Thursday, December 30, 2004

"Fortress Unvanquishable Save for Sacnoth"

The first of two emergent characteristics of the blogosphere, its 'instant punditry', attained widespread recognition in Memogate. Memogate involved the debunking by anonymous Internet analysts of faked memos presented by 60 Minutes alleging that President Bush had evaded his National Guard obligations. But it is the second characteristic, which is just emerging, that is potentially revolutionary. Der Spiegel describes how the individuals, faced with the necessity to move vast quantities of factual information, used blog publishing to search for missing persons, transmit news and coordinate relief efforts.

Blogs are at the forefront of the tsunami recovery effort. While traditional media drags awaiting publication, and government hotlines jam or go unanswered, bloggers have hopped into the fray, providing needed information to relatives desperate to find loved ones and those hoping to join the rescue efforts. One of the best sites out there is the South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami blog set up by students from New Delhi, a Sri Lankan TV producer and Internet junkies in the region. It offers everything from fascinating tsunami facts to emergency contact numbers to humanitarian relief organizations. Plus it tells you how to donate money from wherever you are.

Because the blogs are poorly understood, they have are often regarded with a mixture of fear and contempt by the members of the regular press. An extreme form of reaction was exhibited by Mr. Nick Coleman of the Star Tribune (registration required).

The end of the year is a time to bury the hatchet, so congratulations to Powerline, the Twin Cities blog that last week was named Time magazine's "Blog of the Year!" Now let me get a new hatchet. ... I  will leave it to the appropriate professionals to determine what they are compensating for, but they have received enormous attention from the despised Mainstream Media and deserve more. ... I wish I didn't have to do it, because I already get ripped a lot on the site, which thankfully also has had some nice photos of bikini-clad candidates for Miss Universe to keep me company. But I accept Powerline's contempt; I am only a Mainstream Media man, while Big Trunk and Hind Rocket are way cool. They blog. I work for a dopey old newspaper committed to covering the news fairly while Powerline doesn't make boring commitments. They are not Mainstream Media. They are Extreme Media. Call them reliable partisan hacks.

Mr. Coleman leaves the reader unsure of whether he is looking up or peering down at the members of the new "Extreme Media". On the one hand, Coleman portrays regular journalists as being at the 'service of the downtrodden', living on hard-earned legitimacy while the bloggers are 'Ivy League' lawyers who are partisan right wing hacks. But in the next breath he regrets that while he is only 'a dopy old' newspaperman the bloggers are 'way cool'. What gives?

What gives is Mr. Coleman is confused. Bloggers are the most heterogenous and diverse group possible. The Daily Kos and Juan Cole would hardly fit Mr. Coleman's description of the conservative hack. It is hard to see the bloggers in Iran, Iraq and China as business-suited Ivy League lawyers with an axe to grind in US local politics. But Mr. Coleman can be forgiven for seizing upon instances of the blogosphere as its archetypes while failing to characterize the phenomenon as a whole. The blogosphere is a specific manifestation -- and by no means the only one -- of the networks made possible by the Internet which can be imperfectly compared to the emerging nervous system of a growing organism. Once the software and infrastructure to self-publish was in place, it was natural that analytical cells, or groups of cells would take inputs from other parts of the system and process them. The result was 'instant punditry', which was nothing more than the public exchange of analysis on any subject -- politics, culture and war just happened to be the three most popular. It enabled lawyers to offer opinions on law; military men on things military; scientists on things scientific. And suddenly the journalistic opinion editors found themselves at an increasing disadvantage. While individual bloggers might not have the journalistic experience of the newspaper professionals, they had the inestimable edge of being experts, sometimes the absolute authorities in their respective fields. This is exactly what happened in Memogate. People who had designed Adobe fonts and written desktop publishing programs knew the memos were computer generated and were not going to be overawed by Dan Rather's experts asserting the contrary. They were the real experts and to make an impact they did not have to be correct across a large range of issues. They only had to be right in the one thing they knew best and from that vantage could hammer a mainstream pundit into the dust. Rather's defeat at the hands of Buckhead was not accidental. It was inevitable.

But the mainstream media could console itself in one thing. It still controlled the primary newsgathering apparatus. Yet even here the rulebook was changing. The advent of cheap consumer digital cameras capable of recording sound coupled to the proliferation of internet connections meant that in addition to the analysis cells which manifested itself in 'instant punditry', the Internet was developing a sensory apparatus to match. To the 'instant pundit' was added the 'instant reporter' -- the man already on the spot, often possessed of local knowledge and language skills. These came suddenly of age with the December 2004 tsunami story. Survivors with a videocamera or even just an email or web browser connection 'filed stories' which were vacuumed up by the the instant pundits hovering over their RSS subscriptions and launched into the global information pool. In retrospect, the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine forshadowed the events of the tsunami coverage. Individuals with mobile computing and communications devices provided a substantial shadow coverage of the unfolding events there. Like the tsunami instant reporters, the insta-journalists in the Ukraine had the additional advantage of being largely unknown to each other. This meant that unlike the wire services, which are often single-sourced, the insta-reports could be cross-checked. The exaggerations or misinterpretations of the one would live or die depending on the reinforcement or negation it received from other sources which could not be forced into a collusive arrangement. It was built-in collateral confirmation. The last bastion of the media has now witnessed the birth of a kind of informational artillery, which while still too weak to overthrow its existing walls, must surely in time grow to such a strength as to render their fortress untenable.

The real challenge facing traditional media is how to graft themselves onto this burgeoning evolutionary system by providing services to it. Google is possibly the best known example of a company which understood this trend perfectly, providing services to this growing organism and profiting from its expansion. But there are others. Less famous companies are profiting by facilitating online payments, advertising services, auctions, trading and other services. Glenn Reynolds links to a story which notes that the classified ads market has already departed traditional newspapers, probably forever.

Lastly, this emerging neural network of analysis cells and sensory apparatus is largely self-aware. It has developed meta-ideas about itself and can actually guide its own development, mimicking a primitive lifeform.

In summary, bloggers are nothing special. They are neither better human beings nor inherently cooler than anyone. It is simply that they have embraced one aspect of a superior paradigm and have benefited thereby. Blogger 'cool' comes from neural network 'cool'. This should be good news for Mr. Coleman. He's just as good as any blogger. The bad news is that, like them, he has to get a day job.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The Wavefront of Death

An animation of the how the killer waves propagated across the Bay of Bengal is featured on the International Coordination Group for the Tsunami Warning System in the Pacific website. More information is provided here. An earlier Belmont Club post speculated that the wavefront was still hours away from the Indian subcontinent after impact on Thailand. That was incorrect. The time difference between the wave's impact on Phuket and landfall on Sri Lanka was only about 30 minutes.

A log of warnings issued by the Pacific tsunami warning system is shown here. The earthquake on the western side of Sumatra took place at 0059Z 26 DEC 2004, initially rated at 8.0 on the Richter Scale. The first tsunami warning bulletin was issued at 0114Z 26 DEC 2004 -- about fifteen minutes later. It was 09:15 in the morning in Bangkok. The wave was still an hour away from Phuket. Although the recipients of the warning were the members of the Pacific group there may have been enough information in the first bulletin to ring alarm bells had any trained person concerned with the Indian Ocean read it.

.................. TSUNAMI INFORMATION BULLETIN ..................

ORIGIN TIME - 0059Z 26 DEC 2004


On 0204Z 26 DEC 2004 a second bulletin was issued. It concluded that there was still no danger to the Pacific. The waves were only minutes away from Phuket and the rest is history.

Monday, December 27, 2004

The First Drops of Rain

The tsunami that ripped across the Indian Ocean, smashing westward into Sri Lanka, the Indian subcontinent and eventually to Africa is an example of a rare event, like an asteroid strike, which is often considered uneconomical to prepare against until it happens. In hindsight, a few simple precautions could have saved thousands of lives. Glenn Reynolds links to a USCGS postmortem of the disaster.

"Most of those people could have been saved if they had had a tsunami warning system in place or tide gauges," he said yesterday. "And I think this will be a lesson to them," he said, referring to the governments of the devastated countries. Person also said that because large tsunamis, or seismic sea waves, are extremely rare in the Indian Ocean, people were never taught to flee inland after they felt the tremors of an earthquake. Tsunami warning systems and tide gauges exist around the Pacific Ocean, for the Pacific Rim as well as South America. The United States has such warning centres in Hawaii and Alaska operated by the US Geological Survey. But none of these monitors the Indian Ocean region.

Now that a tsunami has struck the Indian Ocean there were will probably be a clamor to invest in monitoring and warning systems costing billions. Ironically, these magnificent systems will probably go unused for years, perhaps centuries, before politicians in the future elected by voters whose memory of these tragedies has faded say 'what are these White Elephants for?' and abolish them in favor a more immediately beneficial project. The characteristic of rare events is that they are rare.

Although the geological record shows that large asteroids occasionally strike the earth and that tsunamis sometimes ravage coastal areas, the rarity of their occurrence often precludes the formation of a political consensus to sustain preparations against them. There will be momentary interest, a search for scapegoats and then a gradual return to forgetfulness. As Tim Blair's links show, the trivialization has started already.

Sydney Morning Herald readers have their say:

A pity our army is busy fighting America's immoral war when they should be providing assistance to the affected areas. - Shane Arnold

These divine winds show that the Gods are displeased with the world's state of affairs. - Tomoyuki Yamashita

An opportunity for western governments to divert some funds to aid assistance projects rather than their billion dollar war obsessions. - Mother Nature strikes

This latest tragic disaster should open all our eyes to the fact that the world seems to already have its "hands full" coping with seemingly ongoing natural disasters rather than creating such man made disasters as we have contributed to in Iraq. - wayne gregory

Dont expect a genuinely compassionate response from the U.S. Government, as a "war on earthquakes" will not be as profitable as good ol' terrorism - Nick Loveday

But in truth, there is very little that aircraft carriers, B-2 bombers and Marine Amphibious groups can supply in the way of relief that civilian government on the spot cannot provide better and more quickly if given the money. The window of opportunity to make a difference came when seismographs all over the world measured the quake and triangulated its epicenter. Then, and surely after the first giant waves crashed ashore in Phuket, Thailand it would have been evident that a tsunami danger existed across the whole Indian Ocean.  The Indian subcontinent, still some hours distant from the ocean monster which was then bearing down at airliner speed, might have received the benefit of warning. The communications technology existed to theoretically raise the alarm, but like an organism whose nervous pathways exist yet do not meet in a central place where the impulses can be collated to make sense, no one knew what to make of the data. And the waves crashed down on unsuspecting thousands.

In an abstract way, the information flows surrounding the Tsunami of December 2004 structurally resembled those preceding the Pearl Harbor and September 11 attacks. The raw data announcing the unfolding threat was there, yet the pattern so evident in hindsight was invisible to those who were not looking for it. But if tsunamis and asteroid strikes are rare events, they are comparatively more common than that still rarer object, the unprecedented event: the something that has never happened before. Threats like that can emerge suddenly out of chaotic systems, like WMD terrorism or new viral plagues. Against such events, specific precautions are impossible because no one can prepare for what cannot be foreseen. The real challenge is not so much to create a new dedicated network of staring systems against known threats but to tie current sensors to systems which are capable of cognition. The most valuable survival asset is situational awareness -- the ability to recognize threats you have never seen before and respond in an evolving manner -- and that capability has not yet come to the world as a whole.

The realization of its necessity has come, at least in some small measure, to institutions which are scorned by some the sneering readers of the Sydney Morning Herald. The Internet, space based sensors, biohazard threat detection, the exoatmospheric interception of earthbound objects  -- are all things deemed at one time or another as a waste of money by the more enlightened,  but which may yet provide the margin for survival in a day unforeseen or unimagined. More important than the the specific technologies themselves is the watchful and precautionary mindset which created them. For some, the world is not and was never a paradaisal Gaia but a dangerous place filled with peril both natural and man-made. On the days we forget the ocean is there to remind us.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Sunshine Week: Your Right to Know

A Belmont Club reader sent a link to the Associated Press Photo Managers site which contains guidance to editors on When to Run a Chilling Photo. The author, Naomi Halperin, begins by describing her reaction to a schoolteacher who balked at showing photographs of mutilated Americans hanging from the Fallujah bridge to her class.

One image, seen in many newspapers including The Morning Call, appeared when violence erupted in Fallujah and four American contractors were killed. ... The single letter that stands out in my mind was from a high school teacher who routinely brought the newspaper to her classroom to share with her students. She wrote: "After viewing the photo of the American soldiers hanging on the bridge in Iraq, I will no longer be bringing my paper to school to use for the classroom. The students were very upset and they wanted to know the names of the soldiers because they have relatives serving in our military. They wanted to know why the newspaper would show our soldiers' charred bodies hanging there in such disrespect. ...

My first reaction was to consider that some of her students she wanted to protect were the very age of many of the soldiers fighting in Iraq. I answered her letter the next day: "... Running a photo that we know will disturb folks is never an easy decision. ... After careful consideration we decided not to hide the truth, as brutal as it was. The image, very reminiscent of the dead American soldier being dragged through the streets of Somalia, was too important for the editors here at The Morning Call to ignore. It is a powerful photo. I suspect this particular picture will prove to be a historical flashpoint image that helps define the Iraqi conflict and who we are as a people. Perhaps in the future, you as an educator might be compelled to look at these tragic events as an opportunity for discussion. By keeping the paper from your students, you close the only window of the world for a lot of kids so I hope you will reconsider bringing your paper to the classroom. I know that you and I will probably never agree on this subject but I respect your views and will take it to heart."

Ms. Halperin, I think it is fair to say, is arguing it is the duty of editors to convey the truth, however painful; and that it was in the long-term interest of the teacher's students to have their eyes opened to the world as it is. But because the quest for the truth is often an adversarial process, it is not surprising to find accounts of the same event which cast a wholly different construction on things. Powerline printed an angry letter from reader Kevin O'Brien who charged that the AP behaved unethically in Fallujah and that their account of events is poisoned as a consequence.

AFP, AP and AP TV had advance notice of the murders of contractors in Fallujah last spring, so that they could position themselves on scene. ... Apparently the reporters were tipped to go to a specific location. They were not told exactly what would take place, but they knew it was going to be a terrorist action of some type. For security reasons, the terrorists give the reporters very little notice -- just enough to get there, if everything goes right. They were told exactly what street corner to be on, where they would be expected by and under the protection of the terrorists. ("If you're anywhere else, we can't guarantee your safety.") ... After the contractors were dead and their bodies looted, the reporters stayed and encouraged the mob that had gathered to mutilate the bodies. I am told by our Arabic speakers that they can be heard egging the youths on during the video of the mutilations. "Go ahead, cut him up. What are you afraid of?"

I have no idea if these charges are true; Mr. O'Brien's allegations would surely outrage many journalists working for the Associated Press. But why, in principle, should Mr. O'Brien's allegations be withheld from students where the photos of contractors should not? All of the arguments advanced by Ms. Halperin apply to the Powerline article as well. The obvious response would be that Mr. O'Brien's allegations are 'false' while the the picture of the contractors hanging like meat from the bridge is 'true', though a moment's reflection will show that one does not disprove the other. Yet as Ms. Halperin is at pains to point out, the real truth is not contained in the actual photograph but in is its larger signification. "The image, very reminiscent of the dead American soldier being dragged through the streets of Somalia, was too important for the editors here at The Morning Call to ignore. It is a powerful photo. I suspect this particular picture will prove to be a historical flashpoint image that helps define the Iraqi conflict and who we are as a people." One could argue that O'Brien is asking equally fundamental questions about who you trust to convey the news. Ultimately, the case for preferring the AP's account and dismissing Mr. O' Brien's rests upon an appeal to the authority of the AP brand name. It rests on trust. The public knows the AP and doesn't know Mr. O'Brien, hence it is the AP's account that represents the canon.

Yet ironically we do know Mr. O'Brien, who at least has a name, while we will probably never know the identity of the "brave Iraqi" photographer who captured the execution of Iraqi election worker on Haifa Street. Jack Stokes, the Associated Press director of media relations explained how that photographer was recruited.

Insurgents want their stories told as much as other people and some are willing to let Iraqi photographers take their pictures. It's important to note, though, that the photographers are not "embedded" with the insurgents. They do not have to swear allegiance or otherwise join up philosophically with them just to take their pictures.

Because of the dangers inherent in this situation the AP believed photographer's the identity had to be protected. Salon quotes sources as saying "The photographer, whose identity the AP is withholding due to safety concerns, was likely 'tipped off to a demonstration that was supposed to take place on Haifa Street' said the AP source, who was not at liberty to comment by name". A Belmont Club reader wonders who the photographer is being protected from since "he was allowed to not only photograph the executions, but also live to deliver them to be published" so "the terrorists already know who he is". Since they knew him well enough to send him the "tip" in the first place the reader's question seems perfectly reasonable.

And deserving of an answer. The Associated Press says it encourages questioning and wants the public to know the truth. In a press release dated December 14, 2004, AP CEO Tom Curley warned of the "trend toward more secrecy" and promised to resist it.

Curley and other media leaders have announced a 2005 initiative called "Sunshine Sunday-Sunshine Week: Your Right to Know" to foster a public dialogue on the importance of maintaining access to government information. ... "We ourselves need to be out there fighting for access," Curley said. ... Founded in 1848, The Associated Press is the world's oldest and largest newsgathering organization, providing content to more than 15,000 news outlets with a daily reach of 1 billion people around the world. Its multimedia services are distributed by satellite and the Internet to more than 120 nations.

The public right to classified information when the larger interest compels its release has been widely debated. It seems clear that the same standard should apply, in certain circumstances, to information about the way the news is obtained and prepared. Let the Sunshine in.


Glenn Reynolds links to Egyptian blogger Big Pharaoh who takes up the Haifa Street murders.

The blogoshere is currently discussing the issue of how an Associated Press photographer managed to stand in the middle of one of Iraq's (and probably the world's) most dangerous roads and shot a picture after another of a ruthless murder in the middle of the day. ... The case at hand has to do with the brutal killing of 2 Iraqi heroes whose only mistake was trying to organize an election in their country. This is a moral case and we, the friends of Iraq and of the troops serving there, should not let this incident pass unnoticed.

Follow the link to read the rest.

Friday, December 24, 2004

"Insurgents want their stories told" -- Associated Press

Little Green Footballs links to a Poynter Online press release here reproduced verbatim.

From JACK STOKES, director of media relations, Associated Press: [This is a solicited letter regarding Salon's "The Associated Press 'insurgency.'"] Several brave Iraqi photographers work for The Associated Press in places that only Iraqis can cover. Many are covering the communities they live in where family and tribal relations give them access that would not be available to Western photographers, or even Iraqi photographers who are not from the area.

Insurgents want their stories told as much as other people and some are willing to let Iraqi photographers take their pictures. It's important to note, though, that the photographers are not "embedded" with the insurgents. They do not have to swear allegiance or otherwise join up philosophically with them just to take their pictures.

These comments bear on some of the questions raised in the post and commentary at Haifa Street. In this regard, one hopes it is not impertinent to ask whether a photographer who does not "swear allegiance or otherwise join up philosophically with them (insurgents)" can take their pictures. Mr. Stokes might like to state whether the Associated Press photographer who took a sequence of pictures of an execution on Haifa Street, Baghdad is one of these "brave Iraqi photographers" to whom the insurgents are willing to entrust their stories. If so, at what point did the "brave Iraqi" photographer become aware that the story of the day was going to be the live execution of two Iraqi election workers?

Just asking.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Haifa Street

The execution of Iraqi election workers on Baghdad's Haifa street was probably not, properly speaking, a murder. It was a political act. There has been no suggestion that the killers of the electoral workers had any personal grudge against them. Probably any electoral workers would have done. While most killers seek to hide their faces and plan their attacks so no one can see them, these killers scorned masks and chose a busy street in Baghdad to carry out their work because they wanted to send a message. According to Abdul Hussein Al-Obedi of the Associated Press:

In Baghdad, dozens of gunmen-- unmasked and apparently unafraid to show their faces-- executed three election officials on Sunday, part of their campaign to disrupt next month's parliamentary ballot. ... The deadly strikes Sunday highlighted the apparent ability of the insurgents to launch attacks almost at will, despite confident assessments by U.S. military commanders that they had regained the initiative after last month's campaign against militants in Fallujah. ... Meanwhile, in a message passed on by lawyers who visited him in his cell last week, Saddam denounced the elections as an American plot. ...

During morning rush hour, about 30 armed insurgents, hurling hand grenades and firing guns, swarmed onto Haifa Street, the scene of repeated clashes between U.S. forces and insurgents. They stopped a car carrying five employees of the Iraqi Electoral Commission and killed three of them. The other two escaped. The commission condemned the attack as a "terrorist ambush."

Two or three dozen people, at the most, would normally have witnessed these events. But due to the great good fortune of the killers, a photographer from the Associated Press was present and pictures of the execution were carried on newspapers throughout the globe, sending the executioner's message not merely to a handful of bystanders to hundreds of millions of readers throughout the world.

Salon says:

A source at the Associated Press knowledgeable about the events covered in Baghdad on Sunday told Salon that accusations that the photographer was aware of the militants' plans are "ridiculous." The photographer, whose identity the AP is withholding due to safety concerns, was likely "tipped off to a demonstration that was supposed to take place on Haifa Street," said the AP source, who was not at liberty to comment by name. But the photographer "definitely would not have had foreknowledge" of a violent event like an execution, the source said.

Here was where the killers really lucked out. The AP photographer, though caught at unawares, who definitely had no "foreknowledge" of what was going down and at the worst expected a street demonstration, did not take cover, even as soldiers and Marines are trained to do when shooting starts. He was made of sterner stuff and held his ground, taking pictures of people he did not know killing individuals he did not recognize for reasons he would not have known about. This -- in the midst of "30 armed insurgents, hurling hand grenades and firing guns" -- as the Associated Press report says. And he continued to take photographs for a fairly long period of time, capturing not just a single photograph, but a sequence of them. Salon continues:

Reporting from the most perilous sectors of a war zone is a complicated business, both in terms of access and safety. The kind of flimsy commentary-with-an-agenda bouncing around the conservative blogosphere right now regarding an AP insurgency against the war effort is not only a disservice to the public but a dishonor to the many journalists who have been injured or killed carrying out their dangerous mission in Iraq.

The journalists who have been killed or wounded in Iraq are rightly honored because noncombatants, belonging to neither side, who have the courage to walk into danger to gather news deserve every distinction than can be bestowed. They should not be confused, nor their memory sullied, by association with individuals who, posing as protected persons, act as mouthpieces of terrorist organizations, which would have been the case if the AP photographer had not been there to innocently cover a demonstration. That is why asking questions about what happened on Haifa Street is so important. It is not, as Salon would have it, a question of an obscure blogger impugning the integrity of journalists. On the contrary, it is about maintaining the integrity of journalists. As the Crimes of War site notes, the protections accorded to journalists are largely provided by custom.

The rights most journalists enjoy in wartime today were won in their respective national political cultures. In the final analysis, field commanders tolerate the presence of the press because of the political power and legal protections the press has acquired in their own local arenas. ... But journalists roaming around the wilder conflicts of the world are forced to live instead by the Dylan dictum: to live outside the law you must be honest. Never pretend to be what you are not or deny being what you are unless your life depends on it.

Every rogue "journalist" who undermines this customary protection -- the men who violate the Dylan dictum and live dishonestly -- impugn journalistic integrity far more than a 'conservative blogger' and serve to increase the already great peril under which legitimate journalists labor.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

On Haifa Street.

Sixty Four Dollars

Salon claims that "conservative bloggers suggested Monday that an Associated Press photographer was complicit with militants who executed three Iraqi election workers on Baghdad's dangerous Haifa Street on Sunday." A picture taken by the Associated Press photographer is posted on the Salon site. The photo itself raises more questions than any conservative blogger ever could. It shows traffic backed up behind the killers, afraid to proceed further. The attack, according to the Associated Press's own account was carried out by "about 30 armed insurgents, hurling hand grenades and firing guns", but the photograph itself is taken from a fairly elevated position, as from a standing person. Here are excerpts the account of Abdul Hussein Al-Obedi of the Associated Press:

In Baghdad, dozens of gunmen-- unmasked and apparently unafraid to show their faces-- executed three election officials on Sunday, part of their campaign to disrupt next month's parliamentary ballot.  ... The deadly strikes Sunday highlighted the apparent ability of the insurgents to launch attacks almost at will, despite confident assessments by U.S. military commanders that they had regained the initiative after last month's campaign against militants in Fallujah. ... Meanwhile, in a message passed on by lawyers who visited him in his cell last week, Saddam denounced the elections as an American plot. ...

During morning rush hour, about 30 armed insurgents, hurling hand grenades and firing guns, swarmed onto Haifa Street, the scene of repeated clashes between U.S. forces and insurgents. They stopped a car carrying five employees of the Iraqi Electoral Commission and killed three of them. The other two escaped. The commission condemned the attack as a "terrorist ambush."

It was the surely the most amazing of coincidences that placed an Associated Press photographer in a position to openly photograph an execution, where we are reliably informed, no less than 30 armed men were firing guns and hurling hand grenades. The AP photographer is not in a situation comparable to a defendant in a criminal case, who is entitled to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. He is not in any court at all. But like the situation involving Dan Rather and the infamous Texas National guard memorandum, readers are entitled to wonder about the provenance of the evidence served up to the viewers. Asking how the photographer happened to be there and take those photographs in a shooting situation is not unlike Buckhead wondering about the Times Roman font in the 'typewritten' memorandum. (Buckhead was the internet poster who first spotted the discrepancies in Dan Rather's supposed evidence.) They are legitimate questions, which as Dan Rather proved, the Associated Press is not compelled to answer. There may be a perfectly plausible explanation for everything, but for the record let me wonder:

  1. How the Associated Press photographer happened to be at the attack site at the time. Was it on his route to home or work?

  2. How he photographed the execution sequence in the midst of an attack by 30 persons from the middle of the major road (see the photo provided by Salon).

Just asking. We need to go the "country mile" to reach the standard of proof that any responsible reader would need to form an opinion on the issues. The best way to do that is to ask questions and though one may wait in vain for the answers, one must ask them all the same in the same manner that Salon is asking questions about "conservative bloggers" who "suggest" that an "Associated Press photographer was complict". You can hardly do one and not the other.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Lidless Eye

Most everyone on the blogosphere has probably followed the Glenn Reynolds link to a Mosul chaplain's blog. More than 20 people, including US military and civilian personnel, were killed in a mortar attack on a base mess tent in Mosul. Chaplain Lewis was at the site. His narrative of the followup attack on the wounded and the medical personnel who responded stood out.

Regardless of what some may say, these are not stupid people. Any attack with casualties will naturally mean that eventually a very large number of care givers will be concentrated in one location. They took full advantage of that. In the middle of the mayhem the first mortar round hit about 100 to 200 meters away. Everyone started shouting to get the wounded into the hospital which is solid concrete and much safer than being in the open. Soon, the next mortar hit quite a bit closer than the first as they "walked" their rounds toward their intended Everyone began to rush toward the building. I stood at the door shoving as many people inside as I could. Just before heading in myself, the last one hit directly on top of the hospital. I was standing next to the building so was shielded from any flying shrapnel. In fact, the building, being built as a bunker took the hit with little effect. However, I couldn't have been more than 10 to 15 meters from the point of impact and brother did I feel the shock. That'll wake you up! I rushed inside to find doctors and nurses draped over patients, others on the floor or under something. I ducked low and quickly moved as far inside as I could. After a few tense moments people began to move around again and the business of patching bodies and healing minds continued in earnest.

This suggests that the target was under observation so either the first firing team, or a second enemy mortar team tasked with a followup attack could adjust their fire until they hit the hospital. It will be interesting to see whether the enemy fire originated from a populated area, preventing counterbattery. Many American bases are routinely patrolled by RPVs that run a circuit around possible firing positions. Mortar or rocket positions in the open would be easily detected. But there is no data and it would be useless to speculate on what actually happened. However, it is safe to say that the attack demonstrates assymetrical warfare in action. The enemy chose the weakest point he could find to attack; exploited the known limitations of the American response; and understood that he was to all intents and purposes exempted from the condemnation attendant to attacking the wounded and medical personnel. The chaplain and the medical personnel knew this and did not mill around expecting the Geneva Convention to protect them from those who have never heard of it, except as it applies to their own convenience. They knew the true face of the enemy; a face which bore no resemblance to the heroic countenance often presented by the media to the world.

Of the first three factors, the advantage of choosing the weakest point of attack has been a combatant's right from time immemorial. That is a purely military condition. But the enemy ability to exploit the limits of American response and attack medical personnel with public relations impunity are examples of military advantages that arise from political restraints. To the extent the blogosphere can dispel the propaganda cover willingly provided by the Left, people on the home front can help the soldiers in the field. It is necessary to link the war criminal behavior of the enemy with the studied blindness of 'sophisticates' towards their most heinous crimes. They are twinned; with the former made possible by the latter. The Daily Telegraph describes how some European agencies actually refuse to look at mass grave sites to avoid being party to the punishment of war criminals.

Lack of European experts has held up the excavation of mass graves in Iraq, according to an American human rights lawyer working on the investigation. Greg Kehoe said the experts were not joining in because evidence might be used to sentence Saddam Hussein to death. ...

Capital punishment is not permitted within the European Union which discourages its use elsewhere. EU countries also routinely refuse to extradite people to the United States and other countries unless they receive guarantees that detainees will not be executed. The Iraqi Special Tribunal has identified a further nine mass graves to be examined for evidence of the former Saddam regime's crimes against humanity. Human rights groups estimate that 300,000 people were killed. Mr Kehoe, who spent five years investigating mass graves in Bosnia for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, said he wanted to have collected far more evidence by now, and cited the delay as one reason why the IST has yet to issue formal charges against Saddam and 11 other former regime leaders.

Enemy mortar teams lying in wait to attack doctors are one aspect of a coin which features the blind eye of some media and 'progressive' institutions on the other. Mark Glaser observed that:

For way too long, it has been the mainstream media (MSM) that's played God with the American public, telling everyone what's news and what's not, what to play up and what to downplay. But 2004 was the year the power started shifting, that the Little People, if you will, started to tell the gods of media what the public really wanted.

They can start by looking at the mass casualty station in Mosul and then glancing down at their hands.

Monday, December 20, 2004

The Odds Against

An Associated Press article describes the execution of two Iraqi electoral officials by insurgents in a Baghdad street. 

A series of pictures taken by an AP photographer show three pistol-wielding gunmen, who had earlier stopped a car carrying the election officials and dragged them into the middle of Haifa Street in the midst of morning traffic. ...

In the dramatic photo sequence one of the captives is shown lying on his side on the pavement, while a second is on his knees nearby in the street. The gunmen casually display their handguns as they shoot the two men. Both of the victims shown in the sequence wore traditional Arab headscarfs. In contrast, the attackers were bareheaded and apparently unafraid to show their faces. The entire sequence shows only two of the three victims lying dead after they were shot at close range. The final photo of the sequence shows a man standing near one of the bodies waving for help, as a U.S. Apache helicopter appears above the crime scene after the gunmen apparently melted away into the crowd.

One of those photos is shown in this story.

Three employees, identified by the commission as Hatem Ali Hadi al-Moussawi, a lawyer and deputy director for the commission's Karkh office, and two of his office employees Mahdi Sbeih and Samy Moussa, were dragged from their cars and shot dead. Two men escaped unhurt. In the dramatic photo sequence one of the captives is shown lying prone on the pavement, while the another one seems to be kneeling as the armed men approach, casually carrying their handguns or aiming them at the men.

Even with today's proliferation of compact photographic equipment, a legitimate photojournalist rarely gets the opportunity to capture an execution. Apart from the beheadings which are purposely recorded on video by the jihadis and from gun camera film, most footage of people actually being shot are taken by photographers in company with combatants who are ready to film an ambush. Those individuals are combat cameramen for their armies or embedded reporters. The most famous analogue to the Associated Press sequence of photographs is probably the Eddie Adams photo of the execution of Vietcong Captain Bay Lop by South Vietnamese General Nguyen Ngoc Loan. Adams owed that opportunity to General Loan himself, who brought Adams along to cover what he believed to be a justifiable summary execution. Adams depressed the shutter at exactly the moment Loan fired and photo analysis actually shows the impact of the bullet on Bay Lop's skull.

It may have been pure luck, but it was surely the longest of odds that would have brought an Associated Press cameraman to the site of a surprise attack on two Iraqi electoral workers. As it was, the AP photograph was unable to capture the actual execution, only the moments shortly before and after the Iraqis were killed. Although the Eddie Adams photograph was widely used to illustrate the 'brutality' of the Saigon government, the photos taken by the Associated Press are unlikely to reflect badly on the electoral worker's killers. Press reports highlight the confidence and boldness of the insurgents. "Both of the victims shown in the sequence wore traditional Arab headscarfs. In contrast, the attackers were bareheaded and apparently unafraid to show their faces", suggesting that 'collaborators' must conceal their faces while the Ba'athists stride with impunity through the light of day. It was fortunate for the AP that their photographer was accidentally there.

Sometimes they are accidentally there on purpose. In November of 2003, two French journalists from Paris Match accompanied a group of men who set out to shoot down a DHL Airbus. A translation of the "journalist's" account is given below:

On Friday, Nov. 21, somewhere in Baghdad, the head of these commandos told us that one day he had seen a DHL Airbus, flying low. "We did not fire, we never fire on civilian aircraft. Also, I didn't know what DHL stood for. Afterwards, when my friend explained that these planes transported the mail of GI's, I regretted that a little. I could have deprived the soldiers of the letters from their moms and their fiancees. Next time, I'd fire!"

After driving half an hour in the countryside, the leader gives the order to stop at the end of a sunken lane and to park the cars so that they are ready, spread out and pointed in different directions. We are within two kilometers of the airport, a little before 9 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 22. ... Three men wait at the wheel of the cars, ready to go. Suddenly, the leader, who, since arriving has been listening acutely and scanning the sky, shouts, "A plane! Come on, you, get in position, prepare to launch!" The aircraft is flying approximately 1500 meters up, 3 km away from us. The two men, 50 meters apart from each other, await the orders, Strellas on their shoulders. They believe they've spotted an American military Boeing 747. The leader howls, "Fire!" At 9:08 the first missile takes off. The second, five seconds later, misses the target. The leader jumps with joy like a child and raises the hands to the sky, "Allah Akbar! Allah Akbar!" Then he gives the order to quickly pack up the weapons and each car takes off in a whirlwind, each in a different direction. We will discover later by the press dispatches that the commandoes had fired on a DHL Airbus... A civilian target!

The Paris Match account, though somewhat confused, conveys the impression that not everyone knew what the letters DHL stood for. In any case, the target was mistaken for a military 747, though of course, the attackers had no way at all of knowing anything at all about the identity of the flight. The journalists discover only later that the "commandoes had fired on a DHL Airbus... A civilian target!" Sacre Bleu! So sorry. Such careless noncombatants. Recently, the Guardian described how difficult it was to keep the noncombatant status while the United States exists on the planet.

The chief executive of the British Red Cross has warned that the international movement's neutrality is fast becoming a casualty of the global "war on terror". Sir Nicholas Young told the Guardian that the US-led coalition's defiance of international law in Iraq threatened to obliterate the capacity of the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement to operate in areas of conflict.

In an interview in today's Society Guardian, he says: "The respect the Red Cross relied on, the sense that when we're wearing our emblem and doing our work we are protected, we are sacrosanct, is under threat. "We are able to work across the frontline for only as long as we are seen as neutral. The moment that sense of impartiality is lost, our mission is lost. "We might as well pack up and go home. We'll be seen as part of the war machine and we'll be unable to operate." Driving through the streets of Baghdad in a clearly marked Red Cross vehicle last year, Sir Nicholas says, he was acutely aware that local people did not recognise the agency's neutrality. "I had a very strong sense that we were regarded as the occupying powers," he says. "And this was something I hadn't felt before."

Hard being hors de combat. The electoral workers were noncombatants too.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

The Iraqi Elections

Five days and an age ago, a post describing the last ditch strategy of the Iraqi insurgents quoted Marc Ruel Gerecht as predicting they would attempt to stir up a civil war.

Which brings us to the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq. Clerical Iran's primary objective is to ensure that Iraq remains destabilized, incapable of coalescing around a democratically elected government. Such a government supported by Iraq's Shiite establishment is a dagger aimed at Tehran's clerical dictatorship. ... What clerical Iran ideally wants to see next door is strife that can produce an Iraqi Hezbollah. ... The birth of the Lebanese Hezbollah, which Iran's ruling mullahs view as their greatest--only--foreign success, required a civil war and an Israeli invasion. In Iraq, Iran's ruling clerics have an American invasion. What they lack is civil war. ...

He was only repeating common knowledge. In early December, the Sunni President of the Interim Government, Ghazi al-Yawar, stated that the "Armies of Darkness" would make an all-out attempt to derail the democratic processes in Iraq. "Speaking after a particularly bloody few days in which more than 70 people have been killed, Yawar said: "Right now, we're faced with the armies of darkness, who have no objective but to undermine the political process and incite civil war in Iraq."

Those "Armies of Darkness" killed more than 62 people in separate attacks on Shi'ite targets and in targeted assassinations of Iraqi election workers over the last few days. According to MSNBC:

Car bombs rocked Iraq’s two holiest Shiite cities Sunday, killing at least 62 people and wounding more than 120, while in downtown Baghdad dozens of gunmen carried out a brazen ambush on a car, pulling out three election officials and executing them on the pavement in the middle of morning traffic.

The attacks by Sunni insurgents and their Syrian backers upon Shi'ites is easy to understand. The former Ba'athist ruling class of Iraq is fighting to prevent the Shi'ite majority from dominating the new government. But why should Teheran, as Gerecht suggests, have a hand in attacking their co-religionists? The answer he provides is that the Iranian Mullahs have always perceived the Iraqi Shi'ites as rivals for power and influence within the Shi'ite world. Moreover, the Iraqi Shi'a have a record of independent action and in fact constituted the majority of Iraqi troops fighting against Iran during the late 1980s war between the two countries.

 The strongest trump playing in favor of America and against Iran is Iraqi nationalism. ... Iraq's Shiites are the progenitors of modern Iraqi nationalism. They, much more than their Sunni Arab compatriots, who were the driving force behind pan-Arabism in Mesopotamia, have shaped an Iraqi Arab identity which is distinct from the Sunni Arabs to the west and Shiite Iranians to the east. ... Which brings us to the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq. Clerical Iran's primary objective is to ensure that Iraq remains destabilized, incapable of coalescing around a democratically elected government. Such a government supported by Iraq's Shiite establishment is a dagger aimed at Tehran's clerical dictatorship.

But while the Iraqi Mullahs fear a new Iraqi state as an intra-Shi'ite threat, other Arab states dread it in intra-sectarian terms. It threatens to upset the power balance between Sunni and Shi'ite within the region. As John Burns of the New York Times put it:

Many American and Iraqi officials say the talk of Iranian influence here reflects what they call a more plausible fear: that Shiite dominance in Iraq, coupled with Shiite rule in Iran, would reshape the geopolitical map of the Middle East. The development would be particularly threatening to Sunni-ruled states that border Iraq and run down the Persian Gulf, the officials say, carrying as it would the threat of increasing unrest among long-suppressed Shiite populations.

For entirely different reasons the Syrian and Iranian regimes are determined to strangle the new Iraqi state in the cradle. And for precisely that reason, the Iraqi politicians who are now emerging from years of domination by the Ba'ath and the paid agents of Teheran are determined not to miss their chance at independence. Ha'aretz reports that Shi'ite leaders have called for calm amid the provocations that have seen three score of their co-religionists killed near their holiest places.

Shi'ite leaders accuse Sunni Muslim militants of carrying out the attacks. The Shi'ites suspect militants known as Salafists or Wahabis, and former ruling Baath Party members, of seeking to draw Shi'ites into a violence cycle that would spark a civil war and prevent the coming elections from taking place. Wahabis are blamed by Shi'ites for killing scores of clerics and ordinary Shi'ites in Dora, a mixed area in Baghdad, and Latifiya, just south of the capital, in recent months. According to Mohammad Bahr al-Uloum, one of Iraq's most respected Shi'ite clerics "[Wahabi militants] are trying to ignite a sectarian civil war and prevent elections from going ahead on time. They have failed before and they will fail again."

If the issues in Iraq have been muddled beforetime by the polemic over 'weapons of mass destruction' or Saddam's connection to the September 11 attacks, the Syrian and Iranian attempts to prevent the scheduled elections have at last put things in their proper perspective. The central issue in Iraq is whether an Arab people can win their freedom in despite of the worst efforts of tyrannical and terrorist regimes to prevent it. The blasts which ripped through the Shi'ite holy places and the bullets which smashed the skulls of Iraqi election works have also blown aside the fog of propaganda with which the ancien regime sought to hide its campaign of suppression. It is not about 'blood for oil' or 'Jesusland': no; it is about the Iraqi people seeking to choose their future, backed by America on the one hand and the traditional tyrannies of the Middle East aided by their European Allies and the United Nations bureaucracy seeking to prevent it on the other. That is not to say that traditional geopolitics or human greed have nothing to do with the overall mixture; nor to argue that commercial cupidity and ambition are absent from Iraq. But it is essential to recognize the fundamental issues involved and where the cause of right lies, this day, this hour; until the elections on January 30.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

A Haunting We Will Go

Ron Bailey continues to report from United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Buenos Aires. He summarizes the presentation of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development which argues that steep reductions in carbon emissions are impossible. The presentation, delivered by David Hone from Shell and Mark Akhurst from British Petroleum, is essentially directed at the time frame during which a reduction in carbon emissions can be effected. Their basic methodology consisted of quantifying all the sources of carbon emissions and replacing them with nonemitters at rapid -- sometimes inconceivably rapid -- rates. In each case Hone and Ackhurst showed that the dropoff in carbon emissions would still take quite a long time.

Currently, humanity is fueled by 1000 1 gigawatt coal-fired power plants, 400 1 gigawatt oil-fired plants, 250 gas-fired plants, 350 nuclear power stations, 500 gigawatts of hydropower, 750 million fossil fueled vehicles, 130 exajoules for heating and cooling, 50 exajoules from the burning of traditional biomass.

Doing the math, in order to double the world's energy supplies over the next 50 years, the world will need to build, among other things, the equivalent of 2750 new 1 gigawatt natural gas-fired power stations, 1000 new coal-fired 1 gigawatt power plants with carbon capture, 1.5 million windmills deployed over a bit less than 300,000 square miles, 2150 new nuclear plants, 1500 new 1 gigawatt hydropower stations, not to mention new solar and biofuel technologies.

Recall that (Tony) Blair and others are calling for emission reductions of 60% by 2050. That would mean that instead of emitting 7 gigatons of carbon in 2050 under the WBCSD scenario, the world would emit only 2.8 gigatons of carbon annually. As the old saying goes, it may be that "you can't get there from here."

While the World Business Council's arithmetic may be impeccable, it is entirely beside the point. So what if a reduction in emissions by the means prescribed is impossible by 2050? Politicians don't want to hear it. And since politics very often consists of promising the impossible to the ignorant, the scientific bankruptcy of currently proposed Green initiatives is entirely irrelevant. Kyoto, like Peacekeeping is always good, though no one can say why. The climate change initiatives will continue to be put forward; they are an end in themselves. The more honest Greens might well concede the truth of the indictment yet argue that since one has to begin somewhere even a shambolic initiative is worthwhile.

In a lecture to Caltech students in 2003, Michael Crichton made two points which ironically skewer both the Greens and the counter-arguments of the World Business Council. Crichton began by pointing out that contemporary scientific policy is increasingly devoid of science.

But I did not expect science merely to extend lifespan, feed the hungry, cure disease, and shrink the world with jets and cell phones. I also expected science to banish the evils of human thought---prejudice and superstition, irrational beliefs and false fears. I expected science to be, in Carl Sagan's memorable phrase, "a candle in a demon haunted world." And here, I am not so pleased with the impact of science. Rather than serving as a cleansing force, science has in some instances been seduced by the more ancient lures of politics and publicity. ...

Crichton went on the examine the gigantic ruins of junk science policy like SETI and Nuclear Winter, occasingly stooping to hold up some minor artifact like puerperal fever, pellagra for inspection, like some archaeologist casting his eye over the folly of the past, every bit as laughable as the spine pads without once no European would venture into the tropical sun. He warned that we detach policy from science at our peril.

As the twentieth century drew to a close, the connection between hard scientific fact and public policy became increasingly elastic. In part this was possible because of the complacency of the scientific profession; in part because of the lack of good science education among the public; in part, because of the rise of specialized advocacy groups which have been enormously effective in getting publicity and shaping policy; and in great part because of the decline of the media as an independent assessor of fact. The deterioration of the American media is dire loss for our country. When distinguished institutions like the New York Times can no longer differentiate between factual content and editorial opinion, but rather mix both freely on their front page, then who will hold anyone to a higher standard?

And so, in this elastic anything-goes world where science-or non-science-is the hand maiden of questionable public policy, we arrive at last at global warming. It is not my purpose here to rehash the details of this most magnificent of the demons haunting the world. I would just remind you of the now-familiar pattern by which these things are established. Evidentiary uncertainties are glossed over in the unseemly rush for an overarching policy, and for grants to support the policy by delivering findings that are desired by the patron. Next, the isolation of those scientists who won't get with the program, and the characterization of those scientists as outsiders and "skeptics" in quotation marks-suspect individuals with suspect motives, industry flunkies, reactionaries, or simply anti-environmental nutcases. In short order, debate ends, even though prominent scientists are uncomfortable about how things are being done.

Yet he is not entirely kind to the sort of analysis which Hone and Ackhurst brought to the table. Crichton argues that though we can do no other, the simple extrapolation of the present into the future rarely holds. The unforseen will interpose.

Let's think back to people in 1900 in, say, New York. If they worried about people in 2000, what would they worry about? Probably: Where would people get enough horses? And what would they do about all the horseshit? Horse pollution was bad in 1900, think how much worse it would be a century later, with so many more people riding horses?

But of course, within a few years, nobody rode horses except for sport. And in 2000, France was getting 80% its power from an energy source that was unknown in 1900. Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and Japan were getting more than 30% from this source, unknown in 1900. Remember, people in 1900 didn't know what an atom was. They didn't know its structure. They also didn't know what a radio was, or an airport, or a movie, or a television, or a computer, or a cell phone, or a jet, an antibiotic, a rocket, a satellite, an MRI, ICU, IUD, IBM, IRA, ERA, EEG, EPA, IRS, DOD, PCP, HTML, internet. interferon, instant replay, remote sensing, remote control, speed dialing, gene therapy, gene splicing, genes, spot welding, heat-seeking, bipolar, prozac, leotards, lap dancing, email, tape recorder, CDs, airbags, plastic explosive, plastic, robots, cars, liposuction, transduction, superconduction, dish antennas, step aerobics, smoothies, twelve-step, ultrasound, nylon, rayon, teflon, fiber optics, carpal tunnel, laser surgery, laparoscopy, corneal transplant, kidney transplant, AIDS… None of this would have meant anything to a person in the year 1900. They wouldn't know what you are talking about.

The two warnings, first against junk science and the second against the arbitrary prolongation of trends, if taken together must lead us to the conclusion that environmental policy should be a heuristic. It must be fundamentally grounded in science yet not so sure of itself as to establish tentative conclusions as dogma. This argues for a more flexible policy regime than those which set arbitrary targets, for finding a way of setting the orientation of the vector without specifying its length. Unfortunately that is not the way politics does business. A 'spectre is haunting Europe' -- and the world one might add -- the demon of pseudo-science against which rigorous argument has no effect. Until then, we must resort to Bell, Book and Blogger which alone can defeat it. Who said the Age of Magic was dead?

Ever Always

Glenn Reynolds points out that Philip Gourevitch, author of a best selling book on the Rwandan Genocide, understands the UN mess is bigger than Kofi Annan. Gourevitch writes:

The air of corruption that clouds the United Nations these days cannot simply be fanned away by forcing the resignation of Kofi Annan as Secretary-General, as a growing number of prominent Republicans have been urging. ... Annan bristles at the insinuations of corruption in his ranks, but, in truth, his tenure was tainted from the beginning. In the mid-nineties, when he was head of peacekeeping, he presided over catastrophically failed missions in Bosnia and in Rwanda, where he ignored detailed warnings of genocide, then watched them come true, while the world did nothing to stop it. Those world leaders who later hailed him as a moral exemplar at best ignored that history, at worst regarded it as a kind of credential: since Annan was a compromised figure, they did not have to fear his censure. ...

Last week, Annan released a set of proposals, put forward by a commission of senior international statesmen, for a systematic overhaul of the U.N. bureaucracy and an updating of international law... Yet nothing in the proposals promises to alter the chronic dysfunctions of the system. The proposed new permanent seats on the Security Council don’t carry the power of veto that gave the victorious Allies of the Second World War the exclusive clout they still enjoy. And the U.N.’s withdrawal from Rwanda during the slaughter was due not to insufficient laws but to a complete lack of will among the member states to deal with it. No law can change that. No reform can create a community of nations where none exists.

The Security Council's structural defect is part of its design. It was meant to freeze international action, not promote it. Paralysis is a Security Council feature not a bug. While international multilateral action from recorded history has always been carried out by nations whose interests momentarily coincide, the Security Council was carefully constructed to consist of rivals whose interests clash, each with a veto over the other. The proposals put forward to limit international military action to the Security Council are tantamount to preventing alliance action because all "legitimate" international action is made the province of the parties in conflict. This recipe for enhanced stasis, as Gourevitch points out, has ironically been advanced under the “the Rwanda never again clause” -- when in fact it amounts to a 'Rwanda ever always' clause, as the Congolese and Sudanese know to their cost.

Total War

An interesting article from the Christian Science Monitor highlights some of the challenges of putting 'more boots on the ground' in Iraq. It turns to be a little more complicated than ordering more men into the theater.  It means creating more units in the first place and structuring them differently.

The armored force that led the thrust into Baghdad in 2003 will in January become the first division to return to Iraq for a second, year-long tour. ... For decades, the Army has sized, arrayed, and trained its forces to sprint to victory in a conventional war against opposing states. Thursday, for the first time since Vietnam, it faces a marathon of protracted deployments against dogged insurgents - with no end in sight. Many of the strains are already showing as the 3rd Infantry trains in the Louisiana backcountry for another Iraq tour, grappling with an abrupt reorganization, an influx of new troops and equipment, and veterans with combat stress.

Army leaders admit that at current levels they must rotate troops into war zones at a rate that is unsustainable in the long run. Warning of a force not yet "broken" but "bent," they are rushing to add 30,000 soldiers to the 482,000-strong active-duty force and increase the number of active brigades - from 33 when the Iraq war began to 43 by 2006, with another five possible by 2007. Only then might the Army hope to shorten tours to about six months every two years, which soldiers say is more bearable for them and their families.

This apparently simple task conceals a multitude of difficulties, including changing the arrangements between reserve and active components; breaking up the old divisional structure into a larger number of brigades; creating the appropriate tables of equipment and tactics for the newly resized units; altering the role of support troops to reflect a "war without fronts". To it must be added the tasks of disseminating combat lessons learned, delivering training in new robotic and networked weapons systems. These are certainly in addition to addressing the more publicized shortfalls in body armor and hardened vehicles.

From the window of his C-12 jet, Maj. Gen. William Webster traces the contours of the Red River as it winds through the woods of his native Louisiana.  ... On this November morning, General Webster is heading back to Polk as commander of the 3rd Infantry Division (3ID) to appraise the Army's newest brigade. Cobbled together in just eight months, with scores of recruits arriving to fill out its ranks this summer, the 4th Brigade is undergoing final training before shipping out to Iraq early next month.

"In the midst of a war, we knew we had to change in eight to 10 months versus eight to 10 years," he says, drinking black coffee from a Thermos. "The chief [Army chief of staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker] said, 'I think we can create 15 new brigades. You guys figure out how to do it.' We just had to run through this thing on the fly."

As Secretary Rumsfeld was on his way to Kuwait, during which he would be asked the famous question about "hillbilly armor", an interviewer asked him what he regarded as the task ahead. Whereas General Webster was concerned with solving operational problems, Rumsfeld was facing the same difficulties that Webster had been grappling with, but at a higher level of abstraction.

Well, the election’s over and the President asked me if I would be willing to stay on and I told him I would be delighted to do that. We’ve got a lot of work that’s well along, but some of it’s not finished. The task of moving an institution as large as the U.S. Department of Defense is a sizable task. And it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t happen instantaneously. Great bureaucracies don’t spin on a dime.

The services are in the process of rebalancing the active component with the reserve component so that we get on to active duty the forces we need on a continuing basis and put into reserves some of those skill sets that we need less frequently. The effect will be to not have to put such demands on the Guard and Reserve. ... We are doing something that needed to be done for decades and that is to adjust our force posture in the world globally. We’ll be bringing home some troops, we’ll be bringing home some dependents, we’ll be shifting our weight in various parts of the globe. And the emphasis will be not on numbers of things, but on capabilities. And we’ll be looking less to how many troops or how many tanks or how many planes are located in a certain spot and we’ll be focused more on precision, equipment, speed, agility, as opposed to mass and sheer numbers. And that’s going to be a hard thing for people to understand.

The hardest thing to understand was that the old world -- and the old military metrics had departed forever. During the First World War large horse cavalry masses were held in reserve for years in the expectation of a role which had already disappeared into history. Each transformational task that Rumsfeld faced had its analogue in the field. General Webster described his efforts to "reinvent the 3ID" against the "warstoppers".

"It's like guerrilla warfare," he says, describing tactics he's used to skirt the constraints of budgets and regulations to secure vital weaponry, personnel, and equipment. Several times in the past year, Webster has confronted obstacles so severe he called them "war stoppers." "At one point, I didn't have enough rifles to give to all the soldiers, or radios to give to the leaders, or armored vehicles. That's a war stopper," he says. "So by hook or by crook we got what we need." That meant, for example, using artful accounting to spend $11 million on add-on armor for 885 Humvees.

In a very real sense the dominance of the US armed forces over the enemy is a function of its superiority of organization. War is combat between armies not duels between individuals. In still wider terms it is a confrontation between societies and the power they can bring to bear on the battlefield. When Clausewitz referred to war as 'politics by other means', he was speaking the literal truth. The scheduled January 30 elections in Iraq are just as much part of the war plan as the redeployment of the 3ID, a component in a larger plan that is beyond a SecDef to control. Whatever his defects and mistakes, Rumsfeld at least recognizes the need to transform the purely military aspect of American strength. The challenge, without which any military transformation will be negated, is to improve foreign policy and intelligence in the same way.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Wheel's Still in Spin

Austin Bay, returned from Iraq begins with this provocative leader:

Mark it on your calendar: Next month, the Arab Middle East will revolt. ...

Put a circle around Jan. 9. That's the day Palestinians go to the polls to elect a president. ... Draw another circle around Jan. 30. That's Iraq's first election day. Underline the two weeks prior to Jan. 30. That will be a savage fortnight in which terror campaigns and political campaigns collide. Democratic candidates will be assassinated and polling stations will be blown to bits, as Saddamite and Al Qaeda reactionaries -- the Middle East's ancien regime of tyrant and terrorist -- attempt to force an oppressed people to submit one more time to the yoke of fear.

But they are going to fail.

And earlier Belmont Club post linked to a Marc Ruel Gerecht article which argues much the same thing in principle: that a new Iraqi state represents a real threat to the Mullahs in Iran. He explains why.

Which brings us to the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq. Clerical Iran's primary objective is to ensure that Iraq remains destabilized, incapable of coalescing around a democratically elected government. Such a government supported by Iraq's Shiite establishment is a dagger aimed at Tehran's clerical dictatorship. ... What clerical Iran ideally wants to see next door is strife that can produce an Iraqi Hezbollah. ... The birth of the Lebanese Hezbollah, which Iran's ruling mullahs view as their greatest--only--foreign success, required a civil war and an Israeli invasion. In Iraq, Iran's ruling clerics have an American invasion. What they lack is civil war. ...

If the neighboring one-man, one-vote clerics can be downed and America can be physically and spiritually drained in Iraq, then the two most feared, disruptive forces in Iranian politics--Western-oriented Iranian youth and pro-democracy dissident clerics--can be further weakened. ... In Iraq, the U.S. ought to have two obvious goals. To crush the Sunni insurgency before it can provoke the birth of an exclusive, angry Shiite political identity willing to do to the Arab Sunnis what the Baath once did to the Shia. If such an identity is born, it is most unlikely democracy can prevail. Washington must thus ensure that the democratic process in Iraq, regardless of the violence, keeps on rolling. As long as it does, clerical Iran will not be able to gain much traction inside the country.

The really fascinating aspect of both men's analysis is the idea that freedom and politics are really going to be the agents of destruction for the "ancien regime of tyrant and terrorist",  not as a figure of speech but as literal truth. The role of the US military would be strategically indirect and subtle: to ensure that the old regimes cannot contain the forces that would naturally spring up against them.

In this view, victory against terror need not take the form of the 101st Airborne marching into Teheran. It would be enough to merely hold the ring in Iraq to win over the Mullahs. Nations often return to strategies which they are most familiar with. Iran instinctively turned to the Lebanese experience to model its confrontation with America. It was natural that the United States might remember Europe and Korea when at war again. In both cases America won a decisive victory not by marching into Moscow or Pyongyang, but by merely ensuring that Western Europe and South Korea developed separately. In Iraq the old was new again.

John Burns of the New York Times describes the potential of the Iraqi election to rock Damascus, Teheran and even Washington.

On a list of 228 candidates submitted by a powerful Shiite-led political alliance to Iraq's electoral commission last week, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim's name was entered as No. 1. It was the clearest indication yet that in the Jan. 30 election, with Iraq's Shiite majority likely to heavily outnumber Sunni voters, Mr. Hakim may emerge as the country's most powerful political figure.

Mr. Hakim, in his early 50's, is a pre-eminent example of a class of Iraqi Shiite leaders with close ties to Iran's ruling ayatollahs. He spent nearly a quarter of a century in exile in Iran. His political party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was founded in Tehran, and its military wing fought alongside Iranian troops during the Iran-Iraq war. American intelligence officials say he had close ties with Iran's secret services.

For the United States, and for Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which have Sunni Muslim majorities, the prospect of Mr. Hakim and his associates coming to power raises in stark form the brooding issue of Iran's future influence in Iraq.

It was the Americans who seem most confident about the possible outcomes. "They say Iraqi clerics are generally wary of the idea of religious government, partly because of an entrenched doctrinal opposition among Iraq's Shiite religious leaders to direct rule by clerics, and partly because they recognize that Iraq's Sunni Muslims would fiercely resist it." Hakim himself has publicly said that clerics should keep out of politics and remain in the mosques.

In addition, Iraqi and American officials say, the ethnic and cultural divisions that have carved deep historical fissures between Iran and Iraq militate against Iraq becoming a client state of Iran. ... American and Iraqi officials said polls commissioned by the American occupation authority, and more recently by the interim government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, have shown that ordinary Iraqis, including Shiites, are deeply suspicious of Iran's religious leadership and strongly averse to a government dominated by religious figures. ...

Many American and Iraqi officials say the talk of Iranian influence here reflects what they call a more plausible fear: that Shiite dominance in Iraq, coupled with Shiite rule in Iran, would reshape the geopolitical map of the Middle East. The development would be particularly threatening to Sunni-ruled states that border Iraq and run down the Persian Gulf, the officials say, carrying as it would the threat of increasing unrest among long-suppressed Shiite populations.

The outcome is far from foregone. The great likelihood is that the Palestinian and Iraqi elections, far from pouring oil to calm the waters, is likely to ignite them. While there may be a reduction in physical violence, the elections herald a shift in the ethnic balance of power and inaugurate a new standard for a political change in the Middle East. The US is calculating that its armed forces and political process will give it the edge in the tectonic upheavals that it will itself provoke.

Shame and Disgrace

Andrew Sullivan has criticized the decision to award Tommy Franks, George Tenet and Paul Bremer the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The ceremony was described by ABC News:

President George W Bush has bestowed the highest US civilian honour on three former top officials, sidestepping their ties to controversies over the Iraq war and its aftermath. In a televised ceremony at the White House, Mr Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former CIA director George Tenet, retired General Tommy Franks and the civilian overseer for Iraq, Paul Bremer. "This honour goes to three men who have played pivotal roles in great events and whose efforts have made our country more secure and advanced the cause of human liberty," the President said in prepared remarks.

Sullivan felt that the awards were not only undeserved by given despite their failure and incompetence.

The presidential medal of freedom goes to George "Slam Dunk" Tenet, Tommy "We Have Enough Troops" Franks, and Paul "Disband the Iraqi Army" Bremer. It's one thing never to punish error, but to reward it so magnificently!

The accuracy of Sullivan's characterizations of George Tenet and Paul Bremer are best left to the reader to judge. But it seems unjust to characterize Tommy Franks, the commander of Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Operation Iraqi Freedom  in such disparaging terms. A more accurate appraisal of Franks' campaign was articulated at a recent seminar at the American Enterprise Institute held to discuss an Army War College postmortem of operations in Iraq. The ensuing discussion recognized OIF's achievements without minimizing the shortcomings which now evident in hindsight -- achievements and shortcomings that are General Franks' to a certain extent. The basic indictment is that while the President's strategy called for a campaign of "regime change" military plans were drawn up for "regime removal". The question is whether Franks could have done differently.

The decisions made to limit the size and the capabilities of the invasion force had unintended, but at least predictable, consequences. Almost from the start the desire to fight a just-in-time war meant that even small surprises--the resistance of the Saddam Fedayeen or even the terrible sandstorm of late March--sapped the strength of a force that was just large enough to, essentially, conquer Baghdad. And in particular, disrupting the normal deployment procedures deprived the force of the logistics wherewithal necessary to continue operations beyond Baghdad. By the time that force got to Baghdad, its reserves had been committed, it was fully absorbed in trying to pacify the capital itself. And the question of whether the force had the necessary means, the strength, to push out beyond Baghdad, and particularly into the so-called Sunni Triangle, I think, is a very debatable proposition. In my judgment, to use a military term of art, the attack essentially culminated in and around Baghdad. ...

Just the centrality of winning the war in the Sunni Triangle appears, certainly from this vantage point, to have been what a campaign planner would describe the center of gravity. This was a goal that was not conceived in the war plan and, I have argued, was beyond the abilities of the invasion force as it found itself in early April. You can only speculate about what effect the 4th Infantry Division might have had if the Turks had permitted an attack through northern Iraq. There's no guarantee that there wouldn't have been an insurgency of some sort--Moqtada al-Sadr and his Iranian sponsors would still be a problem, jihadists everywhere would still be outraged and just as willing to kill Americans as they have proven otherwise. But you have to say that the Sunni heartland did not feel the full shock and awe of the invasion, and the problem there persists.

The study recognizes that the mismatch between American goals -- "to rebuild an entire region" -- and its means, an armed force whose manpower and doctrine were legacies from the Cold War, not only constrained Franks at the start of the campaign but persists to a large extent today. Military bloggers have noted that pre-OIF photographs show few troops in body armor because it was not then widely issued. Nearly all the logistics vehicles, the Humvees and trucks, were unarmored at the start of the campaign. Arabic translators were comparatively scarce, rear echelon troops were not expected to see combat in the halcyon days of February, 2003. That was the army Franks had. Nearly all of that has changed. But while many of those equipment defects have been redressed, the basic problem of force size -- the number of brigades the US military can field -- has not. Critics often forget that the call for 'more boots on the ground' really amounts to a number that can be sustained until the job is done. In this respect, the ground forces have now exchanged places with the Navy, which for most of the 1990s rotated Task Forces in and out of the Persian Gulf enforcing pointless embargoes, sometimes for nearly a year at a stretch, wearing out ships and sailors. People who complained of having only two carriers forward were apprised it took at least six, allowing for transit and the refurbishment, to keep that presence in place.

it's not so much about the immediate level of forces in Iraq or anything like that, but ... whether the right number is 100,000 or 150,000, our ability to sustain that over a long haul. And also to do the other strategic tasks both in the region and elsewhere in the world that we ask our military to do, I think, is, again, just fundamentally out of whack.

General Franks was the CINC of Central Command and while Iraq was the major theater of operations, he had the responsibility to prosecute the ongoing efforts in Afghanistan, then where Iraq is now, and maintain a reserve against contingencies. But to set against these shortcomings lay one fact: the US military had toppled the Saddam regime and was on its way to winning against the Baa'thist insurgency.  That achievement was in large part due to General Franks.

Those disappointed with the invasion itself for not producing the anticipated quagmire have found a little more food for speculation in the fighting of the past year and certainly the fighting of the past month, and especially in Fallujah. But I have to confess that, in my analysis and, I would say, by pretty much any historical standard, this has been a pretty successful counter-insurgency campaign. And I measure that in two fundamental ways: First, it does appear that insurgents in Iraq, the rejectionists, have had very little luck in shaking American political resolve to stay the course. ... Secondly, the insurgents have also failed to provoke a civil war in Iraq, which, to listen and to remember the expert commentary prior to the war, sounded like the easiest thing in the world to do. And journalists are constantly discovering that civil war is about to happen, but, at least in my eyes, it hasn't happened yet. ... Now, the insurgency has had one notable strategic success. I can't say quite what it's bought them, but you have to grant them that they've fractured the international coalition that backs the United States in Iraq.

Probably the most eye-opening suggestion that the United States has moved to the permanent offense, not only inside Iraq but within the region was made by Marc Ruel Gerecht, who argues that the Iranian mullahs are now facing a mortal geostrategic threat from a post-Saddam Iraq which they now cannot hope to prevent but at best to misdirect.

Today in Washington there are many within the foreign-policy establishment expressing their fear--and hope--that America's entanglement in Iraq may well compromise the Bush administration's ability to confront the Islamic Republic's quest for nuclear weapons. ... But does this reasoning make sense? Are Iraq and Iran so intertwined that America is essentially handcuffed in its dealings with Tehran's mullahs? In all probability, not at all. Indeed, the current interplay between the peoples of Iraq and its eastern neighbor actually ought to encourage the Bush administration to be more hawkish toward the clerical regime's growing interference in Iraq and pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The strongest trump playing in favor of America and against Iran is Iraqi nationalism. ... Iraq's Shiites are the progenitors of modern Iraqi nationalism. They, much more than their Sunni Arab compatriots, who were the driving force behind pan-Arabism in Mesopotamia, have shaped an Iraqi Arab identity which is distinct from the Sunni Arabs to the west and Shiite Iranians to the east. ... Which brings us to the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq. Clerical Iran's primary objective is to ensure that Iraq remains destabilized, incapable of coalescing around a democratically elected government. Such a government supported by Iraq's Shiite establishment is a dagger aimed at Tehran's clerical dictatorship.

If Gerecht's analysis is correct, OIF stands within an ace of not only achieving its operational goals, but is on the verge of winning its initial strategic goals.

The clerical regime is currently handcuffed to Iraq's democratic process and timetable. All of the principal groups through which Iran hopes to exercise influence in Iraq--the Iranian-created Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the Dawa (or "Islamic Call") party, and the Sadriyyin, followers of Muqtada al Sadr, the young clerical firebrand who has been engaged in a spiritual tug-of-war with the country's traditional clergy--are committed now to the election process. Iran has probably been pouring money into Iraq, to all three of these Shiite groups, which don't share much affection for each other, and in the case of the Dawa and the Sadriyyin, have had distinctly mixed, often hostile, emotions about things Iranian. Both the Dawa and the Sadriyyin have regularly belittled Grand Ayatollah Sistani for his "Persianness" and snarled at clerical Iran's habit of talking down to the Iraqi Shia. Tehran's motivation in giving aid to these parties is to encourage some dependency and, more important, keep the three most provocative Shiite groups in the forefront of Iraqi politics.

It is Iran and Syria, not the United States, which may now find itself embedded in an Iraqi quagmire. Leaving aside Mr. Gerecht's impressive credentials, how much of this analysis is accurate and how much wishful thinking? That question returns us to the central fact that both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom have been victorious campaigns. Their defeat of the Taliban, Saddam and the Ba'athist insurgency bodes fair for the prospect of success against the Mullahs. Victories are not proof, as some have suggested, that defeat is imminent.  It can be rightly pointed out that OIF could have benefitted from more armor, troops, better plannning and fewer casualties. It has been argued that Osama should never have escaped Frank's net. And all of those criticisms can be true. Yet none of those criticisms can erase the essentially successful nature of the campaigns. We are not talking about the pitiful remnant of Lord Elphinstone's Army of the Indus arriving haggard at Jalalabad; nor about Lord Chelmsform finding Lieutenants Chard and Bromhead lonely survivors at Rorke's Drift; nor about listening to General Christian de la Croix de Castries's pathetic final message from Dien Bien Phu. We are talking about Tommy Franks, the victor of Afghanistan; the nemesis of Saddam; and the man who may have set the possible stage for strategic victory in the entire theater. We may no longer like the British, style victorious general officers Viscount Nelson of the Nile or Lord Kitchener of Khartoum. But in justice, General Franks deserves better than the title of opprobrium Tommy "We Have Enough Troops" Franks.