If You’re Not Pissed Off – Yet Again – You’re Not F***ing Paying Attention

OK, here’s a recent column in the Post:

According to recent news reports, the Bush administration will not ask Congress for additional foreign aid for Iraq in its coming budget request. This would be a major strategic mistake. Iraq’s infrastructure is still in mediocre shape, and most of its citizens are still seriously underemployed. Such an aid cutoff would be especially surprising coming from a president who has built his Iraq policy on an unflinching commitment to staying the course and completing the mission. Economics is a critical element of any success strategy for Iraq.

That tracks back to an earlier article in the Post:

The Bush administration does not intend to seek any new funds for Iraq reconstruction in the budget request going before Congress in February, officials say. The decision signals the winding down of an $18.4 billion U.S. rebuilding effort in which roughly half of the money was eaten away by the insurgency, a buildup of Iraq’s criminal justice system and the investigation and trial of Saddam Hussein.

Just under 20 percent of the reconstruction package remains unallocated. When the last of the $18.4 billion is spent, U.S. officials in Baghdad have made clear, other foreign donors and the fledgling Iraqi government will have to take up what authorities say is tens of billions of dollars of work yet to be done merely to bring reliable electricity, water and other services to Iraq’s 26 million people.

And another article in the L.A. Times which I blogged here:

Over and over what I and others have said – and what I have appreciated President Bush as saying – is that “We’re In Until We Win.” Our opponents cannot simply bloody our troops and sit and wait until we get bored with our venture and leave.

This message – “Oh, we’ll leave our troops in, but sound fiscal policy prevents us for doing anything to reduce the numbers of people shooting at them.” – isn’t ‘bizarre’ as I characterized it before; it’s delusional.

Look, I’ve said over and over that my support for Bush and the Administration is predicated solely on my belief that they are determined and serious about winning the war. And – simply – WTF? – how in the world does this connect to winning the war?

OK, so here’s the challenge for my fellow hawks. Either explain to me why this is just fine – why it is that even if there is no immediate fiscal impact (which I doubt), the psychological impact – on the Iraqis who have bet their lives on us, and on those who think we are weak and will run away – doesn’t matter. If you can’t, than what are we as bloggers going to do to raise the stakes on this? I’ll be corresponding with a bunch of hawkish bloggers to see if we can speak with a common voice on this.

I’ll make this my project for the week, and be reporting back to everyone here.

A Contest Worth Entering

Surfing around this morning, I stumbled on an interesting milblog – “The Will To Exist” – self-described as ‘a deist transhumanist libertarian minarchist citizen soldier’s blog.’

You ought to check it out.

One thing they are doing, which we’ll support pretty fervently, is running

…an essay contest open to soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines serving with Multi-National Force Iraq (anywhere in the country of Iraq). If you left MNF-I within the last year, or have orders to MNF-I, or are currently serving here, you’re eligible to enter the contest.

In 500-1000 words, explain why you are in Iraq.

They say

This contest has its genesis in the idea that this war will be won or lost based not on weapons or troop strength but based on public perception. Without the support of the American public, Iraq will not become free.

I say, absolutely right. Which will lead to a longer post on some of the issues I’ve raised in the past re the current Administration and their shortcomings.

Data and Mines: Fraud at The Atlantic

I’m a big fan of The Atlantic, but they do step into it every so often, and they did this month in a big way in a story that paints a bleak view of trends in Iraq (part of a trend as they seem to be taking a more negative line on the war).

Man Versus Mine: Iraqi insurgents have perfected the use of lethal explosives, with profound implications for our military operations in Iraq

In Iraq the insurgents are using similar weapons against U.S. forces. Today they are called IEDs—for “improvised explosive devices”—rather than mines, and the insurgents are targeting automobiles rather than trains. But the effect is just as devastating.

The number of mines being used in Iraq, and the share of casualties for which they are responsible, dwarf anything ever before seen by the American military. During World War II three percent of U.S. combat deaths were caused by mines or booby traps. In Korea that figure was four percent. By 1967, during the Vietnam War, it was nine percent, and the Pentagon began experimenting with armored boots. From June to November of 2005, IEDs were responsible for 65 percent of American combat deaths and roughly half of all nonfatal injuries.

They present us with this graph (my version, with data from icasualties.org), which shows the percent of casualties (deaths) caused by IED’s by month:

Pct IED Deaths.JPG

Looks horrible, no? The percentage is high and rising, and obviously our troops are in unmanageable peril.

The growing use of IEDs is forcing America’s military strategists to rethink centuries of military doctrine holding that in warfare, mobility equals dominance. Votel told me that given the success that IEDs have had against America’s fleet of motor vehicles, the Pentagon may need to switch to more foot patrols. An intelligence analyst working on the IED problem agreed, saying, “The answer to the IEDs is to leave the vehicles. It’s obvious. It’s the only choice.” But such a move would expose U.S. soldiers to other risks, including snipers. And the December detonation of an IED in Fallujah, killing ten Marines on foot patrol, shows that soldiers will remain vulnerable to IEDs whether on foot or behind the wheel. As long as the insurgents can use IEDs to inflict damage on U.S. soldiers without ever engaging them directly, they will have a tactical advantage. “Our whole military is based on the idea of overwhelming firepower put on targets,” says William S. Lind, a noted military theorist who has written extensively on asymmetric warfare. “But that doesn’t work in this type of conflict. We are fighting an enemy that has made himself untargetable.” Therefore, Lind says, the insurgents can continue fighting the American military in Iraq indefinitely—regardless of how many U.S. troops are deployed or how quickly they are massed.

Fear and uncertainty, of course, ultimately breed mistrust. That may be the most damaging aspect of the IEDs: they prey on American minds, making soldiers suspicious of the local population and ultimately isolating them.

For Lind and other military theorists, the IED problem in Iraq is insoluble no matter how much time or money is spent. “If we can’t engage the enemy,” he says, “what do we do? The answer is, we lose.”

Somehow I was kind of leery of this conclusion.

So I looked at the author’s credits.

Robert Bryce is the author of Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego, and the Death of Enron and Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, America’s Superstate.

Somehow, I don’t see him at a BBQ at Crawford any time soon. And Lind is an interesting character as well, worth some scrutiny as a far-right acolyte of John Boyd who posts on the Lew Rockwell site.

So here’s my first point. The war in Iraq – and the wider war it may presage – is a critically important issue that ought to be treated with some intellectual honesty.

Being a Bush partisan whether pro- or anti- and sifting data to look for the nuggets that support your position is basically being a scrivener – a reader of entrails. We need to look as hard as we can for facts.

So let’s look at the facts presented.

My first thought was that the graph represented deaths/month, in which case it was deeply serious. Then I noticed (in the magazine, it’s a small graph – maybe one column wide) that it was the % of deaths caused by IED’s.

So, in theory, in a month when one soldier died from an IED, we’d be talking about a 100% rate.

Which implies that as the operational cadence changes and fewer soldiers are exposed in combat, if the number dying from IED’s were to just stay constant, the percent would spike, as we see.

So I dug out some other numbers.

Here are the deaths from IED’s against all deaths. Note that the pecent of IED deaths spikes in Sept-Oct of 05 at over 80%. Note that the absolute number of deaths in that period was relatively low, under 50. 40 of them were from IED attacks, hence the spike.

US v IED Deaths.JPG

So look at the graph of two numbers – yes, the trend for IED deaths rose slightly through late 05 (and has dropped off steeply since then). But the trend of overall deaths was trending downward at the same time – hence the rise in the % of deaths.

There’s really no other word for what the authors have done – and the Atlantic has condoned – except fraud. I say fraud, which is deliberate, rather than error, which is unintentional, because anyone smart enough to make graphs is smart enough to look at the numbers and come to the same conclusion I came to.

But that doesn’t fit the author’s need to explain why our cause is doomed and why “The answer is, we lose.”

I’m ashamed of the author – who scrives when he should be thinking – and I’m deeply ashamed of the Atlantic, which knows better.

There are real issues about how we’re doing in Iraq and what we ought to do. The Atlantic should be leading the way in asking hard questions to drive that discussion, instead of examining entrails by committing junior-high-school acts of innumeracy.

The Evil That Coffee Does – A Blog

Dave Johnson, of Seeing The Forest has started a specialist blog called ‘Smelling the Coffee‘ which states it’s “About coffee, coffee shops, wireless & atmosphere, and blogging. Oh, and dogs.”

This could be the time to mention that I don’t drink coffee, and that one of my favorite books is Mark Helprin’s “Memoir from an Antproof Case” – which is about a man who is (legitimately) psychopathic about coffee.

And coffee, of course, a drug, a filthy, malodorous poison and entirely destructive addiction, has vanquished the human soul, spoiled innocence, and destroyed childhood. It is virtually omnipotent: I have never convinced anyone, no even one person, not to drink it.

Even in the face of this, I grind beans and make coffee for TG in the morning (Peet’s French Roast). And Starbucks makes rocking hot cocoa – I order a “nonfat, no-whip, no vanilla” – try it, you’ll like it. So I’m – sadly – a victim of coffee culture too. Which means I’ll have to read the blog – and you should, too.

Joel Stein Answered – By Theodore Roosevelt

I’ve avoided commenting on Joel Stein’s “look at me, I’m so lame!” column in the L.A. Times, because there’s really not much to say about it – or him – once you read the transcript of his interview with Hugh Hewitt.

But I do want to suggest one thing – that the liberal, democratic, anti-Bush part of the house ought to read this article, look in a mirror and worry. Because the ‘bubble’ that Stein has always lived in – of elite schools, jobs, friends, and perspective – is worryingly close to the Hollywood/ Silicon Valley/ Manhattan core of funders, intellectuals, and media figures that form the schwerpunkt of the Democratic Party right now.

And the cluelessness displayed – the cultural equivalent of “what are these scanner things and how long have they been in supermarkets?” is one of the great weaknesses of my party.

Conveniently, The Atlantic this month has the anodyne to Stein. (Along with a silly, innumerate article about Iraq which I will pin to the wall tonight)

In The Atlantic in 1894, Teddy Roosevelt – wealthy Harvard man – wrote this:

What College Graduates Owe America

August 1894

It is proper to demand more from the man with exceptional advantages than from the man without them. A heavy moral obligation rests upon the man of means and upon the man of education to do their full duty by their country. On no class does this obligation rest more heavily than upon the men with a collegiate education, the men who are graduates of our universities. Their education gives them no right to feel the least superiority over any of their fellow-citizens; but it certainly ought to make them feel that they should stand foremost in the honorable effort to serve the whole public by doing their duty as Americans in the body politic …

To the great body of men who have had exceptional advantages in the way of educational facilities we have a right, then, to look for good service to the state. The service may be rendered in many different ways. In a reasonable number of cases, the man may himself rise to high political position. That men actually do so rise is shown by the number of graduates of Harvard, Yale, and our other universities who are now taking a prominent part in public life. These cases must necessarily, however, form but a small part of the whole. The enormous majority of our educated men have to make their own living, and are obliged to take up careers in which they must work heart and soul to succeed. Nevertheless, the man of business and the man of science, the doctor of divinity and the doctor of law, the architect, the engineer, and the writer, all alike owe a positive duty to the community, the neglect of which they cannot excuse on any plea of their private affairs. They are bound to follow understandingly the course of public events; they are bound to try to estimate and form judgment upon public men; and they are bound to act intelligently and effectively in support of the principles which they deem to be right and for the best interests of the country …

For educated men of weak fibre, there lies a real danger in that species of literary work which appeals to their cultivated senses because of its scholarly and pleasant tone, but which enjoins as the proper attitude to assume in public life one of mere criticism and negation; which teaches the adoption toward public men and public affairs of that sneering tone which so surely denotes a mean and small mind. If a man does not have belief and enthusiasm, the chances are small indeed that he will ever do a man’s work in the world …

Again, there is a certain tendency in college life … to make educated men shrink from contact with the rough people who do the world’s work, and associate only with one another and with those who think as they do. This is a most dangerous tendency. It is very agreeable to deceive one’s self into the belief that one is performing the whole duty of man by sitting at home in ease, doing nothing wrong, and confining one’s participation in politics to conversations and meetings with men who have had the same training and look at things in the same way. It is always a temptation to do this, because those who do nothing else often speak as if in some way they deserved credit for their attitude, and as if they stood above their brethren who plough the rough fields …

This is a snare round which it behooves every young man to walk carefully. Let him beware of associating only with the people of his own caste and of his own little ways of political thought. Let him learn that he must deal with the mass of men; that he must go out and stand shoulder to shoulder with his friends of every rank, and face to face with his foes of every rank, and must bear himself well in the hurly-burly. He must not be frightened by the many unpleasant features of the contest, and he must not expect to have it all his own way, or to accomplish too much. He will meet with checks and make many mistakes; but if he perseveres, he will achieve a measure of success and will do a measure of good such as is never possible to the refined, cultivated, intellectual men who shrink aside from the actual fray …

[Above ellipses in the orginal – A.L.]

It’s amazing that TR could so accurately pin up a description of what ails Mr. Stein. And for Mr. Stein, I’ll ask only “Is it embarassing to be such an archetype?”

Yaay! Hamas Won The Election!

I haven’t pissed anyone off in weeks and weeks, so it occurred to me that today was a good day to start.

I’m actually kind of pleased that Hamas has won the Palestinian election. There, I’ve said it.

Why? You might reasonably ask…A couple of reasons. The first, and foremost, is that if there is going to be peace between Israel and its neighbors, the rejectionist Palestinian movement must transform itself into a real political movement, because real political movements don’t have the luxury of living in fantasy worlds – because their actions have real consequences.

So one of two things will happen. Hamas will be forced to make accommodations to reality – or it will lead the Palestinian state to destruction.

For all the rhetoric of blood and sacrifice, I note that few Hamas leaders have strapped on explosive vests, or stood on top of buildings thumbing their noses at missile-equipped Israeli fighters. My bet – in the intermediate term – is on reality.

One thing that may stall this will be the actions of Fatah, who unlike Hamas lacks a broad fundraising arm in the Arab countries, and depends for ready cash on the UN and skimming international subsidies meant for poor Palestinians.

OK, This Is Bad

I’ve deflected the “we’re torturing folks” meme by arguing that the people who did the bad things were being prosecuted and, where appropriate, convicted and punished.

Not so much, it appears.

A Chief Warrant officer who was brutally interrogating an Iraqi general – not a Geneva-convention-flaunting guerilla or terrorist – tied him up, stuffed him in a sleeping bag, sat on him, and killed him.

His punishment?

…instead of serving jail time and being forced from the military, Welshofer would receive a formal reprimand, forfeit $6,000 of his salary and spend 60 days restricted to his home, office and church.

I’m sorry, but that doesn’t cut it.

Overall, other than the telegenic Abu Ghreib defendants, the penalties meted out for killing Iraqi prisoners appear to have been very light.

This kind of blows my argument – that this isn’t an issue because we find the people who do Bad Stuff and punish them – out the window.And it implies a higher level of organizational responsibility than makes me happy. I’m not advocating closing Camp X-Ray, nor am I suddenly of the belief that reading terrorists their rights in the heat of battle before shooting them is a requirement. But there is a line, and it looks to me like we are on the wrong side of it.

I need to think about this a bit. But it’s clear that supporters of the war – folks like me – have a responsibility to take a stand on this.

EMP? Don’t Lose Any Sleep This Year

The subject of EMP is red-hot this week, as a new novel about America after electronics – ‘One Second After.’

Again, I haven’t read the book (yet -I will) and I’m no expert on the effects of nuclear weapons. But some amateur math confirms the gut impression that a small (10 – 20Kt) weapon isn’t going to have a massive national impact.

I’m bringing forward a post I did back in 2006 below so you can check my math:

OK, I’m looking at the likely effects of EMP and doing the classic blogger thing of dipping into serious issues as a rank amateur. But I may be right, and if not, I’ll trigger a darn interesting discussion.

TG works close to the Los Angeles Public Library, and we have a deal where I’ll find a book I’m interested in, email her the catalog link, and she’ll pick it up and bring it home for me. The Department of Homeland Security is doubtless interested in her borrowing habits…

Today, she brought home Glasstone & Dolan’s “The Effects of Nuclear Weapons,” Third Edition.

Here’s what I learned. To maximize EMP effect, the weapon has to explode at an altitude of over 19 miles – there’s a dramatic increase in the amount of gamma converted to electricity at that height. The EMP effect is generally limited to the line-of-sight to the weapon, and does diminish somewhat as the weapon explodes at greater and greater heights – because more of the gamma radiation which is converted to electrical energy by the atmosphere is radiated upward.

The end result of my quick Excel calculations is the energy per square mile would vary between 0.03 joules/mile for a 10KT weapon detonated 15 miles up, with an effective radius of 350 miles and 17,800 joules/mile over an area with a radius of 1500 miles for a 1 megaton blast at 300 miles up.

Now this may sound like a lot, but recall that a lightning bolt has about 109 – 1010 joules.

And a Shahab-1 has a maximum height of about 55 miles.

Here’s some math [formatting fixed by Joe]. There are three cases for calculating EMP; ground burst, mid-level air burst, and high-altitude burst.

High-altitude is defined as over 19 miles; there the effect is far greater (more of the gamma radiation from the weapon interacts with the atmosphere, creating a plasma, and thus the burst of electrical energy).

For a high-altitude burst, about 10-2 of the gamma radiation is transferred to EMP. For a mid-altitude burst, it’s about 10-7. For a one-megaton weapon, the total energy output is about 4.2 × 1022 ergs. About 3 × 10-3 of that becomes gamma radiation, or 1.26 × 1020 ergs.

At low altitude, this yields about 1.26 × 1013 ergs, at high altitude, about 1.26 × 1018.

In joules, that’s about 1.26 × 106 for low altitude, and 1.26 × 1011 for high. It’s linear to weapon yield, so a 10 KT weapon would have 1.26 × 104 at low altitude and 1.26 × 109 at high.

But that area is dispersed over a wide area – the total energy matters, but the energy density matters as well (total energy matters more in effects on long conductors, like power lines).

Even at very high altitudes, the EMP effect is limited to the ‘tangent radius’ of the blast – the height at which it goes below the horizon. So at a 15-mile blast height, the radius looks like 350 miles. At 300 miles, it would be about 1500 miles.

So, as above the energy per square mile would vary between 0.03 joules/mile for a 10KT weapon at 15 miles, with an effective radius of 350 miles; and 17,800 joules/mile over an area with a radius of 1500 miles for a 1 megaton blast at 300 miles.

What’s my point?

When Iran or whoever can develop weapons with yields in the megaton range, and the ability to deliver them to a height of 300 miles, we need to worry about EMP. Until then, I’d say we’ve got other problems.

Corrections and comments welcome…

More Troops? – Faster, Please

It appears from the L.A. Times that the Pentagon is in agreement with Robin regarding troop levels and the direction of future spending:

…while some new lessons will be incorporated into the Pentagon review, the spending blueprint for the next four years will largely stick to the script Pentagon officials wrote before the Iraq war, according to those familiar with the nearly final document that will be presented to Congress in early February.

Iraq “is clearly a one-off,” said a Pentagon official who is working on the top-to-bottom study, known as the Quadrennial Defense Review. “There is certainly no intention to do it again.”


…in the Pentagon blueprint, officials are once again talking about a futuristic force of robots, networked computers and drone aircraft. And they are planning no significant shift in resources to bulk up ground forces strained by the lengthy occupation of Iraq.

Which neatly amplifies Robin’s point that

So what advantage can we gain and maintain? It will not be numbers of bodies, no matter how well trained they might be. “Boots on the ground” are necessary for many purposes – are in fact irreplaceable – but ultimately it’s not in the simple count of troops that our national competitive advantage lies.

Instead, our strength is in inventing, deploying and using technology as a force multiplier.

Now I’m as big a fan of using technology and training to improve our troop’s lethality as anyone on the planet. As my military friends point out to me, “The military exists, on a fundamental level, to kill people and blow their shit up.”

We’re really good at that.

But the history of counterinsurgency warfare – and while we need to maintain the ability to defeat other standing armies, the likely role our military will play in this 4GW world is in something closely akin to counterinsurgency – shows that it is best defeated in a people to people war.

Our people have to be good a death-dealing, but they also have to be good at building water systems, drinking tea, and helping create schools. Those kinds of roles can’t be outsourced to technology, and the reality is that ‘outsourcing’ them at all degrades the effectiveness of the military – because it is the relationships they build while doing those things that changes the local perception of them and begins to build a virtuous cycle of trust with the population.

There is no substitute for bodies in doing this. They need to be incredibly well-trained, lethal when called on to be, and as good as we can make them – in every sense of the word.

So yeah, I think Bush is binning it by not stepping up and increasing the size of our forces, even at this late date.

And yes, Robin, I know about the effectiveness cost – but the reality is that the war we’re in is unlikely to end in the next three years, and if we haven’t scaled up, we’ll be in more trouble three years ago than we are today.

Finally, I’ll suggest a simple point from poker playing that has some relevance now.

When your ‘bottom’ (willingness to stay in) is in question, your opponents get more aggressive in playing against you. The answer, I have found, is to buy more chips.

It’s a clear and unambiguous signal about your intentions.

Today, as we’re playing ‘blink’ with Iran, the idea that we wouldn’t send a signal by starting the budget process with funds for – say – 150,000 more troops makes no sense whatsoever to me. I’d love to hear other folks explain it in comments.