Friday, January 30, 2004

The Hutton Affair 2

A reader responds to The Hutton Affair:

While I don’t have any particular well of respect for Gilligan’s journalism, I think the BBC bashers are going a little too far. Tony Blair did base his decision on joining America in the coalition against Iraq largely on the premise that Saddam had WMD. Those weapons have not materialized. I would think it perfectly right that the BBC ask some pretty difficult questions of the government just exactly what the intelligence did show, why it was incorrect, and was it manipulated for political effect. These seem to be perfectly legitimate political questions. Questions, I think that Blair could and did answer. Gilligan’s in particular, and the BBC’s in the larger sense, political attack swallowed its legitimate journalistic search for those answers, but it certainly doesn’t support your charge that the BBC is making up the truth as it wishes it. You’ve got a journalist who pushed too far and in bad need of a good editor.

The reader is perfectly right in saying that the BBC does not, as a practical matter, make up most of its stories. Most are probably accurate to acceptable journalistic standards, certainly those in in science and sports can be cited as examples, and the Belmont Club was wrong in giving the impression, if it did, that it dishes out nothing but fabrications. It can be argued that in this one case, with this one journalist, the BBC had fallen from its true stature. Perhaps this is what happened.

Many years ago I was employed to help determine, on the basis of a sampling, whether certain claims were true or false, and that experience has colored my thinking. The significance of the Hutton inquiry into the Gilligan report is that it provided a sample into the way the BBC's newsmaking process worked. The trouble with making inferences from this sample are twofold. First, it is a very small sampling. Second, it did not involve a "typical" news story, but rather an exceptional one, perhaps the most important story the BBC has ever had to cover. The singular nature of the story suggested that the BBC's newsmaking processes would be at its best. Here was no local story. On this particular story, especially after Alastair Campbell had made an issue of it, hung the fate of a Prime Minister and perhaps, that of the BBC itself. And on display were not merely the supervisory skills of the director of news, but those of his superiors and the board of governors of the BBC itself. Each level in the news management process took its turn in oversight and returned the verdict: we stand by Andrew Gilligan. What he says, we say.

Because the sample is small -- of one in fact -- it is certainly possible that this was an atypical failure on the part of the BBC to properly verify a story. But on the other hand, it is, barring another inquiry, the only sample of its type that we have, and shows in fair detail how the various moving parts of the BBC operated in the newsmaking process. The one thing that stands out was that, unbelievably,  no real evidence was demanded before the Corporation's endorsement of Gilligan was returned and nothing to suggest this was anything but routine. The sample was enough to convince Hutton that there were serious deficiencies in the BBC's journalistic standards. There are certainly problems with the CIA's intelligence systems and it goes beyond just a local agent who didn't push far enough under an incompetent case officer.

In the main, I think the spirit of my original argument in The Hutton Affair was right: too many things have been made up. In an age of terrorism, those who slip the surly bonds of earth risk being buried beneath it.

The Hutton Affair

Andrew Sullivan and some British blog sites give the impression that however inept the BBC, it is redeemed by its hostility to Tony Blair. That is a complex phenomenon, joining those who despise Prime Minister Blair for destroying traditional British institutions like Lords with those who think him not Leftist enough; a strange amalgam of those who hate him for being too close to Brussels and those who loathe him for being too close to Washington. Yet leaving politics aside, the most curious thing about the BBC-Hutton affair was how little sense it made in the traditional calculus of war. There was Andrew Gilligan, charging the most powerful man in Britain with an empty Palm Pilot at the very point on which he was not prepared to yield.  'You, Mr. Prime Minister, made up the entire cassus belli for invading Iraq', he in effect said, without so much as an electron to stand on.

Yet this fecklessness was nothing beside that of Richard Sambrook, who, confronted with every indication that Downing Street intended to fight to the death on this issue, carelessly urged his troops further into enemy lines. Confronted with the most powerful force imaginable in Britain, the BBC's director of news did not even stoop to examine the strength of his defenses. Rather he assumed that the Corporation, as it is called, would prevail as a matter of course. To make the matter certain, he lined up support for the mendacious Gilligan, who by now must have wondered how his inventions could have gone so far, by convincing the BBC's Board of Directors to declare most solemnly than their ace reporter, had not nor had ever been less than a tower of probity. Just as the BBC's heavy cavalry charged off into the mist,  every bridge was blown and every avenue of retreat cut behind them by the suicide of their one source -- a source who never said what they ascribed to him -- David Kelly. And there, cut off, watching the flood waters of the Rubicon rise behind them, was the very the flower of the BBC: the great and the good as they called themselves,  with their Johnsons nailed to the floor.

One can hardly imagine a Trotsky, a Mao or Giap acting in such blatant disregard of the objective realities of war. Every cardinal rule was violated. Attacking the enemy's strongest point with one's greatest weakness. Ignoring the enemy counterattack. Omitting to prepare any defense, or indeed inquire if there were any. Committing the army reserve while in effect pouring it into a sack. Then to crown it all, expecting vindication from the Hutton report when everything pointed to a rout. Where have we seen this before? Why in Hitler, consulting his horoscopes to predict a dramatic change in fortune, even as the US Army poured across the Rhine. In Saddam Hussein, who confidently ordered counterattacks by units that had already gone home. In every organization in which information has absolutely ceased to flow.

And even in Atlantis of the legend
The night the seas rushed in,
The drowning men still bellowed for their slaves

The strangest thing about the entire episode was how little anyone in the BBC knew about the actual facts. What Kelly really said. What Gilligan really heard. What the intelligence report really described. The very men who pretended to tell the world about the nuances of the Arab-Israeli conflict and about the cultural currents on a planet hostile to America, could not in the end tell themselves what was in their own correspondent's electronic notebook: even though they had built a towering castle of lies upon it. In a building festooned with telephones, awash in computers, with journalists from the best Oxbridge colleges, nobody knew. Nobody knew.

It would be far less frightening of course, to think that Greg Dyke and Richard Sambrook were only feigning ignorance; that the BBC governors actually knew the facts, only pretended not to. Yet the truth was probably far simpler. In organizations of a certain type, where things must always be as they are imagined, the Emperor must always be magnificently clothed; and the last Five Year Plan always an unparalleled success. Survivors who report that their units have been wiped out are shot at once because such things never happen in the Red Army.

However the battle between the British Labor Party and the BBC goes, between Red and Redder, the ultimate loser will almost certainly be the truth. It has been banished to those primitive regions where the unsophisticated still think it exists. Where children are adjured to maintain it and still gather before their elders to learn it. The world's premiere news organization now maintains but a tenuous connection to it, a sentimental attachment really, that grows frailer year by year, until one day, like a thread stretched too thin, it will snap entirely. Then the BBC will be free to rise unhindered to whatever heights its fantasy or malice take it, having slipped the surly bonds of earth.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

The Slayer of Dreams

The Little Green Footballs links to an article in Forbes which argues that the United Nations has mutated to the point where its activities are better pursued in Dar es Salaam than New York. It is no longer, the article seems to say, the fulfillment of the shining vision of 1945 so much as a third world mega-kleptocracy on the East River.

When America was the leader of a successful wartime coalition--and the world wished it to continue in that role--it made excellent sense to place UN headquarters in New York. But those days have long passed. America has accepted its world-policeman destiny, and the UN is merely a minor obstacle to the successful performance of that task. The place has become a mere theater of empty rhetoric and shameless deals supporting a growing tide of anti-Semitism and racism and--let us not be mealymouthed--state crime. It is a place where near-bankrupt dictatorships can sell their votes to the highest bidder.

It is also a place where well-connected playboy diplomats from the Third World can indulge in an expense-account lifestyle in one of the richest cities on earth, ignoring the pitiful poverty of their home countries and often using their diplomatic immunity to break the law. This is an insult to the dignity of the human race.

As the UN is now constituted, a far better location for it would be in a city near the gravitational center of the Afro-Eurasian landmass. There it would be close to the realities of the problems it ought to be tackling--poverty; bad, cruel and corrupt governments; international lawlessness; civil wars. The place I'd suggest is Dar es Salaam. 

But it was not just America's global ascendancy that sounded the funeral bell for the UN. The last nail in the coffin was in fact, nuclear proliferation, which the UN itself was charged to prevent, and in typical fashion failed, even when its own existence was at stake. For while the General Assembly and relief agencies make up the UN's public face, it is the Security Council which constitutes its functional core. The main function of the United Nations, beside which all else is subsidiary, was to preserve the peace. And although it rarely ever did (Korea 1950 and Kuwait 1991 excepted) the Security Council was where the Great Powers of the earth, as permanent members, could potentially meet to decide whether to act in belligerence or conciliation, in a global version of the Kaiser's earlier dream where England and Germany could ensure that "not a mouse could stir in Europe without our permission". Great Power status, in the context of 1945, meant those nations which either by possession of nuclear weapons or vast armies, exercised truly significant military power: i.e. the US, USSR, UK, France and China. But by the late 1990s, Israel, India, Pakistan and China had nuclear weapons and that number was rapidly growing. At the dawn of the twenty first century, North Korea, Iraq, Iran and even Libya were on the brink of acquiring the A-bomb. Most significantly, even nongovernmental organizations like the Al Qaeda were in striking range of acquiring possession of weapons of mass destruction, and casually served notice by smashing the World Trade Center across town. But in the soundtrack of history, it was not the twin towers that collapsed that day: it was the United Nations.

On September 11, 2001 it was manifest, to anyone who gave it thought, that the Security Council no longer held the power to enforce the peace or withold it. It did not even contain the all the nuclear powers in the world at the time. It was powerless to prevent an attack on New York city, still more powerless to prevent the expansion of the nuclear club to any degree conceivable and powerless to prevent one of its members from openly acknowledging its impotence. On that day, the functional core of the United Nations died. The cause of its death was disguised by the decision of the United States to exercise its right to self defense by pursuing terrorists into sovereign Afghanistan and Iraq. Post hoc ergo proctor hoc: the perpetual standby of those chronically at a loss for thought. But it really died because the world had moved on, leaving an empty shell on the East River with its worshippers, open-mouthed, all around it. Sic transit gloria mundi. Dar es Salaam isn't such a bad place.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Posting Light Until Mid February

Work pressure is going to keep posting light until mid-February.

The liberal sneering at the American failure to find WMD stockpiles in Iraq is like making fun of a man who, having been tested for diabetes, receives a negative result but is told that what he really has is cancer. The US rightly feared that rogue states were developing weapons of mass destruction but did not have the breadth of imagination to conceive of the extraordinary web of cooperation between Pakistan, North Korea, European arms dealers and the Arabian states, who contributing according to their abilities, solved the problem of the atomic bomb. We went looking for an Iraqi bomb and found an international one.

The race to prevent rogue nations from acquiring WMDs has already been lost, and the race to keep them from falling into private hands is all but. The most horrifying thing about David Kay's report is his finding that Saddam's weapons were never under his control at all, but in the actual keeping of his minions, who misled him at every turn. The componentry may now be in Syria, where, if Iraq is any guide, they are under even looser custody. If the Saudis have made no secret of their desire to buy nuclear weapons, it is only because they know that these are for sale. It is safe to predict that the next mass attack on America will involve fission weapon of Pakistani design with a 40Kt yield, charged with uranium purified by Malaysian manufactured centrifuges from a design originally developed by Urenco in the Netherlands and probably paid for by Saudi Arabia. The World Bomb.

Recent incidents have also underscored the magnitude of the intelligence gaps. On a matter of vital national urgency the intelligence professionals had no inkling of the scale of the threat, and could not thwart it. Donald Rumsfeld warned us there would be times like this.

As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.

And we didn't know. But we know now and should never forget the reason why. The mainstream press often forgets that the cure for gaps in intelligence is not more introspection but active reconnaissance. The key value of the Global War on Terror lies not so much in the immediate damage it does to the enemy but in the information that comes to light as a result of continuous contact with the foe. The world would never have known about the extent of WMD proliferation had America listened to the United Nations and the leftist lobby. In many ways, the most dangerous place to be is where the liberals think to find illusory safety -- out of contact with the enemy, where he is proof from our blows and we cannot sense the dagger poised to strike. The safest place to be is where knowledge and action are one. Here's Secretary Rumsfeld again:

I think what you'll find,
I think what you'll find is,
Whatever it is we do substantively,
There will be near-perfect clarity
As to what it is.
And it will be known,
And it will be known to the Congress,
And it will be known to you,
Probably before we decide it,
But it will be known.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

What? Me worry?

DAVOS, Switzerland -- Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, personally acknowledged yesterday that scientists from his country appeared to have sold nuclear designs to other nations, probably "for personal financial gain." He denied that the Pakistani government knew of the sales at the time but vowed that those involved would be dealt with "as anti-state elements."

The New York Times goes on to relate how Musharraf struggled to find a solution after Pakistan was caught red-handed selling nuclear weapons technology to America's Most Wanted. Musharraf's statement, at a global economic forum here, came after several weeks of delicate efforts to force Pakistan to deal with the scientists, according to diplomats and U.S. officials. Technical documents recently obtained from Libya on its nuclear program, as well as documents relating to Iran's nuclear activities, undercut years of Pakistani denials and appeared to forced Musharraf's hand, diplomats and U.S. officials said. Not his hand, his finger. It forced him to point his finger at senior Pakistani nuclear scientists who are not even under arrest and -- gasp -- European companies. Musharraf told CNN that there were also credible allegations against European nuclear middlemen and other nations, "so it is not Pakistan alone." Washington suggested that it was not so easily deceived and hinted that it smelled something fishy.

U.S. officials, however, are clearly skeptical of those claims.  They note that when Pakistan received missile parts from North Korea -- believed to be the quid pro quo for nuclear aid -- a Pakistani air force cargo jet was dispatched to Pyongyang, North Korea, to pick up the parts. They also note that the A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories are the crown jewel of the Pakistani nuclear program, with close ties to both the military and the intelligence agency, the ISI.

In the immortal words of Edward Wood Jr., "One thing’s sure: Inspector Clay’s dead. Murdered. And somebody’s responsible." Meanwhile, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed El Baradei,  expressed surprise, shock and dismay at these sensational developments. He said a:

global black market in nuclear materials and equipment had grown into a virtual "Wal-Mart" for weapons-seeking countries. El Baradei, director-general of the agency, the United Nations' watchdog on atomic weapons, said he was astonished by the scale and complexity of the illicit trafficking through which the Libyans obtained material and blueprints for nuclear weapons designs. "All of that was obtained abroad," he said in an interview during the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos. "All of what we saw was a result of the Wal-Mart of private-sector proliferation. "When you see things being designed in one country, manufactured in two or three others, shipped to a fourth, redirected to a fifth ... there's lots of offices all over the world," El Baradei said.

Lots of offices, lots, lots!  Just now the BBC reported that US inspector David Kay has found no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, leading critics to suspect that they never existed. How could they ever? In the Slow Collapse 2, the Belmont Club argued that rogue nations had set up a virtual factory of WMDs by splitting up component production among themselves according a standard, and probably Pakistani, design, so that a 'smoking gun' could never be found in any one place. But if those rogue nations think they can pull the wool over sophisticated European eyes, they have another thing coming.  A post of this intellectual level must be concluded with a quotation from Edward Wood Jr.'s immortal film, Plan 9 from Outer Space:

Jeff Trent (Walcott): So what if we do develop this Solaranite bomb? We'd be even a stronger nation than now."
Eros (Dudley Manlove): "'Stronger.' You see? You see? Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!"

Thursday, January 22, 2004

The Cedars of Lebanon

Reader DL points to a Jerusalem Post article that suggests a planned US special forces deployment in the Bekaa puts it on a collision course with Syria.

US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is considering provoking a military confrontation with Syria by attacking Hizbullah bases near the Syrian border in Lebanon, according to the authoritative London-based Jane's Intelligence Digest. In an article to be published on Friday, the journal said multi-faceted US attacks, which would be conducted within the framework of the global war on terrorism, are likely to focus on Hizbullah bases in the Bekaa Valley of eastern Lebanon. It noted that the deployment of US special forces in the Bekaa Valley, where most of Syria's occupation forces in Lebanon are based, would be highly inflammatory and would "almost certainly involve a confrontation with Syrian troops."

The Washington Post, in a wide-ranging article entitled Military Split On How to Use Special Forces In Terror War , reported two weeks ago that Secretary Rumsfeld was reviewing proposals to "send the Special Mission Units into areas such as Somalia and Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, where little government authority exists and terrorists congregate, seemingly safe from the long arm of the United States". This coincided with the Weekly Standard article Showstoppers, which excoriated the Clinton and Bush administrations for failing to deploy Special Forces against terrorist threats before September 11.

This takes place against a changing canvas in Iraq, where US forces are waxing in strength even while the insurgency is slowly being crushed. The Boston Globe reports that Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of the Army's 4th Infantry Division, told reporters that ''the former regime elements we've been combating have been brought to their knees''. He was referring to the Iraqi Ba'ath -- who are the ideological kindred of the Syrian Ba'ath. Meanwhile, a plannedmassive rotation of units will temporarily result in the presence of a quarter of a million men in Iraq, as relief units take the place of outgoing outfits over the next few months.

The Jerusalem Post article rightly suggests that any US special forces deployment would inevitably bring then  into direct conflict with the Syrian occupiers of Lebanon and the sponsors the Hezbollah. Their use would perforce be accompanied by the organization and training of indigenous Lebanese auxiliaries, a feature of all US special forces campaigns from Indochina to Afghanistan. The special forces would be supported by air units and fire support, plus light infantry to prevent a repetition of the "Blackhawk Down" scenario. Units could draw on equipment already prepositioned in Israel, located in the mysterious Sites 51, 53 and 54. All in all, it would create a strategic nightmare for Damascus. With Americans in the Bekaa 40 km west of downtown Damascus -- less than a marathon run, the Israeli army on the Golan Heights a mere 60 km south of the capital and American forces on the Iraqi border 300 km to the east and Turkey on the northern border, the Assad regime would be literally encircled.

The US probably feels that it has the Iraqi problem in hand and may want to maintain the operational tempo in its wider campaign against the Middle Eastern dictatorships. An American deployment to the Bekaa would open a new low-intensity warfare front which would resemble a cross between the campaign in Afghanistan and the recent anti-Saddam counterinsurgency in Iraq. In the light of recent experience, the Pentagon may feel confident in challenging the Syrians and Hezbollah to what has become a familiar operation of war with a known cost and proven methods. But to the Syrians, Americans in the Bekaa will be a mortal threat, which they must prevent or repel. If they cannot, the spring of 2005 will see a new regime in Lebanon hostile to Syria and their Hezbollah lackeys in flight. It would also sound the death-knell of Arafat's Palestinian Authority, which will be boxed in and probably beset by American-sponsored auxiliaries. A successful campaign to topple Syria would in turn mean American control of a continuous swath of territory between the Mediterranean and the Iranian border. It would cut off the Arabian Peninsula to the north and squeeze Saudi Arabia and Yemen onto American deployments on the Horn of Africa -- of which the Washington Post's report of a return to Somalia would be a part.

Will it happen? Wait and see. Can it happen. Yes it can.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Slow Collapse 2

This from the Guardian, no believer in the danger of WMD proliferation:

Diplomatic sources familiar with the results of a recent visit to Libya by nuclear experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the Gadafy bomb programme differed in crucial respects from nuclear projects in Iran, Iraq or North Korea. "What was found in Libya marks a new stage in proliferation," said one knowledgeable source. "Libya was buying what was available. And what is available, the centrifuges, are close to turnkey facilities. That's a new challenge. Libya was buying something that's ready to wear."

Another well-placed source said: "We all now realise there is this extraordinarily developed and sophisticated market out there enabling anyone to get this centrifuge equipment." ... The German ship was seized by Italians after a tip-off from the CIA. Knowledgeable sources said the centrifuges on board were "made-to-order" in Malaysia for Libya, based on designs directly or indirectly from Pakistan.

Here, then is the question that Jeffrey Record's War College Paper fails to address when he argues that terrorism and rogue statehood are separable phenomena. If a group of nations or terrorist groups in combination, disperse the tasks of WMD manufacture and weapons delivery among themselves, then not a single one will technically constitute a "clear and present danger". Just as Malaysia, which "only" manufactures centrifuge parts is guilty of nothing, then surely a group of nations which together provide the componentry, funding or training facilities for a terrorist-assembled bomb should not be held to account if New York is destroyed. Every effort by an American administration to crack down on a rogue state, will by definition be legally unjustified, because there was no "actual" WMD capability. Only if the danger as a whole is apprehended can the threat be foreseen. Only if addressed as a whole can it be prevented.

Much of the criticism directed against Operation Iraqi Freedom arose from the observation that few Iraqi chemical weapons were found in a ready-use state. This is taken as proof that the threat was inflated, or even concocted. Until one realizes that the discovery of componentry, rather than finished goods, means things are rather worse, not better. First, the existing nonproliferation treaties were not designed to deal with the distributed design, manufacture and use of WMDs. The data from Libya shows how the Islamic countries have worked around the limitations of the treaties. Second, they underscore the limits of the IAEA inspection process, which cannot ascribe a sinister intent to the manufacture of parts in isolation from those which they are intended to match in other countries. Third, it means the one terrible premise of the Three Conjectures is very to near to attainment: a robust Model-T A-bomb made from dual use parts.

Because capability is the sole variable of interest in the war against terrorism, the greater the Islamic strike capability becomes, the stronger the response will be. An unrepeatable attack with a stolen WMD weapon would elicit a different response from one arising from a capability to strike on a sustained and repetitive basis. The riposte to an unrepeatable attack would be limited. However, suppose Pakistan or North Korea engineered a reliable plutonium weapon that could be built to one-point safety in any machine shop with a minimum of skill, giving Islamic terrorists the means to repeatedly attack America indefinitely.

As the Slow Collapse put it:

It is hard to escape the conclusion that neither pre-emptive warfare, nonproliferation treaties, sanctions, aid programs nor diplomacy can do more than slow down the spread of weapons of mass destruction. By 2025, a period equal to the time elapsed between the first Pakistani nuclear research effort and their tests, WMD technology should be available to every country that can afford a national airline.

Such a development would revolutionize regional power politics throughout the world. The Indo-Pakistani standoff, and the crisis on the Korean Peninsula will no longer be the exception. It will be the norm. For all but a vanishing moment in history, the world 'bomb' will not mean Car Bomb, but nuclear bomb. The Eye of the Enemy is no longer moving. He has come.


A Dutch parliamentary inquiry is being conducted into the transfer of uranium enrichment technology from the Dutch company Urenco to Pakistani A-bomb developer Abdul Qadeer Khan, who worked for the firm in the 1970s.

Evidence of Pakistan's possible role in transferring centrifuge technology emerged last summer when inspectors from the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency uncovered an extensive enrichment program in Iran based on Urenco's designs. After several inspections and protracted negotiations with the agency, Iran conceded in November that it had received centrifuge drawings and components from several middlemen, including Pakistanis, according to diplomats.Pakistan drew suspicion again last month after Libya announced that it was abandoning its development of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and opened its doors to inspectors from the United States, Britain and the IAEA. Diplomats said in recent interviews that IAEA inspectors had been shown two types of centrifuge equipment in Libya. They said the equipment was clearly based on the designs of the Dutch unit of Urenco and its German affiliate.

All kinds of squirmy things are being found under rocks the Bush administration has kicked over, which in the opinion of the peace lobby amount to nothing, but which on the contrary, exceed the worst stated fears: a virtual WMD manufacturing industry. Don't worry boys, there are no raptors in the cave. Just several thousand harmless-looking striped eggs.


Glenn Reynolds links to Showstoppers, a Weekly Standard article by Richard Schultz, which describes the different ways which members of the Clinton and Bush administrations found to avoid using Special Operations Forces against Islamic terrorism, even when they had manifestly become a threat. The State Department led the effort to classify terrorism as a crime, not an act of war. Others believed that terrorism simply had to be endured, a chronic blood-price that had to be paid for the leadership of the world. Then there were brass who feared embarking on any action that would lead to American casualties, who saw their careers ended by a new "Blackhawk Down" incident. Defense Department lawyers actually argued that Title 10 of the US Code actually prohibited the use of the SOF against shadowy terrorist targets, arguing that the power was reserved to the Central Intelligence Agency. The institutional mistrust of the special operators by the regular military establishment made some in the brass unwilling to trust them to take the fight to the enemy, fearing they would start something that would drag the whole service in. A few outsiders, some of whom were civilians, attempted to argue, especially after the embassy bombings and the attack on the USS Cole, that something had to be done, only to be faced down by professionals who shoved their campaign ribbons in their faces. Anyway, some argued, the Special Forces as constituted were too complex to use and intelligence was too vague to act upon. And so reliance continued to be placed on rag-tag emigre groups, diplomacy and the odd cruise missile strike to slow the snaking tentacles of Islamic terrorism.

Schultz's article is both less and more important than it seems. Less, because it refers to restrictions on one mode of combat -- the special operations forces -- who are by no means the only mode of combat. But it is more important than might appear at first glance, because the restrictions on the special operators illustrate the general restraints which still confine every aspect of the nation's capacity to defeat the enemy. Whether it is the need to mollify the United Nations, to avoid offending certain religious groups, to avoid economic shock, to win elections or the need to avoid giving a hostile media a story on which to hang a hook; a variety of showstoppers continue to form the labyrinth through which Americans must wend their way to victory -- if its achievement has not been declared unacceptably insensitive.

Monday, January 19, 2004

The Slow Collapse

Despite the brave talk about the effectiveness of nonproliferation treaties, sanctions and quiet diplomacy, the saga of the development of the Pakistani nuclear bomb and its associated delivery systems demonstrates their ultimate futility. In 1965 Pakistan began its first tentative steps toward acquiring nuclear technology. It refused to sign the nonproliferation treaty. By 1980, intelligence reports indicated that it was beginning to acquire weapons designs and uranium enrichment technology from China. Despite US export controls, Pakistan acquired key materials and parts from world industry. By the mid-1980s, it had a uranium enrichment program, which the US attempted to halt by restricting aid. By the late 1980s, Pakistan had a stock of weapons-grade material and was testing weapon components. At the beginning of the 1990s, it began to acquire further nuclear-related material from Europe. Shortly afterward, Pakistan began to suggest that it already possessed nuclear warheads and was actively shopping for missiles and other delivery systems. The Clinton administration, apparently despairing of stopping the Pakistani program, attempted to negotiate a "cap" on the number of weapons available to Pakistan and India. It eased aid restrictions in an effort to influence Pakistani behavior with a carrot instead of a stick. To no avail. By 1996, Pakistan doubled its uranium enrichment capacity and began to manufacture weapons grade plutonium. In 1997, Pakistan demonstrated a new intermediate range ballistic missile and fired five nuclear test devices, each twice the power of the Hiroshima bomb.

Somewhere over these thirty years, Pakistan -- or at least individual Pakistanis -- began negotiating "cooperative" agreements with Iran and possibly a number of Islamic Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia. The Washington Post reports that the Father of the Pakistani A-bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan and at least two of his top aides, both brigadier generals, "may have helped Iran develop its nuclear program". Pakistan now claims they were acting without authorization, a regrettable development which just now it seems, has come to light. One thing they also may have done is offer to sell nuclear secrets or the weapons themselves to countries like Saudi Arabia. The Guardian reports that Saudi Arabia is considering purchasing nuclear weapons -- from whom do you suppose? -- in response to "the absence of any international pressure on Israel, which has an estimated 200 nuclear devices".

It is hard to escape the conclusion that neither pre-emptive warfare, nonproliferation treaties, sanctions, aid programs nor diplomacy can do more than slow down the spread of weapons of mass destruction. By 2025, a period equal to the time elapsed between the first Pakistani nuclear research effort and their tests, WMD technology should be available to every country that can afford a national airline. Long before then, the model of bipolar nuclear deterrence will have collapsed in tatters. The industrial nations, which in the years following World War 2, declined to acquire their own nukes, will no longer be able to rely on an American nuclear umbrella when confronted, not by a single unitary aggressor, but by a host of smaller, resentful regional rivals.

Seen in that light, the Global War on Terror and Operation Iraqi Freedom may not be departures from the norm of international relations, so much as an bid to salvage it. They are the first attempts to find alternatives to the great edifice of treaties which, designed in an era where distance was an effective barrier between nations and effective military force a rare commodity, is no longer sufficient to deal with the challenges that confront it. Whatever the defects of American policy, it at least has been the first to realize that it is no longer possible to return to business as usual.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Edler Von Mornag versus Thunderbird

Donald Sensing's fond recollections of an Army wine tasting party at which German guests were served Mad Dog 20-20 and Thunderbird bring me back to the days when Edler Von Mornag was the only wine I drank and knew by name. This beverage is the German equivalent of Thunderbird. It comes with a twist-off cap and owes its legendary notoriety to its power to indelibly stain any carpet unfortunate enough to receive the nauseous discharges of the imbibers the exact color the potation. The lager in keeping with this vintage, in that phase, was of course Ngok beer. I remember it from Africa, served under a slowly rotating ceiling fan in the Congo, bearing the representation of a gape-mouthed green crocodile on a label which, without much effort, would detach itself from the bottle, as if held there by library paste.

As to mixed drinks, little can compare with the memory of  Marca Demonyo gin flavored with toothpaste. This formidable beverage, bearing the likeness of Saint Michael battling Lucifer on its label, is officially known as Ginebra San Miguel, and any regular drinker will unfailingly make the acquaintance of either of these two supernatural worthies in due course. The proper way to drink it, in low enough company, is to empty a bottle into jumbo-sized mayonnaise jar, slightly washed, into which some beer may be added. This normally causes it to froth up violently, and the foam may be laid by depositing one salteen cracker on the resulting compound. The cocktail is then passed around, after it has subsided sufficiently, to heighten the conviviality of a largely tattooed company.

Nearly everyone at a certain time of life will have such memories, as I would have known had I read Dumas. "You are young," replied Athos; "and your bitter recollections have time to change themselves into sweet remembrances."

Friday, January 16, 2004

Before We Grow Too Ugly

Reader JW asks, in connection with The March Toward Total War, "how do you think we could have achieved a relatively quick victory before we grow to resemble our enemies?" And the short answer is: by finding the key pressure point. One would have thought that during World War 2, the key vulnerabilities of militaristic Japan and Nazi Germany would have been obvious. But it wasn't. In the first two years of the Pacific War, the USN used all its submarines to chase fleet units of the Imperial Japanese Navy, with poor results. It was not until about mid-1943 that the Admirals figured out that that submarines were better employed attacking Japanese commerce -- that is, the ships which brought fuel, nitrates, food and mineral ores to Japan. The results were dramatic. By late 1944, the IJN could hardly sortie, nor its pilots train from lack of fuel. By 1945, Japan was starving. The carrier task forces were the media stars of the Pacific War, but it was the commerce raiding submarines that won it.

In Europe, the USAAF at first concentrated its bombardment on targets like railway junctions, ball bearings plants, aircraft manufacturing. But Nazi industrial production was hardly affected. It just went up and up. Until one day, some USAAF planner figured out that hitting oil production was the key to stopping the Nazi war machine. In due course, the Nazi armies were immobilized.

What, one might ask, does such ancient history have to do with the Global War on Terror? Everything. To date, we've used our military assets to hit out at Al Qaeda terrorists, safe houses, training camps, etc. just like the USN submarines used to chase Japanese destroyers, carriers and cruisers. One day we will realize that it is the infrastructure of terror we must hit: the madrassas, the Saudi funding, the jihadi websites. The Japanese knew World War 2 was as good as lost when they didn't have enough fuel to train their pilots. Someday, the Islamists will know that the jig is up when they can't pay the rent for their factories of hate, the ones they style religious schools, and can't offer any money for impoverished suicide moms to trade their lives for a few thousand dollars.

One day. But that day isn't here yet. Until then, we will trade eye-gouges, half-nelsons, drop kicks and the wholy panoply of dirty wrassling tactics with Islamists, until, in a moment of clarity, we say what the hell, draw our pistols and shoot them in the nuts. Saudi Arabia delenda est.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

The March Toward Total War

One more unspoken taboo, the prohibition on female suicide bombers, has been broken by Hamas.

The female suicide bomber who blew up Wednesday at the Erez Checkpoint in the Gaza Strip will not be the last woman to carry out a suicide attack, senior Hamas member Mahmoud Azhar said Thursday. Reem Salah al-Rayashi, 21, the mother of two small children from Gaza, blew herself up Wednesday morning at the Erez crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, killing two soldiers, a border policeman, and a security guard for a private manpower company. "She is not going to be the last (attacker) because the march of resistance will continue until the Islamic flag is raised, not only on the minarets of Jerusalem, but over the whole universe," promised Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar.

The decision to use a woman and mother of two children as a live munition was a conscious change of policy. Hamas spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, personally authorized the use of the female suicide bomber who attacked the Erez terminal crossing Wednesday, killing four Israelis. ... "She practically begged," an Arab affairs reporter told Channel 2. ... Sheikh Yassin then personally gave his blessing for al-Rayashi to be used as a bomber, and issued a decree (a few hours after Wednesday's attack) to the effect that "Jihad was the duty of men and women." The way is now open for the use children in similar roles, although they have long been used as skirmishers and stone-throwers in the service of the jihad.

The United States has also changed its behavior in the course of the struggle. Whether conducting house to house searches in the Sunni triangle, demolishing the mansions of Ba'ath bigwigs, cordoning off whole towns like Tikrit, requiring the biometric measurement of foreigners entering the United States, intercepting commercial airliners with fighter aircraft -- it's not your dad's America. All the accepted limits on combatant behavior are gradually changing as the Global War on Terror enters its third year.

This gradual brutalization has happened before. During the first Christmas of the Great War, British and German soldiers fraternized in the frontline trenches before bloodshed hardened them and prevented its recurrence. Winston Churchill refused to send RAF bombers against Berlin in 1940. By 1945 he was firebombing Dresden.  By the fourth year of war, some USN submarine captains were sinking Japanese lifeboats. Both the Boeing B-17 and B-29 were designed as precision daylight bombers, intended as "smart weapons" that would destroy enemy strength without causing collateral damage. By end of the war, the B-29 had been modified from its original mission into an area attack role, burning out every major Japanese city with firebombs and, in the end, delivering the atomic bomb.

There is an old military maxim which holds that if a war is prolonged enough, the two sides will come to resemble each other. It is a recognition that a prolonged, indecisive struggle is often more brutal than victory. Thanks to the 'peace lobby', victory is now an evil, a triumphalistic phenomenon, to be avoided at all costs. In its stead, they will require the alternative: the slow and growing encrustation of human soul, until, in the fullness of time, it resembles their own.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

The Ballad of Wretchard

This post is in response to all the readers who've requested a bio, which would be useless to supply. But readers do deserve an explanation for the provenance of the name 'Wretchard'. Wretchard began life as a cat. Not just any cat, but the Great Miserable Cat who is the archetype of every kitty you've ever seen rummaging in the trash or furtively scurrying to escape oncoming cars. About ten years ago, I felt strongly enough about this imaginary feline to pen some doggerel, which goes like this:

While walking down the street one night
I saw a smear beneath the light,
and bending down upon one knee
a patch of yellow fur did see,
upon the ground the merest taint,
an absent-minded sketch in paint.
From beneath its erstwhile nose
this plaintive tale of woe arose.

"When I was young and had the means,
I used to like to eat sardines,
but then in my declining days
was forced to sup in alleyways.
One fateful evening at my meal
my tail was pinioned by a wheel.
The driver chuckled, then he laughed.
He first drove forward and then drove aft.
So tonight you see me flat.
But I was once a happy cat."

Yet I for one did not despair,
but pumped him up with lots of air.
Now marvel at my pet so fat.
For he was once a flattened cat.

At the Crossroads

An interesting article from Yahoo details the different and contending visions for the next decades in space exploration. Some, like Paul Spudis of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, believe the emphasis should be on making exploration self-sustaining by using extraterrestrial resources to go stages further. The successful achievement of these goals would be equivalent to European settlers in the New World harvesting crops for the first time instead of relying on imported provisions from England.

"If I were advising the President, I would suggest that he declare that the mission of this new effort is to develop the technologies and techniques to mine, process, and use lunar resources, specifically, the hydrogen and oxygen of the lunar poles," Spudis told . ... "If we can break the bonds of Earth and re-fuel our spacecraft, both interplanetary and Earth-orbital, our whole way of doing business in space will be forever changed for the better. Our limitations will no longer be driven by the capacity of our launch vehicles, but by our own imaginations," Spudis concluded.

Mike Duke, a space resources expert at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, explained how this might work.

Propellant cranked out by this system, Duke added, would be sufficient to reduce the need for launch capability from the Earth by at least a factor of two for a round trip mission to the Moon and a factor of four if a refueling depot is established at the L1 Lagrangian point in deep space. A Lagrangian point is a spot at which a small body, under the gravitational influence of two large bodies, will remain somewhat at rest relative to them. "That is a clever way of doing it, not just depending on brute force, and it would have ramifications for Mars, as well as potential commercial benefits," Duke advised.

Robert Zubrin, head of the Mars Society, is not willing to wait on events. He believes that an actual manned landing on Mars, not a Mars orbital mission, must be the goal of the coming decades. "The Mars mission must actually go to Mars. Missions that simply fly by Mars, go into Mars orbit, or to the Martian moons are insufficient," Zubrin stressed. "The purpose of sending humans to Mars is not to set a new altitude record for the aviation almanac. The purpose is to explore and pioneer a new world. This can only be done with astronauts on the Martian surface."

Jack Schmitt, one of the last men to walk on the moon, also de-emphasizes the getting there, focusing on how to do it sustainably and economically.

Schmitt said that going to the Moon accelerates going to Mars in a number of ways. Just for starters:

  • you get a low cost, heavy lift booster into the inventory, perhaps largely paid for by private investors if you do it right;
  • you get helium-3 fusion technology that can be adapted to an Earth-orbit to Mars-orbit continuous acceleration-deceleration rocket;
  • you get lunar hydrogen, water, oxygen and food to reduce the Earth launch mass until a Mars settlement is self-sufficient;
  • you get Mars surface facilities designs derived from lunar designs that will have indefinite life engineered into their construction and maintenance strategies; and
  • you get experience in working in deep space again, a much less forgiving environment than earth-orbit.

While Spudis, Duke and Schmitt are making knowledgeable estimates of the technology that may be available in the coming decades, none of these are mature and certified systems today. Adopting their approach creates a roadmap to Mars without specifying the estimated time of arrival. But if the engineering objective is to land men on Mars within two or three decades,  as Zubrin suggests, preparation must begin on the basis of current technology, such as the Mars Direct plan. A space vision whose objective is primarily getting a payload to Mars will yield vastly different results from one aimed at developing the means to get there. Of course, the two efforts interact. Yet, as Belmont Club argued in the The Beckoning Sky, success may depend on the timing and preparation of the effort as much as in the hardihood of attempting it.

Europe, Japan and China have showed a renewed interest in interplanetary travel, just as domestic liberals have evinced a horror of it, as a spending distraction from their pet social programs. The danger in committing money to the voyage, rather than to technological preparation, is that America's competitors may steal a march in really critical areas. America was not settled by the European power which reached it first, but by that which sustained its presence. At the other extreme, the danger in waiting too long is that the vision may languish, or that America's astronauts may find, like Scott at the South Pole, another flag already waving there.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

The Strange Case of Kilroy-Silk

There has been considerable commentary on both sides of the Atlantic over the chastisement of a BBC talk-show host over remarks printed in another paper, the Sunday Express.

The BBC suspended its Kilroy programme yesterday after the presenter, Robert Kilroy-Silk, caused outrage by writing a newspaper article attacking Arabs. ... In a piece, headed "We owe Arabs nothing", Kilroy-Silk claimed they had contributed nothing to the world apart from oil and referred to them as "suicide bombers, limb-amputators, women repressors". He added: "What do they think we feel about them? That we adore them for the way they murdered more than 3,000 civilians on September 11 then danced in the hot, dusty streets to celebrate the murders?"

That had him awaiting not only the sack, but the bastinado.

The Muslim Council of Great Britain and other groups wrote to the BBC, claiming the article was racist and made Kilroy-Silk unsuitable to present his show. The programme, which has run for 17 years and attracts 1.2 million viewers, usually focuses on family, health and relationship matters. Lynne Jones, a Labour MP, called in the Commons for the BBC to sack Kilroy-Silk, while the Commission for Racial Equality referred the article to the police to see if there were grounds for a prosecution for incitement to racial hatred.

Penalties were addressed not just to Kilroy-Silk, but to the newspaper which published his article, the act of publication being grounds in itself to arouse suspicion. The Sunday Express, in which Silk's article had appeared, originally planned on purchasing the Daily Telegraph. It's fitness is now in doubt. 

The media watchdog Ofcom will take into account the row over Robert Kilroy-Silk's "anti-Arab rant" in the Sunday Express when it examines any bid from the paper's owner for The Daily Telegraph. Matt Peacock, director of communications at Ofcom, said that every bidder for a newspaper such as The Daily Telegraph must give details of complaints made against their existing publications. The details of these objections, together with "the outcome of complaints and details of any policy to apologise or publish corrections" will be considered before giving the green light to a deal. Ministers have the power to ask Ofcom to investigate whether there are any "public interest" grounds for stopping an interested party from buying the papers. ... The CRE has referred the article to the Metropolitan Police as a case of incitement to racial hatred, which is a criminal offence. The Muslim Council of Britain has taken the issue to the Press Complaints Commission.

Mark Steyn characterized the whole affair, which is far from ended, as "censorship" and an assault on "free speech". It is that, but it is much more. It is an application of Party Discipline. Kilroy-Silk had unthinkingly, perhaps unconsciously transgressed an unwritten law, not to be found in any gazette, and insusceptible to citation, which governs the behavior of the Party. It will do no good to observe, as Mark Steyn does, that the BBC continues to let Tom Paulin, a man who said "Brooklyn-born" Jewish settlers on the West Bank "should be shot dead" because "they are Nazis" serve in their studios because that is an appeal to equal protection -- an irrelevant concept -- as what is at issue here is not British law but Inner Party law. Once that is understood, everything becomes crystal clear. First the admonition to criticism-self-criticism:

"What Robert could do," suggested the CRE's Trevor Phillips helpfully, "is issue a proper apology, not for the fact that people were offended, but for saying this stuff in the first place. Secondly he could learn something about Muslims and Arabs – they gave us maths and medicine – and thirdly he could use some of his vast earnings to support a Muslim charity. Then I would say he has been properly contrite."

Then the show trial.

It is understood executives were angered by Kilroy-Silk's decision to give ITV's highest-profile news presenter an interview in which he repeatedly refused to say whether he believed there were limits to freedom of speech. An investigation into his anti-Arab remarks will be conducted swiftly by Jana Bennett, the BBC's director of television, and Alison Sharman, controller of daytime programmes. It is thought that a decision on the former Labour MP's future as a daytime talk show host will be made by the end of the week or the beginning of next. They are understood to be concentrating not on whether the comments, made in his Sunday Express column last week were racist or whether their decision will be criticised for limiting freedom of speech. Instead, they are focusing on whether Kilroy-Silk can still perform the obligation in his contract "to produce and present a topical discussion programme with due impartiality".

The important thing is to demonstrate clearly and unequivocally what fate awaits any cub reporter, apprentice host, news reader or writer who fails to heed the whispered law of the invisible government. And the stick will be in pointed contrast to the carrot of money, celebrity and ease offered to all those who sign articles with the Party. The most curious aspect of Party discipline is the extreme vagueness of what constitutes an offense. That is intentional: to instill in the Member a horror not only for transgressing the Party's edicts, but even it's mood. As Orwell noted in 1984, Party discipline is most effective when those under investigation are not even sure what they are being punished for, yet are ready to confess all the same. When Winston Smith meets the innocuous Ampleforth in the antechamber to Room 101, he asks:

'What are you in for?'

'To tell you the truth -- ' He sat down awkwardly on the bench opposite Winston. 'There is only one offence, is there not?' he said.

'And have you committed it?'

'Apparently I have.'

He put a hand to his forehead and pressed his temples for a moment, as though trying to remember something.

'These things happen,' he began vaguely. 'I have been able to recall one instance -- a possible instance. It was an indiscretion, undoubtedly. We were producing a definitive edition of the poems of Kipling. I allowed the word "God" to remain at the end of a line. I could not help it!' he added almost indignantly, raising his face to look at Winston. 'It was impossible to change the line. The rhyme was "rod". Do you realize that there are only twelve rhymes to "rod" in the entire language? For days I had racked my brains. There was no other rhyme.'

The expression on his face changed. The annoyance passed out of it and for a moment he looked almost pleased. A sort of intellectual warmth, the joy of the pedant who has found out some useless fact, shone through the dirt and scrubby hair.

'Has it ever occurred to you,' he said, 'that the whole history of English poetry has been determined by the fact that the English language lacks rhymes?'

No rhymes and no reason.


Reader BM points out a National Review article detailing the travails of the Belgian Alain Hertoghe, who was sacked from the Catholic newspaper La Croix for writing a book claiming that the French press had distorted its coverage of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"I experienced collective and spontaneous silence." Other than a paragraph in a column in Le Figaro and an item in a free paper distributed to commuters, no major French newspaper has reviewed the book, or even mentioned it. ... The icy treatment has surprised Hertoghe. "I was excited that I would be challenged on whether my book was fair," he said, "because I knew I had been fair. I hoped for a debate. But instead...." Instead, just before Christmas, Hertoghe was confronted by his editor, Bruno Frappat. He was told by Frappat that he had "committed an act of treason" and fired.

Don't bother researching which French statute Hertoghe violated. He didn't. It was an Inner Party rule he violated, and those are the ones that count.

The War College Paper

The main thesis of Jeffrey Record's Bounding the Global War on Terrorism, an Army War College monograph criticizing the strategy of the Global War on Terror is that terrorism and rogue states are two separate phenomena; the first to be dealt with by police methods and the second by the classic tools of statecraft. Once this premise is accepted, it follows that Operation Iraqi Freedom suffers from the twin defects of being irrelevant insofar as the prosecution of Al Qaeda is concerned, and improper, inasmuch as other policy instruments, such as deterrence and nonproliferation treaties, are available to contain states like Iraq and North Korea.

Record's own recommendations follow directly from his premises:

  1. Deconflate the threat. That is to say, treat rogue states separately from terrorist organizations.
  2. Substitute credible deterrence for preventive war as the primary policy for dealing with rogue states seeking to acquire WMD.
  3. Wage the GWOT first and foremost on al-Qaeda, its allies, and boost homeland security.
  4. Seek rogue-state regime change via measures short of war.

It would not be untruthful to remark that Record is essentially calling for a reversion to the policies of former President Clinton. It might almost describe the kind of policy that Albert Gore and Wesley Clark would have been tempted to pursue in response to September 11. There is an element of realpolitik in Record's analysis. The world, he seems to say, still consists of states which can be dealt with by traditional methods. It is a world where multilateralism is important and such grand notions as bringing freedom to the Islamic World are both naive and infeasible.

Building on this notion, he makes certain definite predictions. For example, he argues that the doctrine of pre-emptive attack will encourage, rather than discourage, rogue states from acquiring WMDs. He also maintains that the cost of occupying Iraq is likely to rise and become untenable. By inference, his argument suggests that terrorism, far from withering, will persist and grow, since the strategy employed against it is misguided.

A critique of Record's thesis can be mounted from two directions. At the most basic level, one may question his assertion that terrorism and rogue states are essentially separable phenomena. Can there be a Hezbollah without Syria, an Al-Aqsa without the PLA, an Al Qaeda without Saudi Arabia? Surely the answer must be 'yes' if Record is right. Conceptually, the most glaring omission from his premises is the dismissal of the notion that terrorism may be a form of proxy warfare by rogue states, a way of undermining the very deterrence Record puts such stock in. For if terrorism and rogue states are truly separable, it necessarily follows that states need fear no consequences for any terrorist act, be it the demolition of two skyscrapers in Manhattan or worse, even though they may be the secret masterminds or facilitators. It will be nobody's fault but a few madmen. The other line of inquiry would be to check whether his empirical predictions bear up. If pre-emptive attacks tend to encourage the acquisition of WMDs, the phenomenon of Mohammar Khadaffy's unilateral offer of disarmament awaits an explanation. One would also expect to see an intensification, rather than a decline in insurgent activity in Iraq. At last count, they were down by 60 percent. Although this is does not conclusively prove that matters will not get worse in succeeding months, the empirical record till now provides scant evidence for Record's predictions. Finally, the terrorist attacks that didn't happen over the Holiday Orange alert raises the question of why, faced with a such a supposedly inept strategy, the enemy did not prove more active.

There is in addition, the question of control cases. It is not as if Record's recommendations have not been implemented before. They are a perfect description of Amrican policies in the decades before September 11, including President Clinton's. No more need be added.  The current European experience, which accurately simulates the outcomes of countries which have substantially eschewed preemptive action and democratic prosletyzation, is not very encouraging. They have described themselves as now being on the frontline of terrorism, which is in its own way, the sincerest form of endorsement for American policy.

Yet if Record supplies the wrong answer, he raises a real question. His error was to argue correctly from the wrong premises. President Bush's problem may be that he has argued incorrectly from the correct premises. Terrorism and rogue states are related. The threats to global security do arise from the international tolerance of tyranny, the so-called realpolitik. But from those givens America should have invaded Saudi Arabia first, rather than Iraq, or perhaps the both together. That is the point that both the Republicans and Democrats, each in their own way, seem determined to miss.

Monday, January 12, 2004

The Beckoning Sky

President Bush is widely expected to lay out a strategy for the coming decades in space exploration. In a sense, he cannot. Rocketman points out that no available engine technology can boost payloads into space in economical quantities. Current launch costs are on the order of $8,000/lb, a number that will have to be reduced by a factor of ten for the habitation of the moon, the establishment of La Grange transfer stations or flights to Mars to be feasible. This will require technology, and perhaps even basic physics that does not even exist. Simply building bigger versions of the Saturn V will not work. That would be "like trying to upgrade Columbus’s Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria with wings to speed up the Atlantic crossing time. A jet airliner is not a better sailing ship. It is a different thing entirely." The dream of settling Mars must await an unforseen development.  Although Rocketman hopes that President Bush will devote additional resources to developing better propulsions systems, he cannot produce this "different thing" to order.

Yet if history is any guide, the "different thing" will come into being when least expected and on fairly short notice. Just as long distance ocean voyaging became possible with the discovery of new aerodynamic shapes for sails, the propulsive revolution that Rocketman envisions will probably emerge unanticipated. Then like Europe in the Age of Exploration, the Solar System will belong to whichever nation, or group of nations that can lead the breakout. America cannot be indifferent to that moment, for the character of the civilization which achieves spacefaring will determine whether humanity goes on to become a Type III civilization or is fated to perish as a sub-Type I civilization under a rain of Islamic bombs.

Whether Europe, Asia or America will first find the key technology necessary to make interplanetary travel an economical reality cannot be foreseen. Yet history suggests that the answers will be found by those who are looking for them. The life of Prince Henry the Navigator, the potentate most associated with the European breakout, conveys lessons which are still useful today. Henry used his power to bring together sailing technologists at the cutting edge, who may not have known the all answers, but who ceaselessly quested for them. Henry tirelessly collected operational sailing data. He commissioned expeditions which slowly laddered down the coast of Africa until Cape Palmas was attained, though it took him 36 years to do it. In the process, many associated systems, from hull construction to ropemaking to navigation, advanced to the point that when critical breakthroughs were finally achieved, they dropped like a missing piece into a nearly completed jigsaw puzzle. The Europeans were not merely lucky. They made their luck.

The conditions for the European breakout were not wholly technological. They involved the development of internal markets for the fruits of exploration and a system for claiming possession of new lands. David Kopel and Glenn Reynolds have argued for a review of Cold War treaties that limit sovereign claims and private property in extra-terrestrial space, with a view to their rejection or modification. Without a foreseeable mode of propulsion to transport substantial payloads economically beyond earth orbit, perhaps the best President Bush can do is attend to these deficiencies, rather than promise meaningful landings which really wait on events. Maybe the challenge is not to put men on Mars by a date certain, but the subtly different one of making investments to ensure that any technological breakthrough can be exploited rapidly and without hesitation. Clearly the day will come when nations will expand beyond the confines of the planet and our task is to be ready to mount the first real breeze for the distant shore.

For all but a vanishing instant near the dawn of history, the word 'ship' will mean - 'spaceship.'
-- Arthur C. Clarke

Blood, Sweat and Tears

The most seductive images of "liberation"  are conjured up by Paris in 1944 or the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, 1989 -- cheering crowds, strewn flowers and famous writers meeting long-lost friends in wine cellars. The second and truer image is that of a Korean infantryman crouching at the bottom of a freezing trenchline in 1952 on the first step of a long road that eventually built a nation which today manufactures supertankers, consumer goods and automobiles. The adage that the "best is the enemy of the good" applies to images as well; the beautiful often drives out the true.

A French reader points out a fascinating Guardian article which describes the depth of the Islamist offensive against the West. European secret services are close to despair at the persistence and spread of Jihadist groups on the old continent, from Madrid to Oslo, catalyzed by Saudi Arabia: "the key source of funds for al-Qaeda and related militant groups".

Previously seen as a relative backwater in the war on terror, Europe is now in the frontline. 'It's trench warfare,' said one security expert. 'We keep taking them out. They keep coming at us. And every time they are coming at us harder.'  ...

Britain is still playing a central logistical role for the militants, with extremists, including the alleged mastermind of last year's bombings in Morocco, and a leader of an al-Qaeda cell, regularly using the UK as a place to hide. Other radical activists are using Britain for fundraising, massive credit card fraud, the manufacture of false documents and planning. Recruitment is also continuing. In one bugged conversation, a senior militant describes London as 'the nerve centre' and says that his group has 'Albanians, Swiss [and] British' recruits. He needs people who are 'intelligent and highly educated', he says and implies that the UK can, and does, supply them. Islamic terror cells are spreading eastwards into Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and the Czech Republic for the first time, prompting fears of a new battleground in countries with weak authorities, powerful criminal gangs and endemic corruption in the years to come. Austria has become a central communications hub for Muslim extremists; France has become a key recruiting ground for fighters in Chechnya; and German groups, who often have extensive international links, are developing contacts with Balkan mafia gangs to acquire weapons.

Islamism in the West derives much of its power from the nature of the parent societies. In Follow the Money the Belmont Club described how early Islam's brilliant concept of co-opting marauding societies created a powerful engine of expansion. As John Keegan put it:

The Arabs were horse-riding raiders before Mohammed. His religion, Islam, inspired the raiding Arabs to become conquerors of terrifying power, able to overthrow the ancient empires both of Byzantium and Persia and to take possession of huge areas of Asia, Africa and Europe. It was only very gradually that the historic settled people, the Chinese, the Western Europeans, learnt the military methods necessary to overcome the nomads. They were the methods of the Greeks, above all drill and discipline. The last exponents of nomadic warfare, the Turks, were not turned back from the frontiers of Europe until the 17th century.

The role of ancient horse riding raiders is occupied in modern society by criminal syndicates and gangs: gangs which have established themselves in the unassimilatable Muslim enclaves of Europe. The jihadi are the latest in the line of missionaries sent against the West, and these proselytizers, as the European secret services have learned to their cost, ride upon the wings of a larger storm. The Al Qaeda recruit in jails not in desperation but out of choice.

Major John Nagle, an operations officer with a First Infantry Division battalion and an Oxford PhD understands that it is a society not an army that he is up against. A brilliant article by Peter Maas in the New York Times Magazine (registration required) describes the topsy-turvy world of the Sunni triangle, a place where people blame Americans for Ba'ath atrocities and cooperate obsequiously when they are threatened. It is a world where conspiracy theories, the default mode of thinking in the criminal world, is the normal type of cogitation. After a police station bombing, the crowd

didn't seem angry at the insurgents responsible for the carnage. Instead many of them blamed the G.I.'s. The mother of a dead policeman, who was allowed inside the hastily formed perimeter, shouted insults at the Americans until an Iraqi police officer escorted her out. A rumor swept through the crowd that it wasn't a car bomb that had caused the blast but a missile fired by the Americans, who were angry, so the rumor went, because the police were not supporting the occupation.

Nagle learned the language.

Soon after arriving at Camp Manhattan, Nagl's battalion was the target of mortar attacks by an insurgent who was nicknamed ''the mad mortarman.'' The soldiers were unable to catch him in the act, but counterbattery radars pinpointed the field he was operating from, and Nagl's troops fired artillery and mortars at it one night. When American soldiers went to the scene the next morning, local civilians, who hadn't enjoyed the experience of having American shells landing by their homes, told the Americans who had been firing the mortars; four men were detained later that day. According to the American troops, there were no complaints from local men and women about the American shelling; nobody was injured, and the locals apparently understood it was not an indiscriminate assault but a targeted response to targeted attacks. Nagl says he believes that makes a difference, and he points to declining attacks to support his case. ''Direct-fire attacks on us have dropped dramatically,'' he told me. ''We have a pretty clear message. If you shoot at us we will do our damnedest to kill you, and most of the time we will. And if you live in a neighborhood and you know there are bad people and you don't want Americans to return heavy fire into your neighborhood, endangering your families, you need to turn in the bad guys. That message is being received.''

Winning in the Sunni triangle, in Nagle's view, required "total war", not indiscriminate violence, nor even violence for military ends, but violence for social change.

''Total war means you use all the elements of national power,'' he told me recently. ''It's at the grass-roots level that you're trying to win. You can kill enemy soldiers -- that's not the only issue. You also need to dry up their support. You can't just use the military. It's got to be a constant din of propaganda; it's got to be economic support; it's got to be elections. As long as you only go after the guy with the weapon, you're missing the most important part.''

The best way to achieve that was not by the infusion of more American troops but Iraquization: the recruitment of a cadre who could remold the society on constructive terms. Nagle recalled that ''Vietnamization,'' when it finally came along in 1969, was too little, too late. ''There are lots of reasons why Iraqis are going to be better at it than we are,'' he said. ''They know who is supposed to be where and what they are supposed to be doing. They can see patterns of behavior that are irregular in a way that our untrained eye cannot. They can talk to everybody in a way that we cannot.''

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times has argued that America must join the "forces of moderation" in Islamic society "because ultimately this is a struggle within the Arab-Muslim world, and we have to help our allies there, just as we did in World Wars I and II". Nagle's battle and the efforts of European police are it's face. Not the liberation of Paris in 1944, but the slow dismantling of encrusted hate and dysfunction; the patient work of years. The challenge will be not simply to reform Islamic society, but to avoid destroying it in order to save it.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

The Attack of the Retards

A reader links to a Times of London story (registration required) that clarifies what the ban on airline toilet lines was all about. An Algerian asylum-seeker was arrested in what was described as a "series of raids by police who were investigating a network of terrorists loosely connected to Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda". The Algerian had shaved all his body hair. Shaving one's body hair is considered religious preparation for a suicide operation.

In notes to his sister and mother the man wrote: "I hope you treat me as a hero and a martyr." The documents were recovered during a raid on his home, said to be in the north of England.

The article suggests the man may have been trying to carry out an attack in which "suicide terrorists were planning to hijack transatlantic aircraft by smuggling bomb kits past airport security and assembling them in toilets during a flight. The bombs would be used to blow up the plane or threaten the crew to gain control of the aircraft."

Presumably the British police have been hunting down individuals who had cancelled their bookings on suspected flights during the Holiday orange alert. The Algerian may have made a run for it, forgetting to retrieve his ex-future suicide note from the family home, and was caught before his armpit hair had a chance to grow out. There is something inexpressibly pathetic about this attempt at a Lego bomb, taken together with the explosive tampon and detonating shoes, that were it not so sinister, might actually arouse sympathy. But not for its masterminds, who sitting in a desert palace, dispatch the illiterate, the stupid and the deluded on missions to kill Americans. Until we can reach beyond the cannon-fodder who plant improvised explosive devices on an Iraqi roadside, or board an aircraft with depilatory cream, a bomb and a screw loose, we will not be doing our best.

Friday, January 09, 2004

The Final Lap

Thomas Friedman begins a five part series with a plea for the West to help Islam overcome its own hate. He reasons from the premise that Islamic hatred toward the West is so intractable that it will literally stop at nothing.

With the Islamist militant groups, we face people who hate us more than they love life. When you have large numbers of people ready to commit suicide, and ready to do it by making themselves into human bombs, using the most normal instruments of daily life ? an airplane, a car, a garage door opener, a cellphone, fertilizer, a tennis shoe ? you create a weapon that is undeterrable, undetectable and inexhaustible. This poses a much more serious threat than the Soviet Red Army because these human bombs attack the most essential element of an open society: trust.

To such as these, nothing is sacred. Not churches, hospitals, orphanages, nursing homes nor medical evacuation helicopters. We are, Friedman says, in the midst of World War 3, which unlike other wars has no conceivable end. An acquaintance of his ventured that "the cold war ended the way it did because at some bedrock level we and the Soviets 'agreed on what is shameful'"-- but what to do, Friedman asks, about an enemy without shame? His conclusion:

What we can do is partner with the forces of moderation within these societies to help them fight the war of ideas. Because ultimately this is a struggle within the Arab-Muslim world, and we have to help our allies there, just as we did in World Wars I and II.

There lingers about the piece an atmosphere of concession to the inevitability of the War on Terror. Gone is the strident,  self-flagellatory why-are-we-to-blame screed that immediately followed September 11, the reflexive continuance of 1960s attitudes taking its final, doddering steps into the 21st century, the Leftist chicken still treading its way forward without a head, dead but not yet buried. At last even the Left is coming to the conclusion that Woodstock, like vaudeville, will never come again; that there is a problem in the Islamic world, to use a monumental understatement, and that the solution proposed by President Bush is inherently correct: not to nuke them, but to free them.

But absent from Friedman's article (let us see what the four remaining parts bring) is a realization of how close-run President Bush's effort is. He forgets that the natural conclusion from the premise of intractable Islamic hatred is that the West may be forced not so much to befriend its tormentors so much as destroy them utterly. Friedman's own article is proof of how steadily, yet imperceptibly, the tides have risen in the course of the war itself. What would have been unprintable in any major American newspaper in November, 2001 -- immediately after the attack on New York city -- now seems so hopelessly weak that one cannot but wonder how close the crisis point is. And it is Islam, not the West, that is skirting the edge of the abyss. Unlike the reluctant Friedman, many Islamists, caught up in their invincible ignorance and the fantasy engendered by controlled media, will never know how paper-thin is the wall that stands between them and the roaring waves they have conjured until it bursts in on their poor world, upon unfortunate children in their evil playhouse. Now has the last race between the requirements of humanity and urgings of necessity begun. Let every man do his utmost.

The Hive Again

A reader has a fascinating comment about the hive discussion in Buzz Blogyear:

I love this concept that you guys are playing with. I think each layer of life believes the other layers, not its own, have the hive minds.

I'm a retired pathologist and I will never forget the first time I looked through a dark field microscope: there were all the pus cells--the polys and macrophages--glittering in the fluid from the specimen from the urethra (I was looking for spirochetes to diagnose syphilis.) Their cytoplasm was filled with dancing mitochondria, ribosomes and phagosomes, and it overall is like a soap bubble, sluggishly moving and creaking away. Sometimes it extends a foot process--a pseudopod-- and then retreats when it runs into a particle of dirt or a talc or fiber. The cells appear to be alien mucous spheres filled with festive lights zig-zagging around at a hundred miles per hour. Beautiful.

Here was a separate cell without structural connections to the body except for chemistry--cytokines and hormones and a zillion soluble molecules-- and it was indifferent to all that was going on in the next larger layer up in the macro world and probably in the next smaller layer down at the molecular level. It could not possibly know what the pathologist was doing or the significance of anything in the lab, nothing beyond a few microns from its plasma membrane. Yet it was obviously happily and boistrously living it up. Nothing could be more alive. It was not aware of us, although it was an ingredient of us, and we were not aware of it... except for the few seconds we peeked in astonishment.

If the individual cell ever thought about hive minds, it would have to believe that the human being had the hive mind and that only 'it' had the legitimate mind. Or, it might look the other way, down deeper, and think that its own proteins and electrolytes and the ribosomes, etc., had the hive minds, else they could not have gotten together to create 'him'.

Fun topic.

Let's consider the downward and upward aspects of the problem separately at any given level. There is clearly a recursive element in the downward aspect. A "hive" can devolve a problem downward to its components. And the subsystem, now a hive in relative terms, can kick parts down in turn to a lower level. But for the recursion to be successful, at some point it has to return a definite result, maybe at the cellular or molecular level in the reader's example, or at the level of the human investigator in the case of the Buzz Blogyear case. At some point the recursion stops, then reascends the ladder of systems, each time it is reentrant with an evaluated result, till at last, the function returns.

One interesting question is whether a metasystem can in principle always "know" what has happened because it has all the function call returns to hand. If it does, then it must know more, in some sense, than its components. But what of the other direction? What can a subsystem know looking upward? A subsystem has no idea what is going on in the level above, because it is too primitive, and is even logically walled off by necessity from other processes so that a metasystemic catastrophe doesn't occur. In the reader's example above, the individual cell can never understand Shakespeare, for which the input of optic nerves, memory cells and other sensory apparatus are probably necessary and which is not available to the cell itself. But the hive can understand it, or think it can. Extending this idea, it has been claimed that there are ideas beyond the ken of individual human beings which are within the grasp of humanity.

If mathematics is the total of what all mathematicians understand, then the "hive mind" is capable of far more than any individual brain. This leads to a bizarre possibility that there are mathematical objects or concepts which are only understood in the collective unconscious of the mathematical community, but which are too complex for any individual mathematician to comprehend.

In some trivial sense, this must be true, although I have not yet seen a formalism (my mathematical education isn't that good) that describes this problem adequately. Consider the ordinary lead pencil. It has been reasonably claimed that no single individual knows enough to make one: to mine the lead, refine it, clinch it, make the eraser, which would in turn require knowing where to find lead, how to develop the mining machinery, etc. Yet it is obviously true that the hive knows how to make a pencil easily.

No more on hives. Zayed, see what you've done!

P.S. Many thanks to a reader for pointing out that lead pencils are actually made from graphite, not the element lead. He graciously assumes that I knew that already, which I did, but had forgotten. Hence the fault is entirely my own and I stand corrected.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Buzz Blogyear

In December 2003, Steven den Beste described the workings of the hive-mind. It is now on display in the blogosphere. Den Beste's observation grew out of the behavior of colonies of insects, which, taken collectively, processed information as if they were a single organism.

The behavior of a human tribe can be considered to be the result of something like a hive mind, and the reason humans are so much better at it than any other species is language. The communications channel between individual humans contributing to the hive mind has much more bandwidth and incomparably more sophisticated encoding than for any other species which engages in collective behavior. ... In nature, no hive mind exhibits intelligence at a level that approaches the actual intelligence of the individual units which are part of it. ... With the development of the internet it becomes possible for arbitrarily large groups of people who are geographically distributed to spontaneously form hive-minds and to communicate with one another at speeds and latencies approaching those which previously only had been possible in direct teamwork. The internet largely solves the scaling problem involved in direct teamwork, and totally eliminates the effects of geographic distribution of participants. In the "global village" of the internet, everything is right next door.

Enter Glenn Reynolds and the Iraqi blogger Zayed. Zayed reported the story of abusive behavior by American soldiers perpetrated upon a man called Zaydun, which Reynolds linked to and which soon became a meme across the blogosphere, touching upon people like Darren Kaplan, Roger Simon and probably a host of others that the link-spiders haven't found yet. Zayed soon found himself in touch with Chief Wiggles, who is both a blogger and a man of some authority in Iraq. Although I must say that Zaydun's complaint doesn't seem very convincing on its face, it is now going to be investigated and should be investigated in the interests of simple justice. Zayed reports that the complaint was initially laughed off by an unnamed American official but the whole situation turned around once the blogosphere got cranked up. All in the space of 24 hours. This is a classic demonstration of Den Beste's description of a hive-mind to which I will add but one thing.

The hive-mind, which never "exhibits intelligence at a level that approaches the actual intelligence of the individual units which are part of it" can seamlessly segue into single man's efforts. The matter left the hive-mind and entered Chief Wiggle's at some point where it regained the full power of a human being's intelligence. At some point the matter may re-enter the blogosphere as news: whether the soldiers were guilty or not; what really happened that night; as commentary: people will draw all kinds of encouraging or dire conclusions from this; or as experience: something that will lurk in the recollections of the 100,000 odd people who read Reynolds, Kaplan, Simon, Wiggles and Zayed everyday. And the world will never be the same again.