Monday, June 30, 2008

Army Report: Big Mistakes in Iraq!

The American Army released "On Point II: Transition to the New Campaign The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003–January 2005" today: a copy has been available on the Pentagon website since the weekend.

(It's a hefty document: a 104 MB *.pdf file - 720 sheets of not particularly light reading.)

Mild, Muted Reactions

Reactions were much more muted than what I expected:
  • "Army Did Not Plan for Post-Invasion Iraq? What About Bush?" (June 30, 2008)
    • "The latest non-news news about Iraq comes from a nearly 700-page Army study that notes that the Army--including General Tommy Franks--did not prepare adequately for the post-invasion phase in Iraq. The bottom-line quote: "The military means employed [in Iraq] were sufficient to destroy the Saddam regime; they were not sufficient to replace it with the type of nation-state the United States wished to see in its place." But this failure does not belong only to Franks and the Army. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld...."
  • "US Army's Report ---- Bush (cheney)ed Up"
    TwoPuttTommy's blog (June 29, 2008)
    • "Ladies and Gentlemen, two years ago the Pioneer Press asked the 22 major party candidates for congress three questions, one of which was: 'Did the U.S. do the right thing sending troops to Iraq?' John Kline answered, and I quote: 'Second guessing is for Monday morning quarterbacks and not the way to decide foreign policy. The point is our troops are in Iraq now, so the real question is how do we support our troops and the new Iraqi government?' Ladies and Gentlemen, that was a bullshit answer then, and it still is...."
  • "Generalship and Iraq"
    HG's WORLD (June 28, 2008)
    • "...They all have the same thing in common. They were in charge of either winning or commanding, the decisive battle in a war. Everyone of this men justly earned the accolades of their nation and in the case all save one, continued to serve until the job was done...."
(There were many more 'blog' posts than these. I selected posts that expressed opinion or offered commentary, rather than just parroting news reports (my own parrot squawks are mostly at the end of this post).)

Big Iraq Mistakes Report Creates Big Dilemma

I suspect that the reasons we aren't seeing more triumphant whoops from the out-now people is that this Army report is a long, tedious read - and doesn't quite say the right things.

For example, there's the report's handling of President Bush's infamous "Mission Accomplished" banner:
"...This stunning victory led President Bush, with the encouragement of his top military leaders, to announce the end to major combat operations on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln. While viewed by some as tantamount to a declaration of victory, in reality, this announcement merely marked the point where the campaign transitioned from combat to the next phase of operations focused on the reconstruction of Iraq...."
("On Point II," Prologue, page 19, continuing a topic raised on page 9)
That "Mission Accomplished" banner story took on a life of its own: and I doubt that those who prefer to see it as an example of ignorant arrogance appreciate the facts being brought up again.1

Too Many Facts

It must be difficult for those dedicated to seeing American involvement in Iraq as an unmitigated failure, to have a major military 'admission' be so annoyingly filled with facts.

Contrary to what it's like in what I'll call the World According to Berkeley, the American military is not made up of sadistic; power-mad rulers; bent on oppressing the hapless losers they command; and through them, the world.

The American military in the real world is made up of fallible human beings: but human beings who are smart, professional, and who want to learn from past mistakes. As the Commanding General of US Army Training and Doctrine Command, General William S. Wallace, wrote in the forward:
"...One of the great, and least understood, qualities of the United States Army is its culture of introspection and self-examination. American Soldiers, whether it is the squad leader conducting a hasty after action review of a training event or the senior leader studying great campaigns from the past, are part of a vibrant, learning organization. The CSI motto—The Past is Prologue—neatly captures the need for this study. Publishing the recent history of the United States Army's operations is a key part of the TRADOC mission to develop adaptive, innovative leaders who are flexible, culturally astute experts in the art and science of the profession of arms, and who are able to quickly adapt to the contemporary operating environment...."
("On Point II," Prologue, page iii)

"The Past is Prologue" - Learn From It!

This report is part of the American Army's efforts to learn what has gone right in Iraq, and what's gone wrong. The long range goal: to repeat past successes, and avoid past blunders.

There's no doubt about it: the report shows some very serious problems in the Pentagon, like Lieutenant General (Retired) Jay Garner and his ORHA team, and chain of command.
"...General Keane had similar concerns about Garner's authority in the spring of 2003 when DOD formed ORHA. After a briefing from Garner at the Pentagon, Keane recounted, 'I asked him who he was working for and he said that he was working for Secretary Rumsfeld. I said, goddamn it, Jay, that is the wrong answer. Every damn time we don't have unity of command. You should be working for one guy and one guy only, and that is Franks.' ..."
("On Point II," page 150)
And, there are problems in the matter of getting enough troops and the right equipment to the right places.
"...[former Ambassador] Bremer remembered that the al-Sadr uprising and Sunni attacks of April 2004 conclusively demonstrated to him that Coalition troops were stretched too thin and that led him to send a written request for one or two more divisions.... According to Bremer, he never received an official response to his request...."2
("On Point II," page 168)
Successes are in the report, too. But, from some points of view, they're the wrong sort of successes.
"...Neither mission accomplishment nor the integrity of the media was compromised. . . . Embedded media had a more realistic understanding and were more optimistic in their accounts than media who were reporting from the Pentagon, from (CENTCOM) in Qatar, or from Coalition Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC) in Kuwait. . . . In sum, the embedded media balanced the negative press from reporters outside Iraq...."
("On Point II," page 294, quoting from 3d ID, AAR, Lessons Learned, Chapter 6: Embedded Media, 40–44.)

The 'Big Mistakes in Iraq' Report is Out - Now What?

I think that awareness of this report will fade away, as the truth sinks in. "On Point II: Transition to the New Campaign" describes eighteen months of an imperfect, flawed, campaign to put Iraq on its feet as a free democracy - while terrorists did their best to ruin the process.

Here's the last entry in the chronology:
"Iraq holds its first free national elections in 50 years. Voter turnout is higher than projected, but most Sunnis boycott.

"Nine suicide bombers and insurgents firing mortars kill 26 Iraqis and wound over 100 in election-related violence."
("On Point II," pages 641-648)
Here's one way to look at the facts:
  • Sunnis Boycott Iraqi Election
  • Election Violence Kills 26 Iraqis
Here's another:
  • Iraq: First Free Elections in Over 50 Years
    • Sunnis Boycott Election
    • 26 Iraqis Dead, Over 100 wounded in Election-Related Violence
I'm inclined to see free elections as a good thing. I know that the situation in Iraq is not everything it should - and can - be. But, I don't see it as hopeless.

Let's remember what has been accomplished.

(CENTCOM Photo, from "On Point II," page 421, used w/o permission)
"Figure 106. Iraqi woman voter."

American Army report on the Iraq campaign, in the news:
  • "US army blames 'flawed' Iraq plan "
    Al Jazeera English (June 30, 2008)
    • "An official US army account of the US-led Iraqi invasion and occupation has admitted that planning for the operation was flawed.
    • "The 700-page report, released on Monday, concludes that military and civilian leaders failed to prepare adequately for the post-war mission.
    • "It says the rapid military defeat of Saddam Hussein's forces led US policymakers to believe its post-war military scenario would prove equally easy...."
  • "Army criticizes itself in Iraq invasion report"
    CNN (June 30, 2008)
    • "(CNN) -- The U.S. Army's official history of the Iraq war shows military chiefs made mistake after mistake in the early months of the conflict.
    • "Failures to recognize the chaos engulfing the country and to send in enough troops to restore order after the 2003 invasion have long been highlighted by critics, but a new report shows the Army assessing itself.
    • "Frank opinions from officers serving in the 18 months from the start of war to Iraqi elections in January 2005 reveal there were concerns at the time, not just about assumptions made by planners but at decisions taken once U.S.-led coalition forces had control of Iraq...."
  • "Army study: Iraq occupation was understaffed"
    International Herald Tribune (June 30, 2008)
    • "DENVER: A nearly 700-page study released Sunday by the Army found that 'in the euphoria of early 2003,' U.S.-based commanders prematurely believed their goals in Iraq had been reached and did not send enough troops to handle the occupation.
    • "President George W. Bush's statement on May 1, 2003, that major combat operations were over reinforced that view, the study said.
    • "It was written by Donald P. Wright and Col. Timothy R. Reese of the Contemporary Operations Study Team at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., who said that planners who requested more troops were ignored and that commanders in Baghdad were replaced without enough of a transition and lacked enough staff.
  • "New Public Military History Criticizes Pentagon on Post-Invasion Planning for Iraq"
    FOXNews (June 29, 2008)
    • "WASHINGTON — A new report by Army historians levels heavy, unvarnished criticism against Pentagon leadership for its failure to plan beyond the initial invasion of Iraq.
    • " 'On Point II: Transition to the New Campaign' - which outlines the 18 months following the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime - said too much focus was placed on a military victory, and not enough on post-war planning, due in part to optimism by the White House and the Pentagon that civilian agencies would take care much of the country's post war rebuilding...."
  • "US army blames leaders over post-war Iraq"
    Guardian (UK) (June 29, 2008)
    "Military historians single out Rumsfeld and Franks
    "Too much focus on getting rid of Saddam, says study
    • "The US army has told of errors, poor planning and complacency among its own top commanders in a warts-and-all official history of the steep descent into violence that followed the Iraq war.
    • "In a 696-page account, army historians fault military and political leaders for focusing excessively on toppling Saddam Hussein in 2003 without looking towards a broader transition towards a stable society. Actions by the former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the top US commander during the Iraq invasion, Tommy Franks, are singled out in the study, which was delayed for six months to allow senior army figures to review drafts.
    • " 'The transition to a new campaign was not well thought out, planned for and prepared for before it began,' says the history, On Point II: Transition to the New Campaign, published by an internal army thinktank called the contemporary operations study team. 'The assumptions about the nature of the post-Saddam Iraq on which the transition was planned proved to be largely incorrect.'..."

1 It's quite probable that the idea of that "Mission Accomplished" banner came from "Navy officials on the carrier." (CNN, "White House pressed on 'mission accomplished' sign - Navy suggested it, White House made it, both sides say" (October 29, 2003))

And, the statement was correct. The mission, to remove Saddam Hussein from Iraq, had been accomplished.

As the President said that day,
  • "...Our mission continues. Al Qaeda is wounded, not destroyed. The scattered cells of the terrorist network still operate in many nations, and we know from daily intelligence that they continue to plot against free people...."
  • "...The war on terror is not over; yet it is not endless. We do not know the day of final victory, but we have seen the turning of the tide. No act of the terrorists will change our purpose, or weaken our resolve, or alter their fate. Their cause is lost. Free nations will press on to victory...."
That statement, "while viewed by some as tantamount to a declaration of victory," is, I think, rather mild. I remember how, almost five years ago, the stupidity, the arrogance, of the bad cowboy president was discussed in connection with that banner. What the president actually said on the deck of the Lincoln didn't match the 'stupid, arrogant Bush' model, so those details were largely forgotten.

The "Mission Accomplished" banner was, in retrospect, a mistake. Bush's visit to the USS Lincoln might have been better received, if the banner had read, "We're Sorry."

I can't help thinking that, if the self-defined best people in America had their way, Washington would have been criticized for claiming the mission of securing Yorktown as a victory, because the mission of promoting "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" had not been fully completed. (And it hasn't, to date: it's a sort of ongoing mission.)

2 This, and a general impression I get from some of what I skimmed, make me concerned that America is close to repeating a mistake from Vietnam: inept 'experts' in Washington micro-managing field commanders.

Hezbollah Springs Samir Kantar, Israel Gets Two Dead Soldiers

The next time you start getting weepy about some poor Palestinian family you saw on television, crying their eyes out because their house is gone, consider this: The odds are pretty good that their house was used by terrorists: as a place to store or fire weapons, as a place to live, or a more-or-less willing shield.

Samir Kantar: Hero, Misunderstood Victim, or Something Else?

Samir Kantar is free. Israel agreed to release him in exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, captured by Hezbollah, who just happened to die after that.

You may not recognize the name Samir Kantar, but he's one of the great heroes of the Palestinian response to Israeli occupation.

The Battle of Nahariya

It was April 22, 1979. A crack team of Palestinian fighters made an amphibious landing on the northern shore of Israel, at Nahariya. Facing intense starlight and two Israeli policemen, they penetrated the defenses of a tactical apartment building, and secured prisoners.

Samir Kantar, single-handed, shot the father of a four-year-old girl while she watched. Then, showing bravery above and beyond the call of duty, he "smashed her skull against a rock with his rifle butt, killing her, too."

It's surprising that the Battle of Nahariya isn't more widely recognized and celebrated, but perhaps that's because the Jews control the news. Or, maybe traditional information gatekeepers don't quite know what to do about 'victims of oppression' who act the way Samir Kantar did.

Excuses and Common Sense

Yes, I know:
  • Samir Kantar was 16 at the time
  • Most Palestinians don't enjoy a prosperous lifestyle
  • After Samir got caught (and not killed), allegedly he says he didn't do it.
    • Witnesses say otherwise
      • But they're probably Jews
That doesn't excuse blowing away Danny Haran, and whacking Einat's head against a rock. Not in my opinion.

I also know that the Israeli military has killed people who shouldn't have been killed. I'm not making excuses, but I think it's worth remembering that Israel isn't the group that's been blowing up
  • Tactical markets and bus stops
  • Strategic schools
  • A command-and-control ice cream parlor
(Ice cream parlor? It was near a shopping mall in Petah Tikva. The Fatah Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades were proud to call that victory their own.)

The sophisticated thing to do, these days, would be to write as if Hezbollah were pretty much the same as Israel, and that what Hezbollah does is pretty much like what Israel does. The term for that sort of thinking is moral equivalence, "defining distinct and conflicting moral behaviors in similar terms."

I must not be very sophisticated. I think that there is a difference between bulldozing buildings that are used as launching platforms for rockets, and blowing up markets with rockets launched from those buildings.

Terrorists Know: Persistence Pays

I'll give Islamic terrorists credit: they haven't given up on trying to free Samir Kantar. One of the reasons that Abū ‘Abbās,AKA Muhammad Zaidan, AKA Muhammad ‘Abbās, arranged for the taking of the Achille Lauro, back in 1985, was to free Kantar.

Hijacking the Achille Lauro didn't get Kantar out, but at least the Islamic heroes rousing welcome when they took their prize into port.

At least they were able to machine-gun an old Jewish cripple, in a wheelchair. Later, Mr. ‘Abbās explained that the that the military action against Leon Klinghoffer was perfectly reasonable. He "created troubles. He was handicapped but he was inciting and provoking the other passengers. So the decision was made to kill him."
About Palestinians: I do have sympathy for these people, who keep picking such outstanding leaders.

I'd have more sympathy for Palestinians as a whole, if their best and bravest warriors weren't quite so proud of glorious victories over groceries, schools, and the occasional four-year-old girl.

Samir Kantar's release in the news: I've written about a couple of the ideas here before:

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Obama Supporters Take "Hussein" Name

"Obama Supporters Take His Name as Their Own "
The New York Times (June 29, 2008)

"Emily Nordling has never met a Muslim, at least not to her knowledge. But this spring, Ms. Nordling, a 19-year-old student from Fort Thomas, Ky., gave herself a new middle name on, mimicking her boyfriend and shocking her father."

Well, it's about time!

Not the "shocking her father" part. Fathers of teenage girls get startled enough as it is.

Changing online names to 'something-Hussein' is catching on among supporters of Barack Hussein Obama. They're reacting to ill-considered, ignorant, and apparently ongoing claims that the presidential candidate is a Muslim.

Which, apparently, is regarded as an unacceptable trait for an American president.

I'm not an Obama supporter: but not because I think he's a Muslim, or because he's black, or because he doesn't wear a beard. I do not support Obama because I do not believe that any of the iterations of his policies is a good idea for America.

As I've said before, this blog isn't political.

But, "Another War-on-Terror Blog" does deal with the War on Terror. Relations between Islam and the rest of the world go with that topic.

I'm one of those people who still think that Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and similar groups, are not typical of Islam. And, I think that whether or not Obama is Muslim is irrelevant to his suitability for the presidency.

And, there's every indication that he's Christian, with no evidence that he's a Muslim. (Remember Wright's "God Damn America" remarks?)

So, it's time for Americans who are interested in the upcoming presidential election to take a deep breath, and get over the fact that we've got a candidate with "Hussein" as a middle name.

America survived an Irish president, we should be able to deal with a candidate whose middle name is Hussein.

(More, at "A Presidential Candidate Named Hussein?
Get a Grip!
" (February 28, 2008).)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Aqsa Parves, Muslim Teen: No Scarf, No Life

Aqsa Parvez, 16, of Mississauga, Ontario: "ever-cheerful;" "afraid of her parents;" "strangled."

(from FOXNews, used w/o permission)
Aqsa Parvez, dead: "It is a teenager issue."

The Pakistani-Canadian Parvez family now has three members directly affected by this murder: Aqsa, 16, the victim; Muhammad, her father, 57, who's charged with strangling her; Waqas Parvez, 27, also charged with first-degree murder.

There are a number of explanations for Aqsa's murder:
  • Police: no comment
  • Joseph Ciraco, Muhammad's lawyer: it's not just cultural issues
  • Aqsa's friends: her father wanted her to wear a Muslim scarf, she didn't, so he killed her
I'm being a bit unfair in my summary of what the police and Aqsa's friends have said.
  • The police don't want to mess up the case they hand over to the prosecuting authorities, and they're still investigating who was involved, how, and why.
  • As for Aqsa's friends, I boiled down what they said, as reported: leaving a very blunt core.
  • The Canadian Islamic Congress: "I don't want the public to think that this is really an Islamic issue or an immigrant issue...
    It is a teenager issue."
    (I'm not making this up.)
The Council on American-Islamic Relations's Canadian spokesman made a carefully ambiguous statement: after Asqa was murdered, imams at Canadian mosques took a look at issues brought up in the media. "It forced the Islamic community to look at itself in terms of what children face and what parents here in Canada face," he said.

I'm almost exactly the same age as Muhammad Parvez: and I've endured three teenage daughters. The third is still in the house. Teenage daughters will test the mettle of the strongest man. Not physically, but where it really hurts: in our minds.

But, exasperating as a teenage daughter whose views don't match one's own can be, there's no excuse for strangling her. None. Not for someone with my value system. As a devout Catholic, I do understand the stresses that come with trying to live according to a way of life and a philosophy which is not the best match with a contemporary culture of Barbies, live-in girlfriends, and thongs.

What's missing in my value system is the idea of honor killing. I do not believe that I have the duty to kill a member of my family (it always seems to be a woman) who doesn't do what I think she should, or what my imam says she should.

Curiously, the word "honor killing" didn't show up in any of the handful of articles I found on this news item. Perhaps it doesn't apply in this case. Or, as I suspect, the news media is being polite, and not bringing up an unpleasant issue.

I may be wrong, but I think that, if the Aqsa's name had been, say, Jane, her family's name Anderson, and her father a rabid fundamentalist, the religious angle ("cultural" angle?) would have been covered. Thoroughly.

In the news: I wrote a post on this story, last year: "Canadian Teen Killed by Muslim Father - Over Scarf: Maybe - And This Isn't News?" (December 12, 2007)

Related posts, on Islam, Christianity, Religion, Culture and the War on Terror.
Update (June 28, 2008)
I've been made aware of these links, in today's comments. Thanks!
    Red Room (June 27, 2008)
    • "Maybe there's yet hope for us all!
    • "There was a dishonor killing in suburban Toronto in December 2007. A 16-year-old school girl named Aqsa Parvez was strangled to death by her father, Muhammad. Her "crime"? Acting too Western. In the weeks preceding her death, Aqsa had argued with her family over several issues...."
    • About the Stop Honorcide campaign, started Mother's Day 2008, by Muslims Against Sharia.
    • "The goal of the campaign is to prosecute honorcides to the fullest extent of the law.
    • "We want honorcide to be classified as a hate crime and we advocate for every existing hate crime legislation to be amended to include honorcide."

Friday, June 27, 2008

DC Gun Ban, Online Censorship, Individual Rights, and Power to the People

Some bloggers are horrified and incensed at the Supreme Court's decision to strike down the District of Columbia's absolute ban on personal possession of handguns. "Public safety" shows up fairly often. I get a picture of guns running down the streets of America's capital, killing people.

Others are delighted that the right to bear arms has been upheld. Those bloggers may not be aware that the District of Columbia does have the right to regulate gun ownership, according to the Supreme Court - and doesn't allow people to carry guns outside their homes.

I'm moderately surprised, and pleased, that the Supreme Court decided to uphold individual rights: if only by a 5-4 decision. (More, at "DC Gun Ban Nixed - Second Amendment Defined (Finally!)" (June 26, 2008).)

Individual Freedom: a Treasure

This post expands on a point I made in "DC Gun Ban Nixed...."

America is a free country. When I was growing up, I learned that individual freedom was important. Since then, I've learned that one of the remarkable freedoms that Americans enjoy is the right to own and operate dangerous technologies and substances. These include
  • Guns
  • Substances like
    • LP gas
    • Ammonium nitrate1
    • Anhydrous ammonia1
  • Printing presses
  • Fax machines
  • Computers
What all these have in common is that they give whoever possesses them, and knows how to use them, considerable individual power.

Depending on your own point of view, you'll see some - or all - of these items as dangerous; and some - or all - as harmless.

I think they're all dangerous, and that people should have the right to own and use them, with very few restrictions.

That's because I believe that people should be free to use dangerous technologies, unless they've demonstrated that they're not able to handle that freedom: Like felons and people who have been diagnosed with psychological problems. These people have shown that they aren't able to behave as responsible citizens, or give definite indications that they could be a danger. (Think of a paranoid schizophrenic with a loaded gun - or knife - or club, for that matter.)

Computers, Dangerous?

I put the printing press and the fax machine in my list, because they are, in their own way, at least as dangerous as any gun.

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, but the Printing Press is Deadly

Martin Luther's 95 Theses might have have been discussed in Wittenberg, and maybe surrounding towns, and stopped there: if some incendiarist hadn't gotten his hands on them, printed copies, and distributed the things. The wars that followed would probably have happened anyway: Princes of northern Europe were ready and eager to free themselves from the wealthier regimes of southern Europe. But the conflicts would, I think, have been very different, and possibly easier to settle, if the printing press hadn't been around.2

Little Old Ladies and the Information Age

The fax machine didn't have as much of an impact, because it was overshadowed by newer technologies. The things were important, though. I remember references to Chinese dissidents who communicated through fax machines and email. Before that, I remember complaints about the little old ladies with tennis shoes and fax machines, who had the audacity to spread information that politicos and newspaper editors disapproved of.

Computers and the Internet: Now Anybody can Publish and be Heard

Computers, as tools on the Internet, are today's fastest, easiest, and most generally available means for an individual to make his or her voice be heard.

Worse, from the point of view of some traditional information gatekeepers, individuals can now publish and distribute their ideas without going through 'proper' channels.
  • Academics
    • In the 'good old days,' academic papers wouldn't be published published in professional journals, if the established authorities who ran the journals didn't like their ideas - or the author.
    • That's still the case, but it's possible - in principle - for an academician with unpopular ideas to get heard, by publishing online.
    • There may be a price to pay. Dr. William Gray, the hurricane expert, won't be seen on television now. His considered opinion about global warming wasn't politically correct, and then support for his television appearances was cut. There may not be a connection. And, Dr. Gray is defending the institution that silenced him. I don't blame him. It's not always easy to find another job.
  • News Media
    • Until rogue cable and online news came along, virtually all national and international news was filtered through a handful of east coast editorial boards. These people formed a rather tight social group, with similar beliefs and assumptions.
    • It's no surprise that what we read all seemed to support their world view. We were seeing events through the eyes of upper-crust Yankee gentlemen.
  • Book and Magazine Publishing
    • The publishing industry should be a wonderful opportunity for individual voices to be heard. Using the centuries-old technology of the movable type and the printing press, small publishing houses offered people with unusual ideas to get a hearing in the marketplace of ideas.
    • Then, around the late seventies and early eighties (if memory serves), the price of paper went up. A lot.
    • That, and other changes, made small publishing houses less profitable. Many closed their doors, or were absorbed by larger publishers. The impression I have is that although small publishing houses still exist, they aren't as good an opportunity for the author with unauthorized opinions as they were.
    • That leaves vanity/subsidy publishing. Most people don't have the background and contacts it takes to get their title into bookstores nation-wide, or globally. I doubt that most subsidy publishers would have the means or the motivation to push one of their printing runs, once they've gotten the check. I'm sure there are exceptions.
Until the Web became a major communication channel, people with ideas could talk to their neighbors, but it they wanted a wider audience, they'd have to get the cooperation of one of the traditional gatekeepers: an academic review board; news editors; or publishers - who to an increasing extent weren't interested in anyone who wasn't a Steven King or the latest celebrity with a story to have ghost-written.

If you were among the gatekeepers, or held their views, life was good.

Then along came the Web, search engines, and blogs - and suddenly just anybody with Internet access could get published. And heard.

Knowledge is Power: and I Like Power

Many of the ideas put forward online don't pass the 'stink test,' and fail in the marketplace of ideas. Others succeed.

The great thing about the Information Age is that people can publish their ideas. Even if those ideas don't sit well with
  • Established academics
  • Yankee gentlemen
  • Publishing executives
To someone who became comfortable with the well-regulated flow of information that a previous generation experienced, today's world of blogs and uncontrolled websites must seem like chaos.

I like it.

I also like individual freedom.

And I like the way that the Information Age has opened by giving 'power to the people:' the power of individuals to enter the marketplace of ideas, even if their views aren't approved by the old gatekeepers.

Now, the Bad News

Not all regimes are comfortable with the new information technologies. Some are downright hostile. A quick look at how individual freedom is faring around the world:
  • "False Freedom / Online Censorship in the Middle East and North Africa"
    Human Rights Watch (November, 2005)
    A look at which regimes in that region are comfortable with having informed citizens, and which aren't. "This report is dedicated to the writers and activists who spoke to Human Rights Watch in the course of the research that went in to it, often taking great risks to do so.
  • "Activists say China's online censorship is worsening"
    Ars Technica (June 19, 2008)
    A report on how China is controlling the flow of online information in its borders.
  • "ACLU Victorious in Defense of Online Free Speech"
    ACLU (March 22, 2007)
    "Online Censorship in the States"
    ACLU (February 13, 2002)
    The ACLU's own unique view of freedom: specifically, it's ongoing victory to protect Americans from the forces that would criminalize showing "the name, address, telephone number, or e-mail address of a person under 18" on "an adult obscenity or child pornography site."
  • See an excerpt from "Odd Allies: Opposition to Waterboarding and Web Censorship" (March 9, 2008) for my take on similar issues.
Related posts on this blog:

1 With the possible exception of LP gas, the danger of these substances may not be apparent to most Americans.
  • LP gas
    • All too often, there's a news item about buildings being destroyed and people being killed because someone was careless with liquid propane
      • Sometimes the death and destruction is deliberate
    • LP gas is very useful
      • I use it every weekend, to grill burgers for lunch
      • But when mixed with air it becomes a powerful explosive
  • Ammonium nitrate
    • Used in the attack on Oklahoma City's Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building
    • Nearly obliterated Texas City in 1947
      • Near Galveston, Texas
    • It's also, and mainly, a very useful high-nitrogen fertilizer
  • Anhydrous Ammonia
    • Ammonia has other uses, but for farmers it's another good fertilizer
      • We use a great deal of the stuff in my part of America
    • Is a gas at normal temperatures and pressures
    • Reacts strongly with water
    • We're mostly water
      • Which makes anhydrous ammonia particularly dangerous
      • But we still use it
An anhydrous ammonia incident: Anyone who's driven on Interstate Highway 94 between Fergus Falls and Moorhead, Minnesota, has seen a huge white tank, about 200 feet in diameter, north of Barnesville.
  • It stores anhydrous ammonia
    • Lots of it
  • Back in 1981, Barnesville made the national news, when about 50 tons of the stuff leaked out
    • Nobody was killed, thank God, but eight people were in serious condition before things got under control
  • The tank's still there, the people are still there, and there's no plan to 'save' them from the fertilizer.
2 An alternative view of The Reformation is available online: "What Was the Reformation?" (Chapter Six of "THE GREAT HERESIES," by Hilaire Belloc. A few notes and disclaimers:
  • The electronic form of the document is Copyright © Trinity Communications 1994
  • The document is written from a distinctly and explicitly Catholic point of view. Readers who are not Catholic may be exposed to unfamiliar ideas.

Update (June 28, 2008)

Another point of view:
"Accepting the Court’s Decision on the Second Amendment"
Stoneman's Corner (June 28, 2008)

This is a calm, reasoned look at the District of Columbia vs. Heller decision: written by someone who actually read the document before writing about what it means. in a discussion thread, the author pointed out a recent habeas corpus ruling which I'd missed. (Great, one more thing to look up!)

I don't see eye-to-eye with the author, but it's a relief to discover that there are people out there who take a deep breath and think before responding to issues.

Democracy: Zimbabwe Style

The odds are pretty good that Zimbabwe's President Mugabe will be re-elected today. That's a photo of somebody at a voting booth in Zimbabwe. The chap to the right, in riot gear, is making sure that everything's done properly.

Opposition candidate Tsvangirai's name is still on the ballot, since Zimbabwe's electoral officials said that his withdrawal from the race on Sunday came too late.

That's a nice gesture of due process in the election.

I still don't think the dude in armor is there to guarantee a free and open election, though.

On a more positive note, today's voting has proceeded with no reports of dismemberment or live cremation. In Zimbabwe, that's impressive.

Zimbabwe's election in the news: More at:

North Korea Disables Reactor: Progress, of a Sort

After making sure that politicos and journalists from around the world were watching, North Korea's regime blew up the Yongbyon reactor's cooling tower. Whatever condition the reactor is in, it won't be used. Those things generate a lot of heat, and now the radiator's busted.

And, North Korea has said that they extracted plutonium to be used in nuclear weapons. Maybe around 110 pounds. That doesn't sound like much, but it's enough for 10 nuclear bombs: assuming that each has 5 kilograms of plutonium. That's enough for something shy of the 20 kiloton explosion (like the Trinity test, in 1945): if I did my math right. It's not as powerful as the bomb that devastated Nagasaki, but it's a serious weapon.

(from, used w/o permission)

There's a diversity of opinion on just what North Korea's media event means, including:
  • " 'This is a critical piece of equipment for the nuclear reactor,' said analyst John Wolfsthal, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who has been following North Korea since the 1980s. 'Without this facility, the reactor can't operate and can't produce more plutonium for weapons.' "
  • "The tower is a technically insignificant structure, relatively easy to rebuild. North Korea also has been disabling - though not destroying - more sensitive parts of the nuclear complex, such as the 5-megawatt reactor, a plant that makes its fuel and a laboratory that extracts plutonium from its spent fuel.
    " 'It's symbolic. But in real terms, whether demolishing or not a cooling tower that has already been disabled doesn't make much difference,' said Lee Ji-sue, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Myongji University."
    (International Herald Tribune)
I'm inclined to agree with Lee: today's implosion even made a great show, but probably has little practical effect on North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

On the other hand, blowing up that tower has done more good than boost ratings for some news networks.
  • Even though it could be re-started easily, that nuclear facility is out of service for now: thanks to a deal between North Korea, America, South Korea, Japan, Russia and China
  • After this dramatic show, it's going to be a bit harder for national leaders to ignore a North Korean nuclear program
Is this news event an epochal event, heralding the dawn of a new age? Hardly.

I think that it's mildly hopeful, and may have positive results, down the road.

In the news:

Thursday, June 26, 2008

DC Gun Ban Nixed - Second Amendment Defined (Finally!)

The Supreme court conclusively interpreted Second Amendment to the United States of America's Constitution for the first time today.
  • "High court strikes down gun ban"
    CNN (July 26, 2008)
    • "WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a sweeping ban on handguns in the nation's capital violated the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
    • "The justices voted 5-4 against the ban, with Justice Antonin Scalia writing the opinion for the majority.
    • "The case's lead plaintiff, Dick Heller, applauded the decision, saying, 'I'm very happy that I am now able to defend myself and my household in my own home.'...
  • "Supreme Court Shoots Down D.C. Gun Ban
    • "5-4 Ruling Says Washington's 32-Year-Old Ban Incompatible With 2nd Amendment
    • "(CBS/AP) The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Americans have a right to own guns for self-defense and hunting, the justices' first major pronouncement on gun rights in U.S. history.
    • "The court's 5-4 ruling struck down the District of Columbia's 32-year-old ban on handguns as incompatible with gun rights under the Second Amendment. The decision went further than even the Bush administration wanted, but probably leaves most firearms laws intact.
    • "The court had not conclusively interpreted the Second Amendment since its ratification in 1791. The amendment reads: 'A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.'
    • "The basic issue for the justices was whether the amendment protects an individual's right to own guns no matter what, or whether that right is somehow tied to service in a state militia...."
And it's about time. That two-century-old amendment has been a point of contention between Americans with hoplophobia, those with a more balanced view of the world, and, of course, 'gun nuts.' (Haven't heard of hoplophobia? I'm not surprised. See "EEEK! Guns! Hoplophobia and Foreign Policy" (December 23, 2007).)

What Does This Have to do With The War on Terror?

Quite a lot, actually. America is a free country. One of the freedoms that American citizens have is to own potentially dangerous technologies, like
  • Guns
  • Containers of
  • Fertilizer containing ammonium nitrate
  • Printing presses
  • Fax machines
  • Computers
Printing presses? Fax Machines? Computers?! I'm serious: It's been argued that Martin Luther's 95 Theses would have been discussed Wittenberg, and maybe surrounding towns, and stopped there: if some incendiarist hadn't gotten his hands on them, printed copies, and distributed the things.

Fax machines and especially computers represent technologies that give ordinary people access to enormous amounts of information: and the power to communicate with others that hadn't existed before the Information Age.

So far, America doesn't place many limits on who can own computers, and what they can do with them. Other countries do. China has been in the news a bit, since some people over here find China's well-regulated Internet distressing: and for good reason.

I like freedom. On the whole, I'd rather live in America than, say, Zimbabwe.

Back to the Supreme Court Gun Ban Decision

I don't think that the screwballs on either end will be happy with this decision.

"The Constitution does not permit 'the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home,' Scalia said. The court also struck down Washington's requirement that firearms be equipped with trigger locks or kept disassembled, but left intact the licensing of guns." (CBS News)
  • Hoplophobes will be appalled that those scary guns will run rampant in the streets, killing people
  • 'Gun nuts' will see the idea of licensing guns as anathema
I doubt that we've heard the end of this issue.

As for me, I'm glad to see that social action from the Groovy Age is getting reviewed. I've been uncomfortable with the self-styled best and brightest of America trying to protect the common lot from their lack of intelligence and self-control. Particularly since my ungroovy beliefs make me one of the common lot.

Copy of the opinion

From the Supreme Court website:

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Algiers in the News: The War on Terror is Global

This headline is a reminder of something rather important:

"UN security chief resigns as Algiers bombing panel cites weaknesses"
International Herald Tribune (June 25, 2008)

"UNITED NATIONS: The U.N. security chief resigned Tuesday over the Dec. 11 Algiers truck bombings after an expert panel found "gaps and weaknesses" in the U.N.'s overall security operations due to cost-cutting."

Two points:
  1. For the second time in three days, the United Nations has shown the sort of leadership and maturity that its founders hoped for
  2. The War on Terror isn't limited to Iraq, Syria, Israel, Jordan, and the 'Stans
News - American news, at any rate - tends to focus on conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and a few other countries. That can leave the impression that the War on Terror is a regional affair.

People in Indonesia and the Philippines know better.

In fact, I think that before it's over, the War on Terror will deal with blots on the landscape like the Mugabe regime of Zimbabwe. There's a backlog of petty dictatorships to deal with, and this may be the time that civilized nations start catching up.

Iran's Ahmadinejad Wants Tyrants Tried, and the EU to Lay Off

Iran's President Ahmadinejad is in the news again. This time, with an assurance and a proposal:
  • Assurance
    The west's 'carrots and sticks' approach to dealing with Iran's nuclear program won't work. Iran has an inalienable right to have a nuclear program, which the oil-rich country needs to supply power to its people
  • Proposal
    Form a special court to put the "tyrants" who plot against Iran on trial so that they can be punished
I suppose this makes sense, from Ahmadinejad's point of view. What the world looks like depends a great deal on where you're standing. I got some very interesting comments in a recent post. I think the gist of them is that Israel is to blame, because the Jews have nuclear weapons and attack their neighbors.

This belief is nothing new. I've been hearing and reading versions of it for decades. Although it may feel 'tolerant' and 'open minded' to say that all points of view are equally valid, that doesn't mean that it's so.

In my world, if a branch falls on my head, it hurts: whether I believe it should, or not.

As I wrote last month: "Okay. I think I understand now. Palestinians blow up strategic schools and students, attack tactical markets, and the Jews are to blame for it. That makes outfits like Hamas national liberation movements. When the Jewish military takes down rocket launchers hidden inside someone's home, that's terrorism."
("bin Laden: Israel is Terrorist State (This is News?)" (May 16, 2008))

I suspect that President Ahmadinejad's ideas will be solemnly considered and discussed. Who knows? He may even get his special court. I think Ahmadinejad would have been better-advised to avoid criticizing the European Union, and concentrate on the idea of trying American and Israeli leaders.

Then, after the leaders of the 'great Satan America' and Israel were punished, he could propose another set of trials.

The old saying "divide and conquer" has some wisdom in it.

Seriously, Now: I'm Concerned about Iran's Ayatollahs

I think it's possible that the Ayatollahs who have been running Iran since the shah was deposed may see it as their duty to wipe Israel from the map. Ahmadinejad has said that this was what Iran wants to do, and I'm inclined to believe him.

How likely it is that the leadership of Iran will use nuclear weapons to cleanse the world, I don't know. I do know that it looks to me like they're getting ready to implement their own Final Solution to the Jewish Question.

President Ahmadinejad in the news:
  • "Iran calls for trial of 'world tyrants' "
    Shanghai Daily (June 25, 2008)
    • "IRAN said yesterday that additional sanctions by the European Union will not affect Tehran, while President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proposed the formation of a special court to punish the world 'tyrants' for their attempt to thwart Iran's nuclear program.
    • "Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying to a group of judges that 'a court should be formed to try and punish all world criminals who invade the rights of the Iranian nation,' according to the state IRNA news agency.
    • "Iran considers its nuclear ambitions, which the West claims mask weapons making, as an inalienable right. Tehran has dismissed Western claims and contends its uranium enrichment is only meant for electricity production. Ahmadinejad also denounced the West for 'issuing a verdict' in the absence of Iran."
  • "EU sanctions will not affect Iran: Ahmadinejad"
    The Hindu News Update Service (June 24, 2008)
    • "TEHRAN (AP): Iran said on Tuesday that additional sanctions by the European Union will not affect Tehran, while President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proposed the formation of a special court to punish the world ``tyrants'' for their attempt to thwart Iran's nuclear program.
    • "Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying to a group of judges that ``a court should be formed to try and punish all world criminals who invade the rights of the Iranian nation,'' according to the state IRNA news agency.
    • "Iran considers its nuclear ambitions _ which the West claims mask weapons making _ as an inalienable right. Tehran has dismissed Western claims and contends its uranium enrichment is only meant for electricity production."

American Soldiers Gun Down Iraqi City Councilman While Neighbors Look On

Technically, that's accurate, but it isn't the whole story. This post is going to discuss how a story can be accurate, as far as it goes, and still leave a false impression.

Here's the real headline, and first paragraph:

" Officials: Iraqi councilman kills U.S. soldiers"
CNN (June 23, 2008)

"BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- An Iraqi city council member opened fire on U.S. forces outside Baghdad on Monday, killing two soldiers, U.S. officials said."

Oh, wait: it's American officials who make that claim. It must be lies, to cover up the murder of a city councilman.

Keep reading:

" Two U.S. soldiers were killed in a small arms fire attack near Salman Pak early Monday afternoon, the U.S. military said in a statement. Three others soldiers and an interpreter were wounded, the statement said, which added that soldiers killed the gunman.

"The attack happened as the soldiers were leaving the Salman Pak Nahia Council building, the military said.

"An Iraqi Interior Ministry official said the incident happened after U.S. soldiers and local officials had attended a ceremony to open a park in al-Madaen, also known as Salman Pak.

"After the soldiers entered al-Madaen's city council building, a city council member opened fire on the soldiers with an AK-47, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said.

"The U.S. forces returned fire, killing the city council member, according to two Interior Ministry officials.

" 'The attacker came out of his car with an AK-47 rifle in his hand and started firing on the American soldiers until he was killed by the return fire,' said Hussein al-Dulaimi, 37, who owns an agricultural machine shop across the street, according to The Associated Press.

Al-Madaen is located about 25 miles (40 km) southeast of Baghdad's city center....

The rest of the article is a digest of recent violence in Iraq, including a mortar attack that killed 10 members of Awakening Councils.

I think the description of Awakening Councils is interesting: "... U.S.-allied predominantly Sunni fighters, known as the Awakening Councils or Sons of Iraq. ... Awakening Councils, also called "Concerned Local Citizen" groups, are comprised of mostly Sunni fighters who have turned on al Qaeda in Iraq."

Now it's "predominantly" and "mostly" Sunni fighters. Last week, CNN claimed that they were "Sunni" - and left it at that. I prefer my news to be a little more accurate, when it comes to details.

Now, Awakening Councils as "mostly Sunni Fighters." Okay. But that gives the impression that the Awakening Councils are primarily a set of military units.

I've discussed Iraq's Awakening Councils before, including While respectful of the militant spirit of these sheiks who got tired of Al Qaeda ruining their country, I think that their position in Iraqi society is more that of administrators and consultants, than warriors.

Of course, the Awakening Councils have armed members: as cautious analysts have pointed out. But to characterize all members of Awakening Councils as 'mostly Sunni fighters' seems to be at best an oversimplification.

It's In the News, It Must be True, Right?

I don't think that news services publish outright lies. Not usually, not intentionally, not in the western world.

However, I think that for whatever reason, some facts are brought to the surface of some stories, others left deep in the barrel, and some removed entirely.

What's left is true, as far as it goes, but may not give an accurate impression.

Monday, June 23, 2008

War on Terror: Zimbabwe Has Trouble, Too

Sometimes the United Nations gets it right.

If you've been reading this blog, you know that I'm not a great fan of the U.N.. For example: I think that the United Nations is seriously flawed; and has serious, chronic, problems with corruption. However, as long as nations nations on what I see as a 'most hated' list aren't involved, the U.N. Security Council does seem to be able to act as its idealistic and optimistic founders hoped.

So, in the interests of fairness, here's good news from the United Nations.

From today's news:
  • "U.N. condemns Zimbabwean violence"
    CNN (June 23, 2008)
    • "HARARE, Zimbabwe (CNN) -- The U.N. Security Council has unanimously condemned the Zimbabwean government because of violence that has marred the campaign leading up to a scheduled presidential election runoff, which forced the withdrawal of the opposition candidate from the race.
    • "The council's statement questioned the legitimacy of any election held under such circumstances but did not directly call for the runoff, scheduled for Friday, to be postponed.
    • "Earlier, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made that appeal, saying the vote runoff as currently scheduled 'would only deepen divisions within the country and produce a result that could not be seen as credible.'..."
  • "UN declares fair Zimbabwe vote 'impossible' "
    The Gazette (Montreal) (June 23, 2008)
    • "UNITED NATIONS - Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai took refuge Monday in Zimbabwe's Dutch embassy as the United States and Britain pushed for him to be recognized as the country's leader in the absence of a fair presidential run-off election.
    • "Tsvangirai said he was ready to negotiate with the ZANU-PF party of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, but only if the violence that led him to withdraw from Friday's planned run-off election stopped - or Mugabe stepped down.
    • "In the Zimbabwean capital of Harare, police responded by raiding the offices of his Movement for Democratic Change party, arresting about 60 people, including women and children...."
I find it remarkable that the United Nations decided that President Mugabe wasn't acting nicely, and that his election couldn't be taken seriously. Particularly since Mugabe's proxy complained: "The Security Council cannot micromanage political elections in any country," is how Zimbabwe's ambassador to the United Nations put it.

I'm particularly impressed that the U.N. Security Council could decide to "micromanage" Mugabe's election, considering the source of the statement. "Against strong opposition from South Africa, the United States and Britain drafted a statement that effectively called for Tsvangirai to be declared president if violence continued to render the run-off a sham."

I think the U.N. condemnation makes good sense. Even allowing for cultural differences, Mugabe's determination to hold onto power seems excessive. And, his methods are quite unpleasant.

For example, a committee went to the house of a regional opposition leader and left him a non-verbal message. The message was the body of his wife, Dadirai, who was tortured to death ("Terrorism: Still Not a Muslim Monopoly" (June 11, 2008)).

I see that this may be a fairly common practice in Zimbabwe: "Zimbabwe opposition: Mayor's wife killed" (CNN (June 19, 2008)). This time, the victim was Abigail Chiroto, wife of Emmanuel Chiroto, recently-elected mayor of Harare, and opposition party member.

The score last Thursday was 70 opposition dead, and Mugabe still in office.

A pretty good background on Zimbabwe:
"Zimbabwe" (entry in World Factbook)
CIA (updated June 19, 2008 - before the latest spot of unpleasantness grew)
Update (June 24, 2008)

More links:

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Syria, the IAEA, Nuclear Weapons, and a Prediction

United Nations nuclear inspectors are planning to go to Damascus soon. The hope is that they'll gather facts and do a thorough investigation into whether or not Syria has - or had - a nuclear weapons program.

Quite recently, the International Atomic Energy Agency, (IAEA) found out that they'd be allowed to bring ground-penetrating radar, to probe under the building that the Syrians built over the site that Israeli jets bombed last year.

There's still reason to believe that the United Nations inspectors will be told where they can look, how they can look, and what they can use to look for evidence.

Besides that, Syrian crews have had nine months to clean up the alleged empty sand, or agricultural station, or unused military facility, that Israeli jets blew up last year. It looks like there's been a controlled explosion there, and new construction.

I think it's fairly safe to predict what will happen.
  • Syria will put strict limits on what the IAEA inspectors can do, and where they can go
  • The IAEA technicians will not find obvious, compelling, in-your-face, evidence of a nuclear reactor in the places they've been allowed to see
  • This will be hailed as proof that Syria never had a nuclear weapons program
  • Israel will be condemned for launching an unprovoked attack
  • America will be condemned for supporting Israel
I could be wrong. But previous experience suggests that this is what will happen after the IAEA's little three-day trip to Syria.
More, at "UN atomic inspectors begin Syria mission"
Associated Press (June 23, 2008)

Related posts in this blog, about "Syria, the IAEA, Israel, Claims and Denials"

Syria, the IAEA, Israel, Claims and Denials

"Another War-on-Terror Blog" posts on the Israeli raid in Syria and its aftermath:

America, Iran, Freedom of Speech, Censorship: Be Careful What You Wish For

I'm glad that I am an American, and live in America.

Newspapers and news services here frequently report this nation's, and the world's, events in a way that I don't like. (I've posted about a standard American - and international - attitude before: "Global Patriot Incident: No News, But Lots of Opinions" (April 7, 2008), "Global Patriot Reporting: Anti-American Bias? Could Be (March 25, 2008).)

But, that's what happens when a country practices the idea of freedom of speech. I'd rather see a little more diversity of opinion in traditional journalism, but cable television and the Internet have taken care of that deficit: for those with cable and Internet access.

Hate Crime Laws, Holocaust Deniers, and Free Speech

I've heard people say that 'there oughta be a law' against criticizing:
  • The government
  • Cultural icons like Martin Luther King and Ronald Regan
  • Their own opinion about national and world affairs
Sometimes people with views like that have their desires granted.

Take Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for example. Back in 2005, he said that Israel should be wiped off the map. He's also said that the Holocaust is 'a myth.'

In Iran, that's okay: the Ayatollahs have no trouble with people voicing that sort of opinion.

However, Ahmadinejad might get in trouble if he made that last statement in Germany. The current leaders of Germany are understandably sensitive about what a previous regime did in their country, about sixty years ago.

They're so sensitive, that in Germany it's against the law to say that the Holocaust didn't happen.

I think I understand why the German government takes that stand. What the Allies found when they reached places like Auschwitz-Birkenau, Buchenwald, and Dachau, was profoundly unpleasant and distasteful. The reality of the German National Socialist party's social reforms were - and are - an embarrassment to people who promote similar philosophies.

Just as Japan is dealing with people who don't like what happened in WWII, Germany's leadership seems determined that Germans not forget.

The American government has laws against "hate speech," too. I haven't made up my mind, whether these are silly attempts to enforce civility, on a par with the old sumptuary laws, or if existing law regarding slander and libel really is deficient.

Whatever You Do, Don't Insult the President

Back to Ahmadinejad. It's not that Iran is big on freedom of speech. Ahmadinejad can say that Israel should be wiped off the map, and that the Holocaust is a myth, because those opinions are approved of by the Ayatollahs.

Other opinions aren't treated so favorably. Tehran Today used to be a newspaper published in Iran. Yesterday, the paper ran a story that offered an opinion about Ahmadinejad and his comments about Israel. The paper said that what the Iranian president said "seems to have led to a different result — more pressure on Iran and more support to Israel."

The paper's publisher was hauled into court for insulting the president, and the newspaper is banned.

I'll give the Iranian government credit for having an efficient court system. That was fast work.

Free Speech: Annoying, but Valuable

Although I make a distinction between slander, libel, and free speech, I think that it's a good idea to allow a country's president to be 'insulted,' as President Ahmadinejad was. That sort of feedback and commentary is, in my view, important in keeping a government in good working order.

All things considered, I'd rather live in a country where newspapers occasionally indulge in selective reporting, than in one where few citizens were exposed to criticisms of "Dear Leader."

Sic Transit Tehran Today: Iran's Press in the News

"News agency: Iran shuts down Tehran newspaper critical of Ahmadinejad"
International Herald Tribune (June 22, 2008)

"TEHRAN, Iran: Authorities have shut down a Tehran newspaper, the official IRNA news agency reported Sunday, after the paper published a story critical of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's stance on Israel.

"The Press Supervisory Board, which is controlled by hard-liners, banned Tehran Today on Saturday after the paper's editor was summoned to court for publishing material deemed as insulting Ahmadinejad, IRNA said.

"The news agency did not provide more details. But the announcement comes after the paper published a story Saturday that said Ahmadinejad's comments on Israel 'seems to have led to a different result — more pressure on Iran and more support to Israel.' "
More, about my views on the Holocaust, some aspects of World War II, and the mess we're in today, at: "Holocaust Remembrance Day: May 1, 2008" (April 30, 2008).

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Iranian Nukes, Israeli Attack, Diplomacy, and Common Sense

Yesterday's news told that Israel had conducted a large-scale exercise that might, or might not, be a practice run for attacking Iran's nuclear facilities.

Today's news says that the International Atomic Energy Agency head, Mohamed ElBaradei, is concerned about an attack on Iran. He colorfully compared the results in the Middle East to a "ball of fire."

And it would make Iran mad, too, he added.

I'd be surprised if someone hasn't already written or implied that leaving military action as an option is dangerous. It would be much wiser, (some) conventional wisdom has it, to assure the leaders of Iran, North Korea, and similar nations that under no circumstances would they be attacked.

It would make them feel better, you see. And that would let them calm down and be nice.

I think that deliberate, reasoned, diplomacy is a good idea. There should be an effort made to settle differences amicably, or at least peacefully. I also think that diplomacy which explicitly rejects military action as a starting point is not always a good idea.

Maybe I've studied too much history. I doubt that sort of diplomatic approach would have worked very well with Atilla the Hun. My Viking ancestors probably wouldn't have paid much attention to 'wisdom' like that either. In fact, I'm pretty sure that they wouldn't.

I don't think that human beings have changed all that much since the days when Leif Erickson was exiled from Iceland for unnecessary roughness.

There are still people around, in leadership positions, who don't play well with others, and have sublimated anger management issues. Stopping people who wanted control of other countries, and didn't mind killing people to get what they wanted, occupied quite a bit of the twentieth century. Much of the rest of the past century was spent, cleaning up the mess that followed.

Leaders who want what they want, and won't stop until they get it or are dead, present a problem to what I'll call parlor diplomacy.

Parlor diplomacy is the opposite of cowboy diplomacy. Parlor diplomacy is cautious, gentle, understanding, and above all peaceful. The idea behind parlor diplomacy is that deep down inside everybody is nice, and reasonable. All that is necessary to achieve a mutually acceptable settlement is to assure the other party that there is no danger whatsoever of military action, and everything will go smoothly.

To illustrate how parlor diplomacy works, I offer a hypothetical situation. The United States and a selection of other nations are dealing with Kraggothia. Kraggothia used to have another name, but when Kraggoth the Merciless took over, he re-named it.

Kraggothia has been building nuclear reactors, and has a missile development program which alarmists claim puts much of Europe and Africa in danger. These same alarmists claim that Kraggothia's reactors and centrifuges are intended to develop nuclear weapons.

It's possible: Kraggoth has gone to considerable expense to build his nuclear facilities underground.

Here's a flow chart, showing how parlor diplomacy works in a situation like this, to maintain peace through reason.

Looks good on paper, doesn't it? The top half, anyway.

From the News:

  • "ElBaradei: Mideast could burn if Iran attacked"
    Associated Press (June 21, 2008)
    • "DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The U.N. nuclear watchdog chief warned in comments aired Saturday that any military strike on Iran could turn the Mideast into a "ball of fire" and lead the country to a more aggressive stance on its controversial nuclear program.
    • "The comments by Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, came in an interview with an Arab television station aired a day after U.S. officials said they believed recent large Israeli military exercises may have been meant to show Israel's ability to hit Iran's nuclear sites.
    • " 'In my opinion, a military strike will be the worst ... it will turn the Middle East to a ball of fire,' ElBaradei said on Al-Arabiya television. It also could prompt Iran to press even harder to seek a nuclear program, and force him to resign, he said...."
  • "Strike on Iran could turn Mideast into fireball, official says"
    CNN (June 21, 2008)
    • " DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- The U.N. nuclear watchdog chief warned in comments aired Saturday that any military strike on Iran could turn the Mideast to a 'ball of fire' and lead Iran to a more aggressive stance on its controversial nuclear program....
    • "...Tzahi Hanegbi, chairman of the powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in Israel's parliament, suggested steps including banning Iranian planes, ships and sports delegations from entering Western countries.
    • " 'There's a long way to go before diplomatic efforts are exhausted,' Hanegbi said. 'The sanctions aren't very strong; they are very shallow; there's a lot of room for enhancing them.'..."
  • "Israeli Military Demonstrates Ability to Attack Iran, U.S. Officials Say"
    FOXNews (June 20, 2008)
    • "American military officials say Israel launched a major military exercise that appeared to be aimed in part at demonstrating its ability to stage an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.
    • "Israel's military refused to publicly confirm or deny whether the exercise was a rehearsal for a potential bombing attack.
    • "But a senior Israeli Air Force official close to the operation told FOX News that the military is preparing for all possibilities with Iran, and during this exercise was testing its refueling capabilities. The source said helicopters were even used to practice how to respond to a downed plane....
    • "...There are precedents for unilateral Israeli action in such cases. In 1981, Israeli jets bombed Iraq's Osirak nuclear facility to end dictator Saddam Hussein's nuclear program. And last September Israel bombed a facility in Syria that U.S. officials said was a nuclear reactor being constructed with North Korean assistance.
    • "A U.S. intelligence report released late last year concluded that Iran has suspended its nuclear weapons program, but Israeli intelligence believes that assessment is incorrect and that work is continuing."

Correction (June 22, 2008): I'd keyed in "Iraq" once, where I meant "Iran." Embarrassing. So, if you thought you'd read that I said that ElBaradei is concerned about an attack on Iraq, you were right.

Hope for Iraq: Oil Fields May Return to Full Production

Big Oil used to operate in Iraq. That all changed when they were "chased out of the oil-rich country 36 years ago by the late dictator Saddam Hussein."

Now, Iraq's oil are fields in sad shape. The Iraqi government has a chance to get expert help, correcting three decades of mis-management and repairing damage from poor maintenance and several wars.

Good News for Iraq, Right?

I think so. The country's still a mess, and could use cash flowing in. The Iraq oil fields have the potential to put Iraq back on its feet economically. I suspect that Iraqi leaders would rather do the job themselves, but after all these years the Iraqis who had the expertise are probably either dead or out of the country.

"Big Oil" and Iraq: Same Old, Same Old

Shockingly, the experts expect to be paid.

I'm not shocked myself, but I'm one of these crass people who don't expect others to work for free.

I also figure that, if a company is going to spend multiple millions of dollars on rebuilding a half-wrecked oil industry in another country, that company will expect to get its money back, with a reasonable profit.

It looks like that's what's happening in Iraq.

The odds are pretty good that the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company, plus some newcomers, will get no-bid contracts to make Iraq's largest oil fields pump oil out of the country, and money in. The companies are
  • Exxon*
  • Mobil*
  • Shell*
  • Total*
  • BP
  • Chevron
  • Other smaller oil companies
* - original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company

I've got a few concerns about this. The 'no bid contract' isn't exactly what I'd have liked to see. On the other hand, the contracts are for one or two years, and relatively small, as such things go.

My guess is that Iraq offering 'no bid contracts' to the original IPC partners and others was a way to sweeten the pot. In their place, I'd probably prefer to deal - at first - with the same outfits that my father's generation had dealt with.

For others, "Big Oil" doing business in Iraq is some kinda plot.

That's the reaction from people who are convinced that the only reason Bush invaded Iraq was to steal their oil. Remember:
  • Bush acted unilaterally
    • With a coalition of dozens of other nations: about 1 out of every 8 nations in the world, by my count
  • Intelligence, some supplied by, and all believed by, countries other than America, indicating that Hussein either had nuclear weapons, or was close to having them, are lies
    • Any ideas other than 'it's the oil' must be lies: otherwise the war wouldn't have been all about oil, and everybody knows it was
Particularly with an American presidential election coming up, I think we'll be hearing quit a bit from the 'bloated profits built on the backs of bleeding brothers' thing.

News, Some With Views

  • "Deals with Iraq are set to bring oil giants back"
    International Herald Tribune (June 19, 2008)
    • "BAGHDAD: Four Western oil companies are in the final stages of negotiations this month on contracts that will return them to Iraq, 36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization as Saddam Hussein rose to power.
    • "Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP — the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company — along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq's Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq's largest fields, according to ministry officials, oil company officials and an American diplomat.
    • "The deals, expected to be announced on June 30, will lay the foundation for the first commercial work for the major companies in Iraq since the American invasion, and open a new and potentially lucrative country for their operations."
  • "Big Oil Poised To Do Business With Iraq"
    CBS News (June 19, 2008)
    • "(AP) Iraq is close to signing oil service deals with several major Western oil companies in an effort to boost its output capacity, the country's oil ministry said Thursday - the first major Iraqi contracts with big Western companies since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
    • "The deals, once signed, are something of a stopgap measure to help Iraq begin to increase production until the country is able to approve a new national oil law - now held up by political squabbles among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.
    • "But they also could mark the beginning of an important long-term toehold by big Western companies into Iraq's potentially lucrative oil industry, by giving the companies a bidding advantage over other companies in the future."
  • "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: Big Oil Heading Back to Iraq." (June 19, 2008)
    • "WASHINGTON (AFP) — Global oil giants are preparing to return to Iraq after being chased out of the oil-rich country 36 years ago by the late dictator Saddam Hussein, reports said Thursday.
    • "Shell, BP and ExxonMobil are all eagerly lining up to tap into the resources of the Middle Eastern nation with a deal due to be signed on June 30, the New York Times said quoting oil companies and a US diplomat.
    • " 'The deals ... will lay the foundation for the first commercial work for the major companies in Iraq since the American invasion, and open a new and potentially lucrative country for their operations,' the Times said."
  • "Big oil cashes in on Iraq slaughter"
    The Real News (June 20, 2008)
    • "Four major US, British and French oil companies are getting their hands on the petroleum reserves of Iraq for the first time in 36 years, based on no-bid contracts, the New York Times reported Thursday.
    • "These deals reached with the US-backed regime in Baghdad have placed the five-year-old US war of aggression in the clearest possible perspective.
    • "For the thousands of American families who have seen their sons and daughters killed in the Iraq war or return maimed or psychologically damaged, the knowledge that their sacrifices have opened up potentially huge new profit streams for Exxon-Mobil, Shell, British Petroleum and Total will provide cold comfort."

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.