Monday, May 28, 2007

War Readings

Robert Baer - More Bad Intelligence on Iran and Iraq

You would think by now the Bush Administration would have drained the well of bad intelligence on Iraq and Iran. Apparently not.

Michael Scheuer - Al-Qaeda’s Waiting Game: Bush isn’t winning in his battle against our real enemy.

The lack of an al-Qaeda attack inside the United States since 9/11 proves only that there has not been an al-Qaeda attack in the United States since 9/11. That fact is in no way proof that our war on al-Qaeda has destroyed its capacity to hit America at home. The most that should be claimed is that the CIA rendition program may have disrupted and delayed operational planning. Alternatively, bin Laden may have decided that a near-term attack would reunite Americans at a time when our own folly is already sufficient to make the U.S. the second superpower to be defeated by Allah’s mujahedin.

Andrew Bacevich - I Lost My Son to a War I Oppose. We Were Both Doing Our Duty.

Money maintains the Republican/Democratic duopoly of trivialized politics. It confines the debate over U.S. policy to well-hewn channels. It preserves intact the cliches of 1933-45 about isolationism, appeasement and the nation's call to "global leadership." It inhibits any serious accounting of exactly how much our misadventure in Iraq is costing. It ignores completely the question of who actually pays. It negates democracy, rendering free speech little more than a means of recording dissent.

This is not some great conspiracy. It's the way our system works.

William Engdahl - Darfur: Forget genocide, there's oil

No. "It's the oil, stupid."

BBC - Obstacles to peace: Water

The BBC News website is publishing a series of articles about the attempts to achieve peace in the Middle East and the main obstacles. Martin Asser looks at the central issue of water.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


Lustick -
Comparing Bush's speech to the Cadets in 2007 to the speech he gave there in 2003, the difference is obvious. In 2003 he described al-Qaeda's remnants as being hunted down in a few dark corners of the world. In 2007 he described al-Qaeda as a raging storm, building Iraq as a gigantic base of operations. America, he said, "living in the eye of a storm. All around us, dangerous winds are swirling, and these winds could reach our shores at any moment." Beware of Hurricane Osama! What a sensational story, for the press and for the President--the storm of the century that is always about to hit, and never goes away!

Nate Fick -
The American political system doesn’t always leave much room for people who’d rather vote for policies than for parties. Next November, however, I’ll likely side with the candidate who best articulates a sensible international agenda. There are five items on my foreign policy wish list, shaped both by pride at having served alongside our nation’s flag in Afghanistan and Iraq and by the reality of having buried too many comrades beneath it.
Freakonomics -
Interview with Nassim Taleb the author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.

PhilaLawyer -
Tanuki - Part 1

Succisa Virescit

After a horrible year of injustice, the Duke lacrosse will be playing in the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Final Four this weekend. The team went 16-2 tearing through their regular season and will face-off against the Cornell Big Red on Saturday.

Good luck to the Blue Devils, both Men’s and Women’s teams are looking to bring home some hardware this season.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

9/11, Ron Paul

Rep. Ron Paul kicked up a dust storm last week during the South Carolina GOP primary debate. During the debate he argued that 9/11 and al Qaeda was a result of “blowback”. Blowback is term used at CIA for unintended consequences of covert action; Paul stretched the term to include broader American policy over the past 60 years. One policy mentioned was our containment of Iraq throughout the 90’s whereby we regularly bombed Iraqi targets.

Rudy Giuliani immediately seized on this statement for a cheap political score:

That's an extraordinary statement of someone who lived through the attack of Sept. 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don't think I've ever heard that before and I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for Sept. 11.
I would ask the congressman to withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn't really mean that.

The only problem is that Ron Paul is largely correct. Containment of Iraq in the 1990’s is an ancillary reason for bin Laden, but illustrative of the policies he is at war with us over. Paul is exactly correct in describing AQ as an unintended consequence of our policies. The combat aircraft that we flew in order to enforce the Iraq’s southern no-fly zone, and contain Saddam, mostly flew out of bases in Saudi Arabia. The presence of American combat forces on the Saudi peninsula is/was Osama’s primary bone of contention, and a major source of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world. This is clear to anyone who takes the time to read bin Laden’s statements.

That Guiliani says “I don't think I've ever heard that before and I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for Sept. 11” is an indictment against his candidacy for Commander in Chief of our nation. This directly contradicts Sun Tzu's maxim from The Art of War:

So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will win hundred times in hundred battles. If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you win one and lose the next. If you do not know yourself or your enemy, you will always lose.

Giuliani does not know our enemy.

Nevertheless talking heads and bloggers are having a field day over this. Some Republican Party officials are demanding Paul be barred from future debates. This is patently absurd. I can understand some of the outrage in response to Ron Paul’s comments. It implies that we had it coming; it is almost blaming the victim.

Such drawn implications should matter little, what should matter is the cold, dispassionate analysis of knowing your enemy. That we as a public, near six years after September 11th are still squabbling over such trite matters is an implication that we are dangerously behind the curve. Put simply--know your enemy to destroy him easier. It is evident that this does not matter to both our political parties.

Monday, May 7, 2007

New Brandon Bird Painting

Brandon Bird released a new painting recently, this one titled Battle of the Heroes.

I was a big fan of Coach growing up.

New War Nerd Column

"Gary Breacher" War Nerd, Fresno's greatest military historian and data entry specialist has a new article out. This one "Who Won Iraq?", seeks to explain ...well, just who won in Iraq. As always its filled with dark humor, rich historical insight, and astute analysis. As always I like it.

Anyway, for those of you collecting War Nerd guidelines, here's what I think are some general rules for "Who wins wars?"

1) In a big bloodbath like the Thirty Years War or WWI, the winner is usually the powers that don't fight, but dabble in spycraft and wet ops, meanwhile consolidating their own economic power.

2) The biggest loser is almost always the country on whose territory the war is fought. (Note: You could argue that America entered WWII fairly early and still came out ahead, but on the European Front up to D-Day our role was supplying materiel to the Russians and letting them do all the bleeding for us. On both fronts we were far away from the action and that allowed us to pick where and when to commit money and troops, so the generalization still holds: the further away you are, the better.)

3) In a regional war, the big winner will be any neighboring states that can stay out of the war and work out supply contracts with the richer combatant (Thailand during Nam, Argentina in WWI, Switzerland in every war since Ur took on Ur South).

4) However, if there's an ethnic spillover, like Turkey has with the Kurds, this relationship can backfire.

5) The worst thing a major power can do is go to war alone for "moral" reasons. This is how medieval France wasted its huge advantages on pointless Middle Eastern crusades that did nothing but revitalize the Muslims and drive down the price of white slaves in the Cairo market.

Barrier Art

Spiegel has an article up about Iraqi artists painting murals on the new barrier walls in Baghdad. Barrier walls which are referred to as “urban tourniquets” in counterinsurgency (COIN) work have been a controversial development in Gen. Petraeus’s strategy to control Baghdad by creating “gated communities” to stop the cycle of sectarian violence. David Killcullen who is an advisor to Gen. Petraeus had a great blog post about the barriers last week.

A political discussion about the walls is beyond the scope of this post. Nevertheless, I thought these pictures were great, and it sheds some much needed light on humanity on an otherwise dark world.

These pictures remind me of work by my favorite artist Banksy, he did much the same thing, albeit with a political and satirical aim at West Bank barrier wall in Israel.

Gas Boycott

I have been getting dozens of email invitations for a May 15 gas boycott over the past month. I may agree with the motives behind it, but in practice it will do absolutely nothing.

Why one-day gasoline 'boycott' won't work: E-mails calling for May 15 service station drive-by will have zero impact
By John W. Schoen. MSNBC, May 6, 2007

Trailers for Upcoming Movies

Ocean's 13

Brand Hauser (formally known as War Inc.)

Rush Hour 3

The Bourne Ultimatum

I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry

Knocked Up

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Greatest. Tshirt. Ever.

Greatest. Tshirt. Ever.
Get it at Sully's

Iran Update

Philip Giraldi who is a former Clandestine Service Officer hits it center mass in regard to what is happening in DC these days with his latest article.

Politicians who are ignorant of the Middle East frequently confuse advocacy with intelligence and allow the former to become the basis for policy formulation, sometimes by default. Lacking good intelligence resources, much so-called information that is reaching policy-makers in Washington comes from émigré groups and lobbyists with an agenda Рagain very much like what happened in the lead-up to the Iraq war. These groups are all interested in emphasizing the threat from Iran, not in objective analysis that might exonerate the mullahs.

Nicholas Kristof had an article recently on what I think is going to be one of the worst diplomatic blunders in our nations history.

Diplomacy at Its Worst

In May 2003, Iran sent a secret proposal to the U.S. for settling our mutual disputes in a “grand bargain.”

It is an astonishing document, for it tries to address a range of U.S. concerns about nuclear weapons, terrorism and Iraq. I’ve placed it and related documents (including multiple drafts of it) on my blog,

Hard-liners in the Bush administration killed discussions of a deal, and interviews with key players suggest that was an appalling mistake. There was a real hope for peace; now there is a real danger of war.

Scattered reports of the Iranian proposal have emerged previously, but if you read the full documentary record you’ll see that what the hard-liners killed wasn’t just one faxed Iranian proposal but an entire peace process. The record indicates that officials from the repressive, duplicitous government of Iran pursued peace more energetically and diplomatically than senior Bush administration officials — which makes me ache for my country.

The process began with Afghanistan in 2001-2. Iran and the U.S., both opponents of the Taliban, cooperated closely in stabilizing Afghanistan and providing aid, and unofficial “track two” processes grew to explore opportunities for improved relations.

On the U.S. side, track two involved well-connected former U.S. ambassadors, including Thomas Pickering, Frank Wisner and Nicholas Platt. The Iranian ambassador to the U.N., Javad Zarif, was a central player, as was an Iranian-American professor at Rutgers, Hooshang Amirahmadi, who heads a friendship group called the American Iranian Council.

At a dinner the council sponsored for its board at Ambassador Zarif’s home in September 2002, the group met Iran’s foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi. According to the notes of Professor Amirahmadi, the foreign minister told the group, “Yes, we are ready to normalize relations,” provided the U.S. made the first move.

This was shaping into a historic opportunity to heal U.S.-Iranian relations, and the track two participants discussed further steps, including joint U.S.-Iranian cooperation against Saddam Hussein. The State Department and National Security Council were fully briefed, and in 2003 Ambassador Zarif met with two U.S. officials, Ryan Crocker and Zalmay Khalilzad, in a series of meetings in Paris and Geneva.

Encouraged, Iran transmitted its “grand bargain” proposals to the U.S. One version was apparently a paraphrase by the Swiss ambassador in Tehran; that was published this year in The Washington Post.

But Iran also sent its own master text of the proposal to the State Department and, through an intermediary, to the White House. I’ve also posted that document, which Iran regards as the definitive one.

In the master document, Iran talks about ensuring “full transparency” and other measures to assure the U.S. that it will not develop nuclear weapons. Iran offers “active Iranian support for Iraqi stabilization.” Iran also contemplates an end to “any material support to Palestinian opposition groups” while pressuring Hamas “to stop violent actions against civilians within” Israel (though not the occupied territories). Iran would support the transition of Hezbollah to be a “mere political organization within Lebanon” and endorse the Saudi initiative calling for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Iran also demanded a lot, including “mutual respect,” abolition of sanctions, access to peaceful nuclear technology and a U.S. statement that Iran did not belong in the “axis of evil.” Many crucial issues, including verification of Iran’s nuclear program, needed to be hammered out. It’s not clear to me that a grand bargain was reachable, but it was definitely worth pursuing — and still is today.

Instead, Bush administration hard-liners aborted the process. Another round of talks had been scheduled for Geneva, and Ambassador Zarif showed up — but not the U.S. side. That undermined Iranian moderates.

A U.S.-Iranian rapprochement could have saved lives in Iraq, isolated Palestinian terrorists and encouraged civil society groups in Iran. But instead the U.S. hard-liners chose to hammer plowshares into swords.

White House Seeks Lying Czar

From the Borowitz Report:

White House Seeks Lying Czar
Would Coordinate Distortions about Iraq, Afghanistan

The White House in recent weeks has been quietly searching for candidates for the position of “lying czar,” a high-level administrator who would oversee all distortions and misrepresentations about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a White House source confirmed today.

News of the administration’s search for a “lying czar” raised eyebrows in official Washington, where many insiders believe that the White House already has enough personnel to handle the creation and dissemination of war-related lies.

Specifically, many insiders wonder why an administration that already has advisor Karl Rove and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would also need a “lying czar.”

“The Bush administration has a lot of world-class manpower, lying-wise,” one insider said. “This whole ‘lying czar’ thing seems like an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy.”

But White House insiders disagree, saying that those who believe a “lying czar” is unnecessary are oblivious to the overwhelming volume of distortions that are sorely in need of coordination at a high administrative level.

“On any given day, the Defense Department and the State Department will produce lies that are directly in conflict with each other, and that’s counterproductive,” one insider said. “A ‘lying czar’ would change all that.”

Professor Davis Logsdon, who holds the Clifford Irving chair at the University of Minnesota’s School of Communication, says that the need for a “lying czar” reveals certain weaknesses in the current Bush cabinet.

“When I hear that the White House is looking for a lying czar, one thing becomes clear,” Dr. Logsdon said. “They really miss Rumsfeld.”

Elsewhere, responding to criticism, the National Gardening Association said it would no longer use the term “hoe.”

The Power of Nightmares

Everyone should watch Adam Curtis’s documentary series The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear. I have been speaking its praise of months now. I cannot begin to explain how great it is.

Peter Bergen a terrorist expert and also one of the few western journalists to have met with bin Laden sums it up:

The kernel of Curtis's argument is that Western politicians claim "the greatest danger of all is international terrorism, a powerful and sinister network, with sleeper cells in countries across the world, a threat that needs to be fought by a war on terror. But much of this threat is a fantasy, which has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians. It's a dark illusion that has spread unquestioned through governments around the world, the security services and the international media." Curtis says that this illusion was set in motion by two seemingly very different groups, American neoconservatives and radical Islamists, whose war with each other conceals a history of tacit alliance, and even some ideological resemblances. As Curtis reminds us, the neoconservatives and the Islamists came together in the 1980s in Afghanistan to expel the Soviets, and they share a hostility to the Middle East's authoritarian dynastic regimes (although they seek to replace them with altogether different kinds of government). What is more, both groups view Western liberalism with distrust, fearing that it will erode traditional and especially martial values, thus weakening their societies from within.

Part One: Baby It's Cold Outside

Part Two: The Phantom Victory

Part Three: The Shadows in the Cave