Saturday, March 01, 2003

The ways of the blogsphere are sometimes strange.

There's a lot of blogsphere comment on the Turkish parliament's refusal to allow US troops to invade from their border. And plenty more on the full testimony of the Iraqi defector Kamel, which makes Iraqi defectors generally look like very poor sources, and casts some serious doubt on the Pollack-style case for war. Both worthy topics.

But lost in the shuffle is this prominently placed New York Times story in which the administration finally fesses up to what has been obvious anyway --- that it's personal, and nothing that Saddam does with his munitions will cure American war fever; he must leave the country, or else.

Then again, compared to the other two blunders, maybe that is a trifle. Frightening, that.

Friday, February 28, 2003

A couple of days ago, General Eric Shinseki stunned the Senate Armed Services Committee with an estimate that a postwar army of occupation for Iraq could be the same size as the currently deployed force --- a couple of hundred thousand soldiers, or so.

But fear not. Paul Wolfowitz says that it'll only be a mere hundred thousand. He also has this to say about reported Pentagon cost estimates for the war which are up into the hundred billion dollar range:

He said it was impossible to predict accurately a war's duration, its destruction and the extent of rebuilding afterward.

"We have no idea what we will need until we get there on the ground," Mr. Wolfowitz said at a hearing of the House Budget Committee. "Every time we get a briefing on the war plan, it immediately goes down six different branches to see what the scenarios look like. If we costed each and every one, the costs would range from $10 billion to $100 billion."

It's refreshing to see an administration stick to the principles it campaigned on --- in this case, the aversion to "fuzzy math". Estimates of this sort depend in part on circumstances and can never be precise, so the only way to tell how much the war will actually cost is to fight it, and attempting to plan for any particular cost figure is just irresponsible. For example:

[Wolfowitz] said there was no history of ethnic strife in Iraq, as there was in Bosnia or Kosovo. He said Iraqi civilians would welcome an American-led liberation force that "stayed as long as necessary but left as soon as possible," but would oppose a long-term occupation force. And he said that nations that oppose war with Iraq would likely sign up to help rebuild it.

"I would expect that even countries like France will have a strong interest in assisting Iraq in reconstruction," Mr. Wolfowitz said. He added that many Iraqi expatriates would likely return home to help.

Please ignore what you may have heard about the Kurds with their autonomous zone in the north, and the Shiite militias and marsh Arabs in the south. Minor problems. If we're lucky, they'll cost nothing at all.

So, the right thing to do is ignore budget considerations entirely, and send in the troops. As Donald Rumsfeld explains:

At the Pentagon, Mr. Rumsfeld said the factors influencing cost estimates made even ranges imperfect. Asked whether he would release such ranges to permit a useful public debate on the subject, Mr. Rumsfeld said, "I've already decided that. It's not useful."

Although the administration does seem to be deviating from its principles a bit internally:

Mr. Wolfowitz's refusal to be pinned down on the costs of war and peace in Iraq infuriated some committee Democrats, who noted that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., the budget director, had briefed President Bush on just such estimates on Tuesday.

Besides, we won't have to pay for the war until we're fighting it. Why worry now?

Blogging in haste, I initially missed the bit about Iraq's ethnic tranquility, before seeing it pointed out by Chad Orzel. Sigh... I'm kinda rushed.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

Anent Dubya's speech last night, a (somewhat edited) rerun, from the end of this post on the return of the White Man's Burden:

If the idea is to establish a "beacon of democracy" in the larger Muslim community --- well, there are other places we could try that. Indonesia, where we sponsored a coup. Iran where we put the Shah in power, displacing an elected prime minister who didn't like the way the West was running his oil industry. (That worked out great, huh?) Pakistan, where our current "bastard in the region" --- who's taking over that role from Saddam Hussein --- is rapidly converting himself into a military strongman. (By the by, he's also a former sponsor of Kashmiri terrorists whose disavowals of support for their current operations are less than completely convincing. And he certainly has WMD. I have a sick feeling we may be hearing more about that in the years to come). And of course, Afghanistan, where we have in the past supported, Islamic fanatics against the Soviets and where the regime we installed just this year is hanging on by its fingernails...

It feels like cheating. But if they're going to keep putting out the same nonsense, I might as well blog the same response. But for something more substantive, see the comments on this post to Stand Down...

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

My workplace just went through a security audit, and improved a number of its procedures for handling confidential data. As a result of which, I can now say that we handle our confidential information at least as carefully as the Los Alamos National Laboratory handles its confidential nuclear secrets.

It's easier than you might think...

You can't always believe everything you read. The New Republic once fired an associate editor when they figured out that his stories, including one featuring "the church of George Herbert Walker Christ", and another featuring Wall Street nabobs worshipping at Hindu-style shrines to Alan Greenspan, were made up.

So, there's an article in the current Harper's (not on line), thin on attribution, which describes an undercover investigation into Ivanwald, a training center for a secret cult of sorts which calls itself "the Family", though it has operated several public fronts with different names over the years, and which includes, among others, seven Senators (six of them Republican); it has also maintained ties to foreign leaders, including among others Indonesian strongman Suharto (who came to power in a CIA-sponsored coup) and the Brazilian dictator General Costa e Silva.

These folks don't necessarily call themselves Christians --- it's "a term they deride as too narrow for the world they are building in Christ's honor". The leaders are...

concerned that the focus on labels like 'Christian' might get in the way of [a] Congressman's prayers. Religion distracts people from Jesus, [leader] Doug [Coe] said, and allows them to isolate Christ's will from their work in the world.

People separate it out" he warned .... "'Oh, okay, I got religion, that's private.' As if Jesus doesn't know anything about building highways, ro Social Security. We gotta take Jesus out of the religious wrapping."

But the Family still does worship Jesus, in their fashion --- the sportsman Jesus, evidently; "He excelled in every activity. he was a great teacher, sure, but he was also a real guy's guy. He would have made an excellent athlete." Their fashion of worship demands humility and complete submission --- "Pray to be broken". But it's also a fashion which derides democracy ("a manifestation of ungodly pride" --- sound familiar?), and nominates the Family itself as the new chosen people, the covenant with the Jews having apparently lapsed.

And membership in the new chosen people has its privileges. As heir apparent to the leadership David Coe explains:

"King David", David Coe went on, "liked to do really, really bad things." He chuckled. "Here's this guy who slept with another man's wife --- Bathsheba, right? --- and then basically murders her husband. And this guy is one of our heroes." David shook his head. "I mean, Jiminy Christmas, God likes this guy! What," he said, "is that all about?"

The answer, we discovered, was that King David had been "chosen." To illustrate this point, David Coe turned to Beau. "Beau, let's say I hear you raped three little girls. And now here you are at Ivanwald. What would I think of you, Beau?

Beau shrank into the cusions. "Probably that I'm pretty bad?"

"No, Beau. I wouldn't. Because I'm not here to judge you. That's not my job. I'm here for only one thing."

"Jesus?" Beau said. David smiled and winked.

He walked to the National Geographic map of the world mounted on the wall. "You guys know about Genghis Khan?" he asked. ...

David explained that when Genghis entered a defeated city he would call in the local headman and have him stuffed into a crate. Over the crate would be spread a tablecloth, and on the tablecloth would be spread a wonderful meal. "And then, while the man suffocated, Genghis ate, and he didn't even hear the man's screams." David still stood on the couch, a finger in the air. "Do you know what that means?" He was thinking of Christ's parable of the wineskins. "You can't pour new into old," David said, returning to his chair. "We elect our leaders. Jesus elects his."

He reached over and squeezed the arm of a brother. "Isn't that great?" David said. "That's the way everything in life happens. If you're a person known to be around Jesus, you can go and do anything."

In addition to Genghis Khan, role models include the Mafia, Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, and a contemporary figure, Osama bin Laden.

In short, we have a group which worships a divinity which demands total submission, promises power and domination over others in return, and will permit its followers to do anything to gain them. And they call it Jesus.

I'm not completely sure I believe the story --- for a conspiracy-minded left-winger, it's slightly too good to be true. But if it's not, there are seven named United States Senators who have reason to be really ticked off.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Sigh... I don't really have time for blogging this morning, but this nutty article by Mansoor Ijaz is too precious not to share.

Ijaz thinks Osama bin Laden's rhetoric about dying "in the belly of the eagle" should be taken at face value. Why?

For the first time since the September 11 attacks against the United States, bin Laden demonstrated fear through his choice of words. In setting forth plans for his suicide, he probably came to the conclusion that al Qaeda's retaliation infrastructure around the world had been so effectively and systematically dismantled by western intelligence that his terrorists may not be able to mount a credible response to any planned U.S. military action in Iraq in the near future.

So he starts by presuming that al-Qaeda's infrastructure has been "effectively and systematically dismantled by Western Intelligence". But it seems they've still got a little something left:

Al Qaeda has explosives expertise that is unsurpassed in non-military circles. It gets military-grade C4 charges from China and Iran; it employs Hezbollah and Hamas guerillas trained in the fine arts of detonation devices (witness particularly the maritime attacks against the USS Cole and the French oil tanker); and it has brainwashed legions of men who are willing to die for the cause.

Sounds like a retaliation infrastructure to me. But wait, there's more!

According to my intelligence sources in the Far East, the outlying renegade provinces of Indonesia (Aceh, for example) and the Philippines (where al Qaeda affiliate Abu Sayyaf rules) are infested with senior al Qaeda leaders. Each one is financially empowered to purchase North Korea's plutonium the moment it is reprocessed. Ayman Zawahiri, al Qaeda's number two, was reportedly in Indonesia last September, a month before the Bali bomb blast that killed 200 mostly Australian tourists. He could easily be there again.

We also know from published--and so far undisputed--reports that from February 2000 until July 2002, eight senior Pakistani nuclear scientists left their country without obtaining the required No Objection Certificates needed for travel abroad. They remain unaccounted for and at least some are reported to have traveled to Australia and Indonesia.

In a worst case scenario, al Qaeda could construct a crude but effective nuclear device in weeks, if not a month, from Hezbollah C4, North Korean plutonium, and a little nuclear expertise from disaffected Pakistani scientists. Making a "dirty" radiological dispersion device with Strontium or Cesium also remains an option, although it is clear that al Qaeda has the intent and resources to go for weapons that cause maximum collateral damage.

Add to this troubling possibility the fact that the terror group has resorted to the use of seafaring vessels to move its people around, and now has a fleet large and diverse enough that one or two could seamlessly move into a large harbor or congested waterway undetected, and a picture emerges of an unparalleled potential threat to the global economy from the paralysis that could be caused by a crude plutonium bomb exploding in the belly of an al Qaeda ship with bin Laden onboard.

So, Ijaz believes that bin Laden has been pushed by suicidal despair by a Western onslaught so severe that it has left him with nothing... except legions of highly trained fanatics who are willing to die for the cause, effective control of large chunks of land in the Pacific, and a nuclear program worthy of a rogue state, which could net him a working bomb within the year. Whereupon, despairing that his "retaliation infrastructure" has been so "effectively and systematically dismantled" that it can do nothing more than construct and deliver the most fearsome weapon in the history of the human race, he will use it to kill himself.

"Don't do it!", I can hear his lieutenants crying out. "Don't do it, Osama! You still have something left to live for!"

(via Diana Moon, who seems to find some virtue in this article which I can't see...).

Monday, February 24, 2003

This is how Dubya is a uniter, and not a divider:

Nowhere has the changing tone on the dividend proposal been more obvious than with the housing lobby, which briefly raised questions about the impact of that tax cut on low-income housing credits. When a Washington Post article indicated last week that a coalition of nine national housing lobbies had expressed concern over the issue, panic ensued.

The carefully crafted coalition collapsed in acrimony, as Republican-leaning interest groups such as the National Association of Realtors and the National Association of Home Builders scrambled to distance themselves from the new organization. A lobbyist for the Realtors group rushed to the White House with statements the group had made in support of the president's dividend proposal.

"The White House has a reputation of taking names and exacting punishment," said one housing lobbyist, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I think this White House plays rougher [than predecessors], and I think they're proud of it."

This is how they're treating anyone with the potential to oppose their economic policy. With the possible exception of Alan Greenspan. Or possibly not.

But hey, they're proud to say how many economists are lining up behind their proposal. As it happens, they're not, but that doesn't keep them from saying it...

My post below on reluctant hawks seems to have stirred up a bit of a fracas; I seem to have lead a charge I'm not entirely comfortable with, and Kevin Drum, who I cited, now seems worried that he's about to be "tossed out of the liberal club" entirely. (A notion vaguely reminiscent of Monty Python's argument clinic... but I digress).

Still, like Patrick Nielsen Hayden, I have to take exception to this bit of Kevin's response: sense from reading the anti-war left is that they don't really take the danger of terrorism and unstable states seriously. I do, however, and I think the evidence indicates that humanitarian policies alone won't solve the problem.

Some of us here in the anti-war left are perfectly well aware of the danger of terrorism and unstable states, and oppose the war because we expect it to make those problems worse.

The current regime in Iraq, vile though it may be in other respects, has not been one of the primary sponsors of terrorism in recent years. Syria, Iran, and Pakistan have offered Islamic radicals much more in the way of formal support, and the same can be said of at least some prominently placed individuals in Saudi Arabia (what with the telethons on state-controlled media, etc., etc.). Of these, Pakistan already has nukes, and Iran is actively working on them. These are much likelier sources of major new funds for terrorists, or weapons of mass destruction, than Iraq. As is North Korea, for that matter, which seems willing to sell whatever technology it has to anyone with the cash to pay for it.

The major connection between this war and terrorists, it seems to me, is that it's likely to provide them a rallying point. Bin Laden seems to think so as well; he hasn't even had the decency to wait till we actually start bombing before putting the attack on his recruiting tapes.

As to the problem of unstable states, even administration war planners concede that invading Iraq may well create one. The Turks are anxious to carve out an oil-bearing chunk of the north. Iranian-backed Shia militia are already reported to be moving into the south. And the war will provide a rallying cry to radical islamic revolutionaries far and wide.

Kevin does have better arguments in favor of the war --- the point that a United States attack would end the rather nasty sanctions regime for which the United States is itself responsible may be a bit perverse, but it's still true. But a full-fledged member of the liberal club ought to know his fellow liberals' arguments...

So, did whoever issued the "no politics" edict at the grammys know there was going to be a Clash tribute?

Both CBS and the Recording Academy have denied trying to squelch political statements, but Sheryl Crow, in interviews, said point blank she had been pressured to say nothing about the looming war...

With Saddam Hussein posing no immediate threat, and even the administration's pet Iraqi dissidents calling their postwar plans "Baathism with an American face", the case for war now looks a bit iffy. What's reluctant hawk to do? Here's one last argument:

As much as I'm unhappy about how the Bush administration has mishandled everything, backing out now could have disastrous consequences. And so we liberal hawks hold our noses and hope for the best.

As I've noted before, this was Henry Kissinger's argument for why the United States needed to stay in Vietnam. He spent years seeking a way out of the war which would somehow avoid conceding the obvious --- that the Vietnamese had kicked us out, as they had the Mongols and Ming emperors before us. He failed, and the only thing there is to show for his efforts are thousands of unnecessary names on unnecessary marble slabs on a wall.

The power and prestige of the United States was not diminished nearly as much by the surrender as it was by the war that preceded it.

Update: Well, that's the only thing that Americans have to show for it, anyway. David Byron, commenting on Atrios' blog, reminds me that the Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians have plenty to show for it as well, in mangled bodies and poisoned land...