Monday, March 31, 2008

How to Fix the US Military

Slate Magazine is publishing a "Fix-It" series this week on the US military, a 10-point list that looks something like this. Aside from my general beef that "Incorporate Better Training in the Laws of War into Basic Training" is not on the list, the ideas bear some consideration. I found this one especially interesting:

"Spread the responsibilities around. Civilian experts are probably better than sergeants at the kinds of stability operations described above. So, the next president should see that more money goes to the State Department, USAID, and other agencies—many of which have nascent offices of stability operations and foreign assistance—and let them do the jobs. Secretary Gates urged this course (even if he didn't volunteer to hand over any of the Pentagon's billions). Some senior Army officers have told us that, for certain urgent tasks in Iraq and Afghanistan, they would rather have 500 more Foreign Service officers than 5,000 more soldiers. If wars—or foreign policies generally—are national campaigns, the burden should be carried by the national government more broadly."
For a thoughtful dissenting view, see Hank's thoughts on Electic Meanderings.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Killing Civilians Is Good For You

Apologies for the lapse - like most academics trained in international relations theory, I spent last week in San Francisco attending the Annual Conference of the International Studies Association .

Of the papers I heard presented, one sticks out: Alexander Downes of Duke University has done a quantitative analysis comparing civilian targeting in inter-state wars to the likelihood that a state will win, as well as to the number of military casualties they absorb vis-a-vis their enemy. Downes finds that killing civilians has historically been strongly correlated with winning. But, he also found this has changed over time, and that since about 1941 killing civilians has been more and more counterproductive to war efforts. He doesn't explain why.

At least one influential book - Caleb Carr's The Lessons of Terror finds the opposite - but admittedly Carr's analysis is a historian's account rather than a statistical analysis.

I couldn't find the paper in the ISA 2008 archive, but Downes has apparently expanded on his argument in a new book, Targeting Civilians in War, which I'll have to read before I report on my impression of his data.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Love Is In The Air

This says it all.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Blog of Note

This week I discovered a new blog the anti-torture-minded among you may wish to check out regularly and link to - Thoughtful coverage of the USG's violation of the Torture Convention and strategies to change this. Though, a sad commentary on our times that such a site would be necessary. The description:

"Ban Torture is my humble effort to stop the use of torture and make torture unequivocally illegal. This site is a tool to build awareness, encourage grassroot support, and urge federal and state officials to ban torture through legislation or constitutional amendment. I need your help. Please speak up and get involved!"
Check it out.

Learning from the past

Came across this old Dr. Seuss cartoon from the 30s. Maybe what the Save Darfur coalition needs is some cartoonists.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Data Disconnect

Foreign Policy reports the findings of a survey conducted among 3,400 active and retired US military officers. Among the questions asked: "Is torture acceptable?"

When the officers were asked if they agree or disagree with the statement “Torture is never acceptable,” opinions were split. Fifty-three percent agreed, and 44 percent disagree. Nineteen percent, nearly 1 in 5 officers, say they “strongly disagree” with the notion that torture is never acceptable. Asked if they believe waterboarding is torture, opinions were similarly divided. About 46 percent of the officers say they agree with the statement “Waterboarding is torture,” and about 43 percent say they disagree.
I haven't yet been able to access the full dataset since FP's links aren't working, though presumably it's available from the Center for New American Security, which assisted in the online survey. But it's safe to say that the presentation of these findings provides a very superficial understanding of what they might actually mean.

In particular, Ban is making much of Lt. Col. John A. Nagel's comments at the survey's launch last week, regarding the "Jack Bauer" effect. But to demonstrate such an effect, we would need comparable data that predates the discursive and doctrinal changes introduced by the Bush Administration. What would the results of this survey have looked like had it been taken prior to the Bybee Memo of August 2002. An alternative hypothesis is that these results reflect a more general disconnect between those who write field manuals and those tasked with implementing them.

One thing's for sure: the following comment by Lt. Col. Nagel makes a world of sense:
"We the American military have to be very careful, I think, to preserve our most treasured attribute, which is our reputation for being the good guys."

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Alan Dershowitz: At It Again

Harvard law scholar Alan Dershowitz believes that the civilian immunity norm should be revised. Instead of requiring weapons-bearers to distinguish between civilians and combatants, Dershowitz believes, treaty law should reflect "degrees of civilianality":

"You can rank people on a scale of one to 10, one being an infant baby, 10 being a grown man with a shoulder rocket about to fire. In between, there are those people who allow their homes to be used for rocket launches or storage, imams who encourage suicide bombing, people who make the [explosive] belts."
Dershowitz, who is most famous for advocating "torture warrants", is peddling his idea in Israel now, but has been making this case at least since the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war. The knee-jerk reaction is to see this as apologism for the murder of civilians, but Dershowitz' argument has some ethical merit:
"There is a vast difference — both moral and legal — between a 2-year-old who is killed by an enemy rocket and a 30-year-old civilian who has allowed his house to be used to store Katyusha rockets. Both are technically civilians, but the former is far more innocent than the latter."
But Dershowitz misreads the civilian immunity rule. It's not actually about protecting the morally innocent. If it were, civilian policymakers - the guiltiest of all in wars - would be fair game, and conscripts, many of whom are forced into the fight, would be "innocent." But the civilian/combatant distinction is not about innocence, it's about who poses an immediate military threat.

Civilians who support their troops don't count. But bin Laden would love it if that rule were changed. Then he could rightly claim that patriotic Americans are legitimate targets.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Goil Power

Michael Ross's new article in American Political Science Review makes a novel argument about the relationship between Islam and gender-inequality in the Middle East. It's not Islam, he writes - it's the oil economy.

The argument in a nutshell:

"Women have made less progress toward gender equality in the Middle East than in any other region. Many observers claim this is due to the region's Islamic traditions. I suggest that oil, not Islam is at fault; and that oil production also explains why women lag behind in many other countries. Oil production reduces the number of women in the labor force, which in turn reduces their political influence. As a result, oil-producing states are left with atypically strong patriarchal norms, laws and political institutions."
Ross supports the argument by comparing data on global oil production, female work patterns and female political representation, and by comparing oil-rich Algeria ro oil-poor Morrocco and Tunisia.

Fascinating. Go check it out.

Friday, March 14, 2008

# of Sex Crime Reports Don't = # Sex Crimes

The Associated Press has three different and wildly conflicting reports out in the space of a few hours about sexual assault rates in the US military. While all the news stories appear to be about the same Pentagon report, each frames the findings differently.

First, we are told, "Military Sees Fewer Sex Assault Reports." Apparently fewer men and women in uniform (6% and 30% respectively) had reported sexual assault in 2007 than in 2006, after increases over the past several years before that. But, the article goes on to point out, this is meaningless information since there is no way to know this is related to actual assault rates or the difficulties of reporting assaults. (A later article merely bore the headline "Military Women Report Harrassment" - also a bit misleading since men were also victims. A third released an hour later simply gives the numbers - a mere 2,688* (!) and avoids comparisons.)

What's the story here, AP? Is it that things are getting better, that they're still bad? (Fox News, for one, picked up the story and reframed it not about reported assaults, but actual assaults, concluding wrongly that the "Pentagon Report Says... Sexual Assaults Down in 2007."

My humble opinion: the real story is that the military should standardize the way it tabulates yearly reports. When rape reporting procedures are made more victim-friendly, rape reports typically increase for a period because victims don't feel th need to stay silent. However both reports and assaults are expected to decrease over time due to a deterrent environment.

But since good data is rarely gathered and policies not held constant over time, it is hard to know what works best. Efforts in the humanitarian arena, for example, to address gender-based violence in refugee camps suffer from this problem. The US military would be an excellent test case on such dynamics, if it would get its act together. Instead:

This is the fourth year the military has compiled detailed statistics on sexual assaults. The reporting methods have changed each year, complicating efforts to evaluate progress or to determine whether it is the actual assaults or the reporting that is going up or down.
Some other interesting items in the reports:
According to the documents, 1,516 reports involved the Army; 565 for the Air Force; 394 for the Navy; and 213 for the Marines.
Score one for the Marines. Puppy-killers they may all be (JK, Cleitus!), but looks like they are less likely than their compatriots to molest their own women.
Unwanted sexual advances among men were more common in the Navy, the 2006 gender relations survey reveals.
So much for banning women from serving on nuclear subs on account of 'close quarters.'
Some 1,040 completed probes resulted in no action, either due to insufficient evidence or because those responsible were civilians, foreigners or unidentified.
Hmm. Does this mean the military will prosecute its own but does not assist its personnel in prosecuting civilians?

*To put this number in perspective, in 1998 the rape rate per 100,000 in the US was 34.4 per 100,000 or .00034%; 2,688 as a proportion of our 2,885,200 troops is .00092%almost 3 times higher than the national average, which was at the time the highest among all countries that report such statistics. More rapes or better reporting? Currently, no way to know.


Amnesty International sent me this plea for donations the other day. Go check it out.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Here, Kitty, Kitty, Kitty...

The residents of Randolph, Iowa, are looking forward to finding the perfect cat; not to bring home as a pet for Dick and Jane, but so they can snatch it up a'la Cruella DeVille and turn it in to the miserable mayor Vance Trively for a $5.00 bounty.

"Five dollars... Maybe I'll go to the movies... By myself."

That was exactly what the anonymous cat-snatcher who turned in the first feline victim, a pregnant female cat, was probably thinking to himself, proving that he was not merely a bitter, twisted animal-hater, but also that math was not his strong suit; everyone knows you can barely get a lukewarm bucket of popcorn drizzled with oily faux butter for $5.00 these days.

If he was a little more astute, he might have locked the cat up in his garage for a few weeks until it gave birth, and then turned in the unfortunate wee beastie and her cute, but soon-to-be-dead babies, netting himself a good $30.00, given that the average litter for cats is 5-7 kittens.

Mayor Trively has few qualms with his role in sentencing the expectant mother to death. "She was found wandering the streets, and pregnancy out of wedlock, well, that's just an abomination. It's simply another example of the continuing moral decline among cats in this community. Cats like this are the reason we enacted this strict new legislation; we believe that by executing a few, well, a few hundred of these wanton hussies and the deadbeat dads that impregnate them, we can send a strong message to future generations of Randolph cats that their 'natural' tendencies are actually an affront to decent society, and won't be tolerated in this town."

Trively goes on to add that if this pilot program is successful in reforming Randolph's criminal cats, it may be expanded to dogs, rabbits, pythons, and perhaps even those rascally teenagers. "Kids these days," he mutters, shaking his head.

Randolph's "Final Solution" for the cats irks some upstanding members of the downtrodden US populace, such as H. Mordecai Cooke, a self-proclaimed grumpy old man. "Hell of a thing the world's coming to, today... Nation's in an uproar because some teenage Marine maybe killed a pup, while elected officials run a death camp for cats and no one bats an eye..."

And noted historical literary figure, Leonard Small, is concerned about where this killing could lead. "The rabbits, George... What about the rabbits?"

Good question, Lennie, good question...

Reporting from America's Heartless-land,
Your faithful correspondent,

Monday, March 10, 2008

"That is Foolish."

Peter Suderman at Bloggingheads thinks John McCain is too much like Lieutenant Worf to be President.

Huh? John McCain, who falls asleep on the job, loves to mix politics and pleasure (with Earth females), likes to make fun of suicide bombers, and can't make up his mind whether the war in Iraq is a piece of cake or requires us to stay for another 100 years, is a lot like this fella?

McCain like loyal, trustworthy, steadfast, sensible, honorable, humorless Worf? I'm happy McCain won the nomination, but Suderman must simply be off his onion.

So Why Won't President Bush Sign a Bill Requiring CIA Interrogators to Follow the Same Rules Outlined in the Army Field Manual?

After all, as the CIA's public affairs officer writes in today's NY Times:

"Your 'Horrifying and Unnecessary' (editorial, March 2) cites interrogation measures that are specifically banned by the Army Field Manual, including forcing prisoners to perform sexual acts, applying electric shocks and conducting mock executions.

The implication is that those measures would be used by the Central Intelligence Agency or other intelligence services if the intelligence authorization bill is vetoed by the president. They would not. The C.I.A. neither conducts nor condones torture."
Seems like we might as well have a rules that say they can't, then. The President thinks otherwise, of course.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Here is an interesting idea. A campaign to end all wars by encouraging citizens to report war crimes. UK Indymedia reports:

"Around 70 people attended the launch of the international 'make wars history' launch at Fitzroy Square Indian YMCA hall this evening billed as the world's first mass movement of 'civil obedience', the presentation described how a new international peace movement can grow out of upholding war law and reporting war crime, just ahead of the 5th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq."
Hmm. 70 people is hardly a 'mass movement.' But let's not quibble. Landmark changes in international ethical standards always begin with a few earnest individuals swimming against the tide. But I see a bigger problem.

'War law'* is entirely contingent on the idea that under certain circumstances, war is perfectly legitimate. The law is intended to limit war, not end it. Promoting better adherence to these rules is a fine idea, but I fear these activists are fooling themselves if they think this is a recipe for world peace.

*War law generally consists of three branches: the UN Charter Regime, which specifies which wars are legitimate; the Hague Treaties, which specify what combatants may or may not do to one oter; and the Geneva Conventions or 'international humanitarian law' which cover the treatment of prisoners, wounded soliders and civilians.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Stop The Madness...

Great Zeus, people!

From the uproar this snippet of dubious film-making has incurred, one would suppose that this was the first time an American ever killed a dog.


If in fact, a real canine was killed in the making of this video, it's nothing compared to the 2.7 MILLION dogs killed on an annual basis by the inaptly named American Humane Society... Oh, no, you say? There's a big difference between being dashed against a rock, and being suffocated as deadly gases enter your lungs, or a cocktail of drugs induces a heart attack?

The former is "mean, just mean", while the latter is quick and painless, and, oh, wait. No it's not...

The courts have recently suspended the use of such techniques on humans, ruling that death comes neither swiftly nor painlessly. And at any rate, dead is dead. And film is film. And last time I checked, you can't believe everything you see on film; or should we arrest director Zack Snyder ("300") for mass murder?

"...but, this, this is madness!"
"NO! This is SPARTA!"

Ummm, sorry Zack, that appears to be the gory death of a few hundred Greeks and a few thousand Persians. We'll have to ask you to come with us... any rate, supposing there were anything inherently wrong with killing any creature weaker than oneself (if it's OK to kill a cockroach, or dissect a frog, eat a cow, or slaughter fish, fowl, and game for sport, why not kill a dog? Why not kill a person, if, for example, you're a Blackwater employee and know that you can't be charged?) - but in any case IF there were anything wrong with this, aren't Americans still considered guilty until proven innocent?

Not if they're US Marines or Duke University lacrosse players, they're not.

The rape charge against the Marine on Okinawa? Dropped. No sign of sexual activity. The oaf was a pervert, but not a rapist. The suspected killer of the unfortunate Lance Corporal Lauterbach? Still at large, and while circumstantial evidence is strong, well, it was strong with OJ, too.

If you can believe the numbers, about 800 women are raped, 50 people are murdered, and 3700 dogs are killed EVERY DAY in the United States. Considering that Marines make up about 1/10th of 1 percent of the entire population, your chances of falling victim to one of these rascals, whether you're a dog, or a potential murder/rape victim, are considerably lower than the chances that you'll get your unhappy ending courtesy of a family member, a friendly veterinarian, a guy you know, or just some wierdo off the street.

But every once in a while, when a Marine is merely ACCUSED of doing something bad (and by "bad", I don't mean shooting, dismembering or burning another human being to death, that's generally part of the job description) - it's big news, everyone starts gnashing their teeth and pulling their hair, and the powers-that-be in the Marine Corps, instead of saying "They're trained killers, we deliberately break down their natural conditioning against homicidal and psychopathic impulses, what the f*@k did you expect?" instead bows and scrapes, and puts the 99.99% of the Corps that did nothing wrong on lockdown.

Which only really serves to protect the Marines, because statistically speaking, the average Marine is in much greater danger of being murdered or raped by their fellow Americans; and with about 4.5 million dog bites reported annually in the US, it would probably be a good idea to keep Marines away from dogs in general.

Not for the dogs sake, but for the Marines.


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Waterboarding is Inherently Evil. Oh, wait.

I was so excited when I read the headline: "Waterboarding: Catholic Law Professor Says Such Torture Methods are Intrinsically Evil."

Finally, I thought, someone who will oppose torture on purely moral grounds irrespective of whether it works, whether it harms us, or whether it destroys our soft power.

But as it turns out, Professor Marcy Strauss's argument is basically utilitarian, not moral. According to Catholics Online:

"The law professor detailed four reasons why torture should never be an option for any government. First, it’s forbidden by international law.. Second, it doesn’t work. Strauss feels just as strongly about the untold harm done to the nation’s image around the world by photos of abuse and torture from Abu Ghraib. Final[ly]...sanctioning torture in exceptional circumstances can’t possibly be contained and will always lead to innocent victims being tortured in non-exceptional circumstances."
So let's get this straight, torture is not inherently evil, it's only bad policy because it is bad for us. In other words, if it were OK with our allies, if it worked, if it didn't affect our reputation and if it didn't include a nasty contagion effect on innocents, no *&#^ing problem.

This is where "the debate" has been for awhile now; I can't believe her remarks constituted "news" or that a Catholic law professor couldn't come up with anything better.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

So What's Up With the USMC Anyway?

It's awfully interesting what provokes people. News of the day is a video (now pulled from YouTube) filmed by a Marine of his buddy tossing a puppy off a cliff. Considering we have recently heard accusations of US Marines killing civilians in front of their children, raping little girls, even raping and murdering their pregnant comrades, this comes as no great shock to my system.

(Then again, teenagers do mean things to animals for fun in all sorts of contexts, and no branch of any military has a monopoly on rape, torture, murder or general meanness. So let's not lose our perspective.)

Here's what does surprise me: this story made headlines fast and stuck. Compare this to videos circulated on the Internet in 2004 of US Marines raping Iraqi women in detention. No huge media frenzy there. Hmm. As Webscout at the LA Times puts it:

"There's a debate to be had about where the death of a puppy lies along the spectrum of war horrors, and why a video like this can gain wide online attention when other outrageous footage -- say, involving the death of humans -- is only rarely circulated."

Another surprise: the swift and categorical action taken by the Corps. In a statement released today, the Corps referred to the video as "shocking and deplorable," and launched an investigation.

All fine and well, but isn't this is the same institution that covered up the massacre of civilians at Haditha for months, and sat on the Abu Ghraib photographs for almost a year. (Excellent discussion of this history in a recent Frontline.)

So, what's up with the Marines? And what's up with popular sentiment? The same American public that is now deploring all soldiers as "puppy killers" hemmed and hawed when news of My Lai broke. I'm not defending the puppy-pitcher. I'd just like to see the same kind of black-listing when our soldiers commit actual war crimes.

Monday, March 3, 2008

What A Good Idea.

It appears the US military has clued into the fact that paying attention to the needs of the children of military families helps with troop retention. According to the Baltimore Sun:

"'Military brats' change schools an average of six to nine times between kindergarten and 12th grade, and a proposed multistate compact the Pentagon is pushing aims to make the transition easier for the kids sometimes caught in conflicting requirements as they shuffle from school to school.

Pentagon supporters of the bills say the multistate agreement making school transitions easier would help not just kids but the armed forces as a whole. That's because difficulties uprooting children are cited as a major reason people leave active duty.
Read all about it here.

More on Killer Robots

So I'm starting to get really interested in following this whole robot ethics issue. Seems folks are bothered not just by the idea that robots may not be programmed well enough to follow the rules of war, it's the fear they may be programmed too well.

Not certain where I stand on all this, but it sure is fun to absorb the different viewpoints in the debate. Here is a fun, freaky and very visually entertaining video on the subject today, courtesy of some guy named Mark Dice who is worried about the New World Order and has a lot of time on his hands.

I'll be back.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Who's The Boss?

I'm always tickled when political scientists' research makes the news. Foreign Policy reports on a study by Steven Fish and Matthew Kroenig arguing that powerful legislatures make for more resilient democracies.

"In a groundbreaking new study, Fish and Kroenig rank the power of 158 national legislatures around the world, based on a survey completed by more than 700 country experts. The strength of parliaments and congresses is measured using four groups of factors: influence over the executive (such as powers of impeachment), autonomy (such as whether the executive can dissolve parliament), vested powers (such as the power to declare war), and the capability to get things done (such as having the resources to hire staff).

They find that... weak legislatures often cannot keep executives in check, especially when autocratic leaders come to power. 'This decade, the great enemies of democracy are presidents,' says Fish, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley."
Presumably this helps explain why the Kenyan opposition was prepared for civil war in order to affirm its Presidential win, despite its majority in the weak Kenyan legislature. However, one wonders about the dependent variable in the study. BY "enemy of democracy" do they mean the tendency of one branch or the other towards authoritarian policies? Or do they mean political instability? Two very different things which I expect often trade off one another.

Case in point: due to our system of checks and balances, the US is in 40th place according to the study. Certainly the US Presidency's greater power (for example the veto) has facilitated some violations of civil liberties by the executive branch. Yet the US remains incredibly stable in the face of this: no bloodletting along Kenyan lines is occurring between red and blue neighborhoods, for example. Is stability the enemy of human rights? If Americans have so much respect for our resilient institutions that we won't take to the streets after election fraud, CIA wire-tapping, and an admission by the executive branch that torture may be used on detainees, one wonders about whether "democratic resilience" is a public good.

Notable Quotable of the Week.

"We're going to have to work the dark side, we're going to have to spend time in the shadows."

- Vice-President Dick Cheney, September 15, 2001.

Go see this film, folks.

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