20 December, 2006

One of the more interesting Iraq strategy proposals I've read

http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=121806A

To summarize: Go with the 80%, screw the Sunnis.

It is rather ironic, when you think about it. The U.S. is stuck in a COIN effort, mainly against Sunnis.

Counter-insurgency being what it is, the U.S. is of course attempting to win over the Sunnis, and U.S. efforts are probably preventing an all-out civil war, complete with ethnic cleansing that would leave the heavily outnumbered Sunnis in a distinct pickle.

Thus, the U.S. is insulating the Sunnis (again, the primary source of current American woes in Iraq) from the worst consequences of their own failure to maintain control over the country after decades of repressive rule over the others; namely, extermination, or something close to it.

06 December, 2006

Wealth and power

According to a report from the World Institute for Development Economics Research (Helsinki), the wealthiest 2 percent of adults own more than half of the world's household wealth, and the richest 1 percent of adults owned 40 percent of global assets. In case you wonder where you fall, as of 2000 the richest 10 percent of adults had assets of $61,000 or more, and the top 1 percent had at least $500,000.

I have nothing against getting rich. I do wonder about the political consequences. Wealth is power, and power tends to institutionalize and advance its own interests. And while economics is not necessarily a zero-sum game, politics usually is.

Our allies?

There are some things you have to see to believe. The following sequence comes from American Digest, who grabbed stills from a video:

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Draw your own conlusions.

29 November, 2006

Where's it all heading?


For those who haven't seen it yet, here's Col. Peter's map of a "New Middle East" with borders that more accurately reflect ethnonational divisions. I'm willing to concede that it would probably be an improvement over the present borders, but how do we get there?

Obsolescence and creative destruction

Zenpundit has a a (typically) interesting post on Henry Adams today. In it, he articulates better than I could something that's been bothering me a long time:
Reading Foreign Affairs is often a depressing sojurn into the expositions of men who are anachronisms before their time, left behind by globalization and war in the prime of their careers and yet are unwilling to recognize that their comfortable old ideas provide few solutions to new problems.
It's sad, if predictable, that so many who call for "creative destruction" elsewhere in the world are so unwilling to reconsider their own positions.

He then links to Barnett's recent discussion of the depolitization (read CYA) of the NSC. From Barnett:

When Rice came in with George, the NSC embraced the Scowcroft "we're-just-here-on-background" model. The staff I interacted with were all the same. I called them the "Joe Fridays." They'd come, they'd take notes, and that was it. They had no ideology to speak of. They were responsible for nothing. They just coordinated.
Now, there are some advantages to that approach. Consider what happened with the anything-but-apolitical NSC during Iran-Contra. But in a larger sense the NSC can't be apolitical, because security is always political. Taking the protective coloration of gray bureaucrats may be fine for a career, but not for quality policymaking.

28 November, 2006

Remember SpaceShipOne? The Burt Rutan-designed sub-orbital space vehicle that won the Ansari X Prize two years ago? If you don't, please read up. If you do, then you may also recall that Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic company have contracted with Mr. Rutan's company, Scaled Composites, to create SpaceShipTwo for regularly-scheduled paid-passenger sub-orbital spaceflights.

Oops... The government has to have its say...

This article dates to late April of this year, and the problem of gaining permission for the overseas technology transfers is now moot. I guess apocalyptic visions of British Redcoats dropping from sub-orbit to re-colonize North America failed to win out... The issues Mr. Rutan brings up about the FAA regulatory process, however, apparently remains in place.

From the SpaceDaily.com article:

"With the SpaceShipOne flights behind him and the challenge of building, testing and flying commercial space vessels ahead, Rutan did not mince words when speaking of the difficulties he encountered dealing with the branch of the Federal Aviation Administration assigned to oversee commercial space issues.

"The process ... just about ruined my program," he said, referring his experiences with the office of the FAA's associate administrator for commercial space transportation, which bases its requirements on assessing and minimizing risk to the non-involved public.

"It resulted in cost overruns, increased the risk for my test pilots, did not reduce the risk to the non-involved public, destroyed our 'always question, never defend' safety policy, and removed our opportunities to seek new innovative safety solutions," Rutan said.

Because the agency's policies stemmed from its oversight of unmanned-rocket launches and an emphasis on assessing the likelihood and affect of launch failures, the process is ill-suited to reducing the probability of failure in passenger ships, which is how airline regulations are based, he said.

"The regulatory process was grossly misapplied for our research tests and, worse yet, is likely to be misapplied for the regulation of the future commercial spaceliners," Rutan said.

He noted ensuring public safety can be built into the process so it minimizes vehicle development costs."


And here, the real crux of the matter...

"This is a subject that FAA seems to be afraid of, Rutan said. "They seem to be happy that they're not required ... to certify these ships. I think it really comes down to the problem that they flat don't have the people that are qualified to do it." (emphasis added)

I believe that last sentence really says it all. The FAA has had regulatory authority over commercial spaceflight since 1995, but passenger-oriented commercial spaceflight is, as of yet, essentially a developing fetus. Naturally, no one in the FAA has the first-hand experience or qualifications to come up with procedures that those actually developing the concept in the real world will be satisfied with. As a practical matter, it's likely that there is currently no one more qualified than Mr. Rutan and company to decide on commercial passenger spaceflight safety issues...

Another angleis that this can also be construed as old-fashioned buearacratic ass-covering.

"They seem to be happy that they're not required ... to certify these ships."

Well, yeah. They've entered the realm of the proactive rather than reactive on a new function. If commercial passenger spaceflight takes off in the near-term (highly likely), and becomes big and frequent within a short period thereafter (also likely), it becomes inevitable that eventually, accidents will happen and people will die... In spectacular fashion, due to the nature and new-ness of the event. The inevitable tragedies have the potential to become a media sensation, and a political storm in D.C. when scapegoats are searched for. The people who wrote the "failed" or "inadequate" safety regs will certainly come into the crosshairs, years from now, when they're approaching the zeniths of their Beltway careers. Not the sort of attention one would want, regardless of the ultimate outcome.

But, the bright side for now is that Virgin Galactic is still scheduled to take off some time in 2008. Starting saving your $200,000 for a ticket.

08 November, 2006

The next big name


Stratfor analyzes the "next generation" for Al-Qaeda, finding that the next big name to take over when then the current leadership is captured and/or killed is
* Abu Yahya al-Libi, or Sheikh Abu Yehia al-Libi, Mohammed Hassan: Al-Libi has appeared in five As-Sahab videos this year, the most recent of which -- "Combat, not Surrender" -- appeared Nov. 1. Al-Libi also is one of the Bagram Four. He is a militant preacher and recruiter, and thus quite charismatic. He has appeared in numerous videos produced by other sources such as Labik Productions, a tool used by al Qaeda in Afghanistan. In his videos, he has touched on a number of important topics, including the cartoon controversy and the death of al-Zarqawi.

Mid-term elections

I could say "good riddance" to the Republican congress, save for the certainty that I'll be saying the same thing when the wheel turns again.

It's practically a cliche now, but I'm of the mind that while the Republicans certainly deserved to lose, no one, not the Democrats or any of the U.S.'s numerous and ineffectual third parties, deserved to win. I guess I'm rather young to be so politically alienated, but, then again, this blog is named Political Outsider. Maybe that should be updated to plural form...

In the meantime, I'll caution a number of young-ish Democrats whom I know and know of against celebrating their victory as a sea-change in U.S. political dynamics. As of the writing of this post, Democrats have won the lower house and a more or less evenly-split Senate. You've managed to inflict on a sitting president in six years what most sitting presidents endure in their first mid-term election.

To the incoming Democratic leadership: Be careful so as not to create a public perception of power, responsibility and mandate over a situation you really can't affect in a gridlocked government.

To Harry Reid: Please try to avoid statements like this... " Americans "have come to the conclusion, as we did some time ago, that a one-party town simply doesn’t work," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told party workers early Wednesday.
...

I'm sure the next Karl Rove will keep it in mind when Democrats are campaigning in '08 for both the congress and White House.

31 October, 2006

Impressive. Most impressive...

World's Tallest Tower Rising in Dubai

*fade in to the theme song from The Jeffersons*

...Well, we're movin' on up!

Moooovin' on up!

...to a deee-luxe apartment, in the sky-yyy


From the article...

Slated to become the world's tallest skyscraper and symbol of a city given to grandiose projects, "Burj Dubai," or Dubai Tower, is rising in parallel with the profits of its promoter, Emaar Properties.

With two stories added every week, Burj Dubai is taking shape as the centerpiece of a 20-billion-dollar venture featuring the construction of a new district, "Downtown Burj Dubai," that will house 30,000 apartments and the world's largest shopping mall.

Launched in early 2004, the construction of the tower by South Korea' s Samsung should be completed at the end of 2008 and cost one billion dollars, according to Greg Sang, the Emaar official in charge of Burj Dubai.

Burj Dubai already has 79 stories, taking its height to more than 200 meters (656 feet). But even after having gone that far, Emaar is still not revealing the tower's final height. "At the moment, we are not answering. We'll say it (will be) more than 700 meters (2,296 feet) and more than 160 stories... The people who need to know, know," Sang, a 40-year-old New Zealander, told AFP.

The world's tallest inhabited building is "Taipei 101" in Taiwan, which is 508 meters (1,666 feet) tall.


A minimum of 700 meters/2,296 feet... That's almost half a mile high. The Wikipedia article suggests the building could possibly top out at anywhere from 162 to 195 floors, and from 916 to 940 meters... That's 3,084 feet. I can barely describe a manmade structure of these proportions without resorting to astonished profanity. The official website can be seen here.

If that's not "wow" enough, there are rumors that another skycraper project, Al Burj, a mere 30 miles away, will rival or even surpass Burj Dubai in height.

.....................................................................................

As an aside, Dubai has been known for quite a while now for its poor treatment of foreign workers, especially those of non-Western origin. The complaints and accusations included low pay, poor conditions, various forms of exploitation, etc. In March, 2006, rioting broke out among workers at the Burj Dubai and other construction sites within the emirate. The upshot is that by the end of that month, Dubai announced that it was reversing (as a matter of official policy, anyway...) its longstanding prohibitions against the formation of labor unions. This, in addition to the loosening of restrictions on foreign ownership of property in recent years (Dubai's population is around 80% immigrant, and there is no naturalization of foreigners).

An overwhelmingly foreign population which is overwhelmingly responsible for the face and facts of daily modern life in the area, very slowly gaining and being granted expanding rights and growing an ever-larger societal stake under an un-elected, and sometimes oppressive government. Hmm... Keep an eye on this place.

25 October, 2006

The End of the Beginning for the Cuban Revolution?

Washington Post - Cuba ponders how to fix socialist economy

Little Communist Cuba, the remaining protege of Big Communist USSR, has long been suffering many of the same problems that plagued its old economic role model.

"Cuba has begun debating how to correct rampant theft and inefficiency in state-run services, from pouring beer to shining shoes, that could signal a step toward economic reform under acting President Raul Castro.

In a scathing three-part series on graft in shops and bars entitled The Big Old Swindle, the Communist Youth newspaper Juventud Rebelde said on Sunday a team of university experts will investigate ways to improve services.

The articles uncovered bar employees stealing from the state by serving less beer than stipulated and taxis drivers overcharging passengers, but stopped short of recommending the privatization of such services."


Also of note...

"Since Raul Castro temporarily took over the government from his ailing brother on July 31, foreign and local experts have speculated that the younger Castro, aged 75, is more pragmatic and could move Cuba toward a more open Chinese economic model.

Cuban officials rule out following the example of China, which opened its economy to capitalist enterprise while retaining political power under the Communist Party."


On my gut feeling alone, I'd bet that that stated reluctance is due mainly to the lingering influence of Fidel, and the possibility (getting ever slimmer as weeks go by) that he could still fully return to power. The man has been the only leader most Cubans have ever known, and his ideology the only one they've been able to openly support for just as long. That sort of influence will take longer than his body to assume room temperature.

But, the important news here is that the debate, however limited, has been opened. In retrospect, the opening of the debate in the old USSR was tantamount to closing the lid of the coffin on it. Cuba, a more open society, a weaker political entity, and in closer proximity to its economic opposites than the USSR was, will certainly be no more immune to its fate.

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What I wonder is when Cuban real estate and enterprises will be opened to American investment... It's never too early to start retirement planning. I can think of no more ironic a memorial to Fidel than for Cuba to become the new Switzerland of the Carribean.

23 October, 2006

Terror on the internet

Finally getting around to reviewing Terror on the Internet, by Gabriel Weimann. I shouldn't have put it off so long. I think the title put me off: a little sensationalistic, and I've had my fill of "cyberterrorism" speculations that ignore the political and physical context of internet attacks. Once I started, however, I found a book that was taking on many of the issues the others haven't even noticed.

Weimann, a professor of communication at Haifa University, has been monitoring and archiving terrorist websites since 1998. There's been plenty to monitor: even if limited to organizations on America's official watch list, by 2005 over 4300 web sites were identified as serving terrorists and their supporters. While other analysts have focused on how terrorists might sabotage the internet, Weimann shows how the terrorists have increasingly successful in exploiting it. Some groups are engaging in traditional propaganda. Some are raising money. Some are using the web for virtual training camps. Some use cyberspace to facilitate communication--both overt and covert--among groups. Others capture personal information to facilitate everything from targeted recruitment to identity theft. With CD-burning, video exchange, podcasts, and so on, individuals formerly on the margin of politics and society are empowered to reach a world-wide audience. The tools of globalization are used to attack the civilization that created those tools.

I'd recommend it to anyone who cares about the War, or who wants to consider the general question of how technology can affect politics.

Welcome to the Metaverse

There are hints, on the horizon, of software that can do for the web what Netscape did for the internet. See The Next Big Thing. Politics in the virtual world is already fascinating. It is about to become more so.

06 October, 2006

Data sharing and data mining

I've been listening to a podcast of a Council of Foreign Relations presentation on the impact of new technologies on intelligence acquisition and analysis. Some neat ideas. The best one involves a technology that can anonomyze data before it is shared, so the analysts (down the hall, or in another agaency, or in another government) can look for relevant patterns without being able to identify any of the individuals whose data they are reviewing. Then, if and when they find something they move through channels, making a formal request to find out the identitifying information about, for example, subject asfdpolije;lkjik12320. Perhaps a third party would keep the key, and neither agency could dig out the idenifiying information. Interesting technology. Of course, the system could probably be broken, but only with so much effort that it makes no sense to try. At least, in the technical sense. But there's still the problem of a "legitimate/legal" official using the system for personal and political ends. If Nixon could press the IRS for records, and Clinton could use both IRS and FBI files, I have a lot less faith in the people using the technology than I do in in the technology itself.

04 October, 2006

Atiyah

A letter from Al-Qaeda's leadership found in the rubble near Abu Musab al-Zarqawi confirms what we've always known: Al Qaeda HQ was (and probably is) in Wazirastan. What I'd like to know is who is Atiyah, the author of the letter? If it is, as suspected, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, what does this tell us about the people moving up into leadership positions?

North Korea

Good news and bad news for Korea. Good news: it seems likely that a diplomat from South Korea will be the next Secretary-General of the UN. Bad news: North Korea pledges to test a nuclear weapon. Kim Jong-Il has developed a fine sense of timing. Even with all the hand-wringing, he'll probably get away with it.

Cast your vote

From openDemocracy, it's time once again for the Bad Democracy award. Check out the noninees. I'm voting for (against?) Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, but there are several qualified candidates.

30 September, 2006

Not surprising, just sad

As anyone could have predicted, the $5000 (minimum) bounties offered by the U.S. for supected terrorists has created a "black market" for abductions by police, border guards, and anyone else who whould like some quick cash. If the Soviet experience is any guide, there are probably some people being turned in in order to facilitate promotions and steal personal property. According to General Musharraf, agents have captured 689 and turned over 369 to the U.S. Some were guilty. I wonder how many were innocent?

25 September, 2006

George Carlin explains everything

George Carlin, in a video on myspace, gives his perspective on how America really works. The class analysis is simplistic, but there's a lot of truth, especially when it comes to the educational system.

Life in the Hot Zone

Photojournalist Kevin Sites has spent the last year touring twenty-two regions in conflict. The web site puts a human face on the horror. And while it's not fun to look at, it's important.

23 September, 2006

Eyewitness news. Not.

Look here for the names and locations of the nine officially embedded reporters in Iraq. That's right: nine. Of these, three are from Stars and Stripes, one from the Armed Foces Network, one from the Charlotte Observer, one from the BBC, one from the Associated Press, one from Polish radio, and one from RAI.

Are the rest of them hiding in hotels? Are they even in the country?

Not winning hearts and minds

A pentagon report finds the insurgency is gaining support from Sunnis in Iraq. From ABC News:

"A confidential Pentagon assessment finds that an overwhelming majority of Iraq's Sunni Muslims support the insurgency that has been fighting against U.S. troops and the Iraqi government, ABC News has learned.

Officials won't say how the assessment was made but found that support for the insurgency has never been higher, with approximately 75 percent of the country's Sunni Muslims in agreement.

When the Pentagon started surveying Iraqi public opinion in 2003, Sunni support for the insurgents stood at approximately 14 percent."


There's a heuristic that when what you are doing is making things worse, it's a good time to try something else.

"Not a Suicide Pact": Stone and Posner

Look here for a thoughtful discussion of the argument between absolutists and pramatists on the means by which one decides that some guarantees of liberty may be sacrificed in the name of security. Both make good points. My heart is with Stone. My head is with Posner.

Nazrallah addresses his fans

From BBC NEWS:

Hezbollah head praises 'victory'
Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah
Sheikh Nasrallah had not appeared in public since the conflict
The Hezbollah leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has hailed his group's "victory" over Israel, boasting that the group still has 20,000 rockets.

In his first public appearance since the recent conflict, he said Hezbollah would never be disarmed by force and called for a new Lebanese government.

Hundreds of thousands crowded into southern Beirut, heavily bombed during the conflict, to hear the speech.

Israel said the speech showed a lack of respect to the international community.

A "lack of respect"? I'm sure that will have an impact.

Osama bin Laden Dead?


Is Osama bin Laden Dead?
That's the story being leaked from the French DGSE, citing a report from the Saudis. Of course, President Chirac says the report is "in no way confirmed." But note he doesn't deny that the document cited is real, and instructs the defense minister to trace the leak. In other words, it's a real document which may or may not be reporting a real event.

If the Saudis believe it to be true, why not announce it? I can think of several reasons, including the desire to avoid any way UBLs death (by Typhoid, if true) could be spun into anything like martyrdom. Some information you hang on to until it can do the most damage.

(I wonder how long it will be until somebody claims Bush "knew" and kept the information to himself--to spring it as an "October surprise"? Very unlikely to be the case, but ideal for people who see conspiracies everywhere.)

For now, we wait for more evidence. Some people you don't declare dead until you see the body, and even then you should stand ready to revise your opinion.

UPDATE: Time now reports they have Saudi confirmation of the illness, but not of the death.

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, says that Saudi officials have received multiple credible reports over the last several weeks that Bin Laden has been suffering from a water-borne illness. The source believes that there is a "high probability" that Bin Laden has already died from the disease, but stressed that Saudi officials have thus far received no concrete evidence of Bin Laden's death.

"This is not a rumor," says the source. "He is very ill. He got a water-related sickness and it could be terminal. There are a lot of serious facts about things that have actually happened. There is a lot to it. But we don't have any concrete information to say that he is dead."

Supposedly the DGSE is waiting until someone finds UBLs body. That's sensible.

Pure speculation: there was a recent report of a botched chance to hit a large number of Taliban leaders gathered at a gravesite. Is it possible a Predator drone witnessed the burial?

21 September, 2006

07 August, 2006

The Kuril Islands and WWII

Since WWII, the Russian-occupied Kuril Islands have been a point of contention with the original owners, the Japanese. They are, in fact, the northernmost islands of the Japanese chain. Negotiaions over the status of the islands has been an on again/off again proposition for years, and tends to parallel the overall relationship. The Eurasia Monitor reports that the long negotiations have been going nowhere, and the Russians are talking about making serious investments in the local infrastructure. Since the status of the islands has been the big hurdle to jump prior to signing a peace treaty (Japan and the Soviet Union never signed a peace with one another) it looks like, technically, World War II is going to keep going for the indefinite future.

This is all the more interesting for "democratic peace" proponents, since we have two (nominal) democracies in a (technical) state of war. Define war operationally, as it should be, and it doesn't really mean a thing.

02 August, 2006

An "Axis of Evil" after all?

The Jamestown Foundation's Terrorist Focus for 1 August has a couple of other interesting points I haven't seen picked up elsewhere:
Recent reports about Hezbollah's tunnel construction capabilities have received a new twist. In addition to receiving support from Iran and Syria, Hezbollah is also believed to be benefiting from assistance provided by North Korean advisers, according to a July 29 report in al-Sharq al-Awsat.al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 29). The report also provides specifics on Iran's assistance to Hezbollah, such as Tehran's training of Hezbollah naval units, the construction of underground command and control centers, the construction of underground weapons depots and the training of three Hezbollah missile units consisting of 20 men each.The report quotes a high-ranking Iranian Revolutionary Guards officer, who stated that North Korean advisers had assisted Hezbollah in building tunnel infrastructure, including a 25 kilometer underground tunnel. The officer explained that the North Koreans were filtered into Lebanon "in the guise of [domestic] servants by Iranian diplomats."
And what, exactly, does this mean for the battle? Take the Korean construction, add Iranian weapons, supplied through Syria, and fuse them under insurgent tactics learned in Lebanon (and Iraq). From another article in the same issue:

Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers have described finding a network of concrete bunkers with modern communications equipment as deep as 40 meters along the border (Ynet News, July 23). The terrain is already well-suited for ambushes and hidden troop movements, consisting of mountains and woods in the east and scrub-covered hills to the west, all intersected by deep wadis (dry river beds). Broken rocks and numerous caves provide ample cover. Motorized infantry and armor can only cross the region with difficulty. Use of the few winding and unpaved roads invites mines and ambushes by Hezbollah's adaptable force of several thousand guerrillas (The Times [London], July 21).
Hezbollah emerged in 1985 with more enthusiasm than tactical sense, relying on wasteful frontal assaults and more effective suicide attacks on Israeli troops. With training provided by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah's highly-motivated military wing developed into a highly effective guerrilla force. Iran continues to provide specialized training, funds and weapons to Hezbollah through the Revolutionary Guards organization. Various reports suggest Iranian volunteers are being recruited and sent to Lebanon to assist Hezbollah, but these reports remain unconfirmed (Alborz News Agency, July 18; Mehr News Agency, July 17).
Hezbollah's military leadership has rethought much of the strategic and tactical doctrine that led to the repeated defeat of Arab regular forces by the IDF. The top-down command structure that inhibited initiative in junior ranks has been reversed. Hezbollah operates with a decentralized command structure that allows for rapid response to any situation by encouraging initiative and avoiding the need to consult with leaders in Beirut. The military wing nevertheless answers directly to Hezbollah's central council of clerics for direction.
The fighters are armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, typically assembling in small teams to avoid concentrations that would draw Israeli attention. The preparation of well-disguised explosive devices has become a specialty of Hezbollah. The uncertainty created by such weapons takes a heavy psychological toll on patrolling soldiers.
(cut)
The guerrillas rigorously examine the success or failure of each operation after completion. Tactics change constantly and new uses are sought for existing weapons. The use of mortars (81mm and 120mm) has been honed to near perfection. Hezbollah fighters have developed efficient assault tactics for use against armor, with their main anti-tank weapons being AT-3 Saggers and AT-4 Spigot missiles. Four tanks were destroyed in two weeks in 1997 using U.S.-made TOW anti-tank missiles (these missiles traveled from Israel to Iran as part of the Iran-Contra affair before being supplied to Hezbollah).
(cut)
Hezbollah leaders believe that their fighters have a perspective on conflict losses that gives them an inherent advantage; according to Naim Kassem, deputy leader of Hezbollah, "[The Israeli] perspective is preservation of life, while our point of departure is preservation of principle and sacrifice. What is the value of a life of humiliation?" (Haaretz, December 15, 1996). With no hope of overwhelming Israel's well-supplied military, Hezbollah fighters concentrate on inflicting Israeli casualties, believing that an inability or unwillingness to absorb steady losses is Israel's strategic weakness.
Hezbollah has also mastered the field of information warfare, videotaping attacks on Israeli troops that are then shown in Israel and around the world, damaging public morale and degrading the myth of IDF invincibility.
(cut)
Hezbollah is unlikely to have used the most potent weapons in its arsenal. Hanging on to them provides both strategic and psychological advantage. It is typical Hezbollah strategy to view war as a progression, rather than to use everything it has in the early stages of a conflict. While Israel may have a timetable of several weeks for this campaign, Hezbollah is prepared for several years of fighting. Disengagement may prove more difficult for Israel than it assumes. At some point, however, Hezbollah may become short of weapons and supplies. Normal supply lines from Syria have already been cut and Hezbollah has no facilities capable of producing arms or ammunition.
Israel has never been able to get the upper hand in the intelligence war with Hezbollah. Hezbollah's military wing is not easily penetrated by outsiders, but has had great success in intelligence operations against Israel. Nearly the entire Shiite population of south Lebanon acts as eyes and ears for the fighters, so it is little surprise that Israel initially concentrated on eliminating regional communications systems and forcing the local population from their homes in the border region.
Israel's air strikes have revealed the limitations of conventional air power in coping with mobile forces with little in the way of fixed installations or strategic targets. The 18-year war against the Israeli occupation (1982-2000) has, on the other hand, given Hezbollah an intimate knowledge of Israeli tactics.


This is not going to be easy for Israel, nor is it going to be clean, and given the goals of the war it can't be done with "proportionate" (i.e., legal) military action. In fact, this style of fighting (asymmetric, hiding behind civilians) challenges much of the philosophical and legal underpinnings for the law of war.

It looks like an air force (again!) has overestimated what can be done with precision bombing. This could go on for weeks--including the long-range missile attacks--unless the Hezbollah weapons are cut off at the source. This would also explain why the Israelis have been somewhat surprised by their slow going. No matter how good your troops are, that kind of preparation takes time and effort to overcome.

The student surpasses the teacher

Evidently there are some quiet but interesting events in China, prompted by, of all things, the (relative) reforms underway in Vietnam. Willy Lam at The Jamestown Foundation reports:

Discussion among liberal scholars and CCP members first emerged in closely monitored Chinese websites and blogs after the VCP held its 10th Congress in April to pick its new party chief. Keeping with Leninist tradition, all such “elections” had in the past, involved only one candidate, with the ballot casting a mere formality. Yet for the first time in the April conclave, then party boss of Ho Chi Minh City Nguyen Minh Triet, well known for his stern anti-corruption campaigns, ran against the incumbent, veteran Politburo member Nong Duc Manh. Manh, thought by some to be a son of Founding Father Ho Chi Minh, fended off the challenge. Yet, at a plenary session of the 11th National Assembly held in June, the reformist Triet was elected state president by a large margin. In the same meeting, most government leaders above the age of 60 voluntarily retired. This made possible the early accession of Vice-Premier Nguyen Tan Dung, 56, to the post of prime minister (BBC News, June 27).

Among the well-known Chinese intellectuals who have applauded the reform experiments in Vietnam was liberal theorist Zhou Ruijin, a former editor of the People’s Daily and Shanghai’s Liberation Daily. Zhou wrote a piece for an electronic magazine entitled, “We Should Pay Attention to Reforms in Vietnam.” Zhou, who became famous for expounding on Deng Xiaoping’s reforms in the early 1990s, asked in his article whether the VCP had already overtaken the CCP in “intra-party reform.” Referring to the Chinese cadres’ usually patronizing attitude toward Vietnam, Zhou wrote, “The student has surpassed the teacher.” In addition to urging the CCP leadership to consider holding “multi-candidate elections” to select its general secretary at the upcoming 17th Congress, Zhou praised the high degree of transparency within VCP deliberations as well as the party’s willingness to entertain the views of non-party members (Yazhou Zhoukan, Hong Kong, July 30)


Of course, "reform" is a relative term. It sounds more like the multi-faction, one-party system set up years ago in Tanzania, rather than the two party Republicrat system of the US, and nothing at all like a wide-ranging parliamentary democracy. But it's worth keeping an eye on it. China must adapt if it is to maintain its growth rates and domestic support for the state/elite. Can the Chinese elite work out an accomodation that will allow real changes in power and personnel without purges or revolution? Can they keep themselves in power as a class while accepting the rise and fall of individuals and factions?

As if Katrina wasn't enough

From Jim Dunnigan at StrategyPage:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is still investigating a recent incident in which a large pipe bomb was found floating in Lake Pontchartrain, north of New Orleans. The device was examined, it was definitely a floating bomb, and was detonated while still on the water. While not a large explosive device, it reminded everyone at DHS that a major terrorist threat is the destruction of one of the railroad bridges over the Mississippi river. These bridges carry a major amount of freight traffic, and the loss of even one of them (if only for a few weeks, while being repaired) would have a noticeable effect on the economy. Al Qaeda knows about this, thus counter-terrorism officials are trying to found out who made the Lake Pontchartrain bomb. That's because this device had all the hallmarks of a test, for a larger bomb capable of dropping one of the nearby Mississippi river bridges.

Odd that he doesn't mention the other obvious job for a bomb like that: breaching the dikes. If the stories from New York have any validity, Al Qaeda (and/or sympathisers) were very impressed by the damage that followed Katrina. The story was they were looking for a method to flood New York, but that's very hard to do. To flood New Orleans again, however, would be (relatively) easy, provide great pictures for the world media, embarass the US government, and harm the economy of one of America's most impoprtant transit points. Is DHS really ignoring this, or do they not want to mention it?

17 July, 2006

Israeli grand strategy

Major offensive operations are underway in the Middle East, and things are about to get a whole lot worse. Israel’s forces are engaged in a full-scale mobilization, a move that that would only be made in preparation of war—it is too costly, too dangerous, to take such an action for anything less. Hezbollah sees those preparations, and is launching rockets like there's no tomorrow. Both HAMAS and Hezbollah are looking to use what forces they have before they are lost to Israeli strikes, and in so doing they encourage the battle to come. Then, each hopes to engage in a prolonged guerrilla struggle. But Israel doesn’t intend to play that game.

Israel’s strategy is, in part, predicated on lessons learned from the American experience in Iraq. One conclusion that has been drawn by Israel is that rapid military victory is possible, but the pain of occupation is optional. By this reasoning, the mistake for the United States in Iraq was to try to secure and rebuild that country. That kind of idealism is a luxury a small state like Israel can’t afford. Thus, the creation of viable states—democratic or otherwise‑‑is not a goal for Israel. Instead, if one assumes that the intentions of most of its neighbors are and will remain destructive, a reasonable assumption given the events of the past sixty years, the only question is how much of a capability one’s enemies will have. In these conditions, the goal is not to rebuild a state, but to remove it from play. Lebanon, despite all the progress towards liberal democracy of the past few years, is about to be returned to the condition when it was a state in name only.

How would this be done? Hit hard, get out, and make a deal with the weakest faction of the divided enemy. Encourage the imposition of a government dependent on outside assistance. If that is not possible, encourage civil war. Seal the borders‑‑by a wall, or otherwise‑‑and let one’s adversaries kill one another.

It is an old strategy. It is a strategy that served European colonialists in several parts of the world. But Israel shouldn’t expect that kind of long-term success. The world has changed. A network of non-state actors can continue to operate long after the formal collapse of the government. Perhaps Israel recognizes this and sees its plans to be the best of a bad set of options, a device to buy time. But time is not on their side: demographically and economically, Israel’s position is slipping. Militarily Israel remains preeminent, but that only continues to encourage an asymmetric—terrorist—style of war. Perhaps, with luck, this operation will give Israel another twenty years. It will create zones that are incapable of mounting a serious military threat for a decade or two. That is a significant achievement. However, it will not bring peace. It is an acknowledgement that peace is not possible. And if the birth rates and improvements in military skills of Israel’s adversaries (state and non-state) continue to grow more rapidly than those of Israel, it does nothing to end the underlying problems.

Syria and Iran remain important unknowns. What can they do? Whatever it is they are capable of doing today, it has to be less dangerous than what they can do after Iran has an operational nuclear weapon. After all, from the Israeli point of view, Iran and Syria are already at war with Israel‑‑through proxies. If these states thought they could win any other kind of war today, they'd be fighting it. Instead, they are using Hezbollah while building their own forces. Time is not with Israel. But again, there is another lesson of Iraq: Israel has the option of preventive war.


10 July, 2006

Zaslon

Still catching up on my foreign news (Izvestya, July 5th, pp1-2), I came across this little gem. A very interesting take on Iraq, counter-terrorism, and Russian special operations:

We approached some special services experts for comments about President Vladimir Putin's order to locate and eliminate those who killed the Russian Embassy staff in Iraq. Our sources describe this task as extremely difficult and costly, but achievable. In their view, it will be much more difficult than what Israel succeeded in doing: eliminating ten of the 11 terrorists who killed Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics in 1972. We attempted to clarify how our special services might go about carrying out President Putin's order.
According to our sources, a top-secret unit called Zaslon ('covering
detachment') was established within the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) in 1998, to provide armed back-up for SVR operations. The Zaslon squad recruited about 300 people with experience in special operations abroad. Russia's special services have carried out such operations on numerous occasions. The new squad is just as well-equipped as the legendary Alfa and Vympel commandos. Its personnel are on duty around the clock, and they don't inform other Russian special services of their plans. Sergei Shestov, chief executive of an international organization of security service veterans, says that the general public in Russia and abroad might never be told about a special operation's results, even if the operation is successful.

But before any force can be used, those who killed the Russian Embassy staff must first be found.

Special services sources are sure that the killers are no longer in Iraq. We heard this opinion from Russian Ambassador to Iraq Vladimir Chamov, and from Sergei Goncharov, president of the Alfa Veterans Association. Oleg Yakubov is a specialist on international terrorism, the author of "Wolf Pack" and "On the Trail of Bin Laden." He told us: "We can't rule out the possibility that the perpetrators and organizers of the terrorist act might be linked to Chechnya's underground. I know of a number of cases where Wahhabis, after being trained in terrorist camps, have practiced their techniques in locations with unstable regimes. Chechnya used to be such a location, and so was Afghanistan. Now it might be Iraq."

And there's another theory: the roots of this crime should be sought in the United States.

"I am deeply convinced that Muslims had nothing to do with this abduction," says Sergei Goncharov. " What happened has been advantageous for the Americans -this terrorist act could drive a wedge between Russia and the Islamic world, as the United States seeks to do"...

FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev has promised a reward of $10 million for information about the terrorists who killed the Russian Embassy staff. Experts say that money could help, but this amount isn't enough."This information won't come cheap," says Oleg Yakubov. "There's too much money available there. I think it would require a reward of hundreds of millions of dollars."...

..."We have some experience with operations in the Islamic world," says Sergei Goncharov. "What's more, in many cases the Muslims have willingly cooperated with us. But I don't think we should count on much assistance from the Iraqi special services. They might be glad to help, but they aren't in control of the situation in Iraq."

According to Goncharov, buying information is the leading method for working in the Islamic world. The next method involves planting agents. But it won't do to use a blond with obviously Slavic features, as in Qatar during the operation that eliminated Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. The Russian special services have a shortage of suitable personnel for working in Muslim countries.

For this reason, there might be increased cooperation with special services in former Soviet countries that are loyal to Russia. Oleg Yakubov: "In this context, I'd prioritize the special services of Uzbekistan. They were the first special services in the former Soviet Union to encounter Islamic radicals, and managed to win that battle. I've done a lot of work in Uzbekistan, meeting with its leaders and special service personnel. I don't think they would refuse to help Russia, with personnel as well as advice."

But Russia probably shouldn't count on any assistance from the United States."The Americans won't help us," says Sergei Goncharov. "They will never be our partners - only fellow-travellers, at best. And besides, they don't have much more control over the situation in Iraq than the Iraqis themselves."

Russian counter-terrorism

Nezavisimaya Gazeta (July 6, pp. 1-2) reports on the most recent Russian version of the PATRIOT act:
The Duma passed a bill yesterday that amends a score of federal laws related to countering terrorism, extremism, and money laundering. The president will be empowered to make decisions on deploying special forces in operations abroad. Additional powers will be invested in the Federal Security Service (FSB): it will now be permitted to fight terrorists by means that violate the constitutional rights of citizens, without court warrants. Rewards paid for information on terrorist acts and terrorists will be tax-exempt. Media outlets whose correspondents are accredited in counter-terrorism operation zones will find themselves under even tighter control. Confiscation of assets and property will be introduced as a penalty for crimes specified by several dozen articles of the Criminal Code.

The use of the secret services in counter-terrorism operations abroad will be permitted by amending two laws at once - the law on the FSB and the law on countering terrorism. The president's decisions in such cases will not be restricted in any way at all - certainly not by involving any other government institutions in the decision-making. At present, the president requires the Federation Council's consent to send Russian Armed Forces units abroad...

The FSB will get some new counter-terrorism powers. When counter-intelligence operations are under way, state security will be permitted to encroach on citizens' constitutional rights (the right to deny entry to one's home, the privacy of correspondence and telephone conversations) without a court warrant obtained in advance - as long as the court is informed within 24 hours and permission granted within 48 hours (or the unconstitutional activities will have to be halted). The FSB is also expected to inform the Prosecutor General's Office within 24 hours.Secret agents and concerned citizens will be able to count on tax-free rewards for information as of January 1. Journalists in counter-terrorism operation zones will now have to go through the operation commander for everything. The operation commander will decide what to tell journalists and what to withhold. The law expressly forbids media outlets to report anything that might jeopardize the success of an operation or the lives of secret service officers. Violating this provision will be punishable by fines: between 500 and 2,000 rubles for journalists, between 1,000 and 5,000 rubles for chief editors, and 30-100,000 rubles for media companies.The bill was passed in the first reading in mid-April.

Another example of functional convergence? It will be interesting to compare how it is applied over there versus what happens in the US.

09 July, 2006

Quid pro quos

Stratfor makes a couple of interesting observations about the Bin Laden media blitz following the death of Al-Zarkawi. First, the fact that Bin Laden and Mullah Omar used very different formats and presentation styles suggests that the two were not in the same place at the time these messages were made. Second, the text of Bin Laden's message essentially boils down to a message to the Sunni in Iraq to continue the violence against the Shi'a. Bin Laden doesn't usually comment on failures (he has ignored the deaths of several senior associates in Saudi Arabia), but in this case he seems to be afraid that the Iraqi's are going to rally around the government and find a political solution to their differences.

The fact that the Iraqi cabinet was formalized on the same day as Al-Zarkawi's death may be one more reason for Bin Laden to be nervous. Perhaps Al-Zarkawi's head was part of a quid pro quo connected to the distribution of powers?

08 July, 2006

Hezbollah

Today (August 1st) I find the following post by me, marked 7/7, in my "to revise" file...

J.Peter Pham and Michael Kraus, in TCS Daily, makes an obvious (but too often overlooked) point: "the insurgency in Iraq (which is certainly being fanned by Iranian meddling), Iran's nuclear ambitions, Palestinian terrorism, and Israeli security -- are interrelated, and that their nexus is in fact Hezbollah." I'd agrue that Hezbollah is better thought of as one nexus--eliminating it wouldn't end the problems or the interconnections--but they provide a good overview of one part of a web.

Evidently Israel saw it that way, too.

07 July, 2006

London bombers and al-Qaeda

The question, one year after the London bombing, is exactly what the relationship was between the local cell and the operational leadership of al-Qaeda. What looked like a local terrorist group now looks more like a well-organized transnational network, with much of its work being done in Pakistan. For details, see BBC, Were bombers linked to al-Qaeda?

28 June, 2006

Welcome to the club

Montenegro joins the U.N. as member 192.

Gerrymandering decision

From our friends over at SCOTUSblog:
The Supreme Court, splintering widely, on Wednesday found an insufficient claim of partisan gerrymandering in the Texas congressional redistricting. It also rejected a challenge to mid-decade congressional redistricting. It did not rule on whether all partisan gerrymander claims are beyond judicial review. The Court is split on that issue, and the division remains. It found the state's new District 23 invalid under the federal Voting Rights Act. District 24 was upheld against a Voting Rights Act challenge. The opinion can be found here.
So there's no objection to redistricting after every election? Let the fun begin. I wonder how long it will be to have even more states locked into unbreakable majorities for one party or another? And since the only part of the Texas plan to be overturned was on the basis of minority voting rights, I can just imagine the number of "concerned" politicians, "fighting to give the people a voice," will be tieing up the courts with accusations of racial peference. Then again, I'm opposed to gerrymanering as a general rule. We now have the software to divide up districts according to two criteria:

  1. each district has roughly the same number of people, and
  2. overall, the total length of all district borders within a state is minimized.

If we were to do that, we'd have something more like an impartial and intuitive distribution of districts. The equal population rule promotes the ideal of one person/one vote. The minimum borders rule restricts the unnatural road-hugging, stretching, and other shapes that make represntation more about party, race and class than about common location. I suspect federalists like Madison, with his general opposition to parties and factions, would agree that this is superior to the current (and future) rules.

It ain't gonna happen, though.

15 June, 2006

The sky is falling!

You must hand it to Rear Admiral Chris Parry of the Royal Navy. His job is to identify threats, and in one sense he certainly earns his pay.

If a security breakdown occurred, he said, it was likely to be brought on by environmental destruction and a population boom, coupled with technology and radical Islam. The result for Britain and Europe, Parry warned, could be "like the 5th century Roman empire facing the Goths and the Vandals".

Parry pointed to the mass migration which disaster in the Third World could unleash. "The diaspora issue is one of my biggest current concerns," he said. "Globalisation makes assimilation seem redundant and old-fashioned . . . [the process] acts as a sort of reverse colonisation, where groups of people are self-contained, going back and forth between their countries, exploiting sophisticated networks and using instant communication on phones and the internet."

Third World instability would lick at the edges of the West as pirates attacked holidaymakers from fast boats. "At some time in the next 10 years it may not be safe to sail a yacht between Gibraltar and Malta," said the admiral.

Parry, 52, an Oxford graduate who was mentioned in dispatches in the Falklands war, is not claiming all the threats will come to fruition. He is warning, however, of what is likely to happen if dangers are not addressed by politicians.

And what is to be done about it? Here the advice is a bit more conventional, if less than helpful.
Any technological advantage developed to deal with the threats was unlikely to last. "I don’t think we can win in cyberspace — it’s like the weather — but we need to have a raincoat and an umbrella to deal with the effects," said Parry.

Some of the consequences would be beyond human imagination to tackle. The examples he gave, tongue-in-cheek, include: "No wind on land and sea; third of population dies instantly; perpetual darkness; sores; Euphrates dries up ‘to clear way for kings from the east’; earth’s core opens."

It reminds me of Ghostbusters:

Dr. Peter Venkman: This city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.
Mayor: What do you mean, "biblical"?
Dr Ray Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath-of-God type stuff.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Exactly.
Dr Ray Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies. Rivers and seas boiling.
Dr. Egon Spengler: Forty years of darkness. Earthquakes, volcanoes...
Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave!
Dr. Peter Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together - mass hysteria!

Who ya gonna call?

The real prize

Now that al=Zarkawi is dead, it's clear that the attack on his safe house was even more of a success than previously noted. Evidently the "emir" kept copious records with him. This really isn't all that surprising--a year ago al-Zarkawi was nearly captured by coalition forces, escaping while carrying little more than his notebook computer. His files were as valuable as his life then, and they are more valuable today.

So what's in there? Names, locations, sources of funding, sources of intelligence, plans, communications with other organizations...we can only speculate. And there's no way we'll find out, I hope, until well after the last of the infornation is exploited. Today every member of the al-Zarqawi network, every ally, every client, every informer, every supplier has to assume the worst: that everything has been compromised. There are a lot of people looking for new places of safety today.

Moreover, consider what the ability to target that house means for coalition intelligence. Assuming any reasonable operational security for Al-Zarkawi and company, and the fact that house was well away from others, it can't help but make you wonder if the key source was a ranking (or at least middle-rank) member of the network. Even if that isn't the case, any reasonable (?) terrorist has to assume that he can't trust the people he works with. That, in turn, leads to delays, mistakes, and even new informers (who want to get the best deal they can from the coalition, while they still have the chance).

Let's not go overboard here: al-Zarqawi wasn't Al-Qaida in Iraq, and Al-Qaida in Iraq is not the sum (or even the majority) of the insurgency. But it is a major victory, a victory that goes well beyond the death of a homicidal thug.

22 May, 2006

A Saudi education

The Saudi government admits that standard textbooks in use before 9/11 were intolerant, but they have since said the problem has been corrected. Several textbooks in current use were recently smuggled out of Saudi Arabia, by way of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, Freedom House, and the Washington Post. Let's check the progress, shall we?

FIRST GRADE

" Every religion other than Islam is false."

"Fill in the blanks with the appropriate words (Islam, hellfire): Every religion other than ______________ is false. Whoever dies outside of Islam enters ____________."

FOURTH GRADE

"True belief means . . . that you hate the polytheists and infidels but do not treat them unjustly."

FIFTH GRADE

"Whoever obeys the Prophet and accepts the oneness of God cannot maintain a loyal friendship with those who oppose God and His Prophet, even if they are his closest relatives."

"It is forbidden for a Muslim to be a loyal friend to someone who does not believe in God and His Prophet, or someone who fights the religion of Islam."

"A Muslim, even if he lives far away, is your brother in religion. Someone who opposes God, even if he is your brother by family tie, is your enemy in religion."

SIXTH GRADE

"Just as Muslims were successful in the past when they came together in a sincere endeavor to evict the Christian crusaders from Palestine, so will the Arabs and Muslims emerge victorious, God willing, against the Jews and their allies if they stand together and fight a true jihad for God, for this is within God's power."

EIGHTH GRADE

"As cited in Ibn Abbas: The apes are Jews, the people of the Sabbath; while the swine are the Christians, the infidels of the communion of Jesus."

"God told His Prophet, Muhammad, about the Jews, who learned from parts of God's book [the Torah and the Gospels] that God alone is worthy of worship. Despite this, they espouse falsehood through idol-worship, soothsaying, and sorcery. In doing so, they obey the devil. They prefer the people of falsehood to the people of the truth out of envy and hostility. This earns them condemnation and is a warning to us not to do as they did."

"They are the Jews, whom God has cursed and with whom He is so angry that He will never again be satisfied [with them]."

"Some of the people of the Sabbath were punished by being turned into apes and swine. Some of them were made to worship the devil, and not God, through consecration, sacrifice, prayer, appeals for help, and other types of worship. Some of the Jews worship the devil. Likewise, some members of this nation worship the devil, and not God."

"Activity: The student writes a composition on the danger of imitating the infidels."

NINTH GRADE

"The clash between this [Muslim] community (umma) and the Jews and Christians has endured, and it will continue as long as God wills."

"It is part of God's wisdom that the struggle between the Muslim and the Jews should continue until the hour [of judgment]."

"Muslims will triumph because they are right. He who is right is always victorious, even if most people are against him."

TENTH GRADE

The 10th-grade text on jurisprudence teaches that life for non-Muslims (as well as women, and, by implication, slaves) is worth a fraction of that of a "free Muslim male." Blood money is retribution paid to the victim or the victim's heirs for murder or injury:

"Blood money for a free infidel. [Its quantity] is half of the blood money for a male Muslim, whether or not he is 'of the book' or not 'of the book' (such as a pagan, Zoroastrian, etc.).

"Blood money for a woman: Half of the blood money for a man, in accordance with his religion. The blood money for a Muslim woman is half of the blood money for a male Muslim, and the blood money for an infidel woman is half of the blood money for a male infidel."

ELEVENTH GRADE

"The greeting 'Peace be upon you' is specifically for believers. It cannot be said to others."

"If one comes to a place where there is a mixture of Muslims and infidels, one should offer a greeting intended for the Muslims."

"Do not yield to them [Christians and Jews] on a narrow road out of honor and respect."

TWELFTH GRADE

"Jihad in the path of God -- which consists of battling against unbelief, oppression, injustice, and those who perpetrate it -- is the summit of Islam. This religion arose through jihad and through jihad was its banner raised high. It is one of the noblest acts, which brings one closer to God, and one of the most magnificent acts of obedience to God."

Well, I'm glad that's been taken care of.

Demography is destiny

Way back when, when the crumbling foundations of the Soviet Union weren't obvious, it should have been clear to anyone who looked that the ethnic composition of the USSR was leading to a disaster. Whatever else they said about themselves, the Soviets were running, at least in part, the successor to the Russian empire. Historically, when the number of Russians in the empire dropped below 50 percent, you could count on violence coming. In the mid-1980s, the proportion of Russians in the Soviet Union dipped below 50 percent. Within a few years, it had fragmented into its component (ethnic) republics.

The Russian federation now faces the same problem. The growth rate of the Russian population contines to be negative (despite calls from Putin to bear more children), while the relatively poor Muslim populations--generally non-Russian--are growing. Strategypage summarizes the problem:

If present trends continue, the population of Russia will decline from 143 million to 100 million by 2050. Not only that, but by 2050, most of the population may be Moslem. Currently, about 15 percent of Russians are Moslem, and the average Moslem family has three or more children, while the average non-Moslem family has one or two. While Christian (largely Slavic) Russians have seen their numbers tumble, the Moslem population of Russia has grown over 40 percent since 1989 (from births, migration and conversions). There has also been a religious revival, with the number of mosques growing from under a thousand when the Soviet Union collapsed, to over 8,000 today. That means Moslem men drink a lot less, and live healthier, and longer, lives.

In addition to a higher birth rate, the number of Moslems will increase because of migration. A falling birth rate among the Slavic population will create an enormous labor shortage, and the closest source of additional labor is poor, over populated, Moslem nations.


Dunnigan then suggests that things won't be quite so bad, because of the demographic transition (he doesn't use that term, but he notes that wealth tends to lead to smaller families). I'm not so sure. First, the greatest source of wealth in the next 50 years is likely to be the oil fields of central Asia, and that wealth is not going to be in of hands of the typical family--oil wealth is notorious for supporting cronyism, not general economic devlopment, and it will be outside of the Russian Federation in any case. Second, even if the wealth does get out to more families, these are not the people who would immigrate for low-pay jobs, and that's likely to be all that will be available for them in Russia. Third, the relationship between wealth and population size has an intervening variable--the status of women. (Dunnigan notes this, by the way.) I suspect there's a long way to go before we'll see a significant improvement in gender equality.

In other words, we may witness a major "clash of civilizations" within the Russian Federation, and soon.

16 May, 2006

I remember Osama...

...and so does the US government. For an interesting review of the complications of searching the Afghan-Pakistan border, see this. It looks like there's a major push under way, without the national armies of Afganistan or Pakistan. The connections between Al-Qaeda and the ISI are well known, so much so that the Afghan foreign minister is willing to say it out loud.
"According to everything we know, he [Osama bin Laden] really is living in Pakistan, near to the Afghan border. Our neighbor [Pakistan] could certainly catch him and put him in court. But to our knowledge, their efforts to do this have always been half-hearted."
- Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, May 14
The relations between Al-Qaeda and the Afghan army aren't much different.
Two years ago, US forces received confirmed information, with photographs, of the presence of high-profile al-Qaeda and Afghan operatives in Bazgal near Nuristan. It was impossible for US troops to take the risk of going after them alone in the maze of jungle and mountains, so they asked the ANA for assistance.

After many hours, the forces reached the area, but all the suspects had fled. Ground inquiries showed that they had left immediately after the Americans shared information with the ANA.
The US has moved the FBI into the border region, and in the tradition of the region is buying an army.
To improve the situation, the US is developing a special "Peace Force" in which the benchmark for recruitment is not military aptitude but staunch anti-Taliban tendencies. Many of the news [sic] force's members are either former communists or local villains. Perhaps they are attracted by the extremely generous pay - US$500-$1,000 a month.

The situation on the east remains in this state of balance, with the Taliban and some al-Qaeda operatives well bedded with a sympathetic local population, but in essence lying low.
It looks like the US is putting the pieces in place for a major push on both sides of the border. This creates new problems.
A massive operation, such as one in search of the elusive bin Laden, could ignite the tinder, and open up another front, as in the south of the country. All the pieces are already in place.
But if it gets bin Laden, I'd say it's worth it.

I've wondered about this myself

From Australia:

Muslim scientists and scholars will be discussing Islam and life in space during a two-day conference which opens in Malaysia today.

The meeting aims to answer some of the questions faced by would-be Muslim astronauts about how to meet the requirements of their faith while in orbit.

Malaysia is due to send an astronaut into space with the Russians next year and it is almost certain that the country's first spaceman will be a Muslim.

That raises plenty of questions.

For instance, water is a precious commodity in space and Muslims must wash before they pray.

Likewise, the faithful face Mecca while at prayer but that will involve trying to pinpoint a moving target while in zero gravity.

Prayer times for Muslims are linked to the times of the sunrise and sunset, but in orbit the sun appears to rise and set more than 12 times a day.

Malaysia's Science Ministry has called together a group of experts to thrash out all these and more in what has been billed as the first serious discussion of the issues.


There's more to it than just recycling and prayer in orbit. What about a trip to mars, when the sun is visible for the entire trip? Or the moon, with a month-long "day"? And what exactly are the status of prohibitions when they apply to "any place on earth"? At one time it was suggested than wealthy Muslims might be a market for orbiting pleasure palaces, where drinking and gambling could take place without violating the letter of the law. (The orbitals turned out to be unnecessary--the wealthy ignored the rules in London and Monte Carlo, while pretending to be nothing but pious at home.)

This isn't only a problem for Islam, of course. Most of the fundamental religious texts assume the earth is unmoving and at the center of the universe. The catholic church, to its credit, is at least thinking about the theological implications of life (especially non-human intelligence) on other worlds, and it has the advantage of having a single decision maker to announce official changes in theological interpretation. But Islam doesn't have a Pope. It's still at a point similar to the Christian diets and convocations to determine which books belong in the Bible, or if Jesus was in fact divine. People died over those issues, like they do in the ongoing Islamic "civil war," but eventually things worked out. Today, however, there is one important difference--none of the early Christians had weapons of mass destruction.

22 April, 2006

Today's trivia question

Question: How many people work in the American intelligence community?

Answer: Nearly 100,000 work in 16 federal departments and agencies.

Source: John Negroponte, DNI (at the National Press Club)

21 April, 2006

CIA in crisis; IC in disarray

Max Holland, in The American Spectator, is providing a glimpse of the bureaucratic fighting and mismanagement to be found one year after the formal reorganization of the American intelligence community. The good news, if you can call it that, is that so many resources are being turned to stopping another 9/11 that even the current state of disaray probably won't obstruct a warning abut that particular kind of threat.

(Of course, part of the price of shining a spotlight against one location is that everything else is in relative darkness. America has more enemies than Al Qaeda, and they are adaptable enough to use the dark. Whatever we do, there will always be the questions "where aren't we looking?" and "what aren't we recognizing?")

The bad news is the construction of yet another bloated bureaucracy around the Director for National Intelligence to sit above and attempt to manage the disfunctional bureaucracies that already exist.

Further bad news is that a lot of good people are being screwed for reasons that have more to do with politics than performance. For someone like me, an academic with an outsider's interest in intelligence, the fighting has (lesser) personal results: new categories of classification (as in "Unclassified but restricted"), the re-classification of formerly available materials, and the shipwreck at Studies in Intelligence, an in-house journal (classified and unclassified) with an excellent reputation. What is happening in and around that journal is instructive:

When Studies was initiated in 1955, the literature on intelligence was almost nonexistent. It was thought that the intelligence profession would not become a real discipline without a literature that could be shared and accumulated. Over the decades, several of the CIA's most esteemed minds served on the editorial board of Studies, which became a venue for wide-ranging and often self-critical articles. The only criterion for publication was whether the article made a "contribution to the literature of intelligence," in the editorial board's opinion (disclosure: this writer has had two articles published in Studies).

But at Goss's CIA, free expression and thoughtful criticism have been trumped by political correctness. The problem erupted in the fall of 2005, when Studies published an excerpt from a post-mortem on the intelligence community's failure to assess accurately Iraq's WMD capabilities. The post-mortem had been ordered by former DCI George Tenet, who wanted at least one inquest done by experienced officers, without a special ax to grind, and beyond the glare of publicity. Tenet contracted a group of outside consultants headed by Richard Kerr, a much decorated former deputy director of the agency, to conduct the review.

It is not apparent why Kerr's post-mortem incited Goss and the gosslings, since the published portion was far more critical of the intelligence community for feeding policy-makers erroneous estimates than it was of the policy-makers for allegedly cherry-picking the intelligence or pressuring analysts. Perhaps Kerr's major transgression was to point out that the other intelligence assessments about Iraq have proven to be right on the mark; the most important being the forecast of sectarian violence after Saddam Hussein's overthrow. Under the Goss regime it is apparently forbidden to depict the intelligence community as being anything other than in lockstep with the administration's rosy scenarios.

Seven months later, the offending issue still has not been posted on-line, even though unclassified articles in Studies are normally put up within weeks of publication. Paul Johnson, the director of the office that publishes Studies and chairman of the editorial board, has resigned, along with the editor, Barbara Pace. The most chilling aspect is that there are newly established editorial hurdles at the journal. Merit is no longer the sole criterion governing publication.


Yes, American intelligence had needed to change for years before 9/11. But these "reforms" have done little but create new problems.