Sunday, March 20, 2005

The New Belmont Club Site Is Up

It is sad to say goodbye to Blogger. The painfully slow response of the last weeks has gone and it seems its old sprightly self again. If things don't work out on the other site, there's always a home to come back to.

The Sitemeter was at 6,326,000 at the time of abandonment, which was a pretty good run.

The new Belmont Club site is at Alternatively, you can use this url: See you there!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Let the spinnin' wheel spin

The two stories were related somehow, the nomination of Paul D. Wolfowitz for presidency of the World Bank and news that after 20 years of investigation the Canadian investigation into the bombing of an Air India flight had come up dry. The question was how. Wolfowitz's nomination only makes sense if the primary cause of world underdevelopment is perceived as political failure rather than the mere lack of investment. Its narrative relationship to the Canadian acquittal of the Air India bombing suspects is one of contrast: the failure of the Crown prosecution to prove its case being cast in opposite terms; a lack of technique rather than political failure.

The really shocking thing about the Canadian decision was illustrating how two decades, $100 million in expenses and the best good will in the world could get no further than establishing there was a bomb aboard the plane the night it blew up. If the one air incident took that, what if, God forbid, some really serious terrorist action happened in Canada that required a rapid resolution? David Beatty's famous expression of disappointment at the underperformance of his squadron at Jutland captures the frustration perfectly. "There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today."

The same thought has probably occurred to anyhow who has watched the World Bank and other international development agencies flail their arms against the tide of poverty. After spending hundreds of billions of dollars in the best ways academia could conceive, five decades of development aid hasn't even established whether the effort was useful. 'Never in the face of human effort has so little been been accomplished by so much'.

But if insanity is expecting different results from the same actions then the asylum is larger than it seems. The development bureaucrats are outraged that Wolfowitz might try to do things differently. Columbia's Jeffrey Sachs reacted to Wolfowitz's appointment saying "we need someone with professional experience in helping people to escape from poverty. Mr Wolfowitz does not have that track record". Neither, he might have added, did anyone else. But that is nothing to the point.

The most damning charge against him was that he actually made something happen. "Wolfowitz's nomination aroused particular concerns in Europe because of his key role as an architect of the war in Iraq". Hence the danger is that he might do it again. Far more reassuring in these latter days if he had spent twenty years doing nothing at all. It has been long since Europe remembered what once it knew so well.

Thro' the shadow of the globe we sweep into the younger day;
Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.
-- Locksley Hall

Let the spinnin' wheel spin

The two stories were related somehow, the nomination of Paul D. Wolfowitz for presidency of the World Bank and news that after 20 years of investigation the Canadian investigation into the bombing of an Air India flight had come up dry. The question was how. Wolfowitz's nomination only makes sense if the primary cause of world underdevelopment is perceived as political failure rather than the mere lack of investment. Its narrative relationship to the Canadian acquittal of the Air India bombing suspects is one of contrast: the failure of the Crown prosecution to prove its case being cast in opposite terms; a lack of technique rather than political failure.

The really shocking thing about the Canadian decision was illustrating how two decades, $100 million in expenses and the best good will in the world could get no further than establishing there was a bomb aboard the plane the night it blew up. If the one air incident took that, what if, God forbid, some really serious terrorist action happened in Canada that required a rapid resolution? David Beatty's famous expression of disappointment at the underperformance of his squadron at Jutland captures the frustration perfectly. "There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today."

The same thought has probably occurred to anyhow who has watched the World Bank and other international development agencies flail their arms against the tide of poverty. After spending hundreds of billions of dollars in the best ways academia could conceive, five decades of development aid hasn't even established whether the effort was useful. 'Never in the face of human effort has so little been been accomplished by so much'.

But if insanity is expecting different results from the same actions then the asylum is larger than it seems. The development bureaucrats are outraged that Wolfowitz might try to do things differently. Columbia's Jeffrey Sachs reacted to Wolfowitz's appointment saying "we need someone with professional experience in helping people to escape from poverty. Mr Wolfowitz does not have that track record". Neither, he might have added, did anyone else. But that is nothing to the point.

The most damning charge against him was that he actually made something happen. "Wolfowitz's nomination aroused particular concerns in Europe because of his key role as an architect of the war in Iraq". Hence the danger is that he might do it again. Far more reassuring in these latter days if he had spent twenty years doing nothing at all. It has been long since Europe remembered what once it knew so well.

Thro' the shadow of the globe we sweep into the younger day;
Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.
-- Locksley Hall

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Reply to Comments

I'm can't reply to comments due to the extremely slow performance of Blogger, but the posting works a little better.

Baron Bodissey said...

The tactics the terrorists used -- the assault into the teargas, the fire and smoke, the locking up of the other prisoners -- were they something learned at jihad school, at the al-Qaeda camps, maybe? Or were they ad-hoc?

I don't know whether any of this is standard Jihadi doctrine. My guess is they're ad hoc. Philippine prisons are some of the weirdest places on earth. Greg Sheridan has an article in National Interest, the Jihad Archipelago, in which he makes these revealing remarks about the Philippines, the Abu Sayyaf and its principal ally, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The Philippines is the strangest nation in Southeast Asia and the one with the strongest  Islamic extremist movement. It is predominantly Catholic (though with strong mystical influences) and more American than anywhere else in the region. Hispanic in political culture, it is schizophrenic at many levels of national identity.

The MILF is a very strange beast ... State Department officials would like to list it as a terrorist  organization but don't because that would torpedo the peace process, such as  it is. ... MILF-controlled areas of the south provide both the training camps and  the vital rest and recreation hinterland for the region's Islamist  terrorists, especially JI operatives from Indonesia ... there is no doubt that they have  provided, and continue to provide, training camps for JI terrorists. This  allows JI to constantly replenish its stocks through new training programs ...

At the  same time, corrupt members of the Philippines armed forces have aided the  MILF. ...  The papers described in shocking detail the involvement of the Philippines  navy in dozens of incidents of seaborne smuggling of military and other  supplies to the MILF.  A smaller Islamist terrorist outfit, the Abu Sayyaf group, is ... much more overtly linked to Al-Qaeda, and among its leaders  are veterans of the Afghan war against the Soviet Union. The broader picture in the southern Philippines is of the failure of the  state. Substantial Philippines military operations, backed at times by  hundreds of U.S. troops in a so-called "advisory" role, have made little  progress against either Abu Sayyaf or the MILF. Until its military becomes  more effective, and numerous other arms of the state can deliver the  services and order they are supposed to, the prospect is for more of the  same. In many ways it is the most disturbing piece in the Southeast Asian  jigsaw.

All of which you would have guessed from reading bits and pieces of the Belmont Club but Greg Sheridan puts it together in a respectable and scholarly way. Philippines prisons are places where inmates devote nearly limitless ingenuity to devising mind-boggling schemes. It's a place where inmates implant plastic pellets in their Johnsons using razor blades, merthiolate and ignorance; it's a place where inmates have passed messages to each other using cockroaches tethered to thread; it's a place where people play a game of 'attract the fly' by betting on which coin a fly will choose to light upon in the toilets. It's a place where your life depends on your shiv and the guys you've chosen as your friends. Poetry has been written and forgotten within its walls. It is a place of closely held ritual, where by tradition all prisoners beat their cups against the bars when a man is led to the electric chair. It is as alien to the Philippine ruling elite as the surface of Mars.

I can imagine the Abu Sayyaf assaulting the police raiders in the teargas clouds, running with that peculiar comedic gait characteristic of people sprinting in flip-flops, lighting up the mattresses with a spluttering match possessed with the indomitable spirit of Bahala Na (I don't give a damn) and the cops shooting them down in the same part. One day, after the action has died down in the Middle East, popular culture may turn its attention to the Second Front against terror in Southeast Asia. Instead of the desert the images will be of small boats flitting among islets under a whitening moon and of strange chases in stinking cities between grotesques that would do justice to the Army of Darkness. Kipling would have been the writer of choice to capture the atmosphere, only he is seventy years dead.

At the Big House

Readers who are curious will find a detailed account of the assault on the Abu Sayyaf prisoner rioters here. The picture that emerges is that of a police unit (SAF) that has reached a respectable level of competence but may be a little rough at the edges.

plans had been drafted on how to assault the prison, outflank the superior firing positions of the gunmen and surprise them. Apparently to weaken the resolve of the enemy, SAF commander ordered all lights inside the jail compound turned off and the V-150 armored personnel carrier driven around the area. This was done every hour on the hour until daybreak yesterday. "We wanted them to stay awake and keep them guessing whether we would attack or not," said the SAF official.

Then there was the less than perfect entry strategy. "The SAF raiders positioned themselves at both sides of the main gate of the Abu Sayyaf cell at the ground floor and tried to pry open the lock. But they were met by sniper fire each time they tried to insert the key into the lock." Marines in Fallujah learned that it was worth one's life to spend an extended period of time making a breach; that if a lock could not be knocked in with a couple of blows, perhaps a breaching charge was in order.

To cover their entry, the SAF raiders flooded the darkened corridor with tear gas, breached and entered. The resourceful Abu Sayyaf rushed forward in the murk to grapple with the SAF, in the hopes of seizing more weapons. But the SAF had been trained to work in pairs and the grapplers were repelled. To complicate matters for the assault team, the Abu Sayyaf locked up regular prisoners in adjacent cells and had piled up flammable materials which they set ablaze in the corridors, so the flames and smoke would lay down a protective curtain. It was in this confused, darkened and choking atmosphere that Commanders Kosovo, Robot and Global conducted their last resistance. 'Kosovo' was apparently one of the grapplers and shot a raider in the face before being gunned down. 'Global' died in a fighting retreat to the third floor. How 'Robot' met his end is unknown.

The left-wing Philippine Inquirer, attempting to sound a note of seemingly sweet reason, says:

Their (the Abu Sayyaf ) deaths also mean that they have escaped trial and, more importantly, put any information that they possessed irretrievably beyond the government's reach. ... And the shrugging continued when other things were pointed out, such as the dangers posed by having firearm-bearing guards in close proximity to the Abu Sayyaf prisoners. ... Human rights activists, for one, have been battling for years against overcrowding in our jails, which puts underage offenders in close proximity to hardened criminals, and which makes it even more difficult to properly isolate dangerous inmates such as captured members of the Abu Sayyaf. ... The fact is that the Abu Sayyaf won yet another round against the government. Its captured members died with guns blazing, drawing the world's attention to their cause and their refusal to let their detention circumscribe their actions.

For another view we must turn to Max Soliven.

When the gunsmoke – and tear gas – cleared, the most notorious kidnappers-killers-and-bombers were dead: the bully Alhamzer Manatad Limbong, alias Bro. "Kosovo" who had been identified by Gracia Burnham as one of their cruel kidnappers, suspected of masterminding the SuperFerry 14 bombing which killed 110 helpless passengers, and triggered off the motorbike "bomb" in Magutay, Zamboanga City, which killed US M/Sgt. Mark Jackson, and seriously wounded US Capt. Mike Hummel in October 2002; Ghalib Andang, alias Commander "Robot" who had led the gang which kidnapped foreign tourists and Filipinos from the Malaysian tourist isle of Sipadan, and raped women hostages repeatedly, humiliating the Estrada government for months and collecting millions of dollars in ransom; and Nadzmi Sabdullah, alias Commander "Global", the noisy spokesman of the Sipadan kidnap caper. Also slain was ASG detainee Hasbi Dais alias Lando, who had conducted the Monday "negotiations" and rejected all the government’s calls for the group’s peaceful surrender.

The End of the Road

KM mails to say that the Philippine police have stormed the prison the Abu Sayyaf  had taken over in a failed jailbreak. Reuters says seventeen prisoners died in the assault, crucially including three of the top Abu Sayyaf honchos.

Philippine police have shot dead 17 prisoners as they stormed a jail in Manila to end a day-long stand-off with a group of Islamic militants who had snatched weapons from guards and killed three of them. ... Tear gas still shrouded the building as television showed hundreds of prisoners milling around on the top floor. Reyes said Alhamser Limbong, alias "Kosovo", Ghalib Andang, alias "Commander Robot", and Najdmi Sabdula, alias "Commander Global", were among the Abu Sayyaf leaders killed.

Although I can't prove it my own unfounded instinct says that the Philippine cops have made sure the Peace Lobby and the human rights lawyers aren't going to be taking these Abu Sayyaf commanders to any more press conferences. Of course, since the three top Jihadis, experienced men all,  would have wielded the three firearms known to have been seized from the guards and five elite policemen were injured in the shootout, the cops can plausibly argue they used proportionate force.

The Angel with the Fiery Sword

Remember how Philippine President Gloria Arroyo withdrew that nation's troops from Iraq to effect the release of a Filipino hostage? Well she didn't retreat far enough. Iraqi 'insurgents' have seized another hostage and Manila's officialdom has expressed 'gratitude' for their delay in beheading him.

The Philippines Saturday lauded the recent extension granted by Iraqi hostage-takers on the deadline by which they had threatened to kill a Filipino hostage. The kidnappers of accountant Roberto Tarongoy had earlier said they would kill him by March 11 but a Philippine team in Iraq had reported the kidnappers had given an indefinite extension to the deadline Because of this, Presidential Spokesperson Ignacio Bunye: declared, "We thank God for this reprieve."

The 'insurgents' have presented a new demand. The hostage's father "has appealed in a letter to Arroyo to 'heed the captors' demand' to free his son by making a statement withdrawing support for US policy in Iraq." The statement of repudiation may have to wait a while. Right now Philippine officialdom is busy finding dinners for the Abu Sayyaf who took over a maximum security jail after killing three guards.

How far does one have to retreat from evil to be truly safe? A letter writer to Michael Totten brought the inescapability of confronting evil home when he asked if Mr. Totten would rule out torture if the safety of his own child depended on applying it. Mr. Totten allowed it was a hard question; and yet the question was the right one to ask. Any real opposition to torture would be unwavering even if it involved sacrificing our own children. Volunteering those of others doesn't count. Ivan Karamazov famously asked Alyosha whether he would accept the edifice of Paradise if it were built upon the suffering of a single innocent child; Alyosha replied that he would not. Yet there are any number who would maintain a  principled opposition to war, torture or hostage payments at the expense of the suffering of innocents. Did Saddam throw people into woodchippers? Regrettable but better that than violate the principle of collective international action. Are Blacks being massacred in Darfur? Sad, but unilateralism is worse. Surely the price of maintaining the no-ransom policy isn't worth the life of a Filipino hostage? Here the devil defeats the prospect of a free moral lunch. Not paying ransom kills, but paying it kills too. Breese Bull of the Washington Post takes it personally whenever ransom (a.k.a. 'go buy an IED') money is paid to 'insurgents'.

As a foreigner here, I feel threatened by the possibility that the Italian government may have rewarded the kidnappers. But Iraq is not about us foreigners. It is about Iraqis. And it is Iraqis who suffer most from kidnappings and from the transportation of the artillery shells and anti-tank mines that become roadside devices and car bombs. Kidnapping Iraqis has become an almost routine business transaction here. ... But since the Sgrena shooting, I've already sensed even greater reluctance to set up these dangerous checkpoints.

A long time ago I personally came to the conclusion that there was no way to live on earth without the stain of guilt, maybe the concept of Original Sin was a rueful recognition of this condition. Yet there is perhaps the chance that one may leave the earth forgiven. But that is another story.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Fallout Shelter

To Newsweek's Paul Tolme, University of Colorado outgoing President Elizabeth Hoffman's problems with Ward Churchill were all about preserving Free Speech in a nation grown increasingly intolerant.

... earlier this year, ethnic-studies professor Ward Churchill ignited a fierce debate over academic freedom because of a 2001 essay in which he called victims of the September 11 attacks "little Eichmanns." Hoffman and many members of the faculty defended Churchill's right to his opinions while outside of campus, and Colorado lawmakers called for his dismissal. ...

Hoffman seemed particularly concerned about the Churchill situation. ... "We are so deeply divided as a country." This division, she says, threatens the foundation of liberal higher education. "The modern research university is a big and complex place," she says, "but it ultimately is about the generation of new ideas and the transfer of those new ideas to students. ... What's tricky is sheltering new ideas without alienating the legislatures that control state budgets.

Two ideas are striving for primacy in Hoffman's construct. The first is her idea of the academy as a conservator of every specimen of mental life, the counterpart of a biological repository containing bacterial and viral samples; some virulent and some extremely beneficial. The second is the idea of the academy as a transmitter of ideas. In her words, "the modern research university is a big and complex place, but it ultimately is about the generation of new ideas and the transfer of those new ideas to students."

Logically, the chief problem inherent in this duality is less about 'sheltering new ideas' from a public reluctant to support them than about reconciling conservatory and scholarly functions with the pedagogical ones. Just as modern medicine trains physicians to distinguish between poisons and therapeutic drugs, the difference often being simply the size of the dose, the modern university must above all train its students to discerningly choose from the garden of concepts it so carefully cultivates, not simply engage in "the transfer of those new ideas to students" as if they were so many hotdogs in a cafeteria line.

Ironically, the public glare focused upon Ward Churchill's ideas in the aftermath of his "little Eichmanns" essay provided the scholarly scrutiny that the University of Coloardo itself neglected to supply. Did the US government actually specify a 'blood quantum' for Native Americans? Did US troops really distribute smallpox-impregnated blankets to tribes and with what precautions to themselves? Did Professor Churchill really provide the content of books on which his name appears or did he swipe it from some other scholar? Those are questions which have been dissected at length by persons "outside the campus" and even by "Colorado lawmakers". That they were not raised or even contemplated by academic departments at the University of Colorado constitutes a failure of its most basic mission. Universities not in the business of asking these these questions are arguably not institutions of higher learning at all. That neglect, not the discussion which her University went so far out of its way to avoid, "threatens the foundation of liberal higher education".

The Carnival of Manila

Readers who think I exaggerate the incompetence of Manila should read veteran Filipino columnist Max Soliven.

Throughout the day the nation had to listen to the demands of people who had just killed three jail guards and were on trial for multiple murder and kidnapping. They even found allies in the usual publicity-hungry politicians and human rights advocates who were falling all over themselves to get into the picture and sabotage police negotiations. And we wonder why the country is turning into a terrorist paradise.

Not content with this summary disparagement, he added details in A murderous jailbreak try that turned into a disgusting circus. He describes how the mayor of the jail site, the Congressman representing the district of the jail site and a representative from the province the Abu Sayyaf suspects were born in began a bizzarre contest for the man best suited to represent their "constituents". Then a renowned "human rights lawyer", who had represented the Marcos family against US oppression showed up. Then things really started to go downhill. A press conference got going.

The ring-leader, "Bro." "Kosovo" alias Alhamzer Limbong, fat, muscular and bum-brawn* in aspect, was one of the cruelest captors of Missionary Gracia Burnham and her slain husband Martin, the suspected beheader of the other American "Dos Palmas" hostage, Guillermo Sobero, and is the chief suspect in the SuperFerry 14 "bombing" which sent more than 100 passengers in a fierce explosion to a watery grave. (*A local colloquialism which means low-life punk -- W.)

Nothing better exemplifies the politicized, NGO-influenced and UN-guided ideology of the Philippine ruling elite than this laughable performance. If the characteristic of madness is that it goes unperceived by the most insane, then Philippine officialdom qualifies. Soliven points out that the persons responsible are likely to be promoted, in a country where no good deed goes unpunished. The veteran columnist ends with an appeal to reason; much good may it do him.

The last radio dispatch I listened to last night, before switching off, was that the Abu Sayyaf hold-outs who were insisting on giving a "press conference" (an opportunity sought with equal eagerness by our "breaking news" hungry media) first asked to be served "dinner" because they were already famished.

If there were not so much blood on the floor, the entire slaphappy affair could have been described as a comedy. Yet we mustn’t forget these are bloodthirsty, kidnapping, homicidal, false Islamic hoodlums we’re talking about. They don’t deserve a hearing. What they deserve is a hanging.

Harum Scarum

The incapacity of the Philippine State was on display today as Abu Sayyaf rebels grabbed a guard's M-16 at a chowline in a maximum security prison and used it to gun down three guards before taking over the whole hoosegow. The Abu Sayyaf is a terrorist organization affiliated with Al Qaeda. This simple hostage taking situation became an immensely complicated exercise because it had to be resolved within the paralyzing and Byzantine political world of Manila.

While lining up for breakfast rations at around 7 a.m., an unidentified bandit grabbed the M16 rifle of his guard and opened fire, Colonel Agrimero Cruz, Metro Manila police spokesman, said. 

The Abu Sayyaf prisoners held the political initiative from start to finish. The BBC reports:

The prisoners later contacted a local radio station, demanding talks with two senior Muslim officials and film star Robin Padilla, a Muslim convert. Police said they believed the prisoners were led by Alhamser Limbong and Kair Abdul Gapar.

Among Alhamser Limbong's crimes were a mass kidnapping that included two Americans and sinking a passenger ferry with a bomb, drowning more than 100 people. Beside Limbong Atlanta's Brian Nichols was a small-time crook. After several hours of negotiations, the following agreement was supposedly reached between the Philippine authorities and the 'rebels'.

"The surrender plan is now ongoing. The negotiation is still ongoing," Senior Superintendent Leopoldo Bataoil told reporters. Bataoils said the rebels would surrender "anytime from now."

The rebels' requests, which were approved by the government negotiating team, include "no bodily harm" to the surrenderees, respect for their human rights, speedy disposition of their cases, redress of their “grievances,” and access to the media after their surrender.

"It's a win-win solution," Bataoil said.

By which he could only mean a win for the Abu Sayyaf and a win for the Abu Sayyaf. As if this were not enough, the Abu Sayyaf  were granted legal representation by lawyers of their choice. Having wrung these concessions the Abu Sayyaf were prepared to lay down their arms -- still warm from the clutch of the dead guards .

Ironically, the jail officials had been warned of an impending escape. Naturally, it was ignored.

State prosecutor Leo Dacera said the authorities had intercepted a telephone conversation between Alhamser Limbong, the alleged leader of the prison revolt, and Abu Sayyaf leader Jainal Sali, who is at large, in which the detainee "requested that eight safehouses be prepared."

Lynne Stewart was convicted of passing messages from her terrorist client to his confederates at large. No wonder Stewart feels unfairly treated. In the Philippines, men like Limbong can simply dial their associates and order them to get safehouses ready so they can hole up after they escape. The Belmont Club pointed out how restrictions imposed by the Philippine Left have severely hampered the campaign against terrorism in that country. According to the Congressional Research Service paper Terrorism in Southeast Asia (available from Gallerywatch.Com):

In consideration of the Filipino Constitution’s ban on foreign combat troops operating inside the country, Washington and Manila negotiated special rules of engagement ... U.S. Special Forces personnel took direction from Filipino commanders and could use force only to defend themselves.

When US and the Philippine military had readied a campaign against the Abu Sayyaf it was deep-sixed by the 'Peace Lobby'. The Terrorism in Southeast Asia paper continues:

In February 2003, Pentagon officials described a plan under which the United States would commit 350 Special Operations Forces to Jolo to operate with Filipino Army and Marine units down to the platoon level of 20-30 troops. Another 400 support troops would be at Zamboanga on the Mindanao mainland. Positioned offshore of Jolo would be a navy task force of 1,000 U.S. Marines and 1,300 Navy personnel equipped with Cobra attack helicopters and Harrier jets. ...

The announcement of the plan caused immediate controversy in the Philippines. Filipino politicians and media organs criticized the plan as violating the constitutional prohibition of foreign troops engaging in combat on Philippine soil. Filipino Muslim leaders warned of a Muslim backlash on Mindanao.

The paralyzing effects of Philippine politics were highlighted in the handling of the prison hostage-taking crisis. Politics is what passes for the exercise of Philippine sovereignty, which in practice is indistinguishable from corruption and therefore creates a very high standard of patriotism among its public figures. But for the average Filipino minimum-wage prison guards the situation is subtly different. He knows he is guarding celebrities who can attempt a jailbreak, constitute the panel to negotiate with if it goes wrong, demand a direct response from the Philippine cabinet, get any legal aid they want; who can kill their warders, extract a guarantee of nonreprisal and give a national television press conference afterward. Little wonder that some guards accept the money offered by these 'rebels' to let them go. That gold can unlock a cell door was demonstrated in the manner in which Jema'ah Islamiyah representative Fathur Rahman Al-Ghozi escaped a Philippine jail in July, 2003. It is described in detail by the Asia Times.

On July 14, the Indonesian Jema'ah Islamiyah (JI) bomb expert, along with two other inmates, members of the Abu Sayyaf bandit group, apparently unlocked their cell with a set of spare keys, relocked it, walked out of the jail building and through the prison gates, and used a small guardhouse to vault over the compound wall. Of the four guards detailed in al-Ghozi's area, one was sleeping; another was out shopping. Nevertheless, the guards managed to register their hourly head count as complete. ...

Only when a new set of guards arrived five hours later was the escape discovered; and only hours after that - allowing al-Ghozi a full half-day head start - was the news reported to Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. She had just met with Australian Prime Minister John Howard to discuss joint counter-terrorism initiatives.

But this craven behavior emboldened rather than weakened the Abu Sayyaf's behavior. The surrender that was expected "anytime from now" waited first upon a personal guarantee from the equivalent of the head of Philippine Homeland Security. Then "the deal appeared to collapse when the inmates demanded dinner before ending the standoff." As of this writing the Abu Sayyaf are holding off the entire Philippine Army with two rifles and pistol.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Update on the New Site

First, I'd like to apologize for the inability of readers to reliable comment on the posts. Because we all go through the Blogger interface, any difficulties you may have experienced afflict me as well.

Here's the update on the new site. I've got a domain and a hosting service. It will host more than a blog, though I'm not sure I'll activate all the possible features because the administrative burden may spin out of control. The weblog itself will be run on a product with a much greater feature set than Blogger, but it will not be one which most will have heard of. The source code for the entire application is distributed with it and that was the major consideration in choosing it. However, it is one of these open source thingies and there's no deluxe documentation, so it's taking a little time to figure things out.

I finished getting something half decent up on my own web server -- that's been the focus of effort over the weekend -- but it's not behaving as expected on the hosting site. Something subtle. So I'll have to stay with Blogger for maybe a week more until the kinks get ironed out.

Friday, March 11, 2005

A Tale of Two Worlds

Two articles paint radically different impressions of changes to United States strategic thinking. The first, by Mark Mazzetti of the Los Angeles Times, depicts a military establishment that has been hijacked by Operation Iraqi Freedom and the 'blunders' of Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

With Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld pushing for a "lighter, more lethal and highly mobile fighting force," the Pentagon scrapped as outdated the requirement that the U.S. military be large enough to simultaneously fight two large-scale wars against massed enemy armies. And it spent little time worrying about how to keep the peace after the shooting stopped. Something happened on the way to the wars of the future: The Pentagon became bogged down in an old-fashioned, costly and drawn-out war of occupation. ...

Mazzetti's article goes on to emphasize that while the smaller forces favored by Donald Rumsfeld were sufficient to defeat a Third World conventional army like Iraq's, the burdens of occupation have made the United States increasingly dependent on allied help for pacification and nation building.

"There are smarter, more efficient ways to do regime change and occupation," said one senior civilian official at the Pentagon. "One of those ways is to rely much more on our friends and allies to do the back-end work."

The other article, by the Wall Street Journal (subscription only) describes a Donald Rumsfeld who not only does not regret giving up the large forces of the Cold War but wants to accelerate the process. It's most radical -- and possibly most controversial aspect -- is the idea that the US military should increasingly be used to prevent (here critics may see the word 'pre-empt') war from breaking out.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld outlines in a new, classified planning document a vision for remaking the military to be far more engaged in heading off threats prior to hostilities and serve a larger purpose of enhancing U.S. influence around the world. ... In the document, Mr. Rumsfeld tells the military to focus on four "core problems," none of them involving traditional military confrontations. The services are told to develop forces that can: build partnerships with failing states to defeat internal terrorist threats; defend the homeland, including offensive strikes against terrorist groups planning attacks; influence the choices of countries at a strategic crossroads, such as China and Russia; and prevent the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction by hostile states and terrorist groups.

The WSJ article goes on to say that Secretary Rumsfeld's 'big push' is likely to meet opposition from certain quarters in the armed services because these changes will come at the expense of weapons systems like the F-22 and because they are a radical departure from many current missions.

... the classified guidance urges the military to come up with less doctrinaire solutions that include sending in smaller teams of culturally savvy soldiers to train and mentor indigenous forces. ... the Marines Corps right now is moving fastest to fill this gap and is looking at shifting some resources away from traditional amphibious-assault missions to new units designed specifically to work with foreign forces . To support these troops, military officials are looking at everything from acquiring cheap aerial surveillance systems to flying gunships that can be used in messy urban fights to come to the aid of ground troops. 

Since the obvious danger to completely adopting this approach  is the risk of reducing the US military to 'British Empire' troops, well suited for fighting 'natives' but unable to match a first rate enemy, there is a second track as well.

Although weapons systems designed to fight guerrillas tend to be fairly cheap and low-tech, the review makes clear that to dissuade those countries from trying to compete, the U.S. military must retain its dominance in key high-tech areas, such as stealth technology, precision weaponry and manned and unmanned surveillance systems.

If the outlines of the DOD planning document reported by the WSJ are accurate, they are an explicit acknowledgement of the strategic dilemma faced by the US in a post-Cold War world. During the Cold War, America only had to plan on meeting the military challenges of Great States. The oceans provided a barrier to threats from the Third World. For the first time in its history, the United States (and Europe too, had they the honesty to realize it) faces a two-front war, not spatially but dimensionally. At the one end, the DOD must face continuous challenges from asymmetrical opponents harboring in the hulks of failed, post-Colonial states. At the other, it must face conventional threats from rising Great Powers like China. America's enemies on these separate fronts will be naturally tempted to lend each other mutual aid. Terrorists can continue to expect new weapons from States whose foreign policy goals call for weakening America; and these rival States can expect those terrorist groups to tie down America while they pursue their geopolitical ambitions. Just as America was the Arsenal of Democracy in the Second World War, rival States have the potential to become the Foundries of Terrorism in the 21st Century.

Rumsfeld's response appears to be shaped by this reality. It is a search for systems, organizations and strategies which possess utility both against terrorism and rival states. In some cases a match will be easy to find. In others, most notably in the case of heavy divisions, manned aircraft and naval systems, there must be a trade-off between them. But implied within Rumsfeld's reported plan is the startling aspect of time: it is above all a preemptive approach aimed at shaping the political and cultural battlefield in advance of actual hostilities involving American troops. Although the concept is described by the WSJ in the traditional terms of "helping allies battle internal threats" it is impossible to separate it from the notion of creating a more functional world, which is related to the ideas of reducing disconnectedness and spreading democracy. How and whether this concept evolves into doctrine will be a fascinating process to watch. One suspects that the ultimate price of the Western European vacation from history will have been the transformation of the United States into the foremost revolutionary force of the age.

Forward or Back? 2

In Forward or Back? I wrote:

One wonders what the Syrians will do if the Lebanese opposition simply refuses to cooperate with a new Karami government. It would then fall to the Mukhabarat to break passive resistance.  ... One can imagine a scenario where the opposition calls a protest boycott; maybe people get money not to work.  ... To rule requires a lot more resources than to disrupt. Therein lies the Syrian strategic weakness.

Events are still unfolding, but the noncooperation strategy is already being laid down. Whether it will succeed or not remains to be seen. The Financial Times reports that although the 'Syrian-backed' Karami has made conciliatory gestures, the opposition has so far rejected them.

"The difficulties we all know about cannot be confronted without a government of national unity and salvation. We will extend our hand without conditions and wait for the other side," he said. "I will not form a cabinet of one colour (but if the situation deteriorates) I will hold the side that does not participate in a national unity government responsible."

But Lebanon's opposition has already rejected the call, saying it was a trap meant to neutralise it. Opposition figures say they will not participate in any cabinet until their demands are met - this includes the formation of a neutral government, the resignation of top security chiefs in Lebanon whom the opposition holds responsible for the assassination of Rafiq Hariri last month, and the full withdrawal of all Syrian troops and intelligence agents before the May parliamentary elections. The opposition has now called for another demonstration on Monday, to mark one month after Hariri's assassination.

This defiant talk, coming against the background of low-level thugsterism against opposition supporters amounts to a call ("to place an amount of chips in the pot equal to the previous bet") on Hezbollah's earlier implied threat of civil war. From published reports, it is unclear whether Syria will raise or fold in response. According to the New York Times:

While in some corners of the country, Syrian soldiers could now be seen moving, in other places there were few signs that troops were in a rush to pack up. In Bois de Boulogne, a resort on a strategic hilltop linking Beirut and the Bekaa region, Syrian soldiers could be seen peering from the balconies in most of the fancy villas that line the main street. Russian-made transport vehicles driving along the main Beirut-Damascus axis were empty. "No one is gone here, and no one will ever leave," said Gabriel Germani, a property developer from a nearby village.

In earlier posts, I advanced the nonspecialist opinion that Syria and Hezbollah would be loathe to embark on a full scale civil war because they could not forsee the consequences. That assessment was based on the appreciation that Syria and Hezbollah were objectively weaker today than in 1975. Powerline rightly asks whether this assumption is valid. "Several readers question Wretchard's statement that Hezbollah are far weaker now than in 1975. They note that Hezbollah succeeded against Israel not that long ago." Fair enough question. But it is worth noting that strength is always comparative. The increase in American regional strength and the destruction of Saddam's regime may not have weakened Syria and Hezbollah in absolute terms but it has reduced them in relative terms. The transformative effect of Operation Iraqi Freedom consists precisely in that it has upset the balance of power that kept things in stasis; in that it has made groups like Hezbollah comparatively weaker. It is in that change that democratic opportunities lie, and the Lebanese opposition senses their moment.

Yet have Hezbollah and Syria been so weakened they dare not risk Civil War?  While they might be reluctant to break the rack, they will do it in desperation. This is reflected in their tactics. Karami's conciliatory gestures and the ostensible pullback of Syrian troops show they would prefer it if people walked quietly back into line. But the low-level intimidation and veiled threats are meant to convey that if pressed, they can ultimately resort to brute force. 'Come along nicely or we'll turn Hezbollah loose' is the message of the past week. If the Lebanese opposition makes good on their threat of nonparticipation they will effectively be daring Syria to do its worst. And what would that be? Provided that conventional forces are kept out of Lebanon, it would amount to an attempt to maintain colonial rule via a militia and a secret service. I'll stop my train of speculation right here and simply repeat "the observation that no country has ever been able to maintain occupation over another using secret services alone."


Here's a correction from a reader. Told you I was a nonspecialist and my ignorance shows.

This has been driving me crazy since I read it earlier this afternoon.

Of course Hezbollah isn't weaker today. They didn't exist in '75. They started their organization in the 80s.

Also known as Lebanese Hizballah, this group was formed in 1982 in response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, this Lebanon-based radical Shi’a group takes its ideological inspiration from the Iranian revolution and the teachings of the late Ayatollah Khomeini.

The Times article mentions 1975 due to the long-standing civil war, not due to Hezbollah's presence since then.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

"It Never Existed"

According to the Telegraph, French authorities have airbrushed the cigarette out of John Paul Sarte's photograph.

France's National Library has airbrushed Jean-Paul Sartre's trademark cigarette out of a poster of the chain-smoking philosopher to avoid prosecution under an anti-tobacco law. ...

The library's president, Jean-Noël Jeanneney, confirmed that the cigarette had been discreetly smudged to comply with the 1991 loi Evin - a law banning tobacco advertising - but also so as not to frighten away potential sponsors from the exhibition, which opened yesterday.

The practice of historical revisionism, which was a central theme to George Orwell's 1984, was extensively practiced by Joseph Stalin. The NewsMuseum documents the "before and after" photographs of Lenin with Leon Trotsky, among others, redacted from the image. But what if -- hypothetically now -- the NewsMuseum were in fact the forgery; what if Trotsky was digitally inserted into the picture. How would I know? 

Asymmetrical Information has a fascinating link to a book called the Motel of the Mysteries, a book constructed in the best archaeological literary style, describing a hypothetically complete misunderstanding of an entire civilization.

It is the year 4022; all of the ancient country of Usa has been buried under many feet of detritus from a catastrophe that occurred back in 1985. Imagine, then, the excitement that Howard Carson, an amateur archeologist at best, experienced when in crossing the perimeter of an abandoned excavation site he felt the ground give way beneath him and found himself at the bottom of a shaft, which, judging from the DO NOT DISTURB sign hanging from an archaic doorknob, was clearly the entrance to a still-sealed burial chamber. Carson's incredible discoveries, including the remains of two bodies, one of then on a ceremonial bed facing an altar that appeared to be a means of communicating with the Gods and the other lying in a porcelain sarcophagus in the Inner Chamber, permitted him to piece together the whole fabric of that extraordinary civilization.

The elevation of a motel toilet to the central cult object of a vanished civilization is one possible consequence of unintended historical misunderstanding. But so powerful a technique as historical revisionism would tempt others to purposeful use, not only for the relatively harmless purpose of eliminating cigarettes from the likeness of Jean Paul Sarte, but for political gain. Certainly the machinery was in place to do this. An Oxblog link to Wikipedia reminds us that the BBC's annual budget of $10 billion "rivals that of NASA. It is greater than the gross domestic product of more than half the world's nations and ranks behind the budgets of only the twelve governments of the wealthiest nations on the planet."

Who controls the past
Controls the future.
Who controls the present
Controls the past.

Has the Internet changed things all that much? Perhaps for most people born after today it will be a truism that Jean Paul Sarte didn't smoke; that Jean Paul Sarte never smoked.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Forward or back?

The very large demonstrations in support of Syria sponsored by Hezbollah, whether forced or not, can be interpreted as the end of the "Cedar Revolution". There is certainly enough genuine nationalistic support for Syria within Syria itself. Syria Comment (Joshua Landis) says:

Family members called me from Latakia to ask me what I though and to tell me how proud they were and what a great man Nasrallah is. I was out doing errands much of the day and all the shops had the TV on. Store owners and errand boys alike were leaning over their counters watching the demonstration with amazement and gratification. “This was the true Lebanon,” they insisted. “People from every part and every religion,” they intoned, repeating the line that the Lebanese opposition has been using for the last two weeks to insist that it expresses the true Lebanon. “George Bush asked for democracy. This is the true democracy," I was told repeatedly.

Today, Syrians will demonstrate. Many have told me they will go. The school in which my wife teaches has closed for the day because it is in Mezze, the section of town where the demonstration is to begin; the director fears that the kids will not be able to get home because of the crowds. The UN offices are only opening for half the day. It would seem that all of central Damascus will be closing early today. This is the first demonstration of its kind that most Syrians can remember and they are excited.

Having stemmed the tide and survived the scare pro-Syrian forces have moved to reassert control. The Associated Press reports:

Lebanese legislators ignored the popular anti-government protests and decided to re-install the pro-Syrian premier who was forced to step down last week, a move ensuring Damascus' continued dominance but raising opposition denunciation. ... Outgoing Prime Minister Omar Karami was virtually assured nomination after 71 of 78 legislators put forward his name during consultations with President Emile Lahoud, according to announcements by the legislators as they left the presidential palace. ... The pro-Syrian parliament members apparently were emboldened in their choice by a thundering protest in Beirut the day before that showed loyalty to Syria, countering weeks of anti-government and anti-Syrian demonstrations.

Some would dismiss President Bush's call for a Syrian withdrawal by May as mere posturing or tilting at windmills.

President Bush demanded that Syria withdraw its troops from Lebanon before parliamentary elections in May. ... "All Syrian military forces and intelligence personnel must withdraw before the Lebanese elections for those elections to be free and fair," he said. ... He said that freedom will prevail in Lebanon and sided with anti-Syrian protesters in recent weeks, who have demanded that Syria remove its 14,000 troops, following the February assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. In what he called a message to the Lebanese people, Mr. Bush said the world is witnessing a great movement of conscience.

In fact, Juan Cole believes the whole thing is set to blow up in President Bush's face, noting that anti-Syrian Jumblatt was recently anti-Wolfowitz.

The main exhibit for the relevance of Iraq to Lebanon is Druze warlord Walid Jumblatt's statement to the Washington Post: "It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting, eight million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world." It is highly unlikely that Jumblatt is sincere in this statement. He has seen Lebanese vote for parliament several times, and has campaigned, and Iraq was nothing new to his experience (like Lebanon, it is occupied by a foreign military power even during its elections).

I guess now that Jumblatt sees a way of getting the Syrians out of Lebanon by allying with Bush, all of a sudden America is no longer an imperialist cause of chaos. People who want to believe that remind me of PT Barnum's dictum that one is born every minute.

Nor is he alone in that appreciation. Richard Fairbanks, a former U.S. negotiator for Middle East peace and counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C. said:

"One, if it's seen as the West wants Syria out, that would not be helpful to swaying the minds of the Shia and perhaps some others in Lebanon. Second, these calls by the Europeans and Americans are not self-executing and there is not another counterforce on the ground. So as much as the majority of the people want this to happen it's not going to be so simple," he said. Political analysts also argue that Middle East reforms have been announced in the past, only to fizzle out before fundamental change took root.

My own nonspecialist opinion is that despite their apparent strength Syria is holding a losing hand. The train of reasoning begins with the observation that no country has ever been able to maintain occupation over another using secret services alone. Secret services must ultimately operate behind a shield provided by a secure border or conventional forces; otherwise their headquarters, safehouses and files will be vulnerable to the first foe that shows up with a tank. By sending those conventional forces back to the border while reinstalling Karami, Syria is attempting to restore the status quo ante under weakened circumstances. Can they do it?

One wonders what the Syrians will do if the Lebanese opposition simply refuses to cooperate with a new Karami government. It would then fall to the Mukhabarat to break passive resistance. With the Syrian Army moved back the contest comes down to a secret service war where the party with the most money usually wins. And if -- and even Juan Cole doesn't wholly deny this -- a majority want Syria out, what would prevent the US from providing the money to make it happen? One can imagine a scenario where the opposition calls a protest boycott; maybe people get money not to work. It would be a sight to watch the Mukhabarat collect garbage or force people to.To rule requires a lot more resources than to disrupt. Therein lies the Syrian strategic weakness.

It isn't necessary and probably unwise to send conventional forces into Lebanon to chase the Syrians out. It would be sufficient to gum the Mukhabarat up; to run interference for the opposition and provide them with technical support to achieve a decisive result because it is unlikely that Syria can maintain control of Lebanon unless the Lebanese want them to, whatever Juan Cole thinks. The problem with dictatorships is entropy; a lot of energy is needed to keep people in line against their will and that task is frankly impossible. So dictators cheat and create the illusion of omnipotence and a climate of fear to hustle people along. Dictatorships depend, as Cole says though he probably didn't mean it that way, on "PT Barnum's dictum that one is born every minute". If the Syrian conventional troops are moved out of Lebanon, its hold will depend utterly on smoke and mirrors.

"When you call me that, smile!"

From the newsrooms.

The Toronto Star: Bush demands Syria quit Lebanon by May

George W. Bush, saying the time for delaying tactics and half-measures has passed, has set a May deadline for Syria's full withdrawal from Lebanon. ... "Today, I have a message for the people of Lebanon," Bush said. "All the world is witnessing your great movement of conscience. "Lebanon's future belongs in your hands, and by your courage, Lebanon's future will be in your hands. The American people are on your side."

Reuters: IRA "must go" after N.Irish shooting offer

The United States has demanded the IRA disband after the paramilitary group's astonishing offer to shoot the killers of a murdered Northern Ireland Catholic man. "It's time for the IRA to go out of business," said U.S. special envoy Mitchell Reiss on Wednesday. ... Reiss told BBC radio: "It's time for Sinn Fein to be able to say explicitly, without ambiguity, without ambivalence, that criminality will not be tolerated."

The Boston Globe:

Five sisters who have waged a rare public campaign against intimidation by the Irish Republican Army following the killing of their brother have been invited to the White House on St. Patrick's Day, the US envoy to Northern Ireland said yesterday. ... One of the slain man's sisters, Catherine McCartney, said she hoped President Bush could help bring his killers to justice. ''The case we'll put to Bush will be the same as it has been to everybody here in Ireland: that these men must be brought to justice, and he should use whatever influence he has to make that happen," she said.

The problem with trying to reconstruct events from historical records is that words taken by themselves convey a very partial meaning. A future historian might argue that Kofi Annan could have imparted the very same message of encouragement to the Lebanese people in far better style than George Bush. But would it have possessed the same semantic charge? Many a British politician has exhorted the IRA to close down with the complete force of logic behind them and the powers of unsurpassable rhetoric at their service -- and yet would they have the significance of the US special envoy's ultimatum? On the many occasions when victims of injustice have been invited by dignitaries for symbolic consolation, very few have at one and the same time managed to convey a veiled threat. 

It would be a bold counselor who would advise President Assad to relax. Nor would it occur to Gerry Adams to jokingly inquire whether the words "explicitly, without ambiguity, without ambivalence" mean definitely. Jokes are something you make to the French. Things have got to be real simple for the Chimp. Or maybe the problem is that they have gotten too complicated for the sophisticates of the world when they should have been simple to start with. Historians know that beyond mere words there is context and it is to sentences what a fist is to a boxing glove. Maybe that's what Teddy Roosevelt meant when he said, "speak softly and carry a big stick".

High Noon

Hezbollah's leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah came out openly in support for the Syrian-Lebanese special relationship -- a code word for the occupation of Lebanon -- at a well organized mass rally designed to counter the "Cedar Revolution" protests against Syrian occupation. He attempted to redefine the current Middle Eastern crisis, not as a contest between democratic aspirations and autocratic "Black Arabism" but as a struggle against 'US-Zionist' neocolonialism.

Banners held aloft read: "No to American-Zionist intervention. Yes to Lebanese-Syrian brotherhood." "Forget about your dreams of Lebanon," Sheik Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, said at Tuesday's rally, speaking to Israel's leaders. ... "What you did not win in war, I swear, you will not win with politics." Speaking to the Bush administration, he said: "You are wrong in your calculations in Lebanon. Lebanon will not be divided. Lebanon is not Somalia; Lebanon is not Ukraine; Lebanon is not Georgia."

ABC News implies that Nasrallah's decision represents a failure by anti-Syrian politicians to keep Hezbollah neutral.

Hezbollah, an anti-Israeli party representing Shiite Muslims, organized the rally as a way of demonstrating that it will remain a powerful force in Lebanon even if Syria leaves. The Lebanese opposition, which opposes Syria's presence, has been trying to persuade Hezbollah to remain neutral in the country's political crisis.

Austin Bay wonders if Syria -- via Hezbollah -- is willing to precipitate a new civil war if that will prevent its expulsion from Lebanon. "Will it become a shooting civil war? It already has, if those reports of “pro-Syrian gunfire” in East Beirut are true." On the other hand, there are those who don't think Syria is ready to mix it up. The New York Times quoted opposition politicians who felt that Hezbollah's support for Syria represented weakness rather than genuine strength.

"This is a goodbye party, not a show of support for Syria," said the opposition leader Jibran Tuweini, editor of the Lebanese daily An Nahar. "If they wanted this to be a challenge to us, they would have brought their party's yellow flags. But Hezbollah doesn't want to burn its bridges with anyone because ultimately they will have to return to the Lebanese people once everything is over."

The Lebanese-watching blog Across the Bay also sees the Hezbollah demonstration as a sign of weakness. Here is their reasoning.

There is little doubt that a majority of Lebanese--Christians, Druze, Sunni Muslims (particularly after the assassination of Rafik Hariri), and not a few Shiites (how I recall that the most violent postwar confrontations with Syria occurred between Syrian soldiers and Shiite soccer fans after matches in which Syrian and Lebanese teams competed)--want an end to Syrian domination. Today, the truth is clear: Hezbollah seeks to become the Praetorian Guard of a Syrian-dominated order in Lebanon for after Syrian soldiers withdraw. In that context, the killing of Hariri also becomes clearer: it was preparation for what Damascus understood would be an inevitable Syrian pullout, ensuring that a strong Sunni, with a national project for Lebanon (who could also have threatened the stability of the Alawite regime in Damascus), would be eliminated. The flip side of that strategy is giving Hezbollah ever more power in a post-Syrian-withdrawal Lebanese state. (Italics mine)

Can such a plan work? I rather doubt it, given the anger of Syria's Lebanese adversaries and international wariness, but unless Hezbollah refuses to get further sucked into such a project, it will both lose its national credibility and might carry Lebanon into a period of prolonged crisis as the party tries to protect its gains. On top of this, fears in Riyadh, Amman and Cairo of a so-called "Shiite crescent" stretching from Iran and Iraq to Lebanon (via Syria and its support for Shiite Lebanese power), will make the Sunni Arab states redouble their efforts to undermine the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. If that happens, where will Hezbollah be? Ultimately, the party's destiny is within Lebanon, not forever tied to the interests of Iran or Syria.

My own nonspecialist thinking on the matter is as follows. On the one hand, Syria would be anxious to shift the ground away from 'Cedar Revolution' events back toward "Hama rules", an area in which they excel. Across the Bay suggests that despite the huge numbers of persons attending the Hezbollah rally it had the air of contrivance and coercion. The democracy is one game Damascus does not play well, in contrast to car bombing, at which they are virtuosos.

Tomorrow, and on the eve of the “glorious” event that brought the Baath Party to power in 1963, more such recruits will gather in al-Jalaa Stadium to perform another sycophant song and dance about national honor and pride (a similar demonstration organized by Hizbollah will take place in Beirut). But the truth is, and the people know it, Baath rule brought nothing but shame and humiliation. It destroyed the very moral and civil fabric of our fledgling republic.

And the people know it. And the people know it. That’s exactly the problem. The people know it. This is not the time of ignorance anymore. We know. We are informed. We may not the whole truth about what is happening all around in us, but we really don’t need to. We just know enough not to be fooled by empty promises and gestures. We know enough to distinguish between victory and defeat, between a show of principles and a freak show.

So why not steer Lebanon back into civil war? I strongly suspect that while Hezbollah is prepared to threaten civil war, they are far less anxious to actually start it. It is true that the resurgence of sectarian fighting is widely feared and Hezbollah will play to that apprehension. As the New York Times writes:

Fears that the growing political tension will lead to a resurgence of violence have grown in recent days as Lebanon's political and sectarian fault lines have re-emerged. Lebanon's rival groups fought a vicious civil war from 1975 to 1990, leaving parts of the country in ruins.  "This is a delicate situation but not a dangerous one," Mr. Tuweini, the opposition leader, insisted as he watched the demonstration on television from his office overlooking Martyrs' Square. "I'm not worried about the unity of the Lebanese, but I am worried that car bombs and assassinations will happen as we try to defend it."

Yet the fear of a civil war must extend to Hezbollah and Syria themselves because they are objectively far weaker in 2005 than they were in 1975. There is no guarantee that Syria and Hezbollah would emerge victorious from a full-scale civil war and every probability they would lose it, so why start something in which you are bound to be beaten? To use a cinematic metaphor, although Nasrallah has strolled all the way down Main Street and struck a pose, he hasn't made a move for his gun. Time was he would have cleared leather; what's different is this time is he's not so sure he's the fastest draw in town. My own instinct is that unless a series of unfortunate incidents throws things out of control, no one will be particularly anxious to start fighting. Syria may have made a fundamental miscalculation in playing the Hezbollah card because it puts Damascus' future in Lebanon in Nasrallah's hands. One wonders if the older Assad would have done this. If -- and I have no idea how -- Hezbollah can be convinced to double-cross Syria by showing them that direction has no future, Boy Assad will be up the creek without a paddle. What do you mean we kemo sabe?

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The New Belmont Club

A number of readers have complained about the execrable posting response of Blogger. There's nothing I can do about Blogger, which may be a victim of its own success, as it tries to serve a very large community of users. I thought I'd let the readers know that I am building a new site on a different domain. With any luck, it will be much more capable than the current site. That's all I'd like to say for now until I get it all up and running.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Energy Futures

In one scenario, which the media and the United Nations say is just within reach, the world in 2050 will be producing smaller amounts of 'Greenhouse gases' as nations reduce their fossil fuels consumption.

French President Jacques Chirac called on Tuesday for developed countries to cut gas emissions to a quarter of current levels by 2050 -- exceeding targets set by the Kyoto pact to combat global warming. ... "We must go further -- divide by four by 2050 the greenhouse gas emissions of developed countries. The next G8 summit must be an opportunity for advancing in this direction," Chirac told a working group, according to the Elysee presidential palace.

But the investment dollars and great states are decisively betting the exact opposite will happen. A Congressional Research Service Report Rising Energy Competition and Energy Security in Northeast Asia (available from Gallerywatch.Com)  shows that world consumption of petroleum will increase dramatically, driven by economic growth in North America and Asia Pacific. The projected US consumption for petroleum will grow from 24 in 2001 to 34 million barrels per day in 2020. In that period, Asian consumption will grow to equal that of the United States and will be poised to exceed it.

Although China still depends on coal to meet nearly 65% of its energy consumption, it surpassed Japan in 2003 to become the world’s second largest oil consuming country after the United States. ... If China reaches per capita consumption levels comparable to South Korea, its demand will be twice that of the United States and push up the worldwide demand for oil by at least 20%. (CRS 8)

This gigantic appetite for petroleum has had two immediate effects. It has made China dependent on ever-increasing quantities Middle Eastern oil and turned it into rival of Japan, and to a lesser extent the United States, for new sources of oil and gas. Over the same period European petroleum consumption is projected to remain unchanged, largely as a consequence of flat growth, a bystander to this unfolding drama. The two great Asian nation's need for oil has embroiled them in a rivalry for the reserves in Russian Siberia.

Although the Russian Far East’s promise is significant, many strategists have cast doubt on the commercial viability of tapping the Far East’s reserves. This has not discouraged China and Japan from engaging in a bidding war over Russian projects to bolster their energy security. ... The opening round of the contest centers around negotiations on proposed pipeline routes from the eastern Siberian oilfield of Angarsk. Beijing reportedly wants the pipeline to terminate at Daqing, China’s flagship oilfield with refining facilities in the industrial northeast, while Tokyo is lobbying for it to terminate in the Russian port of Nakhodka, near Vladivostok on the Sea of Japan and a short tanker trip away from Japan. (CRS 11)

The Sino-Japanese competition has all the hallmarks of a ding-dong NBA final going down to the wire.

An agreement between Russia and China, endorsed by both President Putin and President Hu, stalled, however, after the arrest of Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, chairman of Yukos, the company that had been selected to construct the pipeline. ... Although Beijing reportedly thought it had secured the deal, the most recent reports have indicated that Putin is leaning toward the Nakhodka option because of Japan’s generous pledge of infrastructure development assistance. (CRS 11)

To make matters more interesting, Russia has to contend with another great power in southern Central Asia -- the United States.

China’s thirst for oil has led to new partnerships with Central Asian states, an area of traditional rivalry between great powers. Moscow is challenged by Beijing’s inroads with members of the former Soviet empire, and both continental powers are aware of expanded American presence with the establishment of U.S. bases in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. The three powers will likely remain very attentive to the sensitive issue of pipeline construction. (CRS 17)

Yet even the great reserves of Central Asia will be unlikely to satisfy the gargantuan demands of China. Between 2001 and 2020, Siberian oil field production is predicted to rise from 8 to 15 million barrels per day. In that period, Middle Eastern oil field output will climb from 22 to 36 million barrels per day and every drop of that will be required to meet the projected demand. (CRS 2). China, once capable of isolating itself from the world, will become dependent for its economic existence on oilfields in the distant Middle East and the ability to transport the fuel to its factories.

In March 2004, Saudi Arabia announced that, in a bid for stronger ties with China and Russia, it had granted contracts to oil companies from those countries to explore for natural gas reserves in the kingdom after talks with American firms collapsed. Some scholars have posited that Asian nations’ competition for energy supplies with the West could lead to an eventual Middle East-Asia nexus, in which Asian governments become more politically close with the Gulf states in order to secure long-term access, thereby marginalizing U.S. power. Other observers have envisioned dire scenarios that could emerge from a protracted U.S.-China struggle over oil, including an increasingly close China-Saudi Arabia relationship that could lay the groundwork for a world war-level conflict. (CRS 18)

Still others see China growing closer to the United States due to a commonality of interests. As the procession of tankers leaving the Persian Gulf bound for Chinese ports grows, the one nation that could instantly shut of the supply through maritime blockade would be the United States. A risk-averse China might see it in its interest to cooperate with Japan and the United States to create a stable and prosperous Middle East, essentially duplicating Japanese policy.

Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba was recently quoted as saying, “To have other all the unpleasant, hard things, while we take the oil after Iraq becomes affluent and peaceful through the painful efforts of the rest of the world, I don’t think that would be acceptable.” Prime Minister Koizumi has asserted that stability in the Middle East is in Japan’s national interest because of its dependence on the region’s oil. ... Japan’s unprecedented deployment of Self Defense Forces to Iraq, as well as its active encouragement of Southeast Asian nations to join the U.S.- led Proliferation Security Initiative, may be indications of this trend.

However that may be, the CRS report paints a picture of a world far, far different from that envisioned by the Kyoto Protocol: one in which a senescent Europe of uncertain composition dreams under the protection of the Pacific hemisphere. Which comes to pass depends on many things that cannot be foreseen, such as unanticipated technological breakthroughs and on the statecraft of the next two decades.


Austin Bay discusses the possibility that Iran might close the Straits of Hormuz in response to US and European sanctions to prevent Teheran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The Iranians didn't actually threaten anything but simply warned of an "oil crisis" in the event they were pushed to the wall. ABC News Online says:

Iran's top nuclear official has warned the United States and Europe of the danger of an oil crisis if Tehran is sent before the United Nations Security Council over its nuclear program. ... "The first to suffer will be Europe and the United States themselves, this would cause problems for the regional energy market, for the European economy and even more so for the United States," he said.

The Iranians were at pains to distinguish between a 'reasonable' Europe and an intransigent United States. Teheran pointedly implied that if the whole region were destabilized the fault would lie squarely with the United States.

Mr Rowhani, who was speaking at a conference in Tehran on nuclear technology and sustainable development, however expressed optimism that an agreement would be reached with Europe over the development of Iran's nuclear program. ...  Mr Rowhani warned the US that it could destabilise the region if it blocks an accord with Europe. If Washington brings the issue before the Security Council, "Iran will retract all the decisions it has made and the confidence-building measures it has taken", he said.

Actual speculation that Iran was threatening naval action was from the Persian Journal, which reported ominous statements from a senior member of the Iranian government.

"An attack on Iran will be tantamount to endangering Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and "in a word" the entire Middle East oil," Iranian Expediency Council secretary Mohsen Rezai said on Tuesday. About 40 percent of the world's crude oil shipments passes through the two-mile wide channel of the strategic Straits of Hormuz. ... Teheran could easily block the Straits of Hormuz and use its missiles to strike tankers and GCC oil facilities. The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that oil tanker traffic through the Straits of Hormuz will rise to about 60 percent of global oil exports by 2025. Rezai, a former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps ... said such a significant increase in oil prices would also be sparked by international sanctions on Tehran.

The Iranians could blockade the Gulf, but for how long is the question. (DIA) Director Vice Admiral Lowell E. Jacoby testified last month that

"Iran can briefly close the Strait of Hormuz, relying on a layered strategy using predominantly naval, air and some ground forces. Last year it purchased North Korean torpedo and missle-armed fast attack craft and midget submarines, making margin improvements to this capability."

The threat seems serious because he strait is only two miles wide in places. The World Tribune Com claims that "Teheran could easily block the Straits of Hormuz and use its missiles to strike tankers and GCC oil facilities, according to the new edition of Within weeks, the rest of the world would be starving for oil and the global economy could be in danger." In fact, a blockade of the Persian Gulf has been attempted before -- by Iraq -- but went largely underreported in the pre-Internet days during the Tanker War of 1984-1987.

In 1981 Baghdad had attacked Iranian ports and oil complexes as well as neutral tankers and ships sailing to and from Iran; in 1984 Iraq expanded the socalled tanker war by using French Super-Etendard combat aircraft armed with Exocet missiles. Neutral merchant ships became favorite targets, and the long-range Super-Etendards flew sorties farther south. Seventy-one merchant ships were attacked in 1984 alone, compared with forty-eight in the first three years of the war. Iraq's motives in increasing the tempo included a desire to break the stalemate, presumably by cutting off Iran's oil exports and by thus forcing Tehran to the negotiating table. Repeated Iraqi efforts failed to put Iran's main oil exporting terminal at Khark Island out of commission, however. Iran retaliated by attacking first a Kuwaiti oil tanker near Bahrain on May 13 and then a Saudi tanker in Saudi waters five days later, making it clear that if Iraq continued to interfere with Iran's shipping, no Gulf state would be safe. These sustained attacks cut Iranian oil exports in half, reduced shipping in the Gulf by 25 percent, led Lloyd's of London to increase its insurance rates on tankers, and slowed Gulf oil supplies to the rest of the world ...

As the Tanker War spread to attacks on all shipping, the tankers were convoyed in and out the Gulf by naval vessels, resulting in one action where the FFG-7 class USS Stark was nearly sunk by a French built Exocet missile fired by an Iraqi warplane. Iran did not attack US naval vessels at the outset.

Iran refrained from attacking the United States naval force directly, but it used various forms of harassment, including mines, hit-and-run attacks by small patrol boats, and periodic stop-and-search operations. On several occasions, Tehran fired its Chinese-made Silkworm missiles on Kuwait from Al Faw Peninsula. When Iranian forces hit the reflagged tanker Sea Isle City in October 1987, Washington retaliated by destroying an oil platform in the Rostam field and by using the United States Navy's Sea, Air, and Land (SEAL) commandos to blow up a second one nearby.

Within a few weeks of the Stark incident, Iraq resumed its raids on tankers but moved its attacks farther south, near the Strait of Hormuz. Washington played a central role in framing UN Security Council Resolution 598 on the Gulf war, passed unanimously on July 20; Western attempts to isolate Iran were frustrated, however, when Tehran rejected the resolution because it did not meet its requirement that Iraq should be punished for initiating the conflict.

In early 1988, the Gulf was a crowded theater of operations. At least ten Western navies and eight regional navies were patrolling the area, the site of weekly incidents in which merchant vessels were crippled. The Arab Ship Repair Yard in Bahrain and its counterpart in Dubayy, United Arab Emirates (UAE), were unable to keep up with the repairs needed by the ships damaged in these attacks.

Parallels with the earlier Tanker War are bound to be inexact. Most naval attacks were by Saddam Hussein's forces in the Northern Persian Gulf, where the waters are wider. Iraq did not enjoy Iran's geographical advantage of actual positions at the chokepoint. But the Iranians demonstrated the ability to fire missiles from land batteries at maritime targets owing to the extreme narrowness of the Straits and to mine it. Another FFG-7 class warship, the USS Samuel B. Roberts was seriously damaged when it struck an Iranian mine in April, 1988 and was so heavily damaged it had to be shipped home by heavy lift for a year's repair at Bath Iron Works.

Three days after the mine blast, forces of the Joint Task Force Middle East executed the American response - Operation Praying Manits. During a two-day period, the Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Air Force units of Joint Task Force Middle East destroyed two oil platforms being used by Iran to coordinate attacks on merchant shipping, sank or destroyed three Iranian warships and neutralized at least six Iranian speedboats.

But the bottom line is that an Iranian blockade of the Gulf of Hormuz will probably fail to stop tanker traffic completely, just as it failed in the 1980s. US forces in the region have grown comparatively more capable, with facilities within the Gulf itself, both in Bahrain and in Iraq, for example. An Iranian blockade would however, disrupt tanker sailings, increase insurance premiums and generally drive the cost of crude upwards; it might even sink a number of tankers and naval vessels, but in the end the United States would prevail. Strangely enough, the Iran blockade threat is more powerful "in being" than in actual implementation. While it remains simply a threat, it can be used as a diplomatic lever to extract concessions. If actually carried out, Europe and China, whatever their political inclinations, would be forced by economic necessity to help break the blockade.

Friday, March 04, 2005

The Foundations of Barad-Dur

The leniency of Bali bombing mastermind Abu Bakar Bashir's sentence -- 30 months for the murder of 202 people -- has shocked the Australian public, not in the least because after long labor the mountain has brought forth a mouse.

Former magistrate Brian Deegan, who lost his son Josh, 22, in the Bali bombing, said Bashir's sentence was outrageous. "It equates to a bit over a week (in jail) per man, woman and child that were hurt," Mr Deegan said today. "You get no closure out of this, it's absolutely insulting."

Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty is warning that the kid-glove treatment of Bashir has not satisified his supporters, who regard the slightest inconvenience to their 'spiritual leader' for the mere act of murdering infidels a mortal insult.

New terrorist attacks are possible in a backlash by supporters of Indonesian Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir over his jailing, Australia's senior police officer said here Friday. Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty said intelligence agencies would be updating terror threat assessments, taking into account a possible violent response from Bashir's supporters.

Veteran newsman Max Soliven of the Philippine Star who has covered Indonesia since the Sukarno era in the mid-1960s talks about the shadow of fear that is spreading where it had never been seen before.

"This sends the message to us, who live fearfully on the perimeter of the JI venom this vicious agitator has been sowing among the pesantren, the thousands of religious schools (equivalent to our Muslim madrasas here) ... the government prosecutors acted like a bunch of nervous Nellies at the trial .... many witnesses refused to testify ... Only one witness, Nasir Abbas, has linked Bashir to terrorism, resolutely testifying that the cleric had personally pit him (Abbas) in charge of "terrorist activities in part of the Philippines".

Indonesia’s turmoil had never been about religion. ... Indonesia was a society in which women played a major role, free from the fetters of second-class status ... In my recent visits, I’ve seen – while some of the smiles remain spontaneous – a visible change. An increasing number of women are wearing head scarves, and even all-black covering (ala the Middle East’s structures). Christian churches are being bombed, Christian communities embroiled in civil war with their once-friendly and happy Muslim neighbors, with the ABRI (Armed Forces) too often siding with the militant Islamic jihadis.

Salamabit*, you don’t even have to go to Indonesia. A Vice-Governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao ... is now insisting on implementing a city ordinance ...  which requires every Muslim female in Marawi City, yep in our own Mindanao, to wear the head-scarve, otherwise be penalized with a fine of thousands of pesos ...  (* Sonuvabitch)

Soliven notes what most of the regular newspapers have missed: that Bashir was at the nexus of the Saudi madrassa system that is the assembly line of terrorism. It is the same system that produced Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, a "former Virginia high school valedictorian ... accused in federal court Tuesday of allegedly conspiring with al-Qaida to assassinate President Bush." And it is a system that has proved too powerful to shut down or even criticize.

Lawyers for Abu Ali, who graduated at the top of his class from the Islamic Saudi Academy in Alexandria, said he would plead not guilty. Raised in nearby Falls Church, Va., he was enrolled at a university in Medina when he was arrested. ... According to the grand jury indictment, items found at Abu Ali's home in Falls Church a week after his arrest included a six-page document on how to avoid government and private surveillance, a document praising the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and the terror attacks on New York and the Pentagon, a copy of Handguns magazine with the name "Ahmed Ali" on the subscription label, audio tapes promoting violent holy war and the killing of Jews, and a book by Al Qaeda deputy Ayman Al Zawahiri criticizing democracy.

Presiding judge O'Grady issued the ritual apology which has become a standard part of treating with these men of the shadows. "I can assure you, you will not suffer any torture or humiliation while in the marshals' custody". Already the victims have become accustomed to craving pardon, in advance, for their unspeakable inferiority, before the emissaries of the madrassas. If US judges are halfway to their knees how likely is it that the Indonesians will hold themselves erect? Secretary Donald Rumsfeld provided the broadest description of the nature of the conflict and laid out what it took to defeat the enemy:

this struggle cannot be won by military means alone ... And since, ultimately, what they need to survive is the support of those who they can indoctrinate, this is an ideological battle as well. ... This war has required not only the vigorous pursuit of known terrorists, but finding ways to stop extremists from gaining recruits and adherents. It is this ideological component, I suggest, that is the essential ingredient for victory.

And it is in this essential area that Australia and by extension the United States, have lost a serious battle. Unless the foundations of the enemy's power are shaken there can be no victory against ever-growing tide that will come against us.

Who was it who said that all wars of consequence were conflicts of the mind? Without getting too metaphysical, it still makes sense to regard ideas as the foundation of historical struggles; the thing that animates the visible clashes. While an idea's potency remains it will find adherents.

The casual outside observer would conclude, from the apparent fact that the Western ideal can find no public defenders, that it is not worth upholding. Radical Islam, on the other hand, must self-evidently be an idea of great worth, as so many are publicly willing to die for it. And to a limited degree they would be right, for something must be terribly wrong with the West to cause such self-hatred.

America has shown itself apt at striking the visible parts of its enemy but seems unable to touch its foundations. On the contrary, every blow it deals seemingly reverberates within it, spreading cracks throughout its own base. Sometimes I think this is fortunate because I am beginning to suspect that the foundations of Barad-Dur lie within the West and not within Islam.