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Homophobia To Continue Trumping National Security

[ 0 ] May 8, 2009 |

The Obama administration really needs to end the policy. It’s both immoral and bad for the country, and the idea that it’s going to me a major votimg issue in the 2010 midterms is frankly nuts. Every application of this policy is a national disgrace.

…I should note here that I agree with commenters that the proper action here is for Obama to push to change the policy, not to simply refuse to enforce the law. Yooism is no better when done in service of good policies…


Careless Warfare or Lawfare? A Pointless Debate

[ 0 ] May 7, 2009 |

Enough civilian body parts to fill two tractor-trailers remained after an incident in Farah province of Afghanistan Monday, according to the NY Times today. Afghan civilians blame US airstrikes for 100+ civilian dead; the United States is investigating the possibility that the Taliban executed the civilians with grenades in order to blame US forces.

Either scenario is pretty plausible; but either way the PR fiasco falls in the lap of the international forces, so the bottom line is the US needs to rethink its counterinsurgency strategy.

The Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict released a report last month entitled Losing the People: The costs and Consequences of Civilian Suffering in Afghanistan. Based on interviews with 143 civilians harmed by conflict operations in the country since 2001, the report (p. 11) details both “lawfare” deployed by the Taliban, in which civilians are intentionally used as shields, and massive casualties from US “collateral damage.”

In November 2008, villagers attending an Afghan wedding party in Kandahar provice said insurgents entered the area, fired on international forces, and then forcibly prevented the villagers form fleeing the area before IMF retaliated with an air-strike that left 37 members of the wedding party dead.

Haji Nasaib lost nine family members and suffered significant property loss due to an IMF air-strike in Wardak province. “I could see all the dead and injured bodies. My daughter was baking bread inside the house when the bomb hit. Due to the blast, she was thrown into the oven. Her body was totally burned. She was taken to the hospital, but she died… My son had injuries on his feet and the force of the blast had thrown him over a tree. Another daughter – she was blasted into so many pieces that we still have not been able to find her body.”

The first example is a war crime; the latter, unless the result of intentional targeting of civilians, is not. But the difference is lost on the civilian population of Afghanistan, and ultimately it is the US who pays the political price. The popularity of the international troops in the country has been plummeting since last year, and there is a resurgence of anger since this week’s incident.

In fact, given the regularity of such incidents, one wonders why the Afghani people have not risen up more forcefully already to kick out the occupiers – who on the one hand are seen as cowards who fight from the skies, and on the other hand have been ineffective at protecting them from militias?

Currently, international forces maintain the moral high ground in three ways. First, they kill fewer civilians than insurgents and pro-government forces in Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International data suggest the number of casualties from IMF mistakes has been around 25% of the overall total for the past three years; the Afghan NGO Security Office numbers are slightly lower for 2006. Second, they often apologize when they make mistakes, unlike the Taliban who sometimes target civilians directly. And third, they often compensate the families of civilians who are killed or maimed through carelessness.

But international forces also fight an uphill battle in other respects: they are outsiders, their disproportionate power is resented, and they are seen as out of touch with the needs of the Afghan people. It is clear that the US and other ISAF countries will need to take greater steps to reduce the “collateral damage” associated with Operation Enduring Freedom, and to streamline the programs in place to mitigate the unavoidable effects on civilians.

CIVIC’s report outlines a variety of such measures, including quicker apologies (not “regrets,” not “excuses,” but apologies); better coordination of existing compensation policies so that families don’t fall through the cracks; quicker public acknowledgement of errors, and more transparent investigations; and “the establishment of a Pentagon position to strategically address potential and actual civilian casualties.”

In my view, an important item should be added to this list: the ISAF, led by the US, should rethink the use of airpower and strafing as a legitimate means of waging a counterinsurgency war within areas populated by civilians. Even with the most discriminate means available – precision targeting by unmanned drones – the civilian/combatant death ratios we are seeing in Afghanistan and Pakistan are ridiculously disproportionate. It’s time to put our money where our mouths are and fight insurgents on the ground.

Off to Seattle…

[ 0 ] May 7, 2009 |


I am off to Seattle for a week, and aside from a couple of preset posts will be taking a break from blogging until Saturday, May 16. Until then Charli Carpenter of Duck of Minerva will be filling in. Give her a warm welcome…

How Many Pirates Do the French Have to Kill to Earn a Reputation for Toughness?

[ 0 ] May 7, 2009 |

In the fabulous piracy-oriented South Park of two weeks ago, a French yacht surrenders to Fatbeard the Pirate without a shot being fired. When someone brings the issue up at the UN, a bureaucrat explains “Being French, they surrendered immediately.” This brought some thoughts of mine on piracy and reputation into focus. The French have responded to piracy more aggressively than anyone, taking the early initiative on pursuing pirates onto land, and on launching rescue operations. In spite of this, at least in the world of Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the French continue to have a reputation for irresolution. Indeed, they amount to the stand-in for an irresolute Western response to Somali piracy.

Along similar lines, Galrahn last week published a long post on potential piracy solutions, arguing at the end that the US might suffer a reputational effect if it didn’t take the lead in anti-piracy operations. This was a relatively small part of a very good post, but again it got me thinking; would the US suffer damage to its reputation from failing to vigorously pursue anti-piracy efforts, and if so what would that damage consist of? Dan Drezner and I discussed this a bit in our bloggingheads of a couple weeks ago, more or less settling around the idea that it would be hard for US competitors to draw any conclusions about US resolve in the absence of any ideas of their own on opposing piracy. Galrahn suggests, however, that the US reputation in maritime matters may be structured a bit differently than the Russian or Chinese; the US has implictly taken on the responsibility for maintaining maritime security in a way that the Russians and Chinese have not, and thus could be more likely to take a hit from the failure to address piracy vigorously.

Long time readers of this blog will know that I’m deeply skeptical of the independent effect of resolve and reputation on international relations. Given my graduate training, this is unsurprising; reputations for resolve don’t form in the manner expected by policymakers and traditional scholars of IR, and as such efforts to reinforce a reputation for resolve rarely yield much of a return. Actors tend to interpret behavior in light of the previous expectations, meaning that aberrant behavior is excused as situational. If the French are acting resolutely in response to piracy now, then it’s probably just to cover up their inherent weakness. Similarly, if the Russians (who are understood to be resolute, if nothing else) have a tepid response to piracy, then it must be because they don’t care. That both of these things may be true isn’t the point; reputation doesn’t change either way. I’m not convinced that reputation can’t change, just that it doesn’t update in response to rational assessment of evidence. For many Americans, including Parker and Stone, the French surrender to Germany in 1940 remains the critical symbolic marker for French reputation. Had the French backed the US in 2003 in Iraq this might have changed, although I doubt it.

So that said, back to the original question: How many pirates do the French have to kill in order to earn a reputation for toughness? I think it’s fair to say that certain behaviors in regard to piracy can earn the description “weak,” such as the recent Dutch release of captured pirates. Is there anything, though, that could have a lasting effect on reputation such that even Stone and Parker began to view the French as resolute, dangerous, or even aggressive? What if French destroyers started gunning down every fisherman they could find off the Somali coast? What if the French attacked pirate havens on land, and deployed troops to Somalia long term? You could argue, I suppose, that focusing on South Park isn’t helpful, that Parker and Stone are relatively low information actors, and that policymakers have a more accurate assessment of reputation. I’m utterly unconvinced of this; the South Park episode in question demonstrated a substantial knowledge about the issue of Somali piracy, and I’m guessing that Stone and Parker depicted the French as weak because it played into stereotype, rather than out of ignorance. Moreover, I think it was fairly clear in the run up to the Iraq War that officials within the administration and in Congress had substantially the same, unsophisticated understanding of French reputation.

The question works the other way, too; how many pirates would the Russians have to release in order to earn a reputation for weakness? A couple weeks ago, I spoke with a conservative friend about piracy, and found that he was under the impression that the Russians had been dealing brutally with pirates off Somalia. It’s true enough that the Russians have been participating in anti-piracy operations, but as far as I know they haven’t acted with any brutality, and their general performance has been altogether less assertive than that of the French. Nevertheless, the Russians get credit (and my friend spoke admiringly of the Russian brutality; shades of a Tom Clancy novel) for aggressive action that they don’t take, while in the popular imagination the French either remain cheese-eating surrender monkeys, or they become fodder for political attack (“See!? Even the feckless French can fight pirates!”)

So, again; how many pirates would the French have to kill to become tough? And how many would the Russians have to coddle to become borscht eating surrender bears?

The Backlash Continues

[ 0 ] May 6, 2009 |

In yet another manifestation of the massive backlash against Goodridge, which set back same-sex marriage rights for decades, Maine has ended its denial of fundamental rights to same-sex couples. Hopefully this will help persuade New Hampshire’s governor to do the right thing too.

Performance of the Year Decade Century!

[ 1 ] May 6, 2009 |

It’s good that Yankee fans were astute enough to make the greatest pitcher athlete in Yankee known human history their player of the game yesterday. As was reflected by Al-Yankeezera’s broadcast team — without question one of the 30 best local broadcast teams in major league baseball — Joba’s performance was just unbelievably great. I mean, 5 2/3 innings, 4 runs — it’s like Walter Johnson came back to earth and we get to see him again! It’s truly something special.

Pitchers are sissies now

[ 0 ] May 6, 2009 |

“Now” being 1946, according to the great Kid Nichols.

This reads like a perfect parody of the “in my day we didn’t have fancy curve balls or surgery for bone chips, and we had to work the turnstiles too” genre.

Except he literally says those things.

Tributes To Treason and White Supremeacy

[ 0 ] May 6, 2009 |

What really bugs me is the monument to the Jefferson Davis highway in Washington state. If someone bought a monument to Hitler, would the state put that up too?

The Wall Street Journal editorial page and doublethink

[ 0 ] May 6, 2009 |

I doubt Pravda was ever more egregious.

On the sixth day of Hate Week, after the processions, the speeches, the shouting, the singing, the banners, the posters, the films, the waxworks, the rolling of drums and squealing of trumpets, the tramp of marching feet, the grinding of the caterpillars of tanks, the roar of massed planes, the booming of guns — after six days of this, when the great orgasm was quivering to its climax and the general hatred of Eurasia had boiled up into such delirium that if the crowd could have got their hands on the 2,000 Eurasian war-criminals who were to be publicly hanged on the last day of the proceedings, they would unquestionably have torn them to pieces — at just this moment it had been announced that Oceania was not after all at war with Eurasia. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Eurasia was an ally. There was, of course, no admission that any change had taken place. Merely it became known, with extreme suddenness and everywhere at once, that Eastasia and not Eurasia was the enemy. Winston was taking part in a demonstration in one of the central London squares at the moment when it happened. It was night, and the white faces and the scarlet banners were luridly floodlit. The square was packed with several thousand people, including a block of about a thousand schoolchildren in the uniform of the Spies. On a scarlet-draped platform an orator of the Inner Party, a small lean man with disproportionately long arms and a large bald skull over which a few lank locks straggled, was haranguing the crowd. A little Rumpelstiltskin figure, contorted with hatred, he gripped the neck of the microphone with one hand while the other, enormous at the end of a bony arm, clawed the air menacingly above his head. His voice, made metallic by the amplifiers, boomed forth an endless catalogue of atrocities, massacres, deportations, lootings, rapings, torture of prisoners, bombing of civilians, lying propaganda, unjust aggressions, broken treaties. It was almost impossible to listen to him without being first convinced and then maddened. At every few moments the fury of the crowd boiled over and the voice of the speaker was drowned by a wild beast-like roaring that rose uncontrollably from thousands of throats. The most savage yells of all came from the schoolchildren. The speech had been proceeding for perhaps twenty minutes when a messenger hurried on to the platform and a scrap of paper was slipped into the speaker’s hand. He unrolled and read it without pausing in his speech. Nothing altered in his voice or manner, or in the content of what he was saying, but suddenly the names were different. Without words said, a wave of understanding rippled through the crowd. Oceania was at war with Eastasia! The next moment there was a tremendous commotion. The banners and posters with which the square was decorated were all wrong! Quite half of them had the wrong faces on them. It was sabotage! The agents of Goldstein had been at work! There was a riotous interlude while posters were ripped from the walls, banners torn to shreds and trampled underfoot. The Spies performed prodigies of activity in clambering over the rooftops and cutting the streamers that fluttered from the chimneys. But within two or three minutes it was all over. The orator, still gripping the neck of the microphone, his shoulders hunched forward, his free hand clawing at the air, had gone straight on with his speech. One minute more, and the feral roars of rage were again bursting from the crowd. The Hate continued exactly as before, except that the target had been changed. The thing that impressed Winston in looking back was that the speaker had switched from one line to the other actually in midsentence, not only without a pause, but without even breaking the syntax.

Doesn’t Obama Know He Was Supposed to Order Freedom Mustard?

[ 0 ] May 6, 2009 |

The real scandal is that he ordered his burger medium well.

Alienating Colleagues: Not Always the Best Strategy

[ 0 ] May 6, 2009 |

How about that: Arlen Specter managed to find the limits of the Democratic leadership’s willingness to tolerate egregious wankery. That’s pretty special. (And in fairness to Specter, I didn’t think that such limits existed either…)

…more context here.

A Svalbard in every home

[ 0 ] May 6, 2009 |

Longtime readers of The Duck of Minerva are surely familiar with Dan Nexon’s important work on Svalbard, the Norwegian archipelago that hosts the Doomsday Global Seed Vault. Located on the island of Spitzbergen, the vault — which is built into the side of a sandstone mountain — is intended to be a hedge against the destruction of genebanks and crop diversity in politically, militarily or environmentally vulnerable parts of the world. Alternately, as Nexon warns, the vault will provide the foundation for Svalbardian world domination.

In any event, as I was listening the other day to — no shit — Glenn Beck’s radio program, I overheard an advertisement for this project, whose proprietors urge us to invest in seeds as preparation for . . . well, you know . . .

You don’t have to be an Old Testament prophet to see what’s going on all around us. A belligerent lower class demanding handouts. A rapidly diminishing middle class crippled by police state bureaucracy. An aloof, ruling elite that has introduced us to an emerging totalitarianism which seeks control over every aspect of our lives.

I guess we should credit the fellow for not recommending that everyone make idiotic signs and gather at city hall to protest higher marginal tax rates on the wealthiest income brackets. But these folks are urging people to buy hundreds of dollars worth of seeds and bury them in the backyard so that when liberal fascists have destroyed the world in 20-70 years — one hopes sooner, of course — today’s John Galts can laugh at the rest of us while gobbling Calypso bean chili, eggplant parmigiana, carrot juice and boule d’or melon. It’s a weird business model, but you can’t argue that these folks haven’t pegged their audience.