Why are Missing WMD Like Bad Software?

I’ve been watching the debates on “justifying the invasion” with a lot of interest, as days go by without the WMD ‘smoking gun’ showing up in my morning newspaper.

There is an interesting discussion to have regarding the post-facto moral position, but more important to me is the simpler question of whether we were actively lied to or, as I prefer to put it “wagged like a dog”. I started to talk about some of it below in Freeing Jessica Lynch, and then today, Slate has a piece on the NY Times’ pre-invasion coverage of WMD and whether the Times should review its intel, as the Pentagon appears to be doing.

…none of Miller’s wild WMD stories has panned out. From these embarrassing results, we can deduce that either 1) Miller’s sources were right about WMD, and it’s just a matter of time before the United States finds evidence to back them up; 2) Miller’s sources were wrong about WMD, and the United States will never find the evidence; 3) Miller’s sources played her to help stoke a bogus war; or 4) Miller deliberately weighted the evidence she collected to benefit the hawks. It could be that the United States inadvertently overestimated Iraq’s WMD program. For example, the United States might have intercepted communications to Saddam in which his henchmen exaggerated the scale of Iraq’s WMD progress to make him happy.

And an idea started to form…
My core profession is managing problem technology projects (note: if you have one in the Southern California area, drop me a note at the address on the masthead). I’m currently working on a major ($400K/month project cost) project at a major national corporation…one where they flipped the switch and the system never turned on. They attempted to go live in front of the user community and the software simply didn’t work. How in the world could that happen?

I’m talking to the various project team members, who with few exceptions are bright, competent people, and I realize that somehow no one was willing to stand up to management and tell them “no”. I just saw it in action. This week, we ‘discovered’ a brand new requirement, ten weeks before the go-live date for the relaunch, when we are almost through testing, and the group sat in a meeting with the program director and listened to her explain that fixing this – which is a minor rework, but will effect may parts of the system – is something we can do in the time we have left.

I was one of two people (out of twenty) who suggested that this was probably not a very good idea. Imagine what it would have been like if company management had people-shredders. Everyone else in the room wouldn’t have been silent, they would have cheerfully explained how well it would work and how easy it would be. And me…

And were I a brutal dictator with fantasies of regional domination, I’m sure that getting these weapons would be my highest priority. But I’d rely on my ever-shrinking inner circle to actually do the messy work of managing those programs and measuring their results.

And since the major activites of those folks would be fighting for position and booty (in all senses), the difficult work of actually managing the technical and industrial infrastructure necessary to actually build some of these things would probably fall a bit behind.

So you get ‘Potemkin weapons’; reports, promises, trailers filled with impressive-looking technical equipment, UAV’s that are really just oversized model airplanes. Occasionally, some competent or especially frightened technician might actually produce something – but almost certainly not on the scale that the dictator believes.

So Saddam believes he has them, and from that, we infer that he does, and what is really going on is a bunch of nervous paper-shuffling.

I like this idea, because it fits in with what I know of human nature, and it explains two things (both of which get trumped if they actually find the Secret Underground WMD Factories) – why Saddam would risk war to hide weapons he knew he didn’t have, and why Bush would risk lying about something so crucial, when it would be impossible for the lie not to get caught.

In Defense of Redistribution

Trent is standing astride the corpse of statist socialism, metaphorically beating his chest, and a lot of our commenters seem to agree with him.

I think his joy is premature (and somewhat misplaced); so what I want to do is defend redistributive liberalism here. There are two flavors of redistribution. One redistributes income and wealth; usually through transfer payments, social programs, or other kinds of infrastructure paid for disproportionately by the well-off and used by all. The other is defensive; it means to limit the concentrations of wealth and power.

It is about keeping those who have from using what they have to take from those who don’t.

I believe these are important for two reasons.

One is a matter of morality, aesthetics, essentially of taste, and as we all know, de gustibus, non disputandum est (there’s no accounting for taste). I prefer to live in a world where the conditions of the poor are meliorated. I think it’s just and good. The response to that is ‘well, spend your own money!’, and right now I’m not going to dispute that (although I believe it’s quite disputable).

The other is very practical and cold-hearted, and is something I hope to convince you to take seriously; to have the kind of political organization we have…where we grant legitimacy to an abstract body of laws and procedure…there needs to be a rough equality of power.

There will never be a true equality of power; every effort to make it so has collapsed into madness (The Terror, Pol Pot). But one unique feature of the American system – and one of the keys to it’s greatness is the ability of the small to stand up to the strong. This is important for many reasons; one of the most important is that it ties the small and powerless to the system with ties of legitimacy.
My correspondence with Bill, from Rational Expectations, helped get this started.

Here are a few quotes from his emails to me:

First, what’s the problem with wealth concentration? Bill Gates didn’t get rich by making me or any other of his customers worse off.

I think there’s a huge difference between an agricultural society in which a handful of families own all the land and everyone else is a peasant on the one hand and a society in which there’s significant mobility *within* the income distribution. The key is whether people have access to education and credit markets and are free to enter into any business or occupation of their choosing.

And I started realizing that he feels the way a lot of the people who read and comment on this blog (and not a few of those who write for it) do.

I feel differently.

As noted above, my feelings aren’t based entirely – or even largely – on some deep moral values. They are based on a look at the founding principles of this country, and on what people have discussed and believe that makes a polity work.

Jefferson put it well:

“There is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents… There is also an artificial aristocracy founded on wealth and birth, without either virtue or talents; for with these it would belong to the first class… The artificial aristocracy is a mischievous ingredient in government, and provision should be made to prevent its ascendency.” –Thomas Jefferson to John Adams

“With the laborers of England generally, does not the moral coercion of want subject their will as despotically to that of their employer, as the physical constraint does the soldier, the seaman, or the slave?” –Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper

“I do not believe with the Rochefoucaults and the Montaignes that fourteen out of fifteen men are rogues. I believe a great abatement from that proportion may be made in favor of general honesty. But I have always found that rogues would be uppermost, and I do not know that the proportion is too strong for the higher orders and for those who, rising above the swinish multitude, always contrive to nestle themselves into the places of power and profit. These rogues set out with stealing the people’s good opinion, and then steal from them the right of withdrawing it, by contriving laws and associations against the power of the people themselves.” –Thomas Jefferson to Mann Page

And much of the Federalist Papers is about the fear that an aristocracy of wealth hand power would rise up and destroy the fragile republic.

(and that the mobs would vote themselves wealth and power, to be sure)

There is a critical level of diffusion of power that has made the American model work. Not too diffuse, for there we get the demos, and ultimately the mob; and not too concentrated, for there we begin to stratify as those with privilege erect barriers to make sure that they can keep it.

My biggest concern is that we are near a tipping point where that delicate balance will be at risk. I, and others like me, want to shove the pendulum back the other way.

Like some, Mitch Ratcliffe as an example, I’m looking for a way to pull power away from the corporate and financial elites without handing it to the political/administrative elites. I don’t want a choice between Dickens’ and Orwell’s Londons – between Oliver Twist and 1984.

I intend to make another one. If I can’t find it, I’ll help create it.

Freeing Jessica Lynch

Robert Scheer replies to his critics:

It is one thing when the talk-show bullies who shamelessly smeared the last president, even as he attacked the training camps of Al Qaeda, now term it anti-American or even treasonous to dare criticize the Bush administration. When our Pentagon, however — a $400-billion- a-year juggernaut — savages individual journalists for questioning its version of events, it is worth noting.

Especially if you’re that journalist.

Last week, this column reported the findings of a British Broadcasting Corp. special report that accused the U.S. military and media of inaccurately and manipulatively hyping the story of U.S. Pvt. Jessica Lynch and her rescue from an Iraq hospital. The column was also informed by similar and independently reported articles and statements in the Toronto Star, the Washington Post and other reputable publications.

What is particularly sad in all of this is that a wonderfully hopeful story was available to the Pentagon to sell to the eager media: one in which besieged Iraqi doctors and nurses bravely cared for — and supplied their own blood to — a similarly brave young American woman in a time of madness and violence. Instead, eager to turn the war into a morality play between good and evil, the military used — if not abused — Lynch to put a heroic spin on an otherwise sorry tale of unjustified invasion.

The Chicago Tribune story he references:

The final story has not been told, and no one contests Lynch’s bravery during a horrifying ordeal. But the Iraqi doctors who treated her tell a less Hollywood-ready version of her rescue: They say they worked hard to save her life, they deny reports that she was slapped by an Iraqi officer and they say there was no resistance when U.S. forces raided the building.

Let’s go to the issues raised.

As far as I can see, there are four:

1) Did Lynch battle fiercely before being captured?

2) Was she mistreated when captured?

3) Did the hospital staff give her exemplary treatment and try and return her to U.S. lines?

4) Was the dramatic ‘dynamic entry’ into the hospital necessary?

[Update: Check out Bill Herbert’s detailed history of the media wars on this over at cointelprotool]

As I read it, the core of Scheer’s critique is that the entire event was ‘stage managed’, and that we could have simply driven a Humvee and a couple of corpsmen up to the hospital and picked her up. Everything else…the tale of her heroism, mistreatment, and the ‘daring’ of the Iraqi who told us where she was…was simply a ‘wag the dog’ staged for the benefit of wartime propaganda.

Sadly, I think the Scheer is so blinded by his need to prove the Bush administration mendacious in all things, and by his conviction that the war was – charitably – an evil enterprise that he would take this attitude toward almost any positive news that came out of the war at all.

I’ll note here that my own biases tend me to the opposite tack, but that I’m cynical enough about both sides of the argument for Scheer and myself.

Here is my take on the four points:

1. Did she fight fiercely before being captured? Advantage, Scheer. Importance: low. When I read this, my first take was “How do they know? If it’s just from interrogating her, a) she’s probably not in the best shape to remember, and b) she’s probably not experienced enough to judge what fierce battle looks like.” One Iraqi private shooting at me with a machine gun would sure as hell feel like fierce battle in my eyes. My immediate reaction was that this was harmless spin, designed to make our soldiers out as heroic.

2) Was she mistreated when captured? The hospital staff says “No.” Advantage: none. Importance: high. Tough call; on one hand, the Iraqi’s don’t have a sterling reputation in the human-rights arenas; on the other, when Trent blogged about her probable treatment here, I thought it a bit over-the-top. This is somewhat solvable; she either shows the signs of good medical treatment, or the signs of mistreatment. Legitimate concerns about her privacy will probably keep this answer from ever being public.

3) Did the hospital staff take good care of her? Advantage: none. Importance: low. As above, there are some provable facts that will probably never come to light. But I’m equally cynical about two things: on one hand, hospital workers have a bias toward taking care of people, regardless of who they are – that’s why they’re health care workers in the first place. And on the other, if I knew the Americans were coming, I’d sure be nice to any of them that I had handy as a relationship builder for the group that next walked through the door. And, sadly, other than the facts written on Lynch’s body, there is really only the self-serving word of the hospital staff to support this position.

4) Was the ‘raid’ necessary? Advantage: Pentagon. Importance: Critical. In my mind, this is the core of Scheer’s argument, that the entire rescue was unnecessary and a ‘staged event’. In his own words: “…U.S. military and media of inaccurately and manipulatively hyping the story of U.S. Pvt. Jessica Lynch and her rescue from an Iraq hospital.

Here’s something I know a little bit about. I’ve had pretty extensive tactical training, at Gunsite as well as some of the other leading schools that teach police officers and members of the military ‘low-intensity’ tactics (it’s a different thing from full-on military tactics, but similar to what a small squad or group of SWAT officers would use). I’ve done force-on-force training, using ‘Simunitions’ against other people who were trying to shoot me, and training with live ammunition against targets in tactical environments (inside buildings designed for the purpose).

I say this because it is important to realize just how risky it is for the average police officer to walk into a house with one hostage-taker – a house in the middle of a peaceful suburb here in the U.S. There is a reason why the ‘dynamic entry’ tactics – which are badly overused, as Instapundit notes – are designed the way they are. The kind of overwhelming force applied in a dynamic entry maximizes the odds that – even in the face of an armed and hostile opponent – deadly force will not have to be used, and if it is, that the good guys will all get to go home. It does this at a substantial cost – not every warrant served is worthy of it, the entry teams don’t always get the correct address, and sometimes just plain tragic and bad things happen when lots of adrenaline-charged people are running around with loaded guns.

I can only project how much riskier it would be – and how much more force I would want – to enter a large building in the middle of a hostile city in wartime with the intent of rescuing a hostage.

The notion that the U.S. forces ‘overdramatized’ the rescue by using flash-bang grenades, and relatively standard tactics for moving through a potentially hostile building is just absurd. As is the notion that we should have waited for her to be released, and not acted as promptly as possible once we had clear intelligence on her likely position.

Scheer and the hospital staff may see it as a bunch of ‘cowboys’ acting out with weapons, but – having shot more than a few friendly targets myself in the course of training – I’ll point to the quality of our troops with pride given the fact that the hospital staff is alive today to tell the tale.

Go watch Rashomon. Lots of overlapping stories are believable and have some element of truth.

But I’ll stand firmly behind the Pentagon in their choice of how to go collect her. The optimist in me hopes that the hospital staff’s story is true, and that they treated her as well as they claim. But it seems to me that any reasonable person can contain both ideas – that the hospital staff treated her as well as they could, and that, given the information and situation, the U.S. military was absolutely right to go in in force to collect her.

And if doing so was good P.R. can someone please explain why they shouldn’t have used it?

Well, Duuuhhhh

Judith, over at Kesher Talk points out something we political-theory types have missed that’s so ‘smack me in the head obvious’ that I’m almost embarrassed to link to it.
She points out that people may … wait for it … choose their political positions in some part because of who they like to hang out with.

In fact, many people – especially young adults – derive their political views from the social group wherein they feel the most comfortable. They want to feel part of a larger community, and the jargon, in-group jokes, soundbites, clothing styles, music tastes, et al, that identify this community assume a common underlying world view. They then adopt the politics that allow them to have companionship while enjoying their tastes, even though in most cases one is not dependent on the other.

Well, guilty as charged.

I was depressed for weeks after I learned about collaborative filtering, and proved its effectiveness to myself (note that the engines on Amazon are pretty poor, but the ones on NetFlix are pretty good). The notion that my tastes might be somehow formed in some part by my socialization and that other people’s behavior was a pretty good predictor of mine put paid to all my Howard Roarke fantasies. That and the fact that whenever I need clothes, I could pretty much go into one of three stores and they’d always have something I liked.

So the fifteen people who shop at The Gap, Bernini, and REI all have something in common with me…I wonder how our politics match up?

Why Am I A Democrat?

Roger Simon has a pretty bloody-minded (in the British sense) reply to my earlier question “Why Are You a Democrat?” His reply:

I don’t know. And more amazingly, I don’t care. In fact, I haven’t even thought about it much at all since 9/11. Party politics, as I have experienced them all my life, just don’t seem relevant to me now.

He goes on:

I admit it’s ironic when what we have before us is what appears to be the beginning of an epic struggle between religious fundamentalism and secular democracy and, as a militant democrat (small d), I can’t begin to concentrate on the internal affairs of my own political party. But I think there’s a reason for that: this same conflagration … this giant philosophical debate that engulfs our planet … is creating new alliances none of us had anticipated.

Now, I’ll agree to that…after all, while I think that before 9/11 I’d have enjoyed a drink and a chat with Joe, Trent, Celeste and the crew here, I doubt that I would have chosen to stand (or better, sit) and write with them.

But we’re together because we see the conflict in which we are now engaged, and have been for some years – without realizing it – as the central event of our era.

But while Roger (and Trent, and to an extent Joe) see it primarily as “an epic struggle between religious fundamentalism and secular democracy,” I see it in a somewhat more complicated way. So bear with me while I try and explain.
I’ll admit that the Islamist soldiers that we face – and let’s not call them anything but that – are the broadest part of the spearpoint. But the reality is that even the most militant forms of Islam don’t present a credible military threat to the West. If we have to fight them, we can and we will, and we will win.

The Islamist enemy – and since they call themselves my enemy, I will do them the courtesy of recognizing them as one – has roots both specific to the cultural and material history of the Muslim world, and generally applicable to almost every culture, including our own.

Those roots are in large part philosophical; they go to the question of how people have come to believe and understand the world around them.

I’ve talked about them at length, and have been thinking and reading primarily about these issues for a year now (Good Grief!! It’s been over a year!! It’s my blogoversary, and I want some damn cake…). Nothing has come close to changing my mind. This is not a question of the Muslim world vs. the West, although the current phase of the conflict involves combatants from the Muslim world.

This is a war of philosophies; of an alienated, frustrated, band of would-be warriors who are frustrated by what modernity means to them and mean to respond by pulling down the pillars of the temple.

They are in Europe, and here in the U.S.

Celeste wrote about one group, environmental terrorists slowly escalating their level of violence; she could just as easily have written about the right-wing anti-abortion forces who have already murdered in the name of their cause. Tim McVeigh may or may not have been connected to Islamist terrorists as some claim; the fact remains that this child of “fly-over country” either led or participated in the second-largest terrorist action ever in the U.S.

Richard Reid became a terrorist in the U. K., not in the West Bank. Ted Kaczynski became one in Montana.

And while jailing or killing active terrorists is and must be the immediate goal, the ultimate goal must be to stop growing them before the disease – “mad human disease” – infects our own communities.

And to do that we need something that each party has to offer. We need tradition and license, regulations and freedom, a safety net and responsibility. We need a dialog – not always a friendly, neighborly chat, but a sometimes muscular disagreement with raised voices – on any number of issues domestic and foreign.

We’re trapped between venal corporations, bloated government bureaucracies, corrupt politicians, and radicals who, frustrated with their own lives, are perfectly willing to take yours.

We have problems local and global far beyond our resources to easily solve them.

So we’re going to muddle, as humans always have.

So why am I a Democrat? Because I don’t believe the GOP can solve these problems by itself.

Incompleteness in Pictures

Just back from Lileks-ville (TG’s stepson’s wedding in St. Paul, Minnesota); no wi-fi at the Starbucks (and a schedule too full of celebration to spend time in front of the laptop). Interesting people there; different from the folks in Ellay. There’s a blog post in it somewhere.

I’ve been browsing the blogs as I try and take my “Why Are You a Democrat” post and extend it to respond to some of the smarter replies.

And as I went over to Michael J. Totten’s site, and found a GREAT photo essay on modernism which absolutely takes my comments on ‘incompleteness‘ and scale and puts them out in a way that can be easily seen.

You’ve gotta check it out.

A Democrat I’d Follow

Speaking of Democratic reinvention, check out “Democrats For National Security,” a group started by Timothy Bergreen; it’s well worth clicking through the entire Powerpoint Presentation.

Sign me up…check out this slide:

Mission One

Rebuild the consensus in the Democratic Party in favor of a strong national security … reclaim the mantle of Roosevelt, Truman and, Kennedy

Make party aware of the danger and costs we as a party face if we do nothing.
Credibility as a Commander-in-Chief a threshold issue for 2004 Presidential nominee
1992 was an aberration; end of Cold War took issue away for GOP
Broader Democratic agenda advanced when we are in control of Executive Branch
Progressive agenda suffers when we ignore these issues
Craft a coherent message that the Democratic Party and individual candidates can sell to the American public.

Well, duuuuh…

Building Democrats

I’ve been thinking a lot about the forthcoming election, which I think will go badly for the Democrats. Given that we’ll be looking at a rebuilding season, I thought I’d outline some of what I’ll be looking for as a consumer of liberal policies, as well as links to the related stuff I’ve written about these things in the recent past.

Looking through them, a few points keep coming up.

The future ought to be better than the past; there’s a reason why we’re the ‘progressive’ party. There are major changes coming in the world, as technology and transportation cause economies and cultures to intermingle, and provide unprecedented opportunity to those who have had none. We ought to be finding ways to manage the impacts of it, and help steer it toward a desirable (rather than “Snow Crash” like) future state. But we need to embrace the future, not recoil from it.
Just because the cultures are intermingling doesn’t mean we shouldn’t value and cherish ours. We’re noth the source of evil in the world, Noam Chomsky and Chris Hedges notwithstanding.

Given that what differentiates our side (Democrats) from the other side (GOP) ought to be the attention we pay to the welfare of the bottom 20% in wealth, income, and power, (we both ought to be concerned with the general welfare of society) perhaps we could lose the obnoxious elitism??

Practically, I suggest a few policy directions here, here, here and here, but in general I’ll suggest three guiding principles:

1) Scale matters. Rather than One Big Solution to problems, let’s work on policies that promote small, organically growing policies that directly impact the people targeted and put down roots. Not Le Corbusier, crabgrass.

2) Hypocrisy shows. When your welfare policy is set at AFSCME conferences or at private homes in the Malibu Colony, and your corporate governance policies are set by trial lawyers, it’s hard to get taken seriously. If you have investors (what I call the current class of political donors) make damn sure that your policies don’t tilt stupidly in their favor.(Hollywood, Democrats, DMCA)

3) Get out of the fishbowl. The political and media elites of this country live lives that are pretty well disconnected from those of their consumers. Find a way to break out. Bob Graham found one way; find others.

Most of all, don’t spend time focus-grouping clusters of policies; figure out something we can believe in – an attractive, articulate vision of what America and the world ought to be and a set of policies that offer a reasonable change of moving us toward that vision.

When Detroit builds good cars, people buy them. All the focus-group testing, marketing budgets, and binders full of sales spiffs won’t move them if they are just crappy cars.

So if you want my advice; it’s simple. Build good policies. Be trustworthy. Figure out why you’re a Democrat and make it stick.

I’m a Democrat because I believe that government policies ought to tilted in favor of my assistant – the single mom making $22,000 a year in Los Angeles – rather me, or than the investor whose portfolio only grew 2% last year (and yes, spare me, I know that our well-being is all connected. But how about some trickle-up policies for a change?).

Why are you a Democrat?

UPDATE: Roger Simon has some thoughts on that question.

Threats Everywhere

Bear Attacks Sub

During the ICEX 2003 naval exercises near the North Pole, the American submarine Connecticut (SSN 22) poked it’s sail and rudder through the ice. When an officer looked around outside via the periscope, he noted that his sub was being stalked by a hostile polar bear. The periscope cam was turned on, and these photos of a polar bear chewing on the subs rear rudder resulted. The damage was said to be minor. The SSN 22 is a Seawolf class boat, one of the navy’s newest submarines. It wasn’t designed as a polar bear snack, but that’s how life is sometimes.

(From Dave’s Daily; click over for a photo)

This Just In…

In commemoration of the 55th anniversary of Nakba, a Palestinian memorial marked on May 15, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Thursday stated that Palestine “is our country, to which every Palestinian refugee has the right to return.”

Palestinians who lost their homes or their lives in conflict following the creation of an Israeli state in 1948 are those remembered in Nakba, the Arabic word for cataclysm or catastrophe.

“In this day of mourning, the Israeli state was founded as a result of a colonial conspiracy and was established on Palestinian lands whose residents were expelled and massacred,” said Arafat.

In a speech broadcasted by the Palestinian Authority-run local channel, Arafat said that he will not “accept humiliation and Israeli colonialism and the Israeli aggression carried out against Palestinians and their holy sites.” Israel must withdraw from all the lands it occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War and Palestinian refugees must be allowed to return to their homes, he insisted.

From UPI.

Well, no one said peace would be easy. Or, as long as this fossil is around, possible.