Wednesday, December 30, 2009


In the Spring of 1998, I was watching an interview with noted SF author, Harlan Ellison about the process of  writing. He has this little gimmick where he sits in the window of a book store and customers drop off story ideas. He then busily types away, producing a story based on that idea within a few hours. The idea is that a writer writes, and there is no excuse for him or her to do otherwise.  I was shamed, and sat down with an image in my head (a guy maneuvering a small spacecraft in low earth orbit, while listening to Mozart), and started typing what I was determined would be a short story which would be completed within a week.

Two years later, I put the last period at the end of a 90-something page noveloid which, as it turns out, was precisely too long to publish as a short, and too short to publish as a novel. In the process of researching it, I'd read Bob Zubrin's excellent The Case For Mars, as well as a host of other books and articles, learned a lot of cool stuff, and got mixed up in the private spaceflight advocacy community. So, not wasted effort...but I was a bit bummed that only a couple of people got to read the story.

So, I've decided to post it on line and link to it here, broken up into six parts (which I'll make available approximately every week). Because I can.  Of course, in the highly unlikely event that I get a chance to publish it "for real," I'll be yanking it from here in a hot minute.

Also, I'm a rank neophyte when it comes to hosting files on the Web, and categorically refuse to pay a cent to do it. So, I'm trying a free file hosting service from Microsoft. This may change if anyone's got a better idea (...). It's in PDF format, so you'll need Adobe Reader to read it (is there anyone who doesn't have that on their machine?).

Anyway, here it is. Hope you enjoy.

Night Music, Part One

UPDATE: Not unexpectedly, the Microsoft "Skydrive" annoyed me one too many times (i.e., once) by deleting my files. I have moved the file to a free account. The link takes you to a shared folder which I will populate with the parts of the story as I make them available.

UPDATE 2: Since posting these, I have taken the step of self-publishing Night Music for the Kindle platform. Since it is now for sale ($3.00 US), it seemed a mite counterproductive to keep it up here for free (hence the now-broken links). But hey, if you read the rest of this blog, you'll see that the idea of being a Capitalist is not exactly alien to me! Hope you'll have a look at the sample, and, if you like what you see, download the Whole Thing. Here's a link to a suite of free Kindle reading apps for those who don't have a Kindle reader, but do have a smart phone, tablet, PC/MAC, or Blackberry.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Fight Fire with Cool

Via Instapundit, this outrageously gnarly firefighting recon vehicle just overloaded my Kool buffers. Practical or not (and it appears to be very much so, for certain specific applications), something this bad-ass simply needs to be photographed bounding out of some arboreal conflagration in a shower of sparks. James Cameron, take note.

Never Let Waste Go To a Crisis

Nice little piece by Nina Easton in (of all places!) Time Magazine. In it, Easton notes that, despite historical precedents which would incline one to believe the contrary, the current shambles which is the American economy has, by and large not driven vast numbers of people to seek succor at the teat of vastly increased government spending programs.
"Audacity" was a catchy campaign theme, but it's less attractive as a governing principle. The all-important swing voters who decide elections are nervous about dramatic expansions of the Federal Government--even and especially in this time of economic distress. As it turns out, this financial crisis was not the call to bold action that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said shouldn't "go to waste." Quite the opposite: if he doesn't want his presidency to be held hostage by a string of nail-biter votes in Congress, Obama needs to recognize that he overestimated the public's appetite for taxpayer-funded solutions.
 I do think Easton is onto something here. Where the New Deal and the Great Society gained quite durable (if debatably healthsome) traction by offering the promise of remedies for the common American in difficult times, the ambitious Obama agenda of pumping up government and injecting it into greater swathes of the private sector have little to offer the man/woman on the street. Quite the contrary, as Americans witness the grim spectacle of  a lumbering jobless recovery, logarithmically expanding debts and deficits, and the "promise" of inflated taxation to provide vaporware revenues in a steadily deflating currency, the thinking which underlies these practices has been losing market share rather than gaining it.

This is a point to be considered very seriously by any Democrats who hope to hold onto their majority in the upcoming midterms.  These are precisely the circumstances under which one would expect desperate people to look to their government to swoop in and solve their problems. The fact that there is a far smaller-than-anticipated appetite for such top-down solutions presents an opportunity for the Democratic party to read some pretty stark tea leaves (pun intentional) and swing toward the center as it was forced to do after its rout in 1994. However, I have no particularly strong sense that the Obama-Pelosi-Reid axis possesses the canny pragmatism which typified their Clintonian forebears.

Similarly, I hope that Republicans, reflecting on the party's loss of focus after the "Contract With America," will look very carefully at the calls for a "big tent" approach which would have them compromise too strenuously on matters of leaner government and fiscal conservatism. While the idea of an ideological "Purity test" makes me uneasy as a goal state for the GOP, the fact of its proposal can and should serve as an important call to action for a party which has ceded far too much political territory to the centralizing, tax-and-spend philosophies of its adversaries.

While the Tea Partiers and Libertarians may push the envelope a mite too far for my tastes (and they surely do), they offer unmistakable evidence that a continued blurring of the lines between the Republican and Democratic parties will not be tolerated. Rather than the "civil war" and "fracturing" of the GOP which so many Liberals so gleefully declare, I see this as a healthy dialogue taking place within the ranks of those for whom free markets and free people can offer a legitimate alternative to the central planning. It is a conversation which will, it is hoped, delineate the degree to which the GOP chooses to stake its claim to a true and valid antithesis to the thesis that government-controlled "fairness" is a viable organizing framework for a liberal, mercantile republic.

If Easton's observations are as on-target as I suspect that they are, then there is fertile ground in the American electorate for the synthesis which could emerge from this process.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


Obama's speech at West Point, and the politically calculated half-measures it proposed, are the occasion for the latest spot-on post by "Doctor Zero" over at Hot Air. Counterinsurgency is a Long Game, a dogged demonstration of dedication and integrity which is meant to woo a population from the camp of our foes to the circle of our friends. The President's dismal delineation of time-tables and "exit strategies" (Gods! How I have come to detest that phrase) signals the very antithesis of COIN's spirit. His short-changing of troop levels and characteristically naive reliance on NATO commitments (oxymoron spoken here) to make up the difference is nothing short of a declaration that victory (perish the thought that he should ever utter that word) is a long shot against which to hedge, rather than an unconditional prerequisite for joining the fight.

But, as Doctor Zero articulates with the usual blistering clarity, such is the monotonic tenor of the Obama presidency:
Every moment of the “historic” Obama presidency has been wrapped in the rhetoric of failure and decline. A nation slipping into endless debt, to buy off the social concerns of the moment, cannot help but feel helpless and doomed… because it wouldn’t be so quick to mortgage a future it believed in. To accept the leadership of Barack Obama, either in Afghanistan or at home, is to accept that triumph is a fantasy, and achievement is a relic of the past, so the only rational course is carefully managed decline.
 Indeed. Whether it is the ham-handed intrusion of government into the auto industry and banking system, or  the on-going attempt to effect a fateful phagocytosis of the health insurance market, this administration has broadcast with unerring consistency the message that the proper management of our lives and resources are so far beyond the ken of the "average" citizen that nothing short of Central Planning stands the faintest chance of achieving the goals of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Doctor Zero quite rightly makes the analogy between the confidence and vigor of a civilian population, and the morale of a military force. Per Obama, both are in need of careful control from the top, so as to achieve the ultimate goal of an orderly and placid mediocrity. Try as I have (and I have tried mightily!), I can find no evidence that he believes this Nation can or should aspire to anything higher.

Needless to say, I disagree. And, as should be abundantly clear by now, I have officially abandoned the effort to give this administration the benefit of the doubt.

A properly resourced and inspired COIN force can achieve wonders, once it has shown itself willing and able to accept elevated risk, and to "walk the walk" for the sake of a host nation's population. An under-resourced and ambivalent COIN force sends the message to would-be insurgents and collaborators that they had best keep their powder dry, against the day of their inevitable abandonment.

So it goes with a people and their president. Tell us, in a host of ways, that we are ineffectual and in need of paternalistic control, and you offer us a choice: bow low before the beneficent State and accept its putative boons, or be moved by the affront to reclaim our dignity and repudiate your condescension. This American "insurgency" has taken the form of Tea Parties, raucous town hall meetings, and a rapidly growing grass-roots movement, self-organizing around the reclaiming of the muscular and pragmatic optimism which lies at the heart of the American consciousness. I live in hope (the real kind) that this insurgency will triumph at home....and in dread that its dark counterpart will do the same in the shadow of the Hindu Kush.

Monday, November 30, 2009

On Open Hands and Closed-Fisting

Needless to say, November has not been a banner month for posting this year. Tonight won't be making any significant dents in that.

However, I didn't want to let this post from Commentary magazine's blog, "Contentions" go un-linked. In it , Max Boot reflects on the altogether ineffectual approach of the Obama administration (the phrase still makes me cringe) toward the Mullahs of Iran, viz their nuclear program.

Obama’s efforts at glad-handing have been interpreted, correctly, as evidence of American weakness and a further spur to nuclear development. Khameini and Ahmadinejad & Co. aren’t even bothering to be polite as they brush aside offers, such as the one to export their uranium for enrichment abroad. They wear their contempt for the West quite openly because they are not afraid of suffering any repercussions.
Boot argues that the naive and toothless approach of this administration toward the Iranian threat has --as Liberal Utopian fantasies so consistently do-- only served to increase the probability of armed conflict by emboldening those for whom polite conversation offers nothing so much as the opportunity to arm for a chance at the dominance which they see as having been unilaterally ceded. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, When you take force off the table, you invite others to take the table by force.

It is a lesson which this administration seems hell-bent on learning the very, very hard way.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thoughts on Fort Hood

I've been monitoring the coverage of the murderous rampage at Fort Hood (I steadfastly refuse to call it a "Tragedy."). I am as struck by the eagerness on the Right to declare it an unalloyed act of Islamist terrorism, as I am by the refusal on the Left to speak aloud the idea that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan's religion played any role at all. In the former case, Hasan's contacts with known Islamist radicals are correctly highlighted, In the latter, his obvious signs of mental illness are emphasized. Both sides commit the error of allowing ideological bias to corrupt their perception (let alone their interpretation) of the available evidence.

It may well prove that Hassan was gripped by a delusional system which took the form of murderous religious grandiosity (clearly there were indications of thought disorder of increasing severity over time, and religious themes are common in delusional processes). It may be that a kind of vicarious traumatization did in fact take place in the course of his work with combat veterans, resulting in such a pronounced decompensation even in the absence of first-hand trauma in battle (i.e., exacerbating a pre-existing mental instability). These may prove to be legitimately mitigating circumstances in the eventual outcome of the case (vs. the steely-eyed, clear-thinking fanatic scenario, for example).

However, even granting these possibilities, the willful exclusion of the role which Hasan’s Islamopathy (as in “Osama bin Laden is not so much a Muslim as an Islamopath,” It’s a term I coined the other day, of which I’m growing increasingly fond) is itself a kind of madness. If ever there was a glaring example of how political correctness paralyzes the processes of rational thought, it is this. Whether Hasan was shouting “Allahu Akhbar” as a battle cry, or as a prayer to preserve his soul in what even he must have seen as a probably fatal act, the fact remains that his religion (and his demented interpretation thereof) was somewhere in the mix. To insist otherwise is willfully to exclude the evidence of one’s senses.

The latter is by no means an exclusive proclivity of ideologues on the Right or the Left, to be sure. But I have noted with dismay that the comments I have read on the Right do factor in his mental illness (even if they discount any exculpatory value it may have to the matter at hand), while their counterparts on the Left have widely been characterized by a deafening silence on the matter of Hasan's religion...except to note that it may spur the widespread anti-Muslim backlash which even 9/11 conspicuously failed to bring about.

Events such as these serve to underscore that we live in times in which bias and bigotry and willful blindness can both speed the bullets with more or less equally devastating effect.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Whose Party is it Anyway?

Time is short, and I'll likely have more to say about this later, but I was just struck by a tire-iron of an irony. Have you noticed that the very same people who were going on about how the Tea Parties were "astroturfed" passion plays put on by the GOP, are now saying that these events and the movement they represent are evidence that the GOP is engaged in a "circular firing squad," that it is flying apart and being undone by the "radicals" in its midst? How are we to square this circle?

Can it simply be that the populist, small-government, Party-scorning movement in Conservative thought is simply a force unto itself, which is making both Liberals and establishment Republicans just about equally nervous? What might it say about those who live in a world in which this is a bad thing?

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Double Cross to Bear

Earlier, I linked to Dick Cheney's very excellent October 21 speech to the Center for Security Policy. Portions of this speech centered on the Obama administration's "dithering" on the question of how best to implement Gen. McCrystal's counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy for Afghanistan (mainly re: how many troops to send and how soon to send them). Embedded in the subsequent back-and-forth on that speech is an example of the sort of chicanery which is merely the latest in a series of deal-breakers for any vestige of a benefit of a doubt I may once have been inclined to give this POTUS' administration.

As summarized by this post by Stephen Hayes from the Weekly Standard, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs' peevish prevarication went something like this:
"What Vice President Cheney calls 'dithering,' President Obama calls his solemn responsibility to the men and women in uniform and to the American public," said Gibbs. "I think we've all seen what happens when somebody doesn't take that responsibility seriously." Gibbs went on, calling Cheney's comments "curious" and claiming that a request for troops from General David McKiernan during the final year of the Bush administration "sat on desks in this White House, including the vice president's, for more than eight months."
Gibbs is saying here that the Bush Administration --which, presumably, did not take the "solemn responsibility" to the troops as seriously as his successor is currently running out precious clock cycles to do-- let requests for more troops sit idly by, lacking a clear strategy for the mission of those troops. Pretty serious stuff. Too bad the charge bears not the slightest resemblance to what actually transpired, as cited by Hayes:

"The idea that we just sat on our f--ing asses--it's really a slander," says one senior Bush administration official. "It's just not credible that we didn't take this seriously."
In fact, the Bush administration did ask those questions. From mid-September to mid-November 2008, a National Security Council team, under the direction of General Doug Lute, conducted an exhaustive review of Afghanistan policy. The interagency group included high-ranking officials from the State Department, the National Security Council, the CIA, the office of the director of national intelligence, the office of the vice president, the Pentagon, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Its objective was to assess U.S. -policy on Afghanistan, integrating a simultaneous military review being conducted by CENTCOM, so as to present President Bush with a series of recommendations on how best to turn around the deteriorating situation there. The Lute group met often--sometimes twice daily--in a secure conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. (The group used the room so frequently that other national security working groups that had been meeting there were required to find other space including, occasionally, the White House Situation Room.)
The Lute review asked many questions and provided exhaustive answers not only to President Bush, but also to the Obama transition team before the inauguration. "General Jones was briefed on the results of the Lute review, and that review answered many of the questions that Rahm Emanuel says were never asked," says Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley. Jones and Hadley discussed the review, and Lute gave Jones a detailed PowerPoint presentation on his findings. Among the recommendations: a civilian surge of diplomats and other non-military personnel to the country, expedited training for the Afghan National Army, a strong emphasis on governance and credible elections, and, most important, a fully resourced counterinsurgency strategy.
Jones asked Hadley not to release the results of the Lute review so that his boss would have more flexibility when it came time to provide direction for the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. Bush officials reasoned that Obama was more likely to heed their advice if he could simply adopt their recommendations without having to acknowledge that they came from the Bush White House. So Hadley agreed. (emph. added)
 Got that? An exhaustive, comprehensively interdepartmental review was conducted, comprising myriad meetings, and arriving at recommendations which bear a striking resemblance to those at which Obama's own review arrived. Further, those findings were offered to the incoming administration sub rosa, with the full expectation that  Obama's team could claim credit for them, and implement them seamlessly, and without the political complications of accepting (and having his flexibility constrained by) his predecessor's policy recommendations. See also this quote, via Power Line, from Kristopher Harrison, who served as Chief of Staff to the Counselor of the Secretary of State during the Bush administration, and was intimately involved in the review process for the strategy in Afghanistan:
It is also true that Obama's transition team asked us to hold the Afghanistan review findings, a request to which President Bush acquiesced because (as it was relayed to me) he did not want to box the new president into a narrow set of options. In March, when Obama announced his new Afghanistan strategy, I did not notice a single change from the new plan that we had given him...only Obama did not resource it with enough troops.

And how does this Great Uniter repay this professionalism and graciousness? Why, of course, by taking endless swipes at his predecessor's policies, and accusing him of squandering the chance to turn the Af-Pak theater around while "wasting" time wresting victory from the jaws of defeat (and landing some vicious body-blows on al Qaeda) in Iraq.

Whatever. Politics is politics, and class is optional. Obama plainly still believes that he can score political points by trashing the Bush administration, and he is probably right...up to a point. That point begins where the interests of the United States, of its troops and its allies become endangered by political maneuvering at the expense of substantive action on vital issues. On that frontier, Obama is demonstrably floundering.

The stated (and endlessly re-stated) rationale for Obama's sitting on the decision to deploy more troops to Afghanistan lies with the results of that country's demonstrably tainted national elections. Makes a certain kind of sense, since one of the goals of COIN is the fortification of a host nation's confidence in its government by providing security and stability and civil affairs support. If that government is viewed as illegitimate, then there are hard limits on the amount of good which COIN operators can bring about in the field. Therein lies a not altogether incoherent argument for waiting till the the run-off election, and coordinating operations with the hopefully more well-regarded government which emerges from it.

And if we were talking about just about any place besides Afghanistan, that would be a convincing argument. But we're not, and if there is one thing about Afghanistan which has held true for decades, it is that any central government is going to be viewed with suspicion and/or hostility by the denizens of the largely unpaved hinterlands which make up the majority of the country's territory. "Legitimate government" is practically an oxymoron in the average Afghan's eyes, so the niceties of electoral politics in Kabul amount to less than a hill of rotted poppies. 

The task is not so much to shore up a government which is generally viewed as legitimate, as it is to establish pockets of security and the concrete promise of prosperity, by crushing the Taliban and its al Qaeda proteges, denying them re-entry into the communities from which we chase them, and training locals to shoulder the burdens of picking up where we, in due course, leave off. It is from those deeds that the legitimacy of the government which partners with us will arise, rather than descend from some abstraction of a polity, far away in an alien city, whose words the villagers and tribal elders of the primordial hills and steppes are somehow supposed to take on faith, pending the delivery on the promises of foreigners.

Naturally, however, this concept is apt to be just as foreign to an inveterate statist like Obama.

It is, however, worse than even such naivete. As per Mr. Hengists's superb and destined to be oft-cited post on the "pretext of principles," this whole matter of waiting on Afghanistan's elections does not bear scrutiny as anything but a smoke-screen, a cover story for what is more properly viewed as a political matter for internal consumption. Obama is struggling with the question of how to create political cover for the implementation (or  parsing) of a policy which both his hand-picked general and his predecessor's team have determined to have the lowest probability of failure in "The Necessary War."  As the Left wrings its hands about troop deployments, and the Right continues to be embarrassingly supportive of  the policy which Obama articulated back in March, the President feels his hands to be tied...and he is loath to take responsibility to cut the knot.

And so he plays the blame game, shifting responsibility hither and yon, while even NATO grows restive at the delay in declaring a clear course of action.

If there is one thing at which the Bush Administration displayed a singular talent (probably to a fault), it was absorbing the vicious and mendacious attacks of its foes. The Obama team's crass and dishonest attempt to shift its indecision onto its predecessors is hardly the worst political stunt in the history of the Republic, and it is a double-cross which --for all of Cheney's characteristic piss and vinegar in response-- the Bush team is uniquely well-prepared to bear. But it is the brave and long-suffering service-people in Afghanistan (to say nothing of the Afghans themselves!) who stand to be counted as collateral damage in this beltway boogie.

And that is simply inexcusable.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Campaigner In Chief

Scathing (and, thus, fitting) little Telegraph editorial on the eternally stumping and chronically stumped Obama presidency. Not exactly a unique insight -- many have already noted that the Obama camp appears to be stuck in perpetual campaign mode, showing little stomach for the actual business of governing. But it tickled me this morning.

Especially liked this bit:

Late-night comics, although unabashedly liberal and at a loss last year as to how to poke fun at the rather humourless Mr Obama, are having a field day portraying him as a do-nothing prevaricator obsessed with his own image.
"President Obama agreed to commit an additional 40,000 troops to help fight Fox News," quipped NBC's Jay Leno. "Senior White House adviser David Axelrod told reporters that Fox News is just pushing a point of view. Well, yes, but at least they've got a point of view."


GITMO Alumni Update

Via the Long War Journal, comes this addition to the Annals of the Utterly Unsurprising. It seems that a fellow named Yousef Mohammed al Shihri, who was remanded from Club GITMO, into the careful custody of Saudi authorities in November 2007, got himself into a bit of a fire-fight on the Saudi-Yemeni border. This concluded his tenure on planet Earth, but not, apparently, before he'd had a chance to update his Jihadi resume:
Yousef Mohammed al Shihri was repatriated to Saudi Arabia in November 2007 along with thirteen other Saudi citizens. At least several of them have returned to al Qaeda’s ranks. One of those who rejoined al Qaeda is Said Ali al Shihri, who has become the deputy chief of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and was reportedly involved in the September 2008 attack on the US embassy in Sanaa, Yemen. According to memos prepared at Gitmo, Said Ali al Shihri is Yousef Mohammed al Shihri’s brother. However, according to a report by Caryle Murphy in the Christian Science Monitor, Saudi authorities have said the two al Qaeda terrorists were brothers-in-law.
Regardless, Yousef and Said were relatives. And their stories demonstrate the pitfalls of the US government’s transfer and release decisions. Prior to their transfers, US intelligence officials at Guantanamo had determined that Said was “a known al Qaeda operative.” Moreover, when they inquired about Yousef, they found that he was considered one of the more dangerous Saudis held at Guantanamo.

Well, that certainly inspires confidence in the policies and procedures governing the disposition of these hapless prisoners of the Booosh Regime. Here's another choice tidbit:

That Yousef Mohammed al Shihri returned to jihad after being released from Guantanamo is not surprising given what the US government alleged about him in three memos written between Sept. 25, 2004 and Oct. 12, 2006.
The publicly-available documents do not include any record of al Shihri attending his combatant status review tribunal (CSRT) or administrative review board (ARB) hearings, so it is not clear if al Shihri attempted to answer all of the allegations against him. However, the US government’s memos note that when al Shihri was challenged with the inconsistencies in his cover story and his lies concerning his time in Afghanistan, he “flatly refused to cooperate” and “told more lies.” It is therefore possible that he never attended either his CSRT or ARB hearings, both of which required voluntary participation.
Refused to cooperate with the review process, eh? All right then, off to the care of the Saudis with you! Thus do the ranks of GITMO transfers and releases who have returned to the field of the Jihad grow still larger. And with around four months remaining till the deadline set by POTUS Obama's bold Executive Order for the closure of the Guantanamo facility, it is good to see that the process continues to remain in capable hands...oh, wait...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

He's Making a List...

Disconcerting stuff. We face real enemies abroad, and it is dangerous folly to turn our attention inward to attack (and endlessly counter-attack) "enemies" here at home.

But this is characteristic of an administration whose focus seems eternally inward, resulting in an involuted, post-modern mess of a foreign/domestic policy. Obama's focus is all-but exclusively on the domestic, on the striving to re-make American society. All other priorities are seen as secondary, since there appears to be a sincere belief that a "properly" re-made America will fare very differently on the world stage.

Well, that much at least is true. But the changes which appear to be afoot do not bode well for allowing the luxury of extensive and expensive societal re-tooling. If nothing else (and there's *plenty* of "else!"), the geopolitical correlates of our gargantuan debt to China constitute a powerful lever on the course of our interests (e.g., how hard to push the PRC over sanctions on Iran...).

The choice of Classical columns for Obama's inauguration may have been more apt than I'd thought. Nero spends his political capital on a Stradivarius.

UPDATE: By the way, here's the text of that speech by Cheney to which Gibbsy chose to make his characteristically snide, waspish, and content-free retort. It is truly superb, and underscores the calamitous injustice which is routinely done to the caliber of leadership we'd had during the opening years of the Long War.

UPDATE 2:  Well, good to see that Joe Biden is on hand to offer a trenchant and substantial response to Cheney's very specific criticisms. I believe he later added "Oh yeah?!"

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hounding the Fox

For days, I have refrained from commenting on the surreal spectacle of top Obama Administration officials taking to the airwaves and slamming the Fox News channel. I simply could not believe my eyes and ears, and was waiting for some kind of clarity to emerge, some less malign set of motivations to come into focus than those which sprang most readily to mind. After all, the Democratic Party now controls the White House, and both houses of Congress. Essentially all of the major media outlets to varying degrees are supportive of the Left-leaning (or, in the case of MSNBC, the hard Left) currents in American society. This is about as advantageous a position as any Administration has enjoyed in this Nation's history. Why would such an Administration debase itself and call its motives into question by attacking a lone dissenting voice?

In a much-ballyhooed clip from O'Reilly's show, Chris Wallace commented that the Obama White House is "the biggest bunch of crybabies I have dealt with in my 30 years in Washington." "With these guys, everything is personal," he noted. He is correct. In more ways than one this Administration is shaping up as the bizarro version of the Bush Administration, which arguably did far too little to address the barrage of negative coverage it received from the major news outlets, and so allowed the opposition to shape the narrative to a devastatingly detrimental degree (including -- hilariously -- the notion that dissent was somehow being stifled). By sharp contrast, the Obama Administration seems never to have left campaign mode, and aggressively sweats every negative note, however trivial. Not only is it unseemly and un-presidential, it lends unnecessary credence to the polemics of those who are less than balanced (let alone fair) who opine on the insidious goal of constructing a "State-Run Media."

I don't watch too much TV news, since the sheer volume of information which I feel it necessary to absorb in order to get a reasonably comprehensive picture of what is happening on any given day does not lend itself to the linear crawl of  spoken words. It's a bandwidth issue with me. Mostly, I do watch Fox, though I do tune into CNN regularly. I watched hours of MSNBC, before finally feeling confident that I could justifiably discontinue the practice. My conclusions? Fox's news desk is canted discernibly to the right. CNN's news desk is canted discernibly to the left. MSNBC seems to recognize no clear distinction between the two (that is, News and Op-Ed), lurching dizzyingly to the Left, all the time.

What's interesting to me in the context of this discussion is that I find the news/reporting departments of CNN and Fox to lean approximately equidistantly in their respective directions. Indeed, were one to alternate between the two (as I periodically do), one would get (dare I say it) a pretty fair and balanced perspective on things (though TV news, regardless of editorial bias, is universally biased toward the most lurid and attention-grabbing slant on things. Another reason to use it as a supplement at most). I would be more than pleased to be disabused of this idea, but I have the uncomfortably strong sense that many of FNC's most ardent critics have never seen more of the channel's programming than has appeared in clips on "The Daily Show." I get this feeling from my own attitude during my Liberal days, which could be summed up as "I don't have time to pollute my consciousness with exposure to that vile propaganda outlet's blatherings." It's like I was expecting to find Leni Riefenstahl newsreels or something.

Now, of course, when it comes to commentators and editorializers, the picture gets more murky. I make no secret that I find Hannity to be a shrill chihuahua of a polemicist, and tend to avoid him in large doses, just as I do Michelle Malkin's blog on the Web. He grates on me even when I agree with him. But put him up against Rick Sanchez, Soledad O'Brien, Wolf "Let's fact-check a skit on Saturday Night Live which dared to criticize Obama's Presidency" Blitzer, or Anderson "Tea-Bagger" Cooper on CNN, and the distinction is all-but erased. The latter bunch are so embarrassingly in the tank for Obama I keep waiting for them to get tossed a fish for their troubles. Indeed, last night on "Special Report" (a superb newscast, which even not-entirely-ideologically-hamstrung Liberals would find tolerable...up until the panel discussions in the second half of the hour, anyway), Britt Hume reflected on the Obama/Fox imbroglio and wondered how "our colleagues at CNN and elsewhere like being patted on the head and given the seal of approval by the White House." Indeed, that is the other side of this: to exactly the degree that the White House sees fit to attack and discredit one news outlet, it is implicitly designating others as "Friendly." Were I to consider myself a journalist in at least the stated tradition of the profession, I would (hopefully!) bristle at the notion that I stood to be considered a sanctioned advocate. So much for "speaking truth to power!"

This piece at Politico offers the most plausible (and chilling) account for the White House's otherwise incomprehensible attack on FNC:
A White House attempt to delegitimize Fox News – which in past times would have drawn howls of censorship from the press corps – has instead been greeted by a collective shrug.

That’s true even though the motivations of the White House are clear: Fire up a liberal base disillusioned with Obama by attacking the hated Fox. Try to keep a critical news outlet off-balance. Raise doubts about future Fox stories.

But most of all, get other journalists to think twice before following the network’s stories in their own coverage.

"We're doing what we think is important to make sure news is covered as fairly as possible," a White House official told POLITICO, noting how the recent ACORN scandal story started because Fox covered it “breathlessly for weeks on end.” (emphasis added)

 Let's pause a moment on that last bit. The point that this "White House Official" appears to be making here is that the only reason the ACORN story was allowed to become Big News (you know, the one in which an organization which was the recipient of truckloads of taxpayer cash --with much more to come-- and which was responsible for a large number of votes for Obama --many of them even corresponding to real people-- was found to be riddled with individuals who were willing to help a pimp set up a brothel with underaged Salvadorean illegal immigrant girls, and avoid both law enforcement and the tax code)  was because Fox got "breathless" and the rest of the news media felt compelled to follow them...after a little over a week of dead silence on the matter. Just wanted to make that clear.

Anyway, the point here appears to be a concerted effort to cast Fox as a poison pill, to discredit it with the viewers/voters, and to give other news outlets pause before picking up on any stories which Fox might break. It is, as Britt Hume nailed it, an attempt to "Quarantine Fox," to isolate and drain it of its ability to introduce memes into the noosphere, where they might proliferate, flourish, and interfere with the Obama Administration's narrative and plans. As such, it is both futile and despicable.

Jake Tapper, a rare and admirable straight-shooter of a journalist over at ABC, called Obama's Press Secretary on the highly irregular policy of the Executive Branch arrogating to itself the right to designate a vast media outlet "not a news organization." Tapper essentially asks Gibson where the White House gets off making that call, and..ah, hell: just read the exchange. It's short, but cracklingly on point. It is not  appropriate for a branch of the Government to "work the refs"  in this manner (H/T to Chris Wallace again). It undermines the whole point of a free press in a democratic society, which is to inform the electorate and keep their representatives (their employees!) honest...or as close to it as can be managed, anyway. Just ask your average Venezuelan newscaster what it's like to live in a society in which the media are expected to speak with one voice. I'm not saying that this is the Obama Administration's conscious intent (relax!). But conscious or not, that is eerily akin to the net effect which would come to pass in the (thankfully unlikely) event that FNC ultimately were to be brought down (...though watch out for that "Fairness Doctrine").

This has to stop.

EDITED 10/21 for grammar and flow.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Godspeed, and Good Hunting

[by Mr.Hengist]

Awesome: The USS New York has set sail on her maiden voyage to New York City, where she will be commissioned into the fleet on November 7th, 2009.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Meteorites on Mars

Sounds like a good pulp science fiction title. And the lifelong Fan in me bounces around a bit at the thought we live in times in which it refers not to a fanciful film but to a mere press release.

Via the NASA site, comes this announcement that the Opportunity rover has happened across yet another large nickel-iron meteorite on the plains of Terra Meridiani. Study of an earlier such find has yielded some really fascinating insights into the Martian environment into which it careened, apparently a very long time ago:

Opportunity found a smaller iron-nickel meteorite, called "Heat Shield Rock," in late 2004. At about a half ton or more, Block Island is roughly 10 times as massive as Heat Shield Rock and several times too big to have landed intact without more braking than today's Martian atmosphere could provide.

"Consideration of existing model results indicates a meteorite this size requires a thicker atmosphere," said rover team member Matt Golombek of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Either Mars has hidden reserves of carbon-dioxide ice that can supply large amounts of carbon-dioxide gas into the atmosphere during warm periods of more recent climate cycles, or Block Island fell billions of years ago."
First of all, let me just say that I looked at these images of this pitted rock, sitting on the sands of Mars, and paused a moment to say, yet again: "Good gods! That's the surface of freakin' MARS!!"

In my office, I have a couple of framed images from Opportunity and Spirit. Every now and then, a client asks me if I took them. And I have to chuckle, for the obvious reasons, and also because the pictures look so lovely, but so commonplace. "Planet" is such an abstract concept. Tickles the intellect, but leaves the glands largely untouched. Now, it's those moments when the reality of a "World" jumps out of these pictures that I just get grabbed but hard. Never gets old.

Anyway, back to the meteorites: I was struck by the above-quoted passage. The very existence of these large, space-borne rocks on the surface speaks to a time when there was enough of an atmosphere to slow them down to the point that they would not get pulverized by the impact. That. plus the numerous finds of near-surface water ice (including some pretty spectacular recent ones) lend further support to models for an earlier Mars which possessed a much thicker atmosphere and probably a very significant amount of surface water. Much of that atmosphere is locked up as dry ice at the poles, a whole lot more adsorbed into the regolith and rocks. Much of the water, it seems, is sitting close to the surface in permafrost (though the possibility of subterranean liquid aquifers can't be ruled out).

First of all, this makes it even more probable that the conditions for the emergence of life were present on Mars for periods of time which compare most favorably with the interval on early Earth in which abiogenesis is theorized to have occurred. Mars, it seems, had what it takes to get itself populated.

Second, it makes it clear that a little bit of site selection research could drop a crewed mission on a patch of Martian land which could provide a rich source of water, and so save a whole lot of mission mass which would have been devoted to consumables. That means a lot more payload, even if you factor in the additional gear for extraction  (long-distance pressurized rover, anyone?).

I actually hope that substantial fossilized but no extant life is found. Changes the whole ethical calculus of colonization-focused missions if there's something alive down there. It gets harder to argue for terraforming when it might obliterate an extra-terrestrial biosphere (imagine the emails from Robert Redford!). It would probably be a show-stopper for intrusive habitation (and I can't say that's a bad thing, mind you, but it would be almost as much of a bummer as a boon). The science would be outrageous, but the promise of a Martian branch of human civilization would be a bust for a very long time...if not forever.

This is not to say that coexistence with Martian life might not be possible. After all, it probably thrived under conditions on Mars which would also be favorable to us (thicker atmo, more water). Indeed, the arrival of Humanity on Mars could be the best thing that's ever happened to the natives.

And wouldn't that be an interesting Bizarro version of colonizations past!

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Nobel Fiction

Barack Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize.

My primary response is a hearty "Meh."

This post sums up my ancillary thoughts on the matter quite ably.

And, might I add: "Whatever."

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Oh, About That 2007 NIE...

From Hot Air comes this post on a WSJ report indicating that the CIA had full knowledge of the secret uranium enrichment facility near Qom, Iran, when it released its National Intelligence Estimate in 2007. You know, the one which claimed (in contradiction to the information coming from just about everyone else's intelligence agencies) that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weaponization programs. Yes, that one: the one which knocked the wind out of the Bush administration's efforts to apply credible pressure on Tehran to disclose and discontinue its quest for the Bomb.

Quoth Ed Morrissey:
This cannot be explained merely by incompetence.  The facility at Qom had not been declared by Iran as part of its “peaceful” nuclear program in 2007 when the NIE was written.  It is, as the Journal notes, too small for commercial purposes, but perfectly suited for military purposes, which is probably why the elite Revolutionary Guard secures it to this day.  No one with this information could possibly have concluded anything except that the Iranians had hidden its military applications of uranium enrichment in Qom.
I've frequently been astonished at the degree to which many of my Liberal friends are under the impression that the CIA under Bush had been some sort of hawkish, Conservative (or gasp Neoconservative) tool of the Bush Agenda. What I have tried, patiently, to explain is that the CIA is a government agency, staffed primarily by career bureaucrats who stay on across various administrations, and are generally of an academic (read: Liberal) bent. Being in a bit of a rush at the moment (welcome, if exhaustingly full client load today), I'm not able to drop many links (and there are many) which show that the CIA was actively engaged in trying to undermine the Bush administration. Perhaps I'll be able to back-fill that in comments (or maybe Mr Hengist can lend a hand). Suffice to say, this is a particularly glaring example of how the politicization of intelligence has been alive and well...just not in the ways which are likely to find much play on the pages of The Nation.

This is a dangerous disgrace, and I hope that the heads which, in a just world, would roll for this will not come from bodies with too much blood on their hands.

The New Decider

Oh, my.

Some things, you just can't make up.

Via Instapundit comes this post on President Obama's unintentionally (I hope) ironic taste in art.

On this anniversary of the initiation of military action in Afghanistan, however, the humor falls rather flat. Kind of like the art itself.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Controller Doubles Effective Lens Diameter of Telescopes

[by Mr.Hengist]

Mr.Science pulls a technorabbit out of a hat:
"Technology to double the effective lens diameter of the world's telescopes has been invented at the University of Montreal, which recently demonstrated what it says is the most sensitive astronomical camera devised to date.
"The key to the invention is an electronic controller that decreases optical noise tenfold."

Ta-Da! I love technological advances such as this one, which adds what should be a relatively low-cost doohickey to existing high-cost equipment in order to give it a major boost in capability. Congratulations to our fellow propeller-beanied Canuck friends up north. The semi-informative article is here; no word on licensing fees or the cost of the doohickey.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Bibi Speaks


It's a term which is thrown about quite a bit. Seldom, however, has it been so apt as it has been when applied to Benjamin Netanyahu's speech before the UN General Assembly. It was a soaring, eloquent, devastating oration about which I just don't feel qualified to comment at any length.

So, I'll just link it here, and let it speak for itself.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mr. Bacevich's Time Machine

[by Mr.Hengist]

Noocyte linked to this Op-Ed in the WaPo by Dr. Andrew J. Bacevich of Boston University, and having read it I've decided it's worth a good Fisking. Without further preamble, let’s have at it!

“The counterinsurgency campaign proposed in Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's strategic assessment will prolong the war for an additional five or 10 years.”

McChrystal’s campaign will prosecute the war for an additional five or ten years. To say that it would prolong the war for that amount of time is to imply that it would lengthen the time the war will, or should be, prosecuted. Bacevich goes on to assert that his alternative of pursuing a Cold War strategy is better but he does not provide a timeframe he believes will be necessary to bring the war to a conclusion.

“Fortunately, there is an alternative to a global counterinsurgency campaign. Instead of fighting an endless hot war in a vain effort to eliminate the jihadist threat, the United States should wage a cold war to keep the threat at bay. Such a strategy worked before. It can work again.”

The Cold War lasted for forty-five years; there's your new, improved timeframe. However, it would be inappropriate to compare the 5-10 year McCrystal plan to the Cold War, because the McChrystal strategy is theater-specific to his area of operations in the Middle East whereas the Cold war was an overarching global strategy.

Note further that the assertion that the Cold War strategy “can work again” is wholly unsupported by Bacevich throughout the piece. He does cite specific tactics and policies used during the Cold War as ones we should use in this war, but he does not actually compare and contrast the present war with the Cold War.

It strikes me as wholly implausible that the Cold War strategy will work against the Jihadists. For one thing, the Soviets were rational players who were afraid of being annihilated, and it kept them from acting in a suicidal manner. The most noteworthy element of the Jihadists is arguably their suicidal nature, so we can expect that the Mutually Assured Destruction doctrine – the central core of Cold War strategy - will not be effective. Furthermore, since the Jihadists do not have a home country per se, and the despotic ruling classes of the countries from which they come are generally nominally or effectively anti-jihadist, any Western military strikes of whatever nature must be targeted and limited to the specific material and personnel assets of the Jihadists. By way of example, most of the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, but their monarchy and ruling class has a vested interest in destroying, containing, or, as is their preference, exporting the jihadi menace. After all, jihadists do not consider them to be the family Saud to be the rightful rulers of Arabia.

In contrast, we always knew where to hit the Red Menace.

I could go on, but having knocked out two central pillars of the Cold War strategy I see little point. These issues have been much discussed on the hawkish blogosphere since 2002; it’s a pity Bacevich seems ignorant of these problems but his advocacy of a return to Cold War strategy when dealing with Jihadists is undercut by his failure to address these shortcomings. I'm guessing that it's because he can't effectively address and mitigate these problems that he ignores them altogether.

“After years of exertions, $1 trillion expended and more than 5,000 American troops lost, U.S. forces have yet to win a decisive victory. The high-tech American way of war developed during the 1990s (once celebrated in phrases such as "shock and awe" and "speed kills") stands thoroughly discredited.”

I suppose it’s fair enough to say that the U.S. hasn’t won a decisive victory in the GWOT. We can discard our successes in the wholesale slaughter of Jihadis in Afghanistan and Iraq in these past years of war, and the successes of our surgical strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, and elsewhere which have killed off more than a few Jihadist leaders and their minions. Nevertheless, Afghanistan is again in peril, and what might be called victory in Iraq is tenuous. Bear in mind, however, that Bacevichs’ criticism of the Bush GWOT Doctrine can as well be turned on the his advocacy of a Cold War strategy, which cost bazillions and lends itself to a state of détente rather than near- or medium-term victory in-theater. Moreover, the Cold War was punctuated by hot proxy wars in Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan - also costly in blood and treasure. By comparison, the GWOT looks cheap, and while it's too soon to tell how fast it will work, I can’t think of any strategy which would better guarantee a prolongation of this war than to shift our resources and efforts to a defensive posture as Bacevich advocates.

At any rate, I’d like to go on to address what he says about “Shock and Awe”, a doctrine that first entered the public lexicon, and first implemented, during the opening of the Iraq war. “Shock and Awe” is a phrase much misunderstood by Liberals, often deliberately so. Basically, it refers to the use of superior information (self-awareness and intelligence on the enemy) in conjunction with precision advanced weaponry. We know where our forces are, we know where the enemy is, and we can strike the enemy with precision, and our advantage is that our enemies cannot do the same. To appreciate the magnitude of this change in U.S. warfighting is beyond the scope of this blogpost, but suffice it to say that this doctrine is the culmination of decades of technological advancements across the board, and it stands in stark contrast to the way major engagement war has been waged throughout time – which is why, of course, it’s called “Shock and Awe”. It’s what enabled us to largely drive off and defeat Al Queda and the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2002, and crush the Iraqi armed forces and government in 2003, both in a matter of weeks (and indeed, Speed Kills: the American advance on Baghdad was the biggest and fastest advance in American history).

To describe the application of “Shock and Awe” as having been “thoroughly discredited” is, itself, a thoroughly self-discrediting statement by Bacevich and it reeks of the partisan scorn typical of the Liberal Left. “Shock and Awe” is all about defeating the enemy in a major military confrontation on the battlefield, but it does not address the issues of keeping the peace during an insurgency. Thankfully, Bacevich does not make such an assertion, he only implies it.

“Changing the way they live -- where "they" are the people of the Islamic world -- qualifies as mission impossible. The Long War is a losing proposition; it will break the bank and break the force.”

That’s true, so long as Democrats are in charge. War or no war, they’ll break the bank by spending far beyond our means, and borrowing ghastly sums in order to continue to do so, while simultaneously debasing the American Dollar by creating ghastly sums out of thin air to cover the difference between what they can borrow and what they spend.

Further, while they throw horrifyingly gargantuan sums of money on domestic programs and entitlements, the one thing we can be sure they'll do is is to weaken our military defenses, as they have already done by killing the F-22 program, the Future Warrior program, degrading the missile defense programs and, soon, reducing our nuclear arsenals. So, yes, I’d have to agree: under Democrat leadership, we may well be unable to fight a regional war, and it may very well break our force.

These aren’t problems with the GWOT. These are problems of the Democrats’ making.

“Devising a new course requires accurately identifying the problem, which is not "terrorism" and, despite Washington's current obsession with the place, is certainly not Afghanistan. The essential problem is a dispute about God's relationship to politics.
“The proposition that the two occupy separate spheres finds particular favor among the democracies of the liberal, developed West. The proposition that God permeates politics finds particular favor in the Islamic world.
“This conviction, which is almost entirely ignored in McChrystal's report, defines the essence of the way they live in Iraq, Afghanistan and a host of other countries throughout the Middle East.
“At its root, this is an argument about what it means to be modern. Power, no matter how imaginatively or ruthlessly wielded, cannot provide a solution. The opposing positions are irreconcilable.”

There’s some truth to this, but only some. The West does not look kindly upon theocracies. It’s a Freedom thing. Theocracies are inherently repressive. Moreover, it’s the ambition of these Jihadis to spread their rule in the name of their god over the whole of the Earth. We have a problem with that too. Religion is imbued in the governments of many nations in the Middle East, including – and notably - that of Israel. We don’t have a problem with that, per se. We have a problem with the repression that generally accompanies the heavy infestation of religion into government, and the aggressive expansionism that so often accompanies non-representative regimes.

This is not, however, a disagreement over “what it means to be modern.” If there’s one thing of which we can be sure, it’s that Jihadis have no interest whatsoever in being modern.

“In confronting this conflict, the goal of U.S. national security strategy ought to be limited but specific: to insulate Americans from the fallout. Rather than setting out to clear, hold and build thousands of tiny, primitive villages scattered across the Afghan countryside, such a strategy should emphasize three principles: decapitate, contain and compete. An approach based on these principles cannot guarantee perpetual peace. But it is likely to be more effective, affordable and sustainable than a strategy based on open-ended war.”

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to 9/10!

“Decapitation -- targeting leaders for elimination -- provides the means to suppress immediate threats to our safety. The violent jihadists who pose those threats are vicious but relatively few in number. They possess limited capabilities. Their aspirations of uniting the world's Muslims into a new caliphate are akin to Sarah Palin's or Dennis Kucinich's presidential ambitions -- unworthy of serious attention. They are rank fantasies."

Killing Jihadist leadership is a very good thing, but it does nothing to stop the “self starters” – the ones who take it upon themselves to take action in this war and bring and woe to the kufir. By all means, we should continue to eliminate the Jihadist leadership wherever and whenever we can, but it’s not a solution, and it cannot entirely protect us from immediate threats to our security. Granted, Bacevich explicitly states that this Cold War redux strategy cannot “guarantee perpetual peace”, but that’s an irrationally high standard. What Bacevich is doing here is to grant that one small measure of the Bush Doctrine strategy has merit, but as we’ll see below, with one hand Bacevich grants, and with the other he lays the groundwork for taking it away.

It also does not address the Jihadists actions in other countries, particularly those of the Middle East and other Gap countries – which are, after all, their primary short-term targets. That’s the game plan, as described by the Jihadists themselves, most notably Osama bin Laden himself. First, the overthrow and conquest of a Middle Eastern Islamic country, followed by the re-establishment of the Caliphate, which will spread the rule of that Caliphate over the whole of the Middle East, and then on to rule over the rest of the world.

That’s the plan, anyway. Bacevich is correct: this is rank fantasy. For now. Twenty, fifty, or a hundred years from now might be a different story. To downplay that threat, given the nature of their ambitions and their proven capability, is also fantasy, and a foolish and dangerous fantasy at that. What Bacevich does not appear to understand is that the damage that will be done in their mad quest for world domination is reason enough to take them seriously enough to crush them rather than, as he appears to advocate, merely suppress or deflect them. Their intent, however ludicrous, poses an exceptionally potent danger, for even in failure they can hurt us greatly, as they already have. They may yet do worse, which is why we need to take this threat seriously and address it accordingly.

“Without effective leadership, the jihadists are nothing.”

Bacevich here demonstrates that he does not take this threat seriously. Again, these are the fantasies of the 9/10 thinker. Look, the world today is small and easily traversed. Trade and travel are global, ubiquitous, and very affordable. Distance is not nearly the deterrent to attack as once it was, and warfare, as we saw on 9/11 and similar instances both before and since, has become asymmetric. In late 2002, two guys, the Beltway shooters, put the D.C. area in a state of fear for many weeks as they killed a score of innocents. Two guys with no leadership and no external funding.

“Decapitation won't eliminate the threat -- Hamas and Hezbollah have survived the Israeli government's targeted assassination campaign -- but it can reduce it to manageable levels.”

Manageable until the hudna expires and the next war begins, which will be waged with better weapons and improved strategy. I don't think the Israelis would describe their current situation one in which they have reduced the threat of Hamas or Hezbollah to a "manageable level."

“A crucial caveat is that assassinations must be precise and accurate.”

… and the key to making profit on Wall Street is to buy low, and sell high.

“The incidental killing of noncombatants is immoral as well as politically counterproductive.”

… and, as I promised above, with this "crucial caveat" the other hand shall taketh away. Noncombatant casualties are inevitable in all wars, so Bacevich is effectively making an argument against all warmaking, even the targeted assassination component of his resurrected Cold War strategy, otherwise known as a component of the Bush GWOT Doctrine. Because it is inevitable that noncombatants will be killed in our warmaking we can see Bacevich has already provided himself, and his audience, with an out: after all, he said that leadership strikes were all well and good so long as they were accurate and precise. When the immoral and politically counterproductive noncombatant casualties of this strategy fail to be eliminated, Bacevich needs only to fall back on these caveats to withdraw support for targeted assassination and advocate that we cease and desist from this as well.

“The missiles launched from U.S. unmanned aerial vehicles in Pakistan have repeatedly demonstrated the wrong approach. The recent elimination of Saleh Ali Nabhan in Somalia -- in a helicopter-borne raid by special operations forces -- models the correct one.”

For a man like Bacevich, success is the correct approach. If, and inevitably, when, our Special Forces incur noncombatant casualties in the course of carrying out a strike, see prior crucial caveat for the excuses people like Bacevich will use to withdraw their support for this strategy. When you argue that noncombatant casualties are unacceptable and immoral, you’re arguing that war is unwageable.

It should further be noted that it’s this very attitude that puts noncombatants at risk. Our enemies have no such qualms and will routinely use noncombatants as human shields. Thus, they put noncombatants in harm's way because people like Bacevich put such a high priority on protecting them. For the Jihadists facing American soldiers, there’s no better place to hide on the battlefield than behind the skirt of a local woman or her child. Were it not for our rules of engagement which prohibit endangering these innocents, the Jihadists would, inarguably, not do such things. So, thanks to you, Mr. Bacevich, and your intellectual fellow travelers: what ostensibly has been an effort to protect the innocent has had, here in reality, the foreseeable and inevitable result of putting more noncombatants at risk. Whether more have died as a result is a matter of speculation, but there’s a case to be made.

“Containment implies turning to the old Cold War playbook. When confronting the Soviet threat, the United States and its allies erected robust defenses, such as NATO, and cooperated in denying the communist bloc anything that could make Soviet computers faster, Soviet submarines quieter or Soviet missiles more accurate.
Containing the threat posed by jihad should follow a similar strategy. Robust defenses are key -- not mechanized units patrolling the Iron Curtain, but well-funded government agencies securing borders, controlling access to airports and seaports, and ensuring the integrity of electronic networks that have become essential to our way of life.
“As during the Cold War, a strategy of containment should include comprehensive export controls and the monitoring of international financial transactions. Without money and access to weapons, the jihadist threat shrinks to insignificance: All that remains is hatred.”

The modus operandi of the Jihadist has been to procure local supplies to make weapons. It’s been that way for many years now. Moreover, I’m at a loss to fill in the blanks Bacevich leaves in terms of specifics. What countries would be subject to export controls, and how effective could they be in the age of global trade where massive commercial shipments traverse the world daily? What items would be prohibited? I’m tempted to speculate that such a list might include products known to be popular with our enemies such as cellphones and computers, but that would be effectively impossible, and as a matter of course I try never to fill in the holes in the arguments left by my political opposition. It's one thing to apply lessons from the past to formulate similar, successful strategies as have been previously employed. What we're seeing is that Bacevich, having recoiled from the messy business of war, is trying to persuade us that we should do that Cold War thing all over again - in every detail, sans the messy proxy warmaking stuff which he conveniently ignores - because, after all, we won that war, right?

“Finally, there is the matter of competition. Again, the Cold War offers an instructive analogy. During the long twilight struggle with the Soviets, competition centered on demonstrating scientific superiority (putting a man on the moon) and material superiority (providing cars, refrigerators and TVs for the masses). The West won.”

Jihadists do not compete. They wage war and conquer. They have nothing to offer the world in terms of prosperity or technology, and the world knows it – except, apparently, for Bacevich, who thinks that the rest of the world needs a demonstration to be convinced. After all, that's how we tried to persuade the unaligned nations of the world not to enter the Soviet sphere of influence. As if the Jihadists have anything analogous to a sphere of influence.

Mr. Bacevich and I are clearly occupying different realities.

“Western political leaders declare with equal insistence that all must live in freedom, that term imbued with specific Western connotations.”

Well, no. We insist that they stop attacking us, our neighbors, our trading partners, their own people, and anyone else who disagrees with them. We offer the oppressed of the world the opportunity – not the guarantee – of freedom. That is to say, we've occasionally overthrown tyrannical regimes in order to give their subjugated victims the opportunity of freedom and self-determination and the prosperity that comes with open markets. We're generous that way. Because we cannot free the whole world at once, the reality is that peaceful theocracies and monarchies and dictatorships are largely left alone by the West.

“The war we're fighting can become plausible, sustainable and even morally defensible.
“It just has to go from hot to cold.”

And there you have it: In order to win this war we have to stop fighting it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hot and Cold

In an editorial at the WaPo, B.U. professor Andrew Bacevich offers up some ideas on how the West might win its Long War against Islamist extremism:

Changing the way they live -- where "they" are the people of the Islamic world -- qualifies as mission impossible. The Long War is a losing proposition; it will break the bank and break the force.

Devising a new course requires accurately identifying the problem, which is not "terrorism" and, despite Washington's current obsession with the place, is certainly not Afghanistan. The essential problem is a dispute about God's relationship to politics. The proposition that the two occupy separate spheres finds particular favor among the democracies of the liberal, developed West. The proposition that God permeates politics finds particular favor in the Islamic world.

This conviction, which is almost entirely ignored in McChrystal's report, defines the essence of the way they live in Iraq, Afghanistan and a host of other countries throughout the Middle East.

At its root, this is an argument about what it means to be modern. Power, no matter how imaginatively or ruthlessly wielded, cannot provide a solution. The opposing positions are irreconcilable.

In confronting this conflict, the goal of U.S. national security strategy ought to be limited but specific: to insulate Americans from the fallout. Rather than setting out to clear, hold and build thousands of tiny, primitive villages scattered across the Afghan countryside, such a strategy should emphasize three principles: decapitate, contain and compete. An approach based on these principles cannot guarantee perpetual peace. But it is likely to be more effective, affordable and sustainable than a strategy based on open-ended war.

Bacevich recommends that we focus our kinetic or "hot war" interventions to the decapitation of terrorist groups, targeting their leadership in ways which minimize collateral damage (more along the lines of the Somali strike last month than of Predator-borne hellfire missile attacks). By "contain," he refers to the erection of infrastructure defenses by means of "well-funded government agencies securing borders, controlling access to airports and seaports, and ensuring the integrity of electronic networks that have become essential to our way of life," as well as decreasing dependence on foreign oil. Finally, by "compete," he means maximizing the benefits of life in democratic, capitalistic societies, and so offering an alternative to living within Islamist societies (rather like we did by exporting jazz and blue jeans to the USSR). The professor also suggests that, by "attending to pressing issues of poverty, injustice, exploitation of women and the global environmental crisis -- we might through our example induce the people of the Islamic world to consider modifying the way they live."

This strategy is very reminiscent of George Kennan’s “Long Telegram” approach to the containment of Soviet Communism. As far as it goes, it is sound. It is about using the benefits of liberal Western democracies to outcompete the ideological singluarity of Radical Islamism.

But it only goes so far. As I and others have pointed out, Islamism is not a centralized, hierarchical system like the USSR, but a distributed and multifarious network. Such networks are remarkably robust in the face of conventional efforts to disrupt them. The ideal strategy with such a beast is to approach it from as many angles as possible, and to attack key nodes relentlessly and intelligently.

The article’s approach is an essential component in an overall strategy which also includes the kind of COIN doctrine which has borne such bounteous (if of course imperfect) fruit in Iraq. However, I think the author fundamentally misunderstands the nature of COIN doctrine by characterizing it as a mere "hot war." Successful counterinsurgency depends as much if not more on civil affairs as it does on kinetic operations. Also, mere decapitation strikes of the sort which he apparently advocates as our sole military endeavor do nothing to provide the sense of security in a population which would enable it to even consider looking for alternate ways of living, while it is surrounded and submerged by the chaos which the Islamist groups will be undergoing as they scramble to replace their slain leaders. Forceful population protection measures MUST be present, so that those people will have a real opportunity to experience the contrast between fear and death and chaos on the Islamist side, and security, prosperity, and hope on the liberalizing side.

Some voices on the Right have suggested that Islam itself is The Problem, and that a worldwide effort to marginalize its practice and to discredit its tenets is the only sure way to achieve victory over the more virulent aspects of its practice. I could not disagree more. Attacking Islam, as such, will only further polarize those devout populations we hope to woo into modernity, and awaken xenophobia and a sense of threat to the underpinnings of their world-view. Rather, we should strive to foster the sputtering liberalizing tendencies within Islam itself. While the exclusivity and expansionism which is endemic to the Abrahamic religions (each of which posits a special relationship with the Divine which supersedes all other faiths) have proved especially refractory to liberalization within Islam, this does not mean that such liberalization/reformation is altogether impossible. It's just extraordinarily difficult.

The author’s gratuitous swipes against Western civilization’s treatment of women and minorities (not to mention the one against Sarah Palin) are offensive, unnecessary, and counterproductive.

A good article, but one which does not go far enough, nor acknowledge conditions in the real world.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Excellent Counterterror Blog

Following a link at the superb Counterterrorism Blog, I came across this site, The TerrorWonk Plus, which so far seems very promising indeed. The latter appears to adhere to the same standards of clear, well-sourced, intelligent analysis, crisp writing, and a refreshingly non-partisan frame that have made the Counterterrorism Blog a regular stop in my daily World Affairs crawl. I'll be adding it to the list, based on what I've seen so far, and recommend interested parties do the same. Naturally, should this change for some reason, I'll update this post.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pawns, Beware

The estimable Victor Davis Hanson gives a tour de force at Pajamas Media, drawing connections to the inevitable-in-retrospect but far-from obvious at the time messages one can draw from WW2. It is through this lens that he examines the Obama Administration's erratic and perilously unserious approach to foreign policy, specifically viz Russia and Iran. Here's a sample:

Consider Russian calculation: A nuclear Iran causes the U.S. all sorts of headaches, along with its Sunni Arab allies. There is money to be made in arms and nuclear sales. Nuclear Iran–or the efforts to stop it– will cause havoc in the oil-exporting region, and such uncertainty can only help raise the price of oil for what is now the world’s largest oil exporter (7.4 million Putin barrels sold per day abroad).

In other words, Iran is a win/win/win deal for a Russian dictatorship, always was and probably will be. We wonder why is Putin causing trouble, or why did Bush offend him? The only proper question is why not cause trouble without much risk if you’re an ex-KGB thug?

Trouble means lucrative trade, with rogue oil states that want to buy blow ‘em up stuff from Russia.

Trouble shuts up the self-important, moralizing Western Europeans.

Trouble sends a message to former subjects.

Trouble means the U.S. is tied down with a nuclear power threatening Israel and the pro-US Arabs.

Trouble means billions of dollars in new oil profits as global prices soar.

Trouble means showing the world’s onlookers that the Obama hope and change rhetoric is a good way to get yourself in a lot of trouble, and reminds others that Russia is a dependable if not thuggish regime to have on your side. (When the Wehrmacht approached Moscow in late 1941, “civilized” European neutrals like Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Spain and Portugal all started to horse-trade with the sure winner Hitler, angling for trade, cash, borderland, the clearing of old grudges, etc—without a whit of care that he was killing millions of Russian civilians and murdering on sight the Jews of Poland and the Ukraine.[By late 1944 these same “civilized” states were damning Hitler and now angling with the allies]). So yes, the past is helpful.

Obama's foreign policy has not been without successes. Where they have occurred, I have marked them with ungrudging satisfaction. That is not the point. I have been a fairly competent chess player from a piece-by-piece perspective. However, as Mr. Hengist could tell you, I never developed my game to the point where I was especially good at setting up a campaign culminating in check-mate for my opponent. Consequently, I would not place any wagers on myself in a game with Kasparov. Obama, being a bright fellow, has shown an ability to score tactical victories. But his strategic vision is cloudy and incoherent, and he is matched up against some very hefty chessmasters, whom one can imagine chortling with astonished glee at the gift which the American electorate has bestowed upon them. It would be hard to sit in the Kremlin, watching Obama deal haphazardly and distractedly with one vital geopolitical issue after another before returning his attention to the task of remaking the US into a model of Western Europe (while the latter seems to be straining in the opposite direction!), and not take heart at the opportunity before them.

It would be hard to sit in Warsaw or Tblisi, or Tel Aviv, (not to mention Tegucigalpa) scanning the horizontal and the vertical (and the diagonal), and not experience the uncomfortable sensation of seeing unopposed rooks and bishops all around.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bajíos y Honduras: Democracy In The Crosshairs

From the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal comes this devastating piece on the Obama State Department's escalating and depressingly wrong-headed behavior with regard to the Honduran government's lawful ouster of a President who had made numerous attempts to subvert the Honduran constitution and lay the groundwork for installing himself as President-For-Life. Or, as the Obama Administration, the Castro Brothers, Hugo Chavez, et. al. insist on referring to it: the "Coup."

I have really tried to comprehend the thinking of this Administration on this matter. I have noted that the manner of the Honduran warrant's execution was over the top, bearing an uncomfortable (though only superficial) resemblance to Central American Coups of yore. But that's really all I can come up with as far as justification for the Obama Administration and Hillary Clinton's State Department's unremitting hostility toward the interim government in Tegucigalpa.

I have tried most studiously to avoid the more partisan and histrionic interpretations of this response. Contrary to how it might seem at times, I am not an Obama Derangement Syndrome sufferer; I would like nothing more than to sit down to a bounteous repast of my own words about this Administration's actions (since that would mean I judged that the Nation was being comprehensively well-served by it). There's all kinds of crazy-talk about how Obama is trying to develop alliances with Leftist dictators since they are in synch with his own plans for the US. Really, some people believe that. I am not one of them.

Still, I am deeply concerned about stories like what the US is doing in Honduras, or this tidbit about the de-funding --at the request of Leftist president Morales-- of USAID programs in Bolivia which promote democracy by, among other things, training local leaders in its implementation at the local and municipal levels. This seems as benign a program as you could hope for, yet Morales feels that it is some kind of conspiracy to support his opposition, and wants it pulled. So pull it we have. Why?

My personal suspicion is that the Obama Administration is aiming to present a reasonable face to intransigent anti-American regimes, and so to de-legitimize their narratives of Yankee Imperialism. He is making concessions and overtures in an effort to bring some of these bad actors to the table, save them some face, and so make it politically possible for them to meet us partway. The reasoning may be that they can never appear so weak as to give the Americans even a sliver of what they want, else they would appear to be lap-dogs of Washington. So, if Washington is seen as recognizing the legitimacy of their administrations/regimes, then they can play the munificent internationalists and give some ground, themselves.

Sounds lovely.

Trouble is that it assumes a level of reasonableness and good faith which it is not reasonable to expect. When a leader is willing to break faith with his own people, to oppress them and stifle their freedoms, and aggrandize himself at their expense, then how does it follow that they would be willing to act in ways which they have defined to be contrary to their own interests for the sake of international amity? The math just doesn't work out, any more than it does that paying off a protection racket with a courteous smile will make them think highly enough of you that they'll lower your rates.

The proper response to sociopathy (individual or collective) is strength and structure and a consistently demonstrated resistance to getting bullied or outfoxed. Now, I am in no way advocating for some sort of military intervention, or ham-fisted attempts at diplomatic intimidation in Central America. We've had more than enough of that. But is it too much to ask that we refrain from empowering the enemies of liberty at the expense of the downtrodden? Is it out of line to hope that the US would pick its battles with rather more care for the messages they send to those who are continually probing for opportunities to subvert their laws and hoard power at home and abroad? Is it wing-nuttery for me to demand that this Administration align and ally itself with the better angels of this planet's polities?

Alas, I'm not liking the answers to these questions. Gosh, does that make me a racist?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Somali Strike

Yesterday's Special Forces strike on a car bearing a top al Qaeda operative in Somalia appears to have been a slam dunk. Target killed, body retrieved for positive identification (along with the possibly quite substantial intelligence to be gained from his kit and co-decedents), no casualties, and no collateral damage.

It is important to maintain a low-profile but steady tempo of operations in this theater. AQ has a substantial presence, linked with the corrupt rubble of warlords and wan shadows of 'government,' almost certainly partaking to a non-trivial degree of pirates' booty. Full-scale attacks on those pirates' shore facilities would be geopolitically problematic to say the least. However, targeting a distributed set of nodes in their network, along with more effective maritime countermeasures could take us a long way. Stemming the spread of AQ's influence abroad, while making life difficult for those who would disrupt the flow of international trade (which can ill-afford the added stress), and thus enforcing global rule sets in the very darkest heart of the Gap is what I would call a win-win-win.

As for the obligatory scold from al-Reuters about the threat of reprisals for this strike...what can I say. They don't like it when you shoot at them. It gets in the way of their carefully crafted plans for killing people and taking their stuff.

Not insubstantial props are owed to President Obama for signing the Executive Order which greenlit this mission. I really would like nothing more than to see much more of this sort of seriousness on matters of security from him.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Obama Plays Hardball...

Most unfortunate headline evah! (maybe there'll be some help for this from ACORN...)

WASHINGTON — The White House strengthened its stand against health care coverage for illegal immigrants Friday, and a pivotal Senate committee looked ready to follow its lead.
The developments reflected a renewed focus on the issue in the days since a Republican congressman's outburst during President Barack Obama's health care speech to Congress on Wednesday night. Republican Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouted "You lie!" as Obama said illegal immigrants wouldn't be covered under his health plan.
Democrats had pointed to provisions in House and Senate legislation that prohibited illegal immigrants from getting federal subsidies that would be offered to lower-income Americans to help them buy insurance.
That didn't go far enough for Wilson or many other Republicans, who noted the absence of any enforcement mechanism or requirement for verification of legal status. There are some 7 million illegal immigrants in this country who lack health insurance, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
The issue has caused heat on talk radio and at congressional town halls, too. So on Friday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs sketched a new position that goes even further than some conservative critics had demanded: Obama will oppose letting illegal immigrants buy insurance through new purchasing exchanges the government will set up — even from private companies operating within the exchanges.

Dang. I'm a moderate immigration/rule-of-law hawk, but this is a little cold. Since it would only be a matter of time before any hardy private insurance companies operating outside of the "Exchange" were driven out of business, that would leave any undocumented aliens SOL with regard to health coverage...even if they had the means and the initiative to purchase it for themselves. So, back to the ER with them, and there go the savings!

UPDATE (12/8/2009) : Fixed expired link

Friday, September 11, 2009

"Falling Through Fire"

I respectfully submit this essay by "Doctor Zero" at Hot Air. At this moment, I have nothing to add.

Eight Years Later

Lately, my head has been far too crowded a place. Family, professional, and other considerations have taken up most of the available real estate. Not a place I'd feel confident that I might find suitable words of remembrance and reflection for the grim anniversary that has rolled around once again.

I will take a pass, and refer you to my post from last year. I don't feel as though I am likely to match it, and don't want to fall as short as I surely would if I were to undertake the effort tonight.

Savor the moments, cherish your family and friends (whether they share your views or not). Live as well as you can. And don't forget.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Avast, Me Hearties!

Via Strategy Page, comes this update on the state of the piracy business on the high seas off the Somali coast. Business, it appears, is not booming:
August 24, 2009: Off Somalia, 136 ships have been attacked so far this year, and 28 (21 percent) have been taken. Last year, the pirate success rate was 40 percent. Moreover, 80 percent of the attacks defeated do not involve the foreign warships now patrolling the coast. The merchant sailors, and the ship owners, have adopted defensive measures that have become remarkably successful in defeating pirate attacks.

It's that last bit that's really got my attention. As much as I feel the piracy situation warrants very serious attention, up to and including military involvement, the latter would not be my first choice, given the nature and scale of the mission, and the fearsome expenditures (to uneven benefit) it demands. Stepped-up patrolling is helpful and necessary, but maritime laws put suffocating constraints on the Navy's rules of engagement, not to mention the maddening tangle of statutes on the disposition of prisoners. And the geopolitical implications of any direct action against headquarters ashore give me a headache even to contemplate.

It is encouraging, then, to hear of merchant vessels' crews training in countermeasures against pirate pursuit and boarding. They are learning to zig-zag a freighter at flank speed (and so creating dangerous wakes for pursuing speedboats), training with water cannon and long poles, stringing barbed wire across vulnerable spots to repel boarders. They are setting up "panic rooms," provisioned with food and water, and (perhaps most importantly) radio gear. These all make a world of sense and have apparently been hugely successful. Holed-up sailors can call for a patrolling ship, sticking pirates with the choice of waiting for the Navy on a ship they can't operate, or beating a hasty (and trackable) retreat. It's a nice 'force multiplier,' since it gives time for sea-borne assets to reach the scene (which means they don't have to try and be everywhere at once).

Indeed, given the legal complexities involved in arming merchant ships (e.g., many ports won't let ships with unlocked weapons --or any weapons at all-- come in and dock), it would even make sense for small teams of Special Forces operators to make the rounds of merchant vessels, providing training in defeating would-be invaders. Providing SF expertise on everything from passive countermeasures to hand-to-hand combat could in many cases obviate the need for weapons lockers, and make in-theater military assets more effective.

Ultimately, anything that makes the job of pirating more expensive, difficult, and risky is worth doing. If this can be done without so heavily leveraging the (already-stretched) wealth of nations by calling upon their militaries, then so much the better.

So, to the rigging, m'lads!