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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Books of 2007

Last year, I posted a complete list of books I read in 2006. I'm not sure the post was revisited much, but I decided to make a 2007 list too. This is becoming a tradition.

Once again, I will not list books that I reviewed, unless those reviews were published. In my academic job, I chair a committee that awards $200,000 annually to the best "ideas for improving world order." Most of our nominees have written books and I read my share of the nominations.

Of course, since I'm an academic, I read multiple chapters and large sections of lots of books related to my research and teaching. However, I'm not going to list them here unless I read them cover-to-cover. Save for the books I use in class or read for review, I often skim over some portions even of outstanding books. It's a time/efficiency issue.

Finally, I'm also excluding the books I read aloud to my youngest daughter, even though some of them are fairly substantial.

So, what did I read this year, mostly for pleasure?


Taming American Power by Stephen M. Walt of Harvard.

Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert.

The Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subcultures by Louis Theroux.

Fantasyland: A Season on Baseball's Lunatic Fringeby Sam Walker.

Play By Play: Baseball, Radio, and Life in the Last Chance League by Neal Conan (of NPR fame).

Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders, by ESPN's Rob Neyer.

The Teammates: A Portrait of Friendship by David Halberstam

The College Administrator's Survival Guide by C.K. Gunsalus.

This week, I finished a memoir by my father-in-law, Charles "Sam" Courtney, Ignorant Armies: Tales and Morals of an Alien Empire.

I also read just about every word in Baseball Prospectus 2007, but not in cover-to-cover fashion. It was edited by Christina Kahrl and Steven Goldman.

Of these, all were worth reading, though this was far from Halberstam's best book. Conan's book is about his mid-life adventure as a baseball broadcaster -- effectively a chronicle of his response to a mid-life crisis.

Kolbert was used in class this fall and is an excellent narrative about global warming. At the time, I did not want to finish Gunsalus, but now that I am halfway through my service as department chair, I'm glad that I did. Theroux, of the BBC, writes about a number of oddball characters in America -- mostly in the west. His subjects included a porn star, a UFO "expert," a white supremacist, and Ike Turner (RIP).


Coming Up for Air by George Orwell.

A Burnt-Out Case by Graham Greene.

Double Indemnity by James M . Cain.

Black Mischief by Evelyn Waugh.

Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.

The Drowning Pool and The Moving Target by Ross Macdonald.

Playback by Raymond Chandler.

The Cold Six Thousand by James Ellroy.

Florence of Arabia, Little Green Men, and Boomsday by Christopher Buckley.

The Quick Red Fox, A Deadly Shade of Gold, and Bright Orange for the Shroud by John D. Macdonald.

A Certain Justice by P.D. James.

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown.

Up in Honey's Room by Elmore Leonard

Of these, I put the best first, then the genre fiction, and then the worst. I really like Greene and Waugh and these books were very entertaining. This is one of Orwell's forgotten novels. At one level, it is about a middle age man who takes a holiday from his family and work. On another level, it is about the ugliness of war, which casts a giant shadow over the protagonist's life. Greene's book has a somewhat similar theme, only his character escapes more permanently to Africa -- rather than temporarily to his boyhood town.

John D. Macdonald's Travis McGee stories are a pleasant diversion, but Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer books have a harder edge. Both provide plenty of amateur philosophy.

These Buckley books were OK, but none of them was particularly good.

Leonard's latest back was a disappointment, though it was essentially a sequel to one of his books that I really enjoyed last year. I previously had a similar negative reaction to Be Cool, which followed the far superior Get Shorty.

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Saturday, December 29, 2007


I'm not altogether sure how to react to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Murder is awful, of course, but this death probably does not significantly alter the prospects for democracy in Pakistan. In her previous terms as prime minister, she was NOT known for great achievement. She kept the military at bay, temporarily, but did not apparently slow Pakistan's nuclear program. Moreover, the prospects for genuine democracy in Pakistan seem fairly bleak with or without Bhutto.

The former head of the Oxford Union was a member of a powerful political family and democrats should not be eager to celebrate dynasties. Many of her family members died violently -- including two brothers killed under mysterious (and perhaps murderous) circumstances. The family expatriated great wealth and faced numerous accusations of corruption.

This murder may destabilize Pakistan -- conceivably, it could topple Musharraf -- but Bhutto herself was a flawed vessel from which to deliver better governance.

The world may never know if the killing was instigated by the government, the Taliban, or some other violent extremists. Which would be worse?

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Friday, December 21, 2007

Cold duck season

My most recent post at the Duck of Minerva blog, dated December 16, is "The debate climate of the climate debate." As you might guess from the title, it is about the Bush administration's attempts to stifle the climate debate inside the US. The post reports a new congressional study.

In response to Dan Nexon's December 19 post on "Why the United States shouldn't withdraw from Iraq: abridged version," I explained in the comments why the U.S. should withdraw. This is even more truncated than Dan's post:
...I share [Dan's] great concern about US moral responsibility.

However, I also believe that the evidence reveals that the US presence in Iraq has caused tremendous harm -- initially by creating targets for violence and by serving as a rallying cry for global recruitment for al Qaeda, but then also by provoking mass migration, by effectively dividing the country into ethnic enclaves, and by empowering dubious armed factions that threaten the Iraqi state.

Thus, I favor a phased withdrawal of US troops that will likely be accompanied by some sort of regional and/or international policy/peace force. The reduction of military support for Iraq likely has to be matched by a diplomatic, development and peace offensive.

The current lull in violence, whatever the cause, may provide an opportunity that won't recur again for some time.

In sum, I would base policy on the scholarship of people like James Fearon, who seems to know a lot about civil war, and Roland Paris, who knows an awful lot about their aftermath.
Expect light blogging for awhile -- major holidays approach.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Will Republican phenom Mike Huckabee be the Howard Dean of 2008? He seemingly came from nowhere to head the polls in Iowa -- but new scrutiny of his past may bring collapse.

First up, did the former Arkansas governor lose weight via gastric bypass surgery? That theory is circling around the right blogosphere. This is from the Sacramento News and Review "bites" page:
Prior to assuming the lead in the polls for the Iowa Republican presidential caucus, Huckabee’s greatest claim to fame was losing 120 pounds off his previously obese, 300-plus-pound frame in little more than a year. Huckabee says he did it the “hard way,” using a special exercise and diet regime designed by Dr. Phillip Kern, director of the University of Arkansas Medical Center Weight Control Program.

“What if Huckabee’s signature issue is a scam?” asks Plutarch, a California physician who has painstakingly put together a case that suggests the Huckster may have lost the tonnage the new-fashioned way: Through bariatric surgery, also known as gastric bypass surgery, in which the stomach is stapled to reduce the amount the given patient can eat in a sitting. As gruesome as it sounds, it’s easier than dieting and exercising.

What would it mean if Plutarch’s right? Well, according to approximately two-thirds of the Freepers who responded to Plutarch’s treatise after it was posted on conservative Web site Free Republic, it means Huckabee is toast.
I happen to know that some major media figures know about this blog post...

Second story: Huckabee's Iowa Christmas ad. Ron Paul doesn't like it and you may find his response to it fairly incredible. See this:

You only need to watch the first minute or so!

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hillary Rodham Clinton in Foreign Affairs

The November/December issue of Foreign Affairs includes an essay by Hillary Rodham Clinton outlining her foreign policy priorities.

Most of the paper reads like generic Democratic boilerplate -- emphasizing international institutions, multilateralism, soft power, etc. Clinton offers plans to address portions of the "human security" agenda -- money to fight AIDS, programs to fund education in Africa, environmental initiatives, and so on. There's not a lot of detail, but I think it sends a signal to long-time allies that her presidency would more closely align with a European security agenda.

This hawkish part of the "war on terror" section, however, sounds like it could have been written by one of George W. Bush's speechwriters:
Iran poses a long-term strategic challenge to the United States, our NATO allies, and Israel. It is the country that most practices state-sponsored terrorism, and it uses its surrogates to supply explosives that kill U.S. troops in Iraq.... Iran has enhanced its nuclear-enrichment capabilities, armed Iraqi Shiite militias, funneled arms to Hezbollah, and subsidized Hamas, even as the government continues to hurt its own citizens by mismanaging the economy and increasing political and social repression.

As a result, we have lost precious time. Iran must conform to its nonproliferation obligations and must not be permitted to build or acquire nuclear weapons. If Iran does not comply with its own commitments and the will of the international community, all options must remain on the table.
The sentence I cut criticizes the Bush administration for its decision to "ignore bad behavior rather than challenge it."

Granted, she calls for negotiations and says that various incentives may be offered, but she doesn't really say what happens next if the US and Iran cannot strike a deal.

She says nothing about deterrence. Clinton uncritically accepts the administration's narrative about Iranian assistance to Iraqi insurgents. She does not point out that Hamas and Hezbollah do not post significant threats to the US homeland. Needless to say, like most other US politicians, she ignores the fact that these groups are seen as much more than "freedom fighters" throughout the Middle East because of their broad social base and support for a Palestinian homeland.

I guess this is why she voted for Joe Lieberman's amendment that designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. Barack Obama voted no and many of the Democrats running for President have tried to use this issue to separate themselves from Clinton.

John Edwards is certainly not the only member of his party who fears that this was exactly the kind of vote that would allow President Bush to launch war on Iran without further authorization.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Highly paid guinea pigs

Occasionally, the email announcement circulated daily at my university includes a call for volunteers to participate in various kinds of medical studies. Apparently, students and others in need of quick cash can make money serving as human guinea pigs.

For this reason, I'm not at all surprised that major league baseball players started using steroids in large numbers. Literally millions of dollars are at stake -- especially if the drugs enhance performance, as they reportedly do.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel of December 15 examined the statistics -- and paydays -- of the numerous baseball players named as steroid users in the Mitchell Report.
More than one in three players - 33 in total - immediately improved in the first season compared with their career averages.

The list of 27 hitters and 19 pitchers who allegedly "juiced" and raised their statistical performances includes stars such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Jason Giambi....

The Journal Sentinel looked at a select group of all stars, named in the report, including Jason Giambi and Pettitte, to analyze the impact on their contracts.

The other all stars were catcher Paul Lo Duca; second baseman Roberts; shortstop Miguel Tejada; third baseman Troy Glaus; outfielders Bonds, Matthews and Gary Sheffield; and pitchers Clemens and closer Eric Gagne, who just signed a $10 million one-year contract to play for the Brewers.

According to the salary analysis, the players were given a collective raise of more than $25 million by the time of their next contract. The raises include signing bonuses paid in the first year of the new deal.
For my numerous past blog posts about this topic, just click on the labels below.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Remembering December, 2003

Want to hear a story about the ghost of Christmas past? On December 17, 2003, CBS News reported the results of two sets of polls conducted December 10-13 and December 14-16, 2003.

Why two samples? Well, on December 14, 2003, Americans learned that Saddam Hussein had been captured the previous day. Many analysts thought that the event might change the dynamics of the American political landscape.

Here's the interesting data from the poll after Saddam's capture (which is not all that different from the one right before):
(Democratic primary voters)
Howard Dean 23%
Wesley Clark 10%
Joe Lieberman 10%
Richard Gephardt 6%
Al Sharpton 5%
John Kerry 4%
John Edwards 2%
Carol Moseley-Braun 1%
Dennis Kucinich 1%
Don’t Know 28%
Joe Lieberman got a 4% boost after the capture -- nothing else changed very much. The undecideds declined by 4% and there was a bit of meaningless zero-sum movement among the candidates in single digits (a point or two). Dean and Clark remained at #1 and #2 with the same percentage support.

We know what happened over the following weeks. Kerry surged in Iowa, then won New Hampshire and the rest was history. Dean's campaign imploded -- even before "yeehaw" -- while Clark's never caught fire.

I'm noting this recent history to point out that much could change quite quickly. Mike Huckabee's surge in the Republican field reflects this fact -- and Barack Obama is currently putting a lot of heat on front runner Hillary Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire.

However, even though it is only mid-December, it is also relatively late in the contest. In 2004, Iowa voters caucused on January 19. New Hampshire's primary was held on January 27. A number of interesting states held primaries on February 3, but Super Tuesday was March 2.

This year, Iowa voters are meeting on January 3. The New Hampshire primary is January 8. Super Tuesday is February 5! That day, voters from California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and 17 other states will be voting. Many states moved up their voting to be more important in the presidential selection process, but the result is a process that will end before winter does.

For all practical purposes, the race to be the Democratic nominee for president is going to be decided in the next 7 weeks and most voters won't even be paying attention to anything but family and holidays for much of that time.

To-date, I've barely paid attention and I'm something of a political junkie. Just click on some of those 2008 candidate labels below this post and see that I've only sporadically blogged about them. Currently, I'm a soft supporter of John Edwards who is willing to listen to Barack Obama.

I haven't written a lengthy anti-Hillary Clinton post, but I'm not excited by her candidacy. Americans should not be interested in political dynasties. I fear that Clinton will be a divisive figure in the country who will not be able to meet America's needs -- end the Iraq war, reach out to the world, achieve meaningful health care legislation, etc.

In any event, I personally think the rush to pick a nominee is idiotic.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Election 2008: Security policy for Democrats

Bill Hartung had an informative piece on U.S. security policy in The Nation, November 19 issue. It gives credit to -- and points accusing fingers at -- Democratic candidates who stake out particularly good or bad policy positions.

For example, Hartung praises John Edwards for not proposing increases in U.S. troop strength, for his pro-nuclear disarmament position, and for endorsing the Unified Security Budget. As a member of the USB task force, Hartung has a broad view of security:
The most recent task force report calls for cutting $56 billion from the Pentagon budget by eliminating or scaling back spending on unnecessary programs like the F-22 combat aircraft, the Virginia class submarine, the V-22 Osprey, missile defense and nuclear weapons. The proposal then argues that $50 billion of these funds should be invested in peacekeeping, diplomacy, development of alternative energy sources, public health infrastructure and protection of chemical and nuclear plants.
Barack Obama receives praise for his devotion to protecting Soviet-era nuclear material (Nunn-Lugar) and for supporting nuclear disarmament proposals. Obama gets dinged for calling for 80,000 more members of the Marines and Army.

Hillary Clinton also gets dinged by name for supporting the troop increase and is otherwise not mentioned in the article. Unfortunately, I think she's largely to blame for this paragraph in the story:
major candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination have not adequately distinguished their views from the Bush doctrine. Each has endorsed one or more of the following actions: threatening a unilateral military strike in the territory of an allied country; keeping all options "on the table"--including, presumably, the use of nuclear weapons--in addressing Iran's nuclear program; increasing the Army and Marines by 80,000 or more troops and increasing the military budget.
Obama and Edwards, however, have also called for strikes against Pakistan -- though there are important differences in their positions. Edwards seems to be a genuine multilateralist.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Over at the Duck of Minerva, I've recently posted the following:

December 10, I posted "Political judgment: Iraq edition." It is about my January 2007 forecasts about the effects of "the surge."

Sunday, December 9: "More than 2 Americas," which is about the various cultural tensions dividing constituencies within the Democratic party.

On December 6, "Terrorism, the shopping mall, and global gun norms." It's difficult to keep up with the shootings this December, but this post is about the shopping mall incident in Omaha.

Note: see this definition of duckery.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Blog maintenance

I've been fooling around with the blog's format a bit in my spare time (read: when I should be grading). Soon, I hope to provide an accessible list of post labels that will make it easier to search the archives. Blogger makes an easy-to-use widget available, but I'm afraid of switching from my html template to the "new blogger" layout function. I made the switch for another blog and lost virtually all my personalizations.

On this blog, that would mean a lot of lost work -- especially links (blogrolls).

In any case, while playing around I discovered that Blogger offers a service to consolidate the RSS feed source. After entering the feedburner address, my reader count jumped from single digits to about 70. After more than four years of blogging, I certainly hope that this is a more accurate count of my readership. I can't believe that the lower number has registered for such a long time....sigh.

With enough time, I may also change the blog banner. Donald Rumsfeld and Tony Blair are much less important public figures now than they used to be. Plus, all the photos are really small.

Informed reader advice on any of these matters would be much appreciated.

What else could I do to improve the blog?

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

DVDs: Foreign Affairs

Lately, I've watched a number of good-to-great foreign films on DVD. Most were made in 2006.

The best, by far, was "The Lives of Others" (Das Leben der Anderen), a German film that was recognized earlier this year at the Academy Awards as the Best Foreign Language Film of 2006.

The film is set in the mid-1980s in East Germany. The state begins surveillance of a writer, heretofore known for his fealty to socialism. I don't want to reveal much about the terrific plot or ending, but I will note that the spying turns out to involve personal passions and leads to private rebellion. It is a great film and offers a brief discussion of the kinds of torture so often practiced in the war on terror.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw "Letters from Iwo Jima," which was Clint Eastwood's Japanese-language film about the World War II battle for the island. It was very good, but not without flaws. The most sympathetic Japanese military leaders all spent time in the U.S. earlier in their lives. Hmmmm.

"Black Book" ("Zwartboek") is Dutch film released in 2006, directed by Paul Verhoeven. This film is set during World War II and tells the story of a young Jewish woman's personal struggles against the Nazis. The plot includes a number of interesting twists, which I will not reveal. The director has traveled some distance from "Robo Cop," "Total Recall," "Basic Instinct," and "Showgirls," though he does find a problematic way to humiliate his beautiful heroine.

"The Valet" (La Doublure) is a light comedy about a parking attendant who becomes involved with a supermodel thanks to her rich married lover's need to deceive his spouse. As I wrote last month, "I would recommend it to anyone who occasionally enjoys French farce."

If you are in the mood for something a bit more suspenseful, view the old French heist film "Rififi" ("Du rififi chez les hommes"). I finally saw it a few weeks ago. One very long silent sequence is a classic piece of cinema. Who needs subtitles in a film that includes half an hour of uninterrupted robbery?

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

The latest threat from global warming

Apparently, global warming is a threat to wine producers in both California and France.

At the same time, warmer weather turns some northern nations into quality wine producers -- like Great Britain and Canada.

From Jen Phillips in the November/December Mother Jones:
THE LAST TIME England had a reputation for its wine was more than 700 years ago, when British monks took advantage of the 400-year-long Medieval Warm Period to grow and press grapes. Today, a new round of climate change is putting the island's wines back on the map.

Thanks to its newly hot, dry summers, the south of England is now considered wine country. Nearly 400 vineyards are producing $31 million worth of wine annually...

As the latitudinally challenged English wine biz heats up, climate studies predict that established grape-growing regions like France, Spain, and California will be struggling; Napa Valley could see its wine production drop up to 80 percent in this century. Meanwhile, formerly gauche newcomers such as Tasmania and Canada are being touted as the next "star regions."
Perhaps this explains why Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is pushing so hard for climate change legislation.

In the immortal words of Three Dog Night, "Couldn't understand a single word he said but he sure had some mighty fine wine ..."

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Duck of Minerva posts

Today, at the Duck of Minerva I blogged about "2008 Grawemeyer winner" Philip Tetlock of the University of California, Berkeley. His book is about flawed expert political judgment -- and calls for public accountability for these analysts.

On November 28, I posted "Iraqi International Initiative" about the possible distribution of Iraqi oil revenues to refugees and displaced persons.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

...So Goes the Nation

Last night, on IFC, I caught most of "...So Goes the Nation," a documentary about the 2004 election with an emphasis on Ohio. The title takes its name from that old adage, "As Ohio Goes, So goes the Nation."

It was not a great film. Much on-screen time is given over to insiders from the Bush campaign explaining why their strategy worked -- and to Democratic insiders expressing lament at the way the Kerry campaign was managed. These perspectives are worth discussing, but I was hoping the film might address some of the odd results and election official shenanigans in Ohio. The Dem insiders were mainly old Clinton hands -- Paul Begala and Terry McAuliffe. Karl Rove apparently did not talk to the film makers.

The film directed some attention at the provisional ballots, but not much, and some on-screen talking heads bashed Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio Secretary of State.

Yet, there was nothing about voting result oddities in Butler, Clermont, Warren and Hamilton counties. Warren was the "security lockdown" county. Moreover, they didn't make much of the exit poll results, saying only that Kerry had been ahead in the "early" polls.

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Australia: no longer willing

By a landslide, Australia elected a new PM last week and he was sworn in today.

Kevin Rudd's first official act was to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Perhaps I'll say more about that some other time.

By mid-year 2008, Rudd promises to withdraw all of Australia's 550 combat troops from Iraq. Australia has 1500 total troops in Iraq. Some of the other troops will stay to protect the Aussie embassy.

This announced exodus follows Britain's announced draw down made by Gordon Brown in October. Click along the link trail and you can read about the slowly disappearing coalition of the willing.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

What Iranian nuclear program?

This is all over the blogosphere, but I wanted to save the link for myself. The latest official National Intelligence Estimate for Iran (public version) says that Iran is NOT developing a nuclear weapon. They stopped military work years ago:
We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program
Because Iran has a uranium enrichment program, the NIE also says this in the following clause: "we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons."

More conclusions:
We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.

We continue to assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Iran does not currently have a nuclear weapon.

Tehran’s decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005. Our assessment that the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously.
As Patrick Jackson notes, this part of the NIE is interesting given what the US has been saying about Iran's President these past two years:
Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs. This, in turn, suggests that some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might—if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible—prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program.
We just might get a negotiated solution yet.

It seems quite unlikely now that the U.S. could muster a case for war before the end of the Bush administration.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Service notes

Rob Farley and Robert D. Kaplan would not appear to be allies. Farley is a progressive who teaches at the University of Kentucky's Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce and blogs at Lawyers, Gun$ and Money and TAPPED.

Kaplan is a neocon journalist who writes influential pieces on military strategy and theory for the Atlantic Monthly and is currently Class of 1960 Distinguished Visiting Professor in National Security at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Yet, despite their different perspectives, both Farley and Kaplan recently published pieces in popular magazines calling explicitly or implicitly for a larger navy.

Farley's pro-navy pieces comes in the form of a provocative call to abolish the air force. Farley wants to give important functions of the Air Force to the Navy:
To the extent that the United States requires a capability to punish other states militarily for political purposes, the Navy can handle the job. The aircraft carriers of the Navy already represent the most powerful concentration of mobile military power in the world. Navy cruise missiles, launched from submarines and surface vessels, can strike most of the surface of the Earth within a couple of hours. Adding certain elements of the Air Force portfolio to the Navy would neither transform nor hinder the Navy's power projection mission.

The strategic nuclear capability of the Air Force should also go to the Navy. The USN already operates its own strategic deterrent in the form of the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, armed with the Trident missile. The Navy could also operate the other two legs of the nuclear triangle (ICBMs and strategic bombers) without difficulty, especially since the latter would support the Navy's strategic mission.
In dismantling the Air Force, Farley would give tactical air support missions to the Army.

Kaplan (in a subscriber-only piece) adopts realist thinking about world politics and implicitly urges expansion of the navy for the simple reason that other states -- China, especially -- are likely to pose future threats to U.S. security interests. Kaplan even uses a narrative structure common to academic realists -- "the tragedy of great power politics."
Democracy and supremacy undermine the tragic sense required for long-range planning.
Democracy is dangerous because it can be difficult to sell weapons systems to the American public. Supremacy is foolhardy because it breeds satisfaction and makes it difficult to see the burgeoning new threats in a dangerous world. If this sounds convincing, keep in mind that Kaplan adopts a very long-term perspective:
All of this puts us in a precarious position. History shows that powerful competitor navies can easily emerge out of nowhere in just a few decades.
Act now! Threats are merely decades away!

Of course, Kaplan refutes his thesis in a succinct sentence:
The vast majority of American ships that saw combat in World War II had not even been planned before the spring of 1941.
Some emergency, eh?

Elsewhere, I am developing my own critique of the tragedy narrative employed by realists. I'm working on a book-length argument about the comedy of global politics. Here is a link to a conference paper that is likely to become a chapter.

Note also: Farley criticizes Kaplan's facts and argument here. Yet, it seems obvious that both would increase the size and capability of the navy if they had authoritative power in the Pentagon.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Edwards: Corporate Responsibility

I haven't yet decided to back any of the 2008 presidential candidates, but John Edwards seems to be advocating a number of interesting ideas that merit serious consideration in the campaign.

In late October, for example, Edwards put forward a plan for corporate responsibility that seems to include a lot of good ideas. The AP story highlighting key plan elements, written by Amy Lorentzen, is still available on the Fox News website:
Require corporations to disclose lobbying activities, political contributions, environmental impacts and government contracts and subsidies.

Give shareholders new rights regarding corporate governance, allowing them more say in decisions such as executive compensation.

Modernize labor laws to help workers join unions and bargain for better pay and benefits.

Create universal retirement accounts that would require employers to offer savings plans for workers who can't access pensions. Edwards said the first $500 workers save would be matched dollar-for-dollar with a tax credit that would be paid for by capital gains taxes.
Those retirement accounts would be mobile, allowing workers to change jobs without losing their pension plans. Paired with a universal health care plan, these mobile new entitlements would provide a real increase in financial security and employment flexibility for American workers.

The intent of the transparency requirement is consistent with my own arguments about public accountability in international institutions: "sunshine will be a powerful disinfectant for corporate malfeasance."

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Monday, November 26, 2007

A Question of Torture

Monday evening, I attended a fascinating and somewhat depressing lecture about torture delivered by University of Wisconsin historian Alfred McCoy. The local UN Association was marking International Human Rights Day a bit early (it is December 10).

McCoy focused on a psychological torture, which his research indicates is a distinctly American contribution to the practice of interrogation. Under the auspices of the CIA, the US has developed a method based on sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain that serves to break individuals.

McCoy's latest book is A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror. From the publisher comments on Powell's website:
McCoy traces the spread of these practices across the globe, from Vietnam to Iran to Central America, and argues that after 9/11, psychological torture became the weapon of choice in the CIA’s global prisons, reinforced by “rendition” of detainees to “torture-friendly” countries. Finally, McCoy shows that information extracted by coercion is worthless, making a strong case for the FBI’s legal methods of interrogation.
McCoy discussed all these concerns -- and more.

He noted, for instance, that the Bush administration has essentially operated outside both domestic and international law and that both Congress and the new Attorney General performed a farce when the former appeared to believe the latter's claim that he didn't know anything about waterboarding.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

BC$ football

Top-ranked LSU lost its football game yesterday, meaning that the winner of today's matchup between #2 Kansas and #3 Missouri will likely be the #1 ranked team in the polls on Monday morning. The computer-weighted BCS may have a different one loss team on top -- West Virginia, maybe, or even Ohio State -- should Missouri beat Kansas.

As a fair-weather KU football fan, this is unbelievable -- and pretty clearly unfair.

In football, teams are not required to play an equal number of home and road games. Outside of their conference, teams can play all home games if they can arrange enough visiting opponents. This season, Kansas played 4 home games before the Big 12 season began.

Moreover, there's very little effort at scheduling parity. Indeed, outside of conference games, program athletic directors (likely in consultation with the head football coach) make their own schedules.

Presumably, these administrators try to maximize wins and revenues, which must be correlated. After all, Kansas-Missouri will be played at 8 pm on ABC-TV tonight. My guess is that broadcasting this particular game on national prime-time TV was not planned back in August.

Non-conference high profile program matchups like USC-Nebraska only make sense because of the revenues they generate. Otherwise, good teams have an incentive to play weaker opposition and rack up wins. The BCS computer is supposed to compensate for this by awarding teams for beating quality foes, but it still gives great weight to the voters in the polls and the 2007 Kansas record proves that, ultimately, wins are better than losses under any circumstance.

This year, Kansas played and crushed Central Michigan (7-5, first in MAC West), Southeastern Louisiana (3-8), Toledo (5-7), and Florida International (0-10).

Effectively, this schedule created few risks for Kansas (though KU did lose to Toledo last season). The team only had 8 regular season games against major conference schools -- all within the context of their regular Big 12 schedule. Due to the luck of the draw, they played Baylor, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma State in their three games versus the Big 12 South.

Note that the list includes neither Texas nor Oklahoma. Luck of the draw in 2007!

Of course, to be fair, note that Texas lost to A&M and Kansas will play OU for the Big 12 championship if both teams win this weekend.

In any event, college football is obviously a big business and the idea that athletic directors of major programs can engineer their own schedules so as to maximize winning (and thus profit) is anti-competitive.

Incidentally, this same critique applies to college basketball. Through the first week of January, the local University of Louisville Cardinals will play 9 home games, one true road game, and three games on neutral courts (two in a tournament and one just up the road in Indy's John Wooden Tradition).

Through the end of December, Kansas plays 10 basketball games in Lawrence, another in KC, and two on the road. Anyone wanna bet that KU will be ranked in the top five in hoops entering the first week in January?

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Oil: the third rail of the Iraq debate

Only the "loony left" thinks the invasion of Iraq was about oil, right? Recall what press secretary Ari Fleischer said in February 2003:
if this had anything to do with oil, the position of the United States would be to lift the sanctions so the oil could flow. This is not about that.
Then-Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said something very similar at the time:
"We don't take our forces and go around the world and try to take other people's real estate or other people's resources, their oil. That's just not what the United States does," he said. "We never have, and we never will.
November 2002, Rumsfeld told CBS News that the confrontation with Iraq: "has nothing to do with oil, literally nothing to do with oil."***

However, in the November 2007 American Prospect, journalist John Judis admits that the neocons and other Bush officials were privately talking about oil interests back in fall 2002. Those discussions were off-the-record, however, so the norms of journalism apparently prevented him from revealing their motives when it might have prevented war.
In the buildup to the war, and during the invasion and occupation, Bush officials, who were eager to advertise Iraq's nuclear threat, were reluctant to talk about oil, but in off-the-record interviews I conducted in December 2002, neo-conservatives waxed poetic about using Iraq's oil wealth to undermine OPEC.
Judis also notes that some former high ranking Republicans have now publicly acknowledged that oil was a driving factor for Iraq policy even before 9/11:
After he left office, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill recounted National Security Council discussions about Iraqi oil. And in his recently published memoir, Alan Greenspan wrote, "I'm saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows -- the Iraq war is largely about oil."
President Bush, October 25, 2006, put his own spin on the oil angle:
If we do not defeat the terrorists or extremists in Iraq, they will gain access to vast oil reserves...And I know it's incumbent upon our government and others who enjoy the blessings of liberty to help those moderates succeed because, otherwise, we're looking at the potential of this kind of world: a world in which radical forms of Islam compete for power; a world in which moderate governments get toppled by people willing to murder the innocent; a world in which oil reserves are controlled by radicals in order to extract blackmail from the West...
Even prior to the war, however, it should have been obvious that much of the Arab world would see the situation as "war for oil."

Indeed, realist academic war critics like John Mearsheimer argued before the war began that the U.S. would be perceived as establishing a "giant gas station" in Iraq.
The second point I would make about occupation is we have a massive public relations problem in the Arab and Muslim world. People there really hate us. The idea that we're going to come in, conquer that place, bring in a pro council (sic) ... right? ... turn it into a giant gas station, and that's not going to further enrage people in the Arab and Muslim world against us, escapes me. I just don't see how that's going to happen. So I think it's going to make our terrorism problem worse, not better.
In a debate sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations in February 2003, Mearsheimer's frequent coauthor (and debate colleague) Steve Walt of Harvard elaborated:
the point was not about whether or not we were going to war for that reason, it's how our occupation will be perceived in the region, and what its regional consequences will be. And it is I think very, very likely that after we occupy Iraq and after we are there for five or ten years, we will be seen as a quasi colonial power. We will be pumping oil out of it ... not immediately, but after a number of years ... and this will be seen as exploitation, perhaps illegitimately.
It is frequently argued -- even by President Bush -- that the violence in Iraq will not end without a political resolution that includes some kind of plan to divide Iraq's oil wealth. In the latest twist, the Iraqi central government says it is going to punish oil companies that have signed separate deals with the Kurds.

The stakes are very high.

Since 2002, oil-producing Arab countries have seen their revenues triple -- "the number you usually hear is $700 billion of profit."

Somewhat perversely, these revenues provide Iraq's neighbors with very little incentive to push for peace. After all, peace and stability might bring reduced oil prices...

*** In this same interview, Rumsfeld was asked about the potential length of the Iaq war: ""Five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that."

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sustainability Report Card

In the College Sustainability Report Card, produced by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, the University of Louisville received a C+.

U of L did fairly well (B) on transportation, partly because of the free bus and shuttle service for students. Campus vehicles also use some alternative fuels.

The university did very poorly (D) for the "Green Buildings" category and for the lack of shareholder engagement in university endowment investments.

For Climate Change & Energy, the grade was C:
The university has gone to great lengths to improve energy efficiency across campus. New chillers and air handlers in the central plant save $150,000 per year. In addition, several boilers and HVAC systems have been replaced or upgraded. Energy audits have also been performed. However, there has been no formal commitment to reduce emissions or to purchase energy from renewable sources.
Under the rubric of the Partnership for a Green City, I'm a new member of multiple committees that will try to improve this score in the future.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

At the Duck

Lately, at the Duck of Minerva, I have blogged the following:

November 20, "The decline in Iraqi violence" which explains why "the surge" may not explain the recent decline in violence in Iraq.

Tuesday, November 13: I blogged "Breathe easier, DC and NYC," which is about the (un)reality of so-called "suitcase nukes."

Saturday, November 10: "Is neoconservatism still vibrant?" The title speaks for itself.

Thanks for reading.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Culture update: November 2007

Thanks to the writer's strike, there are no new episodes of "The Daily Show."

Baseball is long gone now, and the hot-stove news is depressing.

What to do?

I watched "LA Doublure" ("The Valet") this week and I would recommend it to anyone who occasionally enjoys French farce.

Also, checking this website is quite entertaining to me -- at least this week.

Rock chalk.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

College for Everyone

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards advocates a plan that would make the freshman year of college free to everyone -- so long as they agree to work a nominal amount and "play by the rules" (as President Bill Clinton used to say). This is from his May 11 press release:
Senator John Edwards today announced his plan to make college more affordable for millions of students. Edwards' College Opportunity Agenda includes a national "College for Everyone" initiative, which would pay for one year of public-college tuition, fees, and books for any student who is willing to work hard and stay out of trouble...

The initiative is based on the College for Everyone pilot program in Greene County, North Carolina, that helps pay for the first year of college for young people who agree to work at least 10 hours a week...The projected college-going rate for Greene Central seniors has increased from 54 percent before the program started to 74 percent today.
Edwards says that about 200,000 college-qualified graduates fail to attend college each year, primarily because of cost.

As a college professor, I'm excited by this idea. However, I think it is a good idea primarily because it should make it possible for current students to limit their work hours. Students need to study and excessive work schedules reduce study time.

Over the years, I have taught too many bright students who find a way to attend class, but do not find a way to read their assignments in advance of class or search out knowledge independently. Their work commitments apparently make that impossible.

Obviously, when Edwards says that students will work a "minimum of 10 hours," I hope he also proposes a low maximum.

More details about the plan are available on the candidate's website.

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Iran resources

The Project on Defense Alternatives puts together useful "Security Policy Libraries" on a variety of interesting topics. These link to more than 10,000 full-text documents.

Their latest, which was updated on October 22, is "Confronting Iran."

The subtitle provides PDA's perspective: "Critical perspectives on the current crisis, its origins, and implications."

Check it out.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007


Over at the Duck, today, I posted "Where'd you hide the body?" about the decline in civilian death rates in Iraq. About 2 million people have fled their homes this year -- 1.2 million of those are reportedly from Baghdad -- so, where's the good news, exactly? While it is true that those who fled are not dead, it is NOT necessarily true that they were saved by the success of the surge.

Also noteworthy: a former student sent me a link to an interesting photoblog called Life Goes on in Tehran. The photographer is someone who used to live in California, but now lives in Tehran. Check out the great images -- and envy the ready availability of pomegranates.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007


As previously announced, I have been posting international relations material at the Duck of Minerva group blog:

Tonight, I posted "Iran, the IAEA and the US."

Thursday, November 1, I posted "Forced assignments." It discusses the Iraq-related revolt of the diplomats at the Department of State.

Friday, October 26, I posted a "Link roundup." it discusses some interesting reading from around the web. Go there and you'll find links to noteworthy posts or articles about Iran, Iraq, Syria and baseball.

On Tuesday, October 23, I posted "O Captain! my Captain!" The post is about a recent newspaper article written by 12 former US Army Captains who are unhappy about the war in Iraq.

October 21, a Sunday, I posted "Escalation: Turkey enters the war?" Yes, it is about Iraqi Kurdistan and its relations with neighboring Turkey.

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

Football? Football!

I am not a football fan. It has been at least 20 years since I followed any team very closely or with much enthusiasm.

That said, the current Kansas squad is starting to attract my attention. I've actually watched significant parts of several of their games this season. Today, at the office, I kept checking the score of their game against Nebraska, even though the result seemed to be determined by halftime.

From the 1969 season until 2005, Kansas lost 26 straight games against Nebraska. For the four years I was on campus, KU lost four games by a combined score of 179-15. They scored all 15 points in one game, so that includes three lopsided shutouts.

Today, Kansas beat Nebraska 76-39. In fact, the AP reports that the Jayhawks "scored touchdowns on 10 straight possessions and rolled up the most points ever scored against Nebraska in its 117-year football history."

I guess the team let out a lot of pent up frustration today.

Entering today's game, Kansas was 8-0 and ranked #8 in the country in most polls -- and even in the Bowl Championship Series standings.

Their remaining games: at Oklahoma State, at home versus Iowa State, and versus 9th ranked Missouri in Kansas City. Dare I even think about the Big 12 championship game -- a place no Kansas team has been before? So far as I can tell, no KU football team has ever exceeded 10 victories. Most recently, the 1995 team was 10-2, 1905 was 10-1, and 1899 was 10-0.

Only two other KU squads reached 9 victories: the famed 1968 team (featuring John Riggins and Bobby Douglass) was 9-2 and 1908 was 9-0.

Hmmm. Maybe the hoops season will start later this year...

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Photo blogging: glory days

I finally got around to looking at some of the CD of photos that alums were given at the KU Debate Reunion a couple of weeks ago. This photo was taken at a party in Lawrence in spring 1983. Then-Head Jayhawk Dr. Donn W. Parson is on my right.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Randall Forsberg, RIP

I did not know her especially well, but I met Randall Forsberg a few years ago when she performed some public service reviewing for the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order -- and talked to the local Committee on Foreign Relations. Forsberg was personable and bright and I enjoyed her company.

She was best known as the main political activist behind the nuclear freeze movement (which inspired my second journal article). She was also an MIT-educated Ph.D. (focusing on disarmament).

Sadly, Forsberg has passed away of cancer at age 64.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Department of Peace

Thursday, October 25, at 3 pm in the Library's Chao Auditorium, I'm participating in a panel discussion on the proposed new Cabinet-level Department of Peace.

Dot Maver, Executive Director of The Peace Alliance, is the visiting guest.

Discussion will focus on issues relating to legislation currently pending in Congress. The bill proposes the following:
  • A Secretary of Peace, who will advise the president on peacebuilding needs, strategies, and tactics for use domestically and internationally.

  • The creation of a Peace Academy, a sister organization to our military service academies, which will build a world-class faculty of peacebuilding experts. They will analyze peacebuilding strategies at the highest level, advise other branches of government, and facilitate the training of peacebuilders for domestic and international service.

  • Funding to create and expand proven domestic peacebuilding programs in our communities, such as mediation trainings for police, firefighters, and other emergency services personnel; alternative dispute resolution techniques, peer mediation and nonviolent communication programs in public schools, etc.

  • Providing ways to meaningfully prevent conditions of conflict before violence erupts.

  • The institutional platform necessary to successfully apply American genius to dramatically alleviate our national and global epidemic of violence.
Obviously, the U.S. Institute of Peace does not have this kind of authority.

The House bill currently has 68 co-sponsors (including Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich). None are from Kentucky.

Celebrity support comes from Walter Cronkite -- as well as Paula Abdul...and Flea.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Constructive engagement

One highlight of my weekend trip to Kansas was watching the current KU students debate the 2007-2008 college topic:
Resolved: that the United States Federal Government should increase its constructive engagement with the government of one or more of: Afghanistan, Iran, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, and Syria, and it should include offering them a security guarantee(s) and/or a substantial increase in foreign assistance.
I got to talk at length with members of the top two teams and told them that I often blogged about U.S. relations with these states (especially Iran).

I also recommended the students read The Duck of Minerva (some former debaters blog there, including me), Abu Aardvark, and Arms Control Wonk (more former debaters) for up-to-date analysis of current policy, as well as great links.

Given what I heard and what we discussed, I would suggest starting with these specific links (should any of you stop by):
Syrian "Copy" of Yongbyon?

Why Engage? China and the Logic of Communicative Engagement, a journal article by Marc Lynch in EJIR.

The Osiraq Myth

Spin: state of the art, 2007

Iraq WMD to Syria?

Rogue state roundup

War With Iran?
Look around, there's a lot more.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Debate reunion

I spent about 48 hours this weekend in Lawrence, Kansas, at a debate team reunion. This fall we celebrated the 25th anniversary of my senior year (which included a happy ending, after a very slow start).

We also roasted Professor Donn Parson, who was the Director of Forensics at KU for 24 years, beginning in 1964.

In my talk, I explained Dr. Parson's Godfather-like leadership of the Kansas Debate mafia. If I get some time, I may post the notes on-line.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

More Duck

Since the Duck of Minerva receives about four times as many reader hits per day as this blog does, then I'm going to be posting most international relations material there.

Today, I posted "Bush on WW 3" concerning his latest statements about the Iranian nuclear program.

Monday, October 15, I blogged "UNAMI Report on Iraq: Dire, Grave Crises." The post discusses the 11th report on the human rights situation in Iraq issued by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

I'll continue posting here on a variety of topics, including politics, especially as the presidential race unfolds. Discussions of film, baseball, local Louisville matters and many other topics will be found on this blog as well.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

At the Duck

Readers might be interested in my recent posts at the Duck of Minerva blog:

Today, I blogged "Sarah Sewall and COIN." It concerns the efforts of the leader of a Harvard Human Rights center to make counterinsurgency less deadly to civilians.

Thursday, October 11, I blogged "Securing Our Survival" about a security conference at the University of Pittsburgh. The meeting focused on both global warming and nuclear proliferation.

Tuesday, October 2, I took note of a University of Chicago professor's appearance on Comedy Central: "Mearsheimer on Colbert."

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Is this a coincidence?

OK, so it has been widely reported that the US is missing a large number of assault rifles in Iraq:
The Pentagon has lost track of about 190,000 AK-47 assault rifles and pistols given to Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005, according to a new government report, raising fears that some of those weapons have fallen into the hands of insurgents fighting U.S. forces in Iraq.

The author of the report from the Government Accountability Office says U.S. military officials do not know what happened to 30 percent of the weapons the United States distributed to Iraqi forces from 2004 through early this year as part of an effort to train and equip the troops.
What if the U.S. does not care very much if the rifles disappear -- and end up in the hands of various insurgents?

Consider this: Phillip Killicoat of Oxford's Econ Department arrived an interesting finding in his recently completed World Bank Policy Research Working Paper called "Weaponomics: The Global Market for Assault Rifles" (warning: pdf). I read it in a short item in the Atlantic Monthly, October 2007 ("The Way of the Gun."):
Most surprisingly, the study cites research suggesting that having more arms in the marketplace makes running a counterinsurgency easier, presumably because it tends to fragment rebel groups: “The more easily individual combatants can obtain weapons through independent suppliers,” the author writes, “the more difficult it will be to mount and maintain a united and coordinated insurgency.”

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007


I'm nearly a week late noting it, but October 4 was the 50th anniversary of the Soviet launch of Sputnik.

This is shameless self promotion, but one of my early publications (in Armed Forces & Society, Fall 1994; available here) focused on the importance of Sputnik in regard to cold war threat inflation. Basically, President Eisenhower had strong information about the status of the Soviet missile program -- and was not particularly worried about the threat (for good reason) -- but the satellite triggered great fear inside the U.S.

Most of that was explained by domestic politics. Democrats blamed Ike for keeping the US behind in the "space race." JFK did not actually use the phrase "missile gap," but that was the (false) fear at the time.

The U.S. image was further damaged when the Vanguard blew up on the launch pad in December, 1957. Time then named Nikita Khrushchev "man of the year" for 1957.

As explained in my article, the roots of the Cuban Missile Crisis can be found in the U.S. over-reaction to Sputnik.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Coalition: less and less willing

October 9, William Kole of AP reported about the continued unraveling of the "coalition of the willing" in Iraq. PM Gordon Brown announced that the UK is withdrawing most of its remaining forces from Iraq:
At its height, in the months after Saddam Hussein was toppled, the multinational force numbered about 300,000 soldiers from 38 countries - 250,000 from the United States, about 40,000 from Britain and the rest ranging from 2,000 Australians to 70 Albanians.

By January of this year, though, the combined non-U.S. contingent had dwindled to just over 14,000. As of Tuesday, it stood at 20 nations and roughly 11,400 soldiers.

It's in for more unraveling: Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Monday that Britain will halve its remaining force of 5,000 next spring, and another official said there were no guarantees any British troops would remain in Iraq beyond the end of 2008.
Denmark pulled out most of its forced in August. Latvia and Lithuania left over the summer.

Georgia has announced, like the UK, a major reduction in its force presence -- from 2000 now to 300 next summer.

I've frequently noted the withering away of the coalition.

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

"Taken with a pinch of salt"

Patrick Mercer, special security adviser to UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, was quoted by The Guardian today:
'There is increasing concern about the apparent evidence that America is preparing about Iranian military involvement.'
Mercer, who last month accepted a post as an adviser to the Brown government, said: 'All that I heard when I was in Iran was British authorities saying "be careful about what you hear from America". I'm not saying for one moment that it is necessarily wrong, but it's got to be taken with a pinch of salt. Is it American rhetoric, propaganda or fact?'
The Guardian story also reports on the activities of a new neocon group called Freedom Watch (established in March), which recently starting running TV ads emphasizing the "threat" from Iran.
The group has close links with the White House: its president, Bradley Blakeman, is a former deputy assistant to Bush. Among its founders is Mel Sembler, a Florida shopping centre magnate who helped to finance the 2000 Florida recount campaign that gave Bush his first presidency. Another is former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.
A few weeks ago, Freedom Watch spent $15 million running ads in support of the US strategy in Iraq.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Al Qaeda in Iraq

Andrew Tilghman, who was an Iraq correspondent for the Stars and Stripes newspaper in 2005 and 2006, has published an excellent overview on the myth of Al Qaeda in Iraq. His piece appears in the October 2007 edition of The Washington Monthly.

Basically, Tilghman argues that AQI is "neither as big nor as lethal as commonly believed." Size first:
How big, then, is AQI? The most persuasive estimate I've heard comes from Malcolm Nance, the author of The Terrorists of Iraq and a twenty-year intelligence veteran and Arabic speaker who has worked with military and intelligence units tracking al-Qaeda inside Iraq. He believes AQI includes about 850 full-time fighters, comprising 2 percent to 5 percent of the Sunni insurgency. "Al-Qaeda in Iraq," according to Nance, "is a microscopic terrorist organization."
What about lethality?

According to the Bush administration's narrative, AQI commits the lion's share of the spectacular acts of violence in Iraq that provoke civil conflict between Sunni and Shia. The Samara mosque bombing is the ultimate example:
it remains unclear whether the original Samara bombing was itself the work of AQI. The group never took credit for the attack, as it has many other high-profile incidents. The man who the military believe orchestrated the bombing, an Iraqi named Haitham al-Badri, was both a Samara native and a former high-ranking government official under Saddam Hussein. (His right-hand man, Hamed Jumaa Farid al-Saeedi, was also a former military intelligence officer in Saddam Hussein's army.) Key features of the bombing did not conform to the profile of an AQI attack. For example, the bombers did not target civilians, or even kill the Shiite Iraqi army soldiers guarding the mosque, both of which are trademark tactics of AQI. The planners also employed sophisticated explosive devices, suggesting formal military training common among former regime officers, rather than the more bluntly destructive tactics typical of AQI. Finally, Samara was the heart of Saddam's power base, where former regime fighters keep tight control over the insurgency. Frank "Greg" Ford, a retired counterintelligence agent for the Army Reserves, who worked with the Army in Samara before the 2006 bombing, says that the evidence points away from AQI and toward a different conclusion: "The Baathists directed that attack," says Ford.
Read the entire article, it is is well worth it.

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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 claim and analysis completely. You DO agree with the 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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