Monday, April 28, 2008

Back soon...

Unless my colleague Cleitus pops in with some of his usual incisive remarks, blogging will be slow for the next week as I'm traveling on research. Unfortunately, since I blog pseudononymously, that's all I can tell you lest my students figure out who is really behind these posts.

In the meantime, I leave you with this remarkable footage from President Bush's final White House Correspondence Dinner. Best speech he ever gave IMHO: he didn't fumble a word once. He may have been a terrible President, but the man is brilliant as a stand-up comic. Perhaps, when he leaves office, he can get his own show.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Change I Can Believe In

One of the reasons that Barack Obama is well-situated to kick John McCain's ass this Fall is that he has the most comprehensive vision for combatting climate change - truly the issue today that has the potential to unite the right, left and independents.

McCain would refuse to join a global climate change regime without India and China. Clinton talks vaguely about leading such a regime, but with her hawkish foreign policy would likely bankrupt the US in a war with Iran before she's invest seriously in climate change. Obama would put the money McCain wants to use for Mars exploration toward investment in green technology. As he puts it, "If we can go to the moon, we can replace the internal combustion engine. If we can go to the moon, we can build windmills and solar panels."

Even if this is idealistic rhetoric, it is rhetoric that will resonate with vast bipartisan swaths of the electorate this Fall - more than a Mars mission, and certainly more than obliterating innocent civilians in Iranian cities.

To compare the candidates on international law issues, click here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

At Last, Some Perspective

I was heartened to see this story from Reuters today, titled "FactBox: Military and Civilian Deaths in Iraq." It's a nice counterpoint to the constant news ticker with the number of US military deaths, creeping upward by a few bodies per day and now in the low 4,000s... if you add in deaths of coalition forces from other countries, the number jumps by a paltry few hundred.

Hard to swallow of course, if like me you're in a military family, but on the other hand those in uniform sign up for the posssibility of being killed, get paid for it, are legitimate targets, and are dying at lower rates than most wars in US history.

If you bar-graph this against the average of conservative estimates of civilian deaths so far (that is, deaths of innocent individuals who shouldn't be hit and didn't sign up for the risk), it looks something like this.

I'd really, really like to see more coverage of this discrepancy in the US media. Not sob stories of Iraqi families, but the sheer numbers, a regular day-by-day ticker. Could provide some ongoing perspective.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

"Captain Kidd, Human Rights Victim?"

Abu Muqawama seconds John Burnett, ripping on Britain in today's NY Times about its lax security policy toward piracy on the high seas:

"The British government... to the incredulity of many in the maritime industry, has taken a curiously pathetic approach to piracy. While the French were flying six of the captured pirates to Paris to face trial, the British Foreign Office issued a directive to the once vaunted Royal Navy not to detain any pirates, because doing so could violate their human rights... The British attitude has come a long way since the days when pirates were chained to pilings at Wapping and left there until the tidal water of the Thames ebbed and flowed over the bodies three times. So much for Britannia ruling the waves."
It's a well-written editorial, and Burnett's book is a must-read for anyone concerned with the resurgence of maritime piracy. However, the critique of Britain here is off the mark. Of course pirates have human rights - do we really wish to return to the days of gibbeting? And Captain Kidd was a human rights victim by today's standards - the conditions of his imprisonment before his execution included a year of solitary confinement and were said to have driven him partially insane.

What Britain should be scolded for is not pointing out that pirates have rights (as do all criminals, however heinous their behavior), but letting them go to avoid responsibility for protecting their rights. Britain fears not that detaining them would violate their rights - of course criminals can be detained, tried and punished, as France is correctly doing - but that if it keeps them in custody it will be responsible for a costly trial and detention. Much better to turn them loose now to countries like Somalia, where they will face torture and grisly death at the hands of the Islamic justice system.

Britain's behavior is Machiavellan, not pathetic, and certainly not an example of a soft, lilly-livered country upholding the rights of the accused.

Friday, April 18, 2008

GAO: US Unprepared for Al-Qaeda Attack

From Democracy Arsenal:

"Here is the title of a report from the Government Accountability Office on combating terrorism released today: The United States Lacks a Comprehensive Plan to Destroy the Terrorist Threat and Close the Safe Haven in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

That is not some line buried in the report. That is the title. Wow.

This GAO report may be the most damning condemnation of the Bush administration's counter-terrorism efforts. The report goes on to say that the Bush administration has failed to develop any plan to address the Al Qaeda threat. Worse, the report finds that Al Qaeda is now able to attack the United States and represents the "most serious" threat to this country."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Are We Bitter? Yes We Are.

At 8:54 pm ABCNews put the URL for its website on the TV screen for the Philadelphia Democratic Debate, and by 8:57 there were 2152 comments. Most of them looked something like this:

"Stop asking #### stupid questions. We are not morons out here. could we please discuss REAL ISSUES. This debate is ridiculous, the next thing they will ask is why Obama used a bad word when he was in third grade. this is why I hate network news, the talking heads believe we are all as stupid as the flag pin lady.
"Like many others, I want to express my outrage at the ridiculous questions being posed. I can't believe George asked Barack if he thinks his pastor loves this country as much as he does. We might as well get Rush Limbaugh to be moderator."
Are any of these media gurus aware that the country is actually at war? Our media is shamelessly out of touch. The ENTIRE WORLD IS WATCHING US EMBARRASS OURSELVES.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Child Soldiers...

"Thirty thousand people used to live here... Now it's a ghost town."

A ghost town where pitched battles are a way of life for over 2 million children... Empty avenues, run-down buildings, and the burned hulks of vandalized cars. A distant crackle of gunfire; these are the streets where much of America's youth is growing up.

This is the virtual world of CALL OF DUTY 4, and it's the latest episode in a disturbing trend to train tomorrow's soldiers today.

It's not the fantasy-land game that Ender Wiggins played to develop strategic skills, but a tactical exercise in planting anti-personnel mines, picking a good spot to employ a sniper rifle from, or sneaking up on a careless opponent to slit their throat.

How good is it? From the perspective of this old warhorse, all that's missing are the civilians running from the fight (no chance of collateral damage here) and the smell.

Oh, this is just good, clean fun, indeed! Now instead of going to a movie and watching Bruce Willis blow things up and kill people, you and your friends can go online and take matters into your own underage hands.

You can play as US Marines, or as Islamic freedom fighters; Russian or British Special Forces, making this a rather egalitarian simulation.

And although this medium is a great method for deprogramming that pesky First Commandment from the Nation's youth (Thou shalt not blah, blah, pass the grenades, please!) your humble correspondent does have just a few small suggestions to improve upon this virtual arena...

A few non-combatants running around will add not only realism, but more potential scenarios. There's already the "Vandalism" challenge where you blow up cars for points; we can now add the "Revenge" challenge where you have to mow down at least 5 civilians within 1 minute after one of your buddies gets wasted. Good times! (oh, and for the Spetnaz and Al Qaeda contingent, the challenge is slightly different; it can be completed at any time, but the civilians must be captured with the "Tie Hands" perk, then "executed" with either a bullet in the head, or a knife (off with their heads!) - sure, this sounds a little more complicated than the good-guy version, but hey, nobody said villainy was easy!

Right now the game's too fair - the team sizes are even, and for example, in the "Sabotage" mission, each side takes turns attempting to plant a bomb, or defuse it. Everyone knows only the terrorists plant bombs; Marines would never do that. So, how about scenarios where only the Islamic troops get to plant bombs? In crowds? They score points for total numbers of people killed; Marines can only win by killing all the opposition without sustaining excessive losses - for fairness sake, such scenarios will of course only allow a "handful of insurgents" to fight against a "surge" of US forces.

The sounds of the various guns, explosives, and helicopters is perfect. Even the sound of footsteps crunching in dry leaves. But something's missing - oh, snap! It's the screaming of injured soldiers. Adding in the pitiful wail of a gut-shot Marine begging for water, or a Russian calling out for his mother would certainly add another layer of realism, and opens up all sorts of game possibilities! You can already commit suicide with your pistol, or booby-trap your dying body with a grenade, but what if you could hope for a buddy to come rescue you if you lay in the street and howled? It would give the opposition a good reason to shoot-to-wound (vice kill) and use you as bait to lure in the do-gooders...

Wouldn't life be better if the cities of the damned were patrolled by renegade mercenaries in heavily armored vehicles escorting random diplomats or warlords? Computer-generated, highly accurate warriors who answered any gunfire or suspicious motion with a hail of bullets and grenades? Sure it would...

Well, that's my two cents; of course this new version of the game would be highly recommended as a "fix" for PTSD; use methadone to wean drug addicts off the hard stuff? Why not use interactive gaming to wean combat addicts off violence? Hey, you can beat a 9-year old online instead of the wife and kids in the next room... Three cheers for modernity! Hip-hip-hooray!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Friday Star Trek Blogging... Sort Of

OK, so it's Sunday not Friday and this isn't really a Star Trek clip, but I found this at Duck of Minerva (HT) and couldn't help reposting.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Bush to Do Too Little, Too Late for War-Fatigued Troops

The Washington Post reported today that President Bush will cut Army tours of duty from 15 to 12 months:

"President Bush plans to announce today that he will cut Army combat tours in Iraq from 15 months to 12 months, returning rotations to where they were before last year's troop buildup in an effort to alleviate the tremendous stress on the military, administration officials said."
Good idea, but not enough. Let President Bush also consider ending the policy of involuntarily extending service-men and women's enlistment contracts beyond their normal ETS. If this war is worth fighting, we should be drafting young single men and women who have not yet served, not forcing those who have to stay in the armed forces beyond the period for which they signed up.

This policy and its effects on troop morale is detailed in this new film. Go check it out.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Liberating Iraqi Women?

This sobering analysis came across my desk today from the Real News Network: they report women's human rights activists continue to be under attack by militias, suggesting that the insecurity in the country is not only sectarian in nature but also gendered. The brief concludes:

"As the ongoing insecurity and instability in Iraq enters its sixth year, the situation of women sees few signs of improving. For women to live with security, access to the same rights as men, and equal protection under the law, is going to take more than a new constitution, forced imposition of democracy, and a quota system in the parliament."

If you follow the link, you'll also find an illustrative video (sorry, couldn't embed here) published by Alive in Baghdad, an organization that provides media coverage of the everyday reality for Iraqi citizens and those PRTs working so hard to help them rebuild their lives.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Cutting Edge Investigative Journalism

Always ahead of the times, Voice of America reports that "Failed, Weak States Threaten Global Security."

"Failed and weak states are unable for various reasons to provide security and other basic services for their citizens."
Um, could those reasons be... because they're failing?
"The Bush administration and a growing number of foreign policy experts say failed states pose a threat to world peace and security."
If they said it, it must be true.
"But as VOA's Brian Padden reports, there are critics who argue that intervening in a failed state can do more harm than good."
Oh. You don't say.

For a more coherent look at the phenomenon of state failure, see Foreign Policy's Failed State's Index from last year.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Feith an Idiot... or Just Diabolical?

The left blogosphere is full of flak today about Doug Feith's interview on 60 minutes last night, in which he claims that the Iraq war was right because President Hussein was a threat, even though he admits the claim of WMD was exaggerated. No one seems to be buying it, heck Jason Sigger won't even buy his new book though he says he'll read it.

Let's focus for a moment on the most significant part of Feith's argument, which is not that the war was right, but that it was legal under the doctrine of "pre-emption." This is a departure from earlier justifications of the war, which either claimed the war was preemptive by manufacturing a fake threat, or admitted it was preventive and tried to justify it anyway. What Feith has done though, is to reinterpret preventive war as preemptive war.

Since Cleitus asked awhile ago
, let me begin by clarifying the just war distinction between preventive and preemptive war. Preventive war consists of basic real-politik, that is identifying enemies who may threaten you at some time in the future and knocking them out while they're still weak. This was standard and accepted practice among states until the establishment of the UN Charter regime. (It was also, arguably, the logic that led to World War I, hence 20th century efforts to reconstitute the norms governing the use of force.)

Pre-emptive war, by constrast, involves a situation where the state in question is already poised for the attack. Contra political realism, which argues you should never allow your enemy to pick the time of the battle, just war theory argues that force is only justified when that moment is upon you - in this case, pre-emptive war becomes akin to self-defense.

The UN Charter outlaws preventive war (Article 2.4) but permits self-defense (Article 51). Supporters of the Iraq war have used two strategies to justify it. Originally, it was said to be preemptive because of the imminent threat of WMD, and the 2002 National Security Strategy refers to

"preemptive actions to counter a significant threat to our security."
When that fell through, some argued that the US has a right to engage in preventive war. In effect, the National Security Strategy of 2006 makes this case, arguing
"it is an enduring American principle that this duty obligates the government to anticipate and counter threats, using all elements of national power, before the threats can do grave damage."
But this is the first time I've seen a public official so brazenly confuse preemption with prevention. His justification for the war is clearly prevention, and he doesn't fudge it at all:
"In an era where WMD can put countries a position to do an enormous amount of harm, the old idea of having to wait until you actually see the country mobilizing for war doesn't make a lot of sense."
OK, fair enough. He could reasonably say, preventive war is morally OK in this brave new world. But instead he insists this actually is preemption, or as he calls it "anticipatory self-defense."

Just like "coercive interrogation" isn't torture. It is wrong to dismiss Feith as an idiot. This latest wilful and brazen reinterpretation of international law is only one more datapoint in a larger pattern since 9/11.

No wonder the average American is confused about the laws of war.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Well, Damn My Blood!

From the AP:

"Pirates seized control of a French cruise ship Friday off the coast of Somalia, France's Foreign Ministry said.

A ministry official said details about the attack were scarce, and it was not clear how many crew members were on board the ship or if there were any passengers.

The ship is in the high seas in the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Somalia in the Indian Ocean.

Pirates seized more than two dozen ships off the Somali coast last year.

The U.S. Navy has led international patrols to try to combat piracy in the region. Last year, the guided missile destroyer USS Porter opened fire to destroy pirate skiffs tied to a Japanese tanker.

Wracked by more than a decade of violence and anarchy, Somalia does not have its own navy and a transitional government formed in 2004 with U.N. help has struggled to assert control.

The International Maritime Bureau, which tracks piracy, said in its annual report earlier this year that global pirate attacks rose by 10 percent in 2007, marking the first increase in three years.

Those interested in understanding the global resurgence in piracy and efforts to combat it should read this blog from time to time.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Friday Star Trek Blogging

Cultural imperialism at it's best.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

If pigs could spread democracy...

This has been up awhile at Arms and Influence but still deserve a hat tip: Kingdaddy posted the following quote from the book Imperial Life in the Emerald City:

"America's been so successful at being a free and permanent democracy that we think democracy is the natural way to rule--just let people go and there you have it: Democracy. But all the ingredients that make it good and free--limited government, separation of powers, checks and balances, calendared elections, staggered elections, plurality selection, differing terms of office, federalism with national supremacy, the development of a civic spirit and civic responsibility, and above all, the breaking and moderating of factions--all this we forgot about. We act is if the aim is "democracy" simply and not a mild and moderate democracy. Therefore...we seek out the loudest and most virulent factions and empower them...

We, as a country, don't have a clue as to what has made our own country work, and so we spread the gospel of democracy-at-all-costs abroad. Until this country can find a Madison, it would be far better off with just a good ruler.
Kingdaddy has some cogent thoughts of his own on democracy as well.

Slate Magazine Take Two

No sooner did I criticize Slate Magainze for not including war law in its military fix-it list, then Jack Goldsmith posts on fixing "The Laws in Wartime."
Among his suggestions:

1) "Close Guantanamo." (He doesn't address what to do with the detainees or why closing Guantanamo is preferable to simply upholding detainee rights there.)

2) "Boost Trust" (By - wait for it - making more threat information available to a public that distrusts the government for inflating threats. Question: to what classified arseal of threat data does Goldsmith have access on which to build this case?)

3) "Fix Interrogation." He thinks we can do this not by preventing the CIA from breaking the rules, but by requiring the President to "make a classified finding giving reasons why aggressive techniques are required":

"This approach would maintain the option of using lawful interrogation techniques that might stave off a crisis, while at the same time addressing legitimate concerns about... legal compliance."
Come again? Lawful interrogation techniques are already an "option"; we don't require torture warrants for them. And how would another layer of justification for wanton violations of international law address concerns about the law?

One thing Goldsmith suggests makes sense: that the US should work with its allies to clarify how to apply the laws of war to asymmetric conflicts, instead of contining to interpret international law unilaterally. There is more support than is recognized for modifying the "quaint" old rules, but to be more than just treaty noncompliance the US needs to get its allies on board.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

April Foogle's Day

Google has had a little fun today as well.

This in addition to their newly rolled out "Custom Time" application, which promises to allow Gmail users to time-date-stamp their messages as far back in the past as they please. According to the Gmail log-in page:

"Pre-date your messages
You tell us what time you would have wanted your email sent, and we'll take care of the rest. Need an email to arrive 6 hours ago? No problem.

Mark as read or unread
Take sending emails to the past one step further. We let you make emails look like they've been read all along.

Make them count
Use your custom time stamped messages wisely -- each Gmail user gets ten per year.

Worry less
Forget your finance reports. Forget your anniversary. We'll make it look like you remembered."
For more on Google's "shenanigans" see Carolyn McCarthy's blog.

April Fool's Blogging: The USG's Idea of a Joke?

Pulled this little gem off, Uncle Sam's Emergency Preparedness Website.*

Yeah, I'm going to stand around "considering" whether I can get out of the area if I'm caught in a nuclear blast. Then, I'll probably walk calmly into a building.

Who sits around creating these graphics? For a hearty laugh, check out the funny take-offs on the USG's "emergency-preparedness" signs and captions, here.

*The website covers 'threats' like nuclear blast, radiation, pandemics and tsunamis, but not accidental falls of out bed, which result in 1.8 million emergency room visits, 400,000 hospital admissions and 600-ish deaths yearly, according to the CDC.

P.S. Kids can access information about natural disasters on, but if they click on terrorism the government directs them to "Talk to your parents or teachers about this kind of emergency." Terrorism, sex, same difference.

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