Friday, November 2, 2007

modest mouse morning

I was looking for a certain Modest Mouse song last night when I stumbled across this:

I remember this concert. Well, the vid is probably from Ft. Worth, but they played the same set with the same background video at Stubb's days after this was shot. The video was ten days after 9/11, and you'll notice that their onstage movie is a collection of building demolition clips. They explained before the show that their video predated the attacks and they thought the smart thing to do in the face of the aftermath was to not change a goddamn thing.

Modest Mouse for president.

Bonus vid from Austin City Limits:

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

ishmael beah, child soldier

This is an interview with Ishmael Beah, the author of A Long Way Gone. It's an autobiographical look at the life of a child soldier in Sierra Leone. I recently happened to read it, and I was struck by the fact that a good friend of mine who was born in Sierra Leone, Ishmael, and I are all exactly the same age. The interviewer, Josh Rushing, is also a personal favorite of mine; he's one of those excellent wildcat correspondents that Al Jazeera seems to attract.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

coffee cup ambush

Why post this scene, from one of the best action thrillers of all time? Just check out item number 28 on the Blackwater Fever list. Better yet, read the whole list (and then bookmark the blog). Hilarious, and a further indication that the regular military looks upon these mercs as a bunch of wannabe yahoos.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

google-translated alexis debat "interviews"

Here are all of the Alexis Debat interviews (check the link for background) that I could find still lurking in Google's cache. The links all point to Google-powered translations; if you'd like to read it in the original French there is a link at the top of each resulting page to do so.

Bloomberg translation

Obama interview (original link is broken) and the translation

Allawi translation

Bill Gates translation

Giuliani translation

Mubarak translation

Paul Bremer story translation, and the interview translation

Article about Kofi Annan not interview, translation here.

Musharraf translation

Bill Clinton translation

Hillary Clinton interview summary translation

Colin Powell translation

Nancy Pelosi translation

Schwarzenegger translation

William Kristol translation

Donald de Marino translation

Alan Greenspan translation

Newly added: John Bolton interview and translation

That's about all I could dig up. If anyone can find the original Hillary interview, drop me a line.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

larry johnson schlogs me

"Way to go dude. Many thanks. -LJ"

No prob. *daps*

sunnis vs. sunnis

In a reminder of how amorphous "the enemy" in Iraq really is, after a two day battle Al-Qaeda in Iraq forces wrested control of a small village on the Diyala river from the rival Brigades of the 1920 Revolution. Both are predominantly Sunni, but they have different agendas.

While 1920's stated goal is to create an Iran-like Islamic state of Iraq, they probably do so as a broad recruiting and motivational tool more than anything else. The leadership consists largely of Saddam loyalists, probably Fedayeen Saddam and ex-republican guard. They are focused primarily on guerilla attacks vs. the occupational coalition, and can be considered a nationalist movement. They are also among the Sunni groups that have been bought off to some extent recently by the occupational forces.

AQI tends to be more foreign-born, and with more of a religious, sectarian agenda. They are less popular within the civilian population because of their tendency to conscript men to their ranks and impose their version of Sharia law wherever they go, which includes the liberal taking of wives and killing of heretics (such as Shiites or Yazidi). In some cases they act as a mercenary force for the local warlords in order to enjoy some freedom of action.

This ferocious internecine warfare indicates several things:

1. that Al Qaeda would be among the first to perish in Iraq after an American withdrawal;

2. that the violence in Iraq is not all sectarian by any means,

3. that there are strong feelings of Iraqi nationalism.

All three of those things run counter to the conventional wisdom seen on much of the main media outlets in America these days.

Monday, September 17, 2007

larry johnson scoops me

The problem with worrying about breaking news instead of analysis is that while you waste your time reading, others are writing. And so the draft copy of my thoughts on the Blackwater issue goes into the trash, and instead I get to quote everyone's favorite spook, Larry Johnson:

First problem. Blackwater does not have a license to operate in Iraq and does not need one. They have a U.S. State Department contract through Diplomatic Security. Instead of using Diplomatic Security officers or hiring new Security officers or relying on U.S. military personnel, the Bush Administration has contracted with firms like Blackwater, Triple Canopy, and others for people capable of conducting personnel security details. State Department is not about to curtail the contract with Blackwater, who is tightly wired into Washington. Plus, State Department simply does not have the bodies available to carry out the security mission.

Second problem. The Iraqi government has zero power to enforce a decision to oust a firm like Blackwater. For starters, Blackwater has a bigger air force and more armored vehicles then the Iraqi Army and police put together. As Spencer Ackerman reported, Blackwater’s little bird helicopter (an aircraft normally used by U.S. special operations forces) that was firing mini guns at Iraqi targets on the ground this past weekend.

These are the "Little Birds" mentioned, and an example of Blackwater personnel defending a building:

Of course, Blackwater's security contract extends to guarding all sorts of things, and in the real world that means that they often end up fighting right alongside the actual soldiers:

This is the result when you do not have enough troops to do their traditional jobs, and don't internationalize the effort. You are forced to rely on the private sector, and market forces will guarantee that someone will fill that demand. The blame lies not directly with Blackwater, but with the policy makers that gave them a raison d'etre in the first place.

breaking: blackwater's license to kill revoked in iraq

Yesterday a State Department convoy in Baghdad came under small arms fire. The security firm providing security opened fire and at least eight civilians were caught in the crossfire. I immediately thought of Blackwater upon hearing this, and sure enough, it was them. Now the Iraqi Interior ministry has revoked their license to operate in Iraq. This has far-reaching implications, as they are one of the if not the leading private security contractor in Iraq. The Iraqi government has apparently had enough, and if they can't get the occupation to leave then they can at least start with the corporations.

robert jordan dies

Robert Jordan, author of the Wheel of Time series, died yesterday. He was in the process of writing the last book in the series. Here's hoping it will be completed somehow so that I can finally read the whole series from the top..

Saturday, September 15, 2007

ding ding ding.. 12 rounds with jane hamsher

I had to overcome a conflict of interest tonight. On the one hand, the Moveon ad was stupid. On the other hand, Jane Hamsher is a wottie.. that is, a wonky hottie.

In one corner, Jane:
Dear Mrs. Edwards,

You’re a smart woman. You of all people should know about the asymmetrical intimidation problem that Paul Krugman talks about — the one where the media is afraid to go after Rudy Guiliani for claiming he’s a rescue worker, but they’ll try to demolish your husband over a haircut because they know that they’ll get swarmed by the right wing noise machine for the former and pay no price for the latter. That’s how it works.

So I was really disappointed today to read at Taylor Marsh’s place that you had joined with Diaper Dave Vitter and John “McCarthy” McCain to attack MoveOn. We (and by that I mean the netroots) defend you when the MSM try to make your campaign a pinata over stupid, insignificant stuff. When they try to say your race should end because of your illness, but don’t say squat about Fred Thompson’s lymphoma. We’re your first line of defense, the only messaging machine that progressives have.

And in the other corner, schwifty:

So Jane, basically the gist of your post is that the merits and principles behind what “we” say are subordinate to the tactic [of] turning up the dial on our own echo chamber? A bit of realpolitik for the campaign trail, then.. but as a tree hugging far left liberal myself, I was astonished at moveon for stooping to Ann Coulter’s level. Accusing a military officer of betrayal is tantamount to accusing him of treason, and regardless of whether he is a willing hostage of Bush’s tactic to hide behind his medals, you don’t shoot the hostage. Whatever happened to defeating the enemy without becoming like them?

It's nice to be back in the trolling game.. er, i mean blogging, or whatever the kids are calling it these days. Well.. maybe not trolling per se (as I actually believe what I wrote), but this just takes me back to the good old early internet days of epic debate on such topics as creationism, macs vs. pcs, gaming guilds...

Anyway, the discussion is long but worth checking out. FDL and Jane are awesome, but there's nothing like busting up a little groupthink dynamic. I wish more of these blogging sites relied on nested commenting and such for threaded discussions a la k5. I hear dailykos runs on scoop but the signal to noise ratio is too low for me there.

map shortage

(If you don't get it, click here.)

Friday, September 14, 2007

gone to ground

The above video from the excellent TPM blog juxtaposes Tony Snow's insistence that upcoming token troop withdrawals in 2008 will be executed based on whether those troops are needed for security "on the ground" or not, when it is blindingly obvious to everyone in uniform that they will be withdrawn because their tours simply cannot be extended further. It's like a soccer coach claiming that his team will only leave the field once they have scored more goals than the other side, not simply because the 90 regulation minutes of play (and in this case double overtime and penalties as well) are up. I wonder who could possibly be fooled by this.

The problem with the discussion surrounding the surge is that it has focused on numbers instead of tactics. It was never about adding 30,000 troops to Iraq. It was about pursuing a new counter-insurgency strategy with a new SecDef (Gates) and field commander (Petraeus). Petraeus was the obvious choice because he personally wrote the Army's new Counterinsurgency Field Manual.
This is the first new counterinsurgency field manual to appear in 20 years, and as such, it serves as a tacit admission that the American strategy in Iraq is simply not working. The manual’s perspective takes on additional significance since its chief author, Gen. David Petraeus, has just taken over as the top commander in the war.

Petraeus, who wrote his dissertation at Princeton on the military lessons of the Vietnam War, distinguished himself in Mosul with his hearts-and-minds approach. Shortly after the 2003 invasion, he used the 101st Airborne to establish an overwhelming presence in the city, then promptly instituted foot patrols, held local elections and distributed money for reconstruction. At the year’s end, Mosul was one of the few pacified areas. But Petraeus’ approach ran counter to Rumsfeld’s. At the beginning of 2004, Rumsfeld replaced the Airborne with a Stryker force one-fourth as large. The Stryker Brigade halted the foot patrols and the local government’s efforts. Within a few weeks, Mosul was in chaos. The question facing Petraeus now is whether that process can be reversed — three years later, on a much larger scale, and with a budding civil war. It’s a tough test for the theory set out in his handbook.

The problem is that three years of following the Rumsfeld doctrine of light, fast, kinetic forces has tapped out the armed forces. Three years of ANY strategy would have; that is the elephant in the room. There are a finite number of discrete units in the military, and their deployment durations have been extended and repeated to the point that the DoD policy of time limits on active-duty deployments was lifted entirely [edit: removed incorrect assertion that there was an eighteen month legal limit on such deployments]. For example, there are 42 brigades in the regular (non-reserve) Army, and 20 are in Iraq. We are keeping 20 brigades there for fifteen months at a time. Under normal conditions each unit would receive twice as much time home as it would deployed, but simple arithmetic will show you why that has been cut in half. Not simple enough for Tony, I guess.

Keep in mind that this refers just to the Iraq theater; meanwhile the Koreas have not peacefully reunited and Afghanistan has not transformed into a unified secular democracy. The 30,000 additional troops deployed for the surge represented a fraction of the troops required to pacify Baghdad alone. Essentially, Petraeus was looking to repeat his 2003 performance in Mosul four years later certain neighborhoods in Baghdad.

This also throws into relief exactly what has been happening in Al Anbar and around Basrah. In the vast western province of Al Anbar we have cut a deal with the Sunnis. We grant them amnesty and a shitload of cash, then force Maliki to recognize their militias as "legitimate" security forces, and in exchange they kill off all of the foreign fighters in their area. In Basrah the British have abandoned their pointless mission of sitting around being mortared, and we have ceded the area to Iranian influence... for now. More on this at the bottom. Meanwhile, the Kurdish north has heated up considerably as both the Turks and Iranians have crossed the border in pursuit of separatist Kurdish groups.

In short, for Petraeus' principally sound tactics to have a chance at success, he needs more troops. An order of magnitude more. It would not be far fetched to imagine that Generals Zinni and Shinseki spend their holidays burning Rumsfeld in effigy.

So what now? The best answer comes, as usual, from former Madam Secretary Madeleine Albright: internationalize the conflict.
This disconnect between mission and capabilities should be at the center of debate [...] That leaves coordinated international assistance as the only option.

Without a doubt Madam Secretary, but I just covered all of that. So how do we get there from here?
President Bush could do his part by admitting what the world knows -- that many prewar criticisms of the invasion were on target. Such an admission would be just the shock a serious diplomatic project would need. It would make it easier for European and Arab leaders to help, as their constituents are reluctant to bail out a president who still insists that he was right and they were wrong. Our troops face death every day; the least the president can do is face the truth.

Clever, Madam Secretary. I too would be shocked to see Bush take some responsibility. If he so much as emerged from hiding behind our latest field commander I think I would shock my pants. In fact, I believe you may have even been writing about me in your op-ed:
A cynic might suggest that the military's real mission is to enable President Bush to continue denying that his invasion has evolved into disaster.

Well, color me cynical.

Finally, to return to the Basrah issue. Leaving aside for a moment the fact that the military (remember Moveon, they take their orders from the decider) keeps full fledged operational planning for attacking Iran as up-to-date as possible as a matter of simple competency (and the gigantic clusterfuck that such an attack would entail) let's take a look at where Basrah lies:

Ah yes: right on the highway between Baghdad and the Persian Gulf. In other words, between American troops and their eventual point of large scale withdrawal from Iraq. There are three reasons why we will not deal with the Basrah situation until we withdraw. First, our supply lines aren't seriously threatened (yet). Second, we will absolutely flatten the place on our way out the door. Third, it will make a great casus belli for war with Iran. While Al Anbar is the big newsmaker out of Iraq right now, the real story lies in the south.

petraeus pt. II

Moments after I posted the commentary on Moveon's ad, the unassailable Col. Pat Lang posted the following on his blog:
"I sat through the president's address on Iraq last night as well as the commentary that both followed and preceded it. The commentary was of surprisingly high quality with Christopher Matthews making a reasoned appeal to the public to see that Petraeus believes his role as commander in Iraq to be that of executor of national policy, not the originator of national policy. This is a realistic view of the proper role of the military. People who want Petraeus to demand change in national policy should think that over carefully."

on naiveté and treachery bought a full page ad in September 10th's NYTimes to call attention to General Petraeus' testimony before Congress the following morning. The ad was intended to provoke a strong reaction, and it did. Unfortunately, the language was incredibly poorly chosen, and Moveon's rationale for attacking the general's loyalty rather than attacking Bush for hiding behind him in the first place was flawed on its face.

"As long as General Petraeus is “untouchable” the President can continue to hide behind him. [...] The language of the ad was intended to be both hard-hitting and catchy. [...] Moreover, every word of the ad was entirely accurate—the General has in fact cooked the books, and in doing so, he betrayed the public trust."

Bullshit. The general does not represent the public trust. He represents the policy dictated to him by his chain of command. As the commanding officer in charge of operations in the Iraq theater he is subordinate to the Joint Chiefs and the Commander in Chief, and the Commander in Chief is the only position that also wears a policy hat. By attacking the general directly Moveon has done two things. First, it has stooped to Ann Coulter's heinous level:

Second, it has validated and strengthened Bush's tactic of hiding behind the General's uniform. It's the political equivalent of shooting the hostage to catch the hijacker, and Moveon should know better. They have handed the Republicans a tactical victory and worse, alienated those in the armed forces who remain committed to (whatever they perceive as) their mission in Iraq.

The general's testimony was flawed, disingenuous, and incomplete. That is more than enough reason to attack his testimony, but not his loyalty. Bush is hiding behind Petraeus for this very reason: so that Petraeus' shiny medals can take the bullet for Bush's idiotic policies. Stockholm syndrome does not make it any less unacceptable to shoot the hostage.