Monday, October 8, 2007

Senate says: I am a journalist!

Read about the torturous and futile attempt to meaningfully define a journalist. In the old days we considered sacred the act of confession, wherein we'd confess our sins. Now we consider sacred the privilege of tattling about someone else's sins. Ain't we a proud nation.

POW: Debate at Cato Institute

I came across a pretty interesting podcast from the Cato Institute, a debate over whether terminal patients should be permitted to take experimental (and unproven) drugs. The issue seems clear cut at first blush- why shouldn't people be able to take them if they're willing to assume the risks- but the debate highlights some surprising consequences. The topic manages to entwine medical ethics, privacy rights, constitutional law, high level economics and the nitty-gritty economics of pharmaceuticals.

A description of the court case referenced in the podcast is here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

POW: Louise Richardson

The UC Berkeley Post-9/11 Foreign Policy Class had a good lecture(the one from 9/17) by Louise Richardson on the motivations of terrorists. Much clear thinking about a topic that receives too little. A complimentary podcast can be found in the same class a year ago when they had Robert Pape speak(2/16 lecture) about suicide bombing in particular.

The critical point I think is that terrorists are not speaking to their victims- they're speaking to someone else. A lot follows from that.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

POW: Cass Sunstein

The Carnegie Council has an interesting podcast of a lecture by Cass Sunstein on the semi-famous Colorado experiments. Those experiments tested group decision making dynamics, and showed how like minded groups tended to become more extreme as a body as time went on, the 'echo chamber' effect. Sunstein discusses the consequences of these experiments with respect to political discourse, terrorism, and blogs. A short description of the experiment by Sunstein is here.

The thing I found most interesting was the application to terrorism. Al Qaeda is described as an echo chamber, wherein discourse is deliberately pushed to the furthest extremes (normalizing suicide bombing, for instance). Combating terrorism then requires breaking up the echo chamber, pushing dissonance, not just differing information but a differing dialog. Tricky and interesting stuff.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Supreme Court Transcripts and Opinions

I came across a resource page for the Supreme Court, including oral argument transcripts and opinions. Arguments go back to the end of 2000, opinions start in 2004. Nice if you want to dig into Kelo or Ramdan.

Friday, September 7, 2007

UC Berkeley Podcasts

Berkeley has started their fall semester, and that means a whole new batch of podcast courses to choose from. My choices: Nutrition, Ancient Mediterranean History, and a PolySci Colloquium. Not sure about that last one, but what the heck.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Book Analysis and Notes: Losing Iraq

I finished reading Losing Iraq and put up some notes. I had low expectations for this, and was actually pleasantly surprised by the material on the Kurds. The rest was plain vanilla, but at least it was well written.

My basic questions going in:

- How well prepared at the outset does the author think we were? Does he put stock in the joint planning committee work? I've heard that panned in numerous contexts.

Answer: I got the sense that Phillips blamed the lack of pre-war planning and particularly the lack of a reality-based concept of Iraqi government. He didn't condemn the opposition comittee, but he didn't try to hide the fact that it was basically useless. That's in contravention to the myth that the State Department had all these great plans that the DOD tossed. Not to excuse the DOD, who were operating in fantasy land.

- What does he consider the worst errors, and who was responsible?


1) Cheney and his people, for assuming authority but not responsibility over the opposition groups, and generally making things worse.

2) Chalabi, for lying about his support in Iraq.

3) Zalmay Khalizad, for preventing Iran from playing a legitimate role in Iraq early on when it could have made a difference.

Phillips cited an Iraqi academic as being a smart guy, I'll see if I can find anything he wrote post-war.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Book Analysis and Notes: Social Life of Information

I've added some notes on the Social Life of Information, by Brown and Duguid. I still don't really remember why my Dad recommended it. The book had a lot of goodness, showing how social context and interactions affect the absorption of information, and that the internet can't be all things to all people because of this. There is also a certain amount of jargon (deconstructing the 6 D's) that I didn't care about.

Mostly I felt a lot of nostalgia for the 90's while reading this- a time of near infinite possibility and no fear.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Cause and Effect: MN Bridge Collapse

I saw two good columns reflecting on the bridge collapse in Minnesota. Stephen Flynn lays out the numbers on underinvestment in infrastructure in the US. Arnaud de Borchgrave points out the obvious fact that we've been sending tons of money to Iraq that could have been put to use here.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Library Run

I finally got around to hitting the library. They didn't have the Coll book, but I did pick up some interesting miscellany:

Social Life of Information- This has been on my reading list since 2002. I suspect it got there on my Dad's recommendation.

The Politics of Heroin- This was referenced in Blaufarb's work on counterinsurgency. I picked it up for context when I read about how we dealt with Heroin in Afghanistan during the 80's.

Political Scandal- This was a reference in John Dean's book on GWB. Initially I flagged it to better understand why Clinton was such a target, now I want to understand how Bush so successfully escaped becoming one.

In the Shadow of the Prophet- A book from 1998 by Milton Viorst. A 5/2007 podcast discussion with him is available on CFR.

Fighting to a Finish- This is in followup to Ikle's Every War Must End.

Losing Iraq- This I picked up on a whim.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Book Analysis and Notes

I finished reading Afghanistan The Bear Trap. Excellent book, notes are here. I'm going to have to read Stephen Coll now to get the rest of the story.

How many lessons can be applied to Iraq?

1) The American supply operation was all about killing soviets. When they left, the arms flow stopped. Point: Will countries stop supplying Iraqi rebels if the U.S. withdraws?

2) 'Puppet' regimes are capable of living on their own, Najibullah stayed in power for four years after the Soviets withdrew troops. The Soviets continued, crucially, to provide arms. Point: Perhaps local forces are capable of acting more effectively in their own interest then foreign troops?

3) The Soviet response to the Mujahideen was incredibly lethargic. No strategy at all beyond Afghan borders, except to prevent attacks on the USSR proper. Point: Burying your head in the sand does not help the situation, it just makes it last longer.

4) The Soviets gave up when the Mujahideen got effective AA weapons. It took 7 years of conflict before they got them. Point: How many years will we be fighting in Iraq before someone gives the rebels good AA weapons?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

POW: Bacevich

The Carnegie Council has an excellent lecture from Andrew Bacevich in 2005 up here. He is fast becoming one of my favorite 'public intellectuals', to borrow a phrase from Richard Posner.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Moving on

Next on my list of to read books: Afghanistan: The Bear Trap. Or, everything you ought to know about Pakistan and Afghanistan during the 80's.

Two things I learned in 20 pages:
- The US was reluctant to use Zia and the Mujhadeen against the soviets, because they saw no chance of success.
- The plane crash that killed Zia in 1988, which was almost certainly an assassination, also killed the U.S. ambassador and the chief military attache. Efforts to investigate the crash were hampered by both Pakistani and U.S. authorities, and to date there is no definitive explanation for what happened. Basically no government in the world seriously wanted known who was responsible.

Book Analysis and Notes

I finished reading Lhasa: Streets with Memories by Robert Barnett. My thoughts, such as they are, are here. I loved this book but had trouble writing about it. What appealed to me was the sociology of space, how time and events define the meaning of places, and how those meanings (and places) change over time and get re-written. I have little to add to such a discussion, and just nod my head.

I watched The Road Home last night, reading the subtext of that film I wonder if the experience of occupation/assimilation and confused identity are not typical of western China.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Book Analysis and Notes

Finished reading The Age of Fallibility, by George Soros. Some interesting ideas, and a certain amount of fluff. Expanded thoughts here.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Gordon Smith Files

Senator Gordon Smith voted for cloture on a resolution condemning the Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales.

Impact: The vote would have ended debate and allowed the resolution an up or down vote. 60 votes were needed, the Yea's got only 53. Smith along with 6 of his colleagues went against party and supported cloture. Had the resolution gone to the floor, it would have put every Republican in the Senate on record either supporting Gonzales or calling for his resignation, and would most likely have passed.

Guts: 5. Smith puts his vote where his mouth is. He's already gone on record calling for the AG to resign. On the other hand there must have been an expectation the vote would not pass (two prominent Democrats, Obama and Dodd, did not bother to show). Smith would have been more put to the test if there were 59 other Senators voting with him.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Now Reading: George Soros

Next book off the stack from the library is George Soros' The Age of Fallibility. I picked it up because with his wealth and foundations he is in a position to make a substantial impact on the world. No other expectations, except that Foreign Affairs gave it a positive review.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Book Analysis and Notes

I finished reading Bruce Ackerman's Before the Next Attack: Preserving Civil Liberties in an Age of Terrorism. My notes are here. The book argues for abandoning war a response to large scale terrorist attacks, and instead declaring an adjusted State of Emergency (SEM). The SEM would permit large scale violations of civil rights, but only for short periods of time on the order of 6 weeks. Congress would have to reauthorize the SEM, with escalating super majorities required to continue it.

Ackerman is correct to discard war as a paradigm, President Bush has spared no effort in demonstrating it's flaws. But Ackerman then adopts a "domestic police action" as the paradigmatic response. That paradigm acknowledges that we face a threat, but not a threat to our survival as a nation. It permits extraordinary powers of detention, but only for a short time until the immediate threat has passed.

The problem is that such an action is temporary, whether it's weeks or months the SEM ends and everything goes back to normal. How reasonable is it to expect terrorists to abandon a proven technique, especially when they see American politicians saying "no problem." Whatever rules or laws are put in place to prevent terrorism have to be permanent in order to be effective.

Ackerman dodges this by assuming attacks will be infrequent, but I think that's overly optimistic. How long would it take for another hijacking if we began allowing box cutters on airplanes and took locks off the cockpit doors? Fine you say, we'll make those rules permanent but everything else like surveillance will be temporary. But if we can afford to make a rule temporary, then it must not be preventing attacks so we don't need it at all.

Ackerman jumped on a big problem, and I give him credit for the attempt. A lot more useful then gazing at Jack Bauer's navel.

So... About those benchmarks

Here's a story from the Washington Post on cooperation between a Sunni militia and American forces. Official Iraqi federal and civil forces are completely absent from the story (and presumably the area in question).

- It's good to see our military recognizing and co-opting real local power over theoretical federal or state forces.

- It's surprising to see no mention of special forces. Isn't this their bag?

- It's unsurprising to see confusion and reluctance between our forces and the militia. Under the circumstances, neither side has reason to trust the other. The solution is to have minimal involvement- lay down some rules using arms supplies as the carrot and then stay out of the way. You can't provide effective operational support if you can't distinguish friend from foe, so don't try. And don't try to turn them into a scout force to guide our own operations. They want to save their neighborhoods, not watch us blow them up.

- Does anyone care that we're actively undermining some of the benchmarks we just signed into law?
(x) Providing Iraqi commanders with all authorities to execute this plan and to make tactical and operational decisions, in consultation with U.S commanders, without political intervention, to include the authority to pursue all extremists, including Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias.

(xiii) Reducing the level of sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminating militia control of local security.

Friday, June 8, 2007

POW: Newt Gingrich

A new recommended podcast: Newt Gingrich speaking to a CFR crowd back at the end of April. It's probably the most intelligent discussion of foreign affairs I've heard from a credible Presidential candidate.

The major theme was about bashing government bureaucracies for failing to adapt to the faster information flows available. I can only imagine how chaotic federal departments are, I work in the private sector and that is bad enough. Newt brushes on the concept that engagement with the world whether in counter-terrorism, economic development, or even the foreign service requires integrating first and second gen Americans with readily available networks and language skills. It's easier to train a Pakistani to be a foreign service officer then it is to train a foreign service officer to be Pakistani. Sort of like the guy who said the FBI was terrible at combating the mafia until it hired Italians and Irish, and would be terrible at combating terrorism until it hired Arabs, Indians, Pakistanis, etc.

Not all was good. Gingrich peddles the war metaphor shamelessly. He manages to acknowledge that the war on terror is less then meaningful, but then he tries to reshape it into a war against Anti Modernity Muslims. Problem: Muslim terrorists aren't anti-modern. They're happy to use cell phones, the internet, and whatever other technologies suit their purpose. What they're against is a Western dominated modernity centered on America. Their problem is with the West, not with modernity per se. But acknowledging that means acknowledging the ways in which the West dominates modernity as experienced by Muslims, and Newt lacks the guts to go down that road.

Also, in answer to Newt's challenge about what religions besides Islam inspire terrorism, the short list is Hinduism and Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Hinduism in India, Protestantism and Catholicism in Ireland, and Judaism in Israel. The Hindu Tamil Tigers in fact invented the suicide bomb. Newt's real question is what religions inspire terrorism against the West, but if he put it that way it would again acknowledge there was something specific to the West that Muslims don't like.

Despite it's faults, the speech and subsequent questions are engaging. I strongly recommend.

PS: A fuller analysis of religion inspired terrorism can be found in a lecture by Robert Pape given to a UC Berkeley class on terrorism in 2006. He also wrote a book on the subject.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Current Reading

I made a run to the library today. First on the list is Bruce Ackerman's Before the Next Attack. It advocates a formal process for granting emergency powers to the President in time of emergency, specifically mass casualty terrorist attacks. I'd recommend it to people based on the first chapter alone, a clear and effective critique of the 'war on terror'.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Iraq Benchmarks - Actuals

Congress passed a new bill authorizing extra spending on military operations in Iraq, and it's been signed into law. They have not changed at all from the previous version I reviewed here, and it includes the get-out-of-jail-free card for Bush pushed by Sen. Warner.

The benchmarks, from HR 2206, Title 1 section 1314 (b) 1.

There are two noteworthy processes included in the legislation.

One, it requires the Comptroller General to review the benchmarks in parallel with the President. That position is currently held by David M. Walker. He (and the GAO) are independent of the President, he works for Congress and there is at least the potential for an interesting comparison of his answers to the President's.

Second, is this provision in section 1314 (d) :
(d) Redeployment of U.S. Forces From Iraq- The President of the United States, in respecting the sovereign rights of the nation of Iraq, shall direct the orderly redeployment of elements of U.S. forces from Iraq, if the components of the Iraqi government, acting in strict accordance with their respective powers given by the Iraqi Constitution, reach a consensus as recited in a resolution, directing a redeployment of U.S. forces.

That seems like a straightforward requirement that we withdraw or disengage if the Iraqi parliament passes a bill asking us to. I think that is more likely then Congress passing a withdrawal bill.

Gordon Smith supported it. My thoughts on the bill haven't changed, I give credit to Wyden for opposing it.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Bacevich Op-Ed

Andrew Bacevich, author of many books on foreign policy and father of a son killed in Iraq two weeks ago has an op-ed in the Washington Post (reg. required).
Memorial Day orators will say that a G.I.'s life is priceless. Don't believe it. I know what value the U.S. government assigns to a soldier's life: I've been handed the check.

New Book Analysis and Notes

I finished reading Paul Boyer's By the Bomb's Early Light. Notes and references here. The book describes a world of people scrambling to catch up with the changes they wrought. Quite relevant today. I don't necessarily recommend reading it straight through- a lot of material from the scientists and other fringe peace groups can be skipped. The best chapters are the first on public reaction and the last on government disinformation. Funny to see that Gen. Groves personally chose Dagwood as the official cartoon character of propaganda.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Iraq Benchmarks

Here are the benchmarks proposed by John Warner. This amendment got shot down, but I'm posting these because there is far too little discussion of what the benchmarks actually ought to be. To put the question differently, what actions should we encourage (or coerce) the Iraq government into pursuing? My comments are in red.


(a) IN GENERAL.--(1) The United States strategy in Iraq, hereafter, shall be conditioned on the Iraqi government meeting benchmarks, as told to members of Congress by the President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and reflected in the Iraqi Government's commitments to the United States, and to the international community, including:

(A) Forming a Constitutional Review Committee and then completing the Constitutional review; [What, so we can have another national vote? Haven't we established that Iraqi elections contribute nothing to stability? More pictures of purple thumbs do not cut it.]

(B) Enacting and implementing legislation on de-Baathification; [This is meaningless. De-Baathification could mean anything from genocide to total amnesty. What does the U.S. want done with former Baathists? Answer that before you push this.]

(C) Enacting and implementing legislation to ensure the equitable distribution of hydrocarbon resources of the people of Iraq without regard to the sect or ethnicity of recipients, and enacting and implementing legislation to ensure that the energy resources of Iraq benefit Sunni Arabs, Shia Arabs, Kurds, and other Iraqi citizens in an equitable manner; [Because there isn't enough corruption in Iraq, and oil companies aren't making enough money.]

(D) Enacting and implementing legislation on procedures to form semi-autonomous regions; [What does this mean? How big are the regions? Is this just a sop to the Kurds? Besides the Kurds, are there any regional authorities capable of managing better then the feds?]

(E) Enacting and implementing legislation establishing an Independent High Electoral Commission; provincial elections law; provincial council authorities; and a date for provincial elections; [See comments on (A)]

(F) Enacting and implementing legislation addressing amnesty; [Amnesty can be a useful tool in counter-insurgency. Assuming it's done right, i.e. part of a program that provides jobs and income to former combatants, this could help.]

(G) Enacting and implementing legislation establishing a strong militia disarmament program to ensure that such security forces are accountable only to the central government and loyal to the Constitution of Iraq; [This is clearly NOT something that can be accomplished with legislation.]

(H) Establishing supporting political, media, economic, and services committees in support of the Baghdad Security Plan; [Huh? I'll give Warner a pass and assume Iraqis will know what he's talking about. I'll even further assume this will somehow encourage insurgents and militias to throw down their weapons and sing Kumbaya.]

(I) Providing three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations; [I think this was supposed to have happened three months ago, but better late then never.]

(J) Providing Iraqi commanders with all authorities to execute this plan and to make tactical and operational decisions, in consultation with U.S commanders, without political intervention, to include the authority to pursue all extremists, including Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias; [For the sake of argument, let's assume that currently Iraqi commanders do not have authority to make tactical and operational decisions without political intervention, and that if they had such authority they would use it to pursue all extremists including Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias. Given the overlap between militias and the government at all levels, wouldn't this of necessity require the Iraqi military to launch a coup? We can encourage a coup, it may not even be the worst strategy now, but why exactly would we encourage the Iraqi Government to encourage a coup against itself?]

(K) Ensuring that the Iraqi Security Forces are providing even handed enforcement of the law; [Let's see, a benchmark that cannot be reasonably measured and is no one's responsibility. Yeah, that will work. ]

(L) Ensuring that, according to President Bush, Prime Minister Maliki said ``the Baghdad security plan will not provide a safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of [their] sectarian or political affiliation''; [This makes no sense as written. Assuming it's supposed to mean no amnesty for militias and insurgents, doesn't it directly contradict item F above? ]

(M) Reducing the level of sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminating militia control of local security; [See comments on (K)]

(N) Establishing all of the planned joint security stations in neighborhoods across Baghdad; [Works for me.]

(O) Increasing the number of Iraqi security forces units capable of operating independently; [Works for me.]

(P) Ensuring that the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected; [This furthers our objectives by...?]

(Q) Allocating and spending $10 billion in Iraqi revenues for reconstruction projects, including delivery of essential services, on an equitable basis; and [This would work if it could be verified that the money wasn't going into someone's pocket. I don't see why we're benchmarking the funding level at all, shouldn't the focus be on ensuring the funds go to the specified purposes?]

(R) Ensuring that Iraq's political authorities are not undermining or making false accusations against members of the ISF. [Seriously? This is a problem so pressing it needs to be addressed in the benchmarks, our last best hope for securing a good outcome in Iraq? See comments on (J).]

Of the proposed benchmarks I saw 4 (F, I, N, O) that were useful, and three that could be useful(D, H, Q). So out of 18 proposed benchmarks 11 are useless or worse.

I think Congress ought to have a debate and resolution defining benchmarks for success before we try to implement them. I think everyone can agree that for benchmarks to work, they need to be

1) Clearly defined.

2) Advance our highest priority objectives in Iraq.

3) Be assigned to specific positions or groups, i.e. national congress, Prime Minister, Leader of ISF, etc.

4) Be measurable.

5) Be achievable by the assigned party.

Is this really such a foreign concept to the Senate?

Gordon Smith Files

Two Iraq votes to add to Smith's record.

First, a vote against cutting off funding for Iraq operations after 3/31/2008.

Impact: If passed it would have been a big step towards actually ending the occupation. No one expected that though. Too many conservative Democrats, and too little trust in Bush to manage the withdrawal or aftermath. So the vote was in essence a platform for Democratic presidential candidates to go on record opposing the war.

Guts: Zero. Smith played the dead fish*.

Second, an alternative funding measure intended to tie Iraq reconstruction funds to benchmarks. Only John Warner amended it so that Bush could arbitrarily ignore it:


(a) LIMITATION.--No funds appropriated or otherwise made available for the ``Economic Support Fund'' and available for Iraq may be obligated or expended unless and until the President of the United States certifies in the report outlined in subsection (2)(b)(1) above and makes a further certification in the report outlined in subsection (2)(b)(4) above that Iraq is making progress on each of the benchmarks set forth in Section 2 above.

(b) WAIVER AUTHORITY.--The President may waive the requirements of this section if he submits to Congress a written certification setting forth a detailed justification for the waiver, which shall include a detailed report describing the actions being taken by the Unites States to bring the Iraqi government into compliance with the benchmarks set forth in Section 2 above, The certification shall be submitted in unclassified form, but may include a classified annex,

Impact: Benchmarks are one of the strategies intended to improve Iraq. The concept is that by tying the performance of the Iraq government to reconstruction funds, the Iraqis will 'stand up'. If that sounds like someone using an analogy to cover up ill-conceived strategy, give yourself a cigar. With respect to Warner giving Bush an escape clause, really, was that necessary? Like Bush wasn't going to put that in a signing statement? Who says appeasement is a dirty word? Sadly, Smith voted for the amendment.

Guts: -10. A bill only a dead and rotting fish could love.

Not a good day for Smith

*Dead fish is a term coined by Bill Fleckenstein to describe stock analysts who just go with the flow. I think it quite accurately describes the Republican congress of the Bush years.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Recommended Podcast

Podcast of the week: Robert Hormats speaking to the Carnegie Council about his book, The Price of Liberty: Paying for America's Wars. Hormats thesis is that how America pays for war matters.

Past conflicts were funded by bond drives, higher taxes or cuts in entitlement spending. Either way, civilians were forced to engage or sacrifice for the war. This morale element is as important as the actual finances. When an income tax targeting the wealthy was imposed in the Union during the Civil War it was not expected to provide significant revenue. It was expected to ameliorate strife between the lower classes which provided the bulk of soldiers and the upper classes which did not. In a long and painful conflict morale can be the difference between success and failure.

To date American civilians have not contributed in a meaningful way to the war in Iraq. Instead of belt tightening Bush sent everyone a check for $300 and told us to go shopping. Five years into the war it is still being funded through slap-dash emergency measures. They are not part of the regular budget, making it impossible to compare or prioritize spending much less balance the budget. The emergency war funding is a testament to Bush's unwillingness or inability to think long term.

Beyond Bush, the question of war funding is useful in assessing the 2008 presidential candidates. It's a simple question that says a lot about how seriously candidates will handle responsibility.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

New Book Analysis and Notes

I read the essay by Robert Kagan, Of Paradise and Power. My extended comments are here. I can remember people lauding this as fine analysis. History has not been kind to it or the philosophy that backed it, and after reading it I see why.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

New book

I couldn't find the Willis book at the library, so I backed up. Am currently reading By the Bomb's Early Light, by Paul Boyer. I remember this book from college, not because I read it but because it seemed like everyone I knew had it on their coffee table. The hip 80's cover stood out.

I picked it up from a reference by Stewart Udall's Myths of August. As I recall, many of Udall's citations for whacked out projects (atomic airplane, nuclear dynamite, rearranging the Mediterranean Sea) came from this book.

My first-first thought after a couple chapters is that the bomb had a 9/11 type effect on America, people were terrified that the end of the world was nigh. Remarkable considering we had a monopoly on the technology and had just used it to liquidate an enemy.

My second-first thought is that the cold war could be interpreted as America's response to the USSR's rejection of American hegemony, a hegemony the U.S. sought in desperation out of fear of the bomb. With the end of the cold war people took it for granted that the threat had passed. Then 9/11, and we party like it's 1945.

Friday, May 4, 2007

New Book Analysis and Notes

Finished reading Every War Must End. My notes and analysis here. In short, the book is brilliant and everyone should read it.

The first follow up book I'd like to read is the Willis book referenced on the failure of British democracy during WWI. How relevant is that today?

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Good Quote

From "Every War Must End" page 61

The English language is without a word of equally strong opprobrium to designate acts that can lead to the destruction of one's government and one's country, not by fighting too little, but by fighting too much or too long. "Adventurism" - much too weak a word - is perhaps the best term to describe this "treason of the hawks."
The more I read this book the more mind-boggling it is that Ikle ran with neocons.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Gordon Smith Files

Gordon Smith voted to approve a military spending bill that included a schedule for withdrawing troops. The vote was essentially party line, with Hagel being the only other cross over.

Impact: The bill is likely to be vetoed by the president, so it is just another round in a long negotiation. However none of the New England Republicans supported it, I'd guess there was a lot of pressure to tie this up. Had McCain voted and Hagel and Smith stayed in line the bill would not have passed. So long as the bill was stuck in congress Bush could hold to a maximalist line. As soon as he signs a veto he's on record denying funds to troops, and the maximalist line becomes unsustainable. In short troops will likely come home sooner then they would had the vote failed.

Guts: I'd give this 7 out of 10. Going against party is offset by the prospects of a 2008 re-election campaign, and the fact that the bill included funding for a subsidy program that greatly benefits rural (and Red) Oregon. Seems like a good example of putting the interests of voters ahead of party, and doing the right thing at the same time.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Review Excerpt: Fog of War

Some thoughts on Every War Must End.

I've heard the fog of war in reference to bureaucratic screw-ups, or as an excuse for friendly fire and other tactical mishaps. Here Ikle uses it to refer to the uncertainty at the top.

Strategic decisions have to incorporate a ton of data: friendly and enemy troop strength, reserves, and the potential for outside parties to intervene. Obviously a great deal of this information is unknown, it must be estimated based on a variety of sources. That layer of interpretation is the true fog, data interpretation follows self reinforcing assumptions. If we are tired they must be tired because ultimately we must win, therefore we will win. This ties in with the tendency for politicians to be to aggressive (if they lose a war they lose office- whether they leave their country intact or in ruins). Tyrants are actually more likely to make rational decisions about ending war then democracies, assuming the tyrant stays in power. Saddam Hussein in the first gulf war provides an apt demonstration.

Ikle makes the point that relatively little attention is paid to big picture strategy. When Rumsfeld talked to himself about whether we were creating more terrorists then we destroyed, that was taken as exceptional. Actually it was a very rational and very rarely asked question: Are we achieving our objectives?

I wonder how they process and present decision making information within the military? Any better then an insurance company?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Recommended Podcast

After Words: Ali Allawi Interviewed by Roland Flamini
Broadcast by C-Span

Ali Allawi has published a commentary on Iraq, the first I've seen by an Iraqi. I've seen him featured as a speaker on other podcasts, but found the C-Span interview the most informative. The key points I heard were
- Many people including exile groups thought Iraq had a strong secular middle class. That was true pre 1981, but was no longer so in 2003.

- Not only did America not have a plan when it invaded Iraq, it did not have a plan even when it put in place the CPA. The CPA had no clear mission statement but had tons of resources and authority. Hence the meandering through 2004. [Side Note: the unwillingness or inability of the President to provide meaningful direction to American occupation forces is still in evidence today as they search for a 'war czar']

- A with drawl of American forces would not make a significant difference. In areas of mixed ethnicity fighting would continue, in areas of ethnic homogeneity there would be no fighting. That is essentially the current situation.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

New Book Review

I finished reading a book by Andrew Bacevich on the plane coming home from Chicago, you can see my thoughts on it here.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Is Fred Ikle a neocon?

I guess the reason Ikle goes easy on neocons in the new preface to Every War Must End is that he's one of them, or a least buddies. He was one of the original signatories to the Project for a New American Century statement of principles. PNAC was the premier organization of neocons during the Clinton years, with members including Richard Perle, Dick Cheney, Lewis Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, and William Kristol.

The organization is most well known for writing a letter to President Clinton in 1998 urging the removal of Saddam Hussein from power. Many signatories to that letter went on to serve in the Bush II administration where they had the power to put deed to word. Perhaps most interesting, Ikle did not sign off on the 1998 letter. Did he support the invasion of Iraq? Does he still run in neocon circles?

I'm going to have to reread the new preface, slowly.

I initially thought the 1991 re-issue was to congratulate Powell for following doctrine in Gulf I and the 2005 to chastize the Bush regime for failing to do so. Now it looks like the 1991 issue was a warning to Powell that the job in Iraq wasn't done, and the 2005 issue is a mea-culpa.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

All Wars Must End

I was sufficiently interested in Ikle's book, Every War Must End, that I picked up a copy at the library. It's a short work, about 130 pages long. The book was initially published in 1971, revised editions were put out for the Gulf War in 1991 and Gulf War II in 2005.

I was surprised how lenient the author was in discussing Gulf War II in the new preface. Powell consciously followed Ikle's work in managing the first Gulf War, and neocons consciously ignored it(and Powell) in managing the second. On the first page where I expect to see Bush and Rumsfeld being dragged over coals, there is instead a discussion of the difficulty of applying lessons learned in previous wars.

I think you get a sense of where the author's head is by comparing the first lines of the revised prefaces.
1991: "Wars transform the future."
2005: "History is a cruel tutor."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Fred Ikle

After Words 3/24/2007
Broadcast by C-Span

An interview of Fred Ikle about his most recent book, Annihilation from Within: The Ultimate Threat to Nations. The theme of the book is that the government has failed to put in place useful contingency plans for events such as a nuclear bomb, biological weapon, etc. In both cases the impact of an event could be substantially mitigated by having a contingency plan in place. For biological weapons, this would cover the mass production and distribution of appropriate vaccines. For nuclear weapons, this would cover coordination with other nations on response and doctrine. Ikle fears that a nuclear detonation could cause a world war much like an assassination set off WWI.

The problem as Fred sees it is an incompetent civil service, too many people following the letter of bureaucratic code and not getting anything done. Example: Part of the reason there are so few Arabic translators is that many translators have spent time in the Middle East, either as students or visiting family. To get a security clearance someone from the FBI has to go to the country visited to investigate what was done, who the person talked to etc. Consequently, the vetting process can take years.

Ikle cites the confirmation process as the biggest roadblock to bringing in qualified people at the top. I think that is only partly right. A bigger problem is the lack of incentives. Government (if not corrupt) does not pay well. The primary motivation of good civil servants has been a sense of duty, people felt proud of their service to their fellow citizens. Nowadays high level positions are reserved for people loyal to the President personally, there is no sense of pride or responsibility independent of politics. That discourages the most duty-minded from seeking government work, and precludes their selection for high level positions. The current scandal over federal attorney firings is a prime example.

Ikle has written at least one other highly influential work, Every War Must End back in 1971. Sadly that is as relevant today as it was then.

Ikle touches on budgeting priorities, but I think Stephen Flynn has a more complete analysis on this topic.