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July 31, 2006

Slow Posting

Due to an unexpected requirement to go out of the country, posting is likely to be quite light for the rest of the week.

Approval of comments will also be slow.

Posted by jeff at 6:32 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 28, 2006

A Matter of Time?

A few years ago, a Muslim man shot up an El Al (Israeli airline) counter at LAX. Authorities said it wasn't terrorism.

A few years ago, two Muslim men went on a sniping spree in the Washington, DC area, killing several. Authorities said it wasn't terrorism.

Now a Muslim man has shot several Jewish women in Seattle, killing at least one. Undoubtedly, authorities will say it wasn't terrorism. (They have already said that there is no indication the shooter was linked to a terrorist organization. Their powers of investigation must be superhuman.)

The problem with these kinds of denials by the authorities is that people have a sense of self-preservation, and they're not idiots. Why is that a problem? What is the smallest group that we can act against and still be safe from this kind of attack? The authorities seem to be letting it narrow down to "Muslim men", because they are not facing up to the reality of what kind of people are committing these attacks.

My bet: we'll soon learn that the shooter in Seattle was from a middle-class to wealthy family, and was entirely secular, but started attending a Saudi-funded mosque and became very religious and pious, and also quite judgmental. That has, after all, been pretty much the pattern of this kind of attack in the US and Europe to date.

But the thing is, these attacks will almost certainly continue, and intensify. And then when we decide to take preventive measures, because it's becoming crystal clear that the government doesn't have the stomach for it, against whom will we turn? Not against just the actual terrorists, because we don't have any information on who they are. Instead, we will turn against Muslims in general, because we can't get much closer than that, and the authorities won't get that close.

I hope I am wrong, but I fear that it is just a matter of time until there start to be actual attacks on Muslims in the US, rather than just in CAIR's fever dreams.

UPDATE: What I fear right now is this: "But this guy does belong to a "larger organization", the largest terror organization in the world called ISLAM."

And this: "If anyone practices Islam they are a terrorist, again pure and simple. Time to get all of them out of the country, voluntary or by force, including deadly force. This shows you can't trust any of the slime balls."

If these comments become widespread belief, there will be much more blood shed than is necessary. We have to take our PC blinkers off — that is to say, the government has to do so — and solve the problem of figuring out which are the dangerous fanatics in our midst. Otherwise, eventually, people will take matters into their own hands. And in the end, vigilantism is both effective at solving the original problems, and dangerous for any innocents in the wrong place, or wrong skin, at the wrong time. I'd rather avoid that, thanks.

Posted by jeff at 10:16 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 27, 2006

Ambulances or Troop Carriers?

Here is footage of fighting in the Gaza strip. It's a little unclear to me exactly what is going on; it looks almost like the Red Crescent ambulance is being ambushed. Regardless, as the firing breaks out, a UN ambulance comes up, and the fighters climb in and are driven away.

Now there is more than one explanation possible here. Yes, the UN could be actively assisting the fighters. Or the ambulance could have been stolen, or the driver could have been forced by a gunman inside the vehicle to pick the fighters up. But here's the thing: Israel has to know that fighters are using ambulances to get around, in order to not be targeted by the Israelis. It doesn't really matter how the ambulance came to be in enemy hands; it is enough that the enemy uses ambulances as troop transports. Because Israel will target ambulances in the middle of a fight, and in fact there have been several news stories over the years where Israelis have fired on ambulances, and these are always presented to show the Isrealis as barbaric for firing on ambulances.

But who is the barbarian, really?

Posted by jeff at 11:48 PM | TrackBack

July 26, 2006

Glad I'm Not Mexican

For many, many reasons.

Posted by jeff at 6:14 PM | TrackBack

Israel Might Just be Serious About Destroying Hizb'allah

Transit Umbra posts an interesting take on where Israel's invasion of Lebanon is going.

I actually have been coming around to thinking that Israel intends to utterly smash Hizb'allah. It would be relatively simple for Isreal to race along the roads and take the whole South, but in doing so they would be operating with an enemy in their rear, because large number of Hizb'allah fighters and their weapons and ammunition would be bypassed in bunkers behind the advance.

Hizb'allah seems to have been counting on Israel fighting the same war as they did in 1982, and Hizb'allah was prepared for that. (Some commenters seem to be operating under the same assumption.) In fact, I would say that, had Israel fought this way, we would already be seeing signs of major disaster, as Israeli forces would be being cut off and defeated in detail by the "left behinds". For those who have been paying attention, this seems to have been part of Saddam's strategy as well, with the Saddam Fedayeen coming out to fight the supply units after the combat units passed by. It might have worked in Iraq had we not had a lot of flat terrain in which to maneuver, as well as unexpectedly-tough logistics units. (Despite the tragic wrong turn that led to the killing and capture of supply soldiers, most well-known being Jessica Lynch, there was also the battle at "Moe", "Larry" and "Curly", where supply troops fought hard to enable the breakthrough into Baghdad that collapsed the Saddam regime.)

The way to avoid this is to destroy the enemy stronghold by stronghold, tunnel by tunnel. It's not a style of war Israelis or Americans are used to seeing any more, but it is very, very effective. There is simply no way that Hizb'allah can fight from the areas that Israel has already captured. As a result, Israel has captured less territory, but has destroyed the enemy's capability entirely in the area it has captured. (The exception being where Israel has raided out from its salient and then withdrawn; those areas have gone right back to Hizb'allah control.)

The wild card is how long Israel is prepared to fight. Most people seem to be making the assumption either that Israel's will to fight will crumble over enemy civilians being killed, or that the US will force Israel into a cease fire. In either case, the assumption is that Israel has a week to finish this. That of course, has been the assumption for the last two weeks, and there is no evidence of either weakness in Israel's will or in the US's support for Israel's actions. Nor is there much evidence that Israel would succumb to US pressure in any case; Israel regards this conflict as existential for them, and I tend to think that they are right: if they fail, Hizb'allah becomes the government of Lebanon and Israel can expect more, and more brutal, attacks than heretorfore.

But Israel can destroy, not just degrade, Hizb'allah, critics' cries to the contrary notwithstanding. The reason for this is that Hizb'allah depends on public perception even more than Israel does. If Hizb'allah's opponents within Lebanon see Hizb'allah as defeated, they will fight Hizb'allah's attempts to gain hegemony over Lebanon. If Hizb'allah's supporters see Hizb'allah as weak, they'll look for stronger groups to defend them. If Iran and Syria see Hizb'allah as ineffective, they will withdraw support for Hizb'allah and put it to other uses. Israel can bring all of this about, but it will be costly and difficult.

To destroy Hizb'allah, Israel must occupy southern Lebanon, destroying all Hizb'allah infrastructure there. Israel must so weaken Hizb'allah elsewhere that Hizb'allah cannot rationally be seen as having beaten the Israelis. It will help if Hizb'allah's top leaders, particularly Nasrallah, are killed, and an "accidental" bombing of the Iranian embassy in Beirut — strike that, a fully public (but not pre-declared) bombing of the Iranian embassy in Beirut — could bring that about. Let Iran openly declare war, or back down and be seen as cowards. Either way is more advantageous to Israel than giving Hizb'allah an invulnerable base in Iran. Israel must only leave Lebanon when non-Hizb'allah troops capable of and willing to fight Hizb'allah's attempts to regain control, should that be necessary, are in place; Israel cannot allow Hizb'allah to declare victory as they did when Israel last pulled out of Lebanon.

If Israel does these things, Hizb'allah will be seen, in Osama bin Laden's memorable phrase, as a weak horse, and will lose its public support. That loss of support will destroy Hizb'allah much more completely than merely killing Hizb'allah's trained soldiers can do.

Regardless, I wish Israel well. They have been too battered for too long and for too little reason.

Posted by jeff at 5:48 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 25, 2006

Three Horns of a Trilemma

The dilemma of a free people in wartime is generally shown as a continuum between Security and Liberty. To gain more Security, you have to sacrifice more Liberty, and any gain in Liberty likewise constitutes a loss of Security; at least, that is the general claim, and I'm willing to take it at face value for present purposes, even though it leaves out the messy reality of inefficient, ineffective, or incompetent governments. But that view is quite obsolete, now, for Western nations; there is another element of sacrifice that must be put into the pot: Humanitarianism.

To be quite blunt about it, there is no fundamental threat to the security of the United States that is not immediately solvable. Don't believe me? What's your example? Let's take the hard and intractable problem of terrorists who hide amongst civilians. There are a number of scenarios here, and none of them fundamentally threaten the United States, or pretty much any Western nation.

In Lebanon, Hizb'allah has so deeply embedded itself in the civilian infrastructure that troops (I'm being more generous to Hizb'allah's terrorists than is really merited) are barracked in civilian houses; armories are in civilian houses; observation posts are co-located with UN observation posts to make it difficult for Israel to strike without hitting the UN post; spokesmen and decision-makers are housed in the largest city in Lebanon, often amongst either civilians or government officials; many of Hizb'allah's capabilities are "owned" by the Lebanese army, rather than by Hizb'allah itself. How can the problem of Hizb'allah terrorism be solved? Surely, Israel cannot destroy Hizb'allah, because doing so would mean thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of dead Lebanese civilians.

Here is how Israel can solve the problem: it can kill, easily, thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of Lebanese civilians, if it must do so to solve the problem. If Hizb'allah retreats to Syria, Israel can do the same to Syria, if necessary, and so on. The only thing that stops Israel from doing this is its Humanitarian nature.

Like most Westerners, Israelis cannot imagine a condition where they would be willing to slaughter innocents, presumed innocents, possible innocents, even outright enemies in such numbers. This is a good thing, most assuredly, because if it were not so, those people would certainly have been slaughtered in every Arab country surrounding Israel, and in the occupied territories as well: no nation on Earth has resisted the number, severity and consistency of attacks on its civilians as has Israel. All to be called "evil" and worse, by people who would be far more barbaric in the same circumstances.

Similarly, with Iran's support of terrorists and pursuit of nuclear weaponry, the US could end the problem in about half an hour and with zero US casualties. It would take a bit longer if we wanted to avoid using nuclear weapons, and we would take a few casualties, but the result would be much the same. How much of an insurrection would have followed Saddam Hussein's fall had we simply leveled every city and killed everyone other than coalition troops? We could have done so; it is within our capacity.

Fortunately for the world, and for our conception of self, we have not had to resort to that level of barbarity. Anyone who thinks that we are not capable of it, though, should first read up on Dresden and the Pacific campaign in WWII, the last time we were called upon to exercise our barbarianism. I assure you, we were nearly as peaceful in 1938 as we are today, yet seven years later we leveled entire cities with our only second thought being whether we could get enough bombers and incendiary bombs in place to be thorough about it. Afterwards, we slept the sleep of the Just. We can do so again, and will do so if pushed to it.

If you think that maybe some Western nations, perhaps the sainted France, are actually beyond this, it only indicates that you haven't been reading about France's actions in the Ivory Coast over the last few years. As to Germany, no comment should be needed. Other Western nations are similar, though for many their tests have been so far back in time, or they have been so overmatched, that it's not readily apparent. The West is civilized not because we are above bloodshed, but because we have collectively crammed our arms in blood up to the shoulders for hundreds of years. The survivors have learned, mostly, how to live with each other.

For the Arab world, the ability to slaughter wholesale, as opposed to personal service, is a very recent development. That ability was developed in the West, as war after war drove our astoundingly creative and inventive forebears to develop astoundingly creative and inventive new ways to protect themselves from the old ways of being killed, followed by developing astoundingly creative and inventive new ways to kill each other. The Arabs simply bought the old leftovers the West no longer needed, as have the Africans. Suddenly, between the end of WWII and the middle of the 1960s, the Arabs went from resourceless barbarians in the trackless desert, killing each other with knives and small arms, to barbarians in a trackless desert over a sea of oil, killing each other with tanks and aircraft and chemical weapons.

But they were stopped cold by Israel, which had partaken of Westernism in fact, rather than by distant observation. In war after war, even when taken in the utterly worst possible military posture (1973), the Israelis mopped the floor with Arab nations outnumbering it something like 50 to 1 or more. Unlike the Arabs, Israel could build the weapons it used: Israel had the understanding of the Western way of war; the Arabs had only the tools. That is still true. But the Arabs have in consequence fallen back on their barbarian natures, updated with suicide bombs and rockets fired from the roofs of hospitals. They have not absorbed the Western way of war, so they have not absorbed the necessity of living without killing each other wholesale. They only have the tools of wholesale slaughter, not the morality to prevent themselves from engaging in it.

So the question John Podhoretz asks is, will we be capable of giving up, at least for a while, some of our Humanitarianism, to preserve our Security and our Liberty? My question is slightly different, because I assume that we can give up our Humanitarianism and still sleep the sleep of the Just; we've done it before. My question is, will we give up our Humanitarianism a little bit early, or altogether after the balance between Liberty and Security becomes moot, because we have neither?

Posted by jeff at 10:02 PM | TrackBack

Down and Almost Out

Repeated power failures last night have resulted in repeated connectivity failures today. There won't be a tech available until tomorrow (7/26) afternoon. In the meantime, consider yourself luck if you were able to get this far.

UPDATE: So it has been that someone is DNS flooding my cable modem, which handles this by essentially shutting down. Now I've had to find alternate name server hosting, and it will probably be 7/27 or 7/28 before everything is up and working correctly. Bah!

Posted by jeff at 1:38 PM | TrackBack

July 23, 2006

If I Were in Israel's Place

I would wait until Nasrallah (leader of Hizb'allah) has a press conference — even if this is after the end of the current fighting — and then bomb it. These are, after all, announced in advance, and the criticism Israel would get for brutality (and even more, from the press, for killing reporters) would do less damage than leaving Nasrallah living, while at the same time making foreign enemies think twice about fighting Israel. As a further plus, any enemy of Israel would then have to carefully reconsider his press manipulation strategy.

Posted by jeff at 9:29 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Why Aren't we Going After Insert Enemy Here?

QandO has a post that notes: "Interestingly, one of the recent arguments from the left, as some of our liberal commenters here have echoed, is that we should've gone after Iran. they are the real bad guys, and all we're doing in Iraq is simply making the Iranians stronger."

I heard this meme tried out on (Fox, I think; I was listening on the radio, and it could have been one of several channels) today, with regards to Hizb'allah: of course we should have gone after Hizb'allah, because they are the real enemy. Going after Iraq just makes terrorists stronger&tm;.

I don't buy it. The reality is, we cannot go after every enemy, much less every unstable or failed regime, at once. I truly believe that we are at the beginning of a shakeup in international affairs unseen in its scope since the Treaty of Westphalia, and seldom ever seen in history. The whole World of Order Friedman was talking about (hat tip: QandO again) is nothing more than the Westphalian order: states have borders and sovereigns, and cannot be legitimately interfered with within the borders of their territory. The Westphalian order is collapsing. Pretending that borders are always meaningful because some set of people have agreed to them, that we know what a civilian and a combatant are (and that they are necessarily distinct), or that any given issue will have a point of consensus where everyone agrees what should be done and are willing to do it — these were the long-standing games of international order, but they cannot be meaningful any more. The terrorists and their supporters have so blurred the lines that the Westphalian order is fast falling into ruin.

What this means in practical terms is that there are going to be wars and battles and other forms of conflict for the next fifty or even hundred or more years, if we are fortunate enough not to first see a genocide along the way, to determine whether Islam really will be the world's single religion, and after that (and assuming the jihadis do not win), to determine how power can be legitimately exercised short of war, and what the valid reasons are for going to war. We will not likely see the end of this, and our children might not, either.

So to pretend that we have the unlimited resources to attack every enemy and solve every challenge immediately is simply fantasy. Well, more precisely, it is simply a rhetorical gimmick useful for beating on one's political opponents. It does nothing to help us get to a new world order (there is a phrase which the elder President Bush probably regrets, both for its prescience and for its difference from what he thought we were moving to). In fact, if anything, it makes it harder to solve these wicked problems.

This will get worse, far worse, before it gets better.

Posted by jeff at 9:07 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 22, 2006

Detailed Map of Lebanon

Anyone interested in following the news and actually locating points in Lebanon may find this detailed map of Lebanon useful.

UPDATE: And Falling Rain can help to locate towns. (Hat tip: Belmont Club.)

Posted by jeff at 8:36 PM | TrackBack

Examining Israel's Gound Campaign

There has been a lot of punditry and analysis about the Israeli campaign in Lebanon, and with the likely imminent start of a major ground campaign, I was looking for an analysis of what form the attack might take. Finding none, I've decided to do it myself. The military uses an analysis framework known as METT-T: Mission, Enemy, Terrain, Troops, Time. The analysis is from Israel's point of view, since Israel will have the initiative.

Mission

Israel has several major and minor goals. How they prioritize them is unclear, but the goals themselves are pretty obvious. These include: stopping the shelling of Israeli cities for the long term; removing Hizb'allah from the border and from rocket range of Israel; degrading or destroying Hizb'allah's fighters and leadership, as well as their arsenal; cutting off or weakening Iran's and especially Syria's influence in Lebanon; recapturing the two soldiers whose capture started the current conflict (more a morale and propaganda goal than a military goal); preventing the widening of the war to Syria and/or Iran. Some of these goals can simply not be obtained without troops on the ground for an extended period. For example, Hizb'allah has hidden significant weaponry in tunnels that are not visible except close up — you cannot find them from the air. Without destroying those tunnels, Israel will be back in the same position they are now within just a few months.

Enemy

There are two immediate enemies or potential enemies in Lebanon: Hizb'allah and the Lebanese army. In addition, Israel must be immediately concerned with how Hamas and the Syrian military. In an extreme case, Israel has to be concerned with what Iran might do.

Hizb'allah is the major enemy, of course, and it should not be underestimated. Hizb'allah has about 6000 full-time fighters, who are probably among the best Arab light forces in the world. A few days ago, they forced the Golani Brigade — well, a portion of it, actually — to withdraw under fire. That is no small feat, even if the Israeli intention at that time was reconnaissance, as it likely was. (On a reconnaissance mission, you don't want to engage decisively, because you want information, not a kinetic fight.) These are most likely concentrated on the Israeli border to engage the Israeli ground troops as they come across, then stage a fighting withdrawal.

In addition to this, Hizb'allah can probably call on up to 30000 additional fighters, of varying levels of training and with varying equipment. Hizb'allah's greatest weaknesses are lack of mobility and lack of air assets.

In addition to the rockets, anti-ship missiles and small arms that have been in evidence, Hizb'allah has mortars, artillery, RPGs and heavy anti-tank missiles. They are a formidable force.

The Lebanese army is basically a non-factor in operational terms. There are about 40000 troops, but they are lightly armed and badly trained. (This is also one reason why they have not taken on Hizb'allah for control of the South.) They have said that they would fight alongside Hizb'allah if the Israelis invade, but they would be quickly crushed if they did so.

A more pressing problem for Israel is that the Palestinians could cause trouble. In Gaza, that's not a problem, because the Israelis are already fighting there (though that fighting does tie down Israeli troops). In the West Bank, however, any fighting would mean more Israeli troops would be diverted and unavailable for the northern front. This would not be a serious threat to the Israeli plans, but it could be significant if the Syrians intervene.

The Syrians probably wouldn't intervene. While Syria has a large military, it is not terribly well-equipped and it has a long history of utter disaster when facing Israeli forces. Syria likely wants this to remain a proxy war. If Syria does get involved, it is a huge problem for Israel, because there is both the need to defend Golan, and the need to prevent Israeli troops in Lebanon from being flanked. But the biggest threat would be from Syrian chemical weapons, which could devastate Israel's civilian population. Of course, that would lead to an Israeli nuclear devastation of Syria, so hopefully Syria's leaders are sane enough not to go that far in aiding their Hizb'allah proxies.

The Iranians, other than the couple of hundred Pasdaran who are working with Hizb'allah in Lebanon, is too far away to intervene directly. (I count the Pasdaran as essentially Hizb'allah — or Hizb'allah as essentially Pasdaran, I suppose — and so include them above as integral to Hizb'allah's well-trained troops.) The one way the Iranians could become involved is by long-range missile strikes. Since this would, again, lead to an Israeli nuclear response, I don't think Iran is insane enough for that. They're happy to let Hizb'allah and Syria take the blows while Iran keeps working to get their nuclear program completed. Then, all bets are off, but that's not (hopefully) yet.

Terrain/Weather

Weather is not an issue this time of year.

The terrain is very favorable to the defender. The area north from the Israel-Lebanon border is extraordinarily hilly, rising to the Lebanon Mountains towards the Mediterranean coast, and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains on the border with Syria. Between these is the Beka'a Valley, the enemy's rear area in Lebanon (the enemy's strategic rear is in Syria).

The Litani River runs through the Beka'a, then turns West for the sea some 40km North of the Israel-Lebanon border. A number of smaller, generally seasonal rivers run East-West from the Lebanon Mountains down towards the Mediterranean.

The road net is somewhat underdeveloped except along the coast.

Troops

The Israeli military is large, with over 100,000 ground forces alone, plus perhaps half a million reserves. Israel began mobilizing its reserves several days ago, and recently called up significantly more (Fox said 5000 or more) troops. Israel cannot call up reserves for any length of time without hurting their economy, so they only do it in very limited conditions, when war is impending and will be big. The number of callups is still relatively small; my expectation is that they will grow as Israel commits to action, because Israel can operate for sufficient time on its regular forces to get the reserves into action.

Israel's troops are among the best trained and most competent in the world. They have never lost a war, and even when they lose battles, it is at high cost to their enemies. The Israeli army is stupendously well equipped, with natively built assault rifles and tanks, and significant imported arms of all kinds (mostly from the US).

Israel has probably the second-best air force in the world, trailing only the United States. Their equipment is numerous, capable and well-maintained. Their pilots are well trained and very, very good. (The last Israeli war saw an exchange rate of 80 enemy aircraft destroyed in the air for one Israeli aircraft, and that one was destroyed by ground fire.)

The Israeli navy is small, with 3 submarines, 3 corvettes, a dozen or so small missile boats, and a number of patrol craft. It is sufficient to blockade Lebanon and insert commandos, but insufficient for large-scale operations of any kind.

Time

The callup of reserves limits Israel's time horizon, and the more troops called up, the more this is true. Israeli reserves are otherwise known as civilians, and Israel only has about 5 million total civilians, including children and the elderly. Imagine the US economy if 30 million citizens were put under arms!

The second internal limit on Israel's time is munitions stockpiles. Israel has a limited number of smart bombs, for instance, and has to keep some in reserve should Syria get restless on being left out of the fight. This limits the way the Israeli's fight in a way that the US does not face, and means that Israel cannot trade bombs for their soldiers' lives as easily as we can. Israel will have to keep major combat operations within a span of perhaps 2 months to avoid running down their stockpiles, unless the US is flying in resupply (which we may well be doing). UPDATE: we are.)

The third internal limit on Israel's time is their public's aversion to even enemy civilian casualties. While the public is firmly behind the military actions for now, this won't last for more than a few months before the pictures of enemy dead begin to weigh on Israeli consciences.

The final limit on Israeli staying time is support from the US. As long as we support Israel, they can continue to operate in the face of everyone else's condemnation (they are used to it), but Israel depends on US support for a great deal, and will not jeopardize that. Right now, that limit looks to be in the far future, as President Bush appears glad that it's not us having to fight this fight.

So What Will Israel Do?

Who knows?

But if I were in charge, I would put six brigades (armor heavy) in the Bekaa, three on either side of the Litani, and drive North to cut off any possible Syrian assistance. Meanwhile, I would use another six or so brigades to take Lebanon up to the Litani in the West. I don't think Israel has the structure to cut off Hizb'allah's retreat, so they would instead be pushed towards Beirut (as the PLO was during the 1982 war), likely bringing down the Lebanese government, which Israel would not want. To prevent this, I would strongly consider landing troops south of Beirut by sea, in order to cut coastal movement and force Hizb'allah to stand and fight, at least in the West.

The idea would be to destroy Hizb'allah's military capability by killing their best fighters (who would likely stand and fight in the South), destroying their long-range rockets and missiles, and uncovering and destroying their bunkers. Then pull out: Israel is not ready for a long occupation.

Best case for this would be a 10 day operation. More likely would be a couple of weeks. Worst case (assuming no Syrian intervention, and Hizb'allah breaks within the first week) would be 3 months.

In my judgement, such as it is, Israel could sustain such a campaign with sufficient reserves to counter any other country (or the Palestinians) getting involved.

The key in the long term, though, is not military but political: someone has to control southern Lebanon to keep Hizb'allah out. While Israel could create a DMZ by fire, I don't think they want to have that on their shoulders. More likely would be a deal with Lebanon to come in and take over, backed by a threat to repeat if they let Hizb'allah infiltrate.

Will it work? No clue, but everything else short of annihilation or bringing in the US military has been tried.

Posted by jeff at 12:16 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

July 21, 2006

Ouch!

The Edmonton Journal is pissed off at Canadians evacuated, whining, from Lebanon, calling them "swearing, muttering ingrates". Ouch.

(Via Pajamas Media, one of the best sites for information on the crisis.

Posted by jeff at 11:18 PM | TrackBack

The Limits of Intelligence

Throughout history, armies have been continually dismayed by how much of what they think they know is simply utterly wrong. Just in recent times, consider our intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs and force deployments, twice, North Korea's nuclear programs, and now, how well-armed and well dug-in Hizb'allah is. And yet, somehow, our policy makers and journalists keep acting as if we have (or anyone has) perfect, infallible intelligence. Now, keeping that in mind, how far is Iran really from developing nuclear weapons? The intelligence agencies all seem to agree, from politicians' statements and news reports based on leaked information, that the timeline is two years or more. Most lefty blogs that I've seen talk about it assume ten years or more. But what do we really know?

The answer could be critical when Israel goes into Lebanon.

Posted by jeff at 8:01 PM | TrackBack

On the Internet, Anyone can Find Out if You Are a Dog

Peter Steiner's 1993 New Yorker cartoon posited a complete online anonymity: "On the Internet, no one knows you are a dog". At the time, this was quite true: a person could adopt any online persona they wanted to use, or any set of them, with no fear of discovery of their true identity unless they themselves revealed it. But the Internet has evolved since then, and web spiders like Google have uncovered enough information that it is now possible to find almost any information, including information people might want to hide. Like when an online journalist uses made-up sources for quotes, investing them with massive authority ("worked for the Reagan and Nixon administrations" and so on). This happens, of course, with print journalists as well. These are harder to catch, but they can be caught; ask Jayson Blair.

The beauty, and terror, of the Internet is that anyone can find out if you are a dog.

Posted by jeff at 5:53 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 20, 2006

Spot the Civilians

There has been a lot of discussion regarding the number of civilians killed in Lebanon by Israeli attacks. But what is interesting is the absolute clarity: X number of civilians killed. Many would call the death of even one civilian in a war, no matter how unintentional their death is, a crime committed by the party that fired on that civilian. While the demand for absolute perfection in targeting is clearly unrealistic, what is more baffling to me is the apparent expectation of perfect knowledge, as if the Israelis (or the US military in other circumstances) are omniscient gods.

How do we know, after all, how many civilians were killed in Lebanon? First of all, we have to accept the word of Hizb'allah, a group not noted for its truthfulness, as to who was killed and how many and under what circumstances. Is Israel responsible for civilians killed by Hizb'allah troops to prevent those civilians from fleeing the target areas? Were 8 children really killed, or just the two that Hizb'allah photographed? Second, and to me somewhat more insidious, Lebanon has the same issue that the Gaza, the West Bank, Iraq and Afghanistan have: how do you tell who the civilians are? Let's play a game I'll call "Spot the Civilians."

Is this person a civilian?

woman in jihadi headband carrying RPG

She is not wearing a uniform, after all. Or is she: does the headband count as a "fixed sign visible at a distance"? If she's not a civilian, does she become a civilian by putting down the anti-tank rocket? By taking off the headband? Does she become a soldier again by picking the weapon back up? If she's a civilian, how does one differentiate between her and this guy:

Hizb'allah fighter brandishing weapon

OK, he's wearing a pretty definite uniform, so maybe we can say that he is a soldier, but the lady above is not, because she's not wearing a uniform. Then how about this guy?

Palestinian fighter firing from the middle of a group of kids

Not only is he not wearing a uniform, he's firing from the middle of a group of kids! How would we tell him apart from the woman at the top of this post? And if Israeli soldiers were to fire at this guy in self-defense, would he or they be responsible for the kids who got killed? But at least we can all agree that kids are not threats, right? I mean, all those photos of dead toddlers from bombed buildings in Lebanon (whether or not they are the children of Hizb'allah fighters, and whether or not Hizb'allah had stored weapons in the child's home) are truly heartbreaking. So surely we can agree, children are innocents in all of this. Right?

Palestinian child aiming a gun

I don't know about anyone else, but I take the numbers of civilians reported killed with a huge block of salt. The truth is, we don't really know how many civilians have been killed, and how many have not.

And even more importantly, we have to realize that the civilized veneer stretched across war for the last couple of hundred years has been torn off, and we are back in a far more primitive world, where the moral issues are far less clear. When the enemy hides among non-combatants, fires from their midst, and forces them to stay in combat zones, it is inevitable that more non-combatants will be killed. I think that the only real way to approach this is to blame the barbarians who hide among civilians, or blur the line between combatants and civilians; and meanwhile harden our hearts against more pictures of dead children, placed for propaganda purposes by a barbaric enemy. The only other alternative is surrender, because if we hold fire for fear of killing civilians, that just gives the barbarians ready-made hostages and increases the death toll all around.

UPDATE: I don't know that I've agreed much with Alan Dershowitz before, but I do on this. Kevin Drum's dismissive tone notwithstanding, there really does need to be some redefinition of "civilians", because the all-purpose word doesn't capture the reality.

UPDATE: I am very interested in discussing how liberal democratic societies can fight terrorists who hide among civilians. I am very interested in discussing what is just and unjust in war. I am not the least bit interested in giving space to people whose main aim is to vent their frustrations, or just to call names. Nor am I at all interested in rehashing the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, or getting bogged down in discussions of various technical points which "prove" the perfidy of Israel, or the US, or Christians or whomever. Fair warning: if you want to discuss serious issues, seriously, you are welcome; if you want to call names and hurl rhetorical bombs, go elsewhere: your comments are not going to get published here.

Posted by jeff at 5:15 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Stem Cells

There's something that I do not really understand in the debate over President Bush's veto of a bill to federally fund stem cell research: why should the government, absent any moral concerns, fund stem cell research?

Let me back up to a higher level: why should the government fund any scientific research, other than that needed for its other legitimate purposes (such as defense, survey work, weather monitoring, and so on)? It's not the government's job to decide what scientific avenues should or should not be pursued; it's the government's job to create an environment in which science (and for that matter any other private pursuit not threatening the society at large) can be pursued. Have universities and medical companies folded up shop? Clearly not. So why is the government involved in this? The only reason I can think of is that we seem, as a people, to have lost sight of a very fundamental truth on which America was founded: the government exists not to determine the shape of society, but to create and protect a just and free environment so that the people can, through their invididual exercise of rights including the pursuit of happiness, make society into whatever shape they choose.

Fundamentally, just because something is good (and I do believe that stem cell research has the potential to create good medical therapies) does not mean that the government should do it.

Posted by jeff at 11:02 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 19, 2006

Santayana was a Bastard, but Right

Now, as then, we will moan that "if only we had known".
Now, as then, we know, deep down, we know.
Now, as then, we are too afraid of the practical consequences of inaction, and too ready to rationalize away our moral natures.
Soon, as then, will we say "never again"?
Soon, as now, will we decide that "never again" is too hard-line to be practical?

Posted by jeff at 9:50 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Chicago Way

There's been a lot of noise lately about "proportional response" in Israel's counterattack against Hizb'allah, after Hizb'allah raided into Israel and captured two Israeli soldiers, then begin firing rockets at Israeli towns. I don't get the idea; I really don't. I suppose I just don't understand what a "proportional response" is? Let's explore.

A "proportional response" could mean "doing just what your enemy did". But if Israel were to go into Lebanon and capture enemy fighters, and then start bombing enemy civilians (even hospitals and mosques), they would be excoriated as being monsters and war criminals. Indeed, they are being charged exactly thus for the incidental damage from fighting Hizb'allah in response to such actions. (Example: Hizb'allah moves its rockets in trucks that Israel is bombing; to protect the rockets, Hizb'allah mixes those trucks in with convoys of civilian cars and buses; Israel attacks the trucks anyway, and the media reports this as Israel bombing a civilian convoy and everyone starts demanding Israel cease attacking civilians.)

A "proportional response" could mean "doing just what is needed to stop the enemy from doing what he was doing and no more". That has two big problems. The first is that this would likely imply a heavier assault than Israel is currently engaged in, and so is likely not what the worriers mean. The second is that such a formulation leads only to more casualties down the line. In fact, this has been the pattern in Israeli/Arab relations since Oslo: the Arabs attack Israeli civilians mercilessly; the Israelis respond by counter-battery fire against Arab rocket-launchers or artillery, or killing Arab leaders, or capturing Arab fighters, or some similar means; the Arabs scream "war crime" and beg the international community to force a cease-fire; the cease-fire comes; Arabs, having taken a drubbing, re-arm and recruit and train new fighters; go back to step one. In other words, the problem is never actually solved, only kicked down the road to come back again in a few weeks, months or (in rare cases) years. Is it really the moral position to insist that problems that lead to fighting never get solved? I cannot see how.

A "proportional response" could mean "just sitting there and taking it", because being more powerful than your enemy ipso facto removes any legitimacy you have to defend yourself. I suspect that this is what most Europeans, at least, mean by "proportional response." That is so against human nature as to beggar belief, but then Europe has spent a long time (as has the the US, really) in virtually complete peace and security, and maybe a lot of people have just forgotten what it means to be at the mercy of an implacable enemy.

A "proportional response" could mean "doing what other countries would do in a similar situation", but I suspect it doesn't. After all, look at what France did in the Ivory Coast (a few French "peace keepers" were killed, so France destroyed the government's air force and imposed de facto French control over the entire population and economy) or what Spain would do if the Basques were to start firing long-range rockets from France into Spain. (Yes, I know there are mountains in the way. It's a thought experiment.) If Israel's response were along those lines, it would really look more like the Chicago way, which is really the only way to settle a problem where one side's minimum condition is the extermination of the other:

You wanna know how you do it? Here's how, they pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way.

Posted by jeff at 5:58 PM | TrackBack

Heh

Steph comments on the New York Times' recent decision to use smaller pages.

Posted by jeff at 3:25 PM | TrackBack

Medcalf's Law

Medcalf's Law:

Any internet service that is not designed from the start to be secure will degrade to worthlessness as its utility is discovered by crackers and spammers.

Fact:

The basic protocols of the Internet are not designed for security. These include the fundamental transports (IP, TCP, UDB) as well as common services (SMTP for email, for example).

Conclusion:

The Internet is doomed to degrade into worthlessness or be replaced by a system designed to be secure.

Sorry, just got tired of deleting the spam that leaks through my various filters. Had to vent.

Posted by jeff at 9:49 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 18, 2006

On the Other Side?

What is really sad about this photograph of an enemy fighter firing on US troops is that if the US troops fired back and killed the journalist who took the picture, we would be treated to endless stories about the US "targeting" journalists, and the enemy soldier firing at the US troops would not even be mentioned in the media.

OK, so the question mark in the title is largely rhetorical.

Posted by jeff at 5:42 PM | TrackBack

A New Sovereignty and Lebanon

Last August I wrote about how the old understanding of sovereignty is no longer useful. In brief, my point is that we should move from the current de jure definition of sovereignty to a de facto definition of sovereignty, and that within areas where no state is de facto sovereign (regardless of de jure sovereignty), any state should be able to act with impunity. This would certainly apply to southern Lebanon, where de jure sovereignty belongs to Lebanon, but where Lebanon's army cannot go without being fought (and likely defeated) by Hizb'allah, which holds de facto sovereignty over the area.

Under the old understanding of sovereignty, it is ambiguous whether any entity committed an act of war by attacking into Israel and capturing Israeli soldiers. While Hizb'allah holds seats in the Lebanese parliament and portfolios in the Lebanese executive, neither Lebanon's executive nor their parliament authorized any strike on Israel. Yet while Hizb'allah has no de jure sovereignty (and thus no ability to commit acts of war in the Westphalian understanding), treating Hizb'allah's act as a crime is clearly not the correct framework: for one thing, Lebanon cannot enforce any decree against Hizb'allah, and for another, this was an attack across an international border by an armed force. It is this ambiguity on which Hizb'allah, Hamas, Iran acting in Iraq and many other terrorist organizations and states rely for their protection. After all, if Hamas attacks Israel, what right does Israel have to attack a (presumedly-) sovereign Palestine that did not attack Israel?

Under a de facto understanding of sovereignty, the ambiguity is eliminated, and both sides' rights and responsibilties are clearly defined. Hizb'allah, as de facto sovereign of southern Lebanon, committed an act of war. Lebanon as a whole, to the extent it harbors Hizb'allah installations and forces, is a legitimate enemy of Israel (though Israel would be wise not to treat it as such, even rhetorically) because they are not acting as a neutral, but as a co-belligerent of Hizb'allah. Thus Israel has the right to fight in areas controlled by Hizb'allah, and Hizb'allah has the responsibility for negotiating and enforcing any agreements with Israel to stop the fighting.

Similarly in Gaza, Hamas is de facto sovereign (and arguably de jure sovereign). As such, the attack into Israel in which Gilad Shalit was captured was a clear act of war, because Hamas could have prevented, or should have been able to prevent, the attack, but did not. The position in Gaza is analagous to the position in Lebanon, except for the absence of any widely-accepted de jure sovereignty over Gaza.

Note that this understanding of sovereignty would also clarify the situations in Afghanistan/northwest Pakistan, Iran and Syria in respect to supporting transnational terrorists, and northern Mexico in respect to drug smugglers.

In general, clarity is good, and ambiguity is bad, in international affairs. Giving transnational groups the ability to act criminally or even to fight wars, while preventing sovereign states from engaging those groups because under international law the groups don't quite exist, simply leads to more wars and cross-border criminal acts. I can't think of anyone who would argue that that outcome is a good one.

Posted by jeff at 5:37 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 17, 2006

The Right and Duty to Revolt

Dave Shuler commented at QandO, and later posted an expansion of his point on The Glittering Eye, as follows:

In a liberal democracy like ours civil disobedience and revolution are almost never moral or justified.

In a country like ours civil disobedience is only justified when the electoral system has itself been subverted. This was the case with respect to African Americans particularly in the South prior to the passage of the Civil Rights Act and, particularly, the Voting Rights Act. Their civil disobedience during that period was justified.

Revolution is never justified as long as the country remains a liberal democracy.


I strongly disagreed in Dave's comments, and wanted to post my disagreement here, also, for those who read Caerdroia and not Dave's excellent blog.


Dave, with all respect, I believe that you are confused about a very fundamental point. Before I get to that, and hopefully without taking up too much space/time, I want to talk about governmental forms. The reason for the digression is that "liberal democracy" is a vague term, and I could be misreading your meaning of the term.

In general, there are only three types of governance (plus anarchy, the absence of governance, which so far as I can tell inevitably leads to tyranny in a short time): tyranny, democracy and republic.

A tyranny is government by a small group of people not selected by nor answerable to public will. A tyranny is not necessarily malignant, but in practice virtually always eventually becomes so due to man's power-seeking and inherently corruptible nature. Variant forms of tyranny include monarchies (rule by one person and advisors or courtiers he selects, with the ruler selected by familial relationship to prior ruler) in both absolute and some constitutional forms (those in which the monarch can dissolve the parliament at will, for instance, or where the parliament has no actual power); oligarchies (rule by a very small group of people not subject to popular election or recall) including theocracies (rule by priests) and juntas (rule by a military council); and dictatorships (rule by one person and his selected advisors and courtiers, with the ruler being whoever grabs and holds on to power).

A democracy is rule with the explicit consent of citizens as a body. Variants include pure democracies (the citizens actually vote on all or most decisions, with the rule of the majority (or sometimes a supermajority) generally being absolute); representative democracies (the citizens periodically choose representatives to decide issues for them in elections of the whole body of the polis, and generally can recall those representatives by the same method); constitutional monarchies (or for that matter dictatorships) in which the parliament is not generally subject to the will of the monarch, particularly for its existence and selection; and participatory democracies (which are generally representative democracies, but in which the polis can directly impose its will by a referendum that overrides laws passed by the representatives).

A republic is rule by representatives, where each type of representative is chosen by a different segment of the citizenry (or sometimes of the whole population), and where the actions and decisions of the representatives are constrained by charter. The ruler or rulers are not generally subject to the polis to approve or reject their decisions, nor do they necessarily serve at the pleasure of the polis once selected (though they generally do, at least indirectly). There are many variant forms, based on how powers are divided and how the different types of representatives are chosen, but I'm not aware of any commonly-used terms for the variants.

(Before you say "federal republic", consider that a democracy could also be federal — "federal" is merely a descriptor indicating a government organization split into multiple levels, with any given sub-government's powers being based on which type it is.)

The United States began its life as a republic, in which the body of citizens as a whole selected their Representatives, the legislature of each State selected its Senators, and the people selected Electors who would in turn select the President and Vice President (good idea; bad execution). However, three key governmental changes over the past hundred-and-a-few years have changed our governmental structure to a representative democracy. Direct election of Senators made both Senators and Representatives selected by the polis as a whole (though the geographic differentiation differs between the two offices' electors); changing selection of electors from direct vote for electors to votes for a candidate who would pick electors for himself did the same for the President and Vice President; and the doctrine of the "living Constitution" removed the governing charter's brake on the representatives' powers.

You use the term "liberal democracy". In that context, you seem to mean a liberal form of representative democracy — at least, that's the common meaning of the term. The term "liberal" essentially means "based on Enlightenment principles", and in the US (and Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Australia), that generally means the principles of the English Enlightenment: life, liberty, and property. (In Canada and Europe, even oddly enough in Britain, the term generally applies to the principles of the French Enlightenment: liberty, equality, and brotherhood.) The English Enlightenment is very fundamentally concerned with individual Natural Law rights, and in particular the effective sovereignty of the individual except where he has, by consent to the republic's charter, explicitly agreed to cede elements of sovereignty to the government.

The point of a representative government is that it is much harder for such a government to tyrannize its people than it is for non-representative governments. In an explicitly liberal government, infringing on explicitly acknowledged rights (or in the case of the US, those rights deriving from Natural Law regardless of their explicit acknowledgment [see Amendment IX]) certainly constitutes a tyrannical act.

Where you go wrong is to assume that a mechanism for preventing tyranny against individuals (liberal democracy) inherently, always and unconditionally does prevent tyranny against individuals. I assert that that assumption is incorrect: there are many instances where liberal democracies have tyrannized their people in ways both large (as in Britain effectively banning gun ownership or the US allowing the government to confiscate one person's property for the use of another person) and small (such as the various restrictions on commercial speech in the US). That assumption leads, I think, to your comment that "civil disobedience and revolution are almost never moral or justified" because there are ways to change the system to resolve injustices.

I believe that there is an inherent, inalienable and self-evident right — indeed, a duty — to change the government if that government becomes destructive of the ends of securing individual natural law rights. This could be by revolution, if necessary; though I agree with you that that should be rare, because less drastic methods will generally suffice to remedy even large injustices. (Well, at least for now; we seem to be becoming anesthetized by the Chinese water torture of small but growing infringements, such that most people seem quite happy to be subjects rather than citizens.)

I believe that there is an inherent right — indeed, a duty — to resist clearly unconstitutional laws and regulations. This could be anything from refusing to comply (I don't care what law is passed, I will endorse whatever candidates I want whenever I please) through symbolic protest (if a law (not an Amendment) banning flag desecration is passed and held constitutional, I will burn the Constitution) to large-scale civil disobedience (I would be willing to attempt to block the government from taking private property for other private people's gain, and to get arrested in the process).

Perhaps you would agree, and I have misinterpreted you. Certainly, I think that both courses of action are too frequently called for (and in the case of civil disobedience, too frequently attempted), and perhaps that is all you are really saying.

As for me, the three bright lines I draw, the crossing of which would almost certainly lead me to kill government agents, are government agents trying to take my kids away from me, government agents bursting into my house in the middle of the night without first serving a warrant (how do I know they're really government agents?), or the various infringements of my liberties cumulatively becoming so intolerable that death is preferable to continued existence under such a regime.

Posted by jeff at 7:39 PM | TrackBack

July 14, 2006

Duck of Doom!

Reuters gets Munchkinly.

Posted by Brian at 12:58 AM | TrackBack

July 3, 2006

Munchkinly Victory

Munchkinly Victory Is Mine!

Steph, this looks like a great home school project for the boys, though Connor will probably want to do it with Starfleet Battles instead. :)

Posted by Nemo at 7:11 AM | TrackBack

July 2, 2006

Wait, I Need to Say Something Here

I really, really need to respond to Fran's comments on identity and identity theft, but I am leaving in just a short hour or so for a vacation. Consider this a marker so I don't forget after it scrolls off Fran's front page.

Posted by jeff at 11:21 AM | TrackBack

July 1, 2006

Superman Redux

We caught a matinee of Superman Returns today. I really wasn't sure what to expect. The trailers had me confused as to what kind of movie it was. They seemed to show that - like the first half of the original Richard Donner film - this movie would try to be as much drama as action. However, some of the Kevin Spacey clips had me worried that - like the second half of the original - this movie would have too many over-the-top moments that bring it back down a few notches.

Before going into spoilers, let me just say that if you enjoy the first movie, you will almost certainly enjoy Returns. It's flows directly from the events of Superman I & II, and is an excellent sequel. Now, we can finally put aside Superman III and IV and say they never happened :)

Spoilers - but fairly minor - in the extended entry.

To a large degree, I think this movie does mirror the first film - but not as bad as I expected in the latter half. I think the best way to describe Superman Returns may be not only as a sequel, but as a homage to the first film. The stylized opening credits, giant "S" and John Williams theme are directly from it. Little touches were nice such as a picture of Glenn Ford as Jonathan Kent on the mantle, plus Marlon Brando's Jor-El scenes. Then, you get a little dialogue rip-off that just makes you grin: "I hope this little incident hasn't put you off flying."

Where director Bryan Singer and his writing team go wrong is to take the homage too far. The plot is a rehash: Lex Luthor wants to create a new continent - destroying most of the US - with stolen Kryptonian technology instead of a nuclear missle. More dialogue is ripped off. They even redo the bit with what Luthor's father always told him about land. It was just a bit too much.

Where it goes well is the Lois-Superman plot. While Superman was away from Earth, Lois has won a Pulitzer Prize for an editorial titled "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman". When he returns, she puts up barriers because she doesn't want to let him back in. She resists embracing his return like the rest of the world because she's "moved on." I doubt I have to tell you that this is resolved by the end of the movie. Still, it's handled well - such as when Superman explains to Lois what he sees and hears each night.

Visually, the film is excellent. Flying effects have come a long way since the original movies. It's hard to believe now how ground-breaking those effects were in the late 70s. The plane rescue (not Air Force One this time) is much more impressive.

John Ottman puts the original Williams music to good use throughout the movie, but doesn't add anything memorable on his own. Still, there's not much reason to. The original Superman Theme is probably Williams' single best piece of music - I was sorely tempted to applaud when the music came up during the opening credits.

In terms of all the Superman movies, this may be the best and most evenly-handled one yet. The franchise can certainly grow from here. Comparing it to the more modern movies like Spider-Man and Batman Begins, though, I would say it's not quite as good. It's more on par with the first X-Men movie - overall good, but a few rough spots around the edges.

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