The Good Ayatollah

This clearly falls into the "much worse" exemption for my Iraq rule.
Iraq's top Shiite cleric demanded an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon, warning Sunday that the Muslim world will ``not forgive'' nations that stand in the way of stopping the fighting.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued the call following the Israeli airstrike that killed at least 56 Lebanese, mostly women and children, in the village of Qana. It was the deadliest attack in nearly three weeks of fighting.

``Islamic nations will not forgive the entities that hinder a cease-fire,'' al-Sistani said in a clear reference to the United States.

``It is not possible to stand helpless in front of this Israeli aggression on Lebanon,'' he added. ``If an immediate cease-fire in this Israeli aggression is not imposed, dire consequences will befall the region.''

The thing is, given the more or less rate stable rate of missile fire from Lebanon, the Israelis don't stand any chance of "winning" this war, since disarming Hezbollah is a linchpin of their self-defined victory. Without a peace, no peacekeeping force will insert that has any teeth, and without that peacekeeping force, even the paltry few miles the Israelis want as a buffer wont remain demilitarized.

Will Israel feel compelled to accede to Ayatollah Sistani's demands? Without extreme American pressure, I doubt it, since the Israelis hardly need to keep the Shiites happy. So what happens if there isn't an "immediate cease-fire?" With one speech, the most powerful man in Iraq could turn the Shia majority decisively against the American occupation. What if even 1% of Iraqi Shiites turn violent? We could see not only a Sunni insurgency, but a Shiite insurgency to match. That, combined with the current civil war and the increasing violence on the Iraqi-Turkish border, would be the absolute worst case for Iraq. I opposed the war based on exactly these possibilities, but I never thought we'd be so unlucky to see all of them.

Iran and Incentive Deals

Remember the deal that we offered the Iranians? The one I thought looked so good for them? Well, they're tweaking us anyway. Rather than responding by the G8, they let the Israel-Lebanon War buy them a few weeks. Not to be slowed by a brand-new war, the United States has begun pushing for a Security Council resolution requiring the cessation of enrichment by August 31. Iran rejected the resolution out of hand, of course, and lets us know that they were planning on responding to the U.S. deal on August 21, anyway.

So now we have a firm date to watch. That's nice.


Nuclear Response

Atrios wonders what would be the correct response to nuclear terrorism against an American city. I think the answer is self-evident: we have a nuclear deterrent for a reason. If we are unwilling to use that force to respond to an attack on one of our cities, what good is it? Would our silo's silence not destroy any deterrent value our ICBM fleet carries? Our response should be to quickly determine the point of manufacture and launch massive retaliation.

Of course, nothing involving the killing of millions is ever that simple. The science behind this is not nearly as easy as the "nuclear fingerprint" nomenclature implies. Attribution Technology, it is called, and it is still an imperfect science. There are certain sources that have particularly distinctive characteristics, but an attack might well remain anonymous if we are doubly unlucky.

To engage in some cynicism: What are the odds that because of political pressure we would declare a source when the science wasn't certain? I hope we would show the moral restraint, but we have a government of men, and I fear their weakness before the rage of the American people.

In reality our nuclear deterrent has always been a psychological one, since the use of even a fraction of the world-wide arsenal would bear enormous implications for the planet's habitability. So, because terrorists would deliver the bomb via a non-ballistic method (i.e. no easy-to-read return address), our deterrent needs to change shape. Perhaps a world-wide public information campaign along the lines of "We have the technology to tell for sure where a bomb was made, and that country will be committing national suicide if one of its bombs is used in an attack." Even for a group like Al-Qaeda to whom friendly civilian deaths are a strategic victory, the potential genocide of their people must still be a deterrent... right?

Podhoretz Disqualifies Himself

Via Atrios, Unfogged alerts me to this important Podhoretz column wherein he laments the state of various wars from a conservative perspective. As they note, there is not a single declarative sentence in the entire piece, so he should win some sort of rhetorical award for that. The rare Pulitzer for Most Interrogative sounds about right. The column laments the lack of resolve shown by America and Israel in confronting their enemies. It paens the good old days of World War II when civilians died by the hundreds of thousands, and argues that it is this modern day restraint which is losing us the wars.

And as for the United States, what if we have every tool at our disposal to win a war - every weapons system we could want manned by the most superbly trained military in history - except the ability to match or exceed our antagonists in ruthlessness?

Is this the horrifying paradox of 21st century warfare? If Israel and the United States cannot be defeated militarily in any conventional sense, have our foes discovered a new way to win? Are they seeking victory through demoralization alone - by daring us to match them in barbarity and knowing we will fail?

"YES!!!" was my mental shout. This is the very nature of insurgencies - you cannot defeat them militarily. The tactics they adopt are circumscribed by the reality that in any stand up fight, they would be destroyed. So they hide amongst civilian populations, building a common persecution syndrome with the civilians and thereby increasing their support. To wage an attempted total war against them only serves their goals. Remember, the Mujahadin and thereby Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan were created by the Russian attempt at unrestricted war. They declared free-fire zones, attacked civilian convoys, and basically leveled the entire country outside few larger cities. They engaged in exactly the type of quasi-genocide Podhoretz is advocating. Did they win? Of course not - they were Reds, after all. They created the conditions in which the Taliban was a natural and inevitable consequence.

The War on Terrorism is NOT World War II. It is not total war, because "terrorists" poses no existential threat to America beyond the inevitable over reaction to their attacks by our own politicians. This is anti-insurgency, and winning a war against guerrillas is an entirely different affair than winning one against a state and army.

This is the sort of misunderstanding that gets a person disqualified - not because they are too heartless to deserve a voice in the course of our foreign policy, but because their ideas are proven roads to failure. These are the misunderstandings about the reality of the war, and the strategy required to win it, that actively block our chances for victory. They are anti-historical.

Personally, I always first react strategically rather than morally, but an equally valid response to Podhoretz's column would be to illustrate similarities in the genocidal aspirations of the author and the actions of Pol Pot, the Russians in Afghanistan, and even Hitler himself.


Turning the Arab Street

The NYTimes describes the prevailing swing in Arab sentiment:
At the onset of the Lebanese crisis, Arab governments, starting with Saudi Arabia, slammed Hezbollah for recklessly provoking a war, providing what the United States and Israel took as a wink and a nod to continue the fight.

Now, with hundreds of Lebanese dead and Hezbollah holding out against the vaunted Israeli military for more than two weeks, the tide of public opinion across the Arab world is surging behind the organization, transforming the Shiite group’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, into a folk hero and forcing a change in official statements.
Surprise, surprise - it's not good news. I love the line about being a "folk hero," in particular. Oy.

As Fareed Zakaria said on This Week, with the first five bombs everyone blames the one that started the fight, but with the five hundredth bomb people rapidly start blaming the people dropping the bombs. This is the beginning of the Helsinki-esque effect that guerrillas inspire. Through communal punishment everyone on the recieving end starts to feel like they're on the same side, the support base for the insurgencey grows, and the insurgents are emboldened. Eventually, while acting on their "Let's Knock Down Apartment Buildings" strategy, the Israelis are likely to hit a particularly unfortunate target, and then you'll see an even larger sentiment swing.

Hezbollah is not the small movement it was when Israel first engaged them. At this point they have had years to stockpile munitions and fortify positions. One of the worst case outcomes would be for the Hezbos (Rush Limbaugh's term) to fight and die against the Israelis, but still survive as a viable military and political force. Then Nasrallah would be more an epic hero than a folk hero, and Hezbollah and Iran would be the decisive victors. Note that I didn't say that Hezbollah had to win even a single military engagement - they merely need to survive while looking brave in the face of the "Zionist aggressors" and they win.


Santorum Lies about WMD

Although this is proximally about Iraq I'm not really breaking my new rule, since what I really want to talk about here is the good Senator Santorum and the vagaries of talk radio and partisan commentators. It just so happens that I today heard Senator Santorum on the Sean Hannity show. Yes, that's right. I listen to the Sean Hannity Show. Deal with it.

Santorum's appearance was billed as a "shocking new development" in the Iraq WMD story. Instead, they presented a campaign sandwich, slapping a good 3 minutes of Santorum for Senate on either side of the juicy Iraqi WMD meat. Hannity really pumped for the campaign, doing his all to turn out supporters, contributions, and votes. The meat was Santorum going on about the "500 WMD shells" that have been found in Iraq, directly implying but never unambiguously stating that these are the weapons that justify the 2003 invasion. In reality, of course, these shells are the ones that we probably have receipts for somewhere in the DoD. These are shells from the Iraq-Iran border, where they laid buried and forgotten under tons of sand for nearly 2 decades since the Iraq-Iran War. The remnants of the fluid they contained isn't exactly safe to drink, but they certainly are no longer weapons in the sense that they can no longer be used. That certainly bars them from being considered WMD. To suggest they justify the war in Iraq is a lie.

Santorum was pitching a new "development" - a document apparently written after the war, but written by one of the dissidents that operated against Saddam during his rule. It is billed as an affidavit stating that 50 trucks were transferred out of Iraq and into Syrian Intelligence hands in Lebanon. The author doesn't know what was in the trucks, but of course suspicion abounds.

The interesting thing about the interview, beyond Santorum's manifest electoral desperation in hawking such a dishonest story, was Hannity's reaction to the story. Certainly, Hannity treated the information itself without a hint of skepticism, but he did address the glaring logical contradictions in the story. First, Hannity questioned Santorum about the motives of the White House in keeping this apparently exculpatory evidence secret. "Why wouldn't they emphasize the discovery of these shells instead of keeping it so secret?" he asked. The answer Santorum gave was that the White House wanted to "look forward" rather than looking back. According the Santorum, the Karl Rove White House is just to big to attempt to score political points at their opponent's expense. Hannity really pressed him on this, saying that people had accused the President of lying, and that his legacy was on the line.

I think Hannity's tactic here is interesting. The emphatic, and at times ferocious questioning really made Hannity look good. He looked like the bulldog reporter sniffing out a contradiction in the public statements of a politician. Given that this emphatic questioning was directed against a Republican, it makes Hannity look like someone who questions everyone toughly, even his allies. This is a ruse, of course.

The second logical contradiction Sean questioned concerned the fact that not all WMD sites have even been inspected, much less collected and quarantined. "Why wouldn't the Army go and collect all the other weapons? Why leave them in the ground?" Santorum's response was that "this is a very good question, and one that [he] had asked." He said he received a resonse but that he wasn't "at liberty to discuss" the answer. This is further deception on Rick's part, since the reason he isn't at liberty to discuss the answer is that it would tear to shreds his entire narrative. We don't collect the shells for one very good reason - they aren't a threat to anyone, and our men are too busy trying not to get blown up to go chase down every piece of discarded munition from the 80's.


Turkey vs Kurdistan?

Whoa! Remember how I said that I wouldn't post more on Iraq unless it was good news or much worse news? That didn't take long. This looks like it could be a disaster:
Israel launched airstrikes on Lebanon in response to attacks by Hizbullah earlier this month, and George W. Bush called it "self-defense." But what to tell the Turks, who over the last week lost 15 soldiers to terror attacks launched by separatist Kurds from neighboring Iraq? Many Turkish leaders are pressing for cross-border tactical air assaults on the guerrillas. But Bush, fearing yet another escalation of the Middle East's violence, urged Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to hold off. "The message was, unilateral action isn't going to be helpful," says a senior U.S. official, describing the 15-minute phone conversation. "The president asked for patience."
That last bit has the slight sting of painful irony, doesn't it?
Since the beginning of the year, attacks on Turkish military garrisons and police stations have escalated across the country's southeast, along with random shootings, bombings and protests - many of them, authorities suspect, organized in Iraq. Already the Turkish military has laid detailed plans for possible helicopter and commando assaults, government sources tell NEWSWEEK. Meanwhile, Ankara's frustration with Washington has grown palpable. For all the Bush administration's repeated promises to crack down on the PKK, little if anything has happened. With elections coming next year, Erdogan could be pardoned for soon concluding that his forbearance might prove politically dangerous. "Moderate, liberal people in Turkey are becoming increasingly anti-American," warns Turkey's Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul. "That isn't good."
The Turks are under the same political pressures the Israelis suffer - the need to exact revenge on increasingly daring terrorists. Furthermore, Turkey has the added pressure of its large and historically separatist ethnic Kurdish minority living in its southeast provinces near Iraq. As Kurdistan gets more and more independent, its draw for the Kurds living in Turkey will grow, and Turkey will be damned if they'll lose yet another piece of their once great empire. At some point in the near future, if the attacks from Iraq continue at their current pace, acting forcefully may become a matter of political survival for Turkey's leaders. At that point, no entreaties for "restraint" from Washington will stop the response.

This doesn't look good, but this conflict, like all the other problems that have developed with the Iraq war, was predicted years ago.


More Troops to Baghdad

Yet another story about security in Baghdad. Thankfully, they're adjusting now that it is clear that the never-ending "emergency" security provisions in Baghdad aren't effective at stopping the blooming sectarian violence:
President George W. Bush and Iraq's prime minister said on Tuesday more U.S. and Iraqi troops will go to Baghdad to try to slow sectarian violence in talks that exposed gaps between them on the Middle East.

"God willing, there will be no civil war in Iraq," Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said.
Over 1000 dead per week? Close to 8,000 in the last two months? Sorry, Prime Minister, but it looks like God has already made that call.

You know, I'm done posting about the descending spiral in Iraq. As realistic as I was about the chances for a sea-change catalyzed by the still newish national unity government, I was at least hopeful that change would occur. I practiced the tinkerbell strategy with the best of them, clapping as hard as I could for the new Iraqi government. Low and behold, it turns out that my optimism had no effect on conditions on the ground! What a shocker.

I'll post more about Iraq when something changes for the better, or changes dramatically for the worse. Anyone want to put money on which one comes first?

The WaPo gets it right again

The WaPo's done exceptional editorializing on the subject of executive authority and its growing control of our republic. The latest entry is this column from Froomkin, and addresses the growing furor over Presidential signing statements.

A blistering report out today from a blue-ribbon legal panel dramatically establishes how President Bush's use of signing statements to assert his right to ignore legislation passed by Congress undermines the rule of law and the constitutional system of separation of powers.

The report, from an American Bar Association task force, goes a long way toward establishing the parameters for what could be a ferocious and consequential debate -- or an unparalleled acquiescence to an executive-branch power grab.

The Constitution does not envision the poorly defined role President Bush has ascribed to himself in regards to these signing statements. The President cannot make law - he can only sign, veto, or do nothing with a bill, thereby using his pocket veto. Instead, he's taken to signing laws that he doesn't agree with by adding statements of his own intent to the law. In this way, he is acting as a part of the legislature, amending the end product of the law and how it is executed. This is an assault on the separation of powers doctrine, since he is arrogating unto himself an equal power to that of the legislature.

Once again, as with the NSA spying program and its various defenses, the Bush Administration is making war on our Republic.

Iraqi Security

Bush and Maliki are meeting. I wonder what they'll talk about.

The administration appears to be running out of options for taming the violence. U.S. strategy calls for building a political framework for reconciling Iraq's feuding sectarian groups while continuing to train and equip new Iraqi security forces. That has been Mr. Maliki's strategy too, but so far with little success. U.S. military commanders say they are considering shifting yet more American troops to Baghdad to help Mr. Maliki make an additional attempt to pacify the city.

Senior administration officials say they are deeply concerned about the increase in violence in Iraq, and they characterize the initial results of Mr. Maliki's security plan as "disappointing."
Incidentally, here's what Maliki said about Israel and Lebanon while in London:
In London, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki broke ranks with his U.S. and British allies and warned that the continued international tolerance of civilian casualties in Lebanon would spread extremism that could endanger Arab regimes throughout the Middle East. "I am afraid there will be a great push toward fundamentalism, and also a message -— a negative one -— to all those who want to follow the course of peace," Maliki said. "We will go back to zero - to actions and reactions."
The Iraqi Prime Minister has every right to express his own opinion. In fact, politically, he has to express a differing view from America for two reasons - because his people are anti-Israeli, and because publicly taking an opposing position on this issue that is so important to the "Arab Street" serves to show independence from the Americans he so depends on. He can use this issue to combat or reverse the Iraqi perception of him as America's poodle, and that would be good for our rapidly shrinking strategic goals. That being said, this is a further piece of proof that this war was not worth the cost! We have lost over 2500 servicemen, had over 18,000 wounded, and cost ourselves over 2 trillion dollars so that we could seat a governmnet that would be hostile to our friends, allies of Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran, and too weak to keep out terrorists. This seems like a good trade to conservatives?

Irrelevant Congress

From the "Do they tell Congress Anything?" department, we have the story of a Pakistani plutonium reactor. Built beginning in 2000, the power plant is capable of producing around 200 kilgrams of plutonium per year. At around 10 kgs per critical mass, you could make about 20 kindergarden grade nuclear weapons a year with this one reactor. Surely this comes as no surprise to our intelligence agencies, right? Right. Congress, on the other hand...
"What is baffling is that this information -- which was surely information that our own intelligence agencies had -- was kept from Congress," said Sokolski, now director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center. "We lack imagination if we think that this is no big deal."


Putting Numbers on the Big Board

I'm with Atrios and FiredogLake. Let's use our commute time to call the Senators on the Judiciary Commitee. Call the switchboard tollfree at 888-355-3588 and ask for the following Senator's Offices:
Arlen Specter, Chairman - (R), Pennsylvania - Fax (202) 228-1229

Orrin G. Hatch - (R), Utah - Fax (202) 224-6331

Patrick J. Leahy - (D), Vermont - Fax (202) 224-3479

Charles E. Grassley - (R), Iowa - Fax (515) 288-5097

Edward M. Kennedy - (D), Massachusetts - Fax (202) 224-2417

Jon Kyl - Arizona - (R), Fax (202) 224-2207

Joseph R. Biden, Jr. - (D), Delaware - Fax (202) 224-0139

Mike DeWine - (R), Ohio - Fax (202) 224-6519

Herbert Kohl - Wisconsin - Fax (202) 224-9787

Jeff Sessions - (R), Alabama - Fax (202) 224-3149

Dianne Feinstein - (D), California - Fax (202) 228-3954

Lindsey Graham - (R), South Carolina - Fax (864) 250-4322

Russell D. Feingold - (D), Wisconsin - Fax (202) 224-2725

John Cornyn - (R), Texas - Fax (972) 239-2110

Charles E. Schumer - (D), New York - Fax (202) 228-3027

Sam Brownback - (R), Kansas - Fax (202) 228-1265

Richard J. Durbin - (D), Illinois - Fax (202) 228-0400

Tom Coburn - (R), Oklahoma - Fax (202) 224-6008

Register your strong, emphatic, and polite opposition to the White House-Specter Bill on NSA spying. I'm telling them all that the Supreme Court has just reaffirmed Youngstown with Hamdan, and yet the White House Bill pretends that the President has the Constitutional authority to break a duly enacted law regulating his power. The Bill would represent a danger to our Republic, and the Senator needs to oppose it.

For those of you who haven't called before, no debate ensues here. You don't have to convince them of anything, since they're just phone-bots designed to transcribe and "pass on." Every one of those calls took me no more than 45 seconds, switchboarding included. Just do it. What else are you going to do while sitting in the car? Listen to another iteration of the same crap radio songs?

Security in Baghdad

More stark stories about the effective security the Iraqis are experiencing while the emergency security lockdown of Baghdad is taking place. Take note that these emergency security measures have been in place since June 14.
Iraqis, especially in Baghdad, live in an atmosphere where they calculate risk vs. reward, on even the simplest day-to-day tasks, like grocery shopping or going to the bank.

On Sunday, a suicide bomber drove his vehicle into the middle of one of Baghdad's largest markets, claiming the lives of at least 32 Iraqi civilians, reinforcing the reality that no one is safe.

As the summer heat pounds, life in the capital is suffocating. The government's security plan has done little more than cause more traffic jams at checkpoints.

Yup. That's the security initiative for you. Terrible. Once again, imagine living under such conditions. Having to weigh risk vs reward on going to the grocery store would quickly change the deep texture of your reality. Factor in spotty water, power, sewage, gas, and just about every other infrastructure-dependent amenity in modern life, and your average westerner would be reaching for the AK.

Specter and the NSA

You've got to be kidding me, Arlen. There's a lot wrong with Specter's op-ed explaining his bill, but I'll start with this:
Critics complain that the bill acknowledges the president's inherent Article II power and does not insist on FISA being the exclusive procedure for the authorization of wiretapping. They are wrong. The president's constitutional power either exists or does not exist, no matter what any statute may say.
The President may well have constitutional authority to utilize his war powers, but that does not mean that the Congress must be mute in how he executes those powers. As we've seen recently in Hamdan, the Congress has the constitutional authority to regulate the discharge of duties by members of the government, whether they are officers of the Unitary Executive or not. So addressing whether the NSA program violates our 4th Amendment rights isn't the sole question. The question is whether the NSA program violates FISA, which is a constitutional and duly enacted law.

In fact, Senator Specter's bill effectively repeals FISA by amending the exclusivity clause. FISA would just be one of the possible ways to eavesdrop on American citizens on U.S. soil - the other being the executive authority of the President. This plops us right back in the bad old days before FISA, when for decades Presidents of both parties secretly abused their power to eavesdrop on innocent Americans. Political opponents were surveilled, blackmail ensued, and the core of our democracy was threatened. There can be no freedom when the government has the power to secretly invade our privacy because dissent is strangled through intimidation. There will be abuses of this power, because since the times of the bible human nature hasn't changed! The entreaties to "just trust us" are fundamentally unAmerican! As Thomas Jefferson once said, "in questions of powers, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution."

If Specter's bill passes, our intelligence apparatus will once again vanish into the black hole of our Unitary Executive. Once again, our vast intelligence resources will turn, in secret, on our own citizens. Such authority, and the power to control it represents, will lose us the Republic.


Israel's Damaged Gunboat

I've recently argued with conservatives about the efficacy of sea power against a reasonably advanced enemy, vis-a-vis military action against Iran. My point has been that even with Close In Weapon Systems - point defense systems designed to shoot down incoming missiles - the Navy is a big fat target just waiting to get hit. I think I got called a "Hate America Firster" for the trouble.

Well, we've just had a real experiment to test the argument. Israel had the following missile cruiser blockading one of Lebanon's ports:You see the white cylinder thing at the bow of the cruiser? The little horizontal gray part coming out the front is the minigun. That's a CIWS, and yet the cruiser was nearly destroyed by a single missile.

You'd think that would be the end of that argument, wouldn't you? We'll see. Acknowledging inconvenient facts isn't conservatives strong point.



Pat Buchanan, amazingly enough, has been one of the few conservatives to keep his head about him in the post 9/11 era. Rather than embrace the doctrine of preemption, which he refers to as "attacking people that have never attacked us," he maintains a foreign policy based on Realism rather than Idealism. He has a incendiary column out, continuing his full throated attack against the radical conservatives that control our government. In part, it is an answer to those neoconservatives who have asked why we should wait to engage Hezbollah, Syria and Iran directly, given that they are "our" enemies.
"Why wait?" Well, one reason is that the United States has not been attacked. A second is a small thing called the Constitution. Where does George W. Bush get the authority to launch a war on Iran? When did Congress declare war or authorize a war on Iran?

Answer: It never did. But these neoconservatives care no more about the Constitution than they cared about the truth when they lied into war in Iraq.

As I read that, an unvoiced, Keanu-like "Whoa" went through my head. "Ouch."

Another passage I particularly liked was this allusion to the type of war we're fighting:
No, Israel is doing this, with the blessing and without a peep of protest from President Bush. And we wonder why they hate us.
I love it when people acknowledge the reality that this "War on Terrorism", if it is a coherent idea at all, must be viewed as a war of ideas moreso than a war of military might and tactical prowess, since it is the creation of new terrorists that should concern us as much as the killing of existing ones. It is the strategic victory that signals the end of all wars, and we've lost sight of that through our emphasis on tactical victories - the visceral thrill many of the neocons obviously derive from the thought of "killing the bad guys." A host of strategies and tactics are invoked by acknowledgement that we are not in "total war" as we were with the Japanese and Germans. Soft power, in this war, is the most valuable weapon, lest we amplify the terrorists political message with the deaths of innocents.

The column goes on to thoroughly excoriate the neoconservatives, to the point of accusing them of having other motives than America's best interests at heart. To get an idea of how angry he is at the travesty of government we currently endure, you can see him here, courtesy of Crooks and Liars, talking about the Bush Administration and the neoconservatives. It's a great clip.


Court denies State's Secrets

Astonishingly, a federal judge has denied the government's request to dismiss the Electronic Frontier Foundation's case against AT&T based on the grounds that disclosures during the course of the case would harm national security. This is remarkable, since the judiciary historically sides with the government in matters that might harm national security. So why did the judge dismiss the requested dismissal? It certainly wasn't because the Administration made a weak pitch:

U.S. director of intelligence John Negroponte told the court in a filing that disclosing the information in the case "could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States."

"The very subject matter of this action is hardly a secret," the U.S. District Court for Northern California judge wrote. "Public disclosures by the government and AT&T indicate that AT&T is assisting the government to implement some kind of surveillance program."

"The compromise between liberty and security remains a difficult one," he continued. "But dismissing this case at the outset would sacrifice liberty for no apparent enhancement of security."

I had assumed all of these court cases would be squashed by exactly this government secrets gambit. Thank god for an independent judiciary.


Securing Baghdad

Remember the punditry saying that the new permanent government really needed to secure Baghdad in order to begin to govern in earnest? Remember the emergency declaration for Baghdad?
One of al-Maliki's first actions, Biden explained, was to declare a state of emergency in certain contested sectors of Baghdad and send tens of thousands of security troops to keep the peace. In addition, al-Maliki made moves to rein in such Shiite militias as the Mahdi Army.
Personally, I was hopeful that with the legitimacy of a national unity government beneath it, the Iraqi government could start asserting itself more forcefully without creating a backlash. Unfortunately, it appears that even with securing Baghdad as its top priority, the combination of Iraqi and coalition force just isn't sufficient to quell the insurgency. In a United Nation's study of the violence, published by the NYTimes, are the cold numbers laid bare.
An average of more than 100 civilians per day were killed in Iraq last month, the highest monthly tally of violent deaths since the fall of Baghdad, the United Nations reported today.


United Nations officials also said that the number of violent deaths had been steadily increasing since at least last summer. In the first six months of this year, the civilian death toll jumped more than 77 percent, from 1,778 in January to 3,149 in June, the organization said.

This sharp upward trend reflected the dire security situation in Iraq as sectarian violence has worsened and Iraqi and American government forces have been powerless to stop it.

This is a cycle of violence ignited by the Zarqawi school of sectarian insurgency, and perpetuated by the positive feedback loop of revenge. Those damned positive feedback loops. They're just too difficult to abridge - especially when you're dealing with issues of life, death, and vengance.

And as a final statistic, just to tie it all together:
In its report, the United Nations said that 14,338 civilians had died violently in Iraq in the first six months of the year.
That, my friends, is a civil war.

Remember that Investigation of the NSA...

Remember the investigation into the NSA spying program that got squashed because the Administration lawyers doing the review couldn't get a security clearance to learn about the program? Surprise, suprise! It was President Bush himself that blocked the investigation by withholding those clearances.
Under sharp questioning from Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter, Gonzales said that Bush would not grant the access needed to allow the probe to move forward.

“It was highly classified, very important and many other lawyers had access. Why not OPR?” asked Specter, R-Pa.

“The president of the United States makes the decision,” Gonzales told the committee hearing, during which he was strongly criticized on a range of national security issues by Specter and Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the panel’s senior Democrat.

Oy. Anything to avoid a legal review of the program - even by his own lawyers!

National Embarrassment Update

The eloquent Christy has a more full accounting of the embarrassment this G8 trip has been. I had forgotten the biggest one of all - the zinger delivered by Putin about the relative desirability of the democracy incubating in a fledgling Iraqi. To shame our efforts like that in front of the international press... it's a remarkable change in the way America is viewed around the world.

Red Faced for Our Nation

This G8 has been so embarrassing. First, Dr. Rice is there instead of in the Middle East. Shouting ensued. Secondly, we had the cursing open mic incident that made us all look so dignified. Now we have the following, courtesy of Josh Marshall:

Everyone's seen one of "those guys" before. That's the leader of the free world for you.


How Will the Israelis Stop?

Barring an unlikely escalation into a wider war with Syria, how does Israel decide when and how to stop the retaliation? The most likely outcome, I think, will be what certain conservatives will call a "war of half-measures," since the alternatives can get rapidly messy. They'll continue for one or two weeks, shelling the hell out any Hezbollah target they can find until they're convinced that they've exacted a heavy enough toll to dissuade further attacks. Once Israel feels she has bloodied Lebanon sufficiently, they'll declare victory in cease-fire form and go home.

The real question is whether or not they'll engage in a ground assault. I think they probably should, so long as they keep their heads about them by not allowing a sustained occupation. Air power, of course, has never won a war. If you want to kill the bad guys instead of innocents you have to do it on the ground, fighting as men. You have to put your soldiers in harm's way rather than cowardly dropping bombs on apartment complexes, radicalizing a whole new generation through deaths of innocents, creation of hundreds of thousands of refugees, and billions of dollars of damage done to civilian infrastructure.

Of course, the Israelis shouldn't call it an invasion. Rather, a ground assault would have to be a targeted incursion designed to suppress the Hezbollah enemy in a buffer zone roughly the size of the Katyusha rocket's range - 12 miles or so - since the Katyusha is the dominant armament Hezbollah possesses. Luckily, those are truck mounted systems, so the Israelis wont have to search the basements of all those apartment buildings they keep blowing up in order to fight the enemy. The IDF couldn't win that fight in the traditional sense. Instead of battling through the warrens of Lebanon taking heavy casualties, the IDF would just destroy any Hezbollah military infrastructure on the ground and as many of those Katyusha launchers as possible. Effectively, Israel would be seeking to establish a DMZ on its border to remove the umbrella of threat they live under. The Israelis can easily justify this action, going so far as to cast it as giving assistance to the Lebanese government to conform to U.N. resolution 1559. "Since you can't maintain control over your country, we'll disarm Hezbollah for you, then leave immediately and some one else will be responsible for keeping the D in DMZ."

While that action is justified, it may not be so easy. Can they achieve those goals without an occupation (which is a strategic loss)? If they were to invade Southern Lebanon - Hezbollah's stronghold - they would meet stand-up resistance that they could easily defeat. The resistance will not stay so direct, however. Hezbollah should be expected to adroitly turn to insurgent tactics, harassing the Israelis from their tunnels, making it easier for them to sustain the fight and harder for Israel to leave. No one likes leaving an engagement while still under fire, after all. That feels too much like retreat, and Olmert has never served in the military. Plus, no peacekeeping force will insert until there is an actual peace to keep, and those troops wouldn't be easy to find under the best conditions. That leaves the Lebanese Army, which hopefully, after the pain inflicted on Hezbollah, will be strong enough to reestablish the government's sovereignty over its southern reaches.

What will this accomplish in terms of actually dissuading further violence against Israel? I wonder what history would tell us... oh, right.


Dr. Rice had one of her prolific Sunday mornings this weekend. At her first appearance the backdrop illicited an immediate shout: "WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN RUSSSIA?" Doesn't she know there's an inordinate amount of stuff on fire?


Asymmetric Warfare, Modern Insurgencies, and the War on Terror

There's something that's been driving me a little crazy since the weeks after 9/11. The War on Terror is not a war in the sense that World War II or the Civil War were wars, and speaking of it in those terms for years has lead to fundamental misunderstandings among the American populace. Those were symmetric conflicts, very different in nature from the current asymmetric forces we face. This fundamental difference, although given the occasional mention by the traditional media, is not well understood. It is especially poorly understood amongst the conservatives still defending George W. Bush. Given the ungroked status of asymmetric warfare, I've decided to pontificate and try to free some minds. I've been lead to believe that's what blogs are for.

So, to begin, we should define our terms and thereby enumerate the differences between symmetric and asymmetric warfare.

A symmetric conflict is one between powers of roughly equivalent strength, using roughly equivalent tactics, and working towards roughly equivalent goals - normally driving the enemy from territory. In symmetric wars, it is comparatively easy to discern combatants from civilians, as the combatants wear uniforms. In the Medieval period, cavalry, archers and footmen fought cavalry, archers and footmen. In World War I, entrenched machinegunners faced entrenched machinegunners. In order to win the symmetric war your army must capture territory and hold it against counterattack. As the territory controlled by the losing army shrinks, so too does its ability to effectively resist the winning army. Eventually the losing army is so anemic that a surrender is inevitable, and the war is won. This is why symmetric conflicts tend to be so tidy - because there is a front line, civilians aren't intentionally put in the way, and the losing side is actually beaten at the conclusion.

The history of warfare before the 20th Century is almost entirely a story of symmetric war. Every conflict that engulfed more than a province was of the symmetric variety, so we as a species have had plenty of practice with this type of fighting. Futhermore, because this type of conflict is always tethered directly to a state, it is really governments (or Kings, depending on your time period) that are calling the shots. As such, there is a command structure and order imposed from on high. Since the goals of each pair of competing Kings are so nearly identical, and because Kings by definition don't care about their population individually, an almost amicable arrangement evolved. The Rules of Warfare - an oxymoronic phrase in the present - served to civilize the conflict and ensure that the end goals wouldn't be ruined by an excessively messy conflict. Effectively, these rules developed in order to allow the Kings to continue engaging in their wars with regularity.

Asymmetric conflicts occur when the losers either don't know or don't care that they've been beaten. What terrible manners! In the case of modern conflicts where the nearly omnipotent American military is involved, the losers realize that to fight a conventional war would merely assure their humiliating deaths. No one likes dying, even less-so dying in futility, so different tactics must be adopted.

Notably, the strategic goal of symmetric armies is missing in asymmetric warfare. Rather than trying to hold territory via stand-up battles, the guerrillas immediately cede the battlefield. They give the enemy seemingly complete control of the land, allowing them to travel anywhere and destroy anything they like. The insurgents hide their uniforms, if they ever had any, and blend into the population with the intention of avoiding every tactical engagement where more than a handful of them could be killed at a time. They hit-and-run, attacking lightly defended targets of opportunity and then disappearing back into their civilian warrens.

Strategically, the goals of the insurgents are entirely different than the goals of the occupying power. Although their ultimate goal is similar - to control the territory - asymmetric combatants have the home-turf advantage. As simple as that sounds, it has profound strategic implications. The insurgents have a natural base of support in the people that lost the symmetric conflict, including those that used to be in power before the occupying army took the region. The insurgents can use the punishment meted out by the occupier to further increase their support base via the common persecution psychology that has been illustrated effectively so many times. Most importantly, however, the cost of maintaining the conflict doesn't matter to the insurgents, both because the cost is so much lower than for the occupying army and because the motivation for continuing the conflict into insurgency tends to be so viscerally strong. Be it the lingering taste of usurped power or boiling vengeance for dead relatives, the insurgent's dedication creates an entirely different calculus for the war.

The cost of the occupation matters to the occupiers, but the cost of the resistance does not matter to the insurgents. This leads to a single, clear goal for the insurgents - don't lose. Every time the insurgents attack infrastructure, lob some mortars, or car-bomb the local U.N. headquarters, they increase the cost of the occupation for the occupiers, and the occupiers, by definition, cannot expend an unlimited amount of resources to control the occupied land. As long as the violence continues apace, the insurgents are winning. Eventually, therefore, the occupiers are forced to leave simply by virtue of cost.

Note that during the entirety of the occupation, the occupying power continues to have absolute military superiority over the region. There is no target the occupying army cannot destroy, and there is no force of guerrillas the occupying army will not kill in a stand-up fight. As in Vietnam, the occupying army can win every single tactical engagement and still be losing the war because they cannot effectively decrease the violence perpetrated by the guerrillas and therefore the costs continuously increase.

So, if the insurgents win by not losing, how is it possible for the occupying power to win? The key to winning the war is stopping the process by which civilians become insurgents, because cost considerations do not matter to the resistance. The recruitment pipeline for insurgencies are their lifeblood, since their individual members tend to die so quickly in exchanges with the occupying army. Recruitment is facilitated in every way by violence. Violence kills innocents and recruits are born. Violence ruins the economy and young men are driven into the arms of the insurgents. Fighting the occupiers offers a purpose - the noble vocation of defending your country - to fill the existential void of living without hope.

If the occupying power needs to disrupt the recruitment pipeline in order to win the war, how can that be accomplished? Since violence is the driving force for recruitment, violence is what needs to be addressed. The gold standard for counterinsurgency is the Inkblot Strategy. The strategy is essentially a clear, hold, and build strategy, where first the active insurgents are suppressed through massive occupier presence. Those guerrillas that stand up and fight are killed, and if enough occupying troops are in the area, a quiet ensues. With occupiers on every street corner, the insurgents cannot move arms, set IEDs, or significantly interfere with the next stage of the strategy. As calm settles, massive investment is poured into the area to repair battle damage and crippled infrastructure. This investment creates local jobs, improving everyone's quality of life both through services provided by that new infrastructure and gainful employment for the young men that would otherwise flock to the insurgency. In this area of stability, things get better, and the rest of the country feels the twinge of envy. Once the inkblot has been established it is the task of the occupiers to expand the area slowly, and thereby eventually win the occupation.

Unfortunately for us, this strategy is not available to us in Iraq. There's really just one sticking point that would constrain us even if we had leadership interested in changing strategies. Namely, we don't have any more troops to deploy into the country. Without those troops, we can only implement a "clear and leave" strategy, which is not a strategy that has any chance of success. How many times did we have to pacify Fallujah and Ramadi, after all?

The fix the Bush loyalists see for this problem is the training of the Iraqi Army and Police forces to create the troops needed to impliment and expand the inkblot strategy. I can't remember the numbers exactly, but we are planning on training close to 300,000 Iraqi troops to take our place. Well, currently we have nearly 270,000 troops trained. If we are at 90% of our goal, and if we are to "stand down as they stand up," then why aren't conditions improving enough for us to "stand down?" The answer lies in the nature of the troops we are training. They do not think of themselves as Iraqis, but rather as ethnic militias working for their own sect's goals. The very forces we are training are part of the cause of the increasing sectarian violence, not part of the solution for that increase.

So, if we cannot do what we need to do to win, why should we be there? If we are not interested in paying the price required for victory, why should we pay the price of the status quo? We have had 22,000 casualties in this war, and a two trillion dollar impact to the economy. Is this a price worth paying to continue a strategy doomed to failure?

Asymmetric Warfare requires an entirely different approach than does Total War. The Republican Party, who advocate an indefinite continuation of our pre-ordained failure in Iraq, does not understand the subtleties of use of force. Instead, they allow themselves to be ruled by emotions - by the satisfying feeling of blowing the hell out of someone. We need real leadership, and that means telling the American people that we have to fight a smart war against our real opponents, rather than a viscerally satisfying war against an entire region. There will be fewer explosions on TV during our smart war - our global counterinsurgency - but we will be safer as a result.

Washington Post and Specter's FISA Bill

The Washington Post leads the editorial boards of the nation in recognizing that Specter's bill, marketed as a compromise, is nothing of the sort:
Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has cast his agreement with the White House on legislation concerning the National Security Agency's warrantless surveillance as a compromise -- one in which President Bush accepts judicial review of the program. It isn't a compromise, except quite dramatically on the senator's part. Mr. Specter's bill began as a flawed but well-intentioned effort to get the program in front of the courts, but it has been turned into a green light for domestic spying. It must not pass.
Right on, WaPo. How refreshing.

While the bill would achieve a limited judicial review...
But the cost of this judicial review would be ever so high. The bill's most dangerous language would effectively repeal FISA's current requirement that all domestic national security surveillance take place under its terms. The "compromise" bill would add to FISA: "Nothing in this Act shall be construed to limit the constitutional authority of the President to collect intelligence with respect to foreign powers and agents of foreign powers." It would also, in various places, insert Congress's acknowledgment that the president may have inherent constitutional authority to spy on Americans. Any reasonable court looking at this bill would understand it as withdrawing the nearly three-decade-old legal insistence that FISA is the exclusive legitimate means of spying on Americans. It would therefore legitimize whatever it is the NSA is doing -- and a whole lot more.
Effectively, this bill would repeal FISA, a law enacted with 95-1 support in the Senate in response to decades of clandestine spying on the American people. It would repeal FISA because FISA would no longer be the sole remedy for electronic surveillance directed against American citizens on American soil. Instead, FISA would be a law that the President could follow if he was feeling unkingly one day and needed the support of those normally superfluous members of the Judicial Branch. As the WaPo says, it must not pass.

Israel vs Lebanon (or Syria, Iran, et al.)

In my head, the following paragraph is prerequisite for the ensuing discussion. Call it empathy for a people I consider brothers, or call it fear of being labeled an anti-Semite by hypernationalists - however you want to play it.

Israel has a right to defend herself. The actions taken by her aggressive neighbors are deplorable, and defending Israel's citizens by meeting force with force is absolutely acceptable. Imagine what the national drive for retribution would be in America if Mexico launched 600 missile attacks on Texas over a few days. Israel has just as much right to anger and retaliation as we would have. Factor in that soldiers have been kidnapped - a visceral affront almost worse than death - and their reaction is understandable.

That being said, Israel can no more accomplish her goals via this use of overwhelming force than can my pale shadow mount and impregnate a galloping rhinoceros. To veer dangerously close to the cliche, it is often repeated that a definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results each time. It strikes me that Israel has tried this approach before. The last time they took Lebanon they sent sortie after sortie to kill Yasser Arafat, knocking down a series of apartment buildings in the process. They respond to attacks on their military and civilians by attacking their enemy's infrastructure with a broad offensive. How has that worked for them in the past, I wonder? Through these tactics, they have historically strengthened their most radical enemies.

As a point of illustration, why did northern Ireland's insurgency die off? How did they get it right? What makes them so smart? Everyone knows of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, but proceeding that were necessary changes in the fabric of the people's day-to-day lives. Cribbing from Wikipedia:
Starting around 1995, a phenomenon known as the Celtic Tiger swept the country, largely due to the highly educated, low cost workforce attracting large numbers of overseas companies. From 1996, the country has had a sustainable annual growth rate of over 6% (behind only China and India), and unemployment lower than 4%. During these years, the country has been flooded with more money than the government knows what to do with...
The concomitant expansions of the middle class and diminution of the poverty class was the real key to winning that insurgency. By increasing the number of people that live a stable, comfortable life, free of the desperation that thread-bare existence engenders, the economy of Ireland organically shrank the number of people willing to kill and die for a nebulous independence. The realworld draw of consumerism bests fundamentalism every time.

Therefore, the Israeli reaction to Hamas and Hezbollah is doubly stupid. By responding so forcefully, they kill innocents, radicalizing relatives and friends. But by responding with the destruction of civilian infrastructure, they cripple the economic development that would win the war, preferring to eschew that strategic goal in favor of tactical victories. By the economic benefits of an international airport, or telecommunication links, natural market forces will raise all boats, thereby stabilizing the populace. With a stable, fat and happy life, blowing yourself up doesn't seem like such a sweet trade.

That being said, the situation is different than it was in 1982 when Israel began incubating Hezbollah from a tiny faction to a serious political movement. If I might engage in a touch of Tinkerbell-ism, Hezbollah is now a stakeholder - a bona fide member of the Lebanese government! As such, I hope they cannot easily get away with blundering into such a painful engagement and pulling the entire country with them. The culpability for damage inflicted on the populace and on the infrastructure will hopefully be assigned equally to Israel and Hezbollah, marking that group for decline. Unfortunately, that effect will last only so long, and if Israel's reaction continues down its current path, no amount of clapping will bear out our hopes.

That does not mean, however, that the outcome will be good. Radicalization of otherwise peaceful Arabs is what should be avoided, and Israel just can't seem to help herself.


DOJ discounts Hamdan v. Rumsfeld

The Honorable Charles Schumer sent a letter to the Department of Justice seeking an update on the legal justifications for the NSA Spying Program in light of the Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld decision, and the DOJ has responded (.pdf). Unless you're hopelessly knave, the content of the response will not come as a surprise. Outrageously, they contend that Hamdan has no bearing on the NSA program.

The DOJ maintains that the AUMF silently amended FISA to allow the program - despite the fact, by Hamdan, it does not silently amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The DOJ contends that Congress has no power to regulate the President's wartime surveillance powers - despite the fact that Hamdan holds that Congress has the power to regulate the War Powers of the President in regards to military tribunals.

Hamdan vs Rumsfeld is our generation's Steel Seizure. We just need some forceful action from Congress in order to convince the Bush Administration of this fact.


Bush's New Foreign Policy

We've all been wondering what the Bush Administration has been doing with it's foreign policy engagements lately. From the Indian nuclear reactors to the bungling of Iran and North Korea, the Bush Administration is making a confident, morally clear mess. At the seminal 2002 State of the Union, after all, Bush outlined not just a clear goal, but what read like a personal mission:
We'll be deliberate, yet time is not on our side. I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons.
Compare that with the appeasement talk we're getting today about diplomacy taking time, and a shift seems undeniable. With Iraq, we had the often repeated construction, "Diplomacy first, but we will disarm Saddam one way or the other." That "but we will" hasn't been tacked on to the statements I've heard concerning Iran. Surely, "no options have been taken off the table," but simply mentioning that in response to questioning is a very different mode of rhetoric. When Bush was talking about disarming Iraq, you could see the glimmer of intention in his eyes. When he added that "but..." you could see his excitement, and it was like looking into the future.

So how to describe the shift? What is at play here is the death of a sole reliance on military strength to defeat our enemies and achieve our objectives. The strength and intimidation paradigm leaves no room for other tactics, and the war with Iraq has thoroughly tied our hands on the military front. No enemy of America is afraid of our power because they know we are currently a paper tiger - wisely unwilling to use our one remaining strategic advantage, the nuclear arsenal. The coercive force doctrine was headlined by the Project for a New American Century, the neoconservative think tank that seems to have determined much of our foreign policy before Bush was elected. The philosophy arose both from the reality of our hegemonic power crossed with a distrust of that positively Clintonian touchy-feely-stuff, otherwise known as diplomacy. "Clinton had negotiated with the North Koreans, after all, and they had cheated on the agreement, playing the United States for chumps," or so goes the neoconservative narrative. In reality, of course, Clinton's agreement effectively halted the North Korean's military nuclear program, stopping plutonium enrichment entirely. During the time under Clinton's Agreed Framework, not a single weapon's worth of enriched fissile material was created by the North Koreans.

So, even though Clinton's Agreed Framework achieved the preeminent goal of stopping the North's nuclear development, it is viewed as a failure. Talking to "these people" is therefore counterproductive to the neoconservative - leaving the various levers of force. And what are you left with when the implementation of your theories leave America with no credibly coercive military force? Nothing, that's what, and the floundering we're seeing is a direct consequence.


Greenwald on Hamdan

Glenn has been busy with promotion for How Would a Patriot Act, so he hasn't fully weighed in on the recent landmark Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld case until now. Incidentally, I'm glad to say that despite the fact that I am not a lawyer, I seem to have been correct in my analysis of the implications of the case: the holdings of the court decimate the Administrations two arguments for the legality of the NSA program. What I hadn't realized is the following:
As A.L. notes, the President has claimed that the program can only continue if it is reauthorized every 45 days, including by Justice Department lawyers who are required – every 45 days – to certify that there the program continues to be legally authorized. But even from the administration’s perspective — assuming that they actually do recognize their obligation to abide by the Supreme Court’s ruling — there are no remaining legal theories which can claim to bestow unto the President the power to violate FISA by eavesdropping on Americans without warrants. Thus, no administration lawyer could now certify this program as legal.
Of course, now that the justification for the program is gone, it cannot be reauthorized. Luckily, we've got smart lawyers to point things like that out.


Que mas Isolation?

In dealing with North Korea's provocative acts the Bush Administration is essentially limited to threatening "further isolation" for the North Korean regime. Forgive me for my denseness, but for a couple of reasons I don't see how that is a strategy that has any chance of success.

First, given the ongoing isolation of the North Korean government, there isn't a lot of room to "further isolate" them. I don't believe they have much engagement with the outside world save the six party talks, which haven't been convened for a meeting in over one Friedman. So what can we take away in order to make things harder on them?

Furthermore, the Chinese give tremendous amounts of food and energy aid to the North Koreans, and those shipments are not going to cease. It seems the Chinese have made the choice that stability in their adjacent neighbor's countries is more important than halting the advancement the of North Korean nuclear program - this despite the fact that the Japanese, with a constitutional amendment and a few scant months, could start their own nuclear weapons program spawning yet another regional arms race. Without aggressive leadership by the Chinese threatening their aid shipments and thereby the day-to-day lives of much of North Korea's population, neither the six party talks nor potential bilateral talks have much in the way of real leverage.

Finally, the reason we say "isolation" is something to be avoided for the North Koreans is that international engagement would facilitate improvements in North Korea's economy, and therefore improve the standard of living for its people. But we've seen time and again that the government does not care about the wellbeing of its people on the individual scale. In fact, the poor conditions in the country are an express benefit for the government, since it allows the largesse of the Party to be preferentially delivered to supporters. Localized starvation conditions are a boon, because P'yongyang can use those conditions to solidify support and weaken opposition. The government's advantage gained by the poor quality of life in the country is a further reason that our leverage is so weak without China's commitment. In order to have the desired impact on the government, the sanctions would have to be broad and almost unduly harsh - visiting those hardships directly on the citizens of North Korea, and hopefully thereby pressing them to defy their government in order to continue their own survival.

So, threatening isolation is not a real plan. I doubt people in the Bush Administration have any faith in it as a strategy, but what else do they have? They have to go on TV and say something.


My Money on the Next Attack

The only pleasure I got on 9/11 was the wry outrage at hearing over and over, "No one could have anticipated the terrorist geniuses using planes as missiles." I had thought of it, after all, and I was hardly a genius. I was a middleschooler when I came up with that pedestrian idea.

But, given that bin Laden envisions an ever increasing arc of terror via increasingly spectacular attacks, I had trouble imagining where the next attack might come. While I was driving rural Georgia today, I came upon something that gave me an inkling. I was stopped at a railroad crossing, and a huge freight train crossed my path, laden with god knows what. But one of the cars caught my attention. It was carrying something that required special markings - the flammable kind.

That made me realize the obvious: that with such a huge industrialized country, we go through chemicals at a rapid clip, and industrial scale supplies of chemicals are moved around almost exclusively by rail. Just the chlorine for our nation's pools and water treatment systems alone represent a huge, mobile stockpile of what is effectively a WWI-era chemical weapon. Our cities are at a surprising risk from these natural consequences of industry.

Take Atlanta, for instance. The city was called Terminus because it was strategically located at the end of the Appalachian Mountains - rail traffic had to go through the future Atlanta if it wanted to avoid the more difficult route of crossing the mountains. By the nature of the rail system, centralization of infrastructure is inevitable, and it centralizes in hub cities. It's almost impossible to take a train from the east coast to the west without passing through Chicago, for example. And anyone who has ever traveled by train knows the landscape - vast, open rail yards populated by sad clusters of cars without any security presence to speak of. Many rail yards don't even have fences, since you can't fence the entire perimeter and there isn't really anything in a rail yard worth stealing anyway. What is a street-punk going to do with 80 tons of coal, or 100,000 gallons of chlorine?

Causing derailments - or aerosolizing explosions - of these shipments inside city limits could be devastating. I think, given the impact on our day-to-day lives, this avenue of attack would qualify for Osama's spectacularicity requirement, and therefore might be the next big one.

The North and their Missiles

Everyone has heard by now that North Korea launched a slew of missiles a few days ago. They were all Rodong missiles save one, which was apparently the Taepodong-2 that had been sitting on the pad for over a week.

"But I thought you said that the fuel is corrosive, and couldn't sit in the engine for more than a few days without causing damage," readers angrily intone. "Get a job, hippie," is my reply.

It can't be possible that the North Koreans didn't know the limitations of their own fuel system, right? Surely. And yet the missile hit the Sea of Japan after just 35 seconds of flight-time in the first stage of the engine. Not only that, but apparently:
A separate report in the Mainichi Shimbun daily cited U.S. and Japanese government officials as saying a piece of the Taepodong-2 missile fell off immediately after take-off, strengthening the view that the launch was a failure.
If a piece fell off immediately after take-off, then the launch was a failure from the first seconds - perhaps because the fuel had damaged essential components? Whenever you launch you learn something, but with so little controlled flight-time, they definitely didn't learn what they had hoped about more complex systems such as the multi-stage engine and ballistic targeting.

So, nicely done, North Koreans. You've really strengthened your hand with this one.

The Holland Tunnel is Safe... for Now!

ABC news is reporting:
Terror Plotters Planned to Bomb NYC's Holland Tunnel, Say Officials

The plotters, described as jihadists, wanted to atack the tunnel with high explosives, according to a report in the New York Daily News, quoting FBI sources.

A suspect has been arrested in Lebanon, officials told ABC News.

A Justice Department official confirmed to ABC News the basics of the alleged plot, but said the planning was in its initial phases and mostly overseas. Officials do not believe there are links to plotters or operatives inside the United States.

Of course, you'd need one hell of a truck-bomb to actually cause a breach in the tunnel. Don't get me wrong, it wouldn't be pleasant to be in the tunnel when the overpressure from the explosion arrived, but...
But an Army Corps of Engineers official told the newspaper the concept was badly flawed. The Holland Tunnel is not in the Hudson River, but in the bedrock beneath it. And the lowest part of downtown Manhattan is 10 feet above sea level.
Did the terrorists think we built the tunnel in the water? It'd be like one of those aquariums, where you walk through tunnels inside the fishtanks... of course, it would be an understatement to say that the view from the bottom of the Hudson wouldn't be as inspiring.

Is this another "development" like the Miami Seven, whose "plot was more aspirational that operational?"


Maliki the Anti-American

I've heard relatively little serious discussion about the National Reconciliation Plan outside of the blogosphere - the preeminent destination for those seeking in-depth analysis of just about anything. But even the blogosphere's been a little on the light side after the initial flareup about "Amnesty for Insurgents."

Perhaps the reason there's been so little depth to coverage is that everyone seems to be confused about the specifics of the plan. Here we have a London Times article from June 23 that states the following:

The 28-point package for national reconciliation will offer Iraqi resistance groups inclusion in the political process and an amnesty for their prisoners if they renounce violence and lay down their arms, The Times can reveal.

The Government will promise a finite, UN-approved timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq...
Now compare to the following article from June 25 from the sleuths at MSNBC:
The prime minister made no mention of any timetable for the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces in a 24-point national reconciliation plan he presented to parliament.
I tell you, that Iraqi Government's Communications Office sure has its operation running shipshape! 24 points vs 28 points; timetable or no timetable - it's all good! Under this fog of confusion, it's no wonder the traditional media isn't jumping at the opportunity to make a fool of itself.

Of course, if you happen to speak Arabic or Kurdish, you can try to get to the bottom of the plan yourself. I'm told it's somewhere on that page, but I'm just learning. Of course, given the inflammatory nature of the plan, no one should be surprised that English translations weren't high on their list of priorities.

Face the Nation's Bob Sheiffer actually commented(.pdf) on this confusion the Sunday after its announcement. He said that they were all ready to run with the Amnesty for Insurgents story, then "the Iraqi government sent out somebody on CNN to say, `Wait a minute. No way. This is not part of the plan.' Now it turns out, according to this leaked report to Newsweek, it is part of the plan." This is what we call a hot potato, and the following are the ways in which it smolders:
The Government will promise a finite, UN-approved timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq; a halt to US operations against insurgent strongholds; an end to human rights violations, including those by coalition troops; and compensation for victims of attacks by terrorists or Iraqi and coalition forces.

It will pledge to take action against Shia militias and death squads. It will also offer to review the process of “de-Baathification” and financial compensation for the thousands of Sunnis who were purged from senior jobs in the Armed Forces and Civil Service after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The deal, which has been seen by The Times, aims to divide Iraqi insurgents from foreign fighters linked to al-Qaeda. It builds on months of secret talks involving Jalal al-Talabani, the Iraqi President, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Ambassador, and seven Sunni insurgent groups.

The Prime Minister of Iraq is advancing a plan that would get a Democrat shellaqued and mounted on the wall. He's for a "date certain" for the withdrawal of occupying troops. He's against assaults on insurgent strongholds. He wants all prisoners treated humanely, regardless of their piecemeal Iraqi couture. He wants a "review" of de-Baathification, which, of course, means at least a limited reversal. He draws distinctions between "terrorists" and "freedom fighters," implicitly endorsing taking up arms against U.S. occupation troops.

This is a striking rebuke of the near entirety of Bush's "More of the Same" strategy for Iraq. How many assaults on insurgent strongholds have we seen? How many times have we conquered Fallujah? How many times has Bush stressed that withdrawal by a date certain would deliver victory to the terrorists, and make America less safe? How many times have we heard that because the insurgents don't fight in uniforms, they don't deserve protections from the "quaint" Geneva Conventions? On how many Sunday morning shows has the decision to extensively de-Baathify the Iraqi government been defended? And how many times have I heard Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage or Boortz deride the idea of "freedom fighters" in their best tone of mockery? I can hear the chorus now.

Where is our media control? Weren't us liberals supposed to control the media? Aren't five Jew-Bankers involved, or something?

Why aren't we hearing about this, and talking about how we can mesh it with George W. Bush's ostensible goals for Iraq? Shouldn't this destroy the GOP's 2006 Iraq-central election strategy?


Reminder: 9/11

On the fourth of July we get news from the NYTimes that simply boils my wine-dark brain.
The Central Intelligence Agency has closed a unit that for a decade had the mission of hunting Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants, intelligence officials confirmed Monday.

The unit, known as Alec Station, was disbanded late last year and its analysts reassigned within the C.I.A. Counterterrorist Center, the officials said.
I understand that Al Qaeda is much less hierarchical than a normal military, and therefore resources would be better used ferreting out home grown terrorists, but I don't care. Why? Because that's revenge. That's Justice for my dead brothers and sisters.

I'd like at least a small team of people working on trying to find bin Laden full time. Can I volunteer for the Try-To-Catch-bin-Laden-Tax so that we can fund this program? Can you imagine how much easier this would be if we hadn't engaged in the Unneccessary War that has so inflamed the world?