Thursday, January 31, 2008

In Honor of our Uniformed Dead, Dismembered, Disillusioned

"Soldier Suicides at Record Level," reports the Washington Post.

Given the anguish expressed by the letter in the previous post, one can imagine some reasons why.

I agree with Nolocontendre's take on it.

Fuzzy Logic?

This letter, supposedly from a Corpsman in Iraq, has been making the rounds on military blogs for a bit. Interesting read.

"...It's a safety issue, pure and simple. After assaulting through a target, we put a security round in everybody's head. Sorry al-Reuters, there's no paddy wagon rolling around Fallujah picking up 'prisoners' and offering them a hot cup o' Joe, falafel, and a blanket. There's no time to dick around on the target. You clear the space, dump the chumps, and move on.

Are Corpsmen expected to treat wounded terrorists? Negative. Hey Libs, worried about the defense budget? Well, it would be waste, fraud, and abuse for a Corpsman to expend one man-minute or a battle dressing on a terrorist. It's much cheaper to just spend the $.02 on a 5.56mm FMJ. By the way, in our view, terrorists who chop off civilian's heads are not prisoners, they are carcasses. Chopping off a civilian's head is another reason why these idiots are known as 'unlawful combatants.' It seems that most of the world's journalists have forgotten that fact.

Let me be very clear about this issue. I have looked around the web, and many people get this concept, but there are some stragglers. Here is your typical
Marine sitrep (situation report): You just took fire from unlawful combatants (no uniform - breaking every Geneva Convention rule there is) shooting from a religious building, attempting to use the sanctuary status of their position as protection. But you're in Fallujah now, and the Marine Corps has decided that they're not playing that game this time. That was Najaf.

So you set the mosque on fire and you hose down the terrorists with small arms, launch some AT-4s ( Rockets ), some 40MM grenades into the building and things quiet down. So you run over there, and find some tangos (bad guys) wounded and pretending to be dead. You are aware that suicide martyrdom is like really popular with these idiots, and they think taking some Marines with them would be really cool. So you can risk your life and your fire team's lives by having them cover you while you bend down and search a guy that you think is pretending to be dead for some reason. Most of the time these are the guys with the grenade or a vest made of explosives. Also, you don't know who or what is in the next room.

You're already speaking English to the rest of your fire team or squad, which lets the terrorist know you are there and you are his enemy. You are speaking loud because your hearing is poor from shooting people for several days. So you know that there are many other rooms to enter, and that if anyone is still alive in those rooms, they know that Americans are in the mosque. Meanwhile (3 seconds later), you still have this terrorist (that was just shooting at you from a mosque) playing possum. What do you do? You double tap his head, and you go to the next room, that's what!

What about the Geneva Convention and all that 'Law of Land Warfare' stuff? What about it? Without even addressing the issues at hand, your first thought should be, 'I'd rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6.'

Bear in mind that this tactic of double tapping a fallen terrorist is a perpetual mindset that is reinforced by experience on a minute by minute basis. Secondly, you are fighting an unlawful combatant in a Sanctuary, which is a double No-No on his part. Third, tactically you are in no position to take 'prisoners' because there are more rooms to search and clear, and the behavior of said terrorist indicates that he is up to no good. No good in Fallujah is a very large place and the low e nd of no good and the high end of no good are fundamentally the same ... Marines end up getting hurt or die. So there is no compelling reason for you to do anything but double tap this idiot and get on with the mission.

If you are a veteran, then everything I have just written is self evident. If you are not a veteran, at least try to put yourself in the situation. Remember, in Fallujah there is no yesterday, there is no tomorrow, there is only now, Right NOW. Have you ever lived in NOW for a week? It is really, really not easy. If you have never lived in NOW for longer than it takes to finish the big roller coaster at Six Flags, then shut your mouth about putting Marines in jail for 'War Crimes.'

Semper fi. From A Marine."

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Satellite Security v. Human Security

A while back I blogged about the concept of "human security." But not expansively. My students sometimes get a little confused about this term, it meaning so many different things to different people. And Roland Paris up at University of Ottawa has argued famously that the concept represents more hot air than a genuine paradigm shift in strategic thinking.

So here's a story that both illustrates the concept of human security and lends credence to Paris' argument. It seems a US spy satellite is dropping out of orbit and will likely hit ground somewhere in North America in the next few weeks. Big issue for the US military, it seems.

A human security frame, which privileges protecting individuals from threats to their security, would probably encourage consideration of the populated areas that could be affected. Instead, according to the London Register, experts at the defense thinktank Global Security is primarily concerned with the risks to "the secrets of the satellite":

"One concern the intelligence community is going to have is that parts of this satellite will fall into the hands of the Russians or Chinese or somebody else," says Global Security director John Pike.

According to Pike, the satellite carries a new generation of spy equipment, able to provide round-the-clock intelligence.

"The hopes were that this was going to be a more capable, less expensive spy satellite or radar satellite that could see objects through clouds and in the dark."
Oh yes, that would have been just fine.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Can Robots Fight Humanely?

Fascinating new report from Georgia Tech discusses the specs and moral conundrums involved in the DoD's gradual shift toward the use of AI on the battlefield.

It's not a new trend - DOD has been deploying the equivalent of Imperial droids in Iraq and Afghanistan for years - but the concept that robots might actually be better than their "emotional" human counterparts at upholding the laws of war is catching on now in the popular consciousness.

Would robots be inherently more humane, less susceptible to group-think and the kind of "passion" that supposedly led Wuterich and his gang to massacre civilians in Iraq? So argued Ronald Arkin, director of the Mobile Robot Laboratory at the Georgia Institute of Technology, at a conference this week sponsored by Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility.

Of course, as Dave Grossman has detailed in his brilliant book On Killing, it's emotions (like, empathy, honor, compassion) that account for weapons-bearers' uncanny ability to stay atrocity. Would robots instead simply be the perfect tools by which to carry out the unlawful orders of their programmers?

A great deal of faith is being placed here on the idea that the generals, civilian policymakers, and their minions in the R&D industries want the troops to behave well, and it's just the bad apples who muck things up. A lot of history suggests otherwise. Maybe we need robot robot-programmers, as well...

Monday, January 28, 2008

Don't Laugh Yet.

Sorry, but I can't help directing you to this story from the Rutland Herald:

"Brattleboro residents will vote at town meeting on whether President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney should be indicted and arrested for war crimes, perjury or obstruction of justice if they ever step foot in Vermont."
OpEd News asserts:
"This has been well thought out, is connected with well grounded legal theory, and is consistent with the duty of Americans to defend the US Constitution from domestic enemies. Congressional inaction on impeachment does not oblige We the People to remain silent or do nothing about alleged war crimes and the President’s alleged criminal conduct."
The rationale for such efforts, being undertaken not just in Vermont but in Massachusetts and Kentucky, is the 10th amendment to the US Constitution, which reads:
"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
Interesting. Also, very gutsy.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Those Self-Righteous Americans

Dan Drezner has written, in a new article based on available polling data, that Americans - the people, not the government - pay lip-service to multilateralism but don’t respect it for its own sake. One example he gives particularly caught my attention. Citing Kohut and Stokes’ book America Against the World, Drezner writes on p. 18:

“Although a majority of Americans endorse the ICC as a concept, a majority also oppose allowing US soldiers to be tried in the Hague.”
On this basis Drezner infers in the same paragraph that:
“Public attitudes toward the ICC… show that support for multilateralism – as an abstract principle – is weak.”
But why not draw the opposite conclusion from this data? The International Criminal Court is a court of last resort. It is based on the principle of complementarity, which is to say that national courts have primacy over war crimes trials of their own citizens. (For basics about the ICC click here.)

The ICC would kick in only, for those countries under its jurisdiction, in cases where the national government was unable or unwilling to prosecute its own accused war criminals. The US is certainly quite able to do so. The only issue then, is whether it is willing.

It is entirely consistent with support for multilateralism in general and the ICC in particular to argue that the US should support the court, and also never allow a US soldier to be tried in the Hague. No US soldier would ever be tried in the Hague, even if the US were a signatory to the court, as long as those soldiers accused of war crimes faced due process here at home. For which the USG is already obligated anyway under the Geneva Conventions.

Such a seemingly paradoxical set of survey answers then might be interpreted as support for multilateralism – support for the USG complying with its existing multilateral obligations to hold its own soldiers accountable. If we were willing to do this consistently, we’d have nothing to fear from joining the ICC.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Kristof on China's "Genocide Olympics"

Nicholas Kristof's latest rant in the New York Times excoriates China's continuing sale of A-5 Fantans, helicopter gunships, and light weapons to the Sudanese government - what Musa Hilal, the former janajweed leader recently appointed by Khartoum to a senior government post has gratefully called "the necessary weapons and ammunition to exterminate the African tribes in Darfur."

Kristof writes: "China is crucial. If Beijing were to suspend all transfers of arms and spare parts to Sudan until a peace deal is reached in Darfur, then that would change the dynamic.

Without his Chinese shield, Mr. Bashir would be more likely to make concessions to Darfur rebels and negotiate seriously with them, and he would no longer have political cover to resume war against South Sudan. That would make long-term peace more likely in Darfur and also in South Sudan."
Kristof hopes that the "Genocide Olympics" campaign, global civil society's response, will exert a moderating effect on Beijing sooner rather than later. But without a genuine boycott, what are the chances?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Why Not Nuke 'Em All?

I wouldn't have thunk it. I've long been a fan of Nina Tannenwald's argument that a strong taboo exists against the use of nuclear weapons, even as countries scramble to acquire them for symbolic reasons. But according to Democracy Now: "Military Chiefs Assert First-Strike Nuclear Option for NATO":

"A group of former top military commanders in NATO countries including the U.S. are calling on their governments to insist on the right to pre-emptive nuclear attack. In a new manifesto, the former army leaders—including ex- joint chiefs of staff chair General John Shalikashvili —say NATO should maintain that a “first strike” nuclear option remains an “indispensable instrument.” The group says this is in part because there is “simply no realistic prospect of a nuclear-free world.” The proposal is likely to be reviewed at a NATO summit in April.
Evidence that the Bush Doctrine is actually contagious? This would represent an grim and dangerous weaking of the nuclear non-first-use norm. Important to watch and see what happens in April. And a good opportunity for global civil society to mobilize in opposition?

Meanwhile, FP's Passport Blog reports the following complaint by President Musharraf regarding the media framing of his country's nukes:
"We are a nuclear state, and it is just unfortunate that we are seen to be unstable; that our nuclear assets can fall into wrong hands, into the hands of the terrorists... this is an Islamic bomb that Pakistan has. I really don't understand why the world calls it an Islamic bomb, and why there is no Hindu bomb, or a Jew bomb, or a Christian bomb, or a Buddhist bomb. Why is this bomb an Islamic bomb? I don't understand. And the man on the street in Pakistan does not understand this.
He makes a good point, eh? Particularly since Pakistan is only a Muslim-majority country, not an "Islamic" theocracy. The correct corrolary being not "Christian" bomb to describe the US/UK arsenals but rather "Liberal Secular Godless Bomb."


Monday, January 21, 2008

It's Realpolitik, Stupid

Warren Hoge offered a grim assessment in Sunday's New York Timesof the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine, popularized in UN circles:

"Three years after the United Nations adopted a groundbreaking resolution to help it intervene to stop genocide, even longtime supporters of the rule acknowledge that it has not helped the organization end the violence in Darfur.

The General Assembly resolution, approved in 2005, held nations responsible for shielding their citizens from mass atrocities and established the right of international forces to step in if nations did not fulfill this new "responsibility to protect."

The United Nations has tried to take the lead in Darfur, the crisis-ridden region in western Sudan. But it has been stymied by the failure of major member states to fulfill promises to support action and by the intransigence of the Sudanese government.

In addition, countries with advanced militaries have not come forward to answer United Nations appeals for the sophisticated aviation and logistics assistance that the force needs.

Darfur, in short, has shown that there is a great difference between gaining acceptance for a working theory and making the theory work."

Well, duh. No one who lobbied for the R2P thought that simply having the norm codified would lead to its non-selective implementation. New rules aren't simply magic bullets. Historically, genocides have been stopped where a powerful state with the means and motive (usually ulterior) stepped in.

But to say the R2P doctrine hasn't ended the slaughter in Darfur is to mischaracterize what was gained in 2005. R2P was never meant to end genocide itself. It was meant to legitimize such efforts when and where they happened to occur. It was meant as a response to China and Russia in Security Council deliberations, who have historically argued against any right of intervention in the internal affairs of states.

Judging by the fact that these countries now routinely abstain, rather than block, resolutions to try to 'do something' in places like Darfur, I'd say R2P is having an effect. That more isn't being done isn't for lack of international legitimacy. It is for lack of true political will.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

"Why Not Kill Them All?"

Just finished up this book – my light holiday reading. Impressed enough by its breadth and depth to blurb it here. Basically the authors have provided an overview of the history of genocide through an analytical lens focused on explaining why it happens and how it might be stopped, based on the best available evidence.

With glib, easy-to-read prose and sub-headings like “How to Get Ordinary People to Become Butchers,” Chirot and McCauley demonstrate the “normality of genocidal mass murder.” In so doing, they reverse the puzzle as it is usually expressed by social scientists. Rather than ask, how is it possible for ordinary people to do horrible things, they ask: since the socio-psychological mechanisms and socio-political conditions for mass murder are quite normal and prevalent, why are there so few such cases? What functions to contain violence?

The bulk of the book then provides an interesting analysis of some strategies societies have used to limit warfare, including exogamy and cultural rules limiting the slaughter of noncombatants. It then explores contemporary strategies for genocide prevention, concluding rather unsurprisingly that strong ties at the level of civil society are the best bulwark against the kind of in-group/out-group think that can lead to spirals of violence.

There are points of weakness in the argument. It is occasionally circular, and the authors move back and forth from a rather optimistic view of human nature to concluding that “There is no sign that occasions of inter-group violence are decreasing.” (Untrue, actually: the Liu Institute’s 2005 Human Security Report found a general decline in genocidal episodes since the end of the Cold War.) The authors also don’t themselves conduct original research for the project.

But the book brilliantly ties together the available literature on mass killing and presents it in a highly readable and matter-of-fact way that I found quite refreshing.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Is we made America safer?

“Today, we are safer, but we are not yet safe.”

That was the quote from President Bush on the 5th anniversary of the Sept 11th attacks, in which 2973 Americans died… 11 days later, the death toll for American soldiers killed in combat due to the undeclared war on an idea that has existed for over 2 millenia crept over that mark.

Yet, even discounting the deaths of those centurions on the far edge of the Empire, how factual was the President’s statement?

America is not a safe place, but the real threats are far more insidious than any martyr-bound jihadist, and could have been largely eradicated over the course of the last five years for a fraction of the cost of the debacle in the Middle East.

If David Letterman had done a ‘top ten threats to American safety’ list in 2001, it would have read like this:

1. Heart Disease - 700,142
2. Cancer - 553,768
3. Stroke - 163,538
4. Respiratory Disease - 123,013
5. Accidents - 101,537
6. Diabetes - 71,372
7. Influenza and pneumonia - 62,034
8. Alzheimer's disease - 53,852
9. Nephritis, nephrosis - 39,480
10. Septicemia - 32,238

That’s right, terrorists weren’t a measurable threat to US safety in 2001. Didn’t make the top ten… didn’t make the top 15… In fact, you were more likely to drown while engaging in watersports than to become a victim of a terrorist attack.

If the Bush Administration had really sought to make America a safer place, here’s what they could have spent their 486 billion dollars on, and which civil liberties might have been better sacrificed to make America safe.

Money: The National Institute of Health has spent about 2 billion dollars on all medical research over the past 7 years; less than 0.4% what we’ve spent in Iraq. And while no American has died as a result of an Iraqi attack in the US during that period, about 7.2 million Americans have died just from heart disease, cancer, and stroke. How many of those deaths could have been prevented if we had even merely doubled our spending on research and education? The fact is that we could have increased our research spending by 10 times, spent an additional 8 billion dollars on accident prevention, and still had enough money to give a $1000.00 grant to every man, woman, and child in the United States – all 300 million of them.

Civil Liberties: We’ve done away with the right to a fair trial, habeas corpus, and privacy, none of which can be empirically linked to a decrease in American mortality. If government was really going to interfere for the benefit of the people, all it had to do was ban the sale and use of tobacco products (a causal factor in 435,000 deaths annually), ban the private ownership of firearms (28,000 fewer deaths per year) and require all obese people to undergo a strictly regimented routine of diet and exercise, administered by the National Guard. That would save an additional 494,921 lives each year, according to a study in 2000.

Safer today than on 12 Sept, 2001?

It’s safe to say you’re not, but it didn’t have to be that way.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Now There's an Idea.

The Federal Times reports:

"The Defense Department wants contractors to train employees and subcontractors on the laws of war before they deploy with troops abroad.

Training programs would cover international treaties, combat orders, U.S. law, military law, host nation law and third-country laws. Contractors are already required to abide by these laws regardless of whether their employees have been briefed about them.

The training will help prevent violations of the laws when contractors and subcontractors are supporting troops on the battlefield, said Shay Assad, DoD’s director of procurement policy.

DoD will accept comments on the proposed regulation until March 10."
Not clear, of course, whether training contractors in the laws of war will help much since the laws of war don’t actually cover weapons-bearers who are not members of the armed forces of a party to the conflict. Training them in how toothless and weak the rules are is likely only to provide them with an increased sense of impunity. The real question is who will prosecute them if they violate the law. As long as they face no greater penalty than termination for, say, raping civilian girls, it’s hard to see how things will change.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Grasping the Mandate...

Gentle readers, forgive my prolonged absence from this journal; my travels in the East have preoccupied my attentions, but since I could never forgive myself if the pale flowers of your blossoming intellects were to wither, deprived of the light of my insightful commentary, I must once again lay electronic pen to virtual paper and illuminate your worldview with the following observations.

Wake up, Americans, and other denizens of the Western world. A new Empire arises in the East.

It is a testament to human frailty that most people live and think (and I use the expression in the loosest possible sense) in the present; worse yet, government in general and the military in particular are often guilty of thinking in the past.

Thus it is that we are much focused on Iraq and Afghanistan, one the breadbasket of the Middle East, the other a desolate realm of savage tribesmen and opium poppies.

These environs are only notable in that the world's sole superpower has entangled itself in a pair of guerrilla wars, pouring 450 billion dollars into Iraq alone, to accomplish what? Of small note is that world hunger could be eradicated at a cost of 13 billion dollars, eliminating much of the impetus for hungry, desperate men to take up arms, but I digress.

Was the irony of my previous paragraph lost on you, good Sir or Madam? World's sole superpower? Not anymore. The Bear grumbles in the North, but it is the Dragon who rises in the new millenium.

Consider the dynastic cycle, which for 6 millenia has formed the basis for Chinese political thought.

1. A corrupt regime plunges the nation into famine and instability.
2. The rulers lose the "Mandate of Heaven." Civil war ensues.
3. A new ruler comes to power over the bodies of his enemies.
4. Draconian rules quell the anarchy inherent in civil wars.
5. The population pulls together under their new yoke.
6. The rule of law prevails, fortunes rise, and restrictions are eased.
7. The "Mandate of Heaven" is restored. China enters a "Golden Age"
8. Generations of prosperity lead to indolence and corruption in the Empire.
9. The cycle repeats itself.

Since 1950, we have seen the first 5 phases of the dynastic cycle. Now, the Chinese leaders are prepared to grasp the "Mandate of Heaven" and usher in a Golden Age...

Previous dynasties, looking out upon the world, found it peopled with hairy savages whose wretched industries were a source of merriment in the court - "these people (speaking of the English) wish to trade with us, but what do they have that we want?" said one official of the early attempts by Westerners to exchange merchandise.

And so the Middle Kingdom closed its borders and turned its focus inward. That mistake will not be repeated this time. China will grow in this century, and will become a maritime power to reckon with.

For over a century, American warships have been tasked with two major assignments; keeping the sea lanes open to American merchant ships, and "power projection" - in short, showing the force of the Fleet, not in war games, but simply in port calls at distant places. Like Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and the Philippines. A quiet reminder to the Dragon and Tigers that like it or not, the Eagle can float an armada right up to your doorstep, 4.5 acres of sovereign American territory, packing more firepower than most of the worlds smaller countries.

Within a decade, we will be obliged to deal with the reality that a Chinese carrier task force may be making a port call in a distant harbor, such as Honolulu, or San Francisco. Or, that we may not be able to pull our carrier strike group into Singapore on the day we would like to, because the Chinese have already booked the piers and wharves for that day.

We may also learn to our dismay that in fact, we can't ever pull into Singapore, because a Chinese conglomerate has bought the port facilities for a few billion dollars, while we were busy frittering away our men and treasure on a fool's errand in the sand.

The world is changing, my friends, and we are not changing with it; instead, we are busy fighting yesterday's war today, with little thought to where we'll be tomorrow.

Cest'la guerre.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Guantanamo Detention Facility Marks Sixth Anniversary

Amnesty International has organized a global day of rallies in protest of the internment of over 800 so-called "enemy combatants" at the Detention Facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

What may be more significant than the calls to close the facility (because of course some of the detainees will have to go somewhere else) is the case under review at the Supreme Court over whether they have the right to challenge their detention in court.

I will have more to say about this issue in due course, but for now I'll post the follow short clip:

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

"War is Hard Enough Without Worrying About Being Held Accountable When You Slaughter Civilians"

So USMC Staff Sargeant Frank Wuterich had his charges reduced from murder to voluntary manslaughter this week, after leading three other US Marines in the massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians at Haditha, Iraq in 2005.

He doesn’t even deny it. But the military court that has investigated the killings has determined that they don’t amount to murder, because they were carried out “in the heat of passion.”

Well, given that this was not a premeditated massacre but a situation in which a small group of Marines followed their leader on a rampage after their comrade was killed by an IED, there may be something to be said for this verdict.

However, I would have liked to see Wuterich get the murder charge anyway, because he is completely remorseless about the incident. In an interview on 60 Minutes last year, Wuterich told the world he’d done nothing wrong – in other words, he actually believes with hindsight that the rules of engagement in a counterinsurgency operation include barging into civilian homes with guns blazing and shooting until all inside are dead. If only because he has had the gall to behave publicly as if this is / should be standard operating procedure for the US military, the military should have made a prime example of him.

Retired Major General Walter Hoffman, Former Army Judge Advocate General, disagrees with me. He discussed the decision on the McNeil News Hour, and put it in these words:

“War is difficult enough without having to look over your shoulder to see if someone is going to file charges against you for making an error, when people around you are dying, and bullets are flying in the air, and explosions are going off.”

No sir. War is difficult enough without wondering whether anyone is looking over your commander’s shoulder, expecting you to expect him to expect you to behave like a warrior, instead of behaving like a berserker.

He's a Nut, But He's Our Nut

Dan Drezner’s blog shmarmily reproduced an excerpt from an op-ed by The New Republic's Jamie Kirchik today. Kirchik blasts Ron Paul over “obsession with conspiracies, sympathy for the right-wing militia movement, and deeply held bigotry against blacks, Jews, and gays,” continuing:

“In short... Ron Paul is not the plain-speaking antiwar activist his supporters believe they are backing--but rather a member in good standing of some of the oldest and ugliest traditions in American politics.”
But Kirchik’s piece and Drezner’s approving post, in which he calls her analysis “devastating,” assumes that Ron Paul "supporters" are supporting him as a candidate. The ones I know personally certainly aren't so naive. They know his record well, but also know that they have nothing to fear since he’ll never be nominated. They funnel him money and lip service in the hope he stays in the race long enough to keep boring old issues like the constitution, civil liberties, our international reputation, and the real meaning of patriotism on the Republican agenda.

Since John McCain, the only other Republican candidate with a similar regard for the Geneva Conventions, mopped the floor with the other candidates in the NH primary tonight suggests that the strategy is working. Paul may be a nut, but he’s a nut who makes a lot of sense on issues that many, many people care about, and in so doing he makes McCain look credible.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Spirit of Competition...

Can new international financial institutions save struggling Third World economies?

Zambia, Guyana, Iraq... What do these countries have in common? All of them have had massive debts forgiven by China... Bolivia, Venezuela, and Brazil? No forgiveness for this lot, but they're members of the new "Bank of the South" - an alternate source of financial liquidity to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

The former situation represents the manipulation of more pawns in China's bid for global influence; the second represents the choice of some resource-rich nations to break free from the cycle of just this sort of influence-peddling.

Accept money from the international community? Accept their norms... Accept writeoffs from superpowers? Oh, there's no free lunch.

This insightful op-ed from the Nepali Times (which should rank right up there along with the Daily Show, The Onion, and of course your faithful correspondents occasional missives in terms of quality information provided the average reader) explains in more detail how some countries are seeking to break free of the monopolistic system of international finance.

Neither a borrower nor a lender be, says the proverb, but if you must be one or the other, better a lender - and some say, why not be both?

This can only benefit the world as a whole - because when there is more than one source for a product - even if that product is money - the price tends to fall.

Bravo, my southron friends! The (third) world is banking on your success!

The Power of Just War Theory

International relations scholars of the realist ilk (as well as certain collaborators of mine on this blog) often express skepticism of the power of basic just war principles over the actions of weapons-bearers facing battle or governments facing grave security threats.

Evidence of this position is often given in the language of body counts. A litany of atrocities is listed, seemingly underscoring Sherman's famous dictum that "war is hell."

To that I would respond with Fredrick Kratochwil and John Ruggie's point that ethical norms "are counterfactually valid." You know they exist not because they are always followed, but because they are invoked even when they're broken.

As evidence of my position, consider this blog post reprinted on Armchair Generalist's website. It is the "in case of death" letter of a military blogger just killed in action in Iraq, the first US casualty of the New Year:

"I suppose I should speak to the circumstances of my death. It would be nice to believe that I died leading men in battle, preferably saving their lives at the cost of my own. More likely I was caught by a marksman or an IED. But if there is an afterlife, I'm telling anyone who asks that I went down surrounded by hundreds of insurgents defending a village composed solely of innocent women and children. It'll be our little secret, ok?"

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Leon Klinghoffer Was Not Killed By "Islamo-Fascists"

So the Republican candidates degenerated into an undignified squabble tonight during the NH debate, in which they argued over whether al-Qaeda’s strategy is a reaction to American foreign policy or a logical consequence of Islamic jihadist ideology. (It couldn’t possibly be both.)

Participants drew on some rather strange supporting examples, including Giuliani who threw out Leon Klinghoffer’s name in a long list of Americans who supposedly fell victim to Islamic jihadism since the 60s. His reference of course is to the 69-year-old Jewish disabled tourist singled out for execution by Palestinian terrorists who hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985.

It would be unfortunate if voters accepted Giuliani's interpretation of events, since this example not only doesn’t work for his argument (since the crucial aspects of US foreign policy to which al-Qaeda is said to be a reaction predate the 80s anyway) but contains a serious factual distortion. The Palestinian militants who hijacked the Achille Lauro were nationalists, not jihadists.

Nationalist terrorists use methods such as hostage-taking and suicide attacks against a regime from whom they are seeking independence, or against third parties whose attention they are hoping to attract to their cause. There are many such movements, including the Irish Republican Army, the ETA in Spain, and the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka; many of the world's nationalist terrorist groups happen to be or to have been Muslim-majority, such as the former KLA in Kosovo, the Chechen rebels in Russia in the early 1990s, and the former Palestinian Liberation Organiazation. Such groups have specific territorial and political ambitions and use terrorism strategically to achieve these aims; many have no intention of creating an Islamic state upon victory. They differ markedly from salafi jihadists who are as interested in sowing global disorder to bring about an Islamic caliphate according to some millennial ideal - or, perhaps, simply to get into paradise.

This is a pretty important distinction for a commander in chief to understand, particularly if he’s preparing to set forth a political agenda that includes “keeping the US on the offensive in the war against Islamofascim” as your defining “principle.” (This was in response to a video question by President Bush.) Giuliani, for one, doesn’t know the difference between a jihadist and a nationalist willing to use terrorist methods who also just happens to be Muslim.

Then again, none of the other candidates called him on it, so…

Thursday, January 3, 2008

See What I Mean?

Recently I blogged about the domestic impact of the emerging international anti-death-penalty norm, even in countries who are unlikely to ever sign a new treaty abolishing capital punishment.

Today, al-Jazeera reports that China is Moving Toward Humane Executions:

"China has announced plans to step up use of lethal injection instead of shooting as the means of carrying out executions, a senior law enforcement official has said.

Jiang Xingchang, vice president of the Supreme People's Court, was quoted by the China Daily on Thursday as saying death by lethal injection was 'considered more humane.'"

Navy Attorney Resigns to Protest US Torture Policies

From "Democracy Now":

"A Naval lieutenant commander and member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps has resigned his post to protest the government’s use of torture in interrogations. Andrew Williams was a legal officer and defense counsel in the U.S. Navy, where he both prosecuted and defended people in military courts. In a letter to the editor published in his local newspaper in Washington State, Williams likened the use of waterboarding by the United States to practices used by the Spanish Inquisition, Nazi Germany and the Khmer Rouge. Williams wrote “we were [once] far different from the Soviet Union and its gulags, the Vietcong with their torture camps and a society of surveillance and informers like Nazi Germany. We were part of the shining light on the hill who didn’t do those things. Sadly, no more.”

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Kenya is Not Rwanda

I have read a number of op-eds this morning comparing the mounting post-election violence in Kenya to the Rwandan genocide or referring to the violence as "tribal." I think this is a mistake for a number of reasons.

First, it's not conceptually accurate. Second, exaggerating the facts at a moment of crisis can inflame political violence, whereas what is needed is efforts to mute it.

Kenya is not Rwanda - not yet, anyway. Like other genocides, the Rwandan genocide was deliberately planned and orchestrated by the opposition elite that had captured the state apparatus. Second, the Rwandan Hutu Power movement sought to deliberately wipe out an entire ethnic group as such, rather than to terrorize them for specific political reasons. Third, this event occurred in the wake of a long civil war and aborted peace process, not in a country characterized by relative stability, prosperity and a recent election.

At least two patterns of violence are occurring in Kenya (this is at a glance - if there is one thing the study of violence tells us is that it's always more complicated than two sides). First there are deaths as a result of police shooting into crowds rallying for a re-count. These seem to be simply the tactics of a regime on its last legs attempting to frighten the political opposition. We see this often where political authority is threatened - Tienamen, Abidjan, etc. This is not genocide against a racial, religious or ethnic group but rather run of the mill political violence (no less atrocious for that however, but it rarely results in a million deaths).

The other pattern is mob violence against civilians of the ethnic group (Kikuyu) whose leaders hold disproportionate economic and political power. Again, this is as much a story of class conflict as of ethnic hatred. As Amy Chua has detailed in World on Fire, elections can be a recipe for violence when a minority ethnic group is also viewed as "market dominant" - the real issue is economic scarcity, but if resources have been distributed according along ethnic lines in the past, there will be incentives for aspiring politicians to play the ethnic card to get elected. Resource disputes, then, get transformed through the election process into ethnic disputes; if the election is contested citizens may be primed to take matters into their own hands. Socioeconomic frustration turns into targeted "killing by category" when all those of an ethnic group become associated with the old, unjust order. Once the ball is rolling however, the killings can take on a life of their own, and this is why Genocide Watch is calling the violence in kenya "a stage away from actual genocide."

None of this equals "tribalism." If there is one paralell to Rwanda, it is that mob violence is generally whipped up by a few demagogues and by terrorizing one's ethnic brethren into going along or facing equal punishment as traitors and collaborators. The genocide in rwanda was cooked up by a small band of extremists who ensnared the general Hutu population into participating not because they hated the tutsi, but because they feared for their own families' lives. Ordinary Kenyans of all political stripes and ethnic affiliations are seeking security and stability. Wild tales of a looming bi-lateral genocide can only undermine efforts of moderates in the country to appeal for calm.

This is not to say the situation is not extremely serious. Certainly we don't need the violence to reach Rwandan levels before concern is warranted, and perhaps it is the hope of attracting preventive action from the international community that underlies the Rwanda analogy. If the Kenyan government cannot or will not exercise its responsibility to protect civilians, the international community must step in quickly. Because the violence is not yet out of control there is an opportunity for regional and international organizations to do their part.

The question is whether the current diplomatic and media attention can be sustained over the next few days as the caucuses get under way in the US midwest.

Radicals in Kenya are probably hoping for the opposite.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Facelift: Feedback Requested

Greetings, Readers.

You may have noticed some changes to the blog template lately, and we'll continue to mess with it over the next week or so until the new semester begins and Diodotus has less time to waste playing around. Please provide feedback, particularly on new header art we may be trying in the next few days - awesome, boring, too grisly, not grisly enough, whatever.

Thanks. Your blogging team at Elected Swineherd.

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