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Saturday, September 29, 2007

The debate about the surge

Red S Tater is back (see comments here) and has issued a "challenge" for me to revise my comments about the report General Petraeus delivered to Congress a couple of weeks ago.

Red is touting a blog post by "Professor Engram," which purports to show that civilian violence in Iraq is down since the surge began. In other words, Petraeus is right and the surge is working.

Specifically, Red claims that Engram
"refuted the moveon.org claim and analysis completely. You DO agree with the moveon.org ad in terms of it's claim that the "books were cooked"..?" I could be wrong but it seems like that was your basic take over at Minerva a while back.
At first I was going to ignore Red since I've said nothing about MoveOn and I did not specifically argue that the books were cooked. Mostly mindless "discussions" involving people calling each other names are not of much interest to me.

Nonetheless, I looked at Red's link and readily noticed that Professor Engram doesn't address, let alone refute, most of my specific comments.

Yes, Engram compares the summer decline in violence 2007 to the same time period in 2006, but where is the data for 2005 or 2004 or 2003? Using only the data Engram highlights, it is clear that the August 2007 violence is now down to roughly the level of January through April 2006. This very strongly suggests that civilian violence in Iraq remains very high and that the surge will have no meaningful long-term effect. After all, the surge is about to end for lack of troops and the goal was not merely to return the violence to an already high level.

Moreover, I would add that nobody who looks at this kind of evidence focuses too much attention on a single data outlier. What if August 2007 proves to be a genuine anomaly? There are going to be peaks and valleys in the casualty data over a period of years. Generally, Iraq continues to be an unsafe place to live (only Sudan ranks below Iraq on the failed state index).

Engram says nothing about refugees. Iraq's population is about 27.5 million; yet, over 100,000 people are apparently fleeing Iraq per month. Over a one year period, that's over 4% of the population. We would expect nearly 100 fewer monthly dead civilians in Iraq just from a reduced population base.

Past ethnic cleansing has also likely contributed to the decline in violence. The potential victims have segregated themselves.

And, of course, none of the body count data addresses the social issue I highlighted in my critique. Most Iraqis think it is OK to kill American troops -- and the number saying that has increased significantly since the surge started. Counterinsurgency cannot succeed in that context.

One has to look at the big picture, Red. There's no evidence that the surge is winning the "hearts and minds" of Iraqis. There's been almost no genuine political progress in Iraq and even the American generals say that the insurgency won't be defeated militarily. The civil war has to end politically.


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Quacking up

Over at the Duck of Minerva, I've posted a couple of somewhat comedic items that might be of interest to my readers:

Today, I blogged "Bush: still alone on climate change" about this week's White House climate summit. It would be funny if it wasn't so depressing.

September 15, I posted "Terrorism and your neighbor's sex life." Apparently, some transnational terrorists are selling fake Viagra to raise cash for their own dirty deeds.


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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

HCFCs and climate

This past week, the US and nearly 200 other states agreed to an international treaty that will reduce greenhouse gases. The BBC:
Nearly 200 governments have agreed a faster timetable for phasing out chemicals that deplete the ozone layer and contribute to global warming.

The schedule for eliminating hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) comes forward by 10 years under the agreement signed at a UN meeting in Montreal.
Notice, this came out of the 1980s Montreal Protocol, not the 1990s Kyoto Protocol. While the latter is the climate change agreement, the former was designed to save the ozone layer from chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

Still, the deal is remarkable. It is arguably the most meaningful environmental agreement this decade. Even developing countries have agreed to ban HCFCs. And there are credible estimates suggesting that this deal will be up to twice as effective as the Kyoto accord in preventing emissions of greenhouse gas emissions. HCFCs are bad.

Radoslav Dimitrov, a Political Science professor at University of Western Ontario was at the meeting (reporting for Earth Negotiations Bulletin) and his take is somewhat more cynical. I think it's safe to say he's talking about the US here:
One major country displayed particular enthusiasm about taking climate-related action outside of the climate process. Reportedly, their delegation had “marching orders” to bring climate into the ozone process before an upcoming high-level meeting on climate change next week, and thus draw attention away from the UNFCCC....It also provides an easy way to take action on climate change and shift the focus away from the Kyoto Protocol.
The UNFCCC is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Kyoto is a protocol to that agreement.

Oh, Dimitrov also reminds readers that the Montreal Protocol has NOT solved the problem of ozone depletion:
The ultimate weakness of the process is that, despite all political successes in international cooperation, the ecological problem of ozone depletion has not been solved. As the scientific presentations during the meeting revealed, current stratospheric ozone levels remain low, the Antarctic hole is at its worst, and skin cancer cases are expected to multiply several times in the next decade.
The meeting did not really address methyl bromide, which depletes ozone, nor the problem of illegal trade.

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Steroids research

Professor Roger Tobin has a new paper (pdf warning) soon to be published about the effects of steroid use on home run rates. He estimates that even a modest increase in muscle mass can have a substantial effect on HR rate.

Hat tip: Alan Nathan.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

A new NPT?

Somewhat quietly, the United States is trying to close a loophole in the Non-proliferation Treaty. The NPT allows states to pursue the nuclear fuel cycle for peaceful energy-related purposes -- including uranium enrichment.

Last weekend, in hopes of ending the need for enrichment, 11 nations joined the US, Russia, China, France and Japan in the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership.
Under the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, a limited number of countries including the U.S. and Russia would provide uranium fuel to other nations for powering reactors to generate electricity, and then retrieve the fuel for reprocessing. This would deprive those nations of their own nuclear fuel enrichment programs, which can be used to make atomic arms.
These are the latest 11 states to join the partnership: Australia, Bulgaria, Ghana, Hungary, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, and Ukraine.

Do you see any worrisome nuclear threshold states in that group?

Like the Proliferation Security Initiative, the GNEP is a US-led "coalition of the willing" that does not work like a traditional multilateral organization. New international organizations typically form only after a sizable group of states agree to the negotiated terms of a particular treaty.

With GNEP, the US can start offering selective incentives to every state that agrees to live by American rules.

If the GNEP promotes nuclear reprocessing, however, critics are going to point out that the partnership might actually promote nuclear proliferation.

Hmmm. If the program does not reduce proliferation, what would it do? Well, GNEP supporters fairly openly embrace nuclear energy.


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Saturday, September 15, 2007

"That's yesterday's tape"

For the title of this post, I've quoted a line from "Groundhog Day," the classic Bill Murray movie about a guy who discovers that he's literally reliving the same day of his life -- again and again. In the film, everyone around the main character says and does the same thing every day unless he changes the pattern.

Study President George W. Bush's August 28 speech before the American Legion and you might start to think he's playing "yesterday's tape" when discussing American foreign policy.

The speech setting and content are reminiscent of Vice President Dick Cheney's VFW speech in August 2002. Indeed, many of the President's claims about Iran sound eerily familiar to those who recall the buildup to the Iraq war.

Specifically, didn't Bush give much the same speech on October 7, 2002, in Cincinnati, Ohio?

Nuclear threats

Bush, October 2002:
If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy, or steal an amount of highly enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year.....America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.
Bush, August 2007:
Iran's active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.
Regime change

Bush, 2002:
regime change in Iraq is the only certain means of removing a great danger to our nation.
Bush 2007:
We seek an Iran whose government is accountable to its people -- instead of to leaders who promote terror and pursue the technology that could be used to develop nuclear weapons.
War

Bush, October 2002:
The time for denying, deceiving, and delaying has come to an end. Saddam Hussein must disarm himself -- or, for the sake of peace, we will lead a coalition to disarm him.
Bush, 2007:
Iran's actions threaten the security of nations everywhere. And that is why the United States is rallying friends and allies around the world to isolate the regime, to impose economic sanctions. We will confront this danger before it is too late.
For those not following the larger story all that closely, Iran signed a "significant" deal with the IAEA this past summer -- and the US is nonetheless trying to get other major powers to increase sanctions and pressure.

To those who recall IAEA and UNMOVIC inspections in 2002-03, this too may sound familiar.


Hat tip: Glenn Greenwald.


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Friday, September 14, 2007

Edwards: Pakistan hawk?


On September 7 at Pace University, Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards outlined his anti-terror plan. Like several of the other Democrats, Edwards sounds somewhat hawkish on Pakistan.

His words have certainly been interpreted that way.

Is the perception accurate?

After pointing out the NIE report about the Pakistani safe haven, and the billions in aid delivered to Musharraf's regime, Edwards said:
As president, I will condition future American aid on progress by Pakistan, including strengthening the reach of police forces and working more effectively with tribal leaders and their members to ensure their acceptance of the government. But I want to be clear about one thing: if we have actionable intelligence about imminent terrorist activity and the Pakistan government refuses to act, we will.
By including the word "imminent," Edwards is highlighting his agreement with longstanding international norms.


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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Iran: state-sponsored terror update

Though I have not seen a followup to the various speculative media reports from last month -- perhaps it was a trial balloon? -- Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is apparently being officially designated as terror organization. As the Washington Post explained in August, the elite 125,000-member force will be the
"first national military branch included on the list, U.S. officials said -- a highly unusual move because it is part of a government."
Former CIA officer Robert Baer wrote about the possible implications in Time, August 18:
it's either more bluster or, ominously, a wind-up for a strike on Iran. Officials I talk to in Washington vote for a hit on the IRGC, maybe within the next six months. And they think that as long as we have bombers and missiles in the air, we will hit Iran's nuclear facilities. An awe and shock campaign, lite, if you will. But frankly they're guessing; after Iraq the White House trusts no one, especially the bureaucracy.
Here's the "regime change" logic likely to underpin any future attack on the Guard units:
there's a belief among neo-cons that the IRGC is the one obstacle to a democratic and friendly Iran. They believe that if we were to get rid of the IRGC, the clerics would fall, and our thirty-years war with Iran over. It's another neo-con delusion, but still it informs White House thinking.
Reactions? Here's an old one from Bloomberg:
Subir Raha, the government-appointed head of India's biggest oil company, said the U.S. would be ``stupid'' to attack Iran and risk imposing record oil prices on the global economy.
Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern calls an attack on Iran "insane."

It has now been two and a half years since President George W. Bush himself declared that the idea of US preparations to attack Iran was "simply ridiculous."

Of course, even then, he said "all options are on the table."


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Monday, September 10, 2007

Petraeus

I posted my initial thoughts about General Petraeus's testimony over at the Duck.

Locally, you might hear me on WFPL (89.3 FM) in the next day or so.

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

A day at the opera

Earlier today, three members of the Payne family watched a fourth sing in the Kentucky Opera's performance of "Turandot."

The show was entertaining and Cate was terrific. It was her first paid gig and she's really proud of that check.

I think my first job was at a Sonic.


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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Quacks at the Duck

Earlier today, I blogged "Neorealism and hypocrisy 101" over at the Duck of Minerva. The post is about my latest journal article, which is now available. As the title suggests, I take neorealists to task for their apparent academic hypocrisy.

Last Friday, August 31, I blogged "War with Iran?" The post focuses on a new study produced in Britain about US capability to wage war on Iran without major military preparations -- or public debate.

Wednesday the 29th, I posted "Jacksonian baseball." The piece discusses a new study finding that southern white baseball pitchers like Senator Jim Bunning are more likely to hit a batter when they feel their "honor" has been threatened in the context of the game. They are like Walter Russell Mead's foreign policy Jacksonians.


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