Monday, October 30, 2006

Carrierwatch update

Just to update on this post, now well on its way into the TYR Greatest Hits..

Current status of various US aircraft carriers is as follows: Dwight D. Eisenhower, CVN-69 sailed from Limassol, Cyprus on Saturday after calling in for a chilled Keo beer or twenty thousand. To arrive on station in the Gulf, she still has a long way to go, including the passage of the Suez Canal.

Enterprise, CVN-65, meanwhile, called at Jebel Ali outside Dubai, from where she sailed on the 23rd. Since then, she was visited by the admiral commanding the 5th Fleet, who spoke in terms strongly suggesting the end of her deployment. Enterprise's ship's newspaper (pdf) is carrying TV listings including "Return to Homeport" - i.e. road safety warnings for the crew - as well as reporting on preparations for the ship's INSURV (Inspection and Survey), a dockyard inspection carried out on her return home.

Kitty Hawk, CV-63 sailed from Yokosuka on the 17th of October, which she does every year (see link under "back log"). She is expected back in mid-December, having taken part in an annual exercise with the Japanese in the 7th Fleet area (i.e. off Japan, China and south-east Asia). The most recent location for her is given as off southern Japan.

As far as the amphibious ships go, the 7th Fleet's Boxer is off southern India taking part in an exercise with the Indian Navy and will probably relieve the 5th Fleet's Iwo Jima on station, the forward-deployed 7th Fleet ship Essex just finished one with the Philippines. USS Wasp's group is scheduled to sail for the Mediterranean early in 2007.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Sniper at work

Nibras Kazimi reports on the sniper propaganda some Iraqi insurgent groups have been putting out recently. The "Islamic Army of Iraq" (i.e. a chapter of NOIA) claims a large number of dead US soldiers, shows its sniper team preparing for action, using a US Marine Corps manual (nice touch), and then shooting various people. Interestingly, they engage with "Juba", the name US soldiers in Baghdad gave to a sniper back in 2004 - in fact, they claim that the man on screen is Juba and speculate on the name's origins.

I doubt it. Snipers seem to be a universal meme of warfare, and this sort of mixture of impersonal, long-range, silent death and extremely personal mythology is classic. The targets tend to attribute all sniping to The Sniper, and the other side always plays this up. I wouldn't be at all surprised if "Juba" is a group identity - some say the Stalingrad hero Zaitsev was a propaganda construct rather than any one man.

The rest of Kazimi's report rather bears it out. He complains bitterly about newspaper reports that the Islamic Army is negotiating with the Americans and demands to know "how American families who’ve lost soldiers in Iraq through Juba’s crosshairs would feel about that?" Well, there's no point negotiating with the people who haven't been shooting at you. (More here.) He also suggests that the sniper, who appears to speak English, might be getting around security checks because he works for the coalition. It's not impossible by any means, but it does point to "Juba"'s real role - the generation of paranoia.

Speaking of which, Kazimi quotes in another post a rumour that the Iranians are going to assassinate the Iraqi prime minister. Check out the whole thing for the explanation of why they might want to do something so wildly opposed to their own interests. After all, Nouri al-Maliki is a Dawa Party man leading a government dominated by Dawa and SCIRI, which has permitted the SCIRI and Dawa factions in parliament to pass legislation to permit a pro-Iranian SCIRI state in a state down south.

The story goes that they want to kill him to prevent the Americans from making him disarm the Sadr movement. Of course, were the Americans to remove the Sadrists from the chessboard by..ah..enter handwaving here, the most pro-Iranian force in Iraq, SCIRI, would be greatly strengthened. So why on earth would the Iranians want to weaken their own hand?

The answer is, of course, the Dr Evil theory. Now that's what I call paranoia.

Update: This post delayed from Saturday due to Blogger outage. Can this be time to move?

Sir Ian Blair: Must Resign

Right. I'm sure I said somewhere that the man shot by police in the now-infamous Forest Gate raid, who was then charged with possessing child porn, would never be prosecuted for it. Well, whaddya know. CPS concludes there is insufficient evidence to proceed. Something tells me this won't be on the front page of the Scum or the News of the Screws this weekend, unlike the charges, which the Met predictably leaked to the 'bloids.

Let's be clear: on the unsupported word of a man with an IQ of 69, the Metropolitan Police brought up 200 cops and stormed the house of an innocent man, shot him in the arm because "my hand slipped", tore the place apart over several weeks of searching for a "chemical dirty bomb suicide vest", having declared an aerial exclusion zone overhead presumably in case the CDBSV leapt up out of the foundations and - as stunned bobbies watched - mutated into a surface-to-air missile before hurtling skywards, attempted to seize his savings, alleged that the suspect was a paedophile, having tipped off the biggest-circulation newspaper in the country, and finally confessed that he was nothing of the sort.

This is after they managed to botch a surveillance operation so completely that they shot an innocent man dead in a tube train - and then briefed the press first that he was really a terrorist (a lie), then that he was an illegal immigrant (technically true, but irrelevant), then that he was a rapist, which was a direct lie, and also that he was a cocaine dealer, also a lie.

Is there any reason to think Sir Ian Blair should not be sacked at once? For some reason, despite all this, he is still seen as a trustworthy political eminence by the Government. And this is the worst of it. The senior police officers are increasingly becoming a political force in their own right, usually but not always aligned with the Government's "security agenda." ACPO, for example, is behaving with a shocking degree of quasi-legislative arrogance. Very serious changes are being made to the political culture on which no votes are taken. For some reason, the pundits who were outraged that General Dannatt saw fit to speak publicly about his concerns seem unconcerned at ACPO monitoring all vehicle movements on the motorway system by executive (or should that be extra-executive?) whim.

It's even more worrying, by the way, that the CPS spokesman's explanation of Kahar's exoneration does not sound very satisfying. I have in the past blogged on the worryingly flaky evidence used in Internet child-porn cases and the painfully slow realisation of same. I still think it's a suspiciously convenient charge in this particular case. But what is this supposed to mean?
Of the total, 23 had been "embedded" images - which could have been inadvertently downloaded on the back of other computer files - and 21, on the external hard-drive and a Nokia 3G mobile, had been "deleted".

The spokesman said: "To transfer to the phone, the suspect would have to have specialist knowledge.

"There was no evidence that Mr Kahar had possession of, or access to, equipment or the technical knowledge to do so."
What, a USB cable? Bluetooth? As it was a UMTS device, it wouldn't have been impractical to send images or video to it as an e-mail attachment. This is dangerously clueless for the supposed experts, although there is a strong possibility that the spokesman is talking rubbish.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Vicarious embarrassment

The thinnest attempt to discredit the Lancet study yet: apparently if you don't live on a main street you can't be blown up by a carbomb, murdered by fake policemen or shot by coalition convoy guards. Worse, it is alleged the back streets weren't sampled although the methodology explicitly states they were. And one of the people behind this is a professor - a professor at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Damn, when I was there we used to have standards. It surely can't have gone downhill this far in two years? (Mind you, I recall that the intellectual gradient from the history department to economics was pretty steep. And negative.)

Guiltily sending a cheque

Interesting piece in the Grauniad about the British communists and the Soviet intervention in Hungary. I was especially amused by the Daily Worker doing a version of the jaunt to the Green Zone by Rush Limbaugh to "get the good news from Iraq the MSM is keeping quiet". Their reporter, Peter Fryer, was briefed that he ought to "contradict that sort of thing", where the things were reports of tanks machine-gunning crowds of demonstrators. On arriving in Budapest he discovered that they were all true, and said so. His editor, Johnny Campbell, did the obvious thing and spiked the lot. Fryer quit, as did some 19 other journalists. Apparently the readers were forced to read the Daily Telegraph to get their information. Why not the Guardian? Presumably because "social democracy is social fascism."

Interesting as the story is, though, I find a nasty taste in the way many of the people interviewed experienced the whole thing as a disagreeable but pleasantly exciting social kerfuffle, a leftie/intellectual version of so-and-so's latest affair in suburbia.
Alison Macleod, the Daily Worker's TV critic, described how "all around us the marriages of party members were cracking up". Everywhere friendships were under strain. The Thompsons fell out with the Kettles.
Hey! Janos! Bad news! What, are we running out of RPGs? No, the Thompsons have fallen out with the Kettles. And what the fuck is this about?
Another friend, the philosopher Maurice Cornforth, stayed in the party, but guiltily sent the Thompsons a cheque for £50 when Imre Nagy, the reformist Hungarian Communist leader, was executed in 1958.
What, did they have a bet on?

The politics of beer

More mass biometric surveillance evil. Home Office wants to fingerprint guests at pubs as part of war on anti-social behaviour, torture dolphins parenting binge estates, etc. We've long been documenting the biometric and RFID vendors' war on dancing, but this is a sinister new step. The government wants a monster database of everyone who's gone to a pub. Who voted for this?

There is something almost atavistically horrible about this. It may just be that I drink too much beer, but pubs are traditionally where people go to conspire. The original Ranters convened in taverns in places like Kildwick, according to Christopher Hill's The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution. Later, in the 18th century, groups of revolutionary sympathisers, Revolution-Men and followers of John Wilkes, met in pubs to evade the press censorship. One could go on. Crick and Watson burst into the Eagle in Cambridge to celebrate the discovery of DNA. I hear a lonesome whistle blow.

I wonder if the data from this scheme will be hooked into the DHS computer? John Reid is the most dangerous man in Britain. And if this had existed when he was still on the sauce, there wouldn't have been enough hard drives in the world to hold his file.

Talking to Iran, part 2

The chatter is building up that a serious change in policy in Iraq is afoot. Supposedly, there is talk of an ultimatum to the Iraqi government to do various defined things or face undefined sanctions (this is an old John Paul Vann idea from South Vietnam), but there are also reasons to imagine that the Americans are preparing themselves to accept a break-up (see the Harpers' story), and Des Browne told the BBC today that British forces might be out in 12 months because "planning was under way to hand over to Iraqi security forces".

To quote Vann, "Damn, I'm an optimist. I think we can hang on longer than that!" More seriously, at the same time we saw the SCIRI-led Iraqi police being run out of Amara by the local Sadrists, who sealed the deal by destroying the police stations after seizing them. The last we heard, the Queen's Royal Hussars group was standing by in case the order came to retake the place. Given the strength of the local Mahdi Army - it was this lot who fought Camilla's Killers through August, 2004, and who mortared the QRH out of Abu Naji camp a couple of months ago - this would have been a very bloody business.

The Sadrists pulled something similar just down the road a day later, and some of their leaders are on record as boasting that the next objective is Basra. The entire incident was a demonstration of two things - the increasing Shia/Shia split between SCIRI and Dawa on one hand, and Sadr on the other, and the progressive loss of coalition control between Basra and Baghdad. The British security perimeter in the south is shrinking - the Sadrists used a supposed 800 men to storm Amara, a force the size of a battalion with better recruitment rates than most of ours. That kind of movement should have been spotted, if all the crap about drones was true.

Apparently the US government is considering eight options, these being as follows:

1. British out now.

2. Everyone out now.

3. Phased withdrawal.

4. Talk to Iran and Syria.

5. Remove Nuri al-Maliki in favour of a "strongman".

6. Break-up of Iraq.

7. Retreat to "Super Bases".

8. One last push.

Well, if those are your options... Close examination suggests that some of these options are actually double-counted. For example, 3 is only another way of saying 2, as it's more than one day's work to get from Baghdad to the Kuwaiti border, so any withdrawal will be in some sense phased. Even a British unilateral departure will involve at least a move back to Basra and Shaibah before the final evacuation. 1 won't solve the problem on its own, but it will require 4 if 2 isn't going to be immediately brought about. And a phased withdrawal, even more than a straight dash for the exits, will need coordination with the neighbouring states.

Further, talks alone won't solve anything. The ex-officers of the New-Old Iraqi Army and the Sadrist street kids are not controlled by a state-sponsor Dr Evil and cannot just be switched off. Talking to Iran and Syria is only useful if the discussions involve some course of action, like 1, 2, 3, 5 or 6. It's a necessary, not sufficient, condition. Speaking of 5, I see they are yet again parading the ragged corpse of Iyad Allawi's credibility through the streets, trying to make it look like it's alive. Look, the last time he had to deal with the Shia they ran him out of Najaf beating him with their shoes on live television. He's only still alive because he spends as much time in London as possible. And what is he meant to do?

There is, of course, always Saddam, although I suspect if it ever looks like he might be sprung the SCIRI will shoot him first. This is only partly a joke: see Nibras Kazimi on the strange case of the former Electricity Minister.

That brings us to option 6, the break-up of Iraq. I'd argue that it's already happening and we have little control over it, but anyway. If it looks like happening, 2 is top priority - the last thing we want is to have 140,000 troops in the middle of the break-up - and 4 is urgently necessary to consider how to limit the damage. Iran, Syria, Turkey, Jordan and to a lesser extent Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have serious interests in Iraq, and could all become embroiled. After all, the Syrian army could get to Baghdad in three days, there being no-one on that particular route who would fight them, and park its tanks in Dora, where they might even be greeted with flowers, until/unless the SCIRI arrived to greet them with RPGs, car bombs, kitchen sinks etc (in that scenario, the Sadrists' position would be very ambiguous indeed).

7 is easily disposed of. Ever since 2003, every time casualties spike, George Bush has promised that the US Army is being pulled out of the cities to secure bases out in the desert. US lefties are obsessed by "permanent bases!" And, in fact, the US army did indeed move into big fortified camps on desert airfields. They can't do it again. And it's not cost-free - it's precisely living in land submarines that denies them useful intelligence and orientation. Check out this post (and Slate article) of Phil Carter's about the problems caused by living in the Balad "super base". Moving into them leaves the country and the population to the enemy. In the worst case scenario, they become insurgent magnets; without the Euphrates valley main supply route, they become so many besieged fortresses dependent on their capability to suppress mortar or rocket fire to keep the runways open, and their garrison's ability to keep the SAM template clear to prevent the planes being shot down on approach.

8 is frankly ridiculous - even if it is possible to improve the operational situation by a further effort, what is the strategic aim? With the "push" complete, we would just be facing the same list of options. And what would such a "push" look like? The only halfway sensible scenario is something as follows - we do X in order to get the mayhem down to a tolerable level, so we can then hand over to a stronger Iraqi government (i.e. option 2 or 3). But I can't see any kind of discrete operation in prospect that would do that.

The inclusion of option 8, though, does serve a purpose. If all the options were negative, the report would be rejected out of hand. Including 8 and 5, though, permits its authors to show that they have considered all options and that their recommendation is "sensible", "moderate", "reasonable" etc. Further, it makes all options short of 2 look like a happy mean and hence be more thinkable. I sense the formidable political abilities of James Baker at work here.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Ralph Peters: Maniac

The new map of the Middle East crazed wingnut Ralph Peters came up with needs a bit more battering, I think. Specifically, as well as the fact that even though in the text of the article he accepts that the Israelis ought to go back to the Green Line, and on the map he blithely confiscates Saudi Arabia's oilfields and gives them to a new Shia state including southern Iraq, he can't bring himself to mention the word "Palestine" (it's given as "West Bank - status undetermined"), his worldview is truly bizarre and it shows through.

Iran is expected to surrender its Arab bit and coastal strip to the new Shia state, some land to the Kurds, and the northern bit around Tabriz to Azerbaijan - rather like Stalin did in 1945 - and for some reason it's marked as Iran (Persia). Really. What is it with right-wing Americans and restorationist fantasies? Peters probably considers China to be China (Taiwan Mainland) or something. Meanwhile, a straight line is drawn across Iraq right through the centre of Baghdad between "Sunni Iraq" and the new Shia state. That's what I call a dead straight line, even though Baghdad is marked as a "city state" in a desperate afterthought. The Sunnis miss out on the oil except perhaps for the East Baghdad field, but there is no mention of their control of the Shias' water supply (perhaps Peters doesn't realise you need water).

As well as being mulcted of their oil, the Saudis are asked to hand over a huge tract of land to Yemen (why?), Mecca and Medina, plus more land, to a new "sacred state", and accept being downgraded from a Kingdom to the "Independent Saudi Homeland Territories". Christ. Territories and a homeland in one name. Still, it couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of hypocritical, corrupt medieval torturers. Jordan also gets some Saudi territory - why, I've no idea, except that it ends up looking rather like a rhinoceros rotated through 25 degrees from the horizontal.

Oman, the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait are entirely unchanged, presumably because he doesn't know where they are except that they are rich. Going for the big finish, he also gives the entire Syrian coast to Lebanon, incidentally putting his (presumably) friends and allies there in the permanent minority, on the grounds that it would be a "new Greater Phoenicia."

Talk to Iran. Now.

Maps are nice, aren't they? So let's have a look at a few maps of Iraq. This one shows Iraq's administrative divisions, its roads and its rivers. Note especially that there are essentially two major roads between Baghdad and Basra. One runs along the Tigris valley parallel to the Iranian border. The other runs just inside the Euphrates valley on the right bank of the river, crossing it twenty or so miles upstream of Nasiriyah. There are two secondary roads, one of which runs up the left, western bank of the Euphrates from a junction with the main road before the crossing as far as Karbala, the other of which connects the Nasiriyah bridges with Kut on the northern main road. The first of these, Highway 8, is known to the Coalition as Main Supply Route Tampa, the road which connects the US Army's Logistic Support Area Anaconda at Balad South-East airfield north of Baghdad, Baghdad Airport, Mosul, Basra and Kuwait City. Literally everything the coalition uses comes in either up this road from the docks in Kuwait, or else into one of the three strategic air bridgeheads (Baghdad, Balad, and the RAF's Basra Air Station) and then along it to the point of use.

This map shows Iraq's major oil infrastructure. You will note two things - first, the core-centric nature of the refinery at Baiji, which is why the insurgents go to such lengths to harass it, and secondly that the only pipeline between northern and southern Iraq runs next to Highway 8.

This map shows the distribution of religions and tribes in Iraq. Notice that the entire area of the main roads, pipelines and rivers (not to speak of the main railway line between Basra and Baghdad) is shown as entirely Shia, and borders on Iran. It's also, although it's not on the map, heavily SCIRI.

This map shows Iraq by population density. Note that, among many other things this map should tell you, the top 3 cities make up one-third of the population. The only areas of Iraq that can be described as "quiet", except for Kurdistan, are the ones where there is either nobody to fight or nothing to fight over. The much mocked Information Minister, Mohamed Ali Al-Sahaf, had a point when he described the US army advancing on Baghdad as being like a snake in the desert - the only serious fighting before Baghdad occurred at the urban choke points of Nasiriyah and the Karbala area.

Now, there are some 5 coalition divisions in Iraq. There is the British-led division in the south-east, more and more these days concentrated around Basra. There are two US divisions in Baghdad, another division equivalent split between the north-central zone and the Karbala/Najaf area, and one brigade up north. There are also the leftovers of the old Multinational Division South Centre, not that they add up to much. To put it another way, there is a yawning gap between the British in Basra and the road to Kuwait, and the bulk of coalition forces around Baghdad. It is open to the Sadrists, SCIRI or Iran to make a retreat from Iraq very difficult and very bloody.

There is no alternative line of retreat. The road towards Jordan leads through Fallujah and Ramadi, and even the Jordanians might not be happy to help us make our exit via..Israel. Going north is a nonstarter - it means marching through Baghdad and the Sunni insurgent heartland, and then bringing the army over the mountains into Turkey. (Look at the first map, which shows precisely one tarmacked road crossing the border.) The light brigade up in Kurdistan could leave that way, or by air, but the three armoured divisions can't. They have to go south, back the way they came. The conclusion?

We need to open military-to-military talks, so-called staff conversations, with the Iranians. We need to discuss the modalities, in the Northern Irish phrase, of an orderly departure. We need guarantees that their supporters in Iraq will not blow the bridges as they did in the first Shia rising, in April, 2004, and won't mortar the airfields.

And this map is a work of psychotic stupidity.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


Avient Aviation, flying to Baghdad. Flight no. SMJ872, arrived Sharjah ex-Baghdad 0818 local time today.

I am probably the last blogger to blog this, but..

..Texan complains that the book assigned for his son to read in his school's "Banned Books Week" is "just all kinds of filth". Wants it banned. The work in question? Fahrenheit 451.

I wish I could find enough enthusiasm to laugh, but what with things like Sir Ian "Four in the clip and one in da hole" Blair promising internment without trial, and the farrago of sick, Turner Diaries coup fantasies in the comments thread, David Blunkett outing himself as a war criminal, and one who is so clueless he thinks a satellite TV station based in Qatar has a "transmitter" in Baghdad, and Green Zone staffers sporting polo shirts marked "Resistance is futile!", it gets tough. Still, Ian Blair currently has a policy of interment without trial, so perhaps it would be an improvement.

Dannatt, elite consensus and Samuel Huntington

This Martin Kettle op ed from the Grauniad regarding General Dannatt's act of random reason and senseless honesty really annoys me. First up, this quote from Samuel "Clash of Civilisations" Huntington, and Kettle's approving comments:
In the end, although the generals might propose, it was the political leaders who disposed, even in the heat of war. The high-minded judgment by the political scientist Samuel Huntingdon that "if the statesman decides upon war which the soldier knows can only lead to national catastrophe, then the soldier, after presenting his opinion, must fall to and make the best of a bad situation" remains largely true today in theory and practice. Theirs but to do or die, even when someone has blundered.
Shorter Sam: Back in your box, von Stauffenberg. Really, has there been any issue in this man's career he hasn't been catastrophically wrong about? In the 1960s he wrote a book about how converting people into refugees in Vietnam - "forced-draft urbanisation and modernisation" as he put it - was "the solution to "wars of national liberation"". Bombing and dragooning them into the slums would expose the enemy and permit the government to keep tabs on them whilst also exposing them to the material benefits of western society. (That is, if we hadn't given them third-degree burns in the process.)

Quite a lot of US generals, like the hopeless William DePuy ("the solution in Vietnam is more bombs, more shells and more napalm until the enemy cracks and gives up"), actually believed this obscene nonsense, at least until the Tet offensive demonstrated that transferring a guerrilla sympathiser from his village to the capital only makes him that much nearer your office. But that didn't stop Sam. He also believed that western and communist economies were converging, that - say - Hungary and Italy were developing industries in a similar fashion. Ouch. Most recently, he came up with his clash of civilisations. Like all his big ideas, it's a superficially attractive notion with the great advantage that it suggests doing what the elite to which it is directed already thinks is right. I am reminded of Fafnir's crack about "Tell me more about this "not-our-fault" theory - I find it oddly compelling."

Its vacuity is best demonstrated by the fact that civilisations are resolutely refusing to clash. Where is the great struggle for influence between Orthodox and Western Christianity, between Buddhism and Hinduism, between China and Russia? It's not as if, say, Turkey, Indonesia, India and Albania were locked in bloody conflict with their non-Islamic neighbours. If it has any validity at all, it's more like the clash of some bits of some civilisations somewhere and sometime, which is to say "the stuff that's been going on through the whole of recorded history". Huntington, I award you one of Anders Sandberg's warning signs for tomorrow:

The black lightbulb, for really stupid ideas. After all, Huntington and Kettle's vision of civilian control of the armed forces would be as if Tony Blair's doctor was summoned, to find the prime minister begging for his heart to be removed. The doctor would say "There is no need to remove your heart." Blair insists. It's the central front in the war on cardiac arrythmia. The doctor says that it's extremely dangerous, in fact it would be fatal. Blair won't go back on his decision to fight the enemy within. "Prime Minister, this is madness," says the doctor. "You will certainly die." Blair says that leadership is sacrifice. "I took the Hippocratic oath," says the doctor. "Ethically, I can't operate on you to no purpose. And the operation will certainly kill you. But it would be unconstitutional to refuse. Pass the scalpel!"

In essentially all Western armies, the soldier is under a duty to obey any legal order, and a further duty to disobey any illegal order. I think there is a strong analogy that the head of the army has a duty to disobey an order that would be impossible to carry out, or to resign rather than attempt to carry it out. Certainly, the just war doctrine holds that war is morally defensible when the order to begin it comes from legitimate authority, the evil caused is less than the alternative, and there is a reasonable prospect of success. After all, if the effort to prevent the greater evil fails, all it will have achieved is the additional evil of going to war.

This brings us to the crux of the matter. Traditionally, the separation of politics and command is meant to constrain the military from positive action. Civilian control is there to prevent war or tyranny. But the logic that the army must be prevented from doing illegitimate or dangerous acts falls down if the civilian government is bent on doing them itself. Then, if civilian control is absolute, why is it not also absolute with regard to the individual? No-one, I take it, thinks that the individual should not have the right to refuse an illegal order. To put it another way, the government cannot legitimately use civilian control to order war crimes. So why should it have the right to use it to order, say, the crime of aggression in international law? Martin Kettle presumably doesn't accept the "only obeying orders" defence as any fit way for a citizen to conduct themselves. So it is very strange to see an editor of the Guardian - the newspaper founded to defend Liberal principles - arguing Keitel's side.

Oh yes, that elite consensus. Moving on, Kettle rolls out some really awful media-managerialist nonsense to support his conclusions. Or rather, having approvingly cited Huntington's Nuremburg nonsense, he then tacks away from it, claiming he is only doing so for form's sake, and ends up indulging in what Roland Barthes would have called Neither-Nor criticism. The civilian control of the military is absolute to the degree described above, but even so, Dannatt was probably right to speak out. And why? Consider these paragraphs:
But we also have to recognise that these are changed times. Military action, especially by democratic states, requires new and more modern forms of legitimacy if it is to be politically sustainable. The reason why all our political parties now agree that parliament should have the final say on going to war is because most of our foreseeable wars are elective, just as Iraq was. They are fought on behalf of consumerist societies almost wholly unaffected by any form of direct engagement. They can no longer be fought or carried to completion without ongoing public education, debate and scrutiny. Excluding the military from this process is not impossible, but it would be bizarre, not least because the military's own credibility is so much at stake too.


We are already in an age in which military action requires new forms of consent. The disciplines and sacrifices of the total wars of the 20th century are now a receding memory. Today's wars are won and lost on primetime, almost as if they are reality TV. Soldiers in the field now claim and exercise rights - to call up chatshows, and to phone, text and email home - that would have brought the campaigns on the western front to their knees within minutes. All of this makes military action much harder to launch and maintain than in the very different conflicts of bygone times. Whether that is a good or bad thing is a separate point. But these are debates from which military commanders surely cannot be uniquely excluded.
Note the managerialist insistence that everything is different and must be new, new, new. But what does it mean to say that wars can no longer be fought without ongoing public education, debate and scrutiny? When could they be? The 18th century, perhaps. Exactly the disciplines and sacrifices of the total wars of the 20th century required the public's total attention - that's why they were "total" wars, no? In 1942, at the nadir of the Allied cause, there was a vote of no confidence in the Churchill government after a full-dress debate in the Commons. The Beveridge Report, ultimate touchstone of the postwar settlement, was prepared in mid-war. The First World War saw not one but two changes of government. The Korean War overlapped a general election and two changes of prime minister.

Furthermore, what evidence is there that more communication with the home population would have brought about a swift end to the First World War? The nations whose public opinion eventually did collapse - Germany and Austria - if anything had far stronger censorship. And Germany gave up because Ludendorff informed the government that there was no point fighting on, rather than dutifully defending the Meuse, the Mosel, and finally the Rhine at vast further cost in lives as, presumably, he should have done. But the content is not the point. The point is that it's all different now for the usual vaguely defined half-reasons ("media", "prime time" and the rest), and therefore the elite knows best. Just as elite consensus knows that there is an unbridgeable conflict between Britain and Iran, that David Cameron is exciting, and that Samuel Huntington's advice is less dangerous than a sack of snakes.

Tony Blair: Chopper

In my head-on-the-block post regarding the unlikelihood of an attack on Iran, I mentioned that most of the Royal Navy is engaging in a large exercise off Sierra Leone, with the involvement of the Fleet Lead Commando Group, HMSs Ocean and Bulwark, and a large supporting cast. Now, many miles away indeed, the Royal Marines of 3 Commando Brigade are taking over from the 16th Air Assault Brigade in Afghanistan. In the good news, they are bringing two of their three Commandos - i.e battalions - the other one being with the fleet, which means precisely twice as many actual infantry.

Now, the Commando Brigade is the only one in British service that has its own organic support helicopter capability. All the others, 16AAB included, have a call on the RAF's Merlins and Chinooks and the Army Air Corps' Lynxes, but not their own dedicated lift. 3X, though, has two Navy support helicopter squadrons (845 and 846) permanently assigned, with a further Navy squadron (847) with reconnaissance and attack helicopters. So why is the military hiring mercenaries to provide additional lift ships?

The answer is that 845 and 846NAS are both off for a spot of biffing in sunny SL - and why? It appears that the 3,300 headcount limit imposed by military genius John Reid is still in force, so if the Marines want (sensibly enough) to bring more troops, they must leave their organic airlift behind. It would be nice if the government took the wars it insists on getting involved in at all seriously.

Meanwhile, the mercenaries will bring a gaggle of very big Russian helicopters to the table, including the monster Mi26 (HALO), the size of a C130. But who are they? They have a website, It is discreet to say the least, but gives an address on the Albert Embankment in London - i.e. next door to MI6, the Metropolitan Police and the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority. WHOIS returns that something called NSC Holdings Ltd of 3 Limpsfield Road, South Croydon registered the web address. NSC Holdings elsewhere has the same address as SSS3, but - oddly enough - describes itself as supplying burglar alarms. But most interestingly, it was wound up by a court on the 20th of September.

This worries me rather less than it might, as I conclude the firm was probably set up specifically for the job by the spooks.

Kilari Anand Paul

Remember the flight and arrest of Charles "Fiddy Cent Thousand Dead Child Soldiers" Taylor back in March? Sure ya do. You may also recall the bizarre involvement of Kilari Anand Paul, an Indian Protestant evangelist and - to be brutally frank - charlatan with a Boeing 747. Paul, who claimed to be Taylor's "spiritual adviser", has made a career of appearing in war zones to offer various tyrants religious counsel and a trip in the jet, the whole thing funded by charitable donations from the faithful but imprudent. Other clients he claimed at the time included Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, and various Haitian rebels.

Last week, to my considerable amazement, he intervened in the Foley scandal, suddenly turning up to wish himself on dead-man-walking Dennis Hastert. Fascinatingly, when's reporter Justin Rood caught up with him, he claimed to know Condoleeza Rice, Tom DeLay and George W. Bush, to say nothing of Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole and sundry other hard-right theocrats. But that isn't all. The Houston Press has a rather fantastic feature on the guy, detailing a wealth of bizarreries and frauds including a fake leper colony, the abduction of an 11-year old girl from India to the United States and her subsequent abandonment, and a fraud in which he accepted a large sum of money to fly a group of Jews to visit Auschwitz, welshed, and then used the cash to put his jet through a long-overdue C check.

Ah, the jet. It's a 1982-vintage Boeing 747SP, like a 747 Classic but with reduced capacity to make room for extra long range tanks. He claims it's the only private 747 except for Air Force 1 (not true - there are a couple belonging to oil sheikhs, and AF1 isn't a private jet, the clue being in the call sign), and nothing will part him from it. Not the exorbitant cost of maintaining a 24 year old jumbo, nor the giant fuel bill, nor FAA safety regulations. Among other things, he also spent quite some time flying around the world whilst not paying the crew. The C-check that the "Friends of the Israeli Defence Force" unwittingly paid for was carried out in Canada, presumably to evade pursuit.

None of this would be immensely surprising in the airfreight business, which is proverbially beset by shysters. Normally, though, it would go as far as lawsuits in odd places around the world and aggrieved creditors posting to PPRuNe.

But what is especially interesting about this seller of indulgences is that he appears to have decided to be a World Leader, sweeping into zones of international crisis in his long-range jet, dispensing pomposity by the gallon, and being photographed at the shoulder of the great and terrible - and simply gone out there and done it, without the impediments of getting elected or paying any of his own bills. When he called on the president of Ethiopia, he demanded the full honours of protocol, including a red carpet at the foot of the airstair - just in case, a carpet is part of his plane's equipment. One wonders whether the carpet is included on the MEL, the minimum list of equipment that must be present and functioning before the aircraft can take off.

He is a self-made statesman, or more accurately a one-man state - a true product of our times. More seriously, he is yet another example of the weird lack of quality control the leaders of Teh War on Terror so often display in their personnel judgements. Having wangled an invite to the Southern Baptist convention, where he shocked the assembled bible-wallahs by soliciting donations to his personal funds from the stage, he seems to have glommed directly on to the Republican Party's religious wing and its weird and sinister fascination for West Africa. Beyond that, he seems to have some features that would clearly endear him to Bush..
"Bluntly put, when Dr. Paul receives an answer he does not like, he seeks out someone who will tell him what he wants to hear. This is not the way to operate an aircraft; this is a very dangerous game to play, especially since Dr. Paul has little aviation experience. I have advised Dr. Paul and GPI in writing before -- many lives will be put at risk if someone doesn't start to understand what it is going to take in terms of time and money to operate this aircraft."

I can't help thinking this blog could do with an airborne command post. As part of our Global Struggle against Vapid Egregiosity.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

A quick Iraq round-up

Iraqi parliament votes to revoke an MP's immunity. Details:
Earlier this year he was caught at Baghdad airport carrying hundreds of thousands of dollars in a suitcase, reinforcing the belief of many that he was engaged in illicit profiteering.

During the debate on lifting his parliamentary immunity, the head of the integrity commission said that Mr Jubouri had been siphoning off the equivalent of about $75m a month. A warrant has been issued for his arrest.

He is believed to be abroad.

The speaker of parliament said Mr Jubouri was willing to return and defend himself but felt unable to travel because there was an Interpol alert for him at all airports and he did not want to be arrested.
Indeed. Not to mention being blown up by the speaker's bodyguards...

Serious fighting in Diwaniyah between the Americans and the Sadrists. Note especially the destruction of a tank in a multiple RPG ambush. Also note that the Iraqi government's crackdown on militias is, predictably, a crackdown on everyone except their militia.

The US Army is suffering a high casualty rate in Baghdad due to snipers. These things seem to be cyclical. After the RPGs, the IEDs, then the snipers in late 2004, then the big company-sized raids in 2005, now back to snipers.

Recidivist with alert populations

Reid wants to change the law so you can be tortured if he says you're evil enough. Not only that, he wants one of the people who the courts found innocent of preparing ricin in the great no-ricin no-plot tortured, presumably to get out of him why he didn't prepare any ricin. This is an important point about the state without laws - once you open the door to rule by whim, you can't assume that any principles hold, not even the notion that there is a difference between guilt and innocence.

John Reid is the most dangerous man in Britain.

Another data point for this thesis is here. The control bureaucrats are apparently trying to set up real-time interworking between the US Department of Homeland Security's various databases and the Police National Computer. This, a week or so after the Americans legislated to explicitly permit torture and suspend Habeas Corpus. Where is the parliamentary scrutiny? Where is, as they say, the outrage? After all, even in the event that our turd-ridden, vomitous government was to fall tomorrow, who imagines that this will be reversed? It's in the nature of information that once shared, it stays shared.

If you doubt Reid's relevance to this, try out the following quote from one Robert Mocny, director of the USVISIT program at DHS:
"We cannot allow to impediment our progress the privacy rights of known criminals."
The law is what I say it is, and you're either with us, or you're with the terrorists. Perhaps literally with them, in the cells. Joseph Sensibaugh, manager of biometric interoperability for the FBI, meanwhile opines that "It helps the Department of Homeland Security determine who's a good guy and who's a bad guy," targeting "suspected terrorists" and "remaining recidivist with alert populations". Not to mention the president of Bolivia and a dead bluesman, apparently.

Why does it specifically have to be illiterate authoritarianism, by the way? What does that last phrase actually mean, anyone? Anyway. Enquiring minds want to know more. What was this "pilot project"? Whose records were given to the DHS? Will they be told? What are the safeguards? Where are the guarantees?

And what access will DHS have to the National Identity Register? Just think, if you had to present your ID card in Dewsbury...

Test the theory

So, the redeployment of the Queen's Own Hussars battle group from Abu Naji to the border. How's that going? Ellen Knickmeyer of the Washington Post goes to the non-front and finds out.
A few hundred British troops living out of nothing more than their cut-down Land Rovers and light armored vehicles have taken to the desert in the start of what British officers said would be months of patrols aimed at finding the illicit weapons trafficking from Iran, or any sign of it.

There's just one thing.

"I suspect there's nothing out there," the commander, Lt. Col. David Labouchere, said last month, speaking at an overnight camp near the border. "And I intend to prove it."

Other senior British military leaders spoke as explicitly in interviews over the previous two months. Britain, whose forces have had responsibility for security in southeastern Iraq since the war began, has found nothing to support the Americans' contention that Iran is providing weapons and training in Iraq, several senior military officials said.

"I have not myself seen any evidence -- and I don't think any evidence exists -- of government-supported or instigated" armed support on Iran's part in Iraq, British Defense Secretary Des Browne said in an interview in Baghdad in late August.

"It's a question of intelligence versus evidence," Labouchere's commander, Brig. James Everard of Britain's 20th Armored Brigade, said last month at his base in the southern region's capital, Basra. "One hears word of mouth, but one has to see it with one's own eyes. These are serious consequences, aren't they?"
Let's go through this again - there is no evidence whatsoever for the Dr Evil theory of Iraqi warfare.
Evidence of Iranian armed intervention in Iraq is "irrefutable," one U.S. commander in Iraq, Brig. Gen. Michael Barbero, told Pentagon reporters in August. The lead U.S. military spokesman in Iraq renews the allegation almost weekly in Baghdad.

Iraq's remote Maysan province is "a funnel for Iranian munitions," said Wayne White, who led the State Department's Iraq intelligence team during the war and now is an adjunct scholar at the Washington-based Middle East Institute. White said that in the first year of the occupation a well-placed friend had seen "considerable physical evidence of it, and just about everyone in al-Amarah knew about it."

Of course, a well-placed friend. It's bizarre how Iranian-sponsor stories always go this way. Where's the evidence? There's plenty of evidence, but my friend's got it all. Or it's too secret for anyone to see it. Or the liberal CIA is covering it up. The constant is that it is never, ever produced.
But Maj. Dominic Roberts of the Queen's Dragoons said: "We have found no credible evidence to suggest there is weapons smuggling across the border."

Although, I think David Axe of is suffering from a case of BRD, Brit Romanticisation Disorder, when he describes Lt-Col. Labouchere as riding "through Maysan like a modern-day Lawrence of Arabia, uniting the province's tribes under the banner of Iraqi control."


BoingBoing: Wow! a sculpture of someone being shot in the head, and doubts about hypoallergenic cats - are they against open-source?

Anna Politkovskaya shot in the head, in the lift up to her flat, while the shopping bags waited in the car.

Friday, October 06, 2006

There will be no attack on Iran this year

If the Americans were going to attack Iran, you'd think they would do it when they had a ship or two available. Various people have been getting their knickers in a twist because the Dwight D. Eisenhower and her task group sailed for the Indian Ocean on the 3rd of October. (The Nation, this means you.) There is a carrier group there already, around the Enterprise. Apparently this is a gathering armada and proof that Teh October Surprise is planned.

One problem. US aircraft carriers work on a six-month operating cycle. When did Enterprise and Co. leave for the Indian Ocean and the Gulf? The 2nd of May. When did she arrive on station? A month later, on the 3rd of June. When is she due back in Norfolk? The 3rd of November, clearly. When must she leave her station? Now, or thereabouts. When must Eisenhower leave to relieve her? Well, the 3rd of October. Clearly.

Further, look at the rest of the fleet. Out of 11 ships, 5 are currently unavailable - 4 out of 10, if you count the nearly-decommissioned John F. Kennedy. Carl Vinson, George Washington, Harry S. Truman, and Abraham Lincoln are all in dry docks and not going anywhere. The rest are not much more available.

Operating a nuclear-powered carrier is not simple. Each ship is a military airbase, indeed a small air force with the complete spectrum of aircraft roles and its own maintenance, a considerable headquarters and radar centre, a nuclear power station, a hospital and a barracks, sailing across the high seas. Unlike sensible nations, the US Navy thinks conventional aircraft should be used on ships, which means that they must be catapult launched and must land into a big steel cable. The whole thing makes the International Space Station look like a Citroen 2CV.

Hence, they work to an immovable rota of training and maintenance. To deploy, a carrier must finish its dockyard schedule and then accumulate a succession of ticks in the right boxes. The first is proficiency training for the crew. Then comes carrier qualification (CARQUALs) for the air wing - practice landings. Then comes a three-week long Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) for the whole ship. Finally, another three-week tactical exercise called a Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFEX) for the ship, the task force and the air wing. Then the ship is, as they say, ready in all respects and may proceed to sea.

Over time, the schedule is meant to provide a constant level of readiness, but these things are never perfect and hence the actual results wander. Also, something like..a war..can disrupt the whole thing. In late 2001, some 5 carriers were sailed in short order, and then in late 2002 a 3-carrier task force was gathered to attack Iraq. The repercussions are still working through.

In detail, then. Enterprise is due to return and will probably need to take on stores before any attack. Eisenhower has sailed to relieve her. The ships given above are completely immobile, and only one of them could be pulled out of dockyard hands in a serious crisis. ("Serious" here means Pearl Harbour.) Theodore Roosevelt is doing her CARQUALs and is therefore unready for at least two months, even if the training programme could be undertaken without any time between exercises. Ronald Reagan is also in CARQUALs. Nimitz hasn't even begun hers, and is currently tied up in San Francisco for Fleet Week.

The John C. Stennis is in the second week of her COMPTUEX, so even if she was sailed without doing a JTFEX she would miss the supposed target date. That only leaves Kitty Hawk in Japan, the forward-deployed carrier. She is the coalmine canary, but is as far as I know singing a healthy song.

What of the Royal Navy? Most of it, including 2 out of 3 assault ships, is currently steering for Sierra Leone for a joint amphibious exercise (and show of strength ahead of Charles Taylor's trial), Ex VELA 06. It's almost like someone was trying to put it as far from the Gulf by sea as is reasonably possible. HMS Illustrious returned from an earlier deployment to the Arabian Sea on the 3rd of August. Ark Royal is on sea trials having left Babcocks in Rosyth on the 2nd October - she isn't due in the Fleet until December. Invincible is effectively mothballed.

There are also the US Marines to think of. Any operation against Iran would likely need three carriers and at least one, possibly two, Marine Expeditionary Strike Groups. So where are they? One is on station in the Middle East and another in Japan. And the Bonhomme Richard group is in San Francisco.

There will be no attack on Iran. Amateurs discuss tactics, professionals study logistics, right? It's just a pity that, six months ago, everyone got all het up and they haven't noticed a pattern.

Update, Revised and Extended: Multiple commenters here and at following the Henley-alanche dropped on this post have asked whether an operation against Iran could be mounted from land bases alone. For a start, I'd refer you to Comments Dan's comment. But to unpack a little, it's impractical. The US does not, contrary to popular belief, possess a wealth of air bases in the Gulf. The biggest is in Qatar, which is (as Dan notes) unavailable - Qatar even voted with Iran in the UNSC. There are field, forward bases in Iraq, which do not provide enough capacity and are heavily in use for tactical air operations in Iraq. Afghan bases will only provide a limited number of sorties, as the support infrastructure is, as they say, austere (i.e. there's a runway but bugger all else). The RAF's Tornado GR4 fleet, for example, cannot be used to support British forces in Afghanistan because the runway at Kandahar is too short, and the Jaguar fleet cannot be deployed because, at that altitude, they cannot take off with a useful load.

This leaves Diego Garcia and Ali Al Salem in Kuwait. One of these is a long way from the fight. Beyond these, there are of course the USAF's long-range bombers, the B-52s and B-1Bs. However, the first cannot be used over Iran until the Iranian air defences are tackled, and the fleet of the second can't do it all on its own. Also, many of the putative targets are said to be fortified or underground, which means that the warhead on a Tomahawk missile cannot be expected to penetrate them. Therefore, any attack will need a considerable number of sorties by fighter-bomber types to suppress air defences before large bombers can be brought in. That requires bases close to the battlefield, and without host-nation support this means carriers.

Much of the airpower boosterism of the last few years has been the product of the unusually permissive environment of Iraq and Afghanistan, which has permitted large targets like B52s to loiter in enemy airspace waiting for the call to drop JDAMs. This cannot be assumed over Iran, which has been investing heavily in modern SAMs and maintains a significant but unknown modern fighter capability. Specifically, we don't know at all what (if any) capability they have to attack high-value air assets like AWACS, Rivet Joint, JSTARS, and tankers. If their small fleet of F14s is operational and the AIM54 missiles usable, or reverse engineered, this could be a serious problem.

Update again: When the Nimitz swung into San Francisco, we were able to get a blogger aboard for an on-site inspection. If you like ships you'll love the photos.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Why BT's bit of the NHS IT contract works

D2's post on statis (it's the new change) and crap government IT brought something to mind. Dan mentions the success of the Bank of England-run Crest settlement system for the London Stock Exchange, contrasted with the hellbroth of disaster the NHS National Programme for IT is descending into. One thing I think he should have mentioned, but didn't, is the role of institutional memory.

He correctly points out that managerial stupidity loves the idea of change and the notion that past history is no guide. Very true. But one of the worst things about this is that the accumulated knowledge in an organisation is also irrelevant. In his example, the Bank profited from its experience - you didn't see any Big Consultants in that post - and succeeded.

On the NHS IT project, the failures so far are iSoft, which illustrates the fallacy of thinking that dynamic young start-ups necessarily know anything, and Accenture, which illustrates the fallacy of thinking that management consultants know anything. The only sections successfully delivered are those being built by BT, which has been doing big networks and big databases for donkeys' years and working with the public sector for as long. It's possible BT's job was easier. They did the so-called national spine (some fine distinction between a spine and a backbone network..), which is essentially a big VPN deployment over their MPLS network and some data centres. So far, so cookbook engineering. But BT also has one of the much more complicated regional integrator contracts, and none other than the London Region one. That hasn't gone to ratshit yet, as far as I know, so they must be doing something right.

Similarly, the disaster that was Railtrack had a lot to do with listening to people other than the people who knew what they were talking about. The BR engineering department was asked to piss off out of the West Coast Main Line project so consultants could prepare cost estimates more congenial to the government, and then the consultants were asked to work out how to run the company (bang goes the BR operations department). They turned out to be as wrong as they could possibly be.

IBM turned up the old documentation from the days of modular mainframes when they designed the first Bladeservers. Some engineers on the project remembered them.


This has been knocking around the blogosphere for a while now, but I may as well engage with it. Apparently, David Brin thinks coming generations will miss out because computers don't come with BASIC any more. I'm not so sure. I was a ZX Spectrum kid, and I used to spend a lot of time fiddling with code on it without any clear aim. Later, I met Mallard BASIC on the Amstrad PCW, and did a few things slightly more useful with it - Mallard had a file handling thingy called Jetsam you could call from within a BASIC script, which helped.

But - what? I rejected computers for a while, and only really got back to it when I developed a serious forums habit at RHUL. In a similar way, I first heard of blogs and Blogger in Vienna in the autumn of 2001, but didn't cross the threshold - so I suppose Instapundit's fame is at least in part my fault. Now I regret not learning to program properly. Looking back, though, I wouldn't wish BASIC on a new generation of geeks. Certainly not on computers with networking, graphical user interfaces and other stuff. Because the gap between "Hello World" and "anything you might want to make a computer do, especially when you're 12" is very broad. Yes, you have to learn concepts like sequential execution, loops, arrays, subroutines, procedure calls and that they are to be preferred to subs, that GOTO is considered harmful and the like.

But the point of an introductory language is that you shouldn't notice that you're learning that stuff. If the aim is learning-by-doing, it's got to make things happen, and design should involve some thought about what the users might want to do (think mobile devices).

That said, which programming language would my readers recommend I learn? (Don't say Brainfuck! or anything like that, please.)


This is the kind of good news that only illuminates how terrible your problems are. Yeah, it's cracking that the Iraqi spooks (supposedly) got to hear about a plot for the Final Shootout, but it's pretty bad news that the speaker of parliament's bodyguards were behind it.

Worse, it looks like a hell of a plot. Apparently a multiple VBIED attack was planned inside the Green Zone, aiming to decapitate the government, whilst simultaneously an Islamic Emirate would be proclaimed next door in Diyala Province, on Eid ul-Fitr, and a pogrom against Shi'ites launched. It could well have worked, at least initially - the major fault being that the Diyala phase of the plot would have meant instant war with the Kurds, who have territory in Diyala in striking distance of Baghdad. And the plot would probably have killed the Kurdish president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani.

The Sunni, though, despite couping, would stand to lose a lot - SCIRI would surely go ape and ethnically cleanse most of Baghdad. So why was it Dulaimi's lot?

A unified theory of stupidity on terrorism

I'm beginning to think that it's possible to discern so many similarities between really stupid opinions on terrorism that we can call it a theory. Specifically, if you're talking about state sponsorship, you're probably wrong, unless overwhelming evidence contradicts this. As far as I can tell, the modern version of this theory originated in the late 1970s or early 1980s. It had been about - Shakespeare has Bolingbroke in Richard II allege that "all the treasons for these eighteen years/complotted and contrived in this land/have in false Mowbray their first head and spring" - but the strong form seems to have originated then.

Key features are that 1) terrorist or guerrilla activity is never the work of the people who appear to carry it out, 2) instead it is the work of a Sponsor, 3) that only action against the Sponsor will be effective, 4) even if there is no obvious sign of the Sponsor's hand, this only demonstrates their malign skill, and 5) there is evidence, but it is too secret to produce. In the strong form, it is argued that all nonconventional military activity is the work of the same Sponsor.

Reasons for its popularity: 1) it suits existing 2nd/3rd generation military-bureaucratic structures, intelligence collection and analysis processes, and presents targets to traditional weapons systems, 2) it removes agency from the terrorists, 3) because of 2, efforts to engage with the population from which the terrorists come are delegitimised, 4) it postulates a centralised enemy and hence enhances the power of the central government.

Intellectual archaeology: US response to 1979 Iranian revolution/South African military's "total onslaught concept" of same period/Israeli (specifically Likud) efforts not to engage with the PLO/USSR's belief in global capitalist conspiracy/1950s McCarthyism/Rollback doctrines.

Warning signs: States that espouse this theory are often in a position where they have to deal with guerrillas/terrorists in day-to-day practice, whilst political considerations incline official discourse towards Dr Evil theories. This entails a divide between the military/intelligence professionals and the government, or else a horizontal division between those lower on the rank scale who actually deal with the problem and the senior panjandrums. The end effect, and screaming red-flasher warning sign, is a deprofessionalisation of analysis.

Consider Dick Cheney, trying to talk Schwartzkopf into dropping the 82nd Airborne in the desert of western Iraq and then march to Baghdad, on the basis of the US Civil War documentaries he'd been watching. (At least Churchill got his crazy military ideas from books.) Consider Dick again, dragging the Iraq Survey Group inspectors out of bed with suggested WMD locations in the Beka'a Valley. The cultural role of the Beka'a in all this is nontrivial. It's the state sponsorship fiend's happy hunting ground, a zone onto which any kind of political fantasy can be projected. This began when it was hard to reach during the Lebanese civil war, but those days are 15 years gone now, and press men regularly drive over from Beirut to find...nothing.

A key point is fictionalised difficulty. Consider this tale, via Gilliard's. JSOC was so convinced that Lebanon was so wildly dangerous to deliver a radio there, a night-time HALO jump from outside Lebanese airspace, sideslipping in towards the beach, and swimming in with wetsuits would be necessary. And they were desperately pissed off when it was suggested that it just be put in the diplomatic bag and driven over the border (through the Beka'a - did they realise that?) Michael Ledeen continues his career as an "Iran expert" despite the handicap of never having visited the place, as if it was North Korea or Cambodia under Pol Pot. Mike, the cellphones work and you can catch a flight via Heathrow.

Now, as an exercise, let's have a read of this. Apparently the new RPG-29 rocket has reached Iraq. Not good news. But look at this:
"The first time we saw it was not in Iraq. We saw it in Lebanon. So to me it indicates, number one, an Iranian connection," he told defense reporters here. "It's hard to say in our part of the world that we operate in as to whether or not people have given us a hint about things to come," he said.

He said only a single RPG-29 has turned up in Iraq so far, and it was unclear how it was smuggled into the country. But he said it was the latest in a number of new and more sophisticated weapons that appear to be moving onto the region's battlefields from Iran.

He said longer-range Chinese rockets that looked new also have been found in Iraq. Abizaid said he believed the Chinese rockets came from Iran although they may have been taken from the arms inventories of the former Iraqi regime and cleaned up.
So, because they were used in Lebanon first, the one in Iraq must come from Iran. Does he realise that the shortest route between Iran and Lebanon is through Iraq? Surely he does. Later, he mentions other possibilities - but dismisses them. You can almost hear the cognitive dissonance jarring away.

Update: Readers may wish to apply the principles of this post to this.

Update again: Ouch. Terrible mis-Shakespeare corrected.

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