May 27, 2004

Just in Time

Hey, after finally building my readership back up a bit I'm taking a vacation. I'll be in British Columbia for a volleyball tournament until Monday evening. Hope you all come back afterwards. Feel free to insert your own music blather below to keep things interesting.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:46 AM | Comments (490) | TrackBack

May 26, 2004

Something Going on In San Diego

Hmmm. While driving home I saw 8 police cars with sirens blazing going south on Park toward downtown. As I pulled in to my apartment I counted 7 more go by. I suspect that 15 police cars (that I saw in what isn't the easiest way into downtown) with sirens blazing isn't a good sign. I now hear multiple helicopters. Isn't it sick when you have to hope it is just some SWAT team hostage psycho thing? I hear at least two more cop cars going by. I wish the San Diego news site would tell me something other than the fact that Tuite was guilty of manslaughter.

UPDATE: Not much news but apparently an SD officer was shot. Officer down gets a lot of reaction. Fortunately not terrorist related so far as I can tell. See the trackback to link to the story.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 05:52 PM | Comments (533) | TrackBack

Police Your Own

I believe one of the major failings in Western society is a failure to police your own. If KKK members weren't protected by their towns this world would have been a better place. If pro-life groups policed their own we wouldn't have abortion clinic bombings screwing up the debate. If Muslim groups policed their own mosques it would be much harder for terrorists to get support.

On that note: Trent Lott, please take a second to think before you speak. Because things like this are not helping anything.

"Frankly, to save some American troops' lives or a unit that could be in danger, I think you should get really rough with them," Lott said. "Some of those people should probably not be in prisons in the first place."

The first sentence is barely defensible as an abstract concept, but considering the obvious context of the recent discoveries in Abu Ghraib the statement is inflammatory and wrong. As for "Some of those people should probably not be in prisons in the first place", well that is exactly one of the problems with allowing torture--though in precisely the opposite way from what Lott apparently means. And if he means that some were terrorists and not normal crimminals, then have some procedure for sorting the two from each other. Though even that doesn't allow for torture.

"Lott was reminded that at least one prisoner had died at the hands of his captors after a beating.

"This is not Sunday school," he said. "This is interrogation. This is rough stuff.""

Excuse me? There may be a fine line between torture and non-torture. For instance I am pretty sure that I wouldn't count scaring someone with a dog as torture if you don't let the prisoner get bitten even though Amnesty International would apparently include that. But whatever rational line we try to draw on the definition of torture has to include 'beaten to death' under the rubric of unacceptable interrogation techniques or else the meaning of 'torture' is completely useless.

So, Trent Lott, if you want to help the war effort and you want to contribute to winning the hearts and minds of the people in the Middle East--SHUT UP!!!

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:05 AM | Comments (503) | TrackBack

May 25, 2004

Cold War Lessons Part II

This is a follow up to my previous post about lessons Kevin Drum of WashingtonMonthly thinks we should learn from the Cold War as applied to the War on Terrorism. This is not a stand alone post.

The thrust of Kevin's "Lessons from the Cold War" seems to be that containment works, so why not apply it to the War on Terrorism. I have already suggested that containment was merely the least bad option in the Cold War and I have also suggested as opposed to the Soviets our current enemies have proven to be much more willing to use whatever force they can get their hands on when attacking us. This makes the long time window needed for a successful containment action less appealing.

But another problem with the idea of containment in this context is that many of the people who support the use of the word 'containment' aren't actually that interested in following through with the actions needed for successful containment. They talk about containment only because they must appear to have an alternative to war. This is why Kerry's vote against the First Gulf War is so troubling. Saddam's Iraq invaded Kuwait, and Kerry voted against turning Iraq back. Saddam decided to expand, and Kerry voted against containing him.

But that is the least of containment's problems. One of the major weapons of containment is found in economic sanctions. But the fact is that economic sanctions are not tremendously effective, and also tend to hurt the lower economic class of civilians more than they hurt tyrants and their friends. Are you willing to potentially harden your heart when the tyrant parades people whom he is intentionally starving for propaganda benefit? Or will you give in and strengthen the tyrant's position? Or will you pretend that you can separate the two while ignoring the Food-for-Oil scam which took advantage of your sympathy in the very recent past to provide billions of dollars for palaces and bribes?

Containment is about preventing the spread of ideologies to nearby countries. Are you going to be willing to support indigineous resistance movements like the Contras were in Nicaragua? Are you willing to accept that these movements might not be as savory as you might like but grit your teeth and support them because there is no one else?

Are you willing to befriend dictators who are unfriendly to your enemy's cause but not as moral as you might like?

Since a prolonged 'cold war' against Islamism involves terrorists who have proven their interest in destroying such institutions as the 40,000 person occupied World Trade Center towers, a long term containment regime will include much stricter policing of America. Are you willing to soften civil rights protections in order to police America?

Will you support democratic movements in your 'contained' countries with weapons? If not, what will you do when the 'contained' countries slaughter the members of said movement? Will you treat them like we treat Cuba's dissidents--as people to be interviewed by Oliver Stone while he suggests that Castro really tries to give them a fair trial?

If your answer to most of these questions is 'no', what does a containment policy entail other than telling the not nice people that they aren't nice and letting them take over any place where they can bully people?

The Soviet Union fell not because of its pathetic economy, but because the Soviet government was not willing to murder millions of people as they had in the past. Do you believe that Islamists are close to that point?

P.S. Isn't it also interesting that the containment policy now lauded by many on the left may have directly led to many of the conditions in the Middle East that we are now fighting? Is that a problem?

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:10 AM | Comments (635) | TrackBack

May 24, 2004

What Osama Wants

There is an idea floating around the blogosphere that I have ignored until now because I thought that it was restricted to left-wing nutcases.

Unfortunately it seems to have captured Kevin Drum so I suspect it has gone mainstream:

"And Osama bin Laden got exactly what he wanted too: a Western occupying force in the heart of the Arab world to act as a recruiting device for al-Qaeda. The neocons played their assigned role in this drama to perfection."

Everywhere I turn I seem to see the idea that Al Qaeda wanted the US occupying an Arab country taken seriously.

It is an uncommonly silly idea.

This is the Western/Che concept of terrorism to provoke overreach. It has nothing to do with Al Qaeda. Bin Laden has said time and time again that America's big crime is in its intervention in the Middle East. His beef with the West is that our presence tempts Allah's followers into sin. He hates that Western troops protected Saudi Arabia from Saddam. He thinks that the Jews ought to be expelled from Israel as part of an effort to reclaim all lands ever held by Islamic power. His whole plan is about getting the West OUT of the Middle East. Look at his recent offer to Europe. He will agree to stop bombing them if they agree to get OUT of the Middle East. Bombing the WTC wasn't about tricking the US into Afghanistan. He believed that we were so weak that we would not attack him in retaliation.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 01:09 AM | Comments (417) | TrackBack

Just One Shell

By now you have probably read too many posts on the topic of the binary sarin shell found in Iraq.

I have just one thing to say about the one shell that has been found.

Shells are manufactured--in factories. You don't make just one.

You have to design and manufacture all of the equipment. You have to design the shell itself. There are thousands of things you have to do before you can get to the cute little technical marvel of a binary shell. I don't know how many of you have ever worked in a factory, but retooling a factory isn't as easy as the word makes it sound. As a result, you don't retool just to make a single shell.

Perhaps we will find that this is a left-over shell. I doubt it, because these were not in use at the time of the Iran-Iraq war. I doubt it, because they were never declared to the UN investigators despite a decade of opportunities. So if we find that it dates after the inspection regimes please remember that finding just one shell is like finding just one cockroach.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:49 AM | Comments (562) | TrackBack

May 21, 2004

Music Blather Fridays

Today's short Music Blather is dedicated to Vince Clark. (No he isn't dead so far as I know.) He may be the perfect example of an 80s/90s synth-pop artist. He was a founding member of Depeche Mode, one of my favorite groups. He was the organizing force of Yaz which was great fun. Do you remember "Midnight" or "Situation"? After Alison Moyet left Yaz, Clark picked up a guy who sounds much like Moyet and created Erasure--yet another one of my favorite bands.

Here in San Diego there was a flashback challenge a couple of years ago which pitted 80s and 90s artists in a head to head voting challenge. Depeche Mode, Yaz and Erasure all got to the top 32 in the same bracket. Depeche Mode won out of the remaining 8 in the bracket, but I think it was a clear sign of how influential he was even though he isn't a household name.

One thing puzzles me. In Depeche Mode I would have sworn he used to be refered to as Depeche Mode's 'openly gay' artist before he left the group. Yet now he is Erasure's straight guy. Did I misremember the Depeche Mode thing? Did something change? Not that it would hurt his music reputation if he were straight. ;)

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 08:14 AM | Comments (391) | TrackBack

May 20, 2004

Pinochet's Chile

This must be a day for sick analogies. In the comments of this Matthew Yglesias post I am informed that Vietnam was better off in Communist hands than it would have been under a more capitalist American supported regime. Considering the history of nearly every country in the close sphere of influence of the English speaking countries that thought is ridiculous. Then over at Crooked Timber (an academic blog for philosophers) I find no fewer than 4 commenters who are willing to directly compare the US in Iraq with Vietnam in Cambodia. And that is out of only 19 total comments when I last looked. I know readers there are a self selected group but Wow!

These analogies and speculations got me thinking of the kind of thing that if you put it into print you makes sure that you can't ever get elected. But I'm a introverted gay Republican so my chances weren't super-high anyway.

Maybe this is just from my experience with college radicals at the University of California, but it seems as if Pinochet's Chile is the paradigm example of a ruthlessly repressive society according to Western human rights groups. And it was bad. It had groups of soldiers who would round up opposition members and kill them. It had paranoid purges and a sick parallel police structure. Which is to say that it was about as bad as a typical Communist country. The 'Vietnam was better off under Communism' argument is what really set me off. Compare Pinochet's Chile, the very worst of the Western regimes, against any of a number of Communist regimes and Chile looks practically rosy. In a hierarchy of bad regimes it doesn't compare to Lenin's Russia, Stalin's Russia or Khruschev's Russia. It doesn't compare to Mao's China. It doesn't compare to post war-Vietnam. It doesn't compare to Cambodia. It doesn't compare to North Korea. It doesn't compare to East Germany. It doesn't compare to Nicolae Ceausescu's Romania. The closest it comes might be to Hungary, but maybe I only think that because I don't know enough about Hungary.

My point is not that Chile was great. I'll offer no defense of Pinochet whatsoever. But it was about as bad as it got in countries under the direct influence of the West in this century (or at least the English speaking West, France managed to royally screw up a number of countries in its orbit). But when you compare the nadir of countries influenced by the West to the typical Communist run country, you find that the average Communist country was every bit as oppressive and vicious and evil as Chile, the oft-cited paradigm example of repression.

The idea that any country was likely to be better off under Communist influence is silly. It ignores the history of places like Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, the Phillipines, South Korea, West Germany (remember there were two?) and ignores the history of Camobodia, Russia, China, Romania, and East Germany. The worst of the West is awful. But it pales in comparison to the average country under Communist influence. To pretend otherwise, and then try to draw useful policy conclusions from that ridiculous fantasy, is foolish.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:30 AM | Comments (597) | TrackBack

May 19, 2004

Geneva Conventions and the War on Terror

Kevin Drum also has an interesting post on the Geneva Conventions and the War on Terror. I think there is significant confusion about what people mean when they talk about the Geneva Conventions. An ok online reference on the topic can be found at

One of the main problems is that people talk about the Geneva Conventions as if they were all the same thing. They aren't. Usually when people talk about them, the are talking about either Convention III: "Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War", or Convention IV: "Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War". They are totally different in operation. Convention III applies ONLY to parties to the treaties and only to those who wear uniforms as part of an organized military. There is a reason for this. The reason is to protect civilians from attack by making civilians and combatants obviously different. This was a very pragmatic concern because it was well understood at the time (though apparently less understood by many now) that enemies who were allowed to hide in civilian populations would eventually provoke more civilian deaths as armies tried to deal with mixed populations of combatants and non-combatants. The Geneva Conventions specifically contemplate such a situation and give an incentive to marking yourself apart from civilians by offering you treatment which is different from that which you would receive if you do not set yourself apart from civilians. It also requires an organized military with a chain of command. That isn't just being silly, that is required so that there will be someone who can surrender (end the war) and then order his troops to stand down. That was specifically designed to make it easier on civilian populations.

Convention IV deals with the treatment of civilians. Islamists in the war on terror are not civilians. They are combatants who refuse to wear uniforms so that they can DISGUISE themselves as civilians. Convention IV should be observed by the U.S. at all times, but it should be noted that war crimes caused by a failure of one side to identify itself as combatants accure to the side which is disguising itself in the civilian population. Convention IV does not bar the U.S. from proceeding against civilian appearing targets which are actually engaged in combat OR ARE SUPPORTING COMBATANTS.

Kevin asks:

So: should the Geneva Conventions apply to captured Taliban fighters? And if you think they shouldn't, why not? One warning, though: if you want to argue that it's because war on terrorism is somehow more critical or more deadly than either the Cold War (potential global Armageddon, Europe/world saved from communism) or World War II (60 million dead, Europe/world saved from fascism), you'd better make a mighty good case.

And while you're at it, you should also plainly state whether you think suspending the Conventions applies only to the U.S., or if it's OK for everyone else as well. Might as well get all our cards out on the table at once.

This is question really doesn't make sense. The Geneva conventions don't apply specifically because the Islamists in question refuse to go along with them. They aren't suspended because the U.S. is being mean. The Conventions themselves specifically contemplate individual soldiers who don't follow the conventions. The Conventions specifically do not protect them.

See also den Beste's Tit for Tat for a similar issue.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:13 AM | Comments (358) | TrackBack

Cold War Lessons

Kevin Drum writes an interesting post about Cold War lessons as he (and apparently Wes Clark) think that they ought to be applied to the War on Terror. He draws the wrong conclusions, but he is dealing with the right issues:

Clark's point is a simple one: Neither Reagan nor any of the seven Cold War presidents before him ever attacked either the Soviet Union or one of its satellites directly. This wasn't because of insufficient dedication to anticommunism, but because it wouldn't have worked. In the end, they knew that democracy couldn't come at the point of a gun; it had to come from within, from the citizens of the countries themselves.

Is this right? To argue otherwise is to suggest that our Cold War strategy was also wrong. Perhaps we should have rolled our tanks across the Iron Curtain after World War II, when the Soviet Union was exhausted and weary. Or attacked China instead of accepting a truce in the Korean War. Or sent NATO troops into Hungary in 1956.

Of course not. Even if we had "won," we wouldn't have won. In the end, the patient strategy of military containment and cultural engagement was the right call, and it's the right call for the war on terror as well. Too bad George Bush doesn't seem to get this.

It is important to look at the lessons of the Cold War, but this is wrong on a number of levels.

First, we did not immediately engage the Soviet Union because we were just finishing World War II. The nation was neither willing nor able to prosecute a serious war at that point. The Soviet Union wasn't the only country that was weary. Later we had the problem of Russian nuclear weapons to contend with. We did not avoid a confrontation because, "In the end, they knew that democracy couldn't come at the point of a gun; it had to come from within, from the citizens of the countries themselves." First it is a ridiculous assertion. I offer Japan, Germany, and South Korea as only the most obvious counterexamples. All three had bumpy rides on the way to democracy, and the first two literally had it shoved down their throats by the U.S. South Korea was just strongly encouraged down that direction. The path it could have taken can be clearly seen by North Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia. We didn't avoid a direct confrontation because successful democratic systems cannot be forced on a country. We avoided it because we were not super-thrilled with the idea of nuclear annihilation.

We settled on containment because it was the least evil choice, not because it was a great idea. We settled on it because we had to choose between nuclear annihilation, containment, and the spread of the Communist empires through conquest and genocide. When those are your only three choices, you go with containment.

Since Kevin misidentifies the centrality of nuclear weapons to the problem of containment, he gets the lesson of detterence wrong: "In the end, the patient strategy of military containment and cultural engagement was the right call, and it's the right call for the war on terror as well." The key here is 'patient'. In the Cold War you could afford to be patient because the Soviet Union knew that a Soviet attack in the United States would lead to a nuclear exchange. The terrorists know no such threat is viable. Perhaps if we said that any further attacks on America would trigger a nuclear attack on Mecca and Medina we could set up a similar situation. But that would really turn the war into a war against Muslims instead of a war against Islamists, so it isn't available as an option.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:01 AM | Comments (557) | TrackBack

May 18, 2004

California Water

This Mark AR Kleiman post reminds me of one of my pet peeves--water subsidies in California.

Back when California thought it would never be able to get people to move here it arranged to have amazingly low water prices for farmers in the desert. These took the form of long term water contracts and other legal formats which have made it economically feasible to grow cotton and rice (two very water-intensive crops) in the desert. We don't have a water shortage in California, we have a water allocation problem. Farmers in California don't pay the true cost of water. Since costs must be paid, they end up being paid by all other users of water in the state.

I know these are long term contracts, but we need to take a long term strategy of phasing them out. It just doesn't make sense for an economically strong state to grow rice in the desert.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 11:10 PM | Comments (419) | TrackBack

Life intervenes

Life intervenes. I'll try to get on top of things by tomorrow.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 08:00 AM | Comments (1108) | TrackBack

May 17, 2004

They Hate Me!

I drink lots of milk (keeps the body strong you know) and let me tell you, this huge increase in milk prices is going to hurt. I haven't been able to find a local story, but the Detroit price increase vastly understates the increase in San Diego. Prices for milk here have increased about 50%. If you have kids who drink milk regularly I bet this is going to hurt quite a bit.

Isn't this the precise kind of thing that our huge milk subsidies are supposed to prevent? Sheesh, if you are going to have a bad economic policy isn't it just a bit annoying when it doesn't even work? Or I guess that is part of the definition of a bad economic policy.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:00 AM | Comments (492) | TrackBack

May 14, 2004

Government and Power

Slate has a somewhat disturbing article about what appears to be INS harassment of foreign reporters. It seems to me that invoking an age-old rule about special visas for foreign reporters is both silly and likely counterproductive to a good war against terror. It isn't that I believe journalists could not also be terrorists (their propensity for travel might provide an excellent cover.) I just don't believe they deserve more attention than your average work traveller (unless there is intelligence showing Al Qaeda penetrating the U.S. under journalist guise).

Dahlia Lithwick comes to an interesting insight:

Not every agent who works at the INS is a power-mad maniac. In fact, I'd wager that most are good people doing good jobs. But as recent events in Iraq have shown, if you are a born bully and the state gives you virtually limitless discretion to bully, you will likely rise to the challenge.

Well, yes. And yet we should want the government to be deeply involved in making medical decisions via nationalized health care, right? (And I mean of course medical decisions other than abortions. The government obviously can't say anything one way or another about that kind of medical decision.)

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 03:47 AM | Comments (549) | TrackBack

Friday Music Blather

I regret to inform that there is no Friday Music Blather this week because my [email protected]@!#% stereo AND Walkman are both broken. This will not stand the weekend! So perhaps there will be something to talk about Saturday. However I was looking at my music collection, and I really wish I could listen to the haunting beat of "Dead Can Dance".

Now there is a group I really wish had not broken up. I think they only had one radio hit, "The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove" (and maybe that was only in San Francisco. I miss Live 105). But wow it was a good one.

Does anyone know if the Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry solo projects were any good?

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:52 AM | Comments (599) | TrackBack

May 13, 2004

Lyndie England

Yesterday I saw an interview with Lyndie England. It was frightening to see her talk about what she did. She seems completely flat about the whole thing. She doesn't exhibit any of her trademark grins, but she shows much of the same moral foolishness that let her get involved in such acts. Even now I don't think that she believes what she did was wrong. She says that she was ordered to do what she did (and for all I know it may be true). But even so, she doesn't exhibit any of the remorse you would expect from someone who was forced to do something that they thought was wrong. Lt. Smash has a bit more on the inappropriate nature of the 'ordered to do it' defense.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 11:40 PM | Comments (606) | TrackBack

UN Gridlock Bad for North Korean Refugees

I wish I could say that I was shocked, but it isn't shocking just sad.

After enduring Kim and facing horrors trying to escape from North Korea, refugees escape only to find that UN policies are in line with China. Those who help the refugees go to jail. Those who escape get sent back. On paper, of course, the UN is tough or well at least mildly attentive to the concerns of refugees. But like most UN paper, it isn't backed by any real currency.

I anticipate that some will say that the US isn't doing enough. France is perfectly capable of getting the UN to oppose the US when its oil contracts are at stake. Perhaps it might care to oppose China on North Korean refugees?

I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you chuckle.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:27 AM | Comments (578) | TrackBack

Spanish Retreat from the War on Terrorism

I was willing to give the Spanish a little bit of wiggle room on Zapatero's implementation of the Spanish withdrawal from Iraq. I really tried, here and here.

First I thought Zapatero was just fulfilling a campaign promise to withdraw troops from Iraq if there wasn't a UN force there. I thought that he had a very poor sense of diplomatic timing with respect to the war on terrorism when he decided to make all of his early major speechs about the issue only days after Al Qaeda successfully bombed the Madrid train stations. Al Qaeda explicitly got the foreign policy change they wanted, and that victory could have been muted a bit by changing the policy quietly. Zapatero didn't do that, but I thought it might have been mere bad diplomatic judgment rather than real appeasement or a withdrawal from the war on terror.

Later he decided to withdraw his troops even earlier than expected, which seemed strange in light of the US-UN negotiations regarding troops. But he promised to double his forces in Afghanistan, so arguably (though I didn't really believe it since the Spanish commitment to Afghanistan was miniscule anyway) he wasn't retreating from the War on Terrorism.

But now it is becoming apparent that Zapatero really just wants to pretend that he can disengage from the War on Terrorism completely:

On Afghanistan, Moratinos said Spain supported the peacekeeping mission there because - unlike that of Iraq - it had a U.N. mandate, was under the command of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and had the legitimate mission of fighting terrorism.

"Bin Laden is not in Iraq. Bin Laden is in Pakistan or Afghanistan," Moratinos told the Telecinco television network.

But the government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is only exploring options for possibly increasing its 120-man contingent in Afghanistan. "For now no decision has been made," Moratinos said.

This is clearly an attempt to back away from adding even a paltry 120 additional men in Afghanistan. For those who employ their political skepticism only to attack Bush, when your defense minister says that you will be doubling the troops and two weeks later you specifically address that with a 'no decisions have been made', you are clearly signalling that unless there is a huge public outcry you aren't standing by the previously announced policy.

As I said before, the damage of the Al Qaeda propaganda victory caused by being able to plausibly claim that they changed the outcome of a Western election and got the foreign policy they desired could only be contained by a strong Spanish front somewhere other than Iraq. It is becoming clearer that Spain will not be doing that. They are retreating from the War on Terror.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:08 AM | Comments (455) | TrackBack

May 11, 2004

Wouldn't It Be Nice

When talking to my liberal friends in both Europe and America there is often quite a bit of focus on what I call the 'niceness' of American foreign policy. It isn't a particular argument per se. It is more of a focus which creeps in to all of the discussions. Perhaps a better way to explain it is as a concern which is raised rather than a focused argument. With respect to both Iraq in specific and the War on Terrorism in general, it comes up in at least the follwing ways. And once again I'm not sure it is an explicit argument, more like the background of an argument so bear with me while I try to tease it out. (So calling this straw man argumentation doesn't advance anything. If you don't think the 'niceness' background exists just say so. But I bet many of you recognize it.)

Niceness usually comes up in the context of foreign policy discussions with Europe (or the UN), how we relate to the Middle East, and negotiations with North Korea.

With respect to Europe it comes with the suggestion that we could get so much more done with respect to the War on Terrorism if Bush were not so blunt/rude to European leaders.

With respect to the Middle East there is often the mention that the U.S. has oil interests or that during the Cold War we support Saddam against Iran.

With respect to North Korea there is the suggestion that the situation is really bad, but Bush 'makes things worse' by antagonizing Kim.

But when you try to focus on what niceness could get the US, the answer is very little.

Europe is already doing what it was going to do in the War on Terrorism. It is willing to police its own borders and do very little more. Afghanistan is highly instructive. Intervention in and rebuilding of Afghanistan is always cited by Europeans who don't want to seem too dovish. It comes in the formulation of "Afghanistan, of course, but Iraq is too far..." But the European contributions to Afghanistan are pathetic. Their non-military aid is tiny and their military aid is laughable. We are talking of a military commitment in the mere thousands (peaking at under 20,000 if you count every non-combat person and all those useless people on the French aircraft carrier, but for the most part in the 3-4,000 range) and an economic commitment which is only slightly more interesting. Being diplomatically 'nice' to Europe isn't going to help the War on Terrorism much until more of Europe decides that policing is imperfect and unworkable.

With respect to North Korea, niceness and meanness are both equally ineffective so long as China is willing to support the regime. Just ask Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II. From a historical perspective niceness and the Agreed Framework got us to to the point where we have to negotiate with Kim as a nuclear weapons holder, but frankly it is possible that meanness would have gotten us here too. But niceness is pretty much irrelevant in the context of North Korea.

But in the Middle East, the niceness concept is actively bad. I'm reminded of this Matthew Yglesias post. He speaks of the need to take the reality of Arab culture (the fact that it is religious, nationalistic, traditional, jealous of their honor and dignity) into account when dealing with foreign policy. He wrote this in the context of a discussion of the fact that Arabs torture, but like a lot of bad things they do (say Syrian murder of 20,000 Palestians) they can still freak out when people they see as outsiders do similar things on a much lesser scale. (See Israeli 'massacre' of about 20 people in Jenin.)

But if niceness won't get the US much from Europe, it can be actively bad in the Middle East. Middle Eastern cultures are different from ours. Quite a bit of what we would consider good dealings are signs of weakness which invite abuse. We absolutely have to take that in to consideration. Two of the most radicalizing moments vis-a-vis the US were Carter's non-response to the hostages in Iran, and Bush I's failure to complete the war against Saddam. Both instances are interpreted by the West as willingness to be magnanimous. Expelling Saddam from Kuwait was seen in the West as the perfect example of 'proportionate force'. We did just enough to turn him back from Kuwait, but we eschewed resentment or revenge by not going in to destroy Saddam's regime.

That is not how it is interpreted in the Middle East. In the Middle East it was obvious that we were unwilling to commit soldiers to the task of really ridding ourselves of an enemy.

This is not a post which is meant to be a promotion of 'mean' or 'brutal' foreign policy. And pre-emtively I would like to say that this is definitely not supporting the use of torture. What I am saying is that reputational niceness doesn't necessarily get you anything in foreign policy. The era of 'good-will' in foreign policy under Clinton still got us Osama bin Laden planning to try to kill 30,000 Americans. And I suspect that niceness is not a particularly strong factor in actual foreign policy outcomes--especially in the Middle East.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 08:31 AM | Comments (524) | TrackBack

May 10, 2004


I'm surprised that anyone took Michael Moore's publicity stunt seriously. He's gone all around Europe acting in his 'play' while telling everyone that his best-selling book "Stupid White Men" had been subject to censorship in the U.S. Yup, that one you saw on the front display of every Barnes & Noble or Borders. Just tell them what they want to hear, even if it isn't the truth. He is from a long line of Hollywood people who think they have dangerous and unique opinios--just like everyone in their circle.

He wanted attention, so he cried 'censorship'. Very little sells better in liberal circles than faux censorship.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:45 AM | Comments (544) | TrackBack

May 08, 2004

I Hope It Isn't True

I have recently been hearing rumors about child rape in Abu Ghraib. I'm not linking because they are still in the rumor stage, and I really hope they aren't true.

But if they are, there is a little feature about the barbaric US military system that I think should get world-wide attention:

Executions. We can still do them. And if there was child rape by a US soldier, we should. And that goes for someone who taped it and didn't say anything too.

I'm not kidding.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 11:00 AM | Comments (553) | TrackBack

Music Blather Saturday (whoops)

Not much on the music blather front this week. I have been listening to the group "Live" (and googling them for song lyrics can be really annoying if you don't remember the title). Mostly their "Throwing Copper" album with just a little bit of "Secret Samadhi". And just because I'm an idiot with a computer, I can say things like "Secret Samadhi" may be one of their best albums and you can't throw things at me.

At work I've been listening to the Gary Jules album "Trading Snakeoil for Wolftickets" I'm not so proud that I have to hide the fact that I only discovered him because of the excellent remake of the Tears for Fears song "Mad World". One image really struck me from his album. It is the kind of phrase that many songwriters wish for but never get--so evocative and full of emotion:

"There's no poetry between us"
Said the Paper to the Pen
"And I get nothing for my trouble
But the ink beneath my skin"

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 10:54 AM | Comments (429) | TrackBack

May 07, 2004

Palestinian Rampage Kills Americans in Kosovo

This is interesting.

A Palestinian member of the UN police force in Kosovo went on on rampage and attacked some US citizens who were also part of the police force. He is being investigated for having ties with Hamas. (I don't know if that means they have specific reasons for suspecting he had ties with Hamas, or they are just investigating a fairly obvious possibility.)

This kind of problem is part of the reason why the US is skeptical of having Arab soldiers serving in Iraq. Not only are most of them poorly trained, but there is some suspicion that many sent from the Middle East might not really be on our side.

If this ever gets wide publicity it will be interesting to see if he is correctly identified as a terrorist. Surely he isn't a freedom fighter in Kosovo?

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:29 AM | Comments (304) | TrackBack

Bin Laden Offers Bounty

In a tape from bin Laden (or whomever is claiming to be him on tapes) we learn that he is offering a bounty for various people in Iraq.

He is offering 10,000g of gold to anyone who kills Bremer. 1,000g to anyone who kills a Briton or American in Iraq. 500g to anyone who kills a Japanese or Italian citizen in Iraq.

He says: "There is no sovereignty for Iraq as long as a crusader solider remains in its land, and no sovereignty for Iraq as long as it is not ruled by Islam."

Notice this isn't just a statement that the US must get out of Iraq. He is saying that the war continues until Iraq is an Islamic country. Putting it under UN protection isn't going to be good enough from him.

Please note that Osama bin Laden (or his mouthpiece for Al Qaeda) is strongly suggesting that Iraq is a serious part of what we call the War on Terrorism.

The one encouraging thing is that he seems to think that he needs large bribes to get people to attack in Iraq. As the article states: "Bin Laden has never before been known to offer rewards for missions he had described as followers’ religious duty to carry out."

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:17 AM | Comments (333) | TrackBack

American Possibly Involved in Spanish Bombing

I highlight this article about US lawyer Brandon Mayfield's possible involvement in the Spanish bombings despite its preliminary nature for a few reasons. First, it doesn't seem to be getting much notice (at least as of this writing). Second, if he was involved, it highlights the international and ideological nature of the threat.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:06 AM | Comments (445) | TrackBack

May 06, 2004

UN Definitely Stonewalling

I don't mean to be a one trick pony, but this report confirms a huge portion of my fears about how ridiculous and corrupt the UN is.

Despite the fact that the UN institutionally and Annan personally have committed to an investigation of the Food-for-Oil scam, there have already been two letters sent out to two of companies which should have the most comprehensive records which insist that these companies not release their records.

There is no reason that these UN records could not be made immediately available to everyone in the world. There are no national security concerns. No terrorist is going to figure out how to build a better bomb using these records. Those who received money should be happy to admit that they were participating in a praise-worthy effort to help feed the poor people of Iraq. Anyone with legitmate business dealings regarding the program should be thrilled to have that fact in the public domain. There is no policy concern that you won't be able to get good advice (the normal excuse for confidentiality). There is no reason at all to hide these records.

Well, no legitimate reason.

At least if you don't like Bush's policies you can vote against him.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:52 AM | Comments (409) | TrackBack

May 05, 2004

UN Decides to Stonewall on UNSCAM

What a surprise. The UN doesn't want people to look at accounting documents regarding the Iraq Oil-For-(ahem)Food Program. CITE.

The United Nations yesterday threw up a stone wall in the oil-for-food scandal, insisting that contracts between the world body and private companies should not be turned over to investigators.
In a defiant move that has infuriated probers, Secretary-General Kofi Annan threw his support behind a letter from former oil-for-food head Benon Sevan to officials of a Dutch company that inspected Iraqi oil shipments. The letter directed the company not to hand over documents to congressional committees and other "governmental authorities."

Sevan's shocking April 14 letter sternly reminded the company, Saybolt International, that details of its contract with the United Nations are confidential "and we would not agree to their release."

The letter was especially eye-opening because it came from Sevan, who is under investigation for accepting sweetheart oil contracts from Saddam Hussein and who supposedly was on vacation, pending retirement, when it was written.

I can't imagine why they would want to hide the records for one of the biggest bribery scandals in the history of the world. It must be so that evil right-wing conservatives can't unfairly use the easy to misunderstand documents to harm the pristine reputation of the world's most upstanding international body.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:30 AM | Comments (540) | TrackBack

Mullah Lifting

Via the ever fascinating Bjørn Stærk I find a report of the latest way to expose a fundamentalist mullah who is posing as a moderate. You simply have him lifted into the air by a woman and watch the screaming begin:

The Mullah is angry. Krekar, battle-Mullah from Kurdistan, Islamist fanatic and honorary grandfather of the Norwegian left, has reported female comedian Shabana Rehman to the police for .. tam-ta-dam .. lifting him up in the air during a debate. That's right, she went up on the stage, asked him if he could help her carry out a test, grabbed hold of him and held him in the air for a few seconds. Quite impressive, considering Krekar's size. This is what Rehman calls a fundamentalist test, on the basis that no man who is carried by a woman can truly be a fundamentalist. Krekar failed the test spectacularly. He got angry, demanded all the journalists in the audience to delete the photos, claimed that his honor had been violated - and has now reported Rehman to the police.

Yet another way that feminists can get under the skin of Islamic fundamentalists. That and brazenly showing their ankles in public.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:08 AM | Comments (518) | TrackBack

Excuse Me ?!?

Now I know that you can't read the inflection in my voice when I say: "Excuse Me ?!?" So I'll describe it for you. It is that inflection which suggests disbelief that you have been put in a particular situation, or shock that some person says something that you didn't expect from them.

I say it after reading this Washington Post article. Allow me to quote the surprising part:

It was Saddam Hussein's information minister, Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf, often referred to in the Western press as "Baghdad Bob," who approached an official of the African nation of Niger in 1999 to discuss trade -- an overture the official saw as a possible effort to buy uranium.

That's according to a new book Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former ambassador who was sent to Niger by the CIA in 2002 to investigate reports that Iraq had been trying to buy enriched "yellowcake" uranium. Wilson wrote that he did not learn the identity of the Iraqi official until this January, when he talked again with his Niger source.

According to Wilson Iraq tried to acquire uranium? This is according to 'Bush is [email protected]#$%#@ liar for suggesting that Saddam was trying to acquire uranium from African nations' Wilson?

Excuse me ?!?

Where do I go to get the days I spent arguing about this point back?

And what is this "did not learn the identity of the Iraqi official until this January" crap? If he knew that some Iraqi official was seeking uranium from Niger this belies all of Wilson's denials that any such thing happened even if Wilson did not know the precise identity of the offical until now. And if he merely knew that SOMEONE was seeking to obtain uranium, didn't he think it was important to find out if maybe that person was an Iraqi official? What the hell was Wilson doing in Niger? Sipping mint tea with government officials and getting official denials?

Porphyrogenitus brought this to my attention. He is joining the Army, so he won't be blogging much in the near future. But he is well worth the read till then.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:01 AM | Comments (410) | TrackBack

May 04, 2004

Abu Ghraib: Moral Disaster

Before I comment on Abu Ghaib I want to provide my sources in case anyone is interested in looking into it further:

Amnesty International

Slate's roundup of the story.

Seymour Hersh's New Yorker article.

Phil Carter.

You may also be interested in Sgt Stryker's response. Or you may also be interested in what Lt. Smash has to say.

Abu Ghraib represents a number of disturbing things, all of which must be dealt with.

First, it is either a horrible breakdown of military discipline or a truly foolish tactic employed by some fool(s) in the military. I strongly suspect it is the former, because if you read the articles above you will see that the investigations of and the beginnings of court martials for these abuses were already underway before the news broke. I will not offer any excuses for these soldiers. The stress they are under in Iraq does not excuse them. Anger at seeing their friends killed in Iraq does not excuse them. The fact that such torture and worse is common in Arab countries does not excuse them. This kind of treatment is not what Americans are supposed to be doing. It is morally wrong and the military needs to crack down hard on those who think that it is ok.

I think it is very important for those on the right to strongly criticize any attempt to whitewash this or downplay its significance. These actions are illegal, immoral and very counterproductive in the War on Terror. If we are going to ask people to commit to a decades-long fight, we need to be very clear that this kind of thing is not helpful to the fight.

Which brings me to my second point. Just as I have argued that Zapatero's public diplomatic statements are damaging the war on terror by giving the terrorists a propaganda victory which allows them to credibly claim to have gotten a Western government to change its foreign policy to fall in line with what the terrorists desire, so to these Abu Ghaib war crimes severely damage our efforts in the War on Terrorism. They do so in multiple ways.

First, it allows them to say that our humanitarian rhetoric is merely a game. Just because I do not believe that our humanitarian rhetoric is actually a game does not mean that Abu Ghaib cannot easily be used by them to give more force to such an argument. This is awful because it is very important to our long-term prospects in the Middle East that the humanitarian benefits of living in a free society be apparent to citizens of Mid-East countries. One of those benefits is living in a society where getting arrested is not roughly equivalent to being exposed to torture. I'm not naive, I realize that some level of mistreatment of prisoners goes on even in all Western countries. But part of having civil society is trying to minimize the number and severity of those abuses, and punishing those who commit them. We must make it clear that such abuses are not US policy, and that they will not be tolerated.

Second, it is quite obvious that many in Arab countries are willing to allow for huge abuses by their own that they will not tolerate from foreigners. To be frank, far worse occurs every day in Egyptian or Saudi or Iranian prisons with hardly a peep from the Arab street. But that is all 'inside the family' so to speak. Arab cultures are already hyper-sensitive to the idea of outsiders meddling with their ways. That is why our existence is such a threat to people like Osama bin Laden--Janet Jackson's costume reveal wasn't aimed at the Islamic market, but the culture that can argue it might not be so bad is a threat to his sense of morality. Even though it isn't aimed at him, it is still is seen by him as Western meddling/tempting of his moral culture. So much so as to require a violent response. This type of reaction is already very common. So far as we can avoid it while we are in Iraq we need to not stimulate the response. And Abu Ghaib and related acts definitely stimulate that response.

The problems caused by these Abu Ghaib crimes cannot be recalled. We must instead try to minimize their damage. That will involve punishing those who committed the crimes AND those who knew about them yet did nothing to stop them. We must be crystal clear that this type of behaviour cannot continue. It may involve destroying the prison so that the symbol of the crimes does not endure. It almost certainly will involve a very public review of those held in the prison to justify the presence of those held there. Anything less would make the disaster even worse.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 06:04 AM | Comments (593) | TrackBack

May 03, 2004

US soldiers in Iraq

I don't have enough time to say all the harsh things I need to say about the jailing abuse. It will have to wait till tomorrow. But it is both awful and unhelpful. The only good news is that it appears that those involved are going to be strictly punished.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at 12:44 AM | Comments (2983) | TrackBack