It's sometimes breathtaking when common sense prevails: prevails:
"The farmers are not our enemy," the State Department's Richard Holbrooke recently declared, referring to Afghans who grow opium poppies. Since the U.S. government is officially determined to wipe out their livelihood, they could be forgiven for misunderstanding. To reassure those who interpret ripping up their crops as a hostile act, Holbrooke said, "we're going to phase out eradication."
This policy shift is a long overdue admission that anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan are strengthening the Taliban insurgency and undermining stability. But the reasons Holbrooke cited for the change apply more broadly than he is willing to acknowledge, indicting not just poppy pulling in Afghanistan but an international drug control regime that has been an expensive flop for nearly a century.
Holbrooke, the special U.S. envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, told A.P.: "Eradication is a waste of money. It might destroy some acreage, but it didn't reduce the amount of money the Taliban got by one dollar. It just helped the Taliban." By encouraging farmers to view the theocratic insurgents as defenders against foreign invaders bent on eliminating their income, he said, "the U.S. policy was driving people into the hands of the Taliban."
Don't expect the logic to permeate other areas of US drug control policies, however. There are too many programs running to allow a quick reversion to common sense. But, that being said, this is still a positive sign.
I know very little about Iran, so I depend on informed folks to provide me with sufficient information to understand some of the issues at stake. This is a very interesting look at what may come next, and why:
What we can see in Iran today are two simultaneous struggles, one from below (people with legitimate grievances against their government), and one up above (a power struggle between factions).
Although many had hoped that the post-electoral struggle in Iran would be a one act play, this one seems more likely to be headed into a saga that is four or five acts long. Like many previous social movements throughout history, this has turned from a hundred yard dash into a marathon.
The dynamics of this struggle are also very different than those that have occurred in other countries. The Iranian system is kind of "a state within a state." There is an elected part of the government — the president and parliament — but they are answerable and subject to a Supreme Leader and the various bodies of Islamic clergy that choose him and that, on paper at least, serve as a check and balance to his powers.
That dual state apparatus, although designed to maintain those in power, has caused the regime of Supreme Leader Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad — very much joined at the hip — the problem of having to defend itself on two fronts at once. If it loses control of only one of those institutions, it loses everything.
It's a fairly long article, and I'm not sure I agree with some of the interpretations, but it's well worth reading in full.
Update: Christopher Hitchens looks at the odd phenomenon of "My Uncle Napoleon" and the degree of detachment displayed by Iranian religious leaders:
Fantastic as these claims may have seemed three years ago, they sound mild when compared with the ravings and gibberings that are now issued from the Khamenei pulpit. Here is a man who hasn't even heard that his favourite conspiracy theory is a long-standing joke among his own people. And these ravings and gibberings have real-world consequences, of which at least three may be mentioned:
1. There is nothing any western country can do to avoid the charge of intervening in Iran's foreign affairs.
2. It is a mistake to assume that the ayatollahs, cynical and corrupt as they may be, are acting rationally. They are frequently in the grip of archaic beliefs that would make a stupefied medieval European peasant seem mentally sturdy and resourceful by comparison.
3. The tendency of outside media to check the temperature of the clerics, rather than consult the writers and poets of the country, shows our own cultural backwardness in regrettably sharp relief. Anyone who had been reading Pezeshkzad and Nafisi, or talking to their students and readers, would have been able to avoid the embarrassment by which everything that has occurred on the streets of Iran during recent days has come as one surprise after another to most of our "experts."
Ryan Sager has some interesting thoughts on the western reaction to the Iranian election and its aftermath:
I believe the Iranian election was stolen. Millions of Americans believe the same. Millions of Iranians believe the same.
But how, exactly, have we come to hold this opinion?
[. . .]
Now, the strongest evidence that the election was stolen comes from the behavior of the regime since the voting took place. A ridiculous figure was apparently assigned to Ahmadinejad (upward of 60%), the votes were “counted” before any such thing could have taken place, and the vote totals by province are ridiculously fishy.
[. . .]
It seems a few common errors are occurring here (many familiar from our look at The Roots of Anti-Vaccine Insanity):
* Projection: Americans are projecting their hatred of Ahmadinejad onto the mass of the Iranian people.
* Confirmation bias: People, on both sides, filter all the information they take in through their own preconceptions — particularly easy to do when all the information coming out of Iran is a mishmash of rumor and propaganda.
* Halo effect: Thinking only bad (or good) things about the Iranian regime makes one think all of its characteristics and actions must be bad (or good).
While these are all good points, we should also keep in mind what Christopher Hitchens said yesterday: "any voting exercise is, by definition, over before it has begun, because the all-powerful Islamic Guardian Council determines well in advance who may or may not "run." Any newspaper referring to the subsequent proceedings as an election, sometimes complete with rallies, polls, counts, and all the rest of it, is the cause of helpless laughter among the ayatollahs."
Iran and its citizens are considered by the Shiite theocracy to be the private property of the anointed mullahs. This totalitarian idea was originally based on a piece of religious quackery promulgated by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and known as velayat-e faqui. Under the terms of this edict — which originally placed the clerics in charge of the lives and property of orphans, the indigent, and the insane — the entire population is now declared to be a childlike ward of the black-robed state. Thus any voting exercise is, by definition, over before it has begun, because the all-powerful Islamic Guardian Council determines well in advance who may or may not "run." Any newspaper referring to the subsequent proceedings as an election, sometimes complete with rallies, polls, counts, and all the rest of it, is the cause of helpless laughter among the ayatollahs. ("They fell for it? But it's too easy!") Shame on all those media outlets that have been complicit in this dirty lie all last week. And shame also on our pathetic secretary of state, who said that she hoped that "the genuine will and desire" of the people of Iran would be reflected in the outcome. Surely she knows that any such contingency was deliberately forestalled to begin with.
Christopher Hitchins, "Don't Call What Happened in Iran Last Week an Election: It was a crudely stage-managed insult to everyone involved", Slate, 2009-06-14
So it turns out that the overblown rhetoric of certain Imams is actually true — the "crusaders" really are trying to convert Afghan civilians to Christianity:
US Army chaplains in Afghanistan have called on American soldiers to spread the word of Jesus to Afghanistan. They're distributing Bibles printed in local languages, too — though the Army subsequently confiscated a bunch of the Bibles and reprimanded some of the soldiers involved.
If there's anything more likely to rile up the undecided and provide great recruiting material for the Taliban than this — except, of course, burning the top cash crop in the country — I can't think of it.
Ralph Peters is advocating a volte face in US relations in the subcontinent:
WHAT Washington calls "strategy" is usually just inertia: We can't imagine not supporting Pakistan because we've "always" supported Pakistan.
No matter how shamelessly Pakistan's leaders looted their own country, protected the Taliban, sponsored terror attacks on India, demanded aid and told us to kiss off when we asked for help, we had to back the Paks.
Because that's just the way things are.
Well, now that Islamist marauders are sweeping the country with violence as the generals in Rawalpindi mull "To be or not to be" and President Ali Asif Zardari knocks back another scotch behind closed doors, perhaps we should consider an alternative approach to this splintering, renegade state.
A better strategy's obvious. But Washington has trouble with the obvious. At our pathetic State Department, habit trumps innovation every time. And the Pentagon can't seem to see beyond the immediate battlefield.
What should we do? Dump Pakistan. Back India.
Given the state Pakistan is in, it's hard to imagine a positive outcome to the current situation: the Taliban and their ilk are taking over larger and larger areas, the military is at odds with the government, and everything seems to be moving towards greater instability. India, for all the problems they face, is significantly more stable politically and is a much more democratic and economically free country now than Pakistan.
The big reason for not switching to supporting India is the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, and the fear that it — or the technology to replicate it — will fall into the wrong hands. Given the states that Pakistan has already aided with nuclear weapon technology, it's hard to imagine how things could get worse.
There are other geo-political issues to consider:
Of course, there's also the issue of the Pentagon's bewildering incompetence in placing 50,000 of our troops at the end of a 1,500-mile supply line through Pakistan, rendering our forces virtual hostages of Islamabad.
The answer's another dose of common sense: Instead of increasing our troop numbers in Afghanistan, cut them. Instead of embracing the hopeless task of building a modern nation where no nation of any kind has ever existed, concentrate exclusively on killing al Qaeda terrorists and the hard-line Taliban elements who help them.
If Washington pays attention to Peters' advice, this is the last call for the current Afghan mission.
The larger story here, unaddressed by both exhibit and reviewer, is what did that civilisation do with these potentially game-changing insights? The answer is that it marginalised them as mere trinkets and toys for the elite, and set them aside as curiosities mostly incompatible with an Islamic universe ordered by the will of Allah. The 11th century Islamic civilisation armed with a vastly better understanding of geography, medicine, physics, rudimentary mechanics and robotics continued to spread its borders, but largely sat in scientific neutral after the 13th century.
Europe, meanwhile, rediscovered many of the classical themes, philosophies and knowledge that earlier Islamic scholars had been so careful to preserve. And then went on to make practical use of them in commerce, politics, transportation and warfare.
If I get anything out of exhibits like this, it is the opposite of what the designers intended. While I am awed by the intellectual achievements of men like Ibn Said and Al-Jaziri, I am saddened that their patrons did not see any practical social use for their innovations. Islam has squandered its historic intellectual capital, just as it continues to do so today.
Chris Taylor, "Sultans of Spin", Taylor & Company, 2009-02-10
A lengthy piece in the current Economist discusses the current state of the British army after lengthy deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan:
[S]ince 2006 Britain has run two protracted and often intensely violent operations. Units routinely breach guidelines designed to give them time to minimise battle stress. The strain on soldiers, says General Sir Richard Dannatt, the army chief, is "unacceptable". Britain has struggled to maintain two long supply routes, dividing scarce helicopters, engineers and medics. Aircraft are wearing out faster than planned. "The British army is like an engine running without oil. It is still going, but it could seize up at any moment," argues Michael Clarke, director of the Royal United Services Institute, a think-tank.
These troubles are made worse by a chronic shortage of manpower. On October 1st the trained strength of the British armed forces was 173,270. This is 3.2% below the official requirement, but it understates large gaps in some areas — especially infantry units. Most battalions are 10-20% short of their required numbers; if those deemed unfit to deploy (due to, say, battle injuries) are factored out, they are as much as 42% under strength. So when battalions are preparing for war, they often regroup soldiers from their four scrawny companies into three, and then bolt on a fourth from another unit. To support current operations, the army has cut back training and lowered readiness; instead of having roughly a brigade at high readiness to deal with a crisis, sources say, there is "less than a battle-group" (a 1,500-strong formation).
This is disturbing: Canada, with a much smaller base to draw upon, is still able to maintain a battle-group in Afghanistan. Britain's other commitments are clearly overstretching what remains of the army's capabilities. Of course, that's not to say that Canadian troops can be maintained there indefinitely (and the government has been pretty clear that there will be a full withdrawal at the end of the current commitment).
Withdrawing from Iraq will relieve some of the strain. But operations in Afghanistan alone, involving some 8,000 British troops, arguably are already more demanding than the structure permits — and many expect Britain to send another battle-group to support the American reinforcement there. Generals want the army to grow. Yet it struggles to recruit, train and keep enough soldiers to fill its existing quota. An acute problem is the large "wastage" of recruits. Last year 38% of those in training either gave up or were thrown out — a bigger share than in the American army. Britain gets by in part thanks to foreigners: Commonwealth citizens (who made up more than 6% of soldiers in 2007), Irish recruits and Gurkhas. The top brass hopes the recession will encourage more to join and fewer to leave. But more soldiers cost more money, and that will be in even shorter supply in a downturn.
Plainly, Britain's military resources do not match its commitments. Three ex-generals have said that Britain's "unusable" nuclear weapons should be scrapped. But Sir Jock reckons that any money saved would almost certainly go back to the Treasury, not the conventional forces.
That's an even more disturbing thought: the nuclear arsenal is almost the only thing left keeping Britain at "the head table", internationally speaking. To scrap it (whether the savings go to conventional forces or not) really would mark the final decline of Britain from the most powerful nation on the planet 100 years ago to (at best) a middleweight, unable to project power beyond its own coastline.
This, however, is perhaps the worst long-term indicator:
On December 11th the government announced a delay of one or two years in building big new aircraft carriers, and the deferral of a new family of armoured vehicles. Even so, insiders say there is still a £3.7 billion ($5.2 billion) hole in the budget for military equipment over the next four years and procurement costs are still rising. The bill for the 20 biggest weapons projects is now £28 billion, or 12%, over budget.
The carriers are the last gasp of the Royal Navy: without them, there's almost nothing left. The government has already pared back the surface fleet to the point that even calling it a "fleet" is incredibly misleading. The carriers — should they ever be launched — can't operate without sufficient support, and based on current trends, that support will not be available either.
I should run a pool on when the British government announces a further delay, and then when they announce the cancellation altogether. On current trends, it's no longer an "if".
Damian "Babbling" Brooks records the next stage of the patrol he's tagging along with:
The Centre was bigger than I had imagined it to be. A big plot of mud, enclosed by a high concrete wall topped with razor-wire and cornered by guard towers, with two decent-sized buildings in the middle. One was an ANP building, and one was the administrative building for the local government. Both were enclosed by a shrapnel-pockmarked wall that had served to protect a much smaller compound before the new perimeter had been constructed. Short months ago, a suicide bomber had somehow made it past the ANP guarding the outer wall, and detonated near the inner gate. I was told that the blast shattered windows in the admin building. Looking up at the distance from the gate to the windows, I got a sense of just how powerful the explosion must have been. The self-immolating zealot/idiot didn't have nuts and bolts or ball-bearings or any such shrapnel-enhancing paraphernalia in his vest, but as you can see in the photos below, he still made quite the impression on the surrounding infrastructure.
A reminder: Damian is out-of-pocket for this trip, not being sponsored by a media organization. If you can afford to help out, please do hit the ChipIn tip jar at the site.
Damian "Babbling" Brooks posts about a patrol he was able to join, visiting a village with an unpronounceable name:
The format was reassuringly familiar, but with wall-sized maps on the table and walls, and a huge whiteboard filled with information, it was far more detailed than the Field Message Pad scrawlings I remembered, huddled around a red light on one knee. Of course, my memories were of a bunch of Officer Cadets training in the woods on exercise. This was The Real Fucking Thing, with experienced, hardened, professional soldiers who knew all too well the reality that they were headed into, so the plan was the best they could devise.
I found it a bit odd that the Sergeant was going to be leading a patrol with three Warrant Officers and a Major on it, but it was explained to me that Maj Vance White the PAffO was just there to babysit us journos (spit), WO Barry Bastow was CIMIC (Civil-Military Cooperation), and WO Eric Dagenais was SET (Specialist Engineering Team). It seems the third Warrant, WO Keith Dubé from the Force Protection Company (mostly from Golf Coy of 2RCR, but with a healthy sprinkling of reservists) was giving the Sergeant a leadership opportunity. That was quite the reminder for me of just how professional our military is: the CF never stops developing leaders, even in he middle of a war zone.
The mission had two main objectives. The first was to do a village assessment at Double K, a collection of mud walls and muddier fields whose unpronounceable name was, as you might expect, made up of two words that started with a K. While other forces may have entered the tiny hamlet before the CF arrived in Kandahar, this would be the first visit by Canadian troops. The second part of the mission would be to attend the weekly shura at Dand District Centre, a fortified administrative compound that served as the seat of government for the district. And then, of course, to get home in one piece — that's a given.
Damian, should you not remember, is my friend who is visiting Afghanistan (details reported here) on his own resources as an embedded blogger. If you can afford to help out with his expenses, please do hit the ChipIn jar . . .
Belated link to his first post from Kandahar:
I've got stacks of stuff to talk to you about. What I don't have is the time to write about it right now. I've resigned myself to the fact that I'll run out of time here long before I run out of stories to tell.
But one more thing I must mention before I sign off and hit the rack: I need to thank each and every one of you who have hit that "Chip In" button in the sidebar. I took a financial leap of faith taking this on, and your help is most appreciated.
It is commonly said that by storing weapons in mosques and firing rockets and mortars from residential areas and school yards, Hamas is using human shields in Gaza, a war crime. But the truth is really worse than that. Hamas doesn't endanger civilians in hopes that it will deter retaliation; it does so in the hope and expectation that civilians will be killed and wounded.
This tactic is part of a larger strategy to create tragedy and disaster, which the Palestinians have developed into something akin to an industrial process. They build tunnels, but they do not build bomb shelters. They do not, apparently, suspend classes in schools in the midst of bombardments. And Hamas, with the tolerance if not approval of most Gazans, uses schoolyards as launching zones for rockets and mortars. Think about it: is there anything about a schoolyard that makes it a particularly desirable place from which to fire ordnance? No. Hamas uses schools (and mosques, and residential areas generally) in this way in the hope that civilians, especially children, will be killed.
John Hinderaker, "Manufacturing Disaster", Powerline, 2009-01-11
H/T to Rob Galbraith for the link.
John McCain gets the nod from those noted election fans, Al Qaida:
Al-Qaida supporters suggested in a Web site message this week they would welcome a pre-election terror attack on the U.S. as a way to usher in a McCain presidency.
The message was posted Monday on the password-protected al-Hesbah Web site. It says if al-Qaida wants to exhaust the United States militarily and economically, "impetuous" Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain is the better choice.
It says that's because he's more likely to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Damian "Babbling" Brooks has an excellent post up at The Torch:
Kudos to Mike Blanchfield for breaking the number down to a figure Canadian taxpayers could digest — what it means to them. I assume that since he started breaking it down, he won't mind if I take it a bit further...
$1,500 per household over a decade works out to $150 per household per year. Assuming three people per household, that's $50 per Canadian per year. That works out to about 13.7¢ per Canadian per day to run the Afghan mission.
Just to give you a bit of perspective, World Vision — certainly a noble-minded and worthwhile charity — asks for about ten times that daily amount to sponsor a single child.
Damian goes beyond the costs and tallies up some benefits:
- more than 1,500 wells dug, 600 roadway culverts built, and more than 3,000 kms of canals rehabilitated
- humanitarian food assistance to more than half a million Afghans in 2007 alone
- more than 530 Community Development Councils elected in 9 districts, which facilitated more than 700 community projects completed, including improvements to transportation, water supply and sanitation, irrigation, power supply, education, health, and agriculture
- maternal health care professionals being trained in emergency obstetric care and monitoring
- approximately 350,000 children being vaccinated against polio
- measles and tetanus vaccination program reached more than 76,000 children and 63,000 women
- non-food kits (teapots, soap, gas stoves, towels, buckets, kitchen sets, blankets, floor mats, sweaters and health kits) supplied to 1,500 families
- more than 30,000 Afghans received functional literacy training and more than 4,000 received vocational training throughthe World Food Programme in 2007 alone
- More than 5,000 people (the majority of them women) have received literacy training through UNICEF
...and that's just in Kandahar province, folks.
Christopher Hitchens outlines the best possible way to both deflate the Taliban and provide Afghanistan with a legitimate market for their primary agricultural product:
The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime tells us that last year Afghanistan's poppy fields, on 193,000 hectares of land, produced 93 percent of all the world's opium. The potential production could be as high as 8,200 metric tons. And, unsurprisingly, UNODC also reports that the vast bulk of the revenue from this astonishing harvest goes directly to the Taliban or to local warlords and mullahs. Meanwhile, in the guise of liberators, NATO forces appear and tell the Afghan villagers that they intend to burn their only crop. And the American embassy is only restrained by the Afghan government from pursuing a policy of actually spraying this same crop from the air! In other words, the discredited fantasy of Richard Nixon's so-called "War on Drugs" is the dogma on which we are prepared to gamble and lose the country that gave birth to the Taliban and hospitality to al-Qaida.
Surely a smarter strategy would be, in the long term, to invest a great deal in reforestation and especially in the replanting of vines. While in the short term, hard-pressed Afghan farmers should be allowed to sell their opium to the government rather than only to the many criminal elements that continue to infest it or to the Taliban. We don't have to smoke the stuff once we have purchased it: It can be burned or thrown away or perhaps more profitably used to manufacture the painkillers of which the United States currently suffers a shortage. (As it is, we allow Turkey to cultivate opium poppy fields for precisely this purpose.) Why not give Afghanistan the contract instead? At one stroke, we help fill its coffers and empty the main war chest of our foes while altering the "hearts-and-minds" balance that has been tipping away from us. I happen to know that this option has been discussed at quite high levels in Afghanistan itself, and I leave you to guess at the sort of political constraints that prevent it from being discussed intelligently in public in the United States. But if we ever have to have the melancholy inquest on how we "lost" a country we had once liberated, this will be one of the places where the conversation will have to start.
Of course, no politician in America can countenance such a change in policy: it might "send the wrong message". But it's the single best way to achieve multiple worthwhile goals, not least of which is to provide Afghan farmers with tangible reasons why they should reject the Taliban.
Perry de Havilland has Pat Condell's most recent video on the UN Human Rights farce, with a surprising shout-out to Canada (of all nations) for opting out.
I would have to say that this was an unexpected development:
Finally — or, So soon? — Sherry Jones has found a publisher for her lusty Islamic love story (and it has its own heavily-sourced and lengthy Wikipedia entry!):
[British] Publisher Martin Rynja (of British publishing house Gibson Square), describing himself as "completely bowled over by the novel and the moving love story it portrays," called Jones's book "an important barometer of our time":
"In an open society there has to be open access to literary works, regardless of fear," Rynja said in a press release. "As an independent publishing company, we feel strongly that we should not be afraid of the consequences of debate. If a novel of quality and skill that casts light on a beautiful subject we know too little of in the West, but have a genuine interest in, cannot be published here, it would truly mean that the clock has been turned back to the dark ages."
Given the situation in Britain these days, I'm actually astounded that a British publisher is willing to step forward and
become a target publish this book.
From today's Globe and Mail, what may be the unofficial death knell of the NATO alliance. This is sad:
So, Canada has worked out a way to provide our troops with medium-lift helicopters in southern Afghanistan: a one-year lease for six Russian-made helicopters that will cover us until we can purchase six used Chinooks from the U.S government next year. Total cost? More than $300-million.
This simple but telling example is, in my mind, the final nail in NATO's coffin.
The Atlantic Alliance was a successful bulwark against the Soviet Union from 1949 until the early 1990s and the end of the Cold War, but in today's more complex world, it's time for it to "rest in peace."
There are more than 3,000 medium-lift helicopters sitting safely on the ground far, far away from Afghanistan, at airbases located in NATO's 26 member countries. Three thousand, and Canada is stuck with providing helicopter support, not just for its own troops, but for all the other national contingents in Region South.
Lewis Mackenzie is probably right: if all of NATO's military couldn't scare up half a dozen helicopters for use in a NATO operation, the alliance is not just dead, but the corpse is starting to rot.
There is no doubt the Canadian Forces need medium-lift helicopters for any number of tasks at home and abroad. However, the responsibility to provide them in a NATO operational theatre — the alliance's first — is not Canada's. It's time to check around to see who our real friends are. Three thousand helicopters in NATO — and all we asked for was six. Go figure.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has a unique talent for putting things in their easiest-to-mock form. Take these comments, for example:
Christian doctrine is offensive to Muslims, the Archbishop of Canterbury said yesterday.
Dr Rowan Williams also criticised Christianity's history for its violence, its use of harsh punishments and its betrayal of its peaceful principles.
His comments came in a highly conciliatory letter to Islamic leaders calling for an alliance between the two faiths for 'the common good'.
But it risked fresh controversy for the Archbishop in the wake of his pronouncement earlier this year that a place should be found for Islamic sharia law in the British legal system.
To start with, the followers of the two religions have been warring with one another, off and on (mostly on) for well over a thousand years. The score was decidedly in favour of Islam until the 17th century, and since then has shifted to favour Christianity. (Anyone who tries to bring up the Crusades as "proof" that Christianity was the primary aggressor has clearly never read anything about medieval history.)
Desperate to make the game more competitive, the Archbishop has been working tirelessly to put the initiative back in Islam's court. His odd interpretation both of history and of Islamic beliefs makes it even more difficult to discern which team he's actually supporting:
The Archbishop's letter is a reply to feelers to Christians put out by Islamic leaders from 43 countries last autumn.
In it, Dr Williams said violence is incompatible with the beliefs of either faith and that, once that principle is accepted, both can work together against poverty and prejudice and to help the environment.
You can only believe that violence is "incompatible with the beliefs of either faith" if you very carefully cherry-pick selected parts of the respective holy writings while turning a blind eye to other parts.
The Archbishop appeared to rebuke his colleague, Bishop of Rochester Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, who criticised his sharia lecture and who maintains that Christianity is central to British law, politics and society.
'Religious identity has often been confused with cultural or national integrity, with structures of social control, with class and regional identities, with empire: and it has been imposed in the interest of all these and other forms of power,' he said.
The Archbishop said that faiths which reject the use of violence should learn to defend each other in their mutual interest.
Historically, there have been remarkably few major faiths which rejected the use of violence. Those faiths which tried to do so generally found themselves unable to resist the impact of rival religions with no such internal restrictions.
Steve Chapman points out that the "sky is falling" rhetoric about the Guantanamo inmates is seriously overdone:
"Islamic terrorists have constitutional rights," lamented one conservative blog when the Supreme Court said Guantanamo inmates can challenge their detention in court. "These are enemy combatants," railed John McCain. The court, charged former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy of National Review, sided with foreigners "whose only connection with our body politic is their bloody jihad against Americans."
The operating assumption here is that the prisoners are terrorists who were captured while fighting a vicious war against the United States. But can the critics be sure? All they really know about the Guantanamo detainees is that they are Guantanamo detainees. To conclude that they are all bloodthirsty jihadists requires believing that the U.S. government is infallible.
But how sensible is that approach? Judging from a little-noticed federal appeals court decision that came down after the Supreme Court ruling, not very.
It's mighty convenient to have a place where normal laws don't run and where you can dump prisoners, suspects, and those unfortunates who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Mere convenience is no where near enough justification for ignoring the legal framework under which you're supposed to operate . . . and that's exactly what the US military has been doing right up until the recent Supreme Court decision.
Even if the highest public estimates are correct (that is, that 73% of the detainees represent a real threat) the rest — against whom the government may have no more than a verbal assurance from an Afghan warlord that they are enemies — should never have been detained and should be set free as soon as possible. Basic western standards of justice demand no less
Steve Chapman provides more information on the recent US Supreme Court decision on the habeus corpus rights of Guantanamo detainees:
From the beginning of the war on terror, the Bush administration has had two central objectives. The first is protecting the nation against its enemies. The second is asserting the president's near-absolute authority to wage this war. That approach involved a crucial error: It couldn't advance the second goal without undermining the first.
That's because ours is not a system designed to unleash the power of the government. It's a system designed to control it. By conceiving the president as a virtual monarch in national security matters, George W. Bush and his subordinates have provoked active resistance from both Congress and the courts — which might have been avoided with a more cooperative and pragmatic approach.
The latest illustration came Thursday, when the Supreme Court ruled by a 5-4 vote that the administration overstepped lawful bounds in its treatment of the detainees at Guantanamo. For the first time, the justices said foreign enemy combatants held outside our borders may appeal to the federal courts.
This is a welcome development because it upholds certain basic rights and safeguards that are due even to suspected terrorists. It's a worrisome development, on the other hand, because it requires the judiciary to assume grave responsibilities in a realm where it has no special competence.
The ideal is not for the courts to step into these matters. The ideal is for the elected branches to act with enough respect for constitutional values that the courts would see no need to step in.
Update: Radley Balko has an eye-opener:
So the really alarming thing about this is not that John McCain objects to the Supreme Court's decision in Boumediene. It’s not even that he breathlessly (and rather shamefully) lumps the decision in with cases like Dred Scott or Plessy v. Ferguson.
No, the truly frightening thing about McCain's response to Boumediene is that the Republican nominee for president doesn’t know what "habeas corpus" means.
Good God, man.
Good news for fans of the rule of law: the detainees at Guantanamo do have habeus corpus rights, according to a 5-4 Supreme Court decision today:
In a stunning blow to the Bush Administration in its war-on-terrorism policies, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that foreign nationals held at Guantanamo Bay have a right to pursue habeas challenges to their detention. The Court, dividing 5-4, ruled that Congress had not validly taken away habeas rights. If Congress wishes to suspend habeas, it must do so only as the Constitution allows — when the country faces rebellion or invasion.
The Court stressed that it was not ruling that the detainees are entitled to be released — that is, entitled to have writs issued to end their confinement. That issue, it said, is left to the District Court judges who will be hearing the challenges. The Court also said that "we do not address whether the President has authority to detain" individuals during the war on terrorism, and hold them at the U.S. Naval base in Cuba; that, too, it said, is to be considered first by the District judges.
This is an important — and long overdue — slap in the face to the US government in regard to their cavalier disregard of one of the fundamentals of common law. The detainees (I think they should have been categorized as prisoners of war, right from the start, and treated as such) have the right to be informed of the charges under which they're being held, and to challenge those charges in court.
The only remaining question is whether the Bush White House still feels any need to pay attention to those bothersome gadflies on the Supreme Court . . .
Theodore Dalrymple looks at the differing British and French experiences of immigrant integration within the respective societies:
There is another major difference between the Muslim areas of France and Britain, however: this time, to Britain’s advantage. The relative ease of starting a business in Britain by comparison with heavily regulated France means that small businesses dominate Britain's Muslim neighborhoods, whereas there are none in the banlieues of France — unless you count open drug dealing as a business. (This is one of the reasons why London is now the seventh-largest French-speaking city in the world: many ambitious young French people, Muslims included, move there to found businesses.) And since many of the businesses in the Muslim areas in Britain are restaurants favored by non-Muslim customers, the isolation of Muslims from the general population is not as great as in France.
However, increased contact between people does not necessarily result in increased sympathy among them. A large proportion of the indigenous Muslim terrorists caught in Britain are children of prosperous small businessmen, who have been to university and whose individual prospects for the future were good, if they had chosen to follow a normal career path. Cultural dislocation, the readiness to hand of an ideology of hatred that seems to answer their personal need for a fixed identity and an end to cultural confusion, and a disposable income — these, not poverty, account for their terrorism.
In France, the children of Muslim immigrants may not be as alienated from mainstream culture as are those in Britain; but the inflexibility of the French labor market results in a long-term unemployment that embitters them. In Britain, by contrast, relative economic success has not led to cultural integration: so you have riots in France and terrorism in Britain.
Tom Tomorrow captures the nature of the regrets being offered after five years:
In Tel Aviv, not a single bar or nightclub seems to obey the rules; all are thick with smoke. It is, roughly, a mix of 20 percent hash and 80 percent tobacco. According to a prominent investigative journalist here, it isn't just Israelis who indulge in drugging. The reporter, who works for a major Tel Aviv daily, is a fluent Arabic speaker who spends the majority of his time pounding the pavement in the Palestinian Territories.
He relates a bizarre story: Last year, while interviewing a house full of Hamas members, he entered into a rather ordinary conversation on the banalities of soldiering (the journalist, like most Israelis, is an Israel Defense Forces veteran). "So how do you pull these long shifts?" he wondered. "Well, we take pills smuggled in from Tel Aviv," said the Hamas apparatchik. "What pills?" He didn't know, but graciously placed a call to a Hamas comrade, who, apparently, doubles as his pharmacist. "He says they are called the EK-STAZY." The raver-jihadists explained that these mystery pills induce a mild euphoria, and allow them to shoot at members of the Israel Defense Forces for long, happy stretches.
The Hamas-embedded journalist relates another woe-is-me-story of life as a terrorist. "I'm the Oprah of the Palestinians. They are always telling me things about their private lives." One leader of Islamic Jihad recently confessed that his manifold sexual problems were driving him to depression. It is tough, he moaned, to find a good woman, a woman willing to spend time with you, when you marked for death by Israeli intelligence. Amongst the extremists, they even manage to blame not getting laid on Zionism.
Michael C. Moynihan , "Diary of an Israel Junketeer, Part Two: Tel Aviv, the Oprah of terrorists, and raver-jihadists", Reason Online, 2008-03-17
There is a reason the urban jihadis of Amsterdam and elsewhere specifically target gay men. Islam as a memeplex and as an adaptive strategy is about access to and ownership of women and by extension the control of sexual behaviour. Any number of cults function as a means for a small, core group of men — usually around a single charismatic leader — to mate with as many women as possible while relegating the majority of men to non-breeding status. David Koresh, Mormon fundamentalists, Raelians, the SeaOrg core of Scientology, and, yes, Islam at its earliest foundations down to its most determined exponents today; the list goes on and on. We see this structure over and over again because it works, at least so long as their are neighbouring populations which can be conquered by the otherwise non-breeding males of the cult and mined as a source of slaves, concubines and the spoils these cults cannot produce for themselves. The jihadis target gay men because of the unacceptable truth their overt ideology denies in themselves. And, quite possibly, out of an unconscious recognition of the most dangerous among their enemy if Europe undergoes another phase change, enters a swarm state and carries out another apocalyptic genocide.
Nick Packwood, "Where they make a desert, they call it peace", Ghost of a Flea, 2008-02-22
Rowan Williams knows when to set off an explosion . . . which he did yesterday by announcing that he thought that the introduction of Sharia Law to Britain was unavoidable:
The Archbishop of Canterbury drew criticism from across the political spectrum last night after he backed the introduction of sharia law in Britain and argued that adopting some aspects of it seemed "unavoidable". Rowan Williams, the most senior figure in the Church of England, said that giving Islamic law official status in the UK would help to achieve social cohesion because some Muslims did not relate to the British legal system.
[. . .]
Williams was . . . criticised by the Tory peer Sayeeda Warsi, shadow minister for community cohesion and social action. "The comments may add to the confusion that already exists in our communities," she said "We must ensure people of all backgrounds and religions are treated equally before the law. Freedom under the law allows respect for some religious practices. But let's be clear: all British citizens must be subject to British laws developed through parliament and the courts."
Sharia law sets out a broad code of conduct for all aspects of life, from diet, wearing of the hijab to marriage and divorce.
British courts do not recognise Islamic marriages performed in this country unless they are registered separately with the civil authorities. The result is that some Muslims think they are protected by family law when they are not, and others can think they are properly divorced, when they are still married. However, Britain recognises Islamic marriages and divorces conducted in Muslim countries such as Pakistan or Bangladesh.
Under Islamic law polygamy is condoned, allowing a man up to four wives and giving him the primary right to call for divorce. This means he can leave his first wife, refuse her a divorce and remarry, yet still consider himself living in accordance with his faith.
On the general topic of British decline, here is another fascinating precendent being set for men with more than one wife:
Even though bigamy is a crime in Britain, the decision by ministers means that polygamous marriages can now be recognised formally by the state, so long as the weddings took place in countries where the arrangement is legal.
The outcome will chiefly benefit Muslim men with more than one wife, as is permitted under Islamic law. Ministers estimate that up to a thousand polygamous partnerships exist in Britain, although they admit there is no exact record.
[. . .]
Islamic law permits men to have up to four wives at any one time — known as a harem — provided the husband spends equal amounts of time and money on each of them.
A DWP spokesman claimed that the number of people in polygamous marriages entering Britain had fallen since the 1988 Immigration Act, which "generally prevents a man from bringing a second or subsequent wife with him to this country if another woman is already living as his wife in the UK".
It's a bad decision, for many reasons, but the kicker is in this statement:
In addition, officials have identified a potential loophole by which a man can divorce his wife under British law while continuing to live with her as his spouse under Islamic law, and obtain a spouse visa for a foreign woman who he can legally marry.
So . . . expect more claimants under the new policy.
Who these "others" are is left unsaid, though one could argue that "information warfare" hardly counts as a "secret strategy." And while it is at least conceivable that the CIA would be stupid enough to cut off Iran's lifeline to an independent media (it is the CIA, after all), ABC's source for this claim, an "Internet columnist" called Ian Brockwell, is of dubious reliability. According to his online bio, Mr. Brockwell's interests include UFOs and climate change, the latter of which he attributes to the perfidy of the former. But here's some free advice for the kids at ABC: Be slightly more skeptical of claims by online columnists whose work can be found on Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel's website, such as Brockwell's crie du coeur against "people fear those who debate the 'Holocaust'?" (Scare quotes around Holocaust in original, naturally).
Michael C. Moynihan, "Who Cut the Cables? An ABC Investigation" Hit and Run, 2008-02-04
[. . .] We recognize the conflict in Afghanistan as a liberation struggle, waged by the Afghan people and their allies, against oppression, against obscurantism, illiteracy, and the most brutal forms of misogyny. It is a fight for democracy, and for peace, order, and good government. It is also a struggle waged by the sovereign Government of Afghanistan, a member state of the United Nations, against illegal armed groups that seek to overturn the democratic will of the Afghan people.
In Afghanistan, the great global struggle for the recognition and protection of basic human rights — universal rights — is being waged with a particular and necessary ferocity. We cannot and must not retreat from that struggle.
The objective of extending and securing the sovereignty of the Government of Afghanistan to all corners of that great country cannot be achieved without a robust international military presence. Canada is one the richest countries on earth, and as such we have absolutely no excuse to shirk from our duty to make a proper and effective contribution to that military engagement.
Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee, "Submission to the Independent Panel on Canada's Future Role in Afghanistan", 2007-11-28
I've often made the case that the government is generally bad at providing services, even in the case of soi disant "natural" monopoly situations. About the only thing that governments do well is kill people . . . and even the most incompetent government can do a crackerjack job of that. This story is an example of why government-provided goods and services are a waste of time, energy and resources, compared to letting individuals and companies provide them:
A new bus-stop has been built in Lashikar Gah as part of the 'reconstruction' effort.
The report does not say whether it is a replacement for a pre-war bus-stop. Somehow I doubt it. It is very well-equipped, having its own mosque and a pharmacy, as waiting times "can be rather long".
An odd approach. In most of the world a bus-stop is a place where buses happen to stop. Of course bus-stops, like ports and railway stations all round the world provide opportunities for traders, places of worship, bars and cafes and so forth, but they seldom have them built in. Bus companies and their passengers are primarily interested in selling and buying travel. The pause at the roadside to move from foot to wheel, wheel to foot, refuel, refresh, is just procedural necessity.
Okay, you ask, what's the problem? It's a big, over-built bus station, so what is your point? This is my point:
[. . .] a government bus-stop is built to different, higher, standards. A throwaway line at the end of the report reveals just how long those waiting times are: "There are no buses yet."
Unlike a lot of bloggers, I don't spend too much time taking potshots at the current leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition . . . but this just cries out for comment. Stephane Dion has been pushing for a definite end to Canada's commitment to the mission in Afghanistan, but now is talking about somehow invading a nuclear-armed nation to make that mission more likely to succeed:
Any attempt to counter terrorists war-torn Afghanistan will not succeed without an intervention in neighbouring Pakistan, Liberal Leader Stephane Dion said Wednesday.
Mr. Dion hinted NATO could take action in Pakistan, which has a porous border with Afghanistan, if the Pakistani government doesn't move to track terrorists.
"We are going to have to discuss that very actively if they (the Pakistanis) are not able to deal with it on their own. We could consider that option with the NATO forces in order to help Pakistan help us pacify Afghanistan," said Mr. Dion in Quebec City, commenting after his two-day trip to Afghanistan last weekend. "As long as we don't solve the problem in Pakistan, I don't see how we can solve it in Afghanistan."
That's not just ill-advised . . . that's absolutely batshit-crazy.
I do ask (not that I'm in a position to enforce this) that no one try to use my death to further their political purposes. I went to Iraq and did what I did for my reasons, not yours. My life isn't a chit to be used to bludgeon people to silence on either side. If you think the U.S. should stay in Iraq, don't drag me into it by claiming that somehow my death demands us staying in Iraq. If you think the U.S. ought to get out tomorrow, don't cite my name as an example of someone's life who was wasted by our mission in Iraq. I have my own opinions about what we should do about Iraq, but since I'm not around to expound on them I'd prefer others not try and use me as some kind of moral capital to support a position I probably didn't support. Further, this is tough enough on my family without their having to see my picture being used in some rally or my name being cited for some political purpose. You can fight political battles without hurting my family, and I'd prefer that you did so.
On a similar note, while you're free to think whatever you like about my life and death, if you think I wasted my life, I'll tell you you're wrong. We're all going to die of something. I died doing a job I loved. When your time comes, I hope you are as fortunate as I was.
Andrew Olmstead, posted on his blog by "hilzoy" after his death, "Final Post", Andrew Olmstead, 2008-01-04
Rogier van Bakel decodes a recent decision by the Singapore bureaucracy:
It's official, because Singapore says so: There's no such thing as an over-45 MILF. When a woman reaches the age of 45, no right-minded Muslim with a dick would say, "Yeah, I'd tap that."
Muslim women under the age of 45 will be barred from making the annual haj pilgrimage to Mecca unless accompanied by a close male relative starting next year, news reports said on Monday in Singapore. The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore said it would no longer appeal to Saudi Arabian authorities on behalf of women who wish to make the month-long pilgrimage unaccompanied. "We should respect the laws they have laid down," The Straits Times quoted Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim as saying.
Nick Packwood writes on the recent "honour slaying" in Toronto:
A father who murders his daughter with the connivance of other family members may justify his acts as the defense of the family's honour in upholding traditions and — grotesquely — of acting morally. I imagine the experience is one of horror as his daughter transforms into something non-human that he must kill if he is to defend his own authority. I can only pray that men who do this have some love of their own children and some horror at themselves for what they do; I am not convinced this is the case.
But this is only to consider such murders as individual tragedies and at the level of "the family", the primary social unit in the minds of many religious fundamentalists. At a wider level, such acts serve to terrorize society as a whole and as a warning to other girls lest they consider disobeying familial authority. Young Muslim girls are taught from the day they are born that women have a particular place in the world and must yield to familial authority or bring down upon themselves the wrath of God and an unforgiving, homicidal malice from those closest to them in all the world.
This is true not only for medieval backwaters without the law in the "tribal areas" of north-western Pakistan or ten minute's drive beyond the Kabul city limits. This is true of suburban Toronto with its shopping malls and multi-lane highways and CNN; its parliamentary democracy, Charter of Rights and Freedoms and countless titled faculty at women's studies and sociology departments. What lesson can Muslim girls take from this but that tribal law applies to them here as surely as it is does for hundreds of millions of other girls around the world? Their own fathers will not protect them; their fathers may be their murderers. Worse yet, their friends, their teachers and a small army of police will not anticipate such crimes, perhaps because none can imagine a father strangling his own daughter to death over a supposed religious edict.
Nick is quite correct. Locally, after the shock of the act wears off, it will continue to work as a compelling argument to every Canadian Muslim girl that despite living in a Western society, the tribe still has the final say over her fate. It will encourage submission to standards and mores of societies where women are considered little more than property . . . to be disposed of at the whim of the "owner" — their fathers, brothers, or even sons — with no hope of achieving self-ownership.
If you don't think this is utterly wrong, there is something seriously wrong with your world.
Update: Damian Penny has more.
Soccer team Inter Milan is now the least favourite team in Turkey, because of the offensive nature of their soccer uniforms:
The reason for the appeal is unusual: the celebratory shirt for Inter's centenary worn by the team that night, and on several other occasions this season, offended many people in Turkey.
The shirt's scheme saw a big red cross on a white background, a symbol of the city of Milan, and reminded many of an emblem of the order of the Templars, which is considered offensive in Islamic culture.
Inter consciously did not wear their 'centenary shirt' in their first match against Fenerbahce in Istanbul, but at home, they did not think it was necessary to do the same.
It'll be interesting watching how UEFA handles this complaint, because if it's upheld, there are a number of countries whose national flags will cause at least as much offense . . .
One of the things that I was struggling to get across at a dinner a few weeks ago is how discontinuous prices on inelastic goods can be. That is, a few percentage points increase in demand against a relatively fixed supply doesn't produce a few percentage points increase in price: it can produce huge spikes. That's not intuitive; we feel as if prices and demand should grow at approximately the same rate. But people in the world have a lot of spare income they can use to bid up the price of oil; the speed with which its price is increasing is a measure of just how useful the stuff is.
Part of the problem is that most media folks are too young to personally remember the first two oil crises, so that the current situation is unique in their collective experience. They communicate that in so much of their coverage of the oil market and the political ruckus influencing it.
I'm not yet finished reading Christie Blatchford's latest book, but on the whole, I agree with Lewis MacKenzie's review:
Blatchford has the rare ability to make her descriptions of combat, particularly those involving loss of life or serious injury, almost embarrassing to the reader. You feel that you are eavesdropping on very private matters. Her extensive research and her own recollections as she was caught up in the thick of some of the heaviest fighting are compelling, gut-wrenching and, unfortunately, real. Her admission that on one occasion during a firefight her bowels turned to water and got the best of her is ample proof that that she walked the walk. Her description, witnessed up close and under fire, of the evacuation of fatally wounded Corporal Anthony Joseph Boneca, shot in the throat and bleeding on the dirt under her feet, exposes the reader to the gut-wrenching reality of close combat.
During three extensive stays with the Canadians in Afghanistan, Blatchford was able to penetrate the macho façade presented by soldiers in combat, and to see the cohesion and affection born of an obligation to those vets who have gone before them, and of an intense dedication to their fellow soldiers. Contrary to popular myth, soldiers don't risk their lives — and in some cases die — for God, Queen, country or even the regiment. They do so for their fellow soldiers, their buddies, frequently only a few meters away due to the tunnel vision generated by the rush of adrenalin when someone is trying to kill you.
So far, my only complaint is that she takes some discredited research about combat as a proven issue: US Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall's Men Under Fire, with its contention that only a tiny minority of soldiers ever fire their weapons in combat situations. She doesn't reference Marshall by name, but talks about this factoid in one of the early chapters.
Jennifer "Chotzi" Rosen tries to get to the bottom of the Islamic prohibition of alcohol (and it's notable lack of success, early on):
So what is it with Islam and alcohol? The ban is actually more about social engineering than theology. It started when Mohammed (his name be praised) couldn't get his party-animal neighbors to shut up and let him sleep. His first decree merely pointed out that harmful effects of liquor sometimes outweigh good ones. Later, he forbid followers from drinking while praying. When none of this made a dent in local keggers, he finally outlawed drinking altogether.
This left some technicalities to quibble over. For example, alcohol is considered an abomination of Satan as well as najs (impure), khamr (mind-fogging) and haram (forbidden). But while all forbidden things are impure, not all impure things are forbidden. For example, Hashish and Qat, two highly intoxicating herbs, are najs, but allowed.
But what about other products containing alcohol? Are Old Spice and Listerine unholy? What about cough syrup? And if alcohol is the devil’s work, how do you explain Paradise, whose delights, along with the infamous virgins, include rivers of wine flowing free for the drinking?
The explanation is that alcohol, itself, isn't really sinful, only the behavior it causes. Since everything is different in Paradise, it follows that wine there is not intoxicating; it just has "pleasing effects." Whatever that means.
This column isn't up at the usual site, but will get posted to her personal site, http://www.corkjester.com/ soon (well, soon-ish).
Perry de Havilland shares a joke with an unknown military music director:
I was watching the Channel 4 news coverage of the state visit of the King of Saudi Arabia to Britain, when something I saw nearly made me fall off my chair laughing.
So what does the British Army band for the guard of honour strike up as The Man himself steps out of his limo to high-five Her Majesty?
The Darth Vader March from Star Wars (click on 'watch the report' to see for yourself). I kid you not.
Someone somewhere deserves a medal.
Brian Micklethwait links to an interesting story of worlds colliding:
A glorious culture clash took place in Iran recently that made me laugh out loud. The children of Che Guevara, the revolutionary pin-up, had been invited to Tehran University to commemorate the 40th anniversary of their father's death and celebrate the growing solidarity between "the left and revolutionary Islam" at a conference partly paid for by Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president.
There were fraternal greetings and smiles all round as America's "earth-devouring ambitions" were denounced. But then one of the speakers, Hajj Saeed Qassemi, the co-ordinator of the Association of Volunteers for Suicide-Martyrdom (who presumably remains selflessly alive for the cause), revealed that Che was a "truly religious man who believed in God and hated communism and the Soviet Union".
Che's daughter Aleida wondered if something might have been lost in translation. "My father never mentioned God," she said, to the consternation of the audience. "He never met God." During the commotion, Aleida and her brother were led swiftly out of the hall and escorted back to their hotel. "By the end of the day, the two Guevaras had become non-persons. The state-controlled media suddenly forgot their existence," the Iranian writer Amir Taheri noted.
I've never quite cottoned on to that old saying, but some people clearly have integrated the notion completely:
Via a DailyKos-reading reader comes this "diary" from one sallykohn, a self-identified Jewish lesbian with a "crush on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad," a man, she acknowledges, that might very well have her killed were she Iranian, but who nevertheless "speaks some blunt truths about the Bush Administration that make me swoon... "
It's hard to choose which bits to excerpt, but here are some favorites:
I want to be very clear. There are certainly many things about Ahmadinejad that I abhor — locking up dissidents, executing of gay folks, denying the fact of the Holocaust, potentially adding another dangerous nuclear power to the world and, in general, stifling democracy. Even still, I can't help but be turned on by his frank rhetoric calling out the horrors of the Bush Administration and, for that matter, generations of US foreign policy preceding. [. . .]
Michael Totten finds that things are often even more confusing than you believe:
Don't confuse the Komala Party with the Komala Party. Iraqi Kurdistan hosts two exiled leftist parties from Iranian Kurdistan, both with the same name, the same (red) flag, and the same founder. Both parties have armed camps and military wings. Both built their compounds on the same road outside the city of Suleimaniya. They're right next to each other, in fact. Stand in the right place, and you can see one from the other. The difference is that one is liberal and the other is communist.
I didn’t know there were two until I set up an appointment to meet Mohtadi, of the liberal Komala Party, and wound up inside the communist camp, unannounced. The communists were good sports about my mistake. They granted me interviews, introduced me to Secretary General Hassan Rahman Panah, and fed me lunch. They gave me the grand tour. They didn't tell me I was at the wrong compound. That news came from Modarresi, when he called to ask why I hadn't shown up.
On the surface, the two parties are more confusingly interchangeable than the Judean People's Front and the People's Front of Judea in Monty Python's Life of Brian. Perhaps not coincidentally, Mohtadi says Life of Brian is one of his favorite movies.
Christopher Hitchens makes an excellent point:
However, one thing has become even clearer in retrospect than it was at the time: It was absolutely correct to dissolve the pre-existing Iraqi armed forces and to begin again with local and national elements who have been trained by, or are willing to work alongside, the coalition itself or the still-vestigial Iraqi government.
The opposite view of this question has become so much accepted that even President Bush now imagines that it was his policy all along to keep the Iraqi army intact. (The interview in which he claims this is perhaps the most alarmingly dysfunctional moment of his entire presidency.)
If there was one thing about U.S. foreign policy that used to make one shudder, it was the habit of ruling by proxy through military regimes. Especially beloved by the CIA, this practice befouled us in Chile, Greece, Indonesia, and numerous other cases where we made ourselves complicit in the policies of a local uniformed elite. The case of Iraq, where the armed forces routinely acted as a phalanx of naked aggression against neighboring countries and as a spectacularly cruel internal police force, as well as a parasitic consumer of the national income, was the instance above all where it was right to break with this abysmal tradition.
[. . .]
Take a moment to imagine what would have been written in the liberal press had the old military class been preserved and utilized to "stabilize" Iraq. I can write the headlines for you: "Baathist War Criminal Gets Second Career as American Employee"; "Once-Wanted Man, Brigadier Kamal Now Shares Jokes With 82nd Airborne"; "Kurds and Shiites Say: What Regime Change?"; "From Basra to Kirkuk, America Brings Saddamism Without Saddam." And, if you like, I can add the names of the reporters who would have written the stories.
Once the decision had been taken to invade, getting rid of the Iraqi army had to be done . . . the situation would be much worse for Iraqi civilians if it had been preserved.
Perry de Havilland boils down the big question about Iraq (and Afghanistan):
In both the USA and UK, much of the debate about how to react to the military situation in Iraq really strikes me as really odd. If a person thinks the available facts indicate we are not doing well against the insurgents, surely the choices should be either:
- Conclude the enemy will inevitably win and no military and political victory is feasible, therefore accept being defeated and get out completely as soon as possible
- Conclude the enemy can be beaten, but not at an acceptable cost, so accept being defeated and get out completely as soon as possible
- Conclude the enemy can be beaten and therefore reinforce to improve the military force levels (i.e. the 'Surge') in order to actually win
What does not make any sense to me is any talk of reducing force levels by a person who does not think we have either already won or already been irretrievably defeated . . . and the stated position of most politicos on both sides of the Atlantic is neither of those things.
It's only a quagmire if you choose to make it one. Sending enough forces to do the job (however you define "the job") is the only sensible way to operate. Sending insufficient forces just means that success must be defined down to fit what is possible with the forces you sent. Demanding that they accomplish more than is possible is just plain delusional.
Jon, my virtual landlord, is on a business trip to Israel. I just got the following email from him:
Is 12:30 am here and there is something going on in the bay. There have been flares over the bay for the last 30 minutes or so; I can hear helicopters. There are loud bangs and clanging noises from the north east, but I've been hearing noises like that all week from the port — that could be a ship being loaded or unloaded. There's also a low rumbling that sounds a little odd — could be distant aircraft or something.
There does not seem to be anything happening in the town itself. The streets look normal.
Not sure if I should be freaked out or not.
Update: It's a maritime accident, not a terrorist attack: details here.
Paul Marks does his bit to balance the historical record on one of the key movers in the Partition of India, Jawaharlal Nehru:
With the 60th anniversary of the end of British rule in the sub continent, there is the normal talk of whether the vast numbers of rapes and murders during partition could have been prevented. The British will, perhaps quite rightly, get the blame for not delaying independence and for not using enough force to try and prevent the violence on partition.
However, it is almost forgotten that Nehru (the leader of the Congress party and first Prime Minister of India) was demanding that the British leave (every day we stayed was a day too many for Nehru), and even claimed that it was mainly where the British were that violence took place.
This was the exact opposite of the truth (and Nehru knew it) — as it was where British forces went in (sadly much too rarely) that the mass rapes and killings were prevented. Nehru had "form" in letting his "get the British out of India" obsession cloud his judgement.
Over at Combs Spouts Off, he compares the coverage in the media of the current Lebanese conflict with the earlier Israeli attacks on Hizbullah positions:
The story goes on to describe the rocket fire, the heavy bombardment of the "camp" on Thursday, the number of soldiers killed, and various tactical and other matters. Reuters has a similar story with similar pictures.
Reading these and other recent reports has made me wonder about some things.
The Lebanese army is fighting jihadists holed up in civilian neighborhoods, just as the Israelis did last year, and the Lebanese artillery and tank attacks seem much less restrained and precise. Why is the coverage so different? The AP story quoted above is 18 paragraphs long, and it isn't until the 17th and 18th paragraphs that civilians are mentioned [. . .]
It's an illustration that all deaths are not equal in the eyes of the western media: it's far more newsworthy if the deaths are caused, directly or indirectly, by Israeli (or US/Western European) troops. Internecine fighting doesn't get the same focus on either civilian casualties or destruction of towns and villages. You could argue that this is caused by anti-American/anti-Israeli biases, but it could equally be reflective of the audiences in the west: as Stalin is reported to have said, "One death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic." This is even more so when the many deaths are far away (by distance or by cultural vectors).
Bad news sells, as everyone in the media understands full well, but bad news close to home out-sells bad news from further away.
Yesterday's link to the Radley Balko article got a thoughtful response from Chris Taylor (pulled from the comments to that post):
Balko is in error, though — he makes the assumption that today's jihadis are motivated to seek political change via terror. This is only true in a very limited sense. If the United States were to void its collective security arrangements with the Arab world, Israel, and formerly-Muslim parts of Europe, I am sure there would be a temporary downtick in terror attempts within the United States.
Eventually, though, we would be right back at the status quo because the primary animating force is religious and not political. No amount of political change would ever bring about the adoption of sharia and the absorption of the United States into the ummah. Even in nominally radical-dominated Muslim lands there is plenty of disagreement about what are and are not legitimate interpretations of the Qur'an, sunnah and hadith. Those disputes can never be resolved by political means. The only way to truly insulate a society is to become one of Islamic radicals, and even then we would be fighting with other radicals, whose interpretations our sect would find heretical. It simply does not end.
I responded in a flippant manner in that comment thread, but I thought Chris made some good points and that they should see the light of day (I know not everyone follows the comment threads). The instinct in the western media seems to be to attribute every terrorist act to the issues of the day in the west, not to the actual causes the terrorists themselves say are the reasons for their attacks. This bombing, despite the claims of the group that made the attack, is "really" because the Senate failed to pass that bill. Or this beheading is "really" caused by the US government failing to sign the Kyoto treaty.
Related thoughts from Steve Chapman:
By framing the fight as a global war, we have helped Osama bin Laden and hurt ourselves. Had we treated him and his confederates as the moral equivalent of international drug lords or sex traffickers, the organization might not have the romantic image it has acquired. By exaggerating the potential impact, we also magnified the disruptive effect of any plots, which is just what the terrorists seek.
We do further harm to ourselves by accepting government actions we would never tolerate except in the context of war.
The cack-handed "security" measures western governments have implemented in response to terror threats have done far more to further terrorist goals than the actual murders, bombings, and general mayhem actually committed by terrorist organizations. This should come as no surprise: in any period of stress, it is the deepest urge of any government to attempt to take greater control of anything within their grasp. It's one of the few things governments do well. (Grabbing control, that is, not actually exercising that control in an intelligent manner.)
The British Army is introducing a new vehicle for travelling through Helmand province in Afghanistan (notable for a lack of paved roads): the Mad Maxmobile:
Photo from the Daily Mail article
Some rather good lines from the Fark.com thread:
Isotope ok, so I see I'm not the only one concerned that the vehicle will survive better than the crew...
Prank Call of Cthulhu The vehicle is missing something....hmmmm...what could it be? Oh, I know. It needs the Lord Humungous (The Warrior of the Wasteland! The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla!) driving it. That'd be sweet!
Cormee I'd like to see the design brief.
'Design a vehicle - suitable for hunting Basset Hounds.'
A Shambling Mound Armored?
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
reverend_alex Wow, you can almost feel the fevered patriotic drool dripping from the author's lips as he pops a Daily Mail boner over a new *BRITISH MADE* vehicle for exterminating those filthy towelheads. Anyone else notice the barely-restrained glee with which this guy spells out exactly how awesome and powerful the almighty British Army is? Maybe because they're usually sent out into the desert with just some sunscreen and a cap gun. Not that that thing looks any more likely to protect them than Piz Buin factor 15.
Good luck to our boys and all, but the Americans called us 'The Borrowers' during Gulf War I for a reason.
I'm quite taken aback by this editorial in the Toronto Star:
These events emphasize the importance of a continued combat role for Canada and its NATO allies in the Afghan war. They also emphasize the reality that without the continued effort to take the war to the Taliban, aid and reconstruction will be impossibly dangerous. Indeed, they would become pointless because abandoning the war means handing Afghanistan back to a Taliban dictatorship.
Maintaining Canada's will to fight that war, however, is certain to grow more difficult as casualties mount. Already, 56 Canadian soldiers have died in the war and the Taliban's campaign is becoming more violent as it grows more desperate. As casualties rise, political and public pressure to disengage from Afghanistan is likely to increase in Canada.
There are indications that the terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan are experiencing difficulty in finding recruits among Afghans themselves and have been replenishing their ranks with Chechens, Uzbeks and Arabs. That may be an extension of the war, but it is not one that should discourage Canada. It is more importantly a sign that war against terror there is working, that Canadian combat troops are slowly succeeding in making Afghanistan safer so aid workers such as Mr. Frastacky can eventually do their jobs without fear.
Wow. Just wow.
I find it amazing (and heartening) that the Star, who have generally been against the Afghan mission all along, would be able to print this editorial (but note that it originally appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press, and is reprinted in the Star). Between this editorial and the mayor of Toronto's climb-down over the yellow ribbon issue, it's already been a very unusual week.
Yesterday, I linked to a story which claimed that a French naval vessel had allowed a Danish merchant ship to be taken by pirates. The ship was indeed taken by pirates, but the French navy had nothing to do with the situation:
Hold the presses and belay my last! Don't blame France (sorry buds), but this is a all USA show. Despite the multiple source reporting earlier - word now is that it was a US warship, USS Carter Hall (LSD-50) [Wikipedia entry here . . .]
We are enabling pirates. The nation that fought the Barbary Wars has a 10 SEP 01 attitude towards pirates. Because the do not "regularly kill" their hostages (often you will hear "do not kill" — which is true of Western Hostages) we will allow them to have a fair run at any ship they can reach? What? Is that really it? Is that were the US Navy and the International Community stands? The Somalia gov'munt cannot police their waters — I will say that again — cannot. We will not. Therefore you have de-facto pirate territory that they are using as a safe base to hold hostages for ransom. What happens when you do that? ECON101 tells you the value of all ships to pirates is greater — and the risk premium is minimal.
We are appeasing the pirates. Yes, I know the "we can do non-compliant boardings — someone might be killed" argument. OK then, never deploy a SWAT team against kidnappers until they kill someone. Next time someone takes a hostage, give them a helicopter and let them escape to Mexico. Just make sure they get their money as well.
My apologies for the slur on the honour of the French Navy.
CDR Salamander has a distressing report from Somalia:
The Danish merchant "DANICA WHITE" was seized by pirates off of Somalia.
A small Danish-owned and, we understand, Danish-crewed general cargo vessel, has been captured by pirates in the latest series of ships and fishing vessels being boarded and taken over, with their crews held to ransom, off the Somalia coast.
What's worse . . . the piracy took place almost under the nose of a French warship:
A French warship reportedly looked on as the event unfolded, and refused to enter Somali waters as the mv DANICA WHITE was taken into the region.
Piracy is bad enough, but piracy enabled by illogical and inhumane standing orders? The French navy is looking particularly bad in this episode, but it's the crew of the Danica White who'll suffer the most.
H/T to The Armorer for the link.
Update, 8 June: See the following post for a clarification and a retraction . . . it wasn't a French ship which allowed the pirates to escape into Somalian waters.
I try to think how we got here. The theory I developed in college (shared by many I'm sure) is one I have yet to beat: Womb Envy. Biology: women are generally smaller and weaker than men. But they're also much tougher. Put simply, men are strong enough to overpower a woman and propagate. Women are tough enough to have and nurture children, with or without the aid of a man. Oh, and they've also got the equipment to do that, to be part of the life cycle, to create and bond in a way no man ever really will. Somewhere a long time ago a bunch of men got together and said, "If all we do is hunt and gather, let's make hunting and gathering the awesomest achievement, and let's make childbirth kinda weak and shameful." It's a rather silly simplification, but I believe on a mass, unconscious level, it's entirely true. How else to explain the fact that cultures who would die to eradicate each other have always agreed on one issue? That every popular religion puts restrictions on women's behavior that are practically untenable? That the act of being a free, attractive, self-assertive woman is punishable by torture and death? In the case of this upcoming torture-porn, fictional. In the case of Dua Khalil, mundanely, unthinkably real. And both available for your viewing pleasure.
It's safe to say that I've snapped. That something broke, like one of those robots you can conquer with a logical conundrum. All my life I've looked at this faulty equation, trying to understand, and I've shorted out. I don't pretend to be a great guy; I know really really well about objectification, trust me. And I'm not for a second going down the "women are saints" route — that just leads to more stone-throwing (and occasional Joan-burning). I just think there is the staggering imbalance in the world that we all just take for granted. If we were all told the sky was evil, or at best a little embarrassing, and we ought not look at it, wouldn’t that tradition eventually fall apart?
Joss Whedon, "Let's Watch A Girl Get Beaten To Death", Whedonesque, 2007-05-20
A scary report in The Register about some 100,000 American troops who may have been exposed to low levels of Sarin nerve gas after the 1991 Gulf War:
It is believed that US soldiers occupying an Iraqi munitions depot at Khamisiyah mistakenly blew up a stockpile of gas rockets in March 1991, believing them to be ordinary explosive munitions. Nobody noticed any ill effects at the time.
It was only two months later, when Iraqi chemical weapons facilities were inspected by the UN as part of the ceasefire agreement, that the US began to realise that nerve gases might have been released into the atmosphere. [. . .]
It's perhaps also worth noting that declassified CIA reports suggest that some or all the sarin rounds blown up at Khamisiyah were of binary construction, meaning that they contained not sarin but two precursor chemicals which would be mixed to form sarin when the weapons were fired. Blowing up kit like this wouldn't release large amounts of nerve agent into the atmosphere; just precursors.
If the rockets weren't binaries, there would be an excellent chance of their sarin payload having decomposed to uselessness. This was a major problem for the pre-1991 Iraqi chemical weapons industry.
To my surprise, this news just got reported over at The Torch:
Here's what I've heard from sources within the defence community, what I was waiting for the official announcement to confirm:
- The 20 Leopard 2A6M's we'll be acquiring from the Germans aren't a lease, they're a loan. That is to say, while we're going to have to give them back in the condition we got them, and while there may be some incremental costs to their transport, operation, et cetera, we're not paying the Germans for the use of their tanks. A big, hearty thank-you needs to go out to Germany for this gesture of friendship and allied solidarity. We're going to try to get them into theatre this summer, for the worst of the heat, but meeting those timings will be tight.
- We're going to be buying a total of 100 used Leos from the Netherlands, for delivery sometime this fall. These tanks have apparently been properly stored and maintained to keep them in top shape. Of those 100 tanks, 40 will be 2A4's for two training squadrons in Canada (one in Gagetown, one in Wainwright), 40 will be two squadrons of 2A6's that after some Canadianization and upgrades (especially to the armour) will be deployable anywhere we need them, and 20 will be specialist tanks (bridge-layers, ARV's, dozers, etc).
For the troops in Afghanistan (and potential future deployments), this is excellent news.
The curious thing is the lion that didn't roar. Tony Blair has views on everything and is usually happy to expound on them at length — if you'd just arrived from Planet Zongo and were plunked down at a joint Blair/Bush press conference on Iraq or Afghanistan or most of the rest of the world, you'd be forgiven for coming away with the impression that the Prime Minister's doing 90 per cent of the heavy lifting and the President's just there for emergency back-up. Yet, on an act of war and/or piracy perpetrated directly against British forces, Mister Chatty is mum. [. . .]
Even odder has been the acquiescence of the press. If pictures had been unearthed of some over-zealous Guantanamo guards doing to our plucky young West Midlands jihadi what the Iranian government did on TV to those Royal Marines, two thirds of Fleet Street (including many of my Spectator and Telegraph colleagues) would be frothing non-stop.
Instead, they seem to have accepted the British spin that there's been no breach of the Geneva Conventions because the Marines and sailors weren't official prisoners of war, just freelance kidnap victims you can have what sport you wish with.
Why didn't Bush think of that one?
Mark Steyn, "Ayatollah So", Daily Telegraph, 2004-06-07
Nick Packwood rounds up all the depressing news from Britain, confirming that things are getting worse on several fronts:
I can only hope the anemic reaction of the British public to the last five years is because the British public does not understand the scope of the problem.* This LA Times (?) opinion piece explained the problem to the American public over a month ago. It has been born out by events.
The linked LA Times editorial has nice things to say about both British and Canadian military personnel, but correctly points out that both governments have been trying to do too much with too little:
Royal Navy, which is at its smallest size since the 1500s. Now, British newspapers report, of the remaining 44 warships, at least 13 and possibly as many as 19 will be mothballed. If these cuts go through, Britain's fleet will be about the same size as those of Indonesia and Turkey and smaller than that of its age-old rival, France.
Britain is hardly alone in its unilateral disarmament. A similar trend can be discerned among virtually all of the major U.S. allies, aside from Japan. Canada is a particularly poignant case in point. At the end of World War II, Canada had more than a million men under arms and operated the world's third-biggest navy (behind the U.S. and Britain), with more than 400 ships. Today, it has all of 62,000 personnel on active duty, and its navy has just 19 warships and 23 support vessels, making it one-fourth the size of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Of course, numbers aren't the entire story. Both Britain and Canada have top-notch soldiers, allowing them to punch above their weight class in military affairs. But there is only so much that a handful of super-soldiers can accomplish if their numbers are grossly inadequate. Quality can't entirely make up for lack of quantity.
In Canada's case, decades of neglect cannot be made up quickly: equipment takes time to order, build, and deploy, but it takes even longer to rebuild the units themselves. Soldiers do not wander in off civvie street today and become militarily effective tomorrow; it takes years to re-create effective battalions. Canada's military may not have years . . . the current minority government has no guarantee that it will see out the next session of parliament, never mind win a majority in a subsequent election (and it will take years of uninterrupted efforts to get the Canadian Forces back into shape).
Afghanistan, for example, is officially a NATO mission to which most NATO members are contributing. But they're not contributing troops, not if by troops you mean fellows with guns who are prepared to fire them at the other side. The Continentals mostly have very circumscribed rules of engagement, which prevent them from participating in combat operations, or going out in the snow, or even after dark. So they're confined to "securing" a handful of selected sites — i.e., they're glorified night watchmen in fancier livery. When it comes to hunting down and killing the enemy, it's pretty much down to the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia (which isn't even in NATO). So much for multiculturalism. That quartet's about as unicultural as you can get, not to say, given that three of them share the same head of state, uniregal.
If you're going to mock a veteran, you might as well do it with the language of war. But O'Connor shrugged off these remarks and stuck to his script. Even when Dion demanded his resignation, he seemed thoroughly unmoved. Perhaps he's seen worse than the likes of Her Majesty's Official Opposition.
Inevitably, Dion repeated his demand. And with that, he pushed the Prime Minister to the precipice of his increasingly infamous temper.
"I can understand the passion that the Leader of the Opposition and members of his party feel for Taliban prisoners," Harper shot back, the House falling silent. "I just wish occasionally they would show the same passion for Canadian soldiers."
As Conservative members stood long and cheered, the Liberal front bench was frantic. Party whip Karen Redman tried desperately to quiet her backbench. Defence critic Denis Coderre jabbed his finger in the air, egging Dion to seek retribution. The leader looked positively besmirched. One minute you're making headlines with the demand that a high-profile minister resign, the next you're being branded a Taliban-sympathizer. Somewhere, Jack Layton empathized.
Wired News has a report on a very troubling case:
As they carried out the killing of an Iraqi civilian, seven Marines and a Navy medic used their understanding of the military's airborne surveillance technology to spoof their own systems, military hearing testimony charges.
"These are people who every day deal with such things and understand how the images are gathered, as much as understand other tactical and weapons issues," says defense attorney David Brahms, who represents a Marine who's pleaded guilty to conspiracy and kidnapping in the case. "They are warriors and this is what warriors do."
Ahem. ". . . this is what warriors do". Well, no. This is what many anti-military types believe warriors do. These guys are not exemplars of "warriors". They're parties to conspiracy and murder. That is not what soldiers do. The distinction may be a bit subtle for those raised on anti-war protests and anti-military propaganda, however.
The case is remarkable for the fact that the killers nearly got away with their alleged crime right under the eye of the military's sophisticated surveillance systems. According to testimony, at least three times the warriors took deliberate, and apparently effective, measures to trick the unmanned aerial vehicles — UAVs in military parlance — that watch the ground with heat-sensitive imaging by night, and high-resolution video by day.
Technology can — and will — be abused for illegal purposes. The technology itself merely does the job . . . the morality of the action is determined by the human operators. Even the highest of high-tech devices is still subject to deliberate attempts to counteract or twist the evidence the tools can provide. This is merely the first time this has come to public attention . . . it's almost certainly not the first time it has happened.
A positive — one might even say warm-fuzzy — post on the Canadian contribution to the fight against the Taliban, from The Economist:
The deployment in Afghanistan is a much bigger deal for Canada than it is for the Americans or the Brits. The Canadians stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, but for most of the past 50 years they turned themselves into the ultimate "soft" power, deploying their soldiers mainly for peacekeeping.
In Kandahar they have gone back to being a fighting force, and have lost more than 40 lives in the process.
If the Brits have been having a hard time in Helmand, it is the Canadians in Kandahar province who fought the decisive battle of Nato's war so far, leading a brigade-sized assault on Taliban positions in the Panjwayi valley last autumn.
The Canadians are the first contingent to bring main battle tanks to Afghanistan. The French-speaking men of the Vandoos regiment in Panjwayi look even bigger and meaner than the Royal Marines in Kajaki.
The operation is hugely controversial at home. A Canadian Senate report this month said: "Anyone expecting to see the emergence in Afghanistan within the next several decades of a recognisable modern democracy capable of delivering justice and amenities to its people is dreaming in Technicolor."
Yet among the soldiers there is a sense of relief at getting rid of the blue helmets and white paint from their armoured vehicles. There is even some macho mocking of the Dutch in the neighbouring province of Uruzgan: "Wooden shoes, wouldn't shoot," they quip.
Jon sent me a link to Imperial History: a graphic illustration of how the middle east has been part of so many different empires. At this scale, it has to be pretty superficial, but as a general guide to who owned what and when, it's pretty good.
While it's rare for Canadian troops abroad to attract much in the way of media attention — even from Canadian media outlets — here is an article discussing how well the Canadian troops are doing, equipment-wise, compared to British troops:
On the other hand, yesterday, we read reports of yet another Royal Marine being killed (the 42nd British servicemen to die in Afghanistan) and one injured, but this time in what amounts to a conventional attack. The casualties arose when UK troops mounted an offensive on a Taliban-held valley, attacking the village of Garmser. Despite being elite troops, however, backed by airstrikes and artillery fire during the 10-hour battle, they were forced to withdraw after the Taliban launched a ferocious counter-attack with heavy weapons and tried to outflank the British troops.
Here, though, the Canadians — who have scored so well by using RG-31 blast protected vehicles for their patrols — are again ahead of the game. Having been fully committed to offensive operations throughout the summer, they have learnt from their experiences and introduced Leopard tanks into the equation. On the other hand, the British — with theoretically a more experienced, elite cadre of troops — are committing what is in fact light infantry to a conventional attack, without armoured support. They are perhaps forgetting that the tank, in its original inception, was an infantry support weapon.
What emerges from this is that, effectively, we need two armies — one capable of fighting an entirely conventional war and the other specifically equipped to fight insurgents in a mainly urban environment.
H/T to Johnathan Pearce at Samizdata.
Damian "Babbling" Brooks asked me to call attention to this post at The Torch:
Why don't ordinary Canadians know much about this intensely valuable and important work? Well, partly because the government has done a lacklustre job telling the public about it, as the MND recently admitted. Luckily, they're now working to correct that course of action.
But you can't put it all on the government, either. Here's a stat that might surprise you as well: since January 16th of this year, 175 journalists from 37 different media outlets have embedded with the CF in Afghanistan. How many stories have you seen about the KPRT — other than from the BBC? Now, how many ramp ceremonies have you seen?
Mourning the deaths of our soldiers is important, let there be no doubt. But even a couple of folks within the media think that the balance of coverage has swung too far in that particular direction.
Please do read the whole post.
Jon sent me a link to this article at TCS Daily, discussing the long term casuaty rates the American military has sustained in various conflicts:
In the full sweep of U.S history, from the commencement of the Revolution on Lexington Green in April 1775, until the sunny morning of September 11, 2001, our average daily sacrifice [during major wars] has been between 14 and 15 military fatalities (1,217,000 fatalities/83,461 days = 14.6/day). Since 9/11, the average daily sacrifice has been 1.7 per day (3200/1900=1.68).
From the Revolutionary War until the American entry into World War I, the average daily rate was about 11 per day (578,000/52,231=11.07). From World War I through the break up of the Soviet Union, the rate was over 16 per day (636,000/38,811=16.39). Or in our long running confrontation with Soviet communism following World War II until the collapse of the Soviet empire, the rate was over between 6 and 7 per day (112,400/16,892=6.65).
As things stand, the conflict with Islamic radicalism involves the lowest average daily military fatality rate of any long run national security era. It may worsen, it may improve. If Congress had been asked on September 12, 2001, to endorse a national defense posture against Islamic radicalism that traded up to 2 military fatalities per day over the subsequent five years in return for no additional homeland attacks, the deposing of terror friendly regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, the ending of Libya's nuclear program, what would they have done? Would Congress accept that bargain today?
It's particularly gruesome to discuss any such thing as an "acceptable" casualty rate, but that is, as Philip O'Connor's article titles it, "The Human Calculus of National Security". Even in peacetime, there are military casualties, although they rarely are considered "newsworthy". Serving in the armed forces — of any nation — increases your chance of injury or death, whether in peacetime or wartime. Pretending that this isn't so does not make it true.
Jon sent along a link to this item posted by Tim Blair, where the clear unwillingness to believe ordinary chronological order is made manifestly clear.
If you believe that something is true, regardless of the facts, then nothing will persuade you otherwise . . .
James Dunnigan sets the record straight on the relationship between the Islamic world and the rest of it:
The war on terror is all about defending innocent people from Islamic terrorists. Or is it? In much of the Islamic world, the war on terror is seen as a smokescreen for all-out war on Islam by infidels (non-Moslems.) How did that happen? It's all got to do with paranoia, lies and incompetence in the Moslem, and particularly, the Arab, world.
Let's start with the basics. Like economics and being able to feed yourself. The Moslem world contains some of the most economically backward and inept nations on the planet. Despite all the oil wealth, economic growth in the Arab world is at the bottom of the list (just above sub-Saharan Africa, which has much less oil.) This is no accident. Islam has, over the centuries, evolved into a religion that discourages education, critical thinking and technical progress. Islam also has large sects, like the Wahabi in Saudi Arabia, that are violently intolerant of other religions (no other religion can have a house of worship in Saudi Arabia, for example), and openly preaches hatred, intolerance, and the use of violence, against infidels. Moslems tend to downplay all this, and blame their lack of performance on the machinations of infidels.
Islamic media tends towards the sensationalistic, paranoid and dogmatic. It's taken as a given, for example, that the September 11, 2001 attacks were a Jewish plot (even though al Qaeda has proudly admitted to it) and that the West is bent on destroying Islamic culture? What's to destroy? The Islamic world doesn't produce any new medicines, agricultural concepts or technology that benefits all of humanity. Even educated Arabs admit that something is wrong here. But these critics are in a minority, and are persecuted for such clear thinking if they become too vocal about it.
H/T to The Armorer.
Palestine is the new Cuba, a political cause whose invocation has the effect of instantaneously anesthetizing the upper brain functions of those who believe in it.
Terry Teachout, "Bulldozed by Naiveté: Terror advocate dies in accident. Atrocious drama ensues.", OpinionJournal.com, 2006-10-23
I note these leaders are all "Anglo-Saxons," and that the Continental European politicians who tried to be like them (Aznar in Spain, Berlusconi in Italy) were thrown out of office for their efforts. For some reason, when it comes to understanding certain hard facts about how the world works, "English as a first language" really seems to help.
Yet for all the best efforts of our Anglosphere and its sometime allies, our overall western response to the challenge of an aggressively violent totalitarianism remains profoundly timid. Our national debate should not be about what to do in Afghanistan, but what to do in Iran. About how China is poised to exploit our difficulties. Instead of bringing troops home, we should be thinking about how to double, quadruple, or octuple our military, for the grim scenes ahead. And what social programs to sacrifice to pay for all that.
We should be surveying the contemporary landscape like eagles, not ostriches.
David Warren, "Many Faraway Quarrels", Western Standard, 2006-10-09
[Modesty is a really odd word]. The way burkha lovers use it, it's supposed to convey the chaste, humble message that the female form mustn't draw attention to itself. But the garment chosen to attain that goal is hardly modest in the sense of inconspicuous. In fact, in any Western setting, a burkha is likely to be the most conspicuous sartorial choice of all. A woman in a burkha is exactly as in-your-face (and as out of place) as a bikini-clad Paris Hilton on a commuter train, and just as impossible to visually ignore as a leather fetishist wearing a huge studded codpiece to a dinner party.
You could say that the codpiece is a really "modest" clothing choice, too. Hey, it completely covers the guy's package, doesn't it? And yet, it also makes an aggressive, confrontational statement that, to me, is pretty much the opposite of modest.
Rogier van Bakel, "On Muslims and Modesty", Nobody's Business, 2006-10-01
Jon sent a link to this article on the differences between the Arab and Western worlds:
In Eastern Europe and the South Balkans, whenever I have gone to live in a place which I had formed opinions about, the actual experience of living there has always radically changed those opinions, sometimes into a completely contradictory ones. Most often, my academic research led me to form a beautifully coherent model which experience turned into a semi-coherent collection of observations and tentative conclusions.
In the case of the Kingdom, I went there with a certain sympathy for Arab grievances, a belief that America had earned a lot of hostility from "blowback" from our ham-handed interventionist foreign policy and support for Israel etc.
I came back with the gloomy opinion that over the long run we are going to have to hammer these people hard to get them to quit messing with Western Civilization.
The content is really unimportant. You can be sure none of the lunatics torching churches or burning the pope in effigy have any idea what he actually said. People who are more interested in this stuff than I am can debate whether Islam actually added anything to religion that wasn't already in Judaism and/or Christianity — beyond teetotaling, which is undoubtedly evil and inhuman.
Tim Cavanaugh, "Rope-a-Pope: Ben Seize takes the blows, does it his way", Hit and Run, 2006-09-16
The pope is in hot water, through quoting Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologos in a speech, which is being deliberately mis-interpreted:
Stressing that they were not his own words, he quoted Emperor Manuel II Paleologos of the Byzantine Empire, the Orthodox Christian empire which had its capital in what is now the Turkish city of Istanbul.
The emperor's words were, he said: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
Benedict said "I quote" twice to stress the words were not his and added that violence was "incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul".
"The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application," he added in the concluding part of his speech.
"Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today."
Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference have all weighed in with their own versions of what the Pope said, and how insulted they are: "The derogatory remarks of the Pope about the philosophy of jihad and Prophet Mohammed have injured sentiments across the Muslim world and pose the danger of spreading acrimony among the religions."
Update: Do check the comments on this post, if you don't normally do so. Alan and the Flea have been carrying on an extended conversation there . . .
The only surprise about the edition of Hitler's Mein Kampf that has become a best seller in Middle Eastern bookstores is its emboldened title translated as "Jihadi" — as in "My Jihad" — confirming in ironic fashion the "moderate" Islamic claim that "jihad" just means "struggle," as in an "inner struggle" — as in a Kampf perhaps.
Victor Davis Hanson, "The Waiting Game: Do we really need further convincing of the threat we face?", National Review, 2006-09-01
Links all contributed by Jon, who wonders whether these are "just transparent attempts to turn around the 'we're losing' meme? Or are they more opaque than that?"
Let's face facts: Islamism's appeal, is largely to the sort of type of person who would have been tempted to cheer on the blackshirts in the 1920's. It combines authoritarianism, militarism, anti-socialism and anti-liberalism with a special squeamishness about human sexuality.
Western Leftists who ally with Islamism because they think the phenomenon represents the interests of the masses are fooling themselves. If it represents anything it's the prejudices of the bazaari and clerical class in organised form and we've already seen that in Europe.
It wasn't nice then either, but at least in those days the left automatically knew they were against it.
Marcus, "Lumpenbourgeois Losers", Harry's Place, 2006-08-12
How did "50,000 Canadians" come to be in Lebanon? Is it one of our major trading partners? Has Bombardier opened up a Ski-Doo plant there? Is Beirut where the Quebec Nordiques wound up? 50,000 Canucks out of a total Lebanese population of 3.8 million works out to about 1.3 per cent of the population. Hezbollah claims 400,000 supporters in Lebanon after 20 years of diligent recruiting and investment by Iran, but Canada has managed to amass an eighth of that figure with nary a thought. Despite significantly smaller populations than our G7 colleagues, we have more citizens in Lebanon than the Americans, British and Germans.
France is the former colonial power in Lebanon and the Western country with which it maintains the closest ties, yet even the French can muster only 30,000 citizens in the country. Formerly known as "the Paris of the Middle East," these days Beirut would appear to be the Saskatoon of the Middle East. Another decade or two and Lebanon will boast more Canadians than most of the Maritimes. If Canadians were represented within the global population as generously as they are among the Lebanese, there would be over 81 million Canadian citizens living outside Canada.
Mark Steyn, "50,000 problematic Canadians", Macleans.ca, 2006-08-01
I guess it's been so long since a Canadian prime minister said anything like this that the mistake is quite understandable:
Arab papers are carrying Saudi Arabia's condemnation of Hezbollah. That hasn't stopped the UN and EU capitals from denouncing Israel. Go figure. But
AustralianCanadian* PM Stephen Harper isn't having any of it:
Harper, who is in London for a two-day visit, called Israel's response to the kidnapping of three soldiers "measured" and "simply self-defence".
[. . .]
* Well, he sounded like an Australian!
Hat tip to Jon for the URL.
The wave of attacks in India earlier today has claimed 147 lives, with over 400 injured — and those numbers are still not complete. In what I have to say is the most stupid use of "scare quotes", Associated Press had this:
India's major cities were put on high alert. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called an emergency Cabinet meeting and said that "terrorists" were behind the attacks.
What the hell else can you call an attack on civilians, calculated to cause high casualties except a terrorist attack?
Chaos engulfed the crowded rail network in India's financial capital following the blasts that ripped apart densely packed carriages on trains that police said had either pulled into stations or were traveling between them. Doors and windows were blown off the train cars, and witnesses said body parts were strewn on the ground.
After meeting with his Cabinet, Maharashtra state Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh said Tuesday night that the death toll was 147, with another 439 wounded, the Press Trust of India reported.
The Canadian Forces unit (CF) Joint Task Force Two (JTF 2) was presented with the United States Presidential Unit Citation from the United States Ambassador to Canada in a ceremony today. JTF 2 received the citation for its outstanding contribution to the multi-national Special Operations Forces task force in Afghanistan in 2002.
"This presentation of the United States Presidential Unit Citation serves to recognize the outstanding work and contribution of all members of JTF 2," said Minister of National Defence, Gordon O'Connor. "This unit continues to play a pivotal role in the safety and security of Canadians at home and abroad through its efforts in the campaign against terrorism."
"JTF 2 has proven to be a significant enhancement to our combat forces in the campaign against terrorism," said Chief of the Defence Staff, General Rick Hillier. "This recognition, one of few publicly recognized events we've had due to the unit's counter-terrorism role, serves to highlight the significant impact that JTF 2 continues to have on behalf of all Canadians and our allies."
Jon sent along a link to this Hot Air round-up of information on the investigation into the murders in Haditha:
The Times says three or four Marines are suspected of carrying out the killings with several more facing charges of having covered it up or done nothing while the shooting was going on.
The rest of today's coverage follows two tracks. One is devoted to showing how tough the Marines have had it in Haditha. This AP story paints it as the equal of any snakepit in Iraq; Zarqawi is rumored to have lived there, and voter turnout for last year's constitutional referendum was estimated at 150 out of a city of 90,000. So hard is it, in fact, that Knight-Ridder's Iraq correspondent reported last August — three months before the alleged massacre — that some of the Marine officers stationed there worried that their men might crack. Editor & Publisher reprinted the article today.
Perry de Havilland looks at the contrasting ways the USMC and the London police deal with allegations of gross injustice:
The alleged atrocity carried out by a fire-team of US Marines in Iraq is ghastly news and whilst I hope, like so many other allegations against Allied soldiers in the Middle East, it turns there is much less to this than meets the eye, the reports do seem to be indicating that this time there really was a monstrous massacre of innocents.
However the fact this horrendous incident has not been swept under the table shows that the US military does have structures that work as intended. Whilst it is appalling such a thing could have happened, it would be even worse if it had happened and the people responsible got away with it.
In that respect at least, one cannot but compare the accountability of the USMC with what happened when British police shot dead Jean Charles de Menezes, a innocent Brazilian man, and what we got was a stream of barefaced lies and complete fabrications and still no one has been brought to book (which should not just be the people responsible for the killing, but everyone involved with what has clearly been a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice).
It is a noted characteristic — of both bureaucracies in general and totalitarian regimes in particular — to automatically move to hide evidence of both natural and man-made disasters. That the USMC is (at least on the surface) moving to uncover the facts of the alleged atrocity is a very good thing: if a terrible crime like this has been committed, the swift investigation will minimize the chance of another atrocity.
The reactions of the London authorities to the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes reflects the habits of Soviet or Chinese Communist officials: deny, deflect, lie, or whatever else might seem necessary to keep the story from being told.
The original National Post story about Iran imposing colour badges on religious minorities has escalated:
Canada's ambassador to Iran was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in apparent diplomatic fallout from remarks by Prime Minister Stephen Harper after a Canadian newspaper report suggested religious minorities in Iran would be forced to wear badges.
A Foreign Affairs Department spokesman confirmed an Iranian television report that Ambassador Gordon Venner was summoned on Wednesday.
The spokesman refused to say what was discussed at the meeting. However, it came days after Harper criticized Iran over a National Post report that quoted Iranian exiles as saying Iran's conservative parliament was debating a draft law that would force Jews, Christians and other non-Muslims in the country to wear special patches of coloured cloth to distinguish them from Muslims.
Iranian officials have denied that any such provision existed.
The National Post's Chris Wattie follows up his own paper's earlier report with even more denials. Excerpt:
Meir Javdanfar, an Israeli expert on Iran and the Middle East who was born and raised in Tehran, said yesterday that he was unable to find any evidence that such a law had been passed.
"None of my sources in Iran have heard of this," he said. "I don't know where this comes from."
Amir Taheri's original article is three pages long. That's a lot of detail, albeit, as one rereads the article, poorly sourced detail. There are no quotes from the law in translation, and the lone Iranian poobah quoted speaks largely of the dress requirements for Muslims. What I'm saying is, it's very hard to believe Taheri's article constitutes an innocent mistake. The smart bets are either that his story is correct, or that he lied. If you prefer, he was either right, or he wrote in reckless disregard of the truth.
Hat tip to Hit and Run.
UPI quotes a report in the National Post as the source for this report on Iran's proposed law concerning religous minorities:
Iran's parliament passed a new law this week that would force the country's Jews, Christians and other religious minorities to wear color-coded ID badges.
Iranian expatriates confirmed reports the Iranian parliament, or majlis, has approved a law that would require non-Muslims to adhere to a dress code which mandates they wear "standard Islamic garments," according to Canada's National Post.
The roughly 25,000 Jews living in the Islamic Republic would have to attach a yellow strip of cloth to their clothing, Christians would wear red badges and Zoroastrians would wear blue ones.
Normally, the invocation of the word "Nazi" is covered by Godwin's Law: the conversation is over. In this case, the use of the term is fully justified.
Hat tip to Hit and Run, where at least one commenter thinks the news item is a hoax. I rather hope he's right.
. . . to the question of why we have troops in Afghanistan:
"Then he turned to me and said, 'Please excuse their staring. They are just very surprised that you are a woman working with all of these men. I have told them that you climbed over the mountain with us with your heavy bag and that you had no problems. They think that you must be very strong. I explained to them that you are just like the men, and that you can do everything that they can do the same as them.' "
Goddard added: "It was perhaps the greatest statement of equality that I have ever heard — and it was given by a Pakistani-raised, Afghan male in the middle of an Afghan village that is only accessible by a five km walk up a mountain. It just goes to show that anything is possible and that stereotypes are often completely wrong."
Captain Nichola Goddard, 1st Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, was killed in action earlier this week, the first Canadian woman to die in combat:
Although Canadian women lost their lives in action in both the First and Second World Wars, Goddard was the first to do so in a combat role.
"I believe it's safe to say she was the first woman in a combat-arms military occupation (such as artillery, infantry, or armoured) killed in front-line combat," said Lieut. Morgan Bailey, a media liaison officer in Ottawa.
Goddard was serving as a forward artillery observer, helping to target the artillery guns by observing where the shells fell.
Combat roles were first opened to Canadian women in 1990.
Canadian forces were acting in support of the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Army, who had received information a large number of Taliban fighters were massing in the Panjwai district, about 24 kilometres west of Kandahar, an area that has seen off-on fighting for weeks, said Fraser.
It's hard to convey what it's actually like meeting Iraqi Kurds. Fleshing out the dialogue doesn't capture the feel of it. Americans and Kurds don't just get along because we're temporary allies of convenience in the Middle East. The connection is deeper and personal. Kurdish culture and American culture might as well be from different planets. But somehow, oddly enough, Kurds think much like Americans do. Let me rephrase that: Americans think like the Kurds. We have similar values despite our extraordinarily different cultural backgrounds. I find it easier to develop a rapport with Iraqi Kurds than with people from any other country I have ever been to. It's instant, powerful, and totally unexpected.
Michael J. Totten, "Back to Iraq Part V - By Force of Sheer Will", Michael J. Totten's Middle East Journal, 2006-04-17
Back when nuclear weapons were an elite club of five relatively sane world powers, your average Western progressive was convinced the planet was about to go ka-boom any minute. The mushroom cloud was one of the most familiar images in the culture, a recurring feature of novels and album covers and movie posters. There were bestselling dystopian picture books for children, in which the handful of survivors spent their last days walking in a nuclear winter wonderland. Now a state openly committed to the annihilation of a neighboring nation has nukes, and we shrug: Can't be helped. Just the way things are. One hears sophisticated arguments that perhaps the best thing is to let everyone get 'em, and then no one will use them. And if Iran's head of state happens to threaten to wipe Israel off the map, we should understand that this is a rhetorical stylistic device that's part of the Persian oral narrative tradition, and it would be a grossly Eurocentric misinterpretation to take it literally.
Mark Steyn, "Facing Down Iran", City Journal, Spring 2006
Sometimes it seems like everyone in the Middle East hates everyone else in the Middle East. Arabs hate Kurds and Israelis. Turks hate Arabs and Kurds. Kurds hate Turks and fear Arabs. (Interestingly, Kurds love Israelis.) Everyone, especially Lebanese, hates Palestinians.
Not all people are haters. I've met plenty who aren't. But every culture has its baseline prejudices that individuals either opt into or out of. It's exhausting. Sometimes I just want to shake people and say: Keep your old-world ethnic squabbling out of my face, willya please? Jesus, no wonder there's so much war around here. Even so, Middle Easterners are the most friendly and charming people I've ever met.
Michael J. Totten, "Back to Iraq, part one", Michael J. Totten's Middle East Journal, 2006-04-09
This was posted a while ago, but I only just got back to the site to read it. Eric S. Raymond is convinced that the current "War on Terror" will morph into the "War against Islam", and he thinks the change is overdue:
I've been warning since 2002 that the West really is in a war to defend civilization against Islamic barbarians, and had better face up to that fact before the consequences of whitewashing Islam as a "religion of peace" get worse.
Comes now Fjordman, a blogger from Norway who tells us that Moslem immigrants to Sweden report themselves to be at war with Swedes. See also his earlier post about how Swedish society is disintegrating — not despite its commitment to 'multiculturalism', 'tolerance', and the welfare state, but because that commitment is being ruthlessly gamed by Islamofascists who see themselves as the conquering vanguard of the Dar al-Islam.
I'm not quite as convinced as ESR is, but it's hard to ignore the repeated declarations of Muslim leaders — both "extremist" and "moderate" — that they consider themselves (and their entire religion) to be at war with the west. They see western culture as simultaneously weak, decadent, and diseased, but also as highly contagious: our values are toxic to them.
Mark Steyn sifts through the rubble of past Middle East policies to diagnose the current situation:
The bad cop/worse cop routine the mullahs and their hothead President Ahmadinejad are playing in this period of alleged negotiation over Iran's nuclear program is the best indication of how all negotiations with Iran will go once they're ready to fly. This is the nuclear version of the NRA bumper sticker: "Guns Don't Kill People. People Kill People." Nukes don't nuke nations. Nations nuke nations. When the Argentine junta seized British sovereign territory in the Falklands, the generals knew that the United Kingdom was a nuclear power, but they also knew that under no conceivable scenario would Her Majesty's Government drop the big one on Buenos Aires. The Argie generals were able to assume decency on the part of the enemy, which is a useful thing to be able to do.
But in any contretemps with Iran the other party would be foolish to make a similar assumption. That will mean the contretemps will generally be resolved in Iran's favor. In fact, if one were a Machiavellian mullah, the first thing one would do after acquiring nukes would be to hire some obvious loon like President Ahmaddamatree to front the program. He's the equivalent of the yobbo in the English pub who says, "Oy, mate, you lookin' at my bird?" You haven't given her a glance, or him; you're at the other end of the bar head down in the Daily Mirror, trying not to catch his eye. You don't know whether he's longing to nut you in the face or whether he just gets a kick out of terrifying you into thinking he wants to. But, either way, you just want to get out of the room in one piece. Kooks with nukes is one-way deterrence squared.
I missed this, being out of town when it was first posted. Here is a great background piece on trying to make sense of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan:
Afghanistan is the second poorest country in the world. Kandahar is one of the poorest cities in Afghanistan. Even successul, powerful people, unless they are warlords or involved in the drug trade, are very poor by Canadian standards. So if I give a school principal a thousand dollars and tell him to buy supplies for his school, what do you think happens? His house gets a roof that won't collapse in the rain, his children get shod, and his whole family becomes less undernourished. If I give him a thousand pencils for his students, the next day they are on sale in the bazaar, and the result is the same.
Can you look him in the eye and tell him he's done wrong?
The natural tendency, then, is to give to the students themselves. But does anyone think we can visit every school in the country, every month, and refill every student's bag?
Schools, police, water, power, sanitation, health . . . the problem is the same for them all. And at all levels, from the lowest manager to the regional director. Are there the purely corrupt, who could live comfortably without embezzling? Of course there are. Everywhere, and at all levels too. Low grade bribery is part of Middle Eastern culture, but the distinction between baksheesh and outright graft is pretty murky no matter where you’re from.
As Theodore Dalyrmple observed in one of his books (which I don't have to hand right at the moment), we in the post-tribal West fail to understand the structure of everyday life in tribal societies. We are likely to keep making mistakes in dealing with individuals and groups in Afghanistan because we don't understand that their motives and rewards are different from our own in so many ways. What seems obvious and logical to westerners may be totally unacceptable to someone raised in a tribal environment, and the incomprehension is mutual. A recipie for disaster at every scale.
The story of the five Saudi women getting F-M sex changes that Jesse Walker noted earlier seems too good to be true. I spent 45 minutes yesterday trying to get my Arabic-reading brother in law to find the original story on the website for the Saudi paper al Watan, but it wasn't there or on any of the other al Watans. I do think there was an original story in al Watan, because this Jordanian paper has slightly more detail than is found in any of the other versions — all of which are clearly reading the same original. But nobody has any names or specifics.
It's weird the way these third-world post office stories — in which everybody passes along an article about how a bunch of Egyptians drown trying to get a chicken out of a well, etc. — have survived into the web age.
For those of you with plenty of web-browsing time, just about every sentence in Tim's post is linked to somewhere else.
Here's an unexpected news item from Reuters:
Al Watan newspaper said the five women underwent sex change surgery abroad over the past 12 months after they developed a "psychological complex" due to male domination.
Women in Saudi Arabia, which adopts an austere interpretation of Islam, are not allowed to drive or even go to public places unaccompanied by a male relative.
It's surprising that these women were able to get outside the country to take such drastic steps . . . given the extreme segregation that most women in Saudi Arabia are subject to. What's perhaps even more surprising is that the religious hierarchy hasn't immediately jumped to either forbid the practice, nor (yet) to punish the women:
The newspaper quoted a senior cleric as saying the authorities have to fill what he described as a legal vacuum by issuing laws against sex change operations.
An interior ministry official told al Watan such cases are examined by religious authorities, and sometimes by psychologists, but those who undergo sex change are never arrested.
[H]uman nature being what it is, polygamy is only a stable social institution as long as one gender is pretty radically oppressed. Otherwise, jealousy and competition between spouses for resources, particularly by mothers for their children, will destroy the family.
Jane Galt, "Four spouses good, two spouses better?", Asymmetrical Information, 2006-02-24
Has Jyllands-Posten insulted and disrespected Islam? It certainly didn't intend to. But what does respect mean? When I visit a mosque, I show my respect by taking off my shoes. I follow the customs, just as I do in a church, synagogue or other holy place. But if a believer demands that I, as a nonbeliever, observe his taboos in the public domain, he is not asking for my respect, but for my submission. And that is incompatible with a secular democracy.
This is exactly why Karl Popper, in his seminal work "The Open Society and Its Enemies," insisted that one should not be tolerant with the intolerant. Nowhere do so many religions coexist peacefully as in a democracy where freedom of expression is a fundamental right. In Saudi Arabia, you can get arrested for wearing a cross or having a Bible in your suitcase, while Muslims in secular Denmark can have their own mosques, cemeteries, schools, TV and radio stations.
Flemming Rose, "Why I Published the Cartoons", Washington Post, 2006-02-19
Jon sent along a link to a collection of cartoon reactions to the cartoon reaction.
Austin Bay has a post up including some informed commentary from one of his military buddies:
"Sapper"is a long time friend. He is a Vietnam vet (combat engineers). He also served in the US Army Reserves for over thirty years. He is a civil engineer, by trade.
The following is his analysis of the terror bomb attack on the Askariya Shrine in Samarra. Understand that his analysis is informed speculation, but speculation by a man who knows how to build buildings as well as destroy them.
[. . .] My best guess from the review of the photos and with some help from an OSHA Inspector with experience in Accident investigation/reconstruction is that the explosion took place about 1/2 up the dome. The bricks in this area may have been only one or two thick. Without a view of the interior of the Shrine there is a lot left to conjecture. The amount of explosive required at any one point to do the damage would not be that great about ten pounds as an off hand guess based upon a quick glance at Junior Woodchuck Manual (FM 5-34), the demolitions section. Placed around the circumference at say twenty separate points would add up to a total of 200 pounds of TNT. Using C4 or an equivalent would decrease this by a factor 1.34.
A question posed is, was this a quick in and out job or would it have taken some time to plant the charges. My guess is that it probably took some time to plant the charges. The charges would have to be taken into the building placed at a point some distance up in the structure of the dome itself. With only people power to move the stuff up there, place the charges and rig the ignition circuits I would tend to believe this was an operation covering three to five hours, not just a quick in and out raid.
Victoria University (for some reason, I've always thought it was "Victoria College") of the University of Toronto has an obscure student publication called The Strand. As this article at Hit and Run implies, it's not going to stay obscure obscure for long:
Image[Image removed at site owner's request] links to original article at The Strand
Commenter "RexRhino" at Hit and Run gets the situation exactly right:
Remember that Star Trek episode where Spock tell the computer "Believe me, I am lying", and the computer cannot handle the paradox? "If you say you are lying, it means you are lying that you are lying, you are telling the truth, but telling the truth you are lying... BZZZPPPPZZTTTHHH!!"
This is the same effect with the Political Correctness androids here in Canada when looking at this cartoon!
"Muslims are upset because the cartoon offends them by depicting Mohommed as homosexual... must make sure muslims are not offended... except that gays will be offended if we imply that there is anything offensive about homosexualiy... must make sure gays are not offended... but if we don't offend them we offend muslims... but if we don't offend muslims, we offend gays... Politically Correct brain cannot compute! BBBTTHHHZZZZPP!"
The cartoon jihad has taken another step away from farce and toward further tragedy:
A Pakistani Muslim cleric and his followers offered rewards amounting to over $1 million for anyone who killed Danish cartoonists who drew caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad that have enraged Muslims worldwide.
The cleric offered the bounty during Friday prayers as Muslim anger against the cartoons flared anew in parts of Asia.
Weeks of global protests over the cartoons have triggered fears of a clash of civilizations between the West and Islam, and have led to calls on all sides for calm.
In a civilized country, wouldn't putting a private bounty on someone's head be a fairly serious crime?
The Danish foreign ministry also issued a travel warning for Pakistan, urging any Danes to leave as soon as possible.
In the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, cleric Maulana Yousef Qureshi said he had personally offered to pay a bounty of 500,000 rupees ($8,400) to anyone who killed a Danish cartoonist, and two of his congregation put up additional rewards of $1 million and one million rupees plus a car.
"If the West can place a bounty on Osama bin Laden and Zawahri we can also announce reward for killing the man who has caused this sacrilege of the holy Prophet," Qureshi told Reuters, referring to the al Qaeda leader and his deputy Ayman al Zawahri.
Oh, I guess that answers my question, doesn't it? "We" have already abandoned the moral high ground because "we" offered a bounty for the mastermind whose organization killed more than 3,000 civilians in just one attack, therefore we have no moral standing to object to killing cartoonists.
Of course, even if a bounty hadn't been offered for Zahahri or bin Laden, there'd be all sorts of pseudo-historical justifications that could be dredged up (or manufactured) anyway.
Update: More information from another report:
Mohammed Yousaf Qureshi, prayer leader at the historic Mohabat Khan mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar, announced the mosque and the Jamia Ashrafia religious school he leads would give a 1.5 million rupee ($25,000) reward and a car for killing the cartoonist of the prophet pictures that appeared first in a Danish newspaper in September.
He also said a local jewellers' association would give $1 million. No representative of the association was available to confirm it had made the offer.
"Whoever has done this despicable and shameful act, he has challenged the honour of Muslims. Whoever will kill this cursed man, he will get $1 million dollars from the association of the jewellers bazaar, one million rupees from Masjid Mohabat Khan and 500,000 rupees and a car from Jamia Ashrafia as a reward," Qureshi said.
"This is a unanimous decision of by all imams (prayer leaders) of Islam that whoever insults the prophet deserves to be killed and whoever will take this insulting man to his end, will get this prize," Qureshi said.
In something out of the pages of The Onion, Iran has renamed danish pastries:
Iranians love Danish pastries, but now when they look for the flaky dessert at the bakery they have to ask for "Roses of the Prophet Muhammad."
Bakeries across the capital were covering up their ads for danish pastries Thursday after the confectioners union ordered the name change in retaliation for cartoons of Islam's revered Prophet first published in a Danish newspaper.
The move was reminiscent of a decision by the US House of Representatives in 2004 to rename french fries as "freedom fries" after France refused to back the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
"Given the insults by Danish newspapers against the prophet, as of now the name of Danish pastries will give way to Rose of Mohammad' pastries," the confectioners union said in its order.
A very timely piece published in The Stranger:
Bat Ye'or, a Jewish Egyptian woman whose splendid 2005 book Eurabia is a veritable catalog of the European political establishment's systematic toadying to autocratic Muslim governments, has a name for this toadying: "dhimmitude," a reference to the historical Islamic practice of tolerating infidels so long as they accept their role as "dhimmis," i.e., second-class citizens without rights under Muslim law. Clearly, many agitators saw Jylland-Posten's cartoons as an opportunity to nudge an already largely passive and sycophantic Europe a step closer to full-fledged dhimmi status.
No, most Danes don’t want to be dhimmis: In poll results released in late January, 79 percent of them said Fogh Rasmussen owed nobody an apology. (This is, let it be remembered, the only European country that stood up to the Nazi "final solution" by ferrying its own Jews to safety.) But millions of Europeans have already internalized Islamic taboos and accepted the need to curb liberties in order to "keep the peace." For them, Muslim rage — and its expression in acts of violence and death threats — is already an accepted part of life that is simply not to be questioned or criticized; in their view, the fault lies with those who provoke the rage by failing to be good enough dhimmis. "There is something wrong with a democracy," read a typical viewer SMS on a Norwegian news discussion program, "where an editor can put the whole country in danger!" EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson was one of many who spoke of outraged Muslims as if they were a force of nature — every re-publication of the cartoons by other European newspapers, he said, "is adding fuel to the flames." Across Europe, the same kind of leftists who reflexively cheer art for outraging Christians now uphold Muslims' sacred right not to be offended.
A short news item on the CP wires says that Canadian troops are at risk because the Western Standard is re-publishing the cartoons:
A Muslim group warns that the publication of controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a Western magazine may cause harm to Canadian troops in Afghanistan.
Riad Saloojee with the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations says reprinting the drawings could put Canada's soldiers in danger. Violent protests erupted after the images were printed in a Danish newspaper.
As opposed, one must guess, to the utterly risk-free and peaceful job they're currently enjoying in Afghanistan? Or do we need to read this as a threat, rather than just a note of concern?
Note for the overly literal reader: "utterly risk free" and "peaceful" are used in an ironic sense in the preceding paragraph.
Theodore Dalrymple, in City Journal,on the London protests against cartoons:
The weekend edition of Le Monde carried on its front page a startling photograph of a masked protester in London, holding up a placard demanding the death of those who insult Islam. Policemen flanked him on either side, as if protecting him from the vicious assaults of cartoonists.
Nothing could have captured better the cowardly and pusillanimous response of the British government to the crisis deliberately stirred up in many Muslim countries four months after the publication in a Danish newspaper of 12 cartoons depicting Muhammad (only one of which was remotely funny).
In condemning the cartoons, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, a man with all the qualities of Neville Chamberlain except his fundamental decency, attempted to curry favor with the Muslim world, or at least to avoid its wrath. Revealing the practical value of such appeasement is the way in which Muslims burned down the Danish consulates and embassies even after the Danes, with equal cowardice, had apologized. But at least the Danes have the excuse of being a very small nation indeed — although their country produces far more, oil excepted, than the whole Arab world put together.
What started as an attempt to raise awareness in one country, has recently ballooned to encompass most of the Islamic world . . . and the surprise "aggressor" is Denmark. Of all the western countries, Denmark would be among the least likely place for something like this to start, and the Danish government appears to have been taken unsuspecting as much as anyone else.
In a well-written post at Samizdata, a guest blogger points out what is obvious to most of us (who don't publish North American newspapers, anyway):
No one can insult me or offend me unless I choose to be insulted or offended. In denying that, I deny my own power over myself. I understand that people may not have arrived at that understanding, but since I have it, I cannot in good conscience withdraw my own free expression when no hurt was intended.
Did all these politicians and pundits not learn this very basic lesson when they were five and got upset at a hurtful remark in the playground, and their teachers told them, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me"...?
Unfortunately, as many of the comments on the post point out, this works well only if you are dealing with similarly reasonable opponents. This situation will likely get much worse before it calms down, and it's going to be a very useful proxy for so many other issues. The problem is that, rather than the situation resolving itself as the original post hopes:
Then let it drop and let the fire burn itself out. It is called "agreeing to disagree" and is the very manifestation of treating everyone with equal respect.
. . . the situation is not going to be allowed to fade away. Silly as it might seem, the cartoons may have been the line in the sand for Europe and the Islamic world. If the European Union or the individual national governments fall over themselves to apologize and promise to squelch such potentially offensive publications in future, they're sacrificing much of what made western civilization possible at all.
In some ways, I've been heartened to find that not all newspaper and media outlets are backing away from the issue . . . especially in Europe and in Jordan. If it becomes impossible to say anything that might inflame or insult an easily inflamed or insulted group, it very quickly turns into a tool for that group to control more and more of what can be said.
In the Muslim world, the New York Times is seen as an Israeli propaganda sheet. How's that for misunderstanding?
Jay Nordlinger, "We're all Middle East specialists now, &c.", National Review, 2005-12-15
The Economist has a good article on how the US Army is adapting their training from the real-world lessons learned in Afghanistan and Iraq (behind the subscriber wall, unfortunately):
Car bombs are not the only bit of Iraqi-Afghan verisimilitude the brigade experienced at Fort Polk's Joint Readiness Training Centre (JRTC) last month. Attacks with simulated roadside bombs (known as improvised explosive devices, or IEDs), rockets, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and small arms, using special effects and lasers, are unrelenting.
The assailants — 160 American soldiers dedicated to the task, and dressed accordingly — come in two forms: al-Qaeda terrorists, based in an off-limits bit of the wood called Pakistan, and Taliban insurgents living in 18 mock villages. Another 800 role-players live with them, acting as western aid workers, journalists, peacekeepers, Afghan mayors, mullahs, policemen, doctors and opium farmers, all with fake names, histories and characters. Some 200 bored-looking Afghan-Americans are augmented by local Louisianans in Afghan garb. A clutch of Vietnam-veterans with missing limbs, splashed with fake blood, make terrific bomb victims.
Fort Polk has seen huge changes in the past two years. Designed for light infantry and special-forces troops, it has always dealt with some parts of guerrilla warfare, such as booby-traps and RPG attacks. But in the past the "insurgents" wore blue armbands to distinguish themselves, a tactic strangely shunned by America's enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan. There also used to be no more than 50 civilian role-players on the battlefield.
The changes are expensive — the basic cost per brigade of a month at the JRTC has gone up from $2m to $9m. And similar changes are under way at the army's two other Combat Training Centres (CTCs), where the army simulates battalion- and brigade-sized battles. Fort Irwin, California, used to be dedicated to tank battles. Two years ago, not a single building dotted its 600,000 acres of desert. Now there are a dozen mock villages and plans for a $50m mock city. Two Hollywood companies have been hired to improve the army's flashes and bangs, and to give acting classes to the role-players.
Of course, The Economist being a British publication, they can't help but include some "helpful" contrasts:
In their routine planning and training, the British expected to find civilians on their battlefield; the Americans did not. The British taught the virtue of restraint, to limit civilian casualties and the strategic damage they cause. American soldiers were trained to wipe the enemy out. British soldiers were trained in crowd control and basic forensic skills; American soldiers rarely were. In April 2003, nervous American soldiers fired into a crowd of protesters in Fallujah, killing and maiming scores. Within weeks, the Iraqi town had risen against the occupation, culminating in two terrible battles last year.
In more peaceable southern Iraq, meanwhile, the British acted on their training. Their first aim was to win the civilian population's trust. One way was through information operations (IO), which means, at the crudest level, generating good public relations for the army. "The Brits do this as a matter of course; they had a much finer appreciation of the culture in Iraq," says Lieutenant-Colonel Chuck Eassa, deputy-chief of IO at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, the home of the army staff college and other cerebral institutions. For the American army in Iraq, he says, IO was a "low-density skill set". Each division of 19,000 soldiers had only two IO officers.
Jon sent me a link to one of Mark Steyn's latest columns, where he outlines the most recent "progress" in the middle east:
Good news! On Thursday, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, who recently called for Israel to be wiped off the map, moderated his position. In a spirit of statesmanlike compromise, he now wants Israel wiped off the map of the Middle East and wiped on to the map of Europe.
"Some European countries insist on saying that Hitler killed millions of innocent Jews in furnaces," Ahmadinejad told Iranian TV viewers. "Although we don't accept this claim, if we suppose it is true," he added sportingly, "if European countries claim that they have killed Jews in World War II, why don't they provide the Zionist regime with a piece of Europe? Germany and Austria can provide the regime with two or three provinces for this regime to establish itself, and the issue will be resolved. You offer part of Europe, and we will support it."
Big of you. It's the perfect solution to the "Middle East peace process": out of sight, out of mind. And given that Ahmadinejad's out of his mind, we're already halfway there.
Jon sent a link to an article about International Solidarity Movement volunteers making the situation more dangerous for the people they claim to be helping:
The anarchists, many of whom are members of the International Solidarity Movement, flock to flashpoints throughout Judea and Samaria, ostensibly to help PA Arabs contend with IDF closures and protect them from harassment. In actuality, many of the volunteers seek confrontations with IDF soldiers and local Jewish residents, taking advantage of their Western passports to cause havoc — knowing that, at worst, they will be deported, not jailed.
The local Arabs in the Hevron region whom the activists claim to be helping are now complaining that the American and European students behave in a provocative and offensive manner in Hevron's public areas. The Arabs say the activists disrespect the moral norms and standards of the local population.
Several local Arab residents told the Kol Ha'Ir newspaper that the activists have been exposing the local youths to drug use and sexual promiscuity.
You'd think, if this situation is common, that the Israeli government would change their laws to allow foreign agents provocateur to be treated in the same way as anyone else: deportation is clearly not much of a deterrent.After all, how much worse could the press coverage be for anything that reflects badly upon the Israeli government in the western press?
This story has fascinating overtones (and undertones). Lieutenant Chontosh is a brave man. This he has proven. Lieutenant Chontosh is also a fantastically lucky man, which is proven by the fact that he survived his exploit.
I'd be willing to take bets on what most of his men were thinking while he was conducting his highly unconventional flank assault. . .starting with something like "What the F*** is the friggin' LT doing?" and ending somewhere in the general region of "F***. He survived? F***. How'd he manage that?"
Bravery on the field of battle is an amazing thing, but it also draws all sorts of unwelcome attention from certain quarters — usually the ones opposite you looking down their battlesights in your general direction. A genuine hero is wonderful — as long as he's not sharing your particular two-man trench.
Update: link corrected.
In his New York Post opinion piece, Ralph Peters points out that most of the Arab nations critical of the US handling of the Abu Ghraib situation have much worse records of justice.
As an American, I want my country to be held to higher standards — we can live up to them. Proudly. But we don't need any more hypocritical charges from states with no standards at all. [. . .]
All those who opposed the removal of Saddam, from the BBC to Egyptian state television to The New York Times, act as though the events in Abu Ghraib prove that they were right all along.
No. They weren't right. And no amount of disingenuous "reporting" or feigned shock on the part of newsreaders can change the fact that America behaved nobly and bravely in Iraq — or that we continue to struggle to do the right thing, if sometimes ineptly.
Reason contributing editor Cathy Young on the ongoing Abu Ghraib scandal.
L. Neil Smith, in an essay on the whole disgusting mess in the Iraq prison: Torturing the Truth.
That truth is simply this: it isn't the Moslems who came to the west to push us around, steal our resources, sneer at our customs and beliefs, depose our leaders and replace them with puppets, reshape our political institutions, or redraw our national borders to suit their own foul purposes. No, that's what we Europeanoids have been doing to them.
Get this through your head right now, because it's not going to go away, no matter how much you may hate being compelled to recognize it. It's a fact that will largely determine the shape of the 21st century. Americans and Europeans are the aggressors in this conflict, and what happened in New York on September 11, 2001, was an act of long-delayed retaliation.
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