April 30, 2002



Two of my favourite emailers... hey, what's wrong with you people, use the forum now, it works! Honest!... where was I? Oh, yeah, two of my favourite emailers wrote to say Americans have fought more unprovoked wars than I gave them credit for:

Nell L. of Virginia writes:

Wasn't there some little thing back there in the 1960s...? Or do you believe there was a real provocation in the case of Vietnam? If so, what was it?

Tom R. of New Mexico writes:

The Mexican War and the Spanish-American War were both overt wars of aggression, and most of the Indian wars were equally aggressive. A pretty good argument can be made that Wilson's Anglophilic foreign policy in 1914-17 led directly to US intervention in the affairs of Europe for reasons that had little to do with the Lusitania, although this is much more subtle than any of the examples I cited above. Vietnam can be analysed the same way, as an aggressive intervention in the internal affairs of a foreign country for anti Communist motives. In any case about WW I or Vietnam, the US government has not considered aggressive wars as being beneath its policy perview, especially as it generally picks such fights where it thinks that it will win at low cost. Vietnam obviously was a mistake in this light, and Iraq may well be one also, although I'd doubt Iraq will be much of a problem militarily.

Good point about the Indian wars, of course. They were often launched without provocation. I could also have mentioned numerous U.S. military interventions in the early 20th century in Latin America, but I was being a little facetious, I admit.

As to the major wars, however, what I was trying to get at was how the bad guys almost always have had to be seen to fire the first shot. The Mexican War is a classic example: yes, President Polk was in favour of annexation, and as I alluded to he had sent Fremont on some skulduggery to California... but by luck or happenstance, the first actual incursion across the border in 1848 was by Mexican soldiers into Texas... allowing the forces Polk had previously built up there to counterattack back into Mexico with perfect justification. In 1898, again, it was lasting suspicions about the fate of the Maine in Havana harbour that allowed McKinley to declare war... to the popular mind, the Spanish had fired the first shot. In 1917 again, Wilson was anglophilic, true, but it was the Lusitania and the Zimmermann telegram that convinced the American public war was necessary. And again in Vietnam... Johnson could not send combat troops or non-covert support until after the Tonkin Gulf incident had shown (it was thought at the time, I believe honestly) that the North Vietnamese had started firing on American naval warships.

As I said before, I don't believe this is any evidence of conspiracy. But consistently, for nearly 200 years the American government has only launched foreign wars after the American public had come to believe the other guy had struck at them first. The American democracy seems to require of its leaders that they demonstrate all means short of war have been demonstrated to fail before they will consent to an aggressive military policy... the trouble is, often times the effort to use those other means (the buildup on the Mexican border, the covert support of South Vietnam, the oil embargo on Japan... even the attempt to resupply Fort Sumter) lead to some kind of angry response from the other side... which then is held up as convincing evidence that "the other guy started it."

Given the historical pattern, the logical response to saber rattling by an American leader is to do absolutely nothing at all that could possibly provoke the American public. That certainly seems to be Iraq's strategy at the moment. But if the pattern plays out here, the American leadership will soon put forward some alternate non-war option for accomplishing its (stated) goals with respect to Iraq, with war as a fallback option if Iraq does not capitulate. Pressure will then be ratcheted up until Iraq feels it has no choice between striking out and total capitulation, at which point it will strike out, probably in some annoying but ineffectual fashion, and the American public will fall in lockstep behind its leader and mount a sustained war effort. I just don't believe that George Bush would ever feel comfortable just saying, "Okay, I've decided. We're going to war" without the usual preliminaries, and expect any kind of sustained support from the people for his actions. It would certainly be a historical first.

So, no, I'm sticking by my interpretation of history. Americans don't fight unprovoked wars well.

PS: The problem with Iraq isn't their military. It's the high likelihood of urban combat, and the almost inevitable Jenin-style massacre allegations that would quickly wilt any American sense of purpose, if the American public's dander wasn't well up beforehand (see above).

Posted by BruceR at 12:05 PM

April 29, 2002



Turkey to take over leadership of Kabul brigade. The British have already joined the warfighting team down in Kandahar... look for Turkey to recruit for Muslim nations for the next six-month stint, particularly Jordan and Malaysia.

Posted by BruceR at 05:50 PM



Reason no. 647 why I'm moving out of the downtown.

(Noticed at Bill Quick's.)

Posted by BruceR at 04:45 PM



The increasing demand for American peacekeepers in the West Bank is, if given into, going to tie up at least one, probably 2 of the U.S.'s 13 divisions, in addition to its commitments in Korea, Europe, Afghanistan and god knows where else. Reading between the lines, the NYT plan aired on the weekend called for every last free soldier the Americans had, pretty much... but a large proportion of those would be permanently diverted if the Saudis and the Democrats get their way.

While I'm on the topic of ideas for Middle East peace that won't work, Yossi Halevi's idea this weekend of giving the West Bank back to Jordan (also touted by Glenn Reynolds) is also a non-starter. The Jordanians fought a bloody war 32 years ago to expel the PLO. They're not ever letting them back in, in whole or in part. That opportunity passed decades ago, when King Hussein was in power... now it's too little too late. Never mind Sharon's insistence on supporting the settlements to the bitter end. Never mind the West's obsession with maintaining existing international borders, in defiance of all facts on the ground. (As far as the West is concerned, countries can divide into sub-components, to be administered by UN peacekeepers, forever, or they can try and make the 1945 borders work for them. Those are the only two acceptable options... ever.)

Posted by BruceR at 02:46 PM



A couple interchanges with Den Beste's site, worth reprinting here, I think:

In response to the Ramallah deal, I wrote in Steven's forums:

Let's not kid ourselves, when the inevitable mob comes, they're going to just get out of the way and let them be sprung. Really, other than the Israelis, who's going to care? There's no WAY their ROE's are going to be written to allow force in anything other than straight self defence.

The Post is also touting this as almost entirely personal diplomacy by Bush. After his meetings with Abdullah this week, he apparently concluded he had to throw his Saudi guests a bone to "keep the peace process alive," whatever that means at this point. Forcing Sharon to release a triumphant Arafat without any real preconditions appears to have been the bone.

(Sharon's probably fine with it, too, frankly. He had to know that, barring some incredibly stupid act by Arafat, this was going to be the inevitable end as soon as the Western "human shields" had forced their way past the tanks into defend him. All the floaters he's put out the last couple weeks (exile, flight to Gaza) have been ways to get something tangible for his own people to see out of the steadily diminishing set of facts on the ground in Ramallah. Bush probably just had to say to him, "Stop screwing around, you know you're going to have to release Arafat unconditionally sooner or later anyway." Now at least it looks like U.S. pressure, so Sharon's not too damaged domestically by the retreat.)

Interesting how close my conclusions mirrored the analysis of that Times article above, which I just recently read.

Den Beste himself emailed me on another topic, to say that recognizing Kurdistan (my proposed Gordian solution for the Middle East knot) was impossible due to Turkish resistance, and an American invasion of the country more likely than I had made out. Here's what I wrote in reply:

Even the NYT was saying early 2003 would be the earliest. I think they're going to miss that window, it's going to put them past mid-term Congressionals, and the idea will be quietly dropped (assuming of course, Saddam Hussein does absolutely nothing in the meantime, other than funnelling money to the Palestinians to keep that fracas alive). By that time, I suspect Bush's entire diplomatic effort will be locked up in a new, and initially promising Oslo II, involving, once again, Sharon, Arafat, etc. It'll be ultimately fruitless, of course, but there will be tremendous resistance to doing anything to stop it once it gets going.

Hey, I'm happy to be proven wrong here. I'm generally a pessimist about most things. One thing I do know for certain is that the American people are clearly uncomfortable with a War of Aggression against Iraq, if it's based solely on the (lack of) provocations we've seen so far. America doesn't do aggressive war well... when was the last? 1812?

No, Bush needs a new provocation if he wants to do that, and Saddam is in no hurry to provide it. This is, ultimately, probably a good thing... leaks like that NYT piece and the troop moves are effectively keeping a lid on a whole lot of bad things that Iraq could be doing, in the short term anyway. Nor do I believe the Americans are going to fake a provocation, "Wag the Dog" style. I have no patience for the conspiracy theorists who see evidence of that in the Maine, Lusitania, Pearl Harbour, Tonkin Gulf, etc. (Now the Mexican war of 1848... that's a little iffyer... what was Fremont trying to do in California?) But what did happen in many if not all of those cases was an exercise in brinkmanship (in the classic 1898 case, sending a battleship for a "port of call" visit) that escalated, if not out of control, then without a clear executive intent to escalate, either. That could happen here... too... but if it did it would be through some intermediate step (such as steps toward recognizing a political entity's claim to the Kurdistan no-fly zone (maybe, De Gaulle style, as a "Free Iraq"?) which would start the escalation going and produce the war you're expecting.

And of course it would piss off Turkey. But this is the problem with American foreign policy post Cold War in general... this obsession with stability over and above freedom and democracy in all cases. The Kurds want their own country... they say they want it to be democratic, secular, all that jazz. But because it will annoy an ally, these people are to be denied freedom forever. They're never going to find it as a minority in a non-Western Iraq. It's the same with trying to keep Bosnia or Kosovo together now... it's ultimately pointless. All you're doing is buying time.

There are times when regional stability does trump people's yearning to be free. A plebiscite in Kashmir today would almost certainly lead to the unravelling of Indian secular government, and a new Pakistani ascendancy... I can see the argument against that. Nor am I a big fan of Quebec separatism. But we haven't dropped mustard gas on Montreal yet; nor are we as hard on the French as Turkey is on its Kurds. Even a Kurd-friendly, democratic Iraq would be a provocation to Turkish Kurds, if they're being oppressed at home... and I for one am tired of Western foreign policy that implicitly encourages oppression.

In short (if you don't like reading italics) I believe an unprovoked war effort is not viable domestically for the U.S. Iraq needs to do something first to provoke it. That means we're talking brinkmanship, an effort to prove to the domestic audience that all other means short of war have failed to accomplish a widely held and popular policy objective. Defining the war to come as the war to free the Kurd from genocide would be just such an objective. The first step toward the brink could then be recognizing some political entity protected by the Northern no-fly zone as the true government of Kurdistan (or alternatively, all of Iraq). Iraq would have to escalate or submit, and sooner or later you'd likely end up having your war. I just don't believe it's going to happen any other way, whatever Paul Wolfowitz says.

Posted by BruceR at 02:20 PM

April 26, 2002



"[Computer games have] no conveyance of ideas, expression, or anything else that could possibly amount to speech. The court finds that video games have more in common with board games and sports than they do with motion pictures."

Judge Stephen "Help Me. I'm Too Old Fashioned To Operate the Door Out of My Office" Limbaugh of Missouri, upholding a St. Louis ordinance prohibiting the sale of M-rated computer games to minors.

Update: Judge Limbaugh made his decision by reviewing 4, count em, 4, computer/video games: Mortal Kombat (1992), Doom (1993), Resident Evil (which he calls "The Resident of Evil Creek") (1996), and Fear Effect (2000). Only one computer game from the last 5 years... I'm sorry, but a world where the book "A Bridge Too Far" and the movie "A Bridge Too Far" are valid speech, but the absolutely compelling historical reenactment of "Close Combat 2: A Bridge Too Far" is not because some judge doesn't understand it makes no sense to me. Limbaugh didn't just rule that the societal damage of violent games outweighed their educative or informative or entertainment value, he said that it is impossible by definition to communicate messages or information or story through the medium of a computer. The compelling and innovative stories of Half-Life, of Planescape: Torment, of System Shock 2, Crimson Skies, Oni... all just an overwrought form of Minesweeper, in his opinion. In Limbaugh's decision, none of them rise, in terms of the need for speech protections, to the level of the worst Kylie Minogue song, the most appalling Fox TV show, the most violent and pointless slasher movie... not even to the level of that dirty limerick you just made up. Those are all protected speech, you see. But if this decision is upheld on appeal, they will all be legally considered far superior to any and all kinds of computer-driven expression, no matter how artful. That's just wrong.

As others have already said, this decision has to be struck down, not because St. Louis minors have any sacrosanct right to play violent games, but for the ludicrous and dangerous reasons that this particular judge has given for disallowing them.

Posted by BruceR at 02:44 PM



I haven't had the pleasure of working with Capt. Steve Roberts in a couple years now, but I love his new website. Good health to you, Steve: may those who live truly be always believed, and those who deceive us be always deceived...

Posted by BruceR at 01:46 AM

April 25, 2002



I find it amusing that the two soldier-type bloggers (and that's not to elevate my own experiences to theirs by any means) are consistently the ones most skeptical of the whole rope-a-dope, Iraq-invasion, this-is-all-part-of-a-cunning-plan rhetoric. Me, I'd go even farther than Sgt Stryker, though. It's not just that an Iraqi invasion isn't in the cards; it's that there's no way they could assemble a popular resistance movement like the Northern Alliance within Iraq before the end of Bush's first term, if then. They're working with nothing, here, people.

If you wanted to reshuffle the cards of the Middle East in the next two years, there is one way, and one way only, that I can see. Repudiate Wilson, and recognize a democratic Kurdistan. It's the Russians' Cuba strategy redux, really: prop up one communist state in the region, and let the ripples disrupt all the other totalitarian dictatorships of the region for decades. Likewise here, with an Islamic democracy and a pro-American population. Come on, we're not really going to turn these people over to the Iraqis some day, are we?

Unlike James Dunnigan, I wouldn't dare try to guess what would happen next. But I don't think there's any doubt it would be destabilizing... and destabilizing the Iran-Iraq-Arabia-Syria axis would take some of the pressure off Israel and could turn the Osama Islamicist revolutionary types in on themselves. (The downside is that repudiating the Wilsonian preservation of borders will likely destabilize a lot of other places in the world as well, particularly the Balkans, but I firmly believe that stability for its own sake should not be the ultimate foreign policy objective of democracies.)

Update: Of course, Stryker responds to my linking to him by turning his blog into "Beers Across America" for some reason known only to himself a couple hours later, killing my link to his piece. NP, it's here.

Posted by BruceR at 10:10 AM

April 24, 2002



Sorry, but I have to make the Clash reference before anyone else does:

Now over at the temple
Oh! They really pack 'em in
The in crowd say it's cool
To dig this chanting thing
But as the wind changed direction
The temple band took five
The crowd caught a wiff
Of that crazy Casbah jive...

Posted by BruceR at 06:01 PM

UM... THANKS... I GUESS... Steven


Steven den Beste comes to Canadians' defence by... mocking Canada's national sport. With friends like these... :-)

Posted by BruceR at 10:13 AM



Jim Coyle of the Star wrote a nice piece on the funeral, here. Richard Gwyn also has an insightful piece on it, as well.

Posted by BruceR at 10:01 AM



Can't say the old guy isn't predictable.

Posted by BruceR at 12:57 AM



A little more detail coming out about the accident in Afghanistan itself. A lot of survivor accounts are mentioning hearing the jet at the point of weapons delivery... indicating the pilot was likely flying below the 9,000 foot ceiling of all AA fire. Why? There'd be no reason if it was just a flight loitering over Kandahar as air support cover; the Americans have Apaches and AC-130s that can loiter a lot longer than an F-16 for that kind of stuff, and it could have patrolled much higher up. Nor was the F-16 actually out actively looking for the enemy: low-level night flying at 600 mph is meant for penetrating air defences; it's not a useful way of developing information on new ground contacts.

So if it wasn't air support, and it wasn't recce... what was the pilot doing there? The obvious answer is he was doing the same thing the Canadians were doing, actually; a little night training. Likely the primary reason those particular F-16s were out was to build up their experience in low-level night flying, likely over an area considered relatively safe. The pilot, you see, was training too... and then, when confronted with something he hadn't expected (ie, a little HMG tracer fire that looked like it might have been aimed at him) he made a series of what can only be considered to be reckless and dangerous decisions. From that point on, whoever had fired that tracer (Canadian, American, U.N., Afghan) was going to die: no fancy communications or target ID equipment would have made any difference.

Significantly, the reports also note that an AWACS plane (ie, an air-to-air controller), as opposed to the more sophisticated air-to-ground JSTARS was controlling the air activity over Afghanistan that night. An AWACS is not configured to keep track of troops on the ground, or coordinate air strikes; that's not its job. Over Afghanistan, the best an AWACS could do would be to keep planes from killing each other: it wouldn't have information on ground forces -- other than zones on the map which were designated for various purposes (ie, live fire training). And that probably would have been enough, if the pilot had taken time to confirm his location, with them. But that would assume the pilot was thinking rationally and calmly... it's quite clear by now that he was not.

Think about it... at 600 mph, even if it had been tracer being shot up at him, instead of along the ground, and with no particular reason for that pilot to deny the enemy that particular part of Afghanistan, the guy could have just flown on, or up, or done as many passes as necessary at a safe altitude to identify the target to everyone's satisfaction. He should know the capabilities of his aircraft, and the threats against it, better than any one: even he cannot have thought he was seriously in real danger at any point from one or two anti-aircraft machine guns with a maximum vertical range of 5,000 ft being fired blindly at the sound of his motor (because he himself would have been invisible and all but unhittable at even a low altitude from the ground at night). He could have called the base to get soldiers to prosecute the contact, once its location was confirmed, on the ground. But no, what he clearly did was push the button, and fly home, convinced he'd struck a blow for the World Trade Center. And one of the victims of that blow was carried past me in a pine box today.

Posted by BruceR at 12:15 AM

April 23, 2002

SPEAKING OF WHICH... Random reflections


Random reflections from the funeral today:

Couldn't have asked for better April weather for Toronto. Thanks for that, Big Guy. Great turnout from the public. Could have been a few more Toronto soldiers there (don't get me wrong, there were a lot, but there could have been still more), but I know the message about when and where the funeral was had only gone out to them the morning before, and it's hard to turn that stuff on, even in 24 hours.

You can always tell the guys who they bring back from foreign deployments for these things, as opposed to the home-stationed soldiers, it's the Indian-brown tans. I should talk. After 8 hours of standing outside on a cloudless day in a beret, I look like I'm half-full, again. I swear I could get a sunburn in a snowstorm, though. I saw a ghost the other day; he told me I looked kind of pale.

The media (which were my problem today) were GREAT. I really mean that. My colleagues and I made sure we treated them like adults, and they responded with a beautiful and reassuring decorum. Everyone is afraid the reporters are going to ruin stuff like this, but they're also afraid if they don't show up. For whatever reason, maybe because I've spent time on both sides of the journalist/PR divide, I have rarely experienced serious problems with journalists disrupting ceremonies, or ambushing dignitaries, or getting run over by the procession, the way everyone else (particularly the MPs) is always worried about. A little politeness, a little preparation, a modicum of initiative, and a bit of situational awareness on the part of the media officer is all you need, and these things go just fine. Maybe I'll return to this later, with some suggestions for handling big media events, if anyone's interested.

Having heard more about Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer, I'm even more sorry I didn't have the pleasure of knowing him. Until his untimely death, he was practically a poster boy for what so many of us always hoped Canada's army could become. A black immigrant kid from literally the worst, most drug-ridden neighbourhood in Toronto, he joined the local reserve unit for a summer, and stayed. The guy was a tank, famously finishing a race with a broken foot; he was also enough of a gentleman to win the love of a corn-fed Alberta blonde. The army was his way of getting out of what in the States would probably be called the "projects:" when the army reserve proved too small for his ambitions, he went for the full-time gig, joining the Patricias. In Bosnia and then Afghanistan, he did his duty; and then he died, leaving his poor father, who he loved and looked after, horribly alone.

You've got to understand one thing. The other three Canadians who died, they were no doubt good men, too, but they fit more of the general pattern. The Regular Force has for generations recruited the desperate young (and generally white) Canadian men from rural Canada: the second and non-inheriting sons of farmers and Newfoundland fishermen, or those vaguely more romantic souls who can't stand the idea of a career in a Sydney coal mine, or the iron mines of Wawa... or those from the neck of the woods where I grew up. That's their staple: that is, maybe, how it will always be. But the army, for whatever reason, despite all the money spent on anti-discrimination initiatives, has never really penetrated as a career option into the awareness of the urban poor, or the recent immigrants from countries of a different hue.

Any study of Canadian Forces ethnic mixes normally only gets politically acceptable numbers if it factors in the big city reserve units, who, because that is all they have to recruit, have that particular market a little more figured out. There is no comparison between the lists of names parading any night in a polyglot Toronto or Vancouver armoury and the more traditional English and French last names one sees in the nominal rolls of a unit like the Patricias. My colleagues have spent a lot of time trying to think of new ways to make those ratios a little better: we know from history what happens when only one portion of a country's population makes up the majority of its soldiers.

That's why Cpl. Dyer's death is so tragic, for me. I can feel for Sgt. Leger's wife, just off a miscarriage, planning to try again for a kid when he came back, now never will; and I grew up far north of here knowing girls like young Pte. Green's younger fiancee, whose freshman-senior relationship has now gone horribly horribly wrong. But Toronto's contribution... he was so... so... Toronto... you know? Something someone said or did years ago reached an inner-city kid, sparked Ainsworth Dyer's inner soldier, and he gave years of great service to his country in return. And more importantly from my point of view, we helped him become something much, much more than he might otherwise have been. No doubt surprising everyone, including himself, soldiering got Cpl. Dyer out of the cycle of despair and crime that so many of his schoolmates and neighbours succumb to... and then, after enough years had passed to instil a sense of cosmic whimsy, it took it all away from him, and him away from us, forever.

I'm listening to Dire Straits again. I always do when these kinds of things happen, I guess. If this kind of thing had ever happened to me, I hope someone would have the sense to throw out the Anglican Hymn Book and play what I'd want people to hear:

Now the sun's gone to hell
And the moon's riding high
Let me bid you farewell
Every man has to die
But it's written in the starlight
And every line on your palm
We're fools to make war
On our brothers in arms

Posted by BruceR at 11:45 PM



The Commons voted 166-58 in favour of declaring the Canadian horse as the country's official national horse.
-- The Globe and Mail, on what the government was doing while I was helping the army say its final goodbyes to Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer.

Posted by BruceR at 10:53 PM



Three must-read pieces today, while I was working:

"Remember Anthrax?", in the Weekly Standard, outlining David Tell's countertheory of the anthrax attacker;

"The Real War on Terrorism," an interview with intelligent freelance war correspondent Robert Young Pelton, in Salon;

and, also in Salon, "Kinda Sorta Buried Alive," about how "reality entertainment" has finally gone over the edge into actual criminal behaviour.

Posted by BruceR at 10:22 PM



The one big canard that's floated in the press a lot these last few days is the Afghanistan deaths are the first "combat casualties" the Canadian Forces have suffered since Korea. Sometimes this is qualified by saying that of course, over 100 Canadians have died since 1950 on peacekeeping missions (you can find all their names here). How these are somehow less combat casualties than what happened south of Kandahar is conveniently assumed knowledge.

It's true that at least some of those peacekeeping deaths are accidental in nature; road accidents, suicides and the like: let's disregard those. Let's also disregard the significant number of those fatalities that were due to mine strike, as those could be interpreted as just a consequence of policing a former war zone. Heck, let's also pass on the 1993 death of Cpl. Daniel Gunther, when his TOW missile vehicle was attacked and destroyed by a Serbian RPG; that, along with numerous non-fatal combat injuries from firefights were covered up by the Canadian governments of the time. Leaving those aside, there are still at least two previous instances of non-accidental fatalities on Canadian foreign deployments, both from 28 years ago, in 1974:

* Paratroopers Gilbert Perron and Claude Bergeron, killed by snipers while serving in Cyprus during the Turkish invasion of the island in that year;
* and, more relevant to this recent instance, the death of 9 Canadians when a Syrian SAM battery shot down their marked UN transport plane over Damascus.

Funny. We say we'll remember their sacrifices. But we always forget.

Posted by BruceR at 01:51 AM

April 22, 2002



Just got the phone call to join the detail at the military funeral for Cpl. Dyer, tomorrow, in Toronto. Got to go do some polishing... probably won't post until this whole thing is over. See ya.

Posted by BruceR at 05:26 PM



It's really hard for a Canadian to be pro-American these days. Really, really hard.

Posted by BruceR at 04:48 PM



"The Canadian army is a very effective one ... The military people will be able to [do it]. They have always been able to manage. We are always there, like Boy Scouts, somewhat. And we are happy and the Canadians love it. They think it is a nice way for Canadians to be present around the world."
--Prime Minister Jean Chretien on the occasion of the dispatch of Canadian forces to East Timor, September, 1999

Posted by BruceR at 12:31 PM

April 21, 2002



This is so esoteric for the majority of my online peers that I daren't put it on the main page. It is, however, some thoughts I wanted to spell out as my contribution to the current debate over how the new PvP server for Dark Age of Camelot should develop. If that last clause means nothing to you, don't read it. :-)

Posted by BruceR at 06:59 PM

April 20, 2002



KANDAHAR -- With a jumpmaster's slap, the commander of Canadian troops in Afghanistan sent four dead paratroopers home yesterday after an emotional ceremony attended by coalition soldiers at their base in Kandahar.

Lt.-Col. Pat Stogran walked up to each coffin and tapped it -- something a jumpmaster does to a paratrooper before a jump off an aircraft.

"You're okay, jumper," said Stogran, standing at attention. "Have a good one. Airborne!"

--The Patricias' way of sending their own into the next world, from the Toronto Sun

Posted by BruceR at 04:03 PM



One has to wonder of the sense of a Californian writing Canada's national newspaper today to call Canadian soldiers "halfwits," but there you have it. In an effort to keep the discourse elevated on the Canadian end, however, let's just engage the argument that night-time live firing in a war zone is a bad idea.

Never mind that the live fire range was apparently designated as such by the commander of the 101st Airborne brigade on the ground which the Canadians were attached to... presumably an American. If we assume, as will likely be proven clear, that the pilot's "self-defence" claim was bogus, we can say this for certain. An F-16 pilot, flying over Afghanistan, saw flashes of firing on the ground. Not knowing what they were, he dropped a highly accurate bomb on them. Now, based solely on the knowledge there were some small arms being fired in Afghanistan that night, those fatalities could just as easily have been:

*American soldiers engaging an enemy;
*U.N. peacekeepers fighting for their lives;
*pro-American Afghan forces in a firefight;
*the troops of the local warlord celebrating somebody's birthday.

If any of those circumstances had been the case, and other forces had been bombed, would that have been their fault, too? How, other than instructing pilots to verify their targets before they kill them, are any of these situations avoided every single night? "Bomb first and ask questions later" is not a useful tenet of close air support in any situation. No, as said earlier, if that pilot knew he was above 9,000 feet and thus immune to all ground fire when he dropped, as he almost certainly was, he was simply exhibiting a trigger-happy reckless disregard toward whoever's forces were unlucky enough to have been noticed by him that night. There's no other viable explanation.

Posted by BruceR at 03:57 PM



I've been asking myself the last couple days if I ever had the opportunity to work with Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer, one of the Afghanistan dead, who spent much of his too-brief military career with the 48th Highlanders here at my own armoury in Toronto. I'm afraid I can't recall such an occasion: he was an infantry corporal, I was an artillery officer, and it was a big armoury. Still, I know a number of soldiers who are no doubt still reeling at losing a friend and a comrade. All I can say is, Dileas Gu Brath, lads, Dileas Gu Brath.

Posted by BruceR at 10:20 AM



One fact, and one fact only, will determine whether the fatalities in Afghanistan were due to an honest misunderstanding, or an American pilot playing cowboy. The question of whether the act was a legitimate act of self-defence or not depends on one objective criteria: the F-16s' altitude when it launched its weapon.

Again, air defence is a topic I know a little about for a change. And dusting off the old pams, and trying to figure out what happened, one thing becomes clear. Let's say the pilot saw tracer fire (either across the ground or richocheting up) and wasn't just firing at ground muzzle flashes (the pilot expressly stated, by all accounts that he thought he was being fired at, and there's no way you could rationally assume that from a few muzzle flashes). If it was tracer fire from the live fire exercise, that means he saw Canadian .30 calibre or .50 calibre machine guns. (The other possibility, that the pilot mistook signal or illumination flares for surface-to-air missiles, for instance, is just not credible to anyone who's seen their signatures). Most likely it would be .50s, as they do throw out an impressive tracer display. In a company-sized exercise dismounted, it's unlikely more than a couple would have been in use.

Okay, so the most plausible explanation is the pilot saw 1 or 2 .50 cals firing, and thought the tracers were aimed at him. What could he have legitimately assumed they were? A .50 cal tracer could easily be mistaken for a Soviet issue 14.5 mm machine gun, like the DShk-38, of which Taliban units might still have a few. It might also, in a stretch, be mistaken for the much larger 23 mm cannon (ie, a ZU-23). It's safe to say any Afghan rebels are not going to have anything larger or more sophisticated. (Indeed it's hard to imagine them unleashing a 23, even if they had one, to take nighttime potshots at a almost untouchable fast jet... no one's that stupid.)

What are the vertical ranges of these weapons? The maximum effective vertical range of a 14.5 mm MG is 5,000 feet, straight up (less on a slant), same as the .50 cal. Obviously, these are theoretical AA ranges; at night, without radar guidance, the chances of a single MG actually hitting fast air at that altitude are asymptotic to zero. The max vertical range of a 23 mm is 9,000 feet.

The pilots had to have known this. They would have known that flight over Afghanistan at heights higher than 9,000 feet makes you immune to all but acts of God, or maybe a mujahid-surplus Stinger. (Normally fast jets actually fly at 16,000 feet or higher, which makes them immune to any shoulder-launched SAMs as well).

In other words, self-defence is only remotely, conceivably legit if the plane was flying abnormally low, ie at 9,000 feet or less. Any higher than that, and it is almost incontravertible that this was an American Top Gun wannabe who wanted to strike a blow for the WTC before his tour ended and dropped a bomb on some random muzzle flashes he saw. All four military inquiries assembling now in the two countries know this: the altimeter (or the AWACS tracking plot) for that aircraft holds pretty much all the solid information they need.

What if the plane was below 9,000? Well then, the questions get tougher, like why the 101st Airborne (it wasn't just the Canadians) had designated a training area and the Air Force hadn't been informed, or hadn't informed its pilots, etc. There'll be a lot of blame to go around, and everyone will point fingers at someone else. But I suspect the altimeter will tell the tale, and this will all be pretty cut and dried in the end. Whether the American military justice system will satiate Canadian desires for a reckoning, however, is a whole other question.

Posted by BruceR at 01:16 AM

April 19, 2002



For those of you from other countries, trust me, this isn't extremist reaction. This is typical up here today:

I am appalled at President Bush's casual dismissal of the "friendly fire" incident in Afghanistan that took the lives of four Canadian soldiers and left eight others injured. Indeed, it appears that the President would not even have publicly acknowledged the tragedy had it not been for the prodding of a Canadian journalist who caught Bush on camera as he attempted to scurry away.

...a bevy of incompetent officers commanded by a President who obviously doesn't give a damn about anything Canadian.

It's going to get worse before it gets better. I'm not saying they're right... if it had been an accident involving dead Americans, would Bush have said anything in the way of regret before being prompted? I don't know. But uphere the chances of our government not winding down the Afghan mission in a couple months are diminishing almost by the hour...

Posted by BruceR at 02:51 PM



Joshua Micah Marshall is doing fine work in unravelling the growing evidence of American official support for Venezuela's failed coup... pointing out the $200,000 in payoffs from a Miami bank account to two Venezuelan generals as the most promising lead...

Do I really need to remind everyone that the first item of evidence that connected the Watergate burglars to Nixon 30 years ago this June was the FBI's discovery that the money in their possession had been drawn from a Miami bank account, that of burglar, ex-CIA man, and Cuban exile Bernard Barker, who had gotten his money in turn from the Committee for the Re-election of the President?

Need I also mention that assistant secretary of state Otto Reich, himself also a Cuban exile, who has given contradictory evidence about what he knew and when with respect to Venezuela, was engaged in covert funding of illegal activity during Iran-Contra? A House foreign affairs committee report concluded:

Senior CIA officials with backgrounds in covert operations, as well as military intelligence and psychological operations specialists from the Department of Defense, were deeply involved in establishing and participating in a domestic political and propaganda operation run through [Reich's] obscure bureau in the Department of State which reported directly to the National Security Council rather than through the normal State Department channels…. Through irregular sole-source, no-bid contracts, [Reich's office] established and maintained a private network of individuals and organizations whose activities were coordinated with, and sometimes directed by, Col. Oliver North... These private individuals and organizations raised and spent funds for the purpose of influencing Congressional votes and U.S. domestic news media. This network raised and funneled money to off-shore bank accounts in the Cayman Islands or to the secret Lake Resources bank account in Switzerland for disbursement at the direction of Oliver North.

For more on Otto Reich's Iran-contra days, read here.

Posted by BruceR at 02:14 PM



One bizarre reference in the Steyn column, BTW, about Canada's Fenian troubles of 1866-71:

In the 19th century, when the Fenians launched raids on Canada from upstate New York, the British thought nothing of infringing American sovereignty to hit back -- and Washington accepted they were entitled to do so.

Not to be pedantic, but I've written a lot academically on the Fenians. (Don't ask why.) And while I suppose it's possible the right of "hot pursuit" might have been invoked by the British diplomatically at some point in that conflict, and I suppose it's just possible some American might have consented to the arrest of Irish-Americans on American soil by a foreign army, to my (again, really rather extensive) knowledge all the arrests of Fenians on American soil were by U.S. police or military authorities. All anti-Fenian actions taken by Canadians took place after they crossed to our side of the border, and stopped the moment they crossed back.

I suspect Steyn is actually confusing the Fenian raids with actions taken by British and Canadian authorities during Canada's own 1837 rebellions, which involved chasing down Canadian rebels and their American sympathizers: in particular the "Caroline affair" of 1837, when a U.S. steamer supplying the rebel "provisional government" on Navy Island was seized at the dock at Schlosser, N.Y, set on fire, and sent in flames over Niagara Falls. (One American died.) If the Americans did accept "hot pursuit" applied in that case, it was only later, in rarefied diplomatic circles: at the time a rather angry General Winfield Scott showed up with a lot of soldiers, shut down the border to rebel sympathizers, and made it quite clear to the British authorities he would not accept any repeat occurrence... or else. Scott was the kind of guy, in his prime, you simply didn't screw around with: the British never attempted to test what the "or else" was...

Posted by BruceR at 01:18 PM



Well, not quite. Interesting though, to compare and contrast the three proposals for an ultimate Mideast solution that were offered by the pundits today:

1) In Slate, Robert Wright takes a well-argued run at the belief that Arafat walked away from Camp David. The implicit, but unspoken assumption: that Barak's Camp David offer was both insufficient and untenable, and a withdrawal to the 1967 borders, or its equivalent, the only possibly acceptable end of negotiations.

2) In the Globe and Mail, Salutin is explicit where Wright was not... the Middle East is actually "the most resoluble crisis in the world," once Israel evacuates their illegal settlements and goes back to the 1967 borders.

3) In the National Post, Mark Steyn comes to pretty much the same conclusion as Ehud Barak and Martin van Creveld have espoused, in other words the unilateralist perspective:

Israel should take what it needs of the West Bank for a buffer, round up every terrorist it can, and announce that the Jordanians are welcome to what's left

The difference in the positions held by North Americans has thus come down to this. One side believes in negotiations, with the ultimate aim of getting as much as possible in the way of guarantees for peace in return for the forcible expulsion from the West Bank and East Jerusalem of 350,000 Jews. The other believes that Israel should defy the world indefinitely, "take what it needs," forcibly repatriate the tens of thousands of its citizens in the completely undefendable settlements, and settle in for a prolonged cross-border war. Face it... there really isn't any other option than those two, is there?

Posted by BruceR at 12:49 PM



The question of whether Canada is leaving Afghanistan now comes to a head, in the worst possible way. If the Patricias had taken casualties from enemy fire, there would have been an almost irresistable urge to extend the mission, regardless of the cost to other CF operations like Bosnia, and a replacement battalion would have been taking shape by now. But that didn't happen, and the upshot of the accidental American bombing of A Coy, 3 PPCLI is still very much in doubt.

The government wants them to come home. Prime Minister Chretien has repeatedly said he wants Canada out of Afghanistan by July. The Americans were pushing them to stay, if only for symbolic reasons related to their need not to be looking to act unilaterally. (That argument is now officially a non-starter with the Canadian public, it goes without saying.) Armed forces insiders have been up and down on this... they know there were no resources to extend the mission at its current strength safely, but were worried about the image of cutting and running with the job halfdone. There were some indications the pro-American side was winning... last week General Gauthier, head of the army in Central Canada, was appointed the new commander of the Afghanistan op. Gauthier's what the British used to call a "thruster," and it was hard to imagine he'd be moving to that operation just to wind it down.

What is clear from yesterday's reaction is that further integration of Canada's forces with the Americans' is off the table, indefinitely. That 500-pound high-explosive accident is slated to become a huge argument, both spoken and unspoken, for all those who want Canada to chart a foreign and defence policy more akin to Europe's and less attuned to the U.S. Because most of that lobby doesn't actually like spending money on the military (about the only impetus in the last 12 years for increasing defence spending has been American exasperation) that almost certainly means continued stagnation of the defence budget, and attrition of the ranks.

As for the immediate Afghanistan question, I'm sticking with my earlier prediction. The government's going to wait to judge public opinion a little while longer. If they believe that Canadians are now ambivalent about an extension of the presence of ground forces in Afghanistan, they simply won't do it, with this accident left as the unspoken argument against it. In the end, only the threat of widespread public unpopularity allowed the defence establishment to convince the government that Canadians needed to be in Afghanistan, not any overriding government objective or policy concern: it is unthinkable that the government will do something both unpopular and against their inclinations now.

As for the troops in Kandahar, if they had any more operations planned before their departure, those are going to be dramatically scaled back now. One can assume A Company (one of the three Canadian rifle companies) is going to be combat-ineffective for some time, with 10 fatalities and evacuated casualties, probably almost all from one platoon. If this had been Taliban attack, you'd see the government pledging today to replace those losses, bring the company back up to full strength, and go on with the mission. The fact no one's saying anything like that today suggests the curtain has begun to draw on our Afghan adventure. The Americans and Brits will likely have to keep this one going alone.

Posted by BruceR at 11:49 AM

April 18, 2002



As predicted, the government's taking a pass on integrated continental defence (the unspoken reason being they couldn't afford to offer forces commensurate with the responsibilities that would come with it). Two classic parts of this morning's Globe and Mail story illustrate the common lack of comprehension:

Northcom's main effect will be to establish a standing land and sea force for the defence of North America. A hypothetical case that could affect Canada would be if U.S. intelligence identified, say, a cargo ship as possibly carrying a terrorist nuclear weapon in Canadian waters. If Canada remained outside the command, Northcom would properly have to contact Ottawa to have a Canadian ship intercept the vessel. If Canada had joined, Northcom commanders could send Canadian warships without consulting the government directly.

No, that's not what will happen. If there's a terrorist nuclear bomb in Canadian waters, the Americans are going to BLOW IT UP, using their own forces regardless, and worry about any Canadian whinging about our sovereignty later. The only difference our participation in Northcom would make is our senior generals would know beforehand (and might even offer to help if we could). The idea that, since we're not participating, now the White House will have to ask us nicely through diplomatic channels to send one of our undermanned ships to intercept any weapons of mass destruction for them is just ludicrous.

But our Minister of National Defence has got a grip on the issue, you betcha:

"The command of Canadian forces will be under the command of the government, under the command of the chain of command," said Eggleton.

Thanks for clearing that up, sir...

Meanwhile, the government reaffirmed that it still wanted to send Canadian forces to the West Bank. Oh, now there's a fun tour of duty just waiting to happen...

Posted by BruceR at 12:58 PM



Busy day for the Canadian Forces, newswise. In one day you have:

1) Four Canadian soldiers killed by U.S. friendly fire in Afghanistan;
2) Continued high-level jaw-jawing over whether Canada should cooperate with the United States in continental defence, or just let them do it for us as we do now (don't kid yourself... those are the options);
3) Growing evidence that Canada's armed forces have a crippling recruiting/retention problem which will soon effectively prevent us from doing anything, and will already take 30 years to bounce back from;
4) Canada's political opposition seizing what to their tiny minds seems to be the really important issue, and asking why government money is being used to reevaluate the records of a war hero from 80 years ago (Billy Bishop's real record is a tired old academic debate, that everyone who really cares about the issue hashed out years ago... it's only in the news now because of the stupid comments of the Canadian Alliance about how research money should only be used for "happy stories").

There's all kinds of ways those first three stories could reassemble themselves, now. Canada was within weeks if not days of announcing whether it would provide a replacement for the Patricias in Afghanistan this summer... it's an open question whether these deaths will make that more or less desired by the army. At the same time, it's bound to influence the debate, if that ever becomes a debate, over what Canada's going to do about continental defence. And because Canada doesn't have the troops to take on either task, let alone both, right now, the governing Liberals are going to need an excuse to get out of either commitment if not both.

My guess? The government's going to go a little neutralist on its allies and use these deaths as grist for both a withdrawal or dramatic scaling back of the Afghan mission, and a short-circuiting of any defense collaboration talks with the U.S. As it would cost considerably more money to be America's partners in defense or in war, it's likely the line to the Americans will be "We've fought now, we've bled (thanks to you)... now we're going back home to our demonstrably safer strategy of being preachy but not doing anything." (How this jives with Chretien's belief that Canadian troops still have a role to play as West Bank peacekeepers, too, is just one of that man's endearing, and increasingly fatal, delusions.)

Posted by BruceR at 11:30 AM

April 17, 2002



First off, I found Tim Blair's dissection of Robert Fisk extremely humourous (not for his lambasting of Fisk, which is too blunt to be funny, but for his caricature of "Broadsheet Writer"... I actually know writers who talk like that). Unfortunately, I really didn't find this piece to be Fisk at his most insane... (see previous posts for deeper bouts with sanity by the esteemed British writer). If nothing else, he does raise one obvious, uncomfortable parallel, the Algerian War of LIberation (1954-62).

You know, everyone seems to think about the ending of the colonial occupations after World War 2 as some kind of "win-win" scenario where everyone who lived ended up more or less where they belonged. Not so Algeria. The Israelis have been in Palestine, for 50 years, maybe a little more. The French were there for a century before they were kicked out: not just their army, but half-a-million settlers, men, women and children who had grown up and thought of themselves as Algerian. To them it was their homeland... in the same way that white South Africans see their country as home now. But they still left: it was either that, or die, in many cases. At least De Gaulle gave them all citizenship... otherwise they, too, would have joined the masses of the world's stateless refugees.

People are down on the French in particular for their attitude towards the Middle East. But it's an attitude informed by memory. If Camus and all the rest of the Algerian settlers were not entitled to a homeland in the Muslim world, why in heaven's name would the Jews be? In 1962, the Muslims won, and Western Europe lost... as a Frenchman living today you can either see that as a humiliating defeat of everything your country stands for (hardly an existentially comfortable stance for anyone), or you can conclude that maybe that time the Muslims had a point, and it was your own forefathers who were wrong to try to install a European-style settlement to the Muslim world. And if the latter, then opposing Israel for doing essentially the same thing is only being morally consistent.

That is, by the way, why I'm not optimistic about long-term outcomes in this regard. History is not on the Israelis' side. The white Algerians were driven out of Algeria... the white Rhodesians, the few that are left, are being hunted down in their homes... and the white Israelis, in the long view, face the stark choices of fighting and dying for their own (admittedly prosperous and democratic) Western colony, FOREVER, or abandoning it to find some hope for their children's children elsewhere. Anyone who thinks peaceful coexistence for Israel will ever be an option in our lifetimes or the next is deeply, deeply delusional. Just ask all those Algerian settlers in the cafes of Paris.

Posted by BruceR at 05:57 PM



Glenn Reynolds takes a run at Amnesty International for failing to condemn the Palestinian recruitment of children as suicide bombers. A couple problems with that:

1) There have been, that I can find, no successful suicide attacks by Palestinians under the age of 17. And if they're 17 or older, one could argue they're not children: the recruitment of 17 year-olds into armed forces is allowed by many modern nations, and is hardly what people are thinking about when they worry about "children soldiers." (The Canadian Forces recruits 17 year-olds, with parental permission).

2) The report in question that Reynolds links to does criticize BOTH the Israelis and Palestinian Authority equally for having a recruiting age as low as Canada's (!) -- not just Israel as Reynolds implies.

3) Further down, the same report does explicitly criticize the Palestinians for indoctrination of younger children in paramilitary youth organizations (ie, all the kiddie suicide bomber photos we've seen), along with a number of other Arab countries.

There's two issues here. The Palestinians are indoctrinating their children to hate. They are also encouraging their young adults to blow themselves up. The report in question calls them to account for the first if not the second, and properly exonerates the Palestinians of charges of actually using children for military purposes, given the lack of any evidence to the contrary. Given that it's a report about "children soldiers," they are therefore being entirely appropriate. Glenn should find another international organization to beat on.

Posted by BruceR at 04:45 PM



Props to Slate for finding this page. I'm amused by the premise of course, but what I'm really impressed is the ability to locate one's position on a road map in any of over a dozen countries, based on the entries in two regular text fields and a rolldown. Trust me: that's elegant.

Posted by BruceR at 04:17 PM



Canadian democracy demands a united right in order to keep the Liberals in check. The next time they bypass protocols and buy $101-million worth of planes for the prime minister on a whim, claiming that his old plane flies like a Sam Snead slice, a united voice of opposition built by common vision, purpose and above all, good faith, should be heard from the Canadian right.

--Prime ministerial progeny Ben Mulroney writing words that make no sense. Face it, though: you wouldn't have edited him, either, now that father Brian runs your entire newspaper chain.

Posted by BruceR at 10:37 AM

April 16, 2002



If Ehud Barak thinks he can draw a line on a map that gives 75 per cent of the West Bank to the PLO and still avoid total settler outrage, more power to him... he's certainly right about the need to partition the territories with a wall, as any sane person recognizes by now. I'd love to see a map with such a line on it, though, as I'm doubtful it can be drawn to anyone's satisfaction.

Two important points that Barak glosses over:

Israel will also need a security zone along the Jordan River and some early warning stations, which combined will cover another 12 percent, adding up to 25 percent of the West Bank.

If Israel controls the Jordan, that means the Palestinian state will still be encompassed within Israeli territory (ie, no border of its own). That's just a simple geographical fact, and thus the Barak proposal will equally simply not be acceptable to the international community on that basis alone. Another point of interest... the gap southwest of Jericho between the Jordan security zone and the Jewish settlements in Greater Jerusalem that Barak says would be kept (ie, the bridge between north and south Palestine) would be at most a few kilometres, maybe only a few hundreds of meters wide... if there is any gap at all, and the Palestinian-ruled area is not simply divided into two separate sub-states. One suspects Barak knows that'd be untenable on its face (the resulting Palestinian state not being "viable") but I'd still like to see that map he's doodling on.

In Jerusalem there would have to be two physical fences. The first would delineate the political boundary and be placed around the Greater City, including the settlement blocks adjacent to Jerusalem. The second would be a security-dictated barrier, with controlled gates and passes, inside Jerusalem to separate most of the Palestinian neighborhoods from the Jewish neighborhoods and the Holy Basin, including the Old City.

In other words, the Muslim inhabitants of Jerusalem, between the two fences, will be in non-voting, non-citizen limbo indefinitely under this proposal... held in a walled-in enclosure under semi-permanent Israeli military rule. Oh, that'd go over well, too...

See, people have thought of walls before... but they've yet to come up with a proposal that doesn't involve both Israelis and Palestinians stepping back from even their "minimum acceptable" demands. That, BTW is why negotiations prior to any wall-building are futile... any wall strategy can only come out of unilateral Israeli action, in defiance of UN resolutions and world opinion. Barak has a sane proposal, but sanity's just not going to be accepted right now by most of the world. The only question is whether to go ahead and do it anyway. And at some point in the years to come the price will climb so high that the Israelis will be inclined to do just that.

Note I said "years." Sharon, BTW, is of course implacably opposed to any wall strategy. He will never support it. So this is all moot until the next Israeli change of leadership (or, assuming the huckster Netanyahu succeeds him... the one after that.)

Posted by BruceR at 03:10 PM

April 15, 2002



The Sun's Eric Margolis chimes in on Palestine, today, to share with us three important facts:

1) Ariel Sharon's government (ie, the Jews) secretly control American foreign policy and the media!
2) The Saudi peace plan was "wise."
3) The terrorists are going to come after America now, and it's all the fault of George Bush (in other words, the Jews; see point #1).

All this, in a piece which doesn't mention anything about terrorism at all until the third last paragraph and (rather confusingly) calls for NATO (ie U.S.) to take control over the occupied territories and boot out all the Jews therein. Wow.

Also in the Sun, editor Lorrie Goldstein shares some of the letters he's received for his own admittedly pro-Israel column, no doubt from people who think Margolis is just jim-dandy:

How dare you call Hitler a maniac if you believe Sharon is even somewhat human. At least Hitler condemned the brutality of the Japanese treatment of the Chinese. Makes you wonder why he only wanted to exterminate Jews. Perhaps he was ridding the world of a future menace that would lead to the Sept. 11 tragedy ... "

Posted by BruceR at 10:22 AM



"Chavez an anachronism who was doomed to fail" -- Harry Sterling, Toronto Star, Sunday

"Triumphant Chavez reclaims presidency" -- Toronto Star, Monday

Posted by BruceR at 09:52 AM

April 12, 2002



[Spokesman Ari Fleischer] said that U.S. President George W. Bush wanted to condemn the attack in "the strongest terms possible," but, in an abrupt reduction of rhetoric, repeatedly described the incident as a "homicide bombing."" --Globe and Mail

I know "homicide bomber" has its adherents in the blogosphere, but it's just a stupid term. ALL bombers are homicide bombers, pretty much. It just makes the man sound like an idiot. Ari: you want to call them something extremist but not say "suicide bomber?" Try "human bomb." (At least then you won't have reporters wrongly interpreting it as your appeasing the Palestinians.)

Posted by BruceR at 04:16 PM



But this afternoon the State Department spokesman said that in light of today's bombing, Powell is reconsidering whether the meeting with Arafat should take place.

--Washington Post Online

In other news, the guy behind the Arab "peace proposal" has donated $1.35 million to a Saudi government-run telethon, the proceeds to go to Palestinian "martyrs." No doubt disappointing the French, Jerry Lewis was apparently not involved in any way.

Posted by BruceR at 01:44 PM



It's been 3 days, and contrary to predictions, the script for Star Wars 2 is still available, if you want to save yourselves the price of admission -- courtesy of the blog world.

Posted by BruceR at 11:28 AM



Think of it, Mort. If you had agreed to meet with Min. Farrakhan when I begged you to, three years ago I think, perhaps you would have been able to persuade your colleagues to shift gears enough to give the Arab/Islamic world some hope on Middle East matters. And 9-11 might not have happened.

--Jude Wanniski to US News and World Report publisher Mort Zuckerman

Posted by BruceR at 11:26 AM

April 11, 2002



"When Woodward extended his hand and introduced himself, the president said: 'Duhh! I know who you are.' A moment later, Mr. Bush squeezed Woodward's head and called him 'Woody.'

--Bob Woodward describes his first meeting with the U.S. President, in the Washington Post

Posted by BruceR at 12:25 PM

April 10, 2002

CHEAP SHOT There have been


There have been unsubstantiated reports that the Israeli army had bulldozed houses with their residents still inside. Confirmation is impossible as the war zone has been declared off-limits to reporters...

--Globe and Mail, today

Posted by BruceR at 02:12 PM



Filed away for future use in training. Thanks to Stryker's site.

Posted by BruceR at 12:51 PM



Good piece by George Will on the real aims of the Palestinians today. Also in the Washpost, Oslo Accord initiator Yossi Beilin outlines the appeasement position that one now expects Powell and Bush will end up pushing for, assuming Arafat gives him even half an inch when they meet.

And in a remarkable revelation of his true feelings on the matter, Robert Fisk argues that if the Powell visit doesn't go exactly the way Arafat wants, that can only mean the Jews secretly control the world...

UPDATE: Fisk will no doubt appreciate the Nation's Alexander Cockburn, who is no longer sure whether "it's true or not" that the Israelis had pre-knowledge of Sept. 11, and that a disgruntled Jew was responsible for the anthrax attacks, according to TNR's Franklin Foer.

Posted by BruceR at 10:50 AM

April 08, 2002



Before it disappears off their front page, I just want to commend Samizdata and Perry for his nuanced, pensive search for middle ground on the Israel question. Perry proves once again that if you work at it, you can still find a logical position to criticize Israel from without lapsing into this pervasive anti-Semitism we're seeing in the old media... or the knee-jerk anti-Arabism that is cropping up more and more in Blogworld.

While I'm on the topic (and you may have guessed I've been trying to avoid it), I'll just say this. I do not accept the blog-consensus that an attack on Iraq is coming, or even likely. I think there's a great deal of wishful thinking out there now (thinking of Den Beste's expectation that Arafat would be killed, then exiled... I frankly doubt it will be either... or Reynolds' hope that Jordan will return to the West Bank... fat chance) about how Bush (and to a lesser extent, Sharon) are going to finally cut the Gordian knot on this one, and we'll all get back to this Iraq business.

They're not... at least not that I can see it. Face it... the West has been outfoxed on this one. Saddam Hussein threw hundreds of thousands of dollars in oil money, on top of that already coming from elsewhere in the Arab world, or stolen out of the European aid to the PA, and fuelled a distractive wave of suicide bombings when he needed one. Because of the West's lack of will, or lack of bombs, or whatever after Afghanistan, the forces of despotism in the Arab world got inside the West's decision loop, and have effectively prevented the West for doing anything more disruptive to their own countries in future. They have the initiative now. Sharon's inevitable response is purely reactionary... he will, sooner or later, have to pull back, and the bombings will start again. This Friday, or next, or the next... it makes no matter.

Stryker and Shultz asked people for their thoughts on how this one wargames out. I'll tell you how... it's insoluble. One look at a map of the West Bank shows how inextricably tied the two populations therein are. You cannot create a border between them without moving tens of thousands of Israeli voters to safer locations (who, as Yitzhak Rabin's widow can attest, don't really feel like going right now), and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. The idea of having a contiguous viable Palestinian state on the West Bank (ie, with a border to the outside world) and Israel having a security over its own borders better than it had in 1966 are mutually incompatible: the map will not take the line. Nor will the Israelis, remembering their own history, ever do what seems to be the logically sensible thing and expel those who threaten them. A Jew can no more commit diaspora, even if needed for their utter existence, than an American could support the abolition of the Bill of Rights.

The force is irresistable. The object is not immovable. At some time in the future, sooner, or later, Israel will withdraw its settlements from the majority of the West Bank, and behind some kind of security wall, maybe on the green line, maybe a kilometre or two to the east of it. When that happens, many Arabs will see this as a victory, and immediately start planning Israel's final destruction... no doubt. But it will still happen. All that Israel can do is choose the manner and time of their leaving. This has nothing to do with world pressure... just the conditions on the ground. The majority of the settlements are unsustainable. The majority of the West Bank will be surrendered to a hostile enemy. And Israel will be 8 miles away from destruction again. Such are the injustices of ground and demographics.

One suspects Sharon cannot do this. Nor can his likely successor, Netanyahu. They owe the settlers too much, and fear the results. It could be 20 years before the circumstances are right for the evacuation and Israel can finally withdraw behind its last defence line... in the meantime the killing will continue, maybe more at times, maybe less. For all his efforts, Richard the Lionhearted only postponed the inevitable... bought the Crusader kingdoms a few more years. He had to have seen the writing was on the wall, as did all his knights, just as easily as Sharon can.

What happens after that, I may not live to see. I hope I won't, actually, for I fear the worst for the Israelis. But that's a long way off. As to the immediate concern, Bush's war on terrorism... hey, it ended in Afghanistan. If there was any likelihood of a second round, it's been utterly scotched now. Arafat will die peacefully, in bed. So, more than likely, will Saddam Hussein. The Americans will continue to hunt down Al Qaeda members wherever they hole up for a year or more, and help rebuild a somewhat better life for the Afghans. But the moral clarity we all thought we had six months ago is gone: we're all getting increasingly shrill as we realize it. Another terrorist strike will lead to forceful Western reprisals, of course. But there will be no pre-emptive wars fought against those who harbour terrorists: democracies have never been very good at pre-emptive attacks anyway, as anyone who remembers the Suez or October Crises well knows: we've been kidding ourselves to think we were different. The "war against terrorism" will never be declared to be won (that would lead to the release of all those extrajudicially-held Cuban prisoners, among other things), or over... it will just drag on, like the British wars of Empire or the Cold War did. That's the world I shall grow old in: I'm fairly certain of it now. Hopefully my children will live to see one better.

All this to say that I fear in the end, Perry is right. It is the 30 year-old policy of settlements, shortsighted, ham-fisted, discriminatory and unsustainable, that has limited Israel's options now, and the West's too. In a way, they are the smallest empire in the world: but like Imperial Rome, or Spain, or Britain, they are so overextended now they face collapse, both from within and without. That's not to excuse anything any Muslim has ever done against them, or to agree with anything any European ever said on this issue. And maybe the other alternatives were even worse. But anyone who thinks that imprisoning millions of Muslims in a prison state, run by the likes of Arafat, indefinitely, without any plans for their eventual release or integration or elevation into the broader world, was or is a strategy that could ever make the killing stop is smoking pipe-weed.

So what should be done? I personally agree with the "realistic hawkism" proposal outlined by Beinart below... dismantling of the Palestinian Authority, full revocation of Oslo, long-term reoccupation of the territories, and a longer-term Israeli strategy aimed at making the inevitable disengagement as peaceful as possible. I don't realistically think the West will ever go for that, though. What will likely happen is Powell will come and go, Arafat will be released in yet another personal triumph, the PA will rebuild, and in a few months the killing will start again. Nobody except the Americans -- not the Arabs, not Sharon, not Arafat -- wants the fundamental conditions to change any time soon. So likely, they won't.

Posted by BruceR at 11:29 PM



In a classic attack of the "tall poppy" syndrome (I'm not convinced it's a Saudi plot yet), Reynolds has another semi-literate anti-fan trying to make his bones as a writer by stalking him online:

What motivated me to start up Warblogger Watch was not jelousy, (sic) web hits, or whatever. It was Reynold's (sic) invade Saudi Arabia plan. To see him beat the drums of war like that made me snap. That was such a terrible, arrogant, inhumane, and ignorant thing to blog I decided to say something about it. That's it. I don't want to see a new generation of mutant babies.

Hey, but I do! Teenage Mutant Ninja Babies, preferably.

It seems absurd for laptop warriors who probably piss their knickers in fear everytime a homeless person asks them for a quarter to cheer for more blood, brutality, massacres, and mass graves. None of you would last a second in bar fight let alone leading a killing squad.

I can't speak for everyone, but I think Stryker and I have been quite upfront about our military credentials. (But if you really want to lose a barfight, go up against Joanne Jacobs.... I hear she fights mean.) What are his, again?

There's a promotional ad for Blogger in all this... so easy to use, even illiterate Cro-magnons have no problem posting! Okay, that's it. The Internet is officially too popular. All the rest of you go away now. (Teenage... mutant... ninja... babies... teenage... mutant... ninja... babies...)

Posted by BruceR at 10:31 PM



Word to the stupid: you cannot successfully refute accusations of writing the "dumbest blog article yet" if your attempted refutation includes the dumbest blog sentence yet:

So let's disseminate (sic) Reynolds (sic) response bit by bit.

Yes, let's do that! Let's spread word of Reynolds everywhere, but only in very small pieces!

Idiot. Game, set and match to the Professor on this one.

Posted by BruceR at 10:11 PM

NICE PROSE I'm not sure


I'm not sure the advertising world needs real critical commentary (what's the point?), but if they do I want it all to read like Rob Walker's stuff. Describing the subliminal subtext of the new Cindy Crawford Diet Pepsi video is, he writes:

Cindy Crawford has it all. She looked better than you in 1991, she looks better than you now, and she will always look better than you. You are a bug. The years may exact a terrible toll on your body, but Cindy Crawford laughs in the face of time itself. Go ahead and stare, go ahead and dream, go ahead and buy a Diet Pepsi if you really think it will help. It will not help.

Yep, that was pretty much the message I got, too. Her mole's gotten bigger, though, don't you think?

Posted by BruceR at 05:17 PM



A must read in TNR today.

Posted by BruceR at 11:50 AM

April 07, 2002



Arafat compared to Shakespeare's Richard III. Nicely done.

In other "World vs. the Jews, round 473" news, we have Palestinians summarily executing suspected collaborators, in an absence of any critical comment outside the blogosphere. In the other corner, the Israelis are being widely condemned around the world for firing warning shots at journalists.

Posted by BruceR at 02:35 PM

April 06, 2002



I put no store in personality quizzes, especially those that suggest I'd be better off in D&D as a neutral good elven ranger (Elven? Breathe, BruceR, breathe... think Legolas... Legolas... okay, better now), but Iain Murray found this one, and it is amusing. What was interesting was I was thinking throughout how the questions could be phrased more objectively... there's clearly a built-in bias toward the goody goodies. Methinks there's some anti-dwarfitism involved, too...

Posted by BruceR at 12:54 PM

April 05, 2002



I've covered a couple stories when I wrote about games professionally where the (admit it) highly addictive EverQuest played a part in the ruination of someone's life. This isn't even the saddest I've heard. Now, I'll say it right out: I don't think the company is to blame, and I sure as hell don't think they should be sued... but to deny that the massively-multiplayer computer game can have a deleterious effect on the seriously mentally or emotionally unstable among us (just like alcohol, gambling, or strip clubs, or several other vices that I have also enjoyed in moderation) is to kid ourselves. Now of course, all those other addictive habits are at least a little regulated, and rightly so. Accordingly, I am one gamer who thinks the ESRB ratings are a pretty good attempt in that direction. What other kind of regulation could there be? To demand designers, on threat of lawsuit, make games less fun? Less immersive?

Folks, we haven't even started going on the immersion train yet... in the coming years, and decades, we're going to see game-induced endorphin rushes that make Everquest look like Zork. The trendline, running asymptotically to the vision of the Holodeck itself, is going to ever more toward more verisimilitude, more intense personal interactions, more to risk and more to lose, and more people who'd rather live in a world with their friends where dragons also roam (or whatever) than in a world where the night shift at the pizza parlour is the most exciting thing they have to look forward to.

The game companies probably do need to take this into account... and maybe it should affect decisions on such things as exorbitant penalties on death. There are games that are designed to be more addictive than fun... I would count EQ among them. (I'm very pleased with Dark Age of Camelot because it uses much the same lineage and assumptions, but tilts it back toward the fun side. As a result, I suspect it'll be a long time before we see the first DAOC tragedy like this.) But imagine you lived in a world where every year the liquor, purely by improvements in industrial processes, became even more intoxicating and attractive to drink than it was the year before. What is the responsibility of the regulators then? And of those who make it? And of those who drink it?

Posted by BruceR at 04:54 PM



Take a look at the Bell Canada ad on this page in the National Post. Now tell me how encouraging epilepsy in the casual web reader helps sell anything to anyone.

Posted by BruceR at 03:20 PM



Okay, I made that second part up.

Posted by BruceR at 02:06 PM



In yet another example of how easy it is to get a professoriate in this country, York University's Ananya Mukherjee Reed writes a spirited defence of the right of Palestinians to kill Israeli civilians in the Star today. She ends with a direct comparison of the Palestinians to blacks in America, who, as we all know, freed themselves from slavery:

As history tells us, the end to any form of subjugation has never come about without resistance or merely through goodwill and missionary zeal. Here's one example close to home. Could slavery have been abolished merely with a sufficient dose of American liberalism in the absence of slave revolts?

It's called the Civil War, Ananya. There was also an interesting man named Lincoln involved somehow. You may want to look into it.

Posted by BruceR at 09:54 AM

April 03, 2002



(The scene: Monty Python's Life of Brian. Brian is hanging on a cross, crucified. Suddenly, an unlikely rescue force appears over the hill...)
OTTO: Forward all!
WORKERS: Look out! The Judean People's Front! The Judean People's Front!...
OTTO: Ve are the Judean People's Front. Crack suicide squad. Suicide squad! Attack!
[drum roll]
J.P.F.: Uh! Ugh. Aggh... (suicide squad kills themselves)
OTTO: That showed 'em, huh? Oooh. [whump] (dies)
BRIAN: You silly sods.


(The scene: This week in Ramallah. Yassir Arafat is beseiged by the Israelis. Suddenly, an unlikely rescue force appears around the corner.)
While holed up in Ramallah, Palestinian strategists had devised a plan for deploying a unit of suicides for the first time in battle against Israeli troops. The unit’s mission was to fight the Israeli siege force and inflict heavy casualties, after which the survivors were to head for Arafat’s compound, break the Israeli encirclement and release their leader and his men...

A plan almost Baldrickian in its genius. First we blow ourselves up, then we rescue the Chairman...

That night, a contingent of 40-50 suicide combatants – some armed with explosive belts - went into action...

What were the rest of the "suicide combatants" armed with? Overdoses of Haldol?

As they advanced on the government compound, they were quickly surrounded by elite IDF troops, who fought their first hand- to-hand battle with a large contingent of suicides trained in military combat...

It was probably also the first such battle for the suicides, it goes without saying.

The battle lasted six hours. Palestinians with explosive belts strapped to their bodies attempted from time to time to approach Israeli soldiers and blow themselves up together – and were thrown back...

From time to time?

The battle ended with the Palestinian unit destroyed or captured. Six were killed and four seriously injured. There were no Israeli casualties.

You silly sods...

(Source: the rarely-to-be-taken seriously Debka. Wouldn't it be great if the PLO really was this stupid?)

Posted by BruceR at 09:24 PM



Great piece today in the Washpost on how the Green Berets worked in Afghanistan.

Posted by BruceR at 08:57 PM

April 02, 2002



Note to anyone ever emailing me for an opinion: starting off by quipping "weren't you once a talented... writer?" will result in your teeth being kicked in next time we're in the same area code. Lileks was too kind to this pustule.

Posted by BruceR at 02:04 PM