Archives for March, 2003

Quote of the Day

“We should not march into Baghdad…. To occupy Iraq would instantly . . . turn[] the whole Arab world against us, and make a broken tyrant into a latter-day Arab hero . . . assigning young soldiers to a fruitless hunt for a securely entrenched dictator and condemning them to fight in what would be an unwinnable urban guerrilla war. It could only plunge that part of the world into even greater instability.”

–Former President George H.W. Bush, in his 1998 book “A World Transformed”, co-authored with Brent Scowcroft.

Courtesy of Gulf War vet and libertarian James Landrith, a guy I need to add to my blogroll once I overcome my massive technical incompetence.

Posted on Mar 31, 2003 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Divide and Conquer

Cato Chairman Bill Niskanen makes a compelling case for divided government, noting that in the last 50 years, “The only two long periods of fiscal restraint were the Eisenhower administration and the Clinton administration, during both of which the opposition party controlled Congress.”

I’ve often wondered as well whether the G.O.P. would have been so blithely unconcerned about military tribunals, domestic detention, and the Patriot Act if it was Al Gore asking for vast new powers. Anyway, I agree with Doc Slack that “there can be no peace so long as the neocons govern.” That’s why, if the Dems put up Howard Dean or Gary Hart, I just might vote Democratic next time.

I don’t expect either of them actually to make goverment smaller, mind you. But you can’t convince me a Dean or Hart presidency would be worse. Sure, they both want to socialize my health care, which may kill me somewhere down the line if I’m in a six-month queue for heart surgery. But the alternative, George Bush’s apocalyptic foreign policy is more likely to get me killed in the short term when Hezbollah blows up the bus I take to work.

Posted on Mar 31, 2003 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Line of the Day

Goddamnit: this better be about oil!

–My Dad, in the middle of a discussion about Bush, the costs of war/occupation, and the piss-poor economic outlook.

Posted on Mar 30, 2003 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Just War and JDAMs

If I believed this war was about a genuine national security threat–if I thought we were fighting to stop an American city from being torched–then I’d have a somewhat different attitude toward civilian casualties. We’d be in the position of the fellow in that “lifeboat ethics” scenario getting shot at by a madman with a machine gun in a crowd. We don’t want to hit innocents when firing back, but we’re following the first law of nature, self-preservation, and we didn’t ask to be put in this situation. That doesn’t mean I’d sanction carpet bombing, but it does mean I’d feel differently about trading American soldiers for Iraqi innocents. If it’s “Operation-Save-New-York-City”, I’d say our obligation to avoid civilian casualties is lower than it is in “Operation Iraqi Freedom”.

Noah quotes Brig. General Benjamin Freakly (assistant commander of the 101st Division) on the recent incident in which 30 attack helicopters were driven back (and one downed) by lightly armed Iraqis:

“you have 10 guys lying on top of a building firing R.P.G.’s and small arms. You can go in and bomb that building and reduce it to rubble,” but at the potential cost of many civilian lives.

If this war was about neutralizing a genuine threat, I’d say, bomb that building and reduce it to rubble. But since I think this war is being fought for the crack-smoking Wilsonian goal of democratizing the Middle East, it’s hardly right go about slaughtering the people you claim to want to help. The civilian leadership has put our soldiers in a horrible position.

Why do I say it’s not about a genuine national security threat? Well, I’ve gone into those reasons ad nauseum on this site, but at the risk of making you sick again, here it is one more time. I don’t doubt that Hussein has played footsie with some “connected guys” as they say in mob movies. But he seems to have drawn the line short of passing off chem/bio as evidenced by the lack of such attacks in Israel despite the fact that Hussein’s had VX for over 20 years, Ansar Al-Islam’s inability to secure chem/bio (they’re experimenting with mickey-mouse stuff like ricin) and as recently as last Sunday’s WaPo which details the great lengths to which AQ is going to make their own bioweapons. (They don’t seem to think Hussein was likely to hand them off).

Moreover “WMD” is a misnomer for everything but nukes and maybe smallpox. If the doves had been wrong about whether Hussein was deterrable, we wouldn’t be risking “a day of horror unlike any the country has ever known,” as the President put it in his state of the union speech, but something more along the lines of Oklahoma City at worst. I realize how horribly cavalier that sounds, but it’s not when you think about it (and since I have a much better chance of being one of the casualties–living in DC–than some law professor in Knoxville, for instance, I feel like I’m putting my money where my mouth is). We operate with such risks constantly in the background. Since “WMD” in most cases are no more lethal than conventional armament, the argument for invading Iraq on the merest possibility that Hussein might pass them off is as good as the argument for invading any rabid anti-American regime that possesses high explosives.

And any argument that war is justified because the risk from “WMD” is higher than I’ve suggested (say, if Hussein has smallpox) is almost self-refuting, since one can hardly argue with a straight face that we don’t greatly increase the risk of weapons transfer by invading Iraq with the avowed purpose of destroying Hussein’s regime and killing him.

So I don’t buy that this is about American lives, liberty and property. If it was, then going through the luxury of 11 months trying to build an international coalition would have been criminal negligence. It’s not about our safety, it’s not about Bush’s Dad, and it’s not about oil. Instead, this is about America doing great, big, bold noble things in the world. The idea that American soldiers have to give their lives for that vision is appalling.

Posted on Mar 30, 2003 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Could You Say That With a Little More Confidence?

“We do not need to kill thousands of innocent civilians to remove Saddam Hussein from power,” Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon news conference. “At least, that’s our belief.”

Meanwhile, Max Boot waxes nostalgic about the firebombing of Tokyo. Somehow, every time I read this guy, I get less and less ashamed about International ANSWER.

Posted on Mar 30, 2003 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

“Bush,” “Genius” Used in Same Sentence

Actually in the title of a new book: The Leadership Genius of George W. Bush. (I didn’t link to Amazon’s page, because I’m scared of the books it’ll start recommending for me: Chicken Soup for the Golfer’s Soul, Regime Change for Dummies and suchlike…)

Each thought-provoking chapter highlights a unique leadership lesson gleaned from Bush’s political, professional, and personal endeavors. From owner of the Texas Rangers to President of the United States, these principles have propelled George W. Bush to the top and can do the same for you:

Identifying core values * Building alliances * Having a vision * Communication * Building trust * Discipline * Bringing in the right people * Intuition * Allowing those hired to do their jobs * Getting results

Alright, joke amongst yourselves…

Posted on Mar 27, 2003 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Empire and Market

Libertarians, as distrusters of power, ought to be immune to the temptations of Empire. I’m not so sure. If a substantial number of us ever bite the apple, it will be because of arguments like those of historian Niall Ferguson. His new book, Empire, argues that imperialism–specifically, the British variety–is responsible for the spread of vital institutions such as “the rule of law, credible monetary regimes, transparent fiscal systems, and incorrupt bureaucracies in encouraging cross-border capital flows.” In a sense, he argues, globalization occurred (is occurring) at bayonet-point. The Chronicle of Higher Education features an essay based on the arguments in that book. Excerpts:

More often than not, European institutions were imposed by main force, often literally at gunpoint. In theory, globalization may be possible in an international system of multilateral cooperation. But it may equally well be possible as a result of coercion if the dominant power in the world favors economic liberalism. Empire — and specifically the British empire — is the instance that springs to mind.

What lessons can the United States today draw from the British experience of empire? The obvious one is that the most successful economy in the world — as Britain was for most of the 18th and 19th centuries — can do a very great deal to impose its preferred values on less technologically advanced societies. It is nothing short of astonishing that Great Britain was able to govern so much of the world without running up an especially large defense bill. To be precise, Britain’s defense expenditure averaged little more than 3 percent of net national product between 1870 and 1913, and it was lower for the rest of the 19th century. That was money well spent. No doubt it is true that, in theory, open international markets would have been preferable to imperialism; but in practice global free trade was not and is not naturally occurring. The British empire enforced it.

Ferguson, who wrote another book about the horrors of World War I, ought however to know something about the horrors that can be unleashed (Bolshevism and, eventually, Fascism, in that case–as Ferguson outlines in The Pity of War) when countries enter into war too lightly.

Posted on Mar 27, 2003 in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Devil’s Dictionary

National Greatness Conservatism: n. The vicarious thrill certain right-wing pundits get from watching better men risk their lives.

Posted on Mar 26, 2003 in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

How’s the War Going?

Well, for one thing, forty-odd casualties does not a quagmire make. Some of the media coverage has been a little too breathless and despairing over the last couple of days. That we’ll win this war has never been in any doubt, and I predict these idiots–Republican Guard units heading south to flank Marines near Baghdad–are going to get Highway-‘o-Deathed in short order when and if the sandstorm lifts.

So there’s no reason to despair about the course of the war, short term. The reasons to despair are mostly longer-term. A few links to that effect.

First, nice piece on Slate about neocon hawks’ crack-smoking certitude in the ’90s that a Bay-of-Pigs-style operation with U.S. airpower and Iraqi National Congress-led irregulars could topple the Hussein regime. Here’s Prince of Darkness Richard Perle circa 1998:

“It would be neither wise nor necessary for us to send ground forces into Iraq when patriotic Iraqis are willing to fight to liberate their own country.” If the United States were “to give logistical support and military equipment to the opposition and to use airpower to defend it in the territory it controls,” the result would be “a full-blown insurrection against Saddam.”

We now know it’s going to take a lot more. Ask yourself, if they were this naively overconfident about the ease of overthrowing the regime, how much should we trust their assessment of how easy the occupation’s going to be?

Here’s a piece from Reuters’ that says the leader of Iraq’s main Shiite opposition group promises resistance to American occupation:

“Iraqis are against foreign dominance, and if they (the Americans) don’t want to leave Iraq, the nation will resist,” said Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir Hakim, head of the Tehran-based Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).

“One of the legitimate ways of resistance against occupiers is force and weapons,” he told a news conference.

The gray-bearded, black-turbaned Hakim said SCIRI, which draws its support from Iraq’s Muslim Shi’ite majority, said he had tens of thousands of troops stationed inside and outside Iraq, ready to resist any foreign occupation.

I don’t know how much of that is bluster, but if they do fight, it’s guaranteed to be hit-and-run, snipers-on-the-rooftop, guerrilla tactics, and it won’t be pretty. And if so, how long before our doe-eyed Wilsonianism gives way to brutal, colonial suppression?

Finally, China has taken note of our, ah, “proactive” foreign policy and is reacting accordingly:

The Iraqi war has convinced the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership that some form of confrontation with the U.S. could come earlier than expected.

Beijing has also begun to fine-tune its domestic and security policies to counter the perceived threat of U.S. “neo-imperialism.”

As more emphasis is being put on boosting national strength and cohesiveness, a big blow could be dealt to both economic and political reform.

I doubt this bothers the neocons, who had identified the fight with China as the next grand world-historical struggle prior to Sept. 11th.
China, Iraq, France–it hardly matters, so long as America is engaged in some grand military adventure. As with everything else, there’s a division of labor in National Greatness Conservatism: “you boys take that hill; I’ve got a tough-minded, uncompromising op-ed to write.” Bah.

Meanwhile, “Nuclear enemies India and Pakistan Wednesday defiantly conducted missile tests at the height of the US-led war in Iraq, amid rising tensions in South Asia over the weekend massacre of 24 Hindus in disputed Kashmir.”

Maybe the Christian Right armageddonites who back this war are right; we should all hunker down and wait for the Rapture.

Posted on Mar 26, 2003 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

War News

Four useful sites for navigating through the fog of war:

Yahoo’s Iraq Page: constantly updated, better pictures and coverage than anything on the tube.

The Beeb’s Warblog.

Defense Tech: College classmate Noah Schactman’s blog on “the future of the military, law enforcement, and national security.” Great links, good explanations of our gee-whiz military hardware and when to believe (and not to believe) the hype.

Al Jazeera’s new English page: find out the picture the Arab street is getting of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

UPDATE: “Hacker attacks continued to plague the Web site of Arab satellite TV network al-Jazeera on Thursday, as cyber-vandals replaced the news site with a stars-and-stripes logo saying ‘Let Freedom Ring’.” Irony too unsubtle to escape even Alanis Morissette.

Posted on Mar 25, 2003 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

“The Insidious Wiles of Foreign Influence”

From the Boston Globe:

Today’s advocates of American empire share one surprising trait: Very few of them were born in the United States. D’Souza was born in India, and Johnson in Britain – where he still lives. Steyn, Krauthammer, and Ignatieff all hail from Canada. (Krauthammer was born in Uruguay, but grew up in Montreal before moving to the United States.) More than anything, the backgrounds of today’s most outspoken imperialists suggest the lingering appeal and impact of the British empire.

”I think there’s more openness among children of the British Empire to the benefits of imperialism, whereas some Americans have never gotten over the fact that our country was born in a revolt against empire,” notes Max Boot.

Yeah, I’ve never “gotten over” that myself.

Posted on Mar 24, 2003 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Anti-Imperialism: The American Way

Lefty patriot Max Sawicky declares that Anti-Imperialism is “as American as Cherry Pie.” I’d add that it’s as American as Mark Twain. The Anti-Imperialist League, of which Twain was a prominent member, was formed in the run-up to the Spanish American War. Its 1899 platform declared: “We hold that the policy known as imperialism is hostile to liberty and tends toward militarism, an evil from which it has been our glory to be free.” Left and Right, union men and capitalists worked together to oppose the drift from Republic to Empire: members included Carl Schurz, Samuel Gompers, and Andrew Carnegie. In an odd mix of Randian-capitalism-meets-altruism, Carnegie even “offered to buy the Philippines from the United States to give the islands their independence.” The opponents of Empire are heirs to a proud tradition. It’s a good answer to ANSWER.

Posted on Mar 23, 2003 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Never Mind…

Below the fold on the WaPo front page today, we learn that documents obtained during the arrest of Khalid Sheik Mohammed have given US intelligence officials new information on Al Qaeda’s homemade bioweapons program:

What is new in the recent documents is al Qaeda recruited competent scientists, including a Pakistani microbiologist whom the officials interviewed this week declined to name. The documents describe specific timelines for producing biochemical weapons and include a bar graph depicting the parallel processes that must take place between Days 1 and 31 of manufacture. Included are inventories of equipment and indications of readiness to grow seed stocks of pathogen in nutrient baths and then dry the resulting liquid slurry into a form suitable for aerosol dispersal.

Despite the help from Pakistani (go figure!) scientists, AQ seems unlikely to be able to make the really good stuff:

Among the consolations in the captured documents is that al Qaeda’s manufacturing plans show no knowledge of advanced techniques used in the most efficient biological weapons. There is no reference, for example, to the special processing needed to produce very fine anthrax spores that resist clumping and linger in the air as free-floating particles.

Another reassuring sign, officials said, is that the strain of anthrax involved in al Qaeda’s planning is not among the most virulent. The Los Alamos National Laboratory has catalogued some 1,200 varieties, some of which are better suited to be used as weapons. Officials interviewed for this article, speaking on condition of anonymity, declined to name the strain that al Qaeda sought.

But I don’t get it: they’re going to all this trouble to make their own biological weapons, when Saddam Hussein has all that anthrax that’s theirs for the asking? Odd, very odd.

Posted on Mar 23, 2003 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Occupation: the Short-Term View

Likewise, it’s gratifying to see us greeted as liberators, even if, like me, you view armed evangelism in the service of liberty as the most dangerous foreign policy rationale since, well, since… ever. But I’m with Jim: the folks who think the immediate reaction of the locals betokens the success of the occupation are saps. The British forces that stepped in between the Prods and the Catholics in Derry in 1969 were initially welcomed by the latter as protectors. Remember how well that worked out.

Posted on Mar 22, 2003 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

American Empire

It’s always a mistake to try to assess the progress of an unfolding event like a war from TV and web reports (remember the much-vaunted success of the Patriot missile circa ’91?). But it does seem that this operation is being carried out with considerable restraint. Even the Iraqi regime as of yesterday only claimed some 200 wounded.

If initial reports are right–and again it’s too soon to tell–those who view the U.S. as a benign empire will have a lot to crow about, and with some justification. I’m impressed and gratified by the unexpected mercy. I’d almost feel proud if it was possible for me to feel proud while my country’s engaged in bombing a country that did not threaten us. Hayek wrote in the Road to Serfdom that if forced to live under socialism, he’d much prefer to live under a British or American version than a German or Russian one. Ditto for Empire. Whether the restraint and relative benignity will last, we’ll see.

Posted on Mar 22, 2003 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment