Monday, August 20, 2007


This one's for Timo.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

the dissident presidency

Today's Washington Post ran a front page article on Bush's quixotic efforts to spread democracy in the world as if it were something you could smear onto a country like cream cheese. Money quotes:
The most serious test came in May, when Uzbekistan, a U.S. ally, massacred hundreds of protesters in the town of Andijan. The Pentagon, which maintained a base in Uzbekistan, resisted making a strenuous protest, but even the restrained criticism provoked Uzbekistan enough to expel U.S. troops. It was the first tangible price paid for the focus on freedom.

But it was all ad hoc. "There was no blueprint here," said Joshua Muravchik, an American Enterprise Institute scholar who serves on Rice's democracy advisory panel. "No one knew how to do this. People at the State Department felt they were groping in the dark."
...apparently Bush forgot to pass out the freedom wands to State.
"They don't want to do it, not because they're evil but because they're development people," said a top official who works on democracy issues. "They want to inoculate children. They want to build schools. And to do that, they have to work with existing regimes. And you're getting in their way."

Defiance of Bush's mandate could be subtle or brazen. The official recalled a conversation with a State Department bureaucrat over a democracy issue.

"It's our policy," the official said.

"What do you mean?" the bureaucrat asked.

"Read the president's speech," the official said.

"Policy is not what the president says in speeches," the bureaucrat replied. "Policy is what emerges from interagency meetings."
Let's take a look at the speech the "official" (something this brain-dead smacks of Karen Hughes) was referring to:
Some, I know, have questioned the global appeal of liberty - though this time in history, four decades defined by the swiftest advance of freedom ever seen, is an odd time for doubt. Americans, of all people, should never be surprised by the power of our ideals. Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery. Liberty will come to those who love it.
Wait wait, where have we heard this one before? Ah yes: from James Earl Jones:
"Ray, people will come Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only $20 per person. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come. "
So that was what Bush's speechwriters had in mind, fresh from turning the lights back on, brushing Cracker Jack crumbs off, and wiping away Kevin Costner induced tears. Replace "baseball" with "freedom," and you have the strategy for implementing this president's vision of freedom: "If you say it, it will happen."
It was, they thought, a test of Bush's democracy agenda. What was more important, the principle or the outcome? The elections went forward and Hamas won big. Now Bush was stuck with an avowed enemy of Israel governing the Palestinian territories. And critics saw it as proof that the president's democracy agenda was dangerously naïve. "They were saying, 'We told you so,' " recalled Thomas Carothers, director of the democracy project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Sharansky invited Bush to Prague this spring hoping to jump-start the democracy agenda. Bush advisers saw it as a chance to reaffirm his vision of ending tyranny. "Some have said that qualifies me as a 'dissident president,' " Bush told the gathering. "If standing for liberty in the world makes me a dissident, I wear that title with pride."
It is a sad, sad day when a sitting President of the United States of America feels that his foreign policy blunders, rather than mistakes to be learned from, are badges of honor, to be worn proudly for standing up to his very own State Department. What a child.

breaking and entering

I just watched Breaking and Entering, and wish I had the last two hours of my life back. If I wanted to watch Jude Law acting like an irrationally horny douchebag I would watch Closer, so that I could fast forward to the scenes with Natalie Portman. Yawn.

the anbar awakening

Today's Washington Post has a gripping, front page account of a recent battle near Ramadi, a largely Sunni town west of Baghdad and southwest of Tikrit. These three cities are said to be the three corners of the so-called Sunni Triangle, which also contains Fallujah and Samarra.

Ramadi has been in the news recently as the poster child of the "Anbar Awakening," or the recent anti-Al Qaeda alliance of Sunni sheiks and tribesmen in the province. Local support for largely foreign Al Qaeda-affiliated fighters has shifted toward resentment, as they came to be seen as as much of a threat as the invaders.

This shift in support was not affected by any new American strategy, but rather by AQs penchant for killing Iraqis and inciting violence. In particular, a widely publicized chlorine gas dump truck bomb in Ramadi and the second Samarra shrine bombing have galvanized local rejection of the insurgency in Anbar province.

Let's dissect A Deadly Clash at Donkey Island for its tactical details, operational lessons, and strategic implications. This story is based primarily on a single engagement, and most of the wonkery will therefore revolve around the tactical level.

Right from the first paragraph, it becomes obvious that the Humvee clearly has much room for improvement, even when fulfilling its intended role as a patrol vehicle:
Staff Sgt. Norman Stark had never seen combat. Nor did the 32-year-old soldier from Baltimore expect it, after many uneventful months in Iraq's Anbar province, as he jostled over the rough terrain of brush, fields and irrigation ditches in the lead Humvee of a routine patrol on the night of June 30.
Stark and his men exchanged few words as their
Humvees turned east, progressing with more difficulty along narrow and sometimes swampy trails as they neared the Nassar canal, looking for possible weapons smugglers using wooden boats. Just after 9:15 p.m., the heat was still sweltering, and the armor-clad soldiers were soaked with sweat.
Stark recalled that he turned and to his disbelief saw clustered behind the trucks -- only a few feet away -- at first 10, then 20, then as many as 70 heavily armed men.

"Traverse left, open fire!" he yelled instinctively to his gunner. Startled, Pfc. Sean Groves unleashed a rapid burst from his
M240 machine gun.

In the same instant, the insurgents returned a barrage of fire with AK-47 assault rifles, heavy machine guns and hand grenades.
Bullets shattered the ballistic glass on Stark's Humvee, breaking the driver's window and cracking the windshield like a spider's web. Shrapnel tore into Groves's face and hands. He dropped down inside the vehicle. Gilbertson jumped into the gunner's sling, and Groves took control of the Humvee, now limping with two flat tires on the left side. Stark tried to radio the two vehicles behind him but had lost communication.
1. The wheeled Humvee is ill-suited for Anbar's rough, open terrain. It lacks the amphibious capability necessary to traverse a canal, and tires can be shot out and will bog down easily in swampy terrain. 

2. The fact that the driver's window shattered from small arms fire, and that the soldiers were sweating, indicates that their particular Humvee was an older model, not one of the newer up-armored variants that includes armored windows and air conditioning.

3. As well as not being mobile or survivable enough, this Humvee was armed only with a top mounted 7.62mm M240 machine gun, not even a .50 cal (12.7mm). Humvees armed with .50 cals would show up later and quickly destroy the two semi trailers, something that would have been decisive at first contact. Further, the gunner was the first casualty of the engagement entirely due to the lack of protection he enjoyed sitting in his sling with no shield or armor whatsoever.

There are literally dozens of military vehicles out there that are better suited for this mission. The vehicle would need tracks for
better mobility, level II ballistic armor to resist small arms fire, and a remotely operated gun turret. The links all point to vehicles based on the venerable M113 frame. There are literally tens of thousands of these vehicles out there, cheaply modifiable, battle tested, with decades of maintenance experience and armed services integration.

For example, over 700 were found in 2004 in Kuwaiti storage, collecting dust. But because they didn't fit into the Rumsfeldian vision of light and fast forces (read: road-bound tires), the military was forbidden from employing them. Over 1,000 mothballed M113s were sent to Arizona in 2005. For target practice. As targets.

Why, when the Pentagon will lay down $300 million for a single air-to-air fighter plane that will never see a target over the skies of Iraq or Afghanistan, can't it muster a little more than the cost of up-armoring (lipstick) a worthless Humvee (pig) in order to field a vehicle that is actually suited to counter-insurgency operations in the type of theaters where they are likely to take place?

The answer is, unfortunately, maddeningly simple: upgrading existing vehicles subtracts procurement momentum, especially when the existing vehicles would overlap with the mission requirements of future procurements. In other words, the military industrial complex isn't going to let a little old war or two get in the way of its decade long, multi-billion dollar procurement visions. Revolutionary capabilities on paper are more lucrative for defense companies, the congressmen they lobby, and the retired generals they employ, than evolutionary capabilities that exist today. Lives and limbs be damned.

Don't believe me? Then why did we just buy the Iraqis half a billion dollars worth of mine resistant patrol vehicles? The answer is that they don't have a top heavy layer of brass who will get their panties in a bunch when procurements don't fit into a force transformational vision that was hatched before "global," "war," and "terror" were ever used in the same sentence.

The soldiers on patrol in Ramadi were able to hold out long enough for heavier firepower to arrive, and ended up decisively beating the insurgents. However, the encounter reveals some rather disturbing facts:
After months of planning, according to U.S. military intelligence, the well-armed and highly trained contingent of as many as 70 fighters set up a hasty camp beside a canal to make final preparations for their mission three miles to the north. It would be the first major counterattack targeting Ramadi.
Trained in a lake district north of Ramadi,
the fighters approached by a circuitous route carefully planned to bypass checkpoints, Charlton said. They rode in two semitrucks with false compartments covered with hay. The trucks were packed with suicide vests, pressure-plate bombs, grenades, machine guns and sniper rifles -- enough to wage attacks in Ramadi for months, U.S. military officers said.

Facilitators prepared the area for the fighters' arrival, stashing weapons caches to defend their camp, located among prickly brush in a Bedouin area south of Ramadi. Once there, the fighters posed as shepherds and used nomad tents. When the U.S. patrol stumbled upon them, the insurgents were within days or hours of launching their attacks and were ready, as one U.S. officer said, "to fight to the death."
While the Americans evacuated their casualties,
the insurgents bandaged themselves so they could keep fighting, said soldiers who saw them or found them the next morning.

Fighters in white tunics and running shoes moved like ghosts over the battlefield,
displaying tactics that the Americans said mirrored their own. They signaled with flashlights, bounded into position and crawled to try to evade the superior U.S. firepower.
1. Despite the grand "awakening" of the Sunni tribes in Anbar, an entire platoon of insurgents was able to infiltrate the area with impunity, after months of preparation, and were located not by diligent intelligence gathering but by dumb luck.

2. The insurgents had to have had substantial operational support from both their staging area north of Ramadi, and their operating area south thereof.

3. They are undeterred by heavy casualties, and adapt their tactics over time.

I don't even know if this even requires commentary. I couldn't say anything here that wasn't realized thirty years ago. It's a shame that, to paraphrase Larry Johnson, Vietnam was too traumatic to learn anything from.

The lesson, however, is not lost on those soldiers who were actually involved:
Spannagel, the scout leader, said the fighting revealed "a false sense of security that we'd won the battle in Ramadi."

In fact, he said, "this shows the enemy is patient. This is his land. He's got all the time in the world. . . . They're going to continue to fight in Anbar."
In the end, while we were defending Ramadi from attack, it wasn't us who expelled the attackers from the city in the first place. The Iraqis did that themselves. It seems that far from a sectarian struggle, the situation in Anbar is a fight between Iraqi nationalists who blame Al Qaeda for the deterioration of their security situation, and Iraqi nationalists who blame us for violating their sovereignty, and therefore fight alongside Al Qaeda. I am always frustrated to hear people talk about Iraq as if its inhabitants have no sense of national unity when in fact our very presence as an occupying force is the most divisive issue in the nation.

the good, the bad, and the ugly

I think I'll make this news roundup a Sunday morning tradition.

The good:
Valerie Plame's agency classmate and my favorite former spook Larry Johnson, as well as five distinguished soldiers in the 82nd Airborne, weigh in on the surge. Don't be fooled by the ridiculous propaganda barrage that is currently meant to clear the way for the Petraeus branded report before congress next month.

From Larry Johnson's post at no quarter:
As for the U.S. military strategy in Iraq, can anyone explain how it took us 3 years to rediscover ‘clear and hold’, and a 4th to begin implementing it? Has any other counter-insurgency strategy ever worked? The Viet Nam experience was so traumatic that we refused to learn anything from it.
From the airborne "All-Americans" at the NYTimes:
The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere.
At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably.
In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.
We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.
The bad:
This article titled "Ammo shortages squeezes police forces," in which an intrepid AP reporter exposes higher small arms ammo costs, but uncritically relays the explanations given by police departments and ammunition manufacturers.
In Trenton, N.J., a lack of available ammunition led the city to give up plans to convert its force to .45-caliber handguns. Last year, the sheriff’s department in Bergen County, N.J., had to borrow 26,000 rounds of .40-caliber ammunition to complete twice-a-year training for officers.
In Phoenix, an order for .38-caliber rounds placed a year ago has yet to arrive, meaning no officer can currently qualify with a .38 Special revolver.
The three calibers mentioned in those paragraphs just aren't in significant use in Iraq. They are all handgun/submachine gun calibers, in other words, rounds which are almost never fired in anger over there unlike actual rifle ammo like .223.

The real story here is that ammunition manufacturers are diverting production to the .223, and not just because the military is buying more of it. The military makes most of its own; the increased demand comes in the form of
wannabe paramilitary wankers plinking at paper targets and Mexicans so that they too can experience the thrill of war as conveyed to them via YouTube, and the private firms in Iraq whose personnel nearly match the number of military forces there. And the higher prices quite simply reflect Halliburtonesque price gouging: because they can.

Then you have a collection of policeman who solemnly nod that they literally can't find the ammo they need, when in fact all they really want is to pour a little fear onto the ammo price hike in the hopes of bigger budgets. And more power to them. But please, let's not pretend that America of all places has suddenly run out of handgun ammunition.

The ugly:
Sitting here in Berlin, in a part of the world where government actually functions, bridges don't disintegrate, mines don't collapse, and getting sick doesn't bankrupt you, I can't watch this video and think anything but ugly thoughts about the junta in Washington, who wouldn't have survived a week in a parliamentary democracy after something like this:

Saturday, August 18, 2007

common - the game

I just nabbed Common's new Finding Forever album, and didn't come away all that impressed. It's mostly his typically upbeat fare, and Kanye turned a lot of it into mush. A few tracks do stand out though, and all and all the album is worth checking out for those.

Friday, August 17, 2007


While daydreaming about spending money I don't have on a commuter bike to save some wear and tear on the Ibis (not my pic), I stumbled across this upcoming beauty from Haro.

2008 Haro Mary SS 29er 29 inch

Notice the sexy swept H-bars, the carbon fork.. I have only one thing to say:

michelle obama: wow.

I didn't think Obama had a chance of overcoming the Clinton political machine, until I saw this:

Wow. This chick could give old Bill a run for his money on the stump. She should hit the talk show circuit and get as much exposure as possible; what feminine appeal old calculating Hillary has is decimated by Michelle's intense presence.

To the extent that there have been any attacks of note flying back and forth between the top three democractic presidential candidates, they have never been between Obama and Edwards. On the one hand this is only natural, as her gigantic and ever growing lead makes her the one to focus on beating. On the other hand, I believe the pace of her growing popularity is largely a function of the decline of Bush's ratings and her name recognition.

The primary is less than four months out now, and Obama and Edwards have got to be pondering all their options: a pledged joint ticket springs immediately to mind. Hillary is extremely unlikely to pick either of them as a running mate; she'll look for someone non-controversial and unlikely to stand up to her, like her husband and his predecessor did. Obama has been rumored to favor Tom Daschle, but he won't be able to choose the former Senate Majority Leader if he can't touch Hillary in the primaries.

Usually these joint ticket fantasies are just that because of the huge egos involved. However, Edwards has played second fiddle before (he would this time as well simply because he trails Obama by a wide margin), and both Edwards and Obama have conspicuously refrained from attacking each other. Obama/Edwards would be a hail mary for the nomination, but a hail mary is what their campaigns may need.

cheney's 1994 remarks, in context.

Amazingly, the media has actually taken a newly surfaced and increasingly infamous clip of Cheney from 1994 and run with it. In the clip, from a CSPAN interview in 1994, Cheney explains Bush senior's reasons for not pursuing the broken remains of the Iraqi Republican Guard through Basrah and into Baghdad in 1991:

Predictably, John Stewart was the first to excoriate the veep, and then the veep's biographer, for the supposed hypocrisy and deceitfulness that this clip implies. However, this clip should have come as no surprise to observers of the first Bush administration and the rise and fall of the neo-conservative movement.

Four years after this interview, Bush senior and his NSA Brent Scowcroft wrote a book called A World Transformed, which they used as a platform to deflect the same criticism that gave rise to the interviewer's question above:
Trying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guideline about not changing objectives in midstream, engaging in "mission creep," and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible. We had been unable to find Noriega in Panama, which we knew intimately. We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. Under the circumstances, there was no viable "exit strategy" we could see, violating another of our principles. Furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations' mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different — and perhaps barren — outcome.
See, it wasn't enough for the neocons that Bush senior peacefully managed the fall of the Berlin wall, or legitimized the United Nations as a framework for post-Cold War military intervention. Hell, to chickenhawk neo-conservatives those two accomplishments were actually probably pretty disappointing. No, they wanted their pound of flesh from Hussein, and howled and howled after Bush senior didn't deliver it to them.

Given that Cheney was Bush's Secretary of Defense during the first Gulf War, it is easy to imagine why he still would have maintained a non-invasion posture regarding Baghdad: personal loyalty to his old boss and the manner in which they had prosecuted that war. At the time he was also considering a presidential bid against Clinton in 1996, and his platform would have necessarily been based on his record under Bush senior.

So what happened between 1994 and his tenure as vice president that would make him change his mind so? The knee-jerk wingnut response is to invoke 9/11: remember, the world would never be the same and all that. But that alone does not explain why Cheney and his pal Rumsfeld worked so hard to make an invasion of Iraq inevitable, even before 9/11. Why would Cheney, given his demonstrated knowledge of the likely consequences of such an invasion, have worked so hard to shape the intelligence and steer public opinion toward it? It's not as if there wasn't a perfectly violent bloodletting underway in Afghanistan already. Again, what happened to Cheney between 1994 and 2003?

One word: Halliburton. The year after the 1994 interview, Cheney took over the helm of Halliburton and stayed there until campaigning with Bush junior five years later. It is probably sufficient to note at this point that Halliburton is primarily an oil company, that Iraq is second only to Saudi Arabia in terms of known oil reserves, that 90% of Iraq is still unexplored, and that the world is thirsty for the stuff like never before, at a time when it has become more demonstrably finite than ever before. But all of that is too obvious.

Let's get to the heart of the matter:
As secretary of defense in the first Bush administration, Cheney helped to lead a multinational coalition against Iraq in the Persian Gulf War and to devise a comprehensive economic embargo to isolate Saddam Hussein's government. After Cheney was named in 1995 to head Halliburton, he promised to maintain a hard line against Baghdad.

But in 1998, Cheney oversaw Halliburton's acquisition of Dresser Industries Inc., which exported equipment to Iraq through two subsidiaries of a joint venture with another large U.S. equipment maker, Ingersoll-Rand Co.

The subsidiaries, Dresser-Rand and Ingersoll Dresser Pump Co., sold water and sewage treatment pumps, spare parts for oil facilities and pipeline equipment to Baghdad through French affiliates from the first half of 1997 to the summer of 2000, U.N. records show. Ingersoll Dresser Pump also signed contracts -- later blocked by the United States -- to help repair an Iraqi oil terminal that U.S.-led military forces destroyed in the Gulf War.


But U.S. and European officials acknowledged that the expanded production also increased Saddam Hussein's capacity to siphon off money for weapons, luxury goods and palaces. Security Council diplomats estimate that Iraq may be skimming off as much as 10 percent of the proceeds from the oil-for-food program.
It's not sexy, but connect the evil little dots and the context for understanding how Cheney could have gone from his position in 1994 to his position on Iraq in 2000 distills down into one four letter word: greed.

What conclusions should be drawn from this? I'll let Sean Penn say it for me:

Thursday, August 16, 2007

kickin' off the schlog with a dope beat!

Finally, a place to put down the things that would otherwise spend too much time schlogging through my brain.. you know what it is. Enough about me, check out Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, the band I can't believe I first found out from here in Berlin about one week after they performed in Frankfurt.
I still haven't found any of their albums, but I love their style. An uncontrived combination of jazz and hip-hop; now if only they'd find a great rapper to lay down some tracks with..