Bruich(hic)laddich

Yes, you read that right. An article in the Scotsman spins a tale of high-tech intrigue…albeit possibly misdirected.

“In the wavering image of a webcam, the figures moved with the sinister intent of those whose mission is mayhem. Thank heavens “Ursula” was watching …

If the slightest possibility exists that Bruichladdich distillery on Islay is a threat to world peace, we need to know.

For it has been revealed that Ursula, a spy with the US Defence Threat Reduction Agency – “Our mission to safeguard the US and its allies from weapons of mass destruction” – has been monitoring the island distillery.

Apparently, it takes just a “tweak” – her words – in the process of making whisky and Bruichladdich could be churning out chemical weapons.”

We obviously have to look at lots of things. It may be that we’re looking at a few too many…

“Consider the most surreal scenario imaginable,” he said.

“We install webcams to show the world our whisky is distilled traditionally. The US government apparently lock on to the web images, which they think look dodgy, but we, in Islay, don’t know that yet.

“We get an e-mail from ‘Ursula’ informing us one of our webcams is faulty.

“We reply, thanking her and inquire who she is.

“She admits she’s a spy, monitoring sites that potentially produce WMD. What’s the expression? Only in America!

“It’s hilarious,” he admitted. “Mind you, we’re a sinister- looking bunch, so I can see how we might be mistaken for al-Qaeda.”

The US admitted watching the distilling process because it is similar to the manufacture of chemical weapons.

Mr Reynier said: “The original e-mail didn’t say who it was from, but my reply elicited another reply and it had the name of the Defence Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) on it.

DTRA really does exist; check out their home page.

I’m sincerely hoping this was some kind of training exercise for the monitors.

Then again, I don’t drink Scotch, so maybe it is a Weapon of Mass Destruction, instead of, as the distiller claims, “a weapon of mass drunkenness.

Well, We Wanted a Free Market…

UPI has a story on the arms spot market in Iraq:

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Sept. 29 (UPI) — The U.S.-led coalition forces are losing a bidding war for sophisticated weapons still widely available in Iraq, nearly six months after the fall of Baghdad. Anti-occupation groups and supporters of the old regime are financially able and willing to spend more for weapons, a series of interviews with underground arms dealers by United Press International has determined.

Adding to the concern, private contractors involved in security consulting to companies operating in Iraq say the street prices for some weapons appear to be increasing, indicating weapons are being bought at a higher rate than previously during the occupation.

Um, guys…
When I took Econ 101, the suggestion was that changes in either supply or demand could change prices…and so I’ll suggest that there are at least two alternative explanations – more buyers in the marketplace (which is bad for us) – or less weapons in the marketplace (which is good for us).

And as someone who has sold things once or twice, I always found that the “well, I’ve got another buyer for $50.00 more” argument was an effective one when dealing with someone with a fat wallet. There’s a quote from one of the arms merchants here that supports that:

“It’s too late to stop the trading,” Najeeb said. “There are too many hidden stores of weapons and people are dealing and trading freely. The Americans should pay more for the guns they want.”

But while Mikhael agrees that the rise in prices — an AK-47 that sold for $50 three weeks ago can now fetch $200-$300 — could be a harbinger of an impending offensive against the U.S. troops, Najeeb doesn’t think so.

“They just pay more for them,” he said of the illegal buyers.

Smack! Trade, Defense & Multilateralism

Ronald Brownstein has a great column (annoying registration required, use ‘laexaminer’/’laexaminer’) in today’s L.A. Times that points out the teeeny-tiny crack in the logic of many of the Democratic candidates. Unilateral action on national security = inherently BAD. Unilateral action on protecting jobs and the environment = inherently GOOD.

Uh, guys…

Democrats Give Belligerence a Chance When it Comes to Trade

If there’s one point of agreement among all of the Democratic presidential candidates, it’s that President Bush has unnecessarily alienated the world with an approach to international security that is “arrogant,” “bullying” and “belligerent.”

Here’s former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, in a speech in Iowa in February, describing Bush’s foreign policy: “I believe that the president too often employs a reckless, go-it-alone approach that drives us away from some of our longest-standing and most important allies, when what we need is to pull the world community together in common action.”

Now here’s Dean, back in Iowa in August, telling a union audience how he would convince America’s trading partners to adopt labor and environmental laws as stringent as those in the United States: “How am I going to get this passed?” Dean asked. “We are the biggest economy in the world; we don’t have to participate in [the North American Free Trade Agreement] and we don’t have to participate in the [World Trade Organization]. If we don’t, it falls apart.”

Mr. Pot, meet Mr. Kettle.

Now I’m guilty as well of arguing that some level of international consensus is necessary to win the current war while also arguing that we need a relatively free hand to manage our economy. This is a hand smacked against the forehead to remind me that the two are inextricably linked.

Any Democratic president, given the prominence of organized labor in the party, will push harder than Bush for reform in developing countries that provide their producers an unfair cost advantage by allowing them to pollute the environment or exploit their workers. To a point, that emphasis benefits workers in America and around the world.

But promises from several Democrats to impose punitive tariffs on countries that don’t meet our expectations in their labor and environmental laws … much less Dean’s pledge to use trade talks to pressure every nation on the globe to match U.S. standards on those fronts … are a recipe for endless conflict.

If the Democrats really intend to take more account than Bush of the world’s opinion, they will have to demonstrate it not just on questions of war and peace, where their most ardent partisans want the whole world to hold hands. They’ll also have to prove it on the trade disputes where their base is clamoring for the cudgels.

It has to be more than a matter of whose ox is … as they say … Gored.

The Plame Affair

The rest of the blogoverse is all over the Valerie Plame case, so I won’t bother laying out the facts for you. Kevin Drum, at Calpundit has it from one side, and Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, has it from the other.

In this case, I’m leaning toward Kevin; while the facts aren’t quite clear yet, this is something that an Administration that cared about credibility (and national security) ought to jump to attention to come clean on. The current quote from the NY Times: “The White House said today that it was “ridiculous” for anyone to suggest that President Bush’s top political adviser had leaked secret information in an effort to discredit an outspoken critic of Mr. Bush’s policy on Iraq.

Sorry, that just doesn’t cut it.

In a world where ‘We can fact check your ass‘ is a given, the White House needs to do more than indignantly protest to make it’s point on this. If no one did it, demand to know who Novak claims did it, offer the call logs and kick some partisan ass. If someone did it, apologize and take them to the woodshed if you won’t send them out the door.

Bush’s strongest asset is his reputation for blunt candor. Once that goes…

So: speak up, Mr. President. We’re waiting to hear what you have to say.

JK UPDATE: Mader Blog has some really good links. Hey, isn’t he Canadian?

My Own Good News: Family Dinner

Blogging has been light because today is Littlest Guy’s seventh birthday, and we’re hosting a Yu-Gi-Oh tournament for ten of his friends in about ten minutes, and then a family dinner for the whole family…including Tenacious G, my second ex (his mom), her husband, my mom, her boyfriend – a brilliant and charming Irish physicist, and Middle Guy, who should be back from his debate tournament by then.

I can’t imagine a better present to Littlest Guy – or to me for that matter – than to have our entire complicated family sitting around a table united by our love for him and our care for each other. In my universe, that’s the best news of all.

Back to world events tomorrow…

Wishful Thinking? On Whose Part?

Joe directed us over to a TCS column by Lee Harris, taking Helprin to task for the column I comment on approvingly below.

Harris’ points are straightforward: Helprin is misinterpreting our situation as a war, when in fact it is some kind of deeper social event. He says:

But who is the someone upon whom we should have declared war? And what should have been the target of our coup de main?

It is by asking such questions that the latent wishful thinking in Helprin’s apparent Realpolitik becomes self-evident. Helprin wants to believe in the war metaphor because this metaphor permits him to think that if only the United States taken suitable actions two years ago, we could have already won the war on terrorism. The only difference between Helprin and the administration is that Helprin’s wishful thinking is expressed as nostalgic regret for a lost opportunity, while the administration’s wishful thinking still remains their blueprint for victory.

and so begins to lay out a theory which both points to the more liberal ‘9/11 was a crime’ approach, in which we look on the actors who plan and perform terror as conspirators and criminals. He goes on:

It is wishful thinking to believe that what we have before us is simply another war, of the kind that we have fought in the past. And no amount of hit ‘em hard or hang tough talk will alter this fact in the slightest bit. Though it may serve to make us feel better, such a response is as unrealistic in the present crisis as it would be in fighting a renewed outbreak of the bubonic plague.

Yes, 9/11 was a colossal act of violence, such as occurs in war. But war, as we have come to understand it, is akin to Aristotle’s idea of a work of art: it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It begins with a political demand that one’s opponent will not, or cannot, accede to — hence the long and painfully drawn out diplomatic wrangling that precedes the declaration of traditional war, as in the War of 1812 as well as America’s entry into World War I and World War II. War is the acknowledged and official act of a classical nation-state: it is not Hitler or Roosevelt that declare war, but the nations, and the people, that they represent.

I’ll straddle a bit here and say that on one hand, I do believe that what we are seeing is something different than we have traditionally conceived of, and planned for, as ‘war.’ It has roots both in conflicts of religion and interest, but also I have argued (over and over) in deep philosophical fissures here in the West. But…on the other, I think that Harris is both flat wrong in his characterization of war in a kind of surprisingly uninformed way, and wrong about the facts on the ground in this war as well.

Wars, as he sets them out, are neatly bounded in space, time, participants, and causes. History shows us that this is certainly not the case. The technology of warfare did in fact bound wars in space; the economics of different eras bound them in duration. But wars do not always have a clear duration or structure; many wars (from the Peloponnesian Wars onward) lasted generations and ebbed and flowed as the combatants found the energy and focus to fight. Wars are certainly not the product of ‘a classical nation-state’ – they have been around a bit before the relatively new ‘nation state.’

He is right in the notion that ‘colossal acts of violence’ now can be more widely dispersed in space and time than a traditional war as we saw them. But that is in part because in the past, those who conducted dispersed acts of violence were hunted down and killed en masse, along with the populations in whom they lived, and in part because technology both expands the level of violence available to an individual, and allows more precise focussing of that violence by an army.

The history of war can be grossly divided into three broad eras: the era of tribal, total warfare, in which kin groups (some as large as small nations) fought other kin groups, sometimes in ritualized, formalized, and contained ways; and then the era of ‘professional war’ – formalized wars, often fought by mercenary armies on behalf of a an interrelated noble class, fought carefully to ensure that the productivity of the peasant class was interfered with as little as possible; this was followed again, by the era of ‘strategic war’, in which we began to move back toward the notion of total war, this time on a national, industrial scale. It appears that we’re now moving back toward the ‘classical’ notion of a focussed war as technology – used by guerillas or terrorists or by specialized military forces – makes it possible for war to interpenetrate civilian life and specifically target enemy forces. This focused violence raises a whole new set of issues about defining war in time and space, and I believe that this is what confuses Harris.

But…

I’ve talked about terrorism a bunch in the past, and raised the notion that this wave of Islamist terrorist aggression is just the first in a set; that the fruits of Bad Philosophy will yield an ongoing group of people willing to kill and die for their grand visions, and to escape “the meaningless fluff our continent had become so enamored with.”

I still believe that.

But I also believe two other things: that to commit large acts requires large resources; and that terror, like anything else that people do, can become a career and industry. The resources – today – at the scale that can drive major, sustained campaigns of terror – whether in Afghanistan against the Soviets, or in Israel against the Jews – come from nations, who use the informal organizations as proxies in their well-defined conflicts. And there are those who make a good living off of terror – who see it as a viable career.

This is because terrorism on a global scale requires three things that are hard for freelance terrorists to get: 1) documentation; 2) territory in which they can openly train and recruit; 3) a ‘haven’ in which they can interface – through financial connections, communications, and political connections – with the ‘overt’ world. These come from nations; no other entity controls passports, territory and finances at the level global organizations require.

And so the immediate goal is to dry up the state support for Islamist terrorism through regime change and behavior modification of those regimes that remain.

And that looks pretty much like actual, as opposed to metaphorical, war to me.

Magical Realism About Our War

We’re back from a six-day 2,600 mile motorcycle trip to northern New Mexico from southern California. A spectacular trip, marred by a logistical problem which kept us from dining with Porphyrogenitus who drove a long way to meet us, only to find that we weren’t there yet. Tenacious G rode spectacularly, and safely, and I’ll probably post some moto-related comments over at Armed Liberal.

It was also an enforced vacation from media; much of the day was spent in the solitude of my helmet, and the physical and social demands of the trip left little time for sitting and reading.

It was great…I spent a lot of time thinking, which (as some commenters have pointed out) is often rare for me. One of the major issues is finding a way to articulate my continued negative view of John Rawls, and my (so far undefended) opinion that his philosophy is somehow a part of the overall scheme of ‘Bad Philosophy’ that I discuss so often.

Coming home and reading my email, I was directed by a friend to a column by Mark Helprin, who is one of my favorite novelists, and has been known on occasion to write a good political speech. The column is titled ‘War in the Absence of Strategic Clarity‘ and subtitled ‘More than merely winning the war in Iraq, we needed to stun the Arab World

This one is a corker, and while I disagree with certain aspects of his analysis of the problem in the Arab world (although I’ve got to yield to his greater direct knowledge of it in his years in Israel), I think that he nails the domestic issues squarely. I have to quote this:

America has approached the war on terrorism as if from two dreamworlds. The liberal, in which an absurd understanding of cause and effect, the habit of capitulation to foreign influence, a mild and perpetual anti-Americanism, reflex allergies to military spending, and a theological aversion to self-defense all lead to policies that are hard to differentiate from surrender. And the conservative, in which everything must be all right as long as a self-declared conservative is in the White House – no matter how badly the war is run; no matter that a Republican administration in electoral fear leans left and breaks its promise to restore the military; and no matter that because the Secretary of Defense decided that he need not be able to fight two wars at once, an adequate reserve does not exist to deal with, for example, North Korea. And in between these dreamworlds of paralysis and incompetence lies the seam, in French military terminology la soudure, through which al-Qaeda, uninterested in our parochialisms, will make its next attack.

The war is waged as if accidentally, and no wonder. For domestic political reasons and to preserve its marginal relations with the Arab World, the United States has declined to identify the enemy precisely. He is so formless, opportunistic, and shadowy that apparently we cannot conceive of him accurately enough to declare war against him, although he has declared war against us. Attribute this to Karl Rove’s sensitivity to the electoral calculus in key states with heavy Arab-American voting, to a contemporary aversion to ethnic generalities, to the desire not to offend the Arab World lest it attack us even more ferociously, to the fear of speaking truth to oil, to apprehension about the taking of hostages and attacks upon embassies, and to a certain muddledness of mind that is the result both of submitting to polite and obsequious blackmail and of having been throughout the course of one’s life a stranger to rigorous thought. Reluctance to identify the enemy makes it rather difficult to assess his weaknesses and strengths. Thus, for want of a minimum of political courage, our soldiers are dispatched to far-flung battlefields to fight an ad hoc, disorganized war, and, just as it did in the Vietnam War, Washington explains its lack of a lucid strategy by referring to the supposed incoherence of its opponent. From the beginning, America has been told that this is a new kind of war that cannot be waged with strategic clarity, that strategy and its attendant metaphysics no longer apply. And because we cannot sufficiently study the nature of an insufficiently defined enemy, our actions are mechanistic, ill-conceived, and a function of conflicting philosophies within our bureaucracies, which proceed as if their war plans were modeled on a to-do list magnetized to some suburban refrigerator.

Wow.

I’ve found myself flanked by people like Atrios and Hesiod on one extreme – people who in one breath claim that the Bush Administration is criminally incompetent, and in the next claim that it is working a vast and subtle conspiracy of which the current war is only a minor manifestation, and people like Trent and Tom Holsinger on the right, who claim that there is a plan, but it is so grand and subtle that – like the Ark of the Covenant – my merely human mind would melt if I were to be shown it (please understand that I’m being rhetorical and hyperbolic on both extremes, but that I believe that the core arguments do in fact point in those directions). And what I believe is that we have a President who is trying to … as Helprin puts it so well … win the war on the cheap, so it won’t be a political liability at home or abroad, and is doing so in an ad hoc fashion.

We’re doing well on the military side, that is certain. But as theorists of guerilla wars have noted, and as my reading of Col. Harry Summers’ book, ‘On Strategy‘ and other works have brought me to understand, we came close to winning the Vietnam war militarily – but lost it all the same.

That’s not out of the question here, either.

Pictures of Reality

Instapundit got dinged for showing a 9/11 picture. His response:

I posted it because I thought people needed to be reminded of the reality of what this is about, in the face of too many efforts to domesticate it.

I’ll quote Darryl Worley on my own attitude toward our desire to sanitize this:

They took all the footage off my T.V.
Said it’s too disturbing for you and me
It’ll just breed anger that’s what the experts say
If it was up to me I’d show it every day

I don’t want to rabblerouse, but I do think that as we sanitize this we forget that this is a war. Even Calpundit thinks something serious is going on:

“And so I dither. In an age where nuclear weapons are, if not easy to come by, at least possible to come by, an aggressive military posture toward radical Islamic terrorism makes perfect sense … if it will work. Keeping a strong American presence in Iraq to ensure security and guide them toward some kind of democracy makes perfect sense … if it will work. And insisting on the obliteration of terrorist groups like Hamas as a precursor to a Palestinian state makes perfect sense … if it will work.”

I’m off on a motorcycle trip to New Mexico. Be nice to each other, and please try not to kill anyone or blow anything up while I’m gone.

Greed

Calpundit has two good posts on greed up today.

In the first one, he skewers the notion that overcompensated senior executives get their pay because they take commensurate risks, by pointing out that Richard Grasso is the CEO of a regulated entity; one that exists both as a public and private sector organization.

In the second, he hits on something I’d been meaning to blog for a while (which is made more newsworthy by the recent, insane, court decision that lets 9/11 victims families…already richly compensated…sue) the wild disparities between what the Manhattan and Pentagon survivors get, and what the survivors of those killed in Afghanistan and Iraq get.

I was forwarded a Limbaugh column on this subject, which was the first thing I saw on it; I detest the guy, but have to give credit where credit is due. And an issue where Easterbrook, Limbaugh, Kevin and I all agree…Easterbook nails it in the quote Kevin uses:

“Families who have taken the federal compensation have, so far, received average awards of $1.6 million, tax-free. Families of the United States personnel murdered by Al Qaeda in the Kenya and Tanzania terror attacks of 1998 received, on average, nothing. Families of the several hundred United States military personnel killed in Afghanistan fighting to destroy al Qaeda, and killed in Iraq fighting at least in part against terrorism, received, on average, $9,000, taxable.

Now some 9/11 families are saying $1.6 million isn’t enough. Set aside whether they should be receiving anything from taxpayers, given the myriad other circumstances in which Americans die in various horrible events every bit as traumatic and devastating to their families, who receive nothing at all. Assume for the sake of argument that something about 9/11 justifies offering victims’ estates a very large special payment. Yet some 9/11 families are saying very large is not large enough. This is greed; it is employing the memory of lost loved ones for gold-digging.”

Kevin is wrong to call this ‘a fitting tribute for the second anniversary’. It’s disgusting and infuriating, and shows little credit to the survivors pursuing more money, the lawyers serving them, or U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, the judge who made this ludicrous decision.

Sound And Fury… Signifying What?

Matthew Yglesias’ new boss Harold Meyerson steps to the plate with some comments about Iraq in tomorrow’s Washington Post. Problem is, I just don’t think he and I are living in the same world. He’s convinced that it’s 1968, and GWB is LBJ. I think he has his Texans confused.

Stuck Like Lyndon

So much for American unilateralism.

As our strategic doctrine of choice, unilateralism had a one-year run, from one Labor Day to the next. A year ago the administration announced we had both the right and the might to run the world free from the constraints of entangling alliances or multinational accords.

George W. Bush didn’t repudiate that right in his speech to the nation on Sunday, but he did allow how we didn’t have the might.

So far, so good. I think there are real issues about the capabilities/intentions mismatch, and that we made serious mistakes in the runup to the war, the planning for the war and in the postwar diplomatic dance. I think we need to make sure we have the forces on hand to do the job, and that it is clear to our enemies and our allies (as well to ourselves) that we have the resources to do the job.

But then:

Like Lyndon Johnson, Bush has gotten us stuck in a no-win conflict in a distant land, and, as they did during Johnson’s war, the American people know it. The action, thankfully, is nowhere near so bloody now as it was then, and partly for that reason hardly anyone is demanding, as Americans did of Johnson, that Bush bring all the troops home right now. The American left as well as the American right understands that we have a moral obligation to help rebuild Iraq, though liberals believe that task will be more readily accomplished when under a genuinely international aegis.

Well, I don’t know, it looks like we’re making progress toward winning to me. And as a liberal, I certainly would support a genuinely international aegis, if it was something other than a pale blue one. We liberals have a lot to answer for in the behavior and effectiveness of the United Nations over the last twenty years.

Back to Iraq:

But stuck is stuck, and the American people do not take kindly to leaders who squander U.S. lives and treasure for a cause that seems remote from U.S. interests. As Johnson did with Vietnam, Bush sought to depict the current action in Iraq as necessary to safeguarding our shores.

“We are fighting that enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan today so that we do not meet him again on our own streets, in our own cities,” Bush said. The president will have to deliver a more persuasive speech than he did Sunday, however, if he’s to convince Americans that our checkpoints in Tikrit somehow enhance our homeland security. The diehard Baathists who likely are attacking our soldiers plainly have no agenda outside Iraq, and if al Qaeda is now operating there, it’s because we have turned our troops, and supporters of the reconstruction efforts, into sitting ducks for religious fanatics.

Somehow, I don’t think our troops see themselves as ‘sitting ducks.’ I doubt that their opponents do, either. And yes, Bush has advanced a theory that suggests that checkpoints outside Tikrit do, in fact, enhance homeland security. I’m waiting for the comparable theory from Meyerson’s side.

The nervousness that suddenly hangs over the Bush White House is well deserved: The president has lost control of the situation he created in Iraq and of the American economy as well. It is not Bush’s fault that this is the first truly global recovery, that American corporations now rebound by hiring (when they hire at all) abroad rather than in the States.

It is most certainly Bush’s fault, however, that there is no funding to put people to work rebuilding our various tattered infrastructures because he has squandered it all on the rich.

Stuck in Iraq, stuck at home and the polling shows that the American people increasingly realize it and lay the blame on Bush.

Unilaterally.

Well, it’s all over. We may as well slouch home, defeated.

Bullshit, Mr. Meyerson.

Bush was a fool for pandering to his political investors (I won’t dignify them with the name ‘supporters’) and supporting his hugely lopsided tax cut at a time when the demands on our treasure and might are so high.

But you, Mr. Meyerson, are a fool for believing that this is 1968, or that the American public of today is the public of 1968. I helped start the marches in ’69 and in ’71; I know what the public was like, and what they felt was at stake.

And I know what’s at stake today, you pompous, tin-eared fool. Look at the date on your damn column:”Wednesday, September 10, 2003“. Tomorrow morning, take the 9 train to the South Ferry station, and get out and go look around.

You may not agree with Bush’s theory that the only way to defend the rest of New York City is to reshape the Arab world.

But you’d damn well better have a better one than ‘we lose’ if you want to get my support.