November 28, 2003

Federalism vs. Segregation and President Bush's 'Democracy'

President Bush’s recent speech regarding what The Economist calls his ‘crusade’ to spread democracy in the Middle East raises at least as many questions as it answers. In this entry, I want to reflect on the one that bothers me the most at this particular moment - if you find yourself forced to partition a country along racial lines, can the resulting entities ever in fact attain a democratic system along the philosophical lines of what the United States would like to believe is its own model?

Looked at one way, the dissolution of ‘artificial federations’ such as the former Yugoslavia and the decolonial dissolutions of Northern Africa are the natural cancellation of sovereign entities which were imposed by fiat from without. The wreckage of the First and Second World War and of course colonialism meant that in many cases nations were constructed with the stroke of a pen or sword, intended to serve strategic purpose either for a region or for a central power. The Yugoslavia in existence after World War Two was held together for most of the second half of the twentieth century by the foreign pressures of the Cold War and the iron hand of a government whose policies were empowered, if not legitimated, by those pressures.

However, once those foreign pressures eased, the internal schisms could not be contained, and the drive to dissolution was greater than any remaining trend to federation. It could be said that if, in fact, the various populations of those sub-regions in fact desire the dissolution of the greater state, then democracy is indeed being practiced. The problem is that since there will never be (and has never been) unanimous agreement on the eventual partitioning, there will be displaced and/or disenfranchised populations whose simple racial minority in a region after the redrawing of borders rob of political power. While this may be an unavoidable consequence, let us look at it in the light of President Bush’s expressed mission.

The partitioning of Iraq along religious lines may come either de jure or de facto. The already-existent strong religious and racial splits in that nation have been picked over at great length, especially in recent times. So let us suppose that the Iraqi population, handed the franchise, votes to partition the country - the most legitimate version of this chain of events in the forseeable future. At that point, you may have a democratic system - but you’ve diverged massively from the American model, and not just in path-dependent but in philosophical ways!

The United States fought the Civil War for any number of reasons, but at least part of the reason was due to a publicly-stated dispute over the interpretation of the Constitution of the United States - and the Federal Government went to war against its own ex-members with the position that their secession went counter to the Constitution. The notion of racial superiority was explicitly rejected, as was the ‘rights’ of a homogenous racial subgroup within a region to make binding sovereign decisions for all inhabitants of that region.

Partitioning of Iraq along religious lines, while perhaps popular both locally and in the United States for its expediency, essentially will validate the position espoused by the Confederate States of America and explicitly rejected by the Federal Government of the U.S. - namely, that the goal of short-term peace and security can be allowed to supersede the philosophical basis of the Constitution to the point that avoiding a war (or preventing one) is more important than remaining true to the principles of inclusion and equality put forth in the document which underlies the entire experiment of Democracy here in the United States.

While it is true that I would wish for peace and security in Iraq, I cannot say that I would wish for it at the expense of the philosophical basis of the United States’ democratic model if, in fact, that is the reason we are stating for being there. I have problems with Bush’s Crusade as a retrograde justification for this expedition in the first place - and the partitioning of the country, which may turn out to be the only available road to quietitude if not peace, will run directly counter to the principles that Bush is invoking in order to justify it.

So what, then, matters more? That our forces and people come home safely and well, and soon? Or that the Iraqi nation does, in fact, get a shot at democracy as I understand it? Or is the notion of ‘democracy’ pliable enough that a version which we, here, rejected at the cost of blood and treasure is ‘good enough’ for those abroad?

There really aren’t any good answers to this, and it bothers me on a constant basis.

Posted by jbz at 10:24 PM | Comments (0)

November 24, 2003

I hate the chips that surround me.

Ergo, I want one of these, really really really. If I lived in a loft, I’d place it in the middle of the floor, calculate a setting that would juuuuust reach the walls, and paint a big red line around it…then invite people to step in and push the button.



Posted by jbz at 11:43 PM | Comments (0)

Apple iChatAV + iSight = Vidfon!

So I finally get an iChatAV session up between myself and my parents' iMac in Vermont. However, despite the connection being stable, it seemed to be of awfully low quality...checking the Connection Doctor window showed that the connection was using 55-56Kbps consistently. The number produced a slow 'aha!' and after some checking, my brother and I discovered that their machine (he was on their end) had its Quicktime Connection Speed set to 56K Dialup. Changing to Cable (their actual connection) only jumped us to 80Kbps (seems a bit low, given how fast I've been able to xfer files to them, but whatever) but the quality jumped noticeably.

One interesting bit about iChatAV which has been pointed out in the web press: the Preview window acts as a 'virtual mirror' - which means that if you hold text up to it, it will look drawkcaB. The picture on the other end is 'correct, though - this implies to me that the horizontal 'flip' is done in the Quicktime codec after the preview and before broadcast over the wire. The reasoning probably is that it would confuse people if they moved in the opposite direction in the Preview window - pointing or gesturing might be affected.

This is a pretty nice solution, although of course bandwidth helps. The integration with iChat's AIM messenger is nice - and, no doubt, one of the things driving that particular GNOME bounty. Finally, the videophone I was promised, and (so far) unlike in Blade Runner and 2001, AT&T hasn't managed to bill me by the minute.

Whoa! A MacSurfer link! How'd that happen? Nobody reads this thing. Now I wish I'd said something actually worth reading. :-P

Posted by jbz at 1:05 AM | Comments (0)

November 23, 2003

That neglected category

Originally, this blog was s'posed to be a place where I could reflect, rant, rave and otherwise blurt about developments in the world of Linux which I get to see from a rarified (albeit not unique) perspective.

Of course, there's a problem with this - notably, people in the linux world are typically more gregarious than I, and blog the hell outta what's going on anyway. Given that some of them are the ones actually writing the software, and arguing over what it will look like and why, my contribution would be somewhat pointless.

I guess it might be interesting to some small crew what it looks like for a small but loudmouthed linux shop to be glommed by a big and old-world corporation - but I'm not sure if I can write down the really good bits anyway.

So here we are. I guess I leave this space for my own personal views on where Linux is and goes - much less point and meaning, but there you have it, this is a blog after all and I'm not one of the movers and shakers. So whaddya want for nothing, a rubber biscuit?

I use linux daily at work. I don't actually use any other OS; I don't have a Windows machine at my desk or even readily available. This leads to my current, major gripe with Linux desktop software. I'm a Network Admin (at least, I like to style myself as such) and diagrams are my life and bread. However, there really is no good way to diagram a network in Linux. The GNOME crew will pipe up with "Dia!" except that, as a user of software, Dia is a dysfunctionally idiotic piece of software. Who ever heard of a diagramming program that wouldn't let you rotate an object?

I'm gonna use the awful word - yep, Visio. Visio, for all of its own dimwittedness and the layers of dysfunction that its evil step-parent has laid on it, is still the Gold Standard for doing infrastructure diagramming.

There were better packages for doing this sort of stuff - my favorite used to be something called SmartDraw, which was around $20 and was optimized for doing network diagrams. Then, of course, the behemoth bought Visio and used it to club the other contestants into the alleyway. OOo is doing an excellent job of becoming a MSO replacement...and it'll need this functionality.

More later.

Posted by jbz at 2:59 PM | Comments (0)

November 21, 2003

What Did We Learn, Part II

I was recently privileged enough to attend a talk by a staff member of CENTCOM (who must remain unidentified) on the subject of 'planning the war in Iraq.' At that event, I learned a great deal, some of it relevant to the rants I posted earlier. Take all of this with however much salt you wish, but the fact that it is a non-attribution talk tends to raise my estimation of its veracity and/or usefulness, actually.

Our unidentified staffer (OUS hereafter) gave an overview of the process of planning Operation Iraqi Freedom, and a brief picture of the depth and complexity of the enterprise. In so doing, s/he touched on several issues I personally found interesting. Because I"m an egotist, I'll jump to their response to my question first.

I referenced the AAR mentioned in the prior post, and asked hir if s/he had any comment on the 3ID's frustration at apparently not having any Phase IV plans or direction from 'higher HQ' (which must perforce include CENTCOM, hir organization). The response was fairly detailed and stretched over responses to several audience questions, but can be summed up as follows.

  • There were extensive Phase IV plans done by the military planners, with contingencies.
  • Phase IV as a military operation - i.e. using those plans - was not executed.
  • When asked why, OUS replied that DoD and State (and higher) wanted 'more control of the reconstrution and security operations' - i.e. didn't want the military planners to have opaque control of the process.
  • The current operations in Iraq are therefore not Phase IV of the military planners' ops; they are a mishmash of actions undertaken by the State department, the Cabinet/NSC, various NGOs, etc. etc.
  • The decision to not execute the military plans for SASO/Phase IV was made "by the President of the United States. He is the Commander in Chief." (note quotes).
  • The officer in question refused to state that the outcome (i.e. present situation in Iraq) would be any better had the military plan been executed, saying that there were assumptions made that were incorrect (by the military in their planning).
  • They did note that the lack of an integrated plan immediately following the war allowed several bad trends to accelerate (release of criminals from prisons by the outgoing regime led to safety concerns and looting which led to increased arms presence and fear among civilians which in turn led to absenteeism from critical infrastructure maintenance jobs which in turn led to more discontent...etc.) Although plans were eventually implemented, there were early lapses that squandered U.S. authority, position, and local gratitude/opinion.
  • No one expected this level of cohesion and effectiveness from the Ba'ath security forces.
This last is an interesting point, because earlier in the talk, in response to a question from another audience member, OUS had spoken of how the 'bad trends' above had led to a 'widespread discontent' and 'resistance' from the general civilian population - which was the Bush Administration's 'party line' and break with Britain's intelligence in recent weeks. The British had insisted that the recent wave of attacks was the result of a tightly organized group with lots of resources and preparation, suggesting Saddam loyalists and/or paramilitary; the Bush Admin insisted it was merely an increase in unconnected incidents from discontented locals, foreign fighters, various factions, and the like. While evidence is mounting that the actual attacks (especially the less planned and professional ones) are, in fact, being carried out by folks like this, it is also becoming clear that they are being fomented, paid, supplied and recruited by some shadowy unidentified group - the size of which is not known, but the planning, resources and 'prepositioned nature' of which can be inferred from its success rate and the continued ratcheting upward of attempted attacks despite increasing U.S. response. For OUS to openly discuss mistakes in assumptions and the importance placed on the prewar Ba'ath security forces implies that the military planners, at least, considered this sort of response a threat. When pressed, OUS admitted that the military had, in fact (in Phases III and IV - Combat Ops and SASO) planned to cope with the attempted reconstitution of an organized resistance. However, s/he denied that the military plans were designed to cope with one the size of which is currently operating. When asked why, s/he pointed out that the military plans assumed no 'gap' in the implementation of Phase IV ops, which would mean that the 'trends' would not have been allowed to develop so far.


So the reason things are so bad is the party line (they're disconnected and the result of widespread anger) and the military is saying that in their original plans, there was the assumption that a preplanned and directed resistance will be a problem.

This sounds an awful lot like the military was overridden (once more) on the basis of wishful thinking.


Posted by jbz at 6:55 PM | Comments (0)

November 20, 2003

Siege, Mk. II

A Proposal for Coping with Terrorist and other Combatant Opponents in Urban Or Rural Terrain Containing Civilian Populations.

Note: This was written in October of 2001. I offer it as a proposal proven somewhat off the mark by recent events, but (I believe) still malleable into a workable policy.

The question of who was responsible for the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 appears to be coming close to being answered, at least as far as the U.S. Government is concerned. The organizations and networks spawned by the actions and resources of Osama bin Laden, a Saudi dissident, seem to be receiving the bulk of the U.S. investigation’s time and attention.

The next natural question is to ask what, then, shall we do? I offer here a small proposal. For purposes of argument, I will presume that bin Laden and/or his network (if not necessarily the man himself) are responsible, and that at the time this is decided, he remains in Afghani territory under the (at least tacit) protection of the Taliban government.

The Objective

This alone will spark debate, at least as soon as it is seriously considered in the policy and public arenas. What, precisely, are we trying to do? The terms ‘bring to justice,’ ‘punish,’ ‘defend ourselves,’ ‘retaliate’ and simply ‘kill’ have all been floated on American television since the attack, when applied to bin Laden and company. Even in the perfect world of a supposed action, we cannot agree on the final disposition of these persons, even assuming they have been identified and apprehended, or at least located.

The base objective, it seems to me, is to destroy their ability to carry out, incite or even motivate terror attacks against the U.S. and its citizens and allies. The most effective means of doing so all presuppose that we manage to apprehend or kill those persons most directly responsible. However, there are many obstacles in our path. Some of the most significant appear to me to be the following:

  • Identifying our targets. Here, we’re actually fine – in reality, we appear to have a good idea about some of them and the willingness to wait some time for solid information.
  • Locating our targets. This is problem number one, and must be addressed first.
  • Isolating our targets. Not easy, but doable.
  • Reaching our targets. This is a bad one, given the location, characteristics and history of Afghanistan and the surrounding areas.
  • Capturing/Killing our targets. The final goal of this particular operation.
  • Avoiding Civilian casualties and creating further reason for hatred of the U.S. This one’s really going to be rough.

They’re not insolvable. Let’s start with locating the targets, since I have (I believe) effectively punted the first step in the list above. Locating is a proactive as well as reactive process. While we are indeed trying to discover their location(s), it behooves us to also work to limit their range of movement and freedom of action. Even if the area to which we are attempting to constrain them seems impossibly large and complex, the effort should be made. Here, it seems, the U.S. administration appears to be making progress, helped considerably by the horrific nature of the attacks themselves. Nations traditionally sympathetic to bin Laden and company are declaring themselves less so; Iran has closed its border with Afghanistan to avoid refugee flows and condemned bin Laden. An Iranian World Cup qualifying match observed a minute of silence in tribute to those fallen in New York and Washington – a small but extremely powerful gesture considering the nation offering it and its history with our own. Pakistan, the primary supporters of the Taliban government, are (publically, at any rate) dropping their supportive stance, and (as of Sunday the 16th of September) have gone so far as to declare that U.S. aircraft will be allowed to use their airspace in any operations in the region. This is an enormous concession; compare, for example, to strikes on Libya in which France refused the U.S. overflight clearances. To have a government whose nation contains large groups who sympathize with the Taliban to make this offer indicates the gravity with which they view this event.

So, containing them may not be that difficult. If they are ejected from Afghanistan and Pakistan, the indications are that the U.S. will be able to purse a diplomatic course towards chivvying them into a region with effective and sympathetic law enforcement – INTERPOL, for example, has issued a ‘Red Notice’ for bin Laden’s capture. So let us assume that they are not evicted from Afghanistan. What then?

Afghanistan is a terribly inhospitable region. Deserts and mountains make up most of the country, with few resources available to succor those who would hide in the wilderness. While it is indeed possible, as bin Laden himself proved during the Soviet invasion, it is difficult. Also (and this is the key point) during that invasion, civilian support was available, even if only in tacit form, as were direct avenues of resources, support and intelligence from the United States Government itself.

Yes, I am leading to a point. The key, then, is to separate the terrorists and their sympathizers from popular support both internationally as well as domestically. The Taliban, who shelter bin Laden, while controlling the majority of the country, do not enjoy popular support. Their hold on power rests more on the force of arms and the general exhaustion of a populace suffering from two decades of war. Ergo, there may be avenues to divide the population of Afghanistan from bin Laden’s support; even, if necessary, from support of the Taliban.

The United States should aggressively seek to carry out the following tasks.

  1. Establish a semipermanent presence adjacent to Afghanistan. Pakistan is the logical choice; direct coterminous borders may not be necessary (although they would help).
  2. Station combat troops, with an emphasis on special forces personnel, in these adjacent areas. We should not employ them in combat blindly, or with no other objective than to ‘get him or them.’ That’s too vague. They should be nearby, however.
  3. Divide the task of response into two sections; actions taken w/r/t the Taliban, and actions taken w/r/t bin Laden. They are different; the former claim the prerogatives of sovereign statehood; let them then also assume the risks. The latter and his associates, on the other hand, are wanted for crimes, dead or alive as the traditional saying goes; you cannot, however, employ the same means that can be applied to nation-states.
  4. The Taliban, if necessary (if they do not cooperate) should be subjected to a vigorous air campaign. It should not be undertaken, however, without carefully and clearly warning the population of Afghanistan that they are not our target, and that they should endeavor to avoid potential target areas (say, Kabul) because at some point after a specified date, we will begin operations.
  5. Finally, employ the carrot and the stick vis-à-vis both the Afghani population and bin Laden’s associates. This is the heart of my argument (I know, I only tok two pages to get here).

The Carrot and the Stick

The United States, we are told and shown, is hated because it is rich, selfish, thoughtless, and is/has been involved in many areas of the world where its involvement has directly or indirectly destroyed or worsened the lives of the local population. The Intifadah arose among the orphaned dispossessed Palestinians who suffered in camps from Israeli oppression (backed with American money and weapons). Any bombing or combat action that harms civilians, especially miserable ones (as the Taliban remind us) will likely simply create a new generation of haters, and cement bin Laden’s Jihad.

In addition, governments have little motivation to assist the U.S. in such actions since they must answer to their own people, especially after the U.S. leaves. In general, it’s a bad idea to simply attack people, places or things in response. What, then, to do?

I propose offering both sides of America. If we find it necessary to bomb Afghanistan, as we may, we should work to ensure the safety and goodwill of the common population, who (we are fond of believing) will eventually have a say in the leadership of that nation. I hear you arguing but what should be do precisely?


I propose we give America to those who would otherwise be left homeless, hungry, wounded and tired. I propose we offer the civilian, noncombatant people of the region a choice. Try hard to find and apprehend our targets with special forces ‘flying squads,’ but don’t expect it to work. Try very hard to close the noose around them. Even if we do not have ‘permission’ to operate in Afghanistan, paralyze the Taliban with airpower and use airborne forces and air power to ‘herd’ bin Laden’s people. However, once we have them isolated in a relatively small area (and the operative term is relative; if we can only track them to a million square kilometers but that area contains relatively little in the way of resources, fine. If they try to hide in a city, as they might (the U.S. has been public recently about its extreme wariness about undertaking urban combat), then this will work even better.

Find a relatively safe area near the objective zone. Build a city. At least, build a small town. Build a hospital, and dining facilities, and sanitation. Bring in electrical generators. Spend lavishly to create an area of relative comfort in the region. If possible, take and convert an existing town, but build if we must. Staff the hospital with American doctors and medication. Offer fast food (if it isn’t offensive to the locals) or at least decent meal kitchens. Have social workers. Have entertainers. Have carpenters, tradesmen, etc. Then invite the local population to move in.

Note: this does not need to be a permanent settlement! The purpose is not to upgrade the permanent living conditions of the local inhabitants! Nope, the purpose is to give them an attractive reason to remain uninvolved, to cooperate, and most important, to get our of harm’s way. Allow anyone who wishes to avail themselves of the facilities, with only one rule: No weapons allowed. We don’t care who you are; as long as you’re not on our ‘watch list’ then you’re welcome. House them. Feed them. Teach them. Entertain them. Live with them! Staff this facility with American volunteers on a rotating basis.

But here’s the important part.

Somewhere nearby, begin the buildup of forces that you will need to actually go into the city, or the region, and find then kill or apprehend your objectives. Let the civilians see you building up. Tell them plainly, as well as everyone else in the region:

”We are here to deal with terrorists and look to our own safety. We have no quarrel with you. We realize that we may have to do things to this countryside and/or city that are horrific. We cannot avoid that unless the terrorists are handed over to us or apprehended. In the event that we are forced to act, however, we will do our best to ensure that you, the people of this region, have received America’s best efforts to ensure your safety, comfort and well-being while this unfortunate task is being handled.”

Then do it. Bomb the nearest city flat. Send the 1st Armored in after them, with the understanding that sending them into a city means taking the city down flat. Do whatever it takes, knowing that you have done your level best to remove civilians from the line of fire. If you come across them, do what you are able for them and direct them to the rear. But damn it, lay waste once you do have to go in!

If this works, the following will be true:

  • We might repair the image of our nation somewhat
  • Those innocents that would normally suffer during this type of action and thus continue to spread anti-U.S. sentiment and gospel would have a reason to at least attempt to understand our position. If we are able to do so, they may even end up grateful for what help we can give them. To ensure this, we must give unstintingly inside those enclave walls.
  • The perpetrators are robbed of local support. Even if the locals don’t like us, they can walk to the enclave and avoid supporting the terrorists.
  • The lesson of what America can do when it (as a polity) is pissed is not lost; however, neither is the lesson that America can and does provide for people as well; provide food, water, electricity, care, laughter, medicines, what-have-you.

The point is that the civilians then have a vested interest in actually improving the situation before we are done fighting; they can see our better qualities as well. They may see that we are, in fact, helping their babies or their parents. The question is, then what do we do? What if they don’t come out?

So what?

If you’ve done this correctly, eventually they will either be isolated enough that we can go into cities or areas after them without significant interference, or they will be found and arrested or killed. People will see what it means to have a cranked-up, pissed off American military on the move, but won’t be sitting in the line of fire. Furthermore, alliances can be tightened; agreements bolstered.

Posted by jbz at 12:00 AM | Comments (0)

November 18, 2003

An Open Letter to G.I.s in Iraq

This is a letter written by Stan Goff from the website TruthOut. It is a letter written from the perspective of experience, pain, anger, and revelation, and while I know nothing of the author or even the website from whence it came, I can recommend the words to you wholeheartedly. For the sacrifices of many of my countrymen both older and younger than I, I have never had to face death in a foreign land with a gun in my hands (or even without one) and I have never gone to bed with fear for my home and family at the hands of an invading army - this, despite the best efforts of Ronald Reagan and cronies, and their propaganda. So here's the letter. Please take from it something that stays with you.

Saturday 15 November 2003 An Open Letter to GIs in Iraq

     Dear American serviceperson in Iraq,

     I am a retired veteran of the army, and my own son is among you, a paratrooper like I was. The changes that are happening to every one of you—some more extreme than others—are changes I know very well. So I'm going to say some things to you straight up in the language to which you are accustomed.

     In 1970, I was assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade, then based in northern Binh Dinh Province in what was then the Republic of Vietnam. When I went there, I had my head full of shit: shit from the news media, shit from movies, shit about what it supposedly mean to be a man, and shit from a lot of my know-nothing neighbors who would tell you plenty about Vietnam even though they'd never been there, or to war at all.

     The essence of all this shit was that we had to "stay the course in Vietnam," and that we were on some mission to save good Vietnamese from bad Vietnamese, and to keep the bad Vietnamese from hitting beachheads outside of Oakland. We stayed the course until 58,000 Americans were dead and lots more maimed for life, and 3,000,000 Southeast Asians were dead. Ex-military people and even many on active duty played a big part in finally bringing that crime to a halt.

     When I started hearing about weapons of mass destruction that threatened the United States from Iraq, a shattered country that had endured almost a decade of trench war followed by an invasion and twelve years of sanctions, my first question was how in the hell can anyone believe that this suffering country presents a threat to the United States? But then I remembered how many people had believed Vietnam threatened the United States. Including me.

     When that bullshit story about weapons came apart like a two-dollar shirt, the politicians who cooked up this war told everyone, including you, that you would be greeted like great liberators. They told us that we were in Vietnam to make sure everyone there could vote.

     What they didn't tell me was that before I got there in 1970, the American armed forces had been burning villages, killing livestock, poisoning farmlands and forests, killing civilians for sport, bombing whole villages, and committing rapes and massacres, and the people who were grieving and raging over that weren't in a position to figure out the difference between me—just in country—and the people who had done those things to them.

     What they didn't tell you is that over a million and a half Iraqis died between 1991 and 2003 from malnutrition, medical neglect, and bad sanitation. Over half a million of those who died were the weakest: the children, especially very young children.

     My son who is over there now has a baby. We visit with our grandson every chance we get. He is eleven months old now. Lots of you have children, so you know how easy it is to really love them, and love them so hard you just know your entire world would collapse if anything happened to them. Iraqis feel that way about their babies, too. And they are not going to forget that the United States government was largely responsible for the deaths of half a million kids.

     So the lie that you would be welcomed as liberators was just that. A lie. A lie for people in the United States to get them to open their purse for this obscenity, and a lie for you to pump you up for a fight.

     And when you put this into perspective, you know that if you were an Iraqi, you probably wouldn't be crazy about American soldiers taking over your towns and cities either. This is the tough reality I faced in Vietnam. I knew while I was there that if I were Vietnamese, I would have been one of the Vietcong.

     But there we were, ordered into someone else's country, playing the role of occupier when we didn't know the people, their language, or their culture, with our head full of bullshit our so-called leaders had told us during training and in preparation for deployment, and even when we got there. There we were, facing people we were ordered to dominate, but any one of whom might be pumping mortars at us or firing AKs at us later that night. The question we started to ask is who put us in this position?

     In our process of fighting to stay alive, and in their process of trying to expel an invader that violated their dignity, destroyed their property, and killed their innocents, we were faced off against each other by people who made these decisions in $5,000 suits, who laughed and slapped each other on the back in Washington DC with their fat fucking asses stuffed full of cordon bleu and caviar.

     They chumped us. Anyone can be chumped.

     That's you now. Just fewer trees and less water.

     We haven't figured out how to stop the pasty-faced, oil-hungry backslappers in DC yet, and it looks like you all might be stuck there for a little longer. So I want to tell you the rest of the story.

     I changed over there in Vietnam and they were not nice changes either. I started getting pulled into something—something that craved other peole's pain. Just to make sure I wasn't regarded as a "fucking missionary" or a possible rat, I learned how to fit myself into that group that was untouchable, people too crazy to fuck with, people who desired the rush of omnipotence that comes with setting someone's house on fire just for the pure hell of it, or who could kill anyone, man, woman, or child, with hardly a second thought. People who had the power of life and death—because they could.

     The anger helps. It's easy to hate everyone you can't trust because of your circumstances, and to rage about what you've seen, what has happened to you, and what you have done and can't take back.

     It was all an act for me, a cover-up for deeper fears I couldn't name, and the reason I know that is that we had to dehumanize our victims before we did the things we did. We knew deep down that what we were doing was wrong. So they became dinks or gooks, just like Iraqis are now being transformed into ragheads or hajjis. People had to be reduced to "niggers" here before they could be lynched. No difference. We convinced ourselves we had to kill them to survive, even when that wasn't true, but something inside us told us that so long as they were human beings, with the same intrinsic value we had as human beings, we were not allowed to burn their homes and barns, kill their animals, and sometimes even kill them. So we used these words, these new names, to reduce them, to strip them of their essential humanity, and then we could do things like adjust artillery fire onto the cries of a baby.

     Until that baby was silenced, though, and here's the important thing to understand, that baby never surrendered her humanity. I did. We did. That's the thing you might not get until it's too late. When you take away the humanity of another, you kill your own humanity. You attack your own soul because it is standing in the way.

     So we finish our tour, and go back to our families, who can see that even though we function, we are empty and incapable of truly connecting to people any more, and maybe we can go for months or even years before we fill that void where we surrendered our humanity, with chemical anesthetics—drugs, alcohol, until we realize that the void can never be filled and we shoot ourselves, or head off into the street where we can disappear with the flotsam of society, or we hurt others, especially those who try to love us, and end up as another incarceration statistic or a mental patient.

     You can ever escape that you became a racist because you made the excuse that you needed that to survive, that you took things away from people that you can never give back, or that you killed a piece of yourself that you may never get back.

     Some of us do. We get lucky and someone gives a damn enough to emotionally resuscitate us and bring us back to life. Many do not.

     I live with the rage every day of my life, even when no one else sees it. You might hear it in my words. I hate being chumped.

     So here is my message to you. You will do what you have to do to survive, however you define survival, while we do what we have to do to stop this thing. But don't surrender your humanity. Not to fit in. Not to prove yourself. Not for an adrenaline rush. Not to lash out when you are angry and frustrated. Not for some ticket-punching fucking military careerist to make his bones on. Especially not for the Bush-Cheney Gas & Oil Consortium.

     The big bosses are trying to gain control of the world's energy supplies to twist the arms of future economic competitors. That's what's going on, and you need to understand it, then do what you need to do to hold on to your humanity. The system does that; tells you you are some kind of hero action figures, but uses you as gunmen. They chump you.

     Your so-called civilian leadership sees you as an expendable commodity. They don't care about your nightmares, about the DU that you are breathing, about the loneliness, the doubts, the pain, or about how your humanity is stripped away a piece at a time. They will cut your benefits, deny your illnesses, and hide your wounded and dead from the public. They already are.

     They don't care. So you have to. And to preserve your own humanity, you must recognize the humanity of the people whose nation you now occupy and know that both you and they are victims of the filthy rich bastards who are calling the shots.

     They are your enemies—The Suits—and they are the enemies of peace, and the enemies of your families, especially if they are Black families, or immigrant families, or poor families. They are thieves and bullies who take and never give, and they say they will "never run" in Iraq, but you and I know that they will never have to run, because they fucking aren't there. You are

     They'll skin and grin while they are getting what they want from you, and throw you away like a used condom when they are done. Ask the vets who are having their benefits slashed out from under them now. Bushfeld and their cronies are parasites, and they are the sole beneficiaries of the chaos you are learning to live in. They get the money. You get the prosthetic devices, the nightmares, and the mysterious illnesses.

     So if your rage needs a target, there they are, responsible for your being there, and responsible for keeping you there. I can't tell you to disobey. That would probably run me afoul of the law. That will be a decision you will have to take when and if the circumstances and your own conscience dictate. But it perfectly legal for you to refuse illegal orders, and orders to abuse or attack civilians are illegal. Ordering you to keep silent about these crimes is also illegal.

     I can tell you, without fear of legal consequence, that you are never under any obligation to hate Iraqis, you are never under any obligation to give yourself over to racism and nihilism and the thirst to kill for the sake of killing, and you are never under any obligation to let them drive out the last vestiges of your capacity to see and tell the truth to yourself and to the world. You do not owe them your souls.

     Come home safe, and come home sane. The people who love you and who have loved you all your lives are waiting here, and we want you to come back and be able to look us in the face. Don't leave your souls in the dust there like another corpse.

Stan Goff

Allow me to add my own postscript. When you come home from Iraq, I will salute you. If you fall victim to the sickness that Mr. Goff describes, I will salute you with gratitude, with sympathy and the desire to help you if I can. If you come home without it, having kept your humanity despite the awful vise it and you have been placed in, I will salute you with tears of pride, with gratitude for bearing a burden I cannot know, and the with desire to emulate your courage, your loyalty to your countrymen, your country's ideals, and above all, to your brothers and sisters who shared it with you.

Come home safe. But by the oath you swore to protect the United States Constitution and the ideas it embodies, come home human, above all,and know that this American, at least, wants to see you come home whole.

Thank you.

Posted by jbz at 7:39 PM

November 16, 2003

Score - Mom: 1 Apple: 1 Charter Cable: 0

I recently sent my mother an iMac (the G4 flat panel version, a.k.a. Luxo Jr.). When I called to see if it had arrived, she told me that she had "received the monitor, but where's the computer?"

After a moment of panic, I asked her if the 'monitor' had a heavy, round base.


Welcome to the new world, Mom. That's the computer.


As an experiment, I decided to not tell her to wait for my brother or myself to arrive, and see what she did with it. Well, this morning (the machine has been there two days) I got The Phone Call.

"The Mac is broken."

Had it worked before?

"Yes, and I signed up for the network and eveything..."

What had happened, it turns out, was that my dear mother had opened the iMac and found Apple's famous 'even this kid can do it' setup instructions. So she followed them, and lo and behold, she managed to connect the iMac to the cable modem, boot it up, and give Apple her credit card number for a .Mac account which she thought she needed to connect to the 'network.' But now it wasn't working.

All kudos to Mom; she had, in fact, managed to move the (previously unused) cable modem to a new location, set up the iMac, connect it to both the iMac and the cable in the new location, boot everything up, and get it to work! For some reason, however, the *second* time she booted it, it wouldn't find an IP address. Apparently, in trying to fix that, she was juuuuuust knowledgable enough to get into Location Manager, the Built-In Ethernet configuration, the Internet Connect control panel, and a few other places, and screw everything up. After a half-hour on the phone restoring all of that, it became clear that the reason she'd done all that was that the cable system was refusing to give her an IP address (which matched what she'd said about the cable people asking her for her 'hardware address' and other stuff she didn't know) but in no way explained how she'd gotten everything to work the first time.

I know it had; she has a .Mac account.

So i give Apple full marks, since she did in fact manage to set up the machine (and give them her credit card number); I give Mom full marks for getting online, and I give her cable company the big FUCK YOU for screwing things up and (insult to injury) for their support website telling me I need a Windows-only plugin to read it and that my operating system (OS X or Linux) is not supported.

FUCK YOU, Charter Communications!

Posted by jbz at 5:03 PM | Comments (0)

November 15, 2003

Happy Harry Hard-On

Made the cardinal mistake of watching Pump Up the Volume while in a generally ticked-off at the world mood. When you flick off your home electronics to find that Christian Slater has been talking to you, you know you're in the shit and it's time to break out the bourbon.

Knob Creek, then, and here's to ya.

See, my problem's different than his, now. I looked up from my screen the other day and I was the fucking problem - older, grayer, haven't done shit and now spending too much time and energy bemoaning those facts. On drugs to keep my mood stable, and on food to keep the drugs stable.

Usually at times like this, I take a long drive to nowhere at all just to feel the wind on my head, but the wind tonight is somewhere down near freezing, so it probably isn't a good idea. Besides, now I've had bourbon, and shouldn't be driving at all anyway.

Harry had it easy, though. He had an identifiable System, and it was staffed by visible people. Parents, teachers, guidance counselors, principals, the FCC (hey, wait, that one resonates...fuck the FCC, man!) and the only people he had to talk to were the misfit freakazoids present in every high school.

What happens when you graduate and join the machine? Who do you talk to then?

For now, Knob Creek. Talk hard, stay hard, and for Christ's sweet sake, bring down the fucking RIAA.

Posted by jbz at 12:22 AM | Comments (3)

November 13, 2003

Bombing to Win (cheap)

In recent years, the spiraling cost of military acquisition in the U.S. has been a constant topic in 'the biz.' There's a (in)famous aphorism that if one continues the current trends in procurement and budgeting, in something like 2045 the entire U.S. Air Force will consist of a single fighter. (Hm, I need to find that reference.) While this is an extreme, the trend is undeniable - the F-14 Tomcat was one of the world's most expensive fighters (if not the most) when it debuted in the early 1970s, and it cost $30 million a copy. The latest version of the F-18 Hornet, the F-18 E/F 'Super Hornet', is a marginally improved version of the F-18 - which means it still has substandard legs and a mezzo-mezzo bombload - and its cost per unit has topped $70 million, by some estimates.

That's for a single-seat fighter. In the bomber world, things are even worse - the famed B-2 Spirit 'stealth bomber' is, depending on who you ask, anywhere from $414 million to $2 billion per plane. The name of the B-2, the Spirit, reflects the Air Force's recognition of the stress the aircraft placed on their credibility - especially with requisitions for the equally pricey F-22 Raptor upcoming. Each individual airplane is named 'Spirit Of (some U.S. State)' as a sop to the various politicians who supported the project.

There has been, in recent times, at least lip service towards the 'doing it cheaper' school of thinking. One of my favorite methods of cutting costs involves what a colleague of mine and I tend to call 'Air Octol.' Looking at the Gulf War Air Power Survey (GWAPS), it is clear that the vast majority of bomb tonnage was dropped not by expensive B-1B Lancers or hypercostly B-2 Spirits, but by the venerable (and highly reliable) B-52 Stratofortress. These Korean-war-era airplanes have been given renewal after upgrade, and are now expected to be active in the U.S. force well past their 50th year of life, perhaps as far as 2035, when the flying aircraft will be approximately 70 to 75 years old.

The B-52 is, essentially, a militarized version of the 707. Not the same airframe, but Boeing designed them nearly simultaneously, and their size and eventual load capacity ended up not dissimilar. The B-52 has received engine upgrades, with others in the planning pipeline, giving it more efficient turbofan engines and modern electronics.

Our proposal is this: Rather than build extremely expensive 'high capability' bombers like the B-2, or 'supersonic capable low-altitude penetrators' like the B-1, why not just build replacement B-52s? Better yet, why not take an airframe which is already available in large numbers, has an extremely varied and broad maintenance availability, and convert it?

In short, why not build a 747 bomber variant?

The freighter versions of the Boeing 747 have been tuned and iterated over multiple designs for efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and reliability. They have massive carrying capacity as well as ample space and power for electronics (modern flight entertainment systems being what they are, much less modern avionics). A fully-equipped 747, kitted out for passenger service, can be had these days brand new for under $200 million. Without any interior amenities, the price drops to approximately $150 million. Why not take advantage of the economies of scale in production of the airframe and build 40 or 50 new bombers?

One common argument is that the airframe and hull of the jetliner, built for different weight distribution than a bomber, are not able to handle the stresses of weapons loading. My response: freight in a 747 is loaded in standard containers, each of which can weigh over a ton loaded. With the most common weapons airdropped from bombers being 1000 and 2000-lb guided bombs, this shouldn't be a problem. Furthermore, the freighter variant is designed to allow varying loads to be packed into the airplane. The total carrying capacity of the 747-400F is over 124 tons of cargo. Even allowing for 24 tons of that to allocate to dispensing systems and doors, that still gives the plane an awesome payload.

Another objection: you can't put bomb bay doors on a jetliner, and it can't handle sudden large changes in weight loading. Well, pshaw. I offer this (found at BoingBoing). If you can dump large quantities of water out of a moving jetliner, it doesn't seem that difficult (I acknowledge that I am not an aero eng) to drop discrete packets out of the beast. Furthermore, there are bomb bay doors clearly visible in that shot. :-)

So yes, this entire post was based on finding that picture and gleefully adding it to my stack of 'why not do this the cheap way?' evidence.

Posted by jbz at 1:06 PM | Comments (0)

November 12, 2003

What did we learn from this?

One effective procedure the United States Army utilizes is the AAR, or After Action Report. This is an attempt to collect the 'lessons learned' from any significant action or deployment undertaken by a unit, disseminate them amongst the rest of the organization (Army) and to draw recommendations from their experiences for future use. The Army has an entire unit, named CALL ( Center for Army Lessons Learned), which is part of TRADOC (TRaining and DOctrine Command). It is tasked with collecting, processing, collating, synthesizing and distributing these bits of institutional learning throughout the force.

Recently, the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division (3ID) (Don't you love all the acrobreviations?) published a report based on its experiences in the Second Gulf War ( Operation Iraqi Freedom). The 3ID was a frontline unit, tasked with fighting its way to the outskirts of Baghdad and then seizing and holding the Saddam International Airport, as well as providing support to units in neighboring sectors. The good part? This report was made available via their public website, briefly, before being yanked off the Internet. However, the good folks at managed to snag a copy and make it available to us the public. As an analyst, I found it to contain a whole collection of juicy bits, especially if you have a low opinion of the approach to this war taken by the National Command Authority.

Note: This document is not classified SECRET, or anything higher. It is marked 'For Official Use Only.' However, placement on the 3ID website could be interpreted as official use. In any event, since the information is available through cryptome and probably elsewhere, I am not revealing anything which is not already exposed, so I'm going to go ahead with this.

Wow, that was a really long preamble.

I read this document with a critical eye for several issues. First, I was concerned about various purely tactical and/or technical issues that cropped up during the war (someday I'll blog my rant about Apache attack helicopters versus dug-in, prepared armor without support). For the moment, however, I want to stick to my ongoing fury with the Administration for what I cannot in good conscience call anything but insanely optimistic planning (or lack thereof) and hence, a complete lack of reasonable preparation for the aftermath of a successful combat action in Iraq.

Let me start with these paragraphs, from p. 289:

Issue: For political reasons, leaders declared that U.S. forces were 'liberating forces' rather than occupying forces. This may have caused military commanders to be reluctant to use the full power granted to occupying forces to accomplish our legitimate objectives.

Discussion: As a matter of law and fact, the US is an occupying power in Iraq, even if we characterize ourselves as liberators. Under International Law,occupation is a de facto status that occurs when an invading army takes effective control of a portion of another country. If necessary to maintain this public affairs position, our national command should have stated that while we were "liberators," we intended to comply with International Law requirements regarding occupation. This status would have provided us authority to control almost every aspect of the Iraqi life, including the civilian population, government, resources, and facilities, making it easier for us to accomplish all SASO (Securing and Stabilizing Ops, I think - jb) missions. Occupation law also imposed upon us obligations to protect the civilian population to the best of our ability. Because of the refusal to acknowledge occupier status, commanders did not initially take measures available to occupying powers, such as imposing curfews, directing civilians to return to work, and controlling the local government and populace. The failure to act after we displaced the regime created a power vacuum, which others immediately tried to fill.

Recommendation: Military leaders must use authority granted occupying forces. We could have done this consistent with our government's stated position.

In my interpretation of this, the U.S. military was denied legitimate and effective tools for increasing the security of a conquered area and populace. This was not even done due to political concerns over the use of those tools, in which case a statement specifically forbidding their use would be expected; rather, it was done because no guidance was issued from above, implying that the planners of the war did not understand the ramifications of their plan for the safety and success of their forces on the ground. While I don't know if military advisors brought these matters to their attention, it still represents a severe lack of foresight to the detriment not only of their mission goals but their forces' safety.

This is in keeping with continuing stories that, before the attack, the administration and Rumsfeld clashed heavily with military commanders over the size of the forces required to undertake the job. Persistent stories then indicated that the military command was rebuffed several times when requesting force levels near the 200K range, with the administration claiming that 40K should be enough. Fortunately, either those rumors were untrue (although I give them credence based on the stories at the time) or the military fought back, because the forces that went in did, in fact, number near 200K. However, even then, there were problems immediately apparent in the paucity of support personnel such as military police to handle prisoners, and rear-echelon units to guard supply lines - the ambush and capture of the now-famous Pvt. Jessica Lynch and her platoon is only the most egregious example.

So we have, in the paragraphs quoted, some evidence that (in the 3ID's opinion) there was a lack of prior planning for the occupation on the part of the 'national leaders.' This is an unusually strong statement, especially for an Army after-action report; given that these reports usually are internally circulated only, there is no reason to harp on conflicts with outside agencies other than to note that the Army should be prepared to handle them. However, the document continues on p. 289:

Issue: No civilian authority in place prepared to serve as civilian administrator of Iraq and no Phase IV plan.

Discussion: The President announced that our national goal was "regime change." Yet there was no timely plan prepared for the obvious consequences of a regime change. As late as 15 April, Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance ( ORHA) had, at best, a working draft plan of post-Saddam Iraq. Additionally, the delay in having the civilian authority on the ground (while perhaps justified by security concerns) made commanders reluctant to move too quickly regarding Phase IV SASO activities, as they were concerned that their actions might be inconsistent with ORHA efforts - which either did not exist or had not been shared with the military.Despite the virtual certainty that the military would accomplish the regime change, there was no plan for oversight and reconstruction, even after the division arrived in Baghdad.

Recommendation: Resolution of this is not in division (3rd Infantry division -jb) control. State, Defense and other relevant agencies must do a better and timelier job planning occupation governance and standing up a new Iraqi government. If this is not possible, the best alternative would have been to let the military plan and execute the mission for a month or more, then turn it over to the civilian overseer. This would have avoided the power/authority vacuum created by our failure to immediately replace key government institutions.

So, to further our trend, there simply was no plan available. However, preparations for this war had been underway for up to six months. The war was launched without a proper plan for what would happen even in the case of success (deposition of Saddam's regime and assumption of control on the ground by U.S./Coalition forces)!

In a concrete example of the shortfalls that plagued the 3ID, the report discusses the complete destruction and then the as-yet-incomplete resurrection of the Baghdad police department - surely a central institution for restoring and maintaining order (p. 290):

(paraphrase:The Baghdad police dept went from 40K to 2,500 police after the war, and at the time of writing, they're STILL not on the streets...)

"Recommendation: Higher headquarters needs to understand theimmediate need and impact of the local police in the aftermath of war. The people wanted police and needed security. But we had no plan to accomplish this."

In conclusion, the 3ID offers a high-level look at the problems with Phase IV (securing and stabilization, ongoing operations after the defeat of the Iraqi military), on p.293:

Higher headquarters did not provide the 3ID (M) with a plan for Phase IV.As a result, 3ID (M) transitioned into Phase IV operations in the absence of guidance.

Recommendations: Division planners should have drafted detailed plans on Phase IV ops that would have allow(sic) it to operate independently outside of guidance from higher HQ. Critical requirements should have been identified prior to LD(deployment), and a plan to execute a SASO mission for at least 30 days should have been ready to execute immediately. A liaison officer (LNO) from ORHA during planning would have greatly assisted this process.

This is a chiding of 3ID itself, by its own evaluation, for not planning to cope with higher HQ's lack of guidance. Although one can argue whether or not this is a valid criticism, given that it is not the division command's job to determine how to keep order in Iraq after conquest (at least, other than narrowly defined in their sector and under guidance from above), it is clear that the problem itself was severe. There simply was no information flowing down the chain on either what to do after the closing of 'major combat,' or the present issues surrounding deployment and operations were so far out of the military's 'comfort zone' that there was no time for or prioritization of these concerns.

Throughout the document, when macro-level concerns are addressed, there is a clear tendency for 3ID to indicate problems by citing a lack of division-level planning for 'holes' in the operations plan. It is not the board which issued this report's job to critique those holes themselves, and that is why the emphasis on those gaps and failings of levels of command higher up the chain is highly unusual in a report of this nature.

In short, our forces on the ground were screwed by a presidential administration that had painted itself a pretty picture of being greeted with flowers and cheers for overthrowing Saddam, and wasn't willing to consider much of anything past that - and, in fact, was so confident about the outcome that they were willing to waste time sparring with the military over the nature and size of the forces required to do the job - something which is not their job nor within their purview. Their job is to set objectives; it's the military's job to determine how to carry them out. For this group of chickenhawks to not only presume that they had a better idea of the outcome, but to spend time overriding military professionals as to the requirements for the action, is reprehensible, to say the least.

Posted by jbz at 3:18 PM | Comments (0)

Place the brownies on the floor, sir.

<keelyn> it's like a mastercard commercial:
<keelyn> 4 cops, 3 firefighters, 1 pan of brownies... priceless!

Well, that needs some explanation.

If the links on this site haven't already told you, I'm a confirmed Everything2 junkie. I spend a fair amount of time on that site. Recently, we had a bake sale (more specifically, the Ninjagirls had a bake sale) to benefit the site, and all of us who donated were sent baked goods from the Ninjagirls' kitchens. Mmm. So I had donated, and was therefore sent a batch of Chocolate Death Brownies from a compadre.

The problem is that when the brownies showed up at my office, they were addressed to (naturally) The Custodian, in the Operations department. Our office manager / den mother, Keelyn (who is always looking out for us) wasn't sure what to do with a package for someone fictional, and called the Post Office. When the Post Office found that there was food in it, they advised her to call 911.

So she did.

I got wind of this because folks on IRC at the office were saying that a strange package had arrived for The Custodian. I jumped up and headed for the front desk, but by that point, the cops had told Keelyn that they were on the way and not to touch the package.

So we all waited. One cop showed up. Then three firemen. Then another couple of cops (the firemen had been lost). After clanking their HAZMAT air tanks to the ground, the firemen examined the packaged and proclaimed that from the texture there was an awful lot of butter in them brownies.

Meanwhile, I'm hoping that there aren't any, um, additions in these brownies - not that I have any reason to expect there to be, but at this point...

So eventually, they all left, and I got to eat brownies. Keelyn declined, as she's dieting.

Oh, the cops did come back and ask Keelyn if they should bring ice cream next time.

Posted by jbz at 12:08 PM | Comments (0)

November 11, 2003

Requescat i pacem

A co-worker I knew, albeit not that well, passed away this past weekend. He died doing what he loved more than most things in this world. His fellow hobbyists have posted a picture of him in his element as a form of memorial. More images of them cavorting are available.

I'm not sure how I feel about it; I didn't know Chema all that well, as I said. Worse, I was used to seeing him for a few days at a time in between long, random-length absences as he traveled (he had just moved to Boston, but still considered Mexico 'home' and was in Europe often for work). As a result, it sort of just feels like he's still 'away.' We're going to have a bit of a wake/gathering this week to try to create some closure. I think we'll go for a party atmosphere, and find some of his skydiving videos to play.

Posted by jbz at 2:09 PM | Comments (1)

November 6, 2003

Whose democracy?


Let's take the word ' democracy.' If there's anything we should know from experience, the term is most imprecise, as it refers to a political tradition and school of civil order rather than to an exact concept. Arguments over 'how much democracy' various nations, especially the United States, enjoy have been raging since their inception and show no sign of slowing down. What form of democracy, then, is our President looking to install in the Middle East?

I can't really answer that, despite relatively careful reading of the public policy statements coming out of the administration - because they're careful not to go into specifics. So that route to explaining my deep-seated uneasiness with this policy may be a non-starter. Let's try something else, something that bothers me.

The United States was established as a democracy in 1776 with the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the completion (if not full ratification) of the Constitution a few years later. It has evolved into what George Bush (presumably) is holding up as a model for these other nations to emulate, in spirit if not form. However, if one looks carefully at the 'Democrats' of the early United States, it becomes clear that they resided in and presided over a system which if anything would simply exacerbate the societal pressures and problems which are being expressed as anti-American sentiments. Consider: In that democracy, the vote was limited to property-owning white males. Women need not have applied, nor anyone of color. Is this the form of democracy George Bush would like to see emplaced?

While it may be easy to say that we could expect to press a more 'advanced' form of democracy on these peoples and states, consider that it took the United States nearly a hundred years, and its most ruinous war, just to abolish slavery within its borders - slavery based essentially on racial discrimination. It took roughly another hundred to strike down Jim Crow - and this was in the most advanced democracy available.

Can one really'jump over' that painful part of the democratic evolution and tell or ask a people or state to adopt the 'end state' that we have arrived at over two hundred years of internal disagreement to the point of armed struggle? I contend that it is unrealistic. The democracy we have now, far from perfect (and, some would say, far from working even) is, whatever else it is, the result of those two centuries of evolution in the institutions prevalent in the U.S. and its people. The people are what matter. Even now, there are large groups who will, if given the chance and in some cases anonymity, explain that they remain convinced that equality among races is a bad idea, and Bad For America. While it is a sign of our progress (I believe) that they increasingly will only admit this when anonymous, it's an extremely sobering reminder of the constant fight that democracy requires in order to make it viable.

Daily, we have to fight for it. If we slack off too hard, we end up with John Ashcroft, Joe McCarthy and his modern-day Pollyana, Coulter; we end up with David Duke, and we end up with Al Sharpton and Malcolm X. We end up with extremists on both sides attempting to hurry the evolution of our society through force, as well as those who would simply mire us through unswerving conservatism. It's our fault that Ashcroft and cronies are in charge of our civil life; both those of us that voted for Bush and company and those of us who didn't fight hard enough because we believed that (for example) "nobody would elect someone that stupid."

In any case, back to the Middle East. We are now being told that this endeavour (I shudder to use the term Crusade, because some of the architects of the misadventure seem to apply that term with relish) as an attempt by the U.S. to 'show the region what democracy means.' My classmate Ken Pollack said today on CNN:

"Whether you wanted to go into Iraq or not, whether you thought it was right or not, the simple fact of the matter is, that the entire region, the entire Middle East is now watching to see what unfolds in Iraq.

For the longest time, they basically had two options. They had the autocracy offered by their government and they had the Islamic republics offered by the Islamic fundamentalists. And here comes the United States and says, "We've got another idea. We've got another way of doing things, and that's democratization."

The U.S. is trying to do that now in Iraq. We're doing it with 130,000 troops and 100 billion of our own dollars. The rest of the region is watching to see if it succeeds. And if it succeeds, there is the chance that others will start to accept and start to move in that direction. If it fails, every Arab is going to look at it and say, the Americans tried, they tried with $100 billion, and 13,000 troops, and if it can't work in Iraq, there's on way it can work here. "

CNN 11/06/03

Much as I respect Ken's smarts and experience (which, in this field, are nearly unparalleled) I have to take issue with some of his points. For one, it's difficult to look at this effort as a 'third option for the peoples of the region' - which he implies - when it's happening as the result of a foreign conquest initiated by the U.S. For this to 'work' in his terms, the people watching who wanted to try it would have to somehow maneuver the U.S. into taking down their government and then being willing to spend the $100 billion on their nation as well.

While I don't think it would be a bad investment at all to spend the money if there was a decent chance of a positive return (positive in the sense that a more eqalitarian society based on more liberal principles emerged, not necessarily positive in the narrow U.S. National Interest sense) I have to question the viability of this course. Even if we succeed in this particular case in offering the Iraqi people a viable choice of a working democratic/capitalist social, economic and political system and they accept that choice and put such a system in place, maintaining it themselves...then we still need to ask: what made it palatable for the Iraqi people to accept now, at this time?

Was it simply that they needed the repressive force of the Ba'athists removed before they could make that choice? Or was it that the system was forced on them in such a way that it still doesn't fit right despite glowing reviews? Or that adopting the system was tied to such immediate needs as working infrastructure, food, water and medicine that it wasn't really a 'choice' at all?

And then, even if Iraq comes out of this as a functioning Western-style democracy, how sure would we be that these conditions also exist in other nations in the area, and that they would be tappable without first spending a couple of years and billions of dollars bombing the existing government structures into remission?

This isn't really fair to Ken Pollack, who was asked to respond narrowly to the President's speech. Ken did mention, later on, that there is a real onus on the U.S. and the President as our symbol and leader to prove that 'we really mean it this time and we're not going to leave you swinging.' While it's heartening to hear that our past failures or abandoned efforts are not forgotten in all camps, it raises another problem in my mind - that of entanglement.

Even here, in the position of an analyst that I in general respect and agree with, and even in his 'best case,' we now have a situation in which it is becoming more and more difficult to extricate the United States and its military from the day-to-day operations of the Iraqi nation. The President has successfully, by invoking the goal of democratizaion, tied the American people's faith in and loyalty to their system's ostensible political ideas to a continued presence in Iraq. No matter what happens, now, he can point to this speech and say "But are you going to let these setbacks deter you in the quest for democracy?"

That's a blatant and dangerous hijacking of American political will. Why? Because we were not asked this question before the war began. This was not part of the original reasons stated for going into Iraq! Therefore, no matter what the 'justness' or 'goodness' of this reason for continued U.S. occupation, the mere invocation of this reason alone is a corruption of the process by which we, the United States and its citizens, are supposed to decide how to wield the power of this country we've built.

The converse of authority is responsibility. It's difficult for the American people to induce their government to act responsibly when they are not given correct, proper or complete information on how and why the government is acting in the first place.

Moving back to Iraq specifically, I'd like to take up a thread I previously 'straw man'ned out of sight. What if, in fact, the acceptance of a modern U.S. style democracy actually is predicated on the experiences that the U.S. and U.S. citizens and society have had over the past 200 years? If that was the case, then we couldn't really expect anything better than a Jeffersonian democracy in the best case - one of privileged, homogenous, misogynist definitions of 'who matters.' Is that what we want? I had thought that the 'other option' (thank you, Ken) of Islamic fundamentalist republics was undesirable in part because it involved all of those characteristics. Perhaps a society has to 'decide' for itself to move past value systems of that manner in order to operate under rules of the game such as those we take for granted today.

So, if that's true (and all I am noting is that we don't know it's not) then the notion of 'democratizing' Iraq, in our image or otherwise, is extremely unlikely to succeed, perhaps even not for any opposition directed at us - it may just be structurally incompatible. Certainly, the recipe of economic prosperity and modern technogy coupled with strong defensive and economic ties to the United States hasn't moved Saudi Arabia past that critical point towards a 'democracy' - despite furious, vehement objections and loudly-parroted extolling of the U.S. - Saudi alliance by members of the House of Saud whenever anyone in the U.S. publicly begins to wonder at the structure and/or actions of that regime, which we support as it sits stop several million Arab MIddle Easterners.

I just can't help but think that our nation, our military, and our people have been sucked into what is essentially a game stacked against us with widespread and lethal consequences for not only failure, but even playing. Worse, that it has occurred strictly so that our President and his advisors can prevent or derail any debate over the initial decision to go to war in Iraq in the first place, rather than because of any actual belief in and solid plan for actual political change in the Middle East.

Posted by jbz at 3:01 PM | Comments (0)

November 4, 2003

.50 Magnum sign of the times

I read Popular Mechanics on a semi-regular basis, and I don't typically see ads for guns...but in the December 2003 issue (100 years of powered flight) there is an ad for a Smith & Wesson 500 Magnum handgun - essentially, a .50 magnum load in a 5-shot revolver.


Not that I object to 'handgun hunting' which is what the ad purports to be talking to. I don't even mind that they're advertising the gun, really. What I mind is the sneaking feeling that I get that this is a reflection of the Neocon preferences that are oh-so-unfortunately visible in American society these days.

Posted by jbz at 3:39 PM

November 2, 2003

Strelas and Second Guessing

Today's helicopter downing in Iraq graphically demonstrates the degree to which the lack of pre-war planning for the aftermath has begun to cost the United States military, its soldiers, and the Bush administration. In a week which has seen the number, sophistication and variety of attacks on Coalition forces rise dramatically, the world is left to watch Bush and company spin stories about how the attacks are the results of 'desperate partisans' while their most solid alliance (that with Britain) struggles to contain the rising disagreement between the two nations over intelligence inside Iraq.

The weapon used to down the CH-47 Chinook just south of Fallujah was a SA-7 Strela, a MANPADS weapon from the Iraqi army arsenal. 'Hundreds' of those weapons are missing from Iraqi army stockpiles, according to the Washington Post. This brings back the specter of Vietnam most graphically; helicopters, originally the symbol of American military might, turned at the war's end into the symbol of American retreat from South Vietnam with the famous shot of a Huey atop the Embassy compound evacuating personnel.

Here's the problem, as I see it. Leaving aside, for now, the rationale for the war in the first place, one fact which is clear now (and was clear then) is that Saddam and his disciples had ten years to prepare for the guerrilla resistance which is springing up. The U.S. had made it quite clear what their intentions where, and had made it even clearer what would happen when Iraqi military forces met U.S. forces in set-piece battles. The effectiveness of Saddam's 'vanishing act' alone should indicate the degree of difficulty the U.S. has had and will continue to have in gathering intelligence inside Iraq. The Administration and the U.S. DoD's public statements, at the opening act of this fracas, were full of confident evaluations of the results of combat against the Iraqi military. With a few points of contention, I have no problem with that; they were essentially correct, and even the few serious miscalculations during 'major combat' (my favorite example: sending Apache attack helicopters unsupported against an entrenched and dispersed armor unit south of Baghdad) do not bely the fact that the U.S. forces had Iraq's military completely outclassed.

The problem then, as it remains now, was what happened afterwards - and on that note, the Administration was resolutely blindered. Much reference was made to 'liberated Iraqi peoples' and the like, implying parades and confetti - but no serious analysis, it seems, was done of what the challenges would be in maintaining an occupation and reconstruction effort with a ten-year-in-the-making preplanned resistance infrastructure, coupled with what appears to be a constant influx of suicidal and/or trained and experienced fighters from around the world who have been itching (it seems) to have a go at the U.S. on 'home turf.'

Okay, enough. As the title says, second guessing. Here's the real meat: What do we do now? There is little coming out of Washington except 'We're winning! This proves it!' and little coming out of the field commands except casualty statistics and parries of reporters' questions.

This is the problem that no-one seems to be willing to touch. The Democratic candidates, for all their rhetoric about the miscalculations of the Bush administration, have been almost completely silent as to what a better plan might be. Republicans have been caught up in defending or critiquing their leader, and have been no more help. That seems to leave it up to us, the citizens of this country, to figure out what the heck we need to do.

Those are our forces; our soldiers, and our allies. They are stuck in a rapidly-degrading situation while we sit here at home and debate how to de-elect or re-elect our president in a year's time. We need to spark debate not so much on what Bush and company did wrong (leave that to the election spindoctors) but on how we fix it. Despite a feeling that national security and military operations are best left 'to the experts' we have to be involved in this. The reason is simple - those operations and forces are intended to provide for our security. In order to do that job, we need to be clear on what 'our security' means: what should the goals in Iraq have been, and what are they now?

The Administration seems to be floundering from one position to another. The original public justification of WMD, after taking a beating and sparking a scandal within the administration with the Plame exposure, seems to have fallen beneath the rug of the Oval Office. We're now told that the War on Terror seems to have demanded it, despite the fact that at the outset, the one thing that did seem to be pretty clear was that Saddam did not have operational links to al-Qaeda. How, then, is this our objective now? Simple: the debacle in Iraq has been labeled a 'terror' operation, which means it fits. I beg to differ here: whatever the motives, means and methods used against our forces there, no matter how hideous, all of it can and must be looked at as a resistance against occupation. We are a foreign power, and we are occupying Iraq - regardless of how you look at the reasons for doing so. Thus, trying to lump the ongoing combat over there into the War on Terror is not only semantically incorrect, but (in my opinion) weaselly expediency of the worst kind.

There is, possibly, a broad path which will take us out of this semantic and strategic trap that the Bush administration seems to have gotten us into. That is as follows: The United States must remove itself from the position of dominant occupier and target inside Iraq as soon as possible.

This is not going to be easy. Bush and company managed to alienate nearly the entire international community in undertaking this mess, meaning it will be nearly impossible to simply transfer the mantle of authority to a well-meaning international coalition. Furthermore, our continuing fumbling around in Iraq is costing us any goodwill we might have had from the Iraqi population, as the anecdotal 'bystander' quotes from the helicopter downing today indicate. However, it is likely that Iraq is suffering from the influx of foreign jihadi and suicide fighters, and (as Britain insists) the resistance is an organic net of groups with various agendas who have been conveniently provided with a common target (us) rather than a hierarchical organized group reporting to the remnants of the Ba'athists and Saddam. At the very least, there are enough weapons floating around Iraq and its neighbors, and the borders are porous enough, that it seems unlikely that the only fighters involved are prewar Saddamists. Furthermore, Saddam has demonstrated before that he is perfectly willing to support groups with whom he has no common positive goal if it discommodes his enemies. Given the history of internal strife in Iraq, there would be no shortage of groups with disparate motives who would not refuse resources to attack the Coalition if they were offered. As Saddam has shown, he can be ruthless in quelling internal dissent, so there is no reason to think that he and/or his team would not prefer internecine chaos if it hurt the U.S., banking on their ability to crush internal opponents if the Coalition occupation is forced to withdraw.

In any case, Bush and co. are right about one thing: these attacks and their architects are showing no concern or regard for Iraqi civilians. At the moment, however, the populace appears willing to overlook this or attribute their losses to the Coalition's presence. I would propose that in order to demonstrate the danger of allowing the types of people coming in to carry out these attacks free reign, the U.S. should accelerate all efforts to turn over internal authority to native Iraqi institutions, and avoid statements like 'the long hard slog' and 'In it for the long haul'. This is not because we intend to abandon Iraq, but because we intend to restrict our exercise of power to military operations designed to destroy personnel and institutions we object to.

The U.S. attacked Iraq because the misbehavior of its government placed the conflict between Saddam and the U.S. in the international arena, where the U.S. excels at the use of force. The current occupation is demonstrating yet another time the different requirements between classic combat operations and governance by force. The U.S. is unwilling to engage in governance by force (a fact for which I remain profoundly grateful) and yet it is being forced towards this position by the attacks. The initiative has been ceded to our opponents inside Iraq, whoever they may be, because the U.S. military does well only when it has a defined opponent against whom it can focus its combat power. The U.S. military, by design, is not a law enforcement organization. However, that's what Bush and Company seem to be trying to use it for. The British discovered the hard way the difference between a combat military and a civil governance military in Northern Ireland. The U.S. military is set up, designed and intended to protect the U.S. through the conduct of military combat operations with the goal of deterring or destroying a known and visible opponent. This is a good thing; it makes it harder to use the U.S. military to, say, crush internal dissent in St. Louis.

However, in Iraq, we're doing just the opposite. We are attempting to utilize the U.S. military to enforce civil order. It's not built for that. In Vietnam, the U.S. military was essentially successful at defeating the Viet Cong as long as they attempted to engage as a military opponent; the Tet Offensive was their last gasp at classic military operations before two critical changes. One, they received Northern support, and two, they reverted to the more-effective and less-costly civilian insurrection and guerrilla tactics that came to dominate that war.

In Iraq, we are witnessing that same shift. The military of Iraq has been essentially destroyed and disbanded by the U.S. and its allies; therefore, the fight has shifted from one aimed at defeated or denying access to the U.S. military to one that, by intention or unfortunate happenstance (although I believe intention) is aimed at forcing the U.S. military to attempt to maintain order. Maintaining order is a much, much harder job; in order for you to fail, your opponent must simply disturb things, rather than actually defeat you. Plus, the U.S. forces, sitting in a culture with which they are not familiar and subject to constant harrassment, will respond as they did in Vietnam (and as the Russians did in Afghanistan) by slowly losing their respect for the local population and infrastructure in favor of the use of (fire)power to preserve their own lives. This is not an indictment of the U.S. forces; merely a natural response of a military organization to hostile surroundings.

A military is based on the notion of 'us' and 'them' - you can't have a military without that basic concept. In the U.S. case, the 'them' is defined during peacetime, in training and in general experience as 'the people we're shooting at' which is how it's supposed to be. A military, properly used, is good for only two things (to re-use one of my favorite aphorisms, stolen shamelessly from a respected professor): killing people and breaking things. It is the job of policymakers and strategists to determine how that capability can be applied to the task of achieving the goals they have set before them by their constituency.

So, in a roundabout fashion, back we come. It's our job, as Americans, to determine what we have a military for. Traditionally, it is to serve as a last option to preserve American territory, lives and sovereignty - and to do so by unleashing as much hell as possible at 'them.' Attempting to 'housebreak' it to do other tasks that don't involve that simple bit of clarity reduces its effectiveness, as the U.S. military admits when it requires units that have been 'trained up for peacekeeping' to undergo several months 'retraining' in order to take up their turn in rotation for 'ready' units.

What to do, then?

My answer, simplistic as it is, is this: return the conflict to an arena where the U.S. can maximally utilize its traditional advantage. Withdraw from the task of 'maintaining order' inside Iraq as quickly as possible. Continue to supply any requests for material assistance that the Iraqi people and government produce, with as little delay as possible. BUT:

Make it clear that attacks on U.S. nationals and allied personnel, while carrying out any mission of assistance or delivery of aid, are therefore acts of war between Iraq and the nations whose assets have been targeted. As such, they run the risk of inviting the kind of full-bore response that the U.S. military is good at. Removing U.S./allied forces from day-to-day duty inside Iraq would go a long way to demonstrating to the populace 'caught in the middle' that we aren't the ones trying to prolong this fight. However, any such withdrawal must be accompanied by the threat (and exercise, if it is required) of military reprisal for any guerrilla actions that occur.

After all, unlike the Israelis, we do not have a stake in the land, here. We're not there to preserve Iraq for our use. We may not have even had a decent reason for being there in the first place. But we can strive to return our relations with the Iraqis to 'nation-to-nation' links as opposed to attempting to maintain order through gross misapplication of U.S. power on the ground.

Whew. That wasn't as clear as I'd have liked. I'll have to revisit it. Comments welcomed.

Posted by jbz at 1:43 PM

9/11, Liberty, and the American Way

Alt. title: On Big Brother, terrorism, Little Bush's New Domestic Order and the nature of liberty.

A grandiose title, I know. I just wanted to attempt to gel several threads of musings I've been having on the whole terrorism vs. civil rights vs. law vs. enforcement vs. surveillance - I don't want to call it a `debate' because it's been too damn one-sided; I suppose `debacle' will do.

This is a rant written for my other home, Everything2, some time ago. I've been revisiting it in my head a lot.

9/11 brought with it a number of fairly horrific consequences, some of which were swiftly foreseen, some of which were not. Many of them have been extremely troubling to me on several levels; the one I'd like to focus on here is the relationship between American citizens and their governments. Note the plural: I specifically include here Federal, State/Commonwealth, county, city/town and any other intervening levels I have missed (boroughs?).

To be American is to be free from a great deal of the stress that most peoples of the world endure in their day-to-day dealings with their governments. Part of this is by design; part of this is by tradition. The `by design' part doesn't, to me, appear to be working as intended. Originally, interactions with the government were to be managed by simple minimization; government wasn't to intrude on the citizen except in areas and times of need, hopefully great need. The country was founded, after all, on the notion that people as individuals and groups had the right and ability to remove themselves from the purview of a government they didn't like. The original design, Locke-ian as it was, was informed overwhelmingly by the then-current secession and the desire to avoid not the ability of the people of the U.S. from doing it again on a smaller scale, but to minimize the reasons they would have for doing so.

Of course, the Civil War (or the Late Great Unpleasantness, or the War of Northern Aggression, depending in which of its combatants you were schooled) put paid to a great many notions of the philosophical grounding of the U.S. governmental system, and acknowledged to a large degree the Realpolitik nature of the entire game. For the first time in practice, the `United States Government' acted as an entity separate from the will of the member States, arrogating to itself the ability to determine the legitimacy of State choices (i.e., the choice to secede). Since the defeat of the CSA (which, make no mistake, I personally consider a Good Thing if for no other reason than my Black/Jewish heritage) the ability and `right' of the Fed to act on its own agenda and initiative separate from those of the states themselves has never really been seriously questioned. The requirement for a year-to-year financing of the military, enacted by the Founding Fathers as a hedge against a standing army, suffered when it became clear that the United States was indeed going to fight foreign wars (something the original design actively discouraged), requiring forces to exist on a constant basis. The maintenance of those forces became less of a political stumbling block with the advent and subsequent maintenance of the personal income tax during and following the First World War.

We are protected from our Federal military by two remaining provisions: one, the 'Well regulated militia'1 or the state Guard units, and two, posse comitatus which makes it illegal to deploy the U.S. Armed Forces inside the United States for combat against its citizens, arrest, search, seizure, etc. etc. As we have seen since 9/11, both of these provisions suddenly look a lot less certain than they did a decade or so ago.

Guard units, since the Vietnam War, have been increasingly integrated into the Federal military structure. At this point, they are considered a vital and necessary element of the U.S. Armed Forces TOE2. Following the disasters of Vietnam, in which the armed forces suffered the consequences of being forced to fight a war with little or no public support (rampant drug use, inane personnel policies, rigged drafts, poor morale, information gaps and more) the then-Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Creighton Abrams, deliberately set about revamping the armed forces specifically to make it difficult if not iimpossible to fight a major war without utilizing the Reserve forces, thus forcing the American polity (they hoped) to decide whether any such war was really in their interest.3 The primary means of forcing this choice was to move as much of the Combat Support tasking as possible from regular to reserve units. Thus, while the President certainly can deploy the military by Executive fiat, those forces can't (theoretically) continue to operate in the field for much longer than a month or so at any kind of `combat' tempo without the mobilization of their matching Combat Service Support units - i.e. the reservists/Guard units.

While this has, in fact, made it commendably difficult for Presidents to fight `private' wars, it has also had the secondary effect of binding the Guard/reserve units more and more tightly into the integrated (Federal) military command structure. These units identify themselves more and more as `U.S. Military' and less as `Tennessee National Guard' (for example) than ever before. Even if the units do, in fact, retain state-based identity, their very weapon systems, supply, support and transportation are supplied by the central Armed Forces. They simply could not, by any stretch of the imagination, stand up to the main Armed Forces of the U.S. for the simple reason that in the case of the Guard, their weapons and equipment are supplied by the Army; in the case of the Reserve, most of the ready Reserve units are Combat Service Support and not warfighters.

So, returning from a long digression, 9/11 came about after a long-standing existing shift of power, the power to exercise military force (either in a positive or negative `veto' sense), from the people of the U.S. to the Federal Government of the U.S. Even when citizens are performing their duties by carefully examining the actions of their government, the very nature of conflict in modern America (especially after the Cold War) means that those citizens are routinely and continuously denied the information that they need to make informed choices. As an example, can you tell me how many civilian casualties the U.S. has caused in Afghanistan since 9/11? I don't think the number is out of proportion with our response, but the point is, we don't know it. We have watched our military move from denying attacks occurred to admitting their occurrence but defending their targeting to finally beginning inquiry into events on the ground. All of this points to the mammoth information gap that splits the U.S. polity from the Federal government's decision-making. This is dangerous for democracy and the American process; while, indeed, much information can quite rightly be set aside in the name of `operational security' the reflexive Cold War response of burying information by default and forever, at least until it is forcibly exhumed, means that as an American citizen, I do not know what my Government and my military is doing.

I'm fairly sure, in this case, that even if I did know, I would still be wholeheartedly supportive. The problem is that due to the institutionalized paranoia of the government, added to the desire to remove itself from political control, I don't know what we're doing.

This is unacceptable.

This lack of knowledge about the government's activities segues nicely into my next musing. As I and others have commented in the past, there is a very great danger (which, sadly, appears to be coming to fruition) that the U.S. Government or persons therein will utilize this tragedy to further erode its citizens' rights to privacy, anonymity and indeed general freedoms. A more frightening complication is that at present (at least) the vast majority of the American populace seems to think that this is just fine, as long as it keeps them `safe.' What, precisely, `safe' means is a fairly hotly-debated question among the small group that actually cares.

Well, one might say, why are you concerned? It appears that, contrary to your first argument, the people are actually getting what they want! Perhaps. On the other hand, `what they want' is not necessarily what they're getting. They want to be safe, and they want the government to provide that safety. The information gap I discussed, however, means that a vanishingly small number of people actually have an idea as to the price that they are paying for said `safety.' The remainder, a large majority, are content with the platitudes of "The government is working in your best interests." I find this amusing, as many of these are the same people that bitch so loudly come Tax day!

The Fed (here meaning the federal law enforcement system, not the bank) is attempting to acquire as many tools as possible for its job. On the one hand, this is laudable; it means (perhaps) that the people who make up the system are aware of the magnitude of the task they have before them. On the other hand, it might also be viewed as a sharp jump in a depressingly constant gathering, over the years, of more and more means of access and/or intervention in everyday life and society by said law enforcement arm(s).

Americans have really been too secure for too long for this to work any other way. The degree of personal safety from organized or disorganized violence in the U.S. has been such that in general the citizenry has been spared the necessity of carrying weapons or relying on non-governmental enforcement methods. Note that this doesn't mean people don't carry guns; it just means that it has been possible and reasonable, as a U.S. resident, to carry out one's daily life without the need for personal weaponry. Naturally, some choose to carry such protection anyway; likewise, there are certain occupations (law enforcement, security, courier for large sums, bodyguard, others) where weaponry is accepted and, indeed, expected. However, the Social Contract is doing quite well in the U.S. compared to most parts of the world.

By this, I mean the assumption made by each citizen that in return for their surrender of the right to violence to the state, the state will protect them and prevent the need for them to use violence to protect themselves. Does this always work? No, of course not. However, it works well enough that the great majority of Americans still feel that in the course of their lives they have no need to carry weapons or attain martial proficiency in order to make it through the day. The odds of them suffering harm or privation are low enough to make the risk worthwhile.

This state of affairs rests on a pyramid of trust; the citizen trusts the police to respond, trusts the courts to punish and incarcerate, and trusts the state (in some cases) to execute capital punishment, and so on. Law enforcement is primarily concerned with the prevention and punishment of crime as opposed to the prevention of citizens from taking the law into their own hands. This does, of course, happen; but much more rarely than in the past. Consider, for example, the Western Expansion; many Federal Marshals were employed not so much to capture or kill criminals, but to prevent local law enforcement from running roughshod over the stated rules of the game. This wasn't always true; in many cases, Marshals performed their (ostensibly) prime function of pursuing criminals across state lines. In some cases, though, the local law enforcement (sheriff, etc.) was enough of a problem that the presence of a Marshal was required in order to maintain the expected, trusted behavior of the government vis-a-vis maintaining order.

This is relevant because in those days, many more folks than today in the U.S. chose to carry weapons, and be proficient in their use. While gunplay wasn't nearly as prevalent (nor as effective) as seen in Western films, the weapons were there and were there for use in situations where the Government was unable to adequately maintain its veil of protection. In other terms, the citizens of the Western U.S. found that they weren't yet able to completely relinquish the right to violence to the government. Tacit admission of this, on the government's part, can be found in the tradition of `deputizing' civilians, or forming posses led by lawmen for the purpose of enforcing the law - the civilians' participation was required due in part to the `thinness' of government at that place in those times.

Fast forward. Today, part of the problem of combating terrorism is that in our society the simple willingness to carry high-power weapons and use them, coupled with the lack of concern over one's `criminal record' or future punishment make those who have these attributes formidable challenges to protect society from. Examples are numerous; the Los Angeles bank robbers with body armor and high-powered weaponry, for one. The hijackers of 9/11 were able to capitalize strictly on the will to live of those aboard the aircraft they hijacked; once they had decided they themselves did not need to live, there were little means available to prevent them from completing their plans (although, forewarned of their intentions, the passengers of Flight 93 apparently did just that - showing that once all parties were aware of the nature of the endgame, that death was the planned result, numbers did prevail).

The Government is less able today to rely on societal norms or even situational conditions to keep potential wrongdoers in line. When it is a fairly safe bet that most of the citizens around you aren't armed, and that probably all of them would rather let you go about your plan and wait for the government to help them if it means a better short-term chance of survival, then the demands on law enforcement to predict events and behavior and prevent through interdiction (rather than deterrence) are much, much greater. To do this, i.e. to stop crimes before they happen (which in the case of 9/11 is what you'd have to do) is not normally what police departments or even federal law enforcement normally does. In past times, they have been responsible for ensuring the capture and punishment of those responsible, as well as the safety of any bystanders involved; the latter was important enough that deferring the capture of the actors was acceptable if it meant saving lives.

Now, of course, you can't wait until after. You have to try to find people like the al-Qaeda hijackers before they actually board the plane; before they can park the Ryder truck, etc. You have to find them when they may not, in fact, be presently committing or have yet committed overt crimes. Here, then, is the crux of the problem - in order to stop events such as this, we have `raised the bar' for our law enforcement system so high that the only chance in hell that those responsible for it have of carrying out the wishes of the polity (for `safety') is to throw out progressively larger bits of the freedoms so cherished by our forebears as protected from those very arms of government.

What, then, to do?

That's the question. That's the thing to ask and ponder. It's not necessarily that the U.S. government is venal; a large portion of the drive towards `Big Brother' can be traced directly to the enormity of the task pushed upon it by those same citizens who just `want to be safe.' So it's not even a given that the way to preserve liberty is to fight the government - in this case, the government may actually be following the will of the people. We have to fight not only the patronizing, condescending and superior attitudes of scumbags like Ashcroft and Little Bush (Hooray for Iraq for that moniker); we have to fight the unknowing press of our fellow citizens as they provide the impetus and excuse for these same seizures of our rights.

Which is why this might get ugly. Traditionally, Governments don't give up prerogatives they've seized. Look at the income tax.

As Benjamin Franklin has been(mis)quoted and paraphrased, "Those who desire security over liberty deserve neither security nor liberty."4 Just because the masses want to remain asleep doesn't mean they should be allowed to do so. The government actually, in a strange twist, needs the help of all us skeptics and self-appointed watchdogs - without our help, it simply cannot possibly avoid making the changes that have already started and still satisfy the citizenry. We need to come up with better ideas. It's not Somebody Else's Problem - it's yours, and mine, and your friends and neighbors' as well.

What are we facing? Stories abound. A federally-run database of all airline passenger information, including marital status, living arrangements, address and religion of passengers? Does anyone see a problem here? Or the linking of the Dept. of Motor Vehicles of each state to create a national ID card, without having to actually get the notion past voters? This, too, is underway. I don't know why you went and got a license, but I assure you, I didn't do it in order to join a national databank. I understood at the time that the data would be available to law enforcement and others; however, I wasn't told and didn't assume that the data would be available to a central authority even if I wasn't the subject of an investigation.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

- - -

1. From Amendment II to the Constitution of the United States of America: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Recent interpretation (sources, anyone?) has taken the WRM to include all males of military age, whether or not they are enrolled.

2. TOE stands for "Table of Organization and Equipment," which is shorthand for 'the structure and composition of a military unit or organization."

3. The reader is encouraged to check out the history; one example can be found at the Air Force Association:

4. The quote is from "Historical Review of Pennsylvania," written by Mr. Franklin in 1759, and reads: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Posted by jbz at 12:31 AM | Comments (0)