Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Choose your Ghetto

KC Johnson, a professor of history at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, asks whether a de facto test of political correctness is being required of prospective teachers. In an article in Higher-Ed Views, Johnson writes:

The program at my own institution, Brooklyn College, exemplifies how application of NCATE’s new approach can easily be used to screen out potential public school teachers who hold undesirable political beliefs. Brooklyn’s education faculty, which assumes as fact that “an education centered on social justice prepares the highest quality of future teachers,” recently launched a pilot initiative to assess all education students on whether they are “knowledgeable about, sensitive to and responsive to issues of diversity and social justice as these influence curriculum and pedagogy, school culture, relationships with colleagues and members of the school community, and candidates’ analysis of student work and behavior.”

At the undergraduate level, these high-sounding principles have been translated into practice through a required class called “Language and Literacy Development in Secondary Education.” According to numerous students, the course’s instructor demanded that they recognize “white English” as the “oppressors’ language.” Without explanation, the class spent its session before Election Day screening Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. When several students complained to the professor about the course’s politicized content, they were informed that their previous education had left them “brainwashed” on matters relating to race and social justice.

Johnson argues that a required commitment to "social justice" is sometimes used as a proxy to require a set of political beliefs. But in a sense this requirement only sets the seal on a long-term trend. Citing a survey "of 1,643 faculty members at 183 four-year colleges and universities" by three political scientists, he noted that the great majority of faculty members were self-described liberals.

Faculty members in the study were asked to place themselves on the political spectrum, and 72 percent identified as liberal while only 15 percent identified as conservative, with the remainder in the middle. The professors were also asked about party affiliation, and here the breakdown was 50 percent Democrats, 11 percent Republicans, and the rest independent and third parties. The study also broke down the findings by academic discipline, and found that humanities faculty members were the most likely (81 percent) to be liberal. The liberal percentage was at its highest in English literature (88 percent), followed by performing arts and psychology (both 84 percent), fine arts (83 percent), political science (81 percent). Other fields have more balance. The liberal-conservative split is 61-29 in education, 55-39 in economics, 53-47 in nursing, 51-19 in engineering, and 49-39 in business.

Some reviewers of Johnson's work sharply disagree. One Modern Languages professor said "I have worked with many colleagues over the years whose political and religious affiliations remained unknown to me. When I recommended hiring candidates, I always did so based on their academic credentials." Another basically argued that conservativism is positively correlated with intellectual inferiority. Hence there was no bias.

I think that a more thorough and unbiased study will reveal that far fewer conservative Christians opt to pursue academic careers (outside of religiously affiliated schools) than other groups. This, as I’ve noted previously, is because scholarship in prestigious research universities IMPLIES skepticism, questioning, challenging assumptions, revising traditions, and subverting dominant ideologies—goals that the most conservative scholars and students resist. ... The real dispute is whether or not this isn’t the way that it’s supposed to be. Just as the media must remain “liberal” enough to question and challenge political authority, universities are, in fact, one of the remaining bastions of liberal thinking. Conservative beliefs and attitudes already dominate the political, religious, and social spheres in America (not to mention public school boards around the country), and it’s quite obvious that these recent attacks on “liberal academia” are an attempt to spread that dominant influence into our colleges and universities. So let’s be clear on where and why the battle lines are being drawn.

Another commentator also believed that self-selection was a factor in creating a liberal-conservative imbalance. But he did not put it down to 'smart people choosing a smart career'. He argued that liberals and conservatives diverged in their job choices because they valued different kinds of careers.

there also is the issue of the pool for recruitment. Why are there no conservatives? Probably because conservatives tend to seek private sector jobs that pay more. In every field, the liberals are those paid the least. In physics or political science or english, teaching faculty are paid significantly less than those finding either private sector jobs or those in academic administration. So, the pool for junior faculty is more liberal because conservatives get higher paying positions in the private sector. Inside the university, conservatives become administrators (and again, are paid more).

To this way of thinking, each political persuasion creates its own ghetto by self-selection in which a liberalism is as unlikely to be found in some settings as conservativism in others. But while this may be the case it would be different from formally requiring a political point of view as a pre-requisite for entering into a career.

Gorgeous George Galloway 2

A number of readers (JG) and commenters have written to say that the Senate only posts prepared statements. Therefore under those terms, Galloway will not have submitted a statement and there is nothing unusual about it not being on the Senate Website and I apologize for the dramatic flourish. More interestingly, commenter Rick Ballard suggests (I think) that the Senate OFF hearings aren't really going anywhere. The Belmont Club post said, "Unless the Oil for Food hearings have come to a complete dead end, Coleman and Levin's examination of Galloway aren't the pointless thrashings of Senators at a loss to respond to the devastating wit of the British MP but tantalizing clues to the direction they wish the investigations to take," to which Rick Ballard said:

I rarely disagree with your analysis but I see zero evidence that calling Mr. Galloway in response to his taunting of the committee served any purpose whatsoever. Look at the lead up to his appearance and you see pure spotlight politics, if he comes the committee gets ink if he refuses, the committee gets ink. On top of that add the leak of the minority report to the Guardian prior to its publication but after the invitation to Galloway and all I see is Washington politics as usual.

To anyone thinking that the minority report was "innoculation" against charges that the Senate was ignoring American misdeeds wrt OFF I would ask - why did the Dem staff spend the majority of 128 pages on transactions that amounted to far less than 1% of the stolen OFF funds? Sen. Coleman may indeed be a bright and honorable man but Carl Levin hisses when he speaks and can slide through grass undetected. The Galloway/Pasqua report is here and the minority report is here. Until I see full exploration of the Strong/Desmarais/Paribas links by this committee I'm afraid that I'm going to regard it as a smokescreen. Don Kofi is a sottocapo figurehead being set up to take a fall for Mr. Big. The PowerCorp/Total/Final/Elf connections are where the real trail leads - that and the material supplier kick backs - not the oil surcharges.

Maybe they are headed for a dead end. It's entirely possible that Rick Ballard is essentially right about the Senate Committee, that it is hunting with blanks. In this scenario there are too many places that the Oil For Food scandal shouldn't go; owing to the extremely sensitive nature of the connections, so only low-hanging fruit like Kojo Annan, Zhirinovsky and George Galloway are going to take the heat. Galloway, with a kind of perverted sense of honor, may have felt the kind of outrage a small timer feels when being made to hold the bag and lashed out at the Senate investigation because he knows he was low man on the totem. It would be sad if Rick Ballard were right, though it is entirely possible. In the case the Oil For Food scandal isn't the road to justice, but simply a fuzzy glimpse into the corrupt world of international politics in the last years of the 20th century.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Gorgeous George Galloway

Reader KM points out in a private email that the testimony of George Galloway before the US Senate has gone missing. According to VUNet:

The website for the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs has removed testimony from UK MP George Galloway from its website. All other witness testimonies for the hearings on the Oil for Food scandal are available on the Committee's website in PDF form. But Galloway's testimony is the only document not on the site. ... Press representatives for the Committee had no comment.

The Senate Committee website itself has these terse entries, here reproduced verbatim which does not say that the testimony has been removed but that "Mr Galloway did not submit a statement".

Panel 1
Mark L. Greenblatt [View PDF] , Counsel , U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations
Steven A. Groves [View PDF] , Counsel , U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations
Dan M. Berkovitz [View PDF] , Counsel to the Minority , U. S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations

Panel 2
George Galloway , Member of Parliament for Bethnal Green and Bow , Great Britain
Mr Galloway did not submit a statement

Panel 3
Thomas A. Schweich [View PDF] , Chief of Staff, U.S. Mission to the United Nations , U. S. Department of State
Robert W. Werner [View PDF] , Director, Office of Foreign Assets Control , U. S. Department of the Treasury
Peter Reddaway [View PDF] , Professor Emeritus of Political Science and International Affairs , George Washington University

The declaration that "Mr Galloway did not submit a statement" is curious given the fact that he spoke for 47 minutes before the Senate, a performance which Christopher Hitchens, no admirer of Galloway, believed was a rhetorical "humiliation" of the Senate. A verbatim transcript of Galloway's testimony, together with a video record of the proceedings can be found at the Information Clearing House. To account for the discrepancy between the factual existence of Galloway's testimony and its nonappearance in the Senate website raises the possibility that Mr. Galloway's oral testimony is considered distinct from a written statement by the Senate rules or it has been expunged from the record because it puts the Senators in a bad light. But there is a third possibility.

The really striking thing about the Galloway's testimony as transcribed by the Information Clearing House is how the Senators and the Member of Parliament for Bethnal Green and Bow were pursuing a non-collision course. Galloway had come to score press and public relations points at which, by all accounts, he was successful at doing. But Senator Coleman and Levin seemed totally uninterested in responding to Galloway's sharp political jibes. It was almost as if the Senators were deaf to his political posturing. Instead, they focused exclusively and repeatedly on two things: Galloway's relationship with Fawaz Zureikat and Tariq Aziz. Zureikat was a board member of Galloway's Mariam foundation who is also implicated in the Oil For Food deals. Tariq Aziz was Saddam's vice president.

SEN. COLEMAN: If I can get back to Mr. Zureikat one more time. Do you recall a time when he specifically -- when you had a conversation with him about oil dealings in Iraq?

GALLOWAY: I have already answered that question. I can assure you, Mr. Zureikat never gave me a penny from an oil deal, from a cake deal, from a bread deal, or from any deal. He donated money to our campaign, which we publicly brandished on all of our literature, along with the other donors to the campaign.

SEN. COLEMAN: Again, Mr. Galloway, a simple question. I'm looking for either a yes or no. Did you ever have a conversation with Mr. Zureikat where he informed you that he had oil dealings with Iraq, yes or no?

GALLOWAY: Not before this Daily Telegraph report, no. ...

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D): Thank you, Mr. Galloway.

Mr. Galloway, could you take a look at the Exhibit Number 12...


SEN. LEVIN: ... where your name is in parenthesis after Mr. Zureikat's?--

GALLOWAY: Before Mr. Zureikat's, if I'm looking at the right exhibit--

SEN. LEVIN: I'm sorry. I was going to finish my sentence -- my question, though. My question was, where your name is in parenthesis after Mr. Zureikat's company.

GALLOWAY: I apologize, Senator.

SEN. LEVIN: That's all right. Now, that document--assuming it's an accurate translation of the document underneath it--would you... you're not alleging here today that the document is a forgery, I gather?

GALLOWAY: Well, I have no idea, Senator, if it's a forgery or not.

SEN. LEVIN: But you're not alleging.

GALLOWAY: I'm saying that the information insofar as it relates to me is fake.

SEN. LEVIN: I -- is wrong?

GALLOWAY: It's wrong.

SEN. LEVIN: But you're not alleging that the document...

GALLOWAY: Well, I have no way of knowing, Senator.

SEN. LEVIN: That's fine. So you're not alleging?

GALLOWAY: No, I have no way -- I have no way of knowing. This is the first time...

SEN. LEVIN: Is it fair to say since you don't know, you're not alleging?

GALLOWAY: Well, it would have been nice to have seen it before today.

SEN. LEVIN: Is it fair to say, though, that either because you've not seen it before or because -- otherwise, you don't know. You're not alleging the document's a fake. Is that fair to say?

GALLOWAY: I haven't had it in my possession long enough to form a view about that.

SEN. LEVIN: All right. Would you let the subcommittee know after you've had it in your possession long enough whether you consider the document a fake.

GALLOWAY: Yes, although there is a -- there is an academic quality about it, Senator Levin, because you have already found me guilty before you -- before you actually allowed me to come here and speak for myself.

SEN. LEVIN: Well, in order to attempt to clear your name, would you...

GALLOWAY: Well, let's be clear about something.

SEN. LEVIN: Well, let me finish my question. Let me be clear about that, first of all. Would you submit to the subcommittee after you've had a chance to review this document whether or not, in your judgment, it is a forgery? Will you do that?

GALLOWAY: Well, if you will give me the original. I mean, this is not -- presumably, you wrote this English translation.

SEN. LEVIN: Yes, and there's a copy underneath it of the...

GALLOWAY: Well, yes, there is a copy of a gray blur. If you'll give me -- if you'll give me the original ...

SEN. LEVIN: The copy of the original.


GALLOWAY: Give me the original in a decipherable way, then of course I'll...

SEN. LEVIN: That would be fine. We appreciate that.


It is clear that Coleman and Levin were attempting to pin Galloway down on what he knew and when he knew it. They were also attempting to get him to categorically declare himself on the veracity of the Zureikat document. In the end, Galloway denied talking to Zureikat about oil deals with Saddam before it became a public issue. He also undertook to evaluate the veracity of the document which named him -- in parenthesis admittedly -- in one a document related to Oil for Food.

SEN. LEVIN: ... I wanted just to ask you about Tariq Aziz.


SEN. LEVIN: Tariq Aziz. You've indicated you, you--who you didn't talk to and who you did talk to. Did you have conversations with Tariq Aziz about the award of oil allocations? That's my question.


SEN. LEVIN: Thank you. I'm done. Thank you.

SEN. COLEMAN: Just one follow-up on the Tariq Aziz question. How often did you uh ... Can you describe the relation with Tariq Aziz?

GALLOWAY: Friendly.

SEN. COLEMAN: How often did you meet him?

GALLOWAY: Many times.

SEN. COLEMAN: Can you give an estimate of that?

GALLOWAY: No. Many times.

SEN. COLEMAN: Is it more than five?

GALLOWAY: Yes, sir.

SEN. COLEMAN: More than ten?


SEN. COLEMAN: Fifteen? Around fifteen?

GALLOWAY: Well, we're getting nearer, but I haven't counted. But many times. I'm saying to you "Many times," and I'm saying to you that I was friendly with him.

SEN. COLEMAN: And you describe him as "a very dear friend"?

GALLOWAY: I think you've quoted me as saying "a dear, dear friend." I don't often use the double adjective, but--

SEN. COLEMAN: --I was looking into your heart on that.--

GALLOWAY: --but "friend" I have no problem with. Senator, just before you go on--I do hope that you'll avail yourself of this dossier that I have produced. And I am really speaking through you to Senator Levin. This is what I have said about Saddam Hussein.

SEN. COLEMAN: Well, we'll enter that into the record without objection. I have no further questions of the witness. You're excused, Mr. Galloway.

GALLOWAY: Thank you very much.

In the exchange above it is abundantly clear that both Coleman and Levin simply wanted to enter Galloway's denial of having discussed Oil for Food business with Tariq Aziz in the record. Levin immediately ends his questioning after eliciting Galloway's "Never". Coleman is content to merely establish that Aziz and Galloway were "friends" who had met "many times" before saying "I have no further questions of the witness".

Unless the Oil for Food hearings have come to a complete dead end, Coleman and Levin's examination of Galloway aren't the pointless thrashings of Senators at a loss to respond to the devastating wit of the British MP but tantalizing clues to the direction they wish the investigations to take. The question that must have been in Galloway's mind -- and which is uppermost in mine -- is what else did the Senators know? The persons named by the Senate investigation so far -- Zhirinovsky, Pasqua and Galloway -- reads less like a list of principals than a list of fixers. The truly remarkable thing about Galloway's many meetings with Tariq Aziz was how much time the Iraqi was willing to devote to an obscure British backbencher with no official power. The unspoken question is why Saddam should take the trouble to bribe Galloway, if it were Galloway who was being bribed. The Senators were building a causal bridge to something, but to what? I am in no position to say, but will guess that Galloway's testimony and its disappearance from the Senate website can only be understood in the context of what Coleman and Levin were trying to achieve. My own sense is that the investigations are cautiously nearing far bigger game than George Galloway; but that his evidence or his refusal to give it is somehow crucial to achieving this larger goal. Other pieces of the puzzle may exist but there are two the public know about which may cast an interesting light in hindsight on Galloway's words. The first is contained in the Volcker Commission files which investigator Robert Parton turned over to the Senate Committee and the second is the forthcoming trial of Saddam Hussein and Tariq Aziz. George Galloway may have appeared in the Senate but even he must be uncertain, until the missing pieces are played on the board, what he really said.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The High Hand

Glenn Reynolds notes that the New York Times coverage of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan may not really be about prisoner abuse or even Afghanistan, but about maintaining the prestige of Newsweek. He calls it "circling the wagons", the idea being to teach press critics an object lesson in how expensive it is to humiliate the mass media by catching them at sloppy reporting by flooding the zone with stories similar to the one which was discredited . That may or may not be the case, but it is nearly undeniable that the effect of the media's coverage of American misdeeds has been to make the slightest infraction against enemy combatants ruinously expensive. Not only the treatment of the enemy combatants themselves, but their articles of religious worship have become the subject of such scrutiny that Korans must handled with actual gloves in a ceremonial fashion, a fact that must be triumph for the jihadi cause in and of itself. While nothing is wrong with ensuring the proper treatment of enemy prisoners, the implicit moral superiority that has been accorded America's enemy and his effects recalls Rudyard Kipling's The Grave of the Hundred Dead.

Kipling described how the 19th century Indian Army maintained the myth of the Raj and upheld his prestige to compensate for their small numbers and military weakness. When a Subaltern of the First Shikaris is slain in a jungle ambush, his men know that they must teach the Burmans, first and foremost, how blasphemous it was to hurt one of the elect. For the sake of their masters and themselves the Shikaris raid the home village of the foe and slay them to the last man. "And Sniders squibbed no more; for the Burmans said that a white man's head must be paid for with heads five-score". Kipling's verse finds its modern analogue not in punitive visitations against "insurgent" strongholds in Afghanistan or Iraq -- which would be eagerly reported by the press if they could at all find them -- but in calls for the arrest of the American President or the dismissal of the the Secretary of Defense for a handful of cases of prisoner abuse gleaned from a global battlefield.

For example, a court in The Hague turned down a demand by a dozen plaintiffs who wanted to force the Dutch government to arrest US President George W Bush when he visits the Netherlands. Donald Rumsfeld has been repeatedly asked to resign over 'widespread prison' abuse in Abu Ghraib. The point of these calls for lopsided retribution is to drive home just how dangerous it is to trifle with sacred person and belief system of the enemy. It aims to paralyze anyone who even contemplates such an act of lese majeste. The modern "grave of a hundred dead" isn't a pyramid of skulls over the tomb of British Subaltern: it's an American Secretary of Defense's head on a stake over a photograph of a jihadi wearing a pair of panties as a hat. It is front-page calls for an abject American apology for flushing a Koran down a toilet even if it was never flushed down a toilet at all, except on the pages of Newsweek. It is calls for an admission of guilt if only the mere possibility of guilt existed. And if that were not psychological domination at par with the worst the British Empire could offer in its heyday then nothing is. There are Empires today of a different sort, but they maintain the power by much the same means.

There'll be some who say that toppling Saddam was meant to be an object lesson to the Arab world. If so, it has sent mixed messages because it was never prosecuted with the kind of frightening brutality that some have advocated. The image of the US after OIF is one of a giant afraid to hurt or even give offense to its enemies. Even in the battles of the First and Second Fallujah there were always extraordinary efforts to preserve mosques and similar places, probably to the glee and wonderment of the enemy. If the Kevin Sites incident and the subsequent investigation proved anything it was that the Marines were no Shikaris.

But if the US has been at pains to avoid the image of ruthlessness, the enemy by contrast has made a special effort to magnify his brutality by attacking mosques, beheading women, mutilating children, etc. often on camera. And the really disappointing thing it is that the intended intimidation works. If George Galloway's standard response to his critics is a lawsuit and radical Islam's first recourse is a fatwa then terror's first answer to insult is always the Grave of a Hundred Dead. Intimidation brings them respect from the very people who style themselves immune to intimidation. It is plain to the lowliest stringer from the most obscure tabloid that to insult America is cheap but to insult the local 'militants' very, very expensive. Kipling's cynical dictum is proven again and the lesson not forgotten.

We live in a strange world where the Beslan story vanishes in weeks while Abu Ghraib lives on for years. Maybe it reflects the inherent importance of the stories but it more probably demonstrates the media's ability to prolong the life of some stories while ignoring others. I hope it is not impertinent to observe that the media's demeanor towards terrorism bears more than a passing resemblance to cheap cowardice; but though outwardly similar it really springs from a high-minded idealism, deep courage and profound learning. Or so I hope.

The Grave of a Hundred Dead

There's a widow in sleepy Chester
Who weeps for her only son;
There's a grave on the Pabeng River,
A grave that the Burmans shun;
And there's Subadar Prag Tewarri
Who tells how the work was done.

A Snider squibbed in the jungle-
Somebody laughed and fled,
And the men of the First Shikaris
Picked up their Subaltern dead,
With a big blue mark in his forehead
And the back blown out of his head.

Subadar Prag Tewarri,
Jemadar Hira Lal,
Took command of the party,
Twenty rifles in all,
Marched them down to the river
As the day was beginning to fall.

They buried the boy by the river,
A blanket over his face-
They wept for their dead Lieutenant,
The men of an alien race-
They made a samadh in his honour,
A mark for his resting-place.

For they swore by the Holy Water,
They swore by the salt they ate,
That the soul of Lieutenant Eshmitt Sahib
Should go to his God in state,
With fifty file of Burmans
To open him Heaven's Gate.

The men of the First Shikaris
Marched till the break of day,
Till they came to the rebel village
The village of Pabengmay-
A jingal covered the clearing,
Caltrops hampered the way.

Subadar Prag Tewarri,
Bidding them load with ball,
Halted a dozen rifles
Under the village wall;
Sent out a flanking-party
With Jemadar Hira Lal.

The men of the First Shikaris
Shouted and smote and slew,
Turning the grinning jingal
On to the howling crew.
The Jemadar's flanking-party
Butchered the folk who flew.

Long was the morn of slaughter,
Long was the list of slain,
Five score heads were taken,
Five score heads and twain;
And the men of the First Shikaris
Went back to their grave again,

Each man bearing a basket
Red as his palms that day,
Red as the blazing village-
The village of Pabengmay
And the "drip-drip-drip" from the baskets
Reddened the grass by the way

They made a pile of their trophies
High as a tall man's chin,
Head upon head distorted,
Set in a sightless grin,
Anger and pain and terror
Stamped on the smoke-scorched skin.

Subadar Prag Tewarri
Put the head of the Boh
On the top of the mound of triumph,
The head of his son below-
With the sword and the peacock banner
That the world might behold and know.

Thus the samadh was perfect,
Thus was the lesson plain
Of the wrath of the First Shikaris-
The price of white man slain;
And the men of the First Shikaris
Went back into camp again.

Then a silence came to the river,
A hush fell over the shore,
And Bohs that were brave departed,
And Sniders squibbed no more;
For the Burmans said
That a white man's head
Must be paid for with heads five-score.

There's a widow in sleepy Chester
Who weeps for her only son;
There's a grave on the Pabeng River,
A grave that the Burmans shun;
And there's Subadar Prag Tewarri
Who tells how the work was done.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Great White North

The drama surrounding attempts by Canadian PM Paul Martin to hang on to power by ignoring a no confidence vote and then offering a Conservative oppositionist a Cabinet post to switch sides has taken an dramatic turn. Conservative Canadian MP Gurmant Grewal tape recorded an attempt by the Prime Minister's chief of staff, Tim Murphy to bribe him to change his vote. Andrew Coyne highlights some snippets of the recorded conversation which are best heard against the background of squeezebox music playing  'Speak softly, love, so no one hears us but the sky. ...'

Murphy: "if anybody is asked the question, 'Well is there a deal?' and you say, 'No.' Well you want that to be the truth. ... So you didn't approach. We didn't approach."

A recent Belmont Club post noted that 'victories' won by the Left with these tactics were more properly understood as acts of desperation by those who feared their long term decline, as if in slipping from the pinnacle, they despaired of ever regaining it again.

The survival of Paul Martin's government, shaken by scandal after scandal, has been bought at the price of violating the spirit of the Westminister system by ignoring what was effectively a vote of no-confidence until they could bribe someone to cross the aisle to square the count. Martin survived but only by bending the rulebook. A Canadian conservative victory without Martin's shennanigans would have been an unremarkable and narrow electoral triumph. But the Liberal Party of Canada's actions now mean that the issues dividing political factions in the Great White North are fundamental. By demonstrating a determination to hold on to power at all costs Martin is increasing the likelihood of a radical, rather than an incremental solution to the Canadian crisis.

Mark Steyn has more in his article A Constitutional Coup

In the forthcoming Western Standard , I make the point that “the big flaw at the heart of the Westminster system is that in order to function as intended – by codes and conventions – it depends on a certain modesty and circumspection from the political class.” Perhaps it was always a long shot to expect a man as hollow as Paul Martin to understand that. ... But the fact remains: by any understanding of our system of government, if the effect of “an extra week’s delay” is to maintain themselves in power by one vote they otherwise would not have had, it’s hard to see this as anything other than a constitutional coup. Like Robert Mugabe, Paul Martin has simply declared that the constitution is whatever he says it is.

What characterizes much of the Left today as exemplified by behavior from George Galloway to Paul Martin is the increasing necessity to maintain their position By Any Means Necessary. While that is dangerous and infuriating, it is a reliable indicator that they have lost control of the system. Things just aren't working the way they used to. And that, despite everything, is cause for hope.

The Road to Perdition

Two factors that are normally considered in evaluating the outcome of a contemplated action are encapsulated in the notion of an expected value. An expected value is calculated from two independent components: the probability of an outcome and the 'payoff' of that outcome, where a 'payoff' can be negative: that is, a loss. But into the mathematics comes the human factor, expressed in our risk/return profile. People can choose between two mathematically equal expected values depending on their degree of risk aversion. For example, in making a wager, one might be willing to accept a large risk of losing a small amount and but be unwilling to take a small risk of losing a very large amount, even though they may have the same expected value. That's why few people are willing to play Russian roulette even for large sums of money.

In relation to the Newsweek Koran story fiasco, the existence of a wartime situation distorts the editorial process to the degree that it increases the consequences of a mistake. The probability of making an editorial mistake may be the same as it was ten years ago, given the same standards of news confirmation, but the consequences of an error may have drastically increased in a post-September 11 world where news is disseminated to distant combat zones in the blink of an eye. Newspapers are not alone in facing drastically changed payoff profiles for traditionally accepted practices. By the standards of World War 2 the modern US military has objectively reduced the probability of civilian casualties, prisoner abuse, etc to a degree that General Eisenhower or MacArthur would never have dreamed possible. Unfortunately, the political consequences of those events have grown to such an extent that their increase dominates the reduction in probability in the final product -- the expected value.

All of this is common sense, but it is easy to forget when one is blamed for doing what has always been done. The consequential difference between Woodward's 'Deep Throat' and Isikoff's 'anonymous source' is not necessarily the character or competence of one over the other; nor even the veracity of their informants. It's the thirty years between their stories: it's the fact that there's a war on. In the world of probability times payoff, good intentions are not a factor. Whether one means well or acts maliciously is irrelevant to changing the practical outcome of an event. Thus, the US military has learned it is not enough not to desire reducing collateral damage, it is important to create systems and procedures to achieve this. The small diameter bomb, special targeting software to reduce the footprint of blasts, training, and many other programs costing billions are a more serous proof that avoiding civilian casualties is a priority than any number of heartfelt declarations, however sincere. Because if the size of the payoff has grown, one had better damn well lower the probability to keep the expected value constant.

So when Newsweek went to press with the Koran story on the basis of an anonymous informant and no confirmation (other one denial from an official and the absence of a denial from another) it was not really doing anything untraditional, but it had failed to take into account the changed nature of the world. The US Air Force could well have argued that sending massed formations of heavy bombers to carpet-bomb the Muslim world was not any different from what Curtis Le May and Air Marshall Arthur Harris did during the 'Good War'; but that would have been absurd. The amazing thing is how long it took to understand how the times had changed for the Press as well. That may be in part because the Press is spared the immediate and terrible feedback of combat, to which the military is continuously subjected. The military effort to reduce collateral damage is driven largely by self-interest: the need to avoid unnecessary hostility from civilians in combat zones and to maintain political acceptability for its assigned missions. The requirements of survival have forced the military to evolve. But the Press in holding itself above responsibility has escaped into a kind of Lost World which is even now being shaken by a cataclysm.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Agent 2

The Drudgereport carried a report of this strangely shrill exchange at a press briefing between Bush spokesman Scott McClellan and reporters. The words in the exchange are important, but not nearly as significant as the atmospherics which evoke Edvard Munch's The Scream.

Q With respect, who made you the editor of Newsweek? Do you think it's appropriate for you, at that podium, speaking with the authority of the President of the United States, to tell an American magazine what they should print?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not telling them. I'm saying that we would encourage them to help --

Q You're pressuring them.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm saying that we would encourage them --

Q It's not pressure?

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, this report caused serious damage to the image of the United States abroad. And Newsweek has said that they got it wrong. I think Newsweek recognizes the responsibility they have. We appreciate the step that they took by retracting the story. Now we would encourage them to move forward and do all that they can to help repair the damage that has been done by this report. And that's all I'm saying. But, no, you're absolutely right, it's not my position to get into telling people what they can and cannot report....

Q Are you asking them to write a story about how great the American military is; is that what you're saying here?

MR. McCLELLAN: Elisabeth, let me finish my sentence. Our military --

Q You've already said what you're -- I know what -- how it ends.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm coming to your question, and you're not letting me have a chance to respond. But our military goes out of their way to handle the Koran with care and respect. There are policies and practices that are in place. This report was wrong. Newsweek, itself, stated that it was wrong. And so now I think it's incumbent and -- incumbent upon Newsweek to do their part to help repair the damage. And they can do that through ways that they see best, but one way that would be good would be to point out what the policies and practices are in that part of the world, because it's in that region where this report has been exploited and used to cause lasting damage to the image of the United States of America. It has had serious consequences. And so that's all I'm saying, is that we would encourage them to take steps to help repair the damage. And I think that they recognize the importance of doing that. That's all I'm saying.

Q As far as the Newsweek article is concerned, first, how and where the story came from? And do you think somebody can investigate if it really happened at the base, and who told Newsweek? Because somebody wrote a story.

The resentment is palpable. Not the resentment of the spokesman of a Commander in Chief of a military vilified in an article that has already been retracted, but the resentment of reporters whose prerogatives have been questioned. "With respect, who made you the editor of Newsweek?", one asks. McClellan actually cannot finish a sentence in answer, because one of the prerogatives of this particular reporter is to ask the questions. "You've already said what you're -- I know what -- how it ends." And the question, although put in different words each time, is monomanaically the same: when did you stop beating your wife? "As far as the Newsweek article is concerned, first, how and where the story came from? And do you think somebody can investigate if it really happened at the base, and who told Newsweek? Because somebody wrote a story." And because "somebody wrote a story" the presumption was that the story had to be true, the retraction notwithstanding, as if it never existed, as if the retraction were completely irrelevant from the discussion. In a sense it is, because there was never a retraction. There may have been words which resembled a retraction, but it was never, ever really made because it is absolutely impossible to ever make it.

Three Weddings and a Funeral

Four apparently disconnected events in the past few days have served as the bellweather in the crisis called the Global War on Terror, a name now too narrow to be apt, because it has entailed a confrontation not only between terror and civilization but also Muslims and Christians, Left and Right, Democracy and Facism, the Old World and the New and much else. The four events are the George Galloway testimony before the US Senate; the survival through questionable constitutional tactics of the Liberal Government in Canada; the retraction by Newsweek of its Koran-flushing story and finally, the events in Uzbekistan.

The thread common to Galloway, the manuevers of the Canadian Paul Martin administration and Newsweek article is the extent to which the once-magisterial Left is now resorting to the shrillest and cheapest tactics as defensive maneuvers. Take George Galloway. His grandstand performance before the Coleman committee was brilliant employment of a weak hand. Galloway understood his weakness on substantive issues and turned his testimony into a screed, attempting to change the ground of the debate. It was wonderful theater, but still a weak hand. The Coleman hearings are about Oil For Food; lost in the noise is the essential fact that Galloway was a loose cannon under oath. In his blather he has connected some dots which are going to stay connected, long after Galloway's fifteen minutes of media fame have faded. I think George Galloway will see his theatrical performance replayed more often than he would like.

The survival of Paul Martin's government, shaken by scandal after scandal,  has been bought at the price of violating the spirit of the Westminister system by ignoring after what was effectively a vote of no-confidence until they could bribe someone to cross the aisle to square the count. Martin survived but only by bending the rulebook. A Canadian conservative victory without Martin's shennanigans would have been an unremarkable and narrow electoral triumph. But the Liberal Party of Canada's actions now mean that the issues dividing political factions in the Great White North are fundamental. By demonstrating a determination to hold on to power at all costs Martin is increasing the likelihood of a radical, rather than an incremental solution to the Canadian crisis.

The Newsweek affair was, in its way, a demonstration of how the mighty have fallen. The Koran-flushing story can only be understood in the context of the media's unexpected failure to play is accustomed role in the shaping the agenda on the War on Terror, the debate over the United Nations and above all, the 2004 elections. Watching Newsweek build a vaporous story and getting caught out is like seeing a once great prize-fighter resorting to eye-gouging, headbutting and ear-biting on his inevitable slide down into the undercard. Like Galloway and Martin, the Newsweek performance is one of ferocity, but ferocity in decline. There was a time when the Left was represented by the Jaures and the Jean Paul Sartres. Franco Molina once wrote a line for a Para general in the Battle of Algiers: 'Why is it that the Sartres are all born on the other side?" The Left could afford to speak down to its critics. But if Solina had waited a few decades more he would have seen them replaced by George Galloway, Michael Moore, Robert Fisk and Ward Churchill, who now await only the arrival of Bozo the Clown to become the Five Amigos.

The bad news comes not from the headlines but the backpages, in Uzbekistan where it is possible that the United States, in throwing in with President Karimov, has entered into a tactical alliance with a tyrant against radical Islamism: making him an ally -- yes -- but a tyrant just the same. Dan Darling at Winds of Change lays the case out dispassionately for his quondam utility and possible future liability.

Karimov runs an exceedingly tight and draconian ship, but until quite recently ... the majority of the population was hesitant about standing up to him either because they thought that he may be a tyrant and a strongman, but that in so doing he held the country together and prevented it from descending into chaos. ... This is one of the reasons why this protest/rebellion, regardless of the cause, is such a significant development: it means that for a growing number of Uzbeks, the view of Karimov as being a necessary evil has now weakened to the point where large numbers of them are able to protest or even take up arms against his government, with the latter in particular being a pretty big indication that somebody in Uzbekistan thinks they have a chance of bringing down his regime. ... The willingness to stand up to Karimov (the fact that these protests are even occurring is a sign of the impotency of his fearsome police state) is probably a good thing in the long run in the sense of eventually producing a stable democracy in the country. On the flip side, it also provides some definite windows of opportunity for Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the IMU to exploit if they can move quickly, since both groups have been at the forefront of visible opposition to the regime.

This survey of events suggests (and it just my opinion) that the real strategic danger to the cause of freedom and democracy isn't from the noisemakers of the Left but from the temptation to betray principles for tactical gain. It lies on the very same path that Galloway, Martin and Newsweek, in their cunning, have taken. The Left hitched its wagon to the worst men of the 20th and 21st century and it is dragging them into the dustbin of history. Let's go the other way.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Agent

The Agency Problem arises when a conflict of interest arises between a principal and his agent. The press often represents itself as an 'agent' of the larger society, a seeker after the truth on behalf of the public. It is perfectly legitimate to ask whether a conflict of interest can arise between the media and the public. A moment's reflection is enough to establish it is not always the case that the press -- whether a newspaper or an individual blogger -- has interests which completely coincide with the general public because any media entity is a proper subset of the public: being a part it cannot be the whole. In the case of the Newsweek decision to print a poorly sourced story on the descreation of a Koran at Guantanamo Naval Base it is pertinent to ask how the costs and benefits of the magazine's action would be distributed; whether the interests of the agent substantially coincide with the principal -- the public -- in whose name the press often claims to act. But any boost in circulation would accrue benefits to the employees and stockholders of Newsweek and not to general members of the public unless they had shares. It is equally clear that any externalities arising from the Koran story would not normally be borne by Newsweek. Though people might die, places destroyed or riots occur they would not likely happen to people or places associated with Newsweek.

The fallacy in the argument, of course, is the premise that Newsweek acts as an agent for the general public. It isn't, and is free from any responsibility as a public agent in the uproar it has caused by its retracted story. Newsweek is not an agent, but the purveyor of a product for which there happens to be a market protected by the First Amendment. This should be clear, and there is nothing wrong with it. But the question arises: to what extent is a commercial organization free to dump the external costs of their business on others. For historical and political reasons, society has been reluctant to make the purveyors of this sort of information accountable for the full cost of their speech, reasoning it would be better for society -- the Commons -- to bear the externality than to risk restricting expression. As in any case where an economic actor does not bear the entire cost of its actions, there is a tendency to overexploit the capacity of the Commons; to privately appropriate the gains and leave the effluent on the village green to be swept up by everyone else.

In this specific case, it is possible to entirely dispose of the argument that responsbility is somehow the "Bush Adminstration's" because Newsweek itself has retracted the Koran story. Whatever else the "Bush Administration" may be guilty of, it is not guilty in this particular case; but since Newsweek will not bear the costs of its mistake (because it is under no agency obligation to do so) it is equally clear that the costs must be borne by someone else in this particular case also: by the Commons; in this instance largely by the elected agents of the public, i.e. the government and its representatives, that is, by someone in Afghanistan or Iraq.

The interesting question is what should prevent this from happening again and the answer, insofar as I can see, is nothing. The system works that way by design choice. One thing that may create pressure for change is the increasing cost of dumping such externalities onto the Commons. In a world where certain groups are likely to detonate car bombs or radiological devices in response to any real or imagined slight, the Commons may be unable to bear the external costs of news organizations mindlessly purveying inflammatory and poorly-sourced news products. That is essentially the argument for censorship in wartime. Yet censorship itself imposes such huge costs that it is questionable whether such a cure would be better than the disease. In the past the choice of evils was avoided by resorting to social pressure like appeals to patriotism or personal requests. A newsmagazine in 1944 would probably not even considered publishing the equivalent of the Koran story on the basis of the slightest of sources and without any collateral confirmation whatsoever. But we're not in Kansas any more. Without that self restraint there is nothing for it but for the Commons to keep bearing the full cost of Newsweek-type journalism until the system snaps, to the detriment of all.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Not Good Enough

The error, according to the Washington Post, happened in this way:

"We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst," Newsweek Editor Mark Whitaker wrote in a note to readers.  In an issue dated May 9, the magazine reported that U.S. military investigators had found evidence that interrogators placed copies of Islam's holy book in washrooms and had flushed one down the toilet to get inmates to talk.

Whitaker wrote that the magazine's information came from "a knowledgeable U.S. government source," and before publishing the item, writers Michael Isikoff and John Barry sought comment from two Defense Department officials. One declined to respond, and the other challenged another part of the story but did not dispute the Quran charge, Whitaker said.

But on Friday, a top Pentagon spokesman told the magazine that a review of the military's investigation concluded "it was never meant to look into charges of Quran desecration. The spokesman also said the Pentagon had investigated other desecration charges by detainees and found them 'not credible.'" Also, Whitaker added, the magazine's original source later said he could not be sure he read about the alleged Quran incident in the report Newsweek cited, and that it might have been in another document.

Many ordinary bloggers, especially those with connections to the military, or those who have stumbled across significant open source information, self-censor themselves out of a sense of decency and caution whenever they come across information which may cause the loss of life. And they don't even make money from blogs, apart from a few bucks a month which go into expenses, the purchase of a few books or subscription to online information services. But not Newsweek, which is a professional and prestigious publication. Newsweek is admitting to starting an international political firestorm, which got actual people killed, caused civil disturbances, endangered the lives of American troops and significantly set back US efforts in the war on terror because they ran a story from an anonymous source who cannot even remember if he told them what they said he told them. Their efforts at  "confirmation" yielded a denial and a non-denial from Defense officials, but no confirmation. In predicate calculus, Newsweek asserted P. Their attempts at confirmation yielded ~P and Null. Hence they concluded P, which is wrong, wrong and wrong. It is wrong from the pont of view of elementary logic. It would be wrong anywhere, even in the Andromeda Galaxy. But apparently it is right at Newsweek.

Newsweek magazine should forthwith compensate the Afghans who died as a result of their baseless, and I mean baseless, story. Even if it turns out, as result of further investigation, that a Quran has somewhere, somehow been flushed down a toilet by somebody, it will not alter the fact that as matters stand, their Guantanamo story hasn't got a leg to stand on.


I agree with some of the commenters who say this Newsweek incident should not pass unpunished, though I am at a loss to see how retribution will be forthcoming. Lawyers would be in a better position to see what avenues of redress are open to those who have been substantially hurt by this pathetic and irresponsible reporting. The most obvious victims are those died in riots which were sparked by the Newsweek story. But there are probably still others who have not yet paid the price for this bungling, most notably US and allied troops in the field. Greater damage still is the ill-will that has wrongfully spread by this "news" magazine, which may indirectly cause or prevent the frustration of a future terrorist incident. The so-called apology offered by Newsweek, with its unreprentant undertones, falls far short of controlling the damage they themselves are responsible for; not merely to their reputation, of which there is little left to save, but to the lives that have been shattered and will yet be.

Friday, May 13, 2005

The Acme Blogger Kit

Glenn Reynolds is designing the 'Acme Blogger Reporter' kit, for guys who want to be citizen reporters, just as an intellectual exercise of indicating what they should have. His kit includes a laptop, digital camera and video editing software. It's a good, capable suite, but somewhat expensive and heavy. Although good for covering press conferences, hosted events and meetings, it is less than ideal for events in which the blogger's physical mobility and inconspicuousness are  essential. For example, I can't imagine myself carrying a laptop and a long-lens camera around in West Africa, although I admit that's a somewhat extreme example. An alternative setup, which might be dubbed the "Caveman Blogging Kit" would consist of the following:

  • a 4-5 megapixel point and shoot digital camera that will fit in your shirt pocket. It should take AA batteries and have some video and sound capture capabilities. With a half gig memory card this ought to cost about $400.
  • a one gig USB storage key. Cost, about $100, maybe less.
  • access to online file storage where you can dump files via FTP. Cost may vary. Say $10 a month.

For computers I would live off the land using internet cafes and coin-operated type arrangements because the real constraint on the road isn't finding a computer but finding one with a broadband connection. You can download stuff from the camera onto your USB key via adapters, so that in a pinch all you need to carry around is the USB key. You can empty the USB onto your domain subdirectory. This suite is unnecessarily unwieldy for covering conferences and similar events. You have almost no image processing capability. No video editing capabilty. But if you can make arrangements with someone at home base to process the stuff you leave in your online storage, the image editing limitations can be solved. In fact, there might a small business opportunity in processing dropped-off images and video.


One of the readers recommends using a Treo 600 for the Cavemen Blogger role. It has a built-in QWERTY keyboard.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Matdador 2

The Associated Press has this report originating from across the Syrian border on Operation Matador.

From their rooftops, Syrians in frontier towns watched airstrikes and battles on the other side of the Iraqi border, where U.S. forces are fighting insurgents in an offensive raging uncomfortably close to Syria's doorstep. Rawaf Hamad, a farmer in the village of Showaiyeh, said he was shaken awake at 3 a.m. Thursday by shelling about a mile away in the Iraqi town of al-Qaim. He heard the sound of warplanes. ''There was heavy gunfire that lasted until 6 a.m today,'' the 24-year-old said.

Readers will recall that Matador opened on Sunday. The report above is datelined Thursday recounting events at a local time of 3 a.m.

In Abu Kamal , a town of 70,000 about three miles from the border, residents could feel the ground shake from the fighting across the border. People took to rooftops to watch U.S. fighter jets and helicopter gunships bombard insurgents hiding in houses in al-Qaim. The Syrians said they could hear small arms fire from the ground, apparently insurgents returning fire. Heavy fighting broke out in the area at about midday Wednesday and continued through daybreak Thursday before it tapered off to sporadic exchanges in the afternoon.

The fighting has been going on for five days. A number of reports have suggested that the Marines have hit an empty sack and that the insurgents had escaped prior to the assault, leaving only those who chose martyrdom to stand and fight. The duration and intensity of the combat suggests otherwise. The Syrian townsfolk report US heavy weapons use (fixed wing, helicopter gunships and probably artillery) and return fire. This type of fire is significant, because heavy weapons are typically used against entrenched enemy fighters. Fixed-wing ordnance is often used to attack positions that cannot be harmed by helicopter missiles because the targets are too strongly built. The fact that many fires are delivered by night is also suggestive, because it recalls Marine tactics in Fallujah, when US forces exploited their superior night vision and surveillance capabilities to maneuver while the enemy was blinded. That in turn implies that the level of enemy resistance is such that individual positions have to be reduced by maneuver and destruction. Reports of return fire from enemy fighters imply they have prepared positions or ammunition caches because it is hard to keep shooting if they only started out with the ammunition in their personal bandoliers. The balance of probability is a significant number of enemy combatants have been caught up in Matador; that the area itself is liberally supplied with defensive positions and the enemy are fighting to the death.


Due to problems with my image server, the maps will be down

I can't do much better than refer readers to Chester, who has carefully plotted all the known incidents of Operation Matador on a map, together with a chronology of when each happened. The enemy delivered mortar fire as the assault began on Sunday and delivered a night-time combined arms counterattack on Monday and made various attempts to escape by boat or vehicle on Tuesday. The list of incidents and chronology belie the assertion that the enemy was gone before the Marines arrived. Chester's map is reproduced below.

One gets the sense that the fluid part of the battle ended on Tuesday morning and that whatever enemy survived the initial confused hours have now hunkered down to sell their lives dearly. The use of AT mines, armor piercing ammunition, mortars plus the provision of enemy troops with body armor suggest the presence of above-average combatants. Chester concludes:

Analysis: The terrorists are dug in and fighting, or at this point, fought, in Ubaydi and Rammanah. The number of attacks on Hwy 12 leading to Al Q'aim suggests that terrorists fleeing to Syria are attacking and being attacked by an increased Marine presence on the Hwy. Those that escape this force must then make it past Camp Gannon to withdraw to Syria. All of these attacks are on the south side of the river, which may not be what was expected.

Fortunately, the Keyhole company has added a new dataset to their mapbase which allows for greater resolution of some of the key areas. If we focus on Rammanah, which is in the bight of the river above, we get the image below. You can clearly see the road as it departs from the marked GIS blue road line and goes into the village, which is apparently built on a low scarp overlooking the fields. The houses are white dots. One possible reason the Euphrates was bridged south was because the enemy probably anticipated an attack from the north, along the existing road. Note also that if Chester's plot is correct, the fierce fight in Ubaydi (approximately where the blue line forks) represents a defense of the crossroads and the northern road approach into the town. Visually at least it is hard to see how resistance can be prolonged very long in a place like this.


There are only sparse clusters of houses between Rammanah and Qaim/Qusabayah and that may explain the dumb-bell shape of the pattern of engagements, although the plotted incidents on Chester's map may not be precisely located. The second image is of the actual border town of Qaim/Qusabayah. It is quite an extensive, nearly urban place and it is easy to understand why insurgents should flee toward the border. Even if they could not actually cross into Syria, there was probably some expectation of being able to hide in the bigger town compared to fighting it out in a farming village like Rammanah above. Clearing the hundreds or thousands of houses in the area of suspects will take time and soak up the efforts of the Marines.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Hearts and Minds

Bill Roggio and Chester have come up with a refined map of what they believe to have happened in Operation Matador. Their map reflects their common scenario, whose general characteristics, although speculative, are probably correct based on the terrain. In general, they believe the Marines have swept west along both sides of the Euphrates river, along the axis of the river, with blocking positions in the east. The purpose of these deployments is to basically trap enemy forces between a hammer and an anvil, the hammer being the forces sweeping west and the anvil being the blocking forces preventing escape.

For readers who may not have seen military map symbols before, the following guide to unit types and sizes may prove useful. Thus, in Bill and Chester's joint map, they believe a cavalry or recon platoon is on the ridge northwest of the area of operations and it is represented as a diagonally crossed box with three circles above it.

Cavalry. An oval in the box means mechanized.
Infantry. An oval in the box means mechanized.
Squad o
Section oo
Platoon ooo
Company I
Battalion II
Regiment III

Just a few comments. Both sides have been fighting for control of this border area from the beginning of OIF.  As described in this very old Belmont Club post (April, 2004), it was a high intensity battleground even before the Marines took over from the 82nd Airborne. Opinion may differ over the relative importance of foreign support to the insurgency flowing along the Euphrates River line (see The Western Road and the River War). However, the fact that Operation Matador is taking place at all and is being fiercely resisted strongly suggests that both the Coalition and the insurgents regard controlling access to the Syrian border important. That it is contested is an empirical fact, but the really fascinating question is why should this be so. My own belief (speculation alert) is that the single most important requirement of the insurgency is not vast quantities of weapons but a supply of trained fighters and money. There is very little prospect of moving very large quantities of munitions and materiel into Iraq from Syria. Camp Gannon at Qusabayah has closed the road for some time now. But this is unimportant because there are huge amounts of loose explosive and weaponry lying around Iraq and the absolute quantities of these needed to wage a terrorist war is very low. But what is needed, above all, is a steady supply of trainers who will teach locals to build ever more sophisticated weapons from any available material; men who are absolutely committed, unwavering and ruthless; and who are well supplied with money to pay their way. It may be impossible to infiltrate trucks of materiel through the Syrian border, but it is perfectly feasible to trickle in terrorist technicians and pedagogues. Cash and small groups of men are easy to hide. The Counterterrorism Blog argues that the most important input of the Iraqi insurgency is trained militants; and that moreover, its most important output is trained militants as well.

Nowadays, Zarqawi's "martyrdom" volunteers aggressively prowl the streets of Iraq in dump trucks, fire engines, and even police cars laden with tons (literally) of makeshift explosives. Rather than striking at targets of opportunity, the suicide bombers are often used to kickoff coordinated attacks on major targets, as seen in recent Al-Qaida operations on the Al-Sadeer Hotel in Baghdad, Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad, Camp Gannon in far western Iraq, a U.S. intelligence base in Tikrit, and (most recently) the "Battles of Omar Hadeed and Mohammed Jassem al-Issawi". Many of these attacks are recorded and subsequently distributed by Zarqawi's Media Wing; some of them are filmed from several different angles and at close enough range for the cameraman to be knocked down by the resulting blast. ... There are few tallies of precisely how many foreign fighters have joined the insurgency in Iraq since 2003, but the estimated number may now exceed 10,000. ...

While many of these men are quickly "martyred" in local combat operations (as has undoubtedly occurred frequently in Iraq), the survivors develop advanced combat experience in an urban environment. They learn in detail the arts of sabotage, assassinations, suicide bombings, and downing commercial aircraft with missiles. Eventually, the local conflict comes to an inexorable end, and the majority of the foreign mujahideen are forced to exfiltrate the area and return to their countries of origin--Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, Syria, Yemen, Kuwait, and even France and Italy.

The insurgency becomes a kind of interest-bearing machine in the investment of militants. That endows Zarqawi with a tremendous operational flexibility. Logistically, all he has to move is men and money, because the right kind of men provided by funds, can make weapons anywhere, especially in Iraq. The Euphrates River ratlines, are above all, a mechanism for moving men and disseminating deadly learning. For that reason the Syrian border and its approaches are vitally important to him and he will fight for them. (BTW in historical campaigns terrorists purposely killed far more local Muslims than their direct enemies. For example, in Algeria, terrorists killed almost 20 Algerians for every Frenchman. Terrorists learned that as long as they can maintain a hold on the population by intimidation it is actually not necessary to militarily defeat the army of the primary enemy. One point which I think the Counterterrorism Blog does not discuss is that the Iraqi insurgency is also a foundry for American militants of a different kind. It creates a mirror cohort of American experts who have fought Islamic terrorism and learned from it. The effect of hundreds of thousands of returning veterans whose views and careers will have been changed by the Global War on Terror is something whose effect has not yet been measured.)

The US military would at first glance appear to be at a tremendous disadvantage. Unlike Zarqawi's terrorist force, they must move uniformed men and vast quantities of materiel and must seem helpless against the Al Qaeda meme dissemination machine. But in reality it is not so. The US military forms the counterbackground against which its real maneuver assets, which are intelligence assets, can operate. Just as Zarqawi's terrorists move in a civilian sea from which they can improvise weapons, US intelligence assets maneuver in a battlespace dominated by the uniformed armed forces. In their own way, US intelligence assets can match Zarqawi's men for flexibility: once they find Zarqawi's men the American dominated battlespace can quickly kill them. They have a nimbleness of a different kind. From the US perspective, the Euphrates River ratlines are a human infrastructure to be disrupted, infiltrated and turned. For different, but equivalent reasons, the Syrian border and its approaches are an opportunity to bankrupt Zarqawi's investment in militants. Some indication the nature of the contest between US intelligence and Zarqawi's army of zombies, and the role of the uniformed military, which delivers the actual blow, can be seen in this statement by Col Bob Chase, operations officer of the 2nd Marine division. "The enemy, as you expect, once you hit them hard they have a tendency to go to ground ... There are some locations that we are waiting for the timing to be correct." From that it is reasonable to infer that we are not witnessing an isolated operation, but part of a campaign. In the coming months, both sides will probably attack and counterattack not only in geographical breadth, but in along the depth of each other's echelons.

Bandwidth Low

I've used up about 8 of the 12 GB in bandwidth available to host the map images. That should be enough to last today. I've ordered more bandwidth so things should be OK.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Battle on the Syrian Border

Due to problems with my image server, the maps will be down

The Marine Battle on the Syrian border at which nearly 100 enemy have been reported killed now turns out to be a heavily fortified area. The Los Angeles Times has correspondent Solomon Moore approximately 4 km northwest (Rabit) from where fighting is taking place referred to in accounts as the Ramana-Obeidi area. (The first map below from Microsoft Encarta shows variations of the place names) It is in the cultivated zone right on the edge of the Al Jazira desert, about 5 km from the Syrian border. From the LA Times account, the Marines approached on the south side of the river, and took mortar fire from towns on the north side of the Euphrates. The Marines crossed the river, using bridging and assaulted into the town.

In nearby Sabah, New Ubaydi, and Karabilah, insurgents fired mortar rounds at Marine convoys along the river's southern edge. Marines who pursued attackers in those towns took part in house-to-house combat against dozens of well-armed insurgents. One Marine was walking into a house when an insurgent hiding in the basement fired through a floor grate, killing him. Another Marine, who was retrieving a wounded comrade inside a house, suffered shrapnel wounds when an insurgent threw a grenade through a window.

The area is a few kilometers to the south of Qaim/Qusabayah, where a Marine border post has been the subject of repeated attacks. The Chicago Tribune and The Associated Press have more details on the degree of fortification of the towns in which fighting is now taking place.

At the vanguard of the assault, Marines who swept into the Euphrates River town of Obeidi confronted an enemy they had not expected to find — and one that attacked in surprising ways. As they pushed from house to house in early fighting, trying to flush out the insurgents who had attacked their column with mortar fire, they ran into sandbagged emplacements behind garden walls. They found a house where insurgents were crouching in the basement, firing upward through slits hacked at ankle height in the ground-floor walls, aiming at spots that the Marines' body armor did not cover

The situation described by the Los Angeles Times is plotted in the Keyhole map below. The Marines appear to have a blocking force in the desert between the towns and the Syrian border and are conducting operations against enemy in towns on the northern bank of the Euphrates.

(My apologies for having mislabeled Rabit as 'Ribat')


Bill Roggio has many more details. The operation is codenamed Matador. Donald Sensing has some additional stuff.

Search Box

In response to requests by readers for a search box, its probably good to point out that there's already a search box on the top left hand corner of this blog.

Monday, May 09, 2005


Hat tip: the incomparable MIG

Cries and Whispers

Bizarre news from Sweden. (Hat tip: M.S.) A preacher in Stockholm is under police protection after being threatened with death for calling the prophet Mohammed a pedophile. The newspaper Aftenposten reports:

Celebrity Pentecostal preacher Runar Søgaard is under protection by Swedish police after receiving death threats. A high-profile sermon where Sögaard called the prophet Mohammed "a confused pedophile" has triggered fears of religious war. ... "Even if I see Runar while he has major police protection I will shoot him to death," a radical Islamist told Swedish newspaper Expressen. Persons connected to the Kurdish group Ansar al-Islam claim to have received a fatwa, a decree from a Muslim religious leader, to kill Søgaard.

Swedish experts claim that Søgaard is at fault.

Islam expert Jan Hjärpe at the University of Lund told Expressen that such an assassination is a real risk, and he wondered if conflict was the motive for the sermon. ... "It was a statement from an odd man in an odd sect but the effect is stronger antagonism between different groups. It becomes a pure religious polemic and is extremely unpleasant," Hjärpe told the newspaper. Hjärpe saw the incident as a type of beginning of a religious war in Sweden. "It (Sögaard's sermon) has power and influence. It seems to have been Runar's intention to provoke and promote antagonism," Hjärpe said.

Blogger The Fjordman takes a different view. He regard's the Søgaard incident as part of a wider breakdown in the civility between Muslim immigrants and native Swedes. He paints a bleak picture.

Rock throwing and attacks against buses and trains are increasing problems in some suburbs. In Malmö the bus lines in the area of Rosengård have been cancelled. In Stockholm, the authorities went even further and stopped both the bus traffic in the Tensta suburb and the train to Nynäshamn. Head of the bus company in the city of Uppsala, Claes-Göran Alm, is considering doing the same, as the harassment is costing too much money and is putting their employees at risk. Benny Persson is selling window glass in the areas south of Stockholm. According to him, they sometimes have to jump into the car and leave the spot, as they are met with the harassment that some of the bus companies in the suburbs are experiencing: Stone throwing and threats. The same thing is reported from Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city. The company Hemglass are now attempting to run double crews in their cars to face the problems, but they still have had to completely abandon an area outside Södertälje. If you get stuck in an elevator outside Stockholm, you risk staying there for a long time. The repair personnel now demand security guards present when they arrive, since several of their employees have been physically attacked. The most serious problem, however, is the delay of ambulances and the fire department. According to the Emergency Central, attacks against them have become commonplace in the cities. Every Saturday, at least five to ten times emergency personnel are asking for police escort to be able to do their job.

Quoting a New York academic now living in Sweden, The Fjordman believes part of the problem is that Swedish public figures have been studiously avoiding noticing the elephant in the living room. "No debate about immigration polices is possible, the subject is simply avoided. Sweden has such a close connection between the various powerful groups, politicians, journalists, etc. The political class is closed, isolated."

These are powerful accusations. Part of the challenge facing the new Internet media is to find a robust method for collaterally confirming such reports, which are sparsely covered in the regular media. The Fjordman's post is liberally sprinkled with links (many of which are unfortunately, for me at least, in Swedish) so there is little doubt that many of the individual incidents he refers to are true. So it's a good start. But in order to really gauge the magnitude and severity of the situation there is really a need for more investigative blogging. It's a fair bet that the MSM, which still provides the bulk of primary reporting, has gaps in its coverage and there are some -- such as this one -- which are too important to miss.

Freedom for the Bali Bomber?

American Expat in Southeast Asia reports that Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, the spiritual head of the Jemaah Islamiyah, may be released early -- before the end of the year -- as a consequence of increasing domestic pressure to absolve him of culpability.

Back on 3 March 2005 CNN reported that Abu Bakar Ba'asyir would recieved a jail term of 30 months for his involvement in the bombing. What they didn't cover or tell you then were the details of the case and what led to such a lenient sentence including captured members of Jemaah Islamiyah retracting statements and the testimony of an American citizen. ... by the name of Fred Burks who had been working as a translator for the State Department and had attended a meeting together with the CIA and the NSA at the residence of Indonesia's president Megawati Sukarnoputri.

This seems to be the same Fred Burks who authored a glowing review in Al Jazeerah of the BBC documentary The Power of Nightmares. Burks wrote:

This revealing BBC documentary digs deep into the roots of the war on terror, only to find that much of the widespread fear in the post 9/11 world has been fabricated by those in power for their own interests. The intrepid BBC team presents highly informative interviews with top officials and experts in combating terrorism who raise serious questions about who is behind all of the fear-mongering.

This eye-opening documentary shows that, especially after 9/11, fear has been used to manipulate the public into giving up civil liberties and turning over ever more power to elite groups with their own hidden agendas.

In my own experience as an interpreter for US and foreign presidents, I have personally witnessed some of the manipulations mentioned in the above documentary. Having worked as an Indonesian interpreter with the US Department of State for over 18 years, I recently testified to this in the widely publicized trial of Indonesian Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir. Among other things, Mr. Ba'asyir is accused by US authorities of being the mastermind behind JI (Jemaah Islamiah), which is alleged to be a sister organization of Al Qaeda. Many Indonesians are quite skeptical of these allegations. Like me and the BBC video, they question whether JI was largely fabricated by powerful elite groups with hidden agendas.

At the trial, I testified about a Sept. 2002 secret meeting at which I interpreted for President of Indonesia Megawati Soekarnoputri, US Ambassador Ralph Boyce, National Security Council representative Karen Brooks, and a special assistant sent personally by President Bush (who revealed privately to me that she was a CIA agent). The "special assistant" pressured President Megawati to secretly capture and turn over Abu Bakar Ba'asyir to the United States. Yet US authorities have continually denied ever putting any pressure on Jakarta to act against Ba'asyir.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Paul Volcker has asked the UN to instruct a former investigator probing the Oil For Food Program not to comply with a Senate subpoena to provide it with information on the Oil for Food program . Fox News reports:

Volcker said Friday that Congress has to restrain itself from requiring certain acts and information from current or former IIC members as it conducts hearings into Oil-for-Food. "It is essential that it also protect the integrity and the confidentiality of the independent investigating committee," Volcker told reporters in New York, saying the probe involved "highly sensitive matters."

"Lives of certain witnesses are at stake," he added. "We're not playing games here, we are dealing, and let me just emphasize this, in some cases, with lives." In a later question-and-answer session, Volcker did not elaborate too much on who may be threatened if too much information about who has cooperated is publicized, saying, "I couldn't tell you specifically who was threatening witnesses."

The two reports so far issued by Paul Volcker have dealt with the formal remit of the Oil For Food Program; the procedures under which bids were let; the dubious relationship between Kojo Annan and Cotecna and the possible but isolated malfeasance of Benon Sevan. By his own account, Vocker found ineptitude but not criminality. While he cannot exonerate the Secretary General, nothing in the Volcker reports so far can put a smoking gun in Kofi Annan's hands. So far, it has been a story of incompetence without a crime or a criminal mastermind; of people who resemble conspirators without being members of a conspiracy.

Volcker's implicaton that the "lives of certain witnesses are at stake", though he would not name who specifically "was threatening witnesses" clearly indicates that despite his first two reports, something criminal, indeed murderous lies within the Oil for Food universe. Something that could get people killed. Having excluded the possibility of a criminal conspiracy in his first two reports, Volcker now wants to prevent former investigator Robert Parton from divulging certain undisclosed details to the US Congress because he fears that the "lives of certain witnesses are at stake". That which was denied is now invoked.

There are two possible scenarios at this juncture. The first is that Volcker himself intended to uncover the criminal elements he now warns against in his final report and fears that Parton will jeopardize his careful strategy. The second is that Volcker considered these criminally-related aspects irrelevant to investigation.

Volcker's appeal to the United Nations to prevent the Parton from testifying does not look good since he is asking Kofi Annan, the very man under investigation to prevent the release of information that is part of the probe. Was not the very purpose of the IIC to uncover possible criminal activity in the Oil for Food Program? The UN has only accepted the charge of incompetence, but not criminality in the management of the Oil For Food Program. At a UN press conference following the second Volcker report, Kofi Annan's chief of staff Mark Malloch Brown had this exchange with journalists, after Annan had left the room.

Question: Since you keep raising the “he’s-no-crook” defence, let me ask you about management. By now, the guy that he handpicked to run oil-for-food was found totally discredited; his Chief of Staff was cited in this latest report for doing something that the report finds not credible -- his explanation is not credible; the head of OIOS was found to be lacking in his investigation of oil-for-food; his son was found to be lacking; and his relatives were found to be lacking. Is the circle closing, and is it time -- is Mr. Annan, indeed, as Richard asked, the man to lead this huge undertaking of reform at the UN?

Mr. Malloch Brown: Let’s first agree: I’ll answer the question “Is the circle closing?” if you’ll answer the question “Has the ground moved?” Are you giving up on what I would characterize as the “he’s-innocent-so-lay-off” defence? He’s not a crook.

Question: That’s what Richard Nixon said, too.

Mr. Malloch Brown: Well, that’s why I’m saying -- in other words, let’s first agree that the story has probably moved decisively on today, from probably a final slaying of the ghosts on “there was corruption in this by the Secretary-General” to a second issue, which is, was the management effective enough? And on that, he’s the first to acknowledge it evidently wasn’t. A number of individuals have now been cited in ways which are enormously damaging to the Organization and to all of us who work for it.

But hence, again, the important bit of Volcker, which is the forward-looking bit of Volcker, which is, having disposed of any charges of criminality and corruption against the system as a whole and against the Secretary-General, but having pinpointed failings by others, how do we, moving forward, put in place the management reforms that address that? And I would argue, the kind of things we’re doing on more open, high-quality selection of senior staff, the reform of procurement and audit, the strengthening of OIOS going forward -- all of these issues are a very serious response to the issues raised and show that the Secretary-General takes this very seriously.

We have Annan's and Malloch Brown's categorical assurance on that Volcker found nothing criminal in combing through the UN system. What is there in Parton's box of documents that may be worth killing witnesses for?

Saturday, May 07, 2005


The United States has apologized for several of its Second World War actions, most notably the internment of Japanese-Americans. However, George Bush's apology for the 'sellout' at Yalta is bound to rekindle debate over one of the foundational moments of the post-war world. ABC news reports:

Second-guessing Franklin D. Roosevelt, President Bush said Saturday the United States played a role in Europe's painful division after World War II a decision that helped cause "one of the greatest wrongs of history" when the Soviet Union imposed its harsh rule across Central and Eastern Europe. ...  "Certainly it goes further than any president has gone," historian Alan Brinkley said from the U.S. "This has been a very common view of the far right for many years that Yalta was a betrayal of freedom, that Roosevelt betrayed the hopes of generations." Bush said the Yalta agreement, also signed by Britain's Winston Churchill and the Soviet Union's Joseph Stalin, followed in the "unjust tradition" of other infamous war pacts that carved up the continent and left millions in oppression. The Yalta accord gave Stalin control of the whole of Eastern Europe, leading to criticism that Roosevelt had delivered millions of people to communist domination. "Once again, when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable," the president said. "Yet this attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability left a continent divided and unstable."

Yalta marked the moment from when Winston Churchill first openly called the Soviet Union a menace to the Free World. With Nazi Germany clearly dying, Stalin had replaced Hitler as the principal menace to Britain. Interestingly enough, the United Nations was created at Yalta. It is the only one of the four major conference decisions whose writ history has not yet rescinded or made moot. The four decisions were:

  • divide Germany into four ‘zones’, which Britain, France, the USA and the USSR would occupy after the war.
  • hold elections in the countries of eastern Europe.
  • set up a government in Poland which would contain both Communists and non-Communists.
  • set up the United Nations.

Roosevelt was to die shortly afterward and Churchill would be evicted from office by Britain weary of war. Yet Stalin remained. But from his position as a private person, Churchill had one final word of warning to utter. At a speech in Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, Churchill said:

"From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an "iron curtain" has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow."

When the Yalta conference was held, US forces were still West of the Rhine. Roosevelt was extremely sick. Britain all but exhausted. Yet so was the Soviet Union. And the United States was soon to be the sole possessor of the atomic bomb. Whether it was possible to prevent Stalin from taking over Eastern Europe without devastating it will always be an open question. In one sense, it is always futile to apologize for history. But George Bush's apology is really addressed toward his perception of American historical intent. He seems to be saying 'yes my predecessor intended to carve up the world with Josef Stalin. He had no right to deliver people into bondage and we will never do it again.' It is a moral apology, no less futile than regrets over slavery or the dispossession of the Indian tribes.