignty, morality and civilization, which, at the very least, forbid routine murder attempts against your neighbors.Correct on the first point, missed on the second. Yes, Israel's elimination of Hamas' rocket threat is justified. But, no, sorry - Hamas does not "aspire" to nationhood. Hamas is entirely uninterested in creating a nation out of Gaza or the West Bank and Gaza combined.
Mr. Gerson has apparently fallen into the fallacy that the rulers of the Palestinian people desire for the "peace process" to work just as its Western proponents envision. That is the "two state solution" for which the objective is a Jewish state of Israel and an independent Palestinian state of the West Bank and Gaza, with the Bank being, finally, free of Israeli presence and most (or all) of the Jewish settlements that have been built there over the years.
This is in fact exactly what the Olmert government and its immediate predecessors have sought since at least the last decade. It is exactly what then Prime Minister Ehud Barak agreed to under the sponsorship of the Bill Clinton administration. In July 2000 at Camp David, Barak agreed to literally 95 percent of the demands made by the president of the Palestinian Authority, Yasir Arafat. In response, Arafat walked out of the conference and went back to the West Bank.
No one who has ever exercised political authority among the Palestinians has ever committed to a two-state solution. Under Arafat, and continuing today, the future Palestinian state is envisioned entirely as extending across the whole of the West Bank, Gaza and all of Israel. Israel, as a Jewish state, governed by the Western traditions of democracy, must vanish from history and its land "returned" to the Arabs.This is the only sense in which Hamas aspires to anything resembling nationhood. Hamas has no desire whatsoever to make Gaza or the West Bank into a nation. Its very charter states plainly:
"Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it."It is important to understand that the elimination of Israel as an independent Jewish state is also the goal of Fatah, the largest faction of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), a confederation of anti-Israel groups brought together by Yasir Arafat in the 1960s. The present Palestinian Authority (PA) grew out of the PLO as a result of the Oslo Accords of 1993, which was yet another Western-sponsored attempt to move toward implementing the two-state solution. Fatah still thrives as a political and militia group in the West Bank. In fact, apart from Fatah there would be no Palestinian Authority.
"The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up. ""There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors."
The only difference between Hamas and Fatah/PA is one of tactics, not of objectives. Hamas is founded on violent jihad against Israel and in theory and practice has no use for conferencing or diplomacy. This is not conjecture; Hamas has stated it plainly. Hamas only strategy is warfare against Israel.
Fatah, on the other hand, is more willing to bide its time and use the so-called peace process to advance its goals. It is probably even willing to accept a two-state solution as a temporary measure from which to gain strength, influence and international legitimacy to advance the elimination of Jewish Israel and subsume it into a future, Muslim greater Palestine.
The civil war that Hamas and Fatah fought beginning in 2006, peaking in mid-2007, was not over differences in ultimate objectives, but over, mainly, who would rule the Palestinians and by what means their common objectives would be achieved.
The Fatah map, above, represents completely the goal of both Hamas and Fatah. That is the nationhood both factions aspire to. (Gerson's op-ed is very good, btw, read the whole thing.)
I have not posted here in quite awhile, but Michael Totten's piece on what an Israeli "proportional" response would look like prompted me to add my two cents.
Michael is quite right, of course, and the charges of disproportionality thrown at Israel are hurled with no evidence that the accusers have ever actually studied Just War theory, of which proportionality is one tenet.For example,
The top U.N. human rights official says Israel's military response to the firing of rockets at its territory by Palestinian militants is "disproportionate." U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says she is distressed at the enormous loss of life in Gaza and calls on Israel to prevent collective punishment and the targeting of civilians.I wrote on my own blog about what proportionality really means in Just War theory and why it does not mean tit-for-tat responses or responses limited in type, duration or nature to the attacks Hamas has launched against Israel. If it did mean that, then Israel would be justified simply to fire rockets back at Gaza with no regard of where they fell or whom they killed, and they'd have several thousand of such responses left to go. That is, after all, exactly what Hamas has done to Israel.
Under international law, Israel is not required to calibrate its use of force precisely according to the size and range of the weaponry used against it. Israel is not expected to make Kassam rockets and lob them back into Gaza. When international legal experts use the term "disproportionate use of force," they have a very precise meaning in mind. As the president of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Rosalyn Higgins, has noted, proportionality "cannot be in relation to any specific prior injury - it has to be in relation to the overall legitimate objective of ending the aggression."There is a difference in Just War theory between proportionality and discrimination. The latter means that a belligerent must identify enemy locations, personnel or facilities that are valid military-related targets and which are not. A command headquarters is valid. A schoolhouse is not. Yet a combatant does not gain immunity from attack of its headquarters by locating it inside a schoolhouse. The Geneva Conventions specifically forbid the militarization of protected facilities and also state that once they are militarized they are no longer protected.
That's discrimination - taking the necessary steps to minimize (not eliminate) noncombatant casualties. Proportionality means using the violence necessary to achieve the just end of the campaign, but not more violence than necessary. It does not mean trying to make a calculus of violence where Israel cannot use more than Hamas.As I pointed out in "Intentional Lethality," Israel's attacks are intended to do four main things:
1. Kill as many high-level Hamas figures as possible. 2. Reduce the ranks of Hamas rank and file by causing casualties among them.This is to say, Israel's objective is not simply to stop the rocket attacks for now, but permanently. Is that objective a just aim of its warfare against Hamas? Most certainly. Hence, Israel's obligation to the principle of proportionality is twofold: One, not to use more violence than necessary to achieve that end, but second - and this is critically overlooked by critics - to employ the level of violence necessary to attain the end. In other words, Just War theory says that if the aim of the war is just, then it is waging unjust war to stop short of attaining the just end or to fail to use the measures necessary to attain it.
3. Provide disincentives for Gazans' support of Hamas' control of their political future and hence,
4. Delegitimize Hamas' authority.
Israel aims to do two things, broadly: first, eliminate Hamas's present capability to launch its rockets by destroying its materiel and personnel and second, set conditions that hopefully eliminate the chances of the attacks being resumed later.Even some voices putatively supporting Israel's campaign don't grasp the nuances. Lionel Beehner, in The Huffington Post, writes,
A state is legally allowed to unilaterally defend itself and right a wrong provided the response is proportional to the injury suffered and is immediate, necessary, refrains from targeting civilians, and requires only enough force to reinstate the status quo ante. Also implied in this argument is the right of Israel to prevent Hamas from carrying out future cross-border attacks.Reinstate the status quo ante? Even Gen. William T. Sherman understood that the only rightful aim of war was to establish a more just peace. The status quo is what Israel found so intolerable that it went to war. How can just war be fought to maintain an unjust status quo? It cannot. Furthermore, if, as Mr. Beehner says, "implied in this argument is the right of Israel to prevent Hamas from carrying out future cross-border attack," how is that like the status quo ante, during which Hamas did carry out such attacks? Mr. Beehner in the end gamely tries to hold up the Left's criticism but trips up on his own contradictions. (In fact, he concludes by saying that Israel should have responded not at all to Hamas' rocket attacks!)
However, the vapidity of the disproportionality criticism can be seen by examining our own system of crime and punishment. Criminals are not sentenced to carefully calibrated punishments that exactly match the damage they caused in the crime. If someone steals your car, the judge doesn't merely make him forfeit his own car. The crook both goes to jail and must make restitution to you. A victim of an armed robbery may lose only a few dollars and suffer a bad fright, but the robber goes to prison for a mandatory seven years here in Tennessee. Finally, the "disproportionate" critics would have to agree, I presume, that a murderer's death sentence is just and proportionate to his crime - take a life, lose yours. But they won't, you betcha.
Also see The Reformed Pastor's thoughts about, "The Gospel of Proportionality."