THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 669 April 4 - 10, 2011
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April 4, 2011
Niven will be over shortly for a hike and a discussion of Anvil, our latest work (the title keeps changing but that is the working title). The concept of the book is also changing.
The link to this was broken earlier. Apologies.
Today's Wall Street Journal has a front page article "Inside the Massacre at Afghan Compound" (link) on events in "one of the safest cities in Afghanistan", where Afghan rebels stormed a UN compound and murdered several UN officers.
This may or may not be relevant to decisions on how much treasure and the inevitable blood we should be willing to shed arming and defending the Libyan rebels, and the rebels in Syria, and the rebels in Yemen, and for that matter the people in Iraq. And what we ought to do if the city demonstrators in Egypt are unhappy with the Mamelukes and decide to take to the streets. And of course there are the rebels in Bahrain. But then there are the rebels in Tehran.
The Wall Street Journal also offers a full editorial column opinion on what ought to be our policy in the Middle East. "The Arab Revolt and American Interests" (link) tells us
This is certainly true. Many of us have been saying that for years; in my case since Bush I just after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The US does not have a consistent foreign policy, nor does it have a strategy for looking after US national interests. In the euphoria following the end of the Seventy Years War (which began with the Bolshevik takeover in Russia, and ended with the collapse of the USSR) there were jubilant articles about The End of History. Intellectuals speculated on how, we, the victors in the Cold War, could now remake the world into the desired image. Liberal democracies would become universal. We ain't gonna study war no more. The next millennium would become the Millennium indeed. We would have universal health care, guaranteed education including higher education, fulfilling lives without back breaking hard work or mind numbing meaningless sub-intellectual white collar work. We had the money. All we had to do was spend it properly, on education and welfare and healthcare and letting people find themselves. The Millennium was coming. It was going to be so beautiful, and those crazy Conservatives who reminded us of the Gods of the Copybook Headings were simply old spoil sports.
Now the Near East is aflame, and some see this as the opportunity to remake the world.
When we went into Afghanistan the goal was simple: make it clear that those who harbor our enemies face the fury of the Legions. That goal was accomplished in weeks. When we went into Iraq the goal was -- well, it's not clear what the goal was. A new and stable liberal democracy in the Near East? If we wanted one of those, we might have experimented with Kuwait before we handed it back to the Royals who huddled in the London casinos while our Legions threw Saddam out; but no, we had learned the Secrets of Life and Death for democracies. We'd show that in Iraq. We knew what to do, and we had dedicated career civil servants like Bremer to go do it, without politics. It was all going to be so glorious.
The Wall Street Journal's editorial is more sensible than that. It's worth reading.
My view is simpler. If we have resources to allocate, use them to expand US domestic energy production. That is far more important than protecting rebels in the Middle East. We need tactics to deal with Middle Eastern crises, and tactically it may now be necessary to wring Gaddafi's neck and get it over with so we can get out of there. There are other tactics concerning Yemen and Syria and Tunisia and Egypt. But the strategy ought to be development of American energy resources, and the tactics should be toward the goal of shedding all these entanglements and dependencies, so we can get on with the real goal of America: to be the shining city on the hill, showing the rest of the world what free people can do.
If you didn't see Saturday's view there was a note on Libya about regulars, militia, and mob.
As to what's going on, we are trying to get A Step Farther Out and Another Step Farther Out ready and up in Kindle and Nook and other eBook formats. My thanks t0 Rick and Brian and Robert and Eric and Ron and all the others who are helping me do this. It turns out to be more complicated than it looks. Not so much difficult as a test of determination. I'll have full reports on this when 'tis done. There is more on this in last Sunday's view.
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I didn't think we ought to have gone into Iraq in the first place; I thought the goal of showing that it is a bad idea to threaten the US and its interests could have been accomplished in another way. Indeed, I do not think Saddam Hussein would have invaded Kuwait had our State Department Career Foreign Service Officer Ambassador April Glaspie given a more explicit warning to Saddam. But once it was decided that he was a menace, doing him a small injury -- taking his newly gained Kuwait away from him -- did not seem like a good idea to me.
The subsequent dodging around, encouraging revolts but then not supporting them, trying to avoid a commitment while trying to do something meaningful, floundering through the rest of Bush I, both Clinton terms, and the first year of Bush II gives a classic lesson in how a superpower ought not conduct foreign policy.
The goal of the second invasion of Iraq was even less defined. Had it been to go in, extract oil, and use that to pay for the operation we would have had no worse public relations than we got, because everyone thought that was what we were going to do. Instead we sent in Bremer, possibly the worst proconsul of Mesopotamia since Roman times, and we stayed entangled in that unhappy place for years, pouring blood and treasure into the desert sands. We did some good. We broke a king and we built a road, but the courthouse that stands where the regiment goed is not a tower of justice, and the river don't run clean where the red blood flowed. At least we did restore the marshlands.
The Legions can accomplish wonders: but they have to be given definite missions and goals that make sense. It has been a long time since the US has had defined missions and goals that make sense in the Middle East.
That continues in Libya. We have decreed, and put the reputation of the United States on it, that Qaddafhi must go. We have the means to accomplish that. Delta Force and some of the special ops people in the Agency can do that for us, without committing us to anything long term. That seems to me the quickest way out: bring about Gadhafi's ouster, leaving a few fox tracks, but not leaving any fur. If the Europeans want to stay involved, that's their business. Not ours. We need no entanglements.
We still need a strategy, not more dithering over phony government shutdowns that turn out to be paid vacations for all those government employees considered non-essential.
Note: In looking for some other stuff, I found a lot of what I had to say before we invaded Iraq for the second time under Bush II. There is a very great deal of it, but for one of my expositions, see this. I found those debates worth reading in light of what happened.
And for why I thought it important back when it was happening, see Iraq and the Star Road.
For those who like pictures, I found this from years ago while I was looking for something else. There's all kinds of stuff on this site. I warn you, this is from a time when I didn't know well what I was doing, and I had to thumbnail pix with links to the full picture because I was on dialup and so were a lot of my readers. Anyway, a mixed bag of pictures: http://www.jerrypournelle.com/Pictures.html
April 6, 3011
The Los Angeles Times this morning quotes Abdul Fatah Youvis, "Top General" for Libya's rebels, as saying "NATO should be with us or we will take this to The Security Council." Youvis is the former Interior Minister under Gaddaffi, and presumably is wanted by the International Court of Justice for war crimes and other such; he is apparently doomed to a life of trials followed by life imprisonment if he ever goes to some place where he can be taken into custody. He defected early, back when it looked as if the rebels were going to win and Gadaffi would be gone. Now Gaddafi wants his head, some of the rebels are suspicious of him, but he is the "top general" and has a great deal at stake in a rebel victory: if he can weather all this, he can retire to the interior, or perhaps take Qadafi's place, or -- well, what are his prospects if the rebels don't win? And he can't just run away. There is no place to run to that is safe from Interpol.
Thus he is desperate. You have to bomb them! Down with Qaddafi! Slay his minions! Bomb them!
Of course not many weeks ago the Brits sent an SAS team to Benghazi to set up cooperation with the rebels and do some air/ground coordination, and a bit of special operations: one suspects they had in mind the effectiveness of the Agency and Delta Force in the heady early days of the Afghan adventure. The rebels arrested them and sent them away. They didn't need no stinking western help! This was a Libyan revolution. After they put the Brits out, they ran around firing weapons into the air just to demonstrate how fierce they were, and planned their cakewalk across Libya to Tripoli. When it didn't work out that way, they asked for a no fly zone. Surely a no fly zone would do the job: Qaddaffi couldn't win without his air force. When the no-fly zone opened with bombardments of Qadafi's air defenses, while the French made ground support air strikes, the rebels rallied and surged forward into several towns as the Libyan regulars fled to regroup. There were more scenes of exhilaration and the inevitable firing of weapons into the air. Victory was at hand! The Wicked Wizard was to be thrown out! On to Tripoli.
That didn't work either. Ghaddaffi's army has no air force, and nothing flies, but his troops took back several rebel towns. That is, they drove into the towns, and the rebels fled after firing some more ammunition into the air. A few rebels in pickup trucks surged forward and were cut down by the regulars. NATO air strikes prevented Qhadaffi's forces from pursuit, else the rebellion would be over with the fall of Benghazi followed by Tobruk, but with NATO's help the rebels hold Benghazi and points east, there is a zone of contention around al Aghiela, and the regulars hold the oil refineries and points west. Both sides are digging in.
We are rumored to have injected Delta Force and Agency special operatives into Libya -- and this time they don't seem to have been arrested as the Brit SAS "diplomats" were -- but whether they can do much without a great deal of fire support from the Fleet is not so clear. I have described some of this kind of war in my Falkenberg novels. Back in the design days we called the system "Thoth Missiles": rockets guided by SAS ground forces. It could be decisive. Combined arms armies usually are. Injecting a high tech combined arms force with lots of firepower into a civil war is very likely to be decisive. It's hard to be covert about it, though. In Afghanistan our Company and Special Forces troops didn't have to hide, and we had the pictures of them charging on horseback, preceded by a cloud of high tech manned and unmanned air strikes.
Meanwhile in Egypt there are those who democratically assert that Israel has no right to exist, and the Mamelukes must denounce the Israeli Peace agreement. It is not clear how that policy will fare in a free election, but it will certainly be asserted. The Muslim Brotherhood has a strong organization in Egypt. So do the Mamelukes, but theirs is not oriented toward winning mass elections. The Egyptian Mamelukes are well pleased that Mubarak is gone -- he was getting old and not a great asset -- and were happy enough to have help in their palace coup that will, if all goes well, let Mubarak live in comfortable but not splendid retirement, possibly in exile but more likely in quiet and more or less honorable retirement in a resort town. For the United States the crunch will come when it's civil war between the Mamelukes -- the Egyptian Army regular officers -- and the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood will ask for a no-fly zone. Will Obama order the Legions to impose it? Will Delta Force and the Agency go in to use Thoth Missiles against the Mamelukes so that the Brotherhood can take command and declare that Israel has no right to exist, open the border into Gaza, let the missiles rise out of Sinai --
At some point the United States must face these possibilities.
The United States is a friend to liberty everywhere. We are the guardians only of our own. And I said the rest of it before.
Do not ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence. Napoleon Bonaparte
There is a fresh report on Fukushima Daiichi from MIT. http://mitnse.com/ In sum, the situation remains difficult, but under control, and things are improving. There have been leaks, but the worst of them is now under control. The situation improves, slowly. The economic situation is very bad, but that is due to the earthquake and tsunami. Fukushima plant two (some miles south of Fukushima Plant One where the leaks are) is coming back on line, and the power is very much needed in the Japanese economy. Of course all is not well -- they are recovering from a millennium disaster -- but they are slowly getting back into control.
The nuclear disaster is contained and is slowly being got under control. The Japanese have concentrated their efforts on making sure that there is no damage outside the plant perimeter, and that their is minimal damage to the plant workers. Obviously this situation could be controlled far more rapidly if there were more resources to be put into the effort: but any spare resources are needed to address the enormous damage from the earthquake and flood. They have put as much into the nuclear situation as they can. It is contained. That is enough.
You will find this Power Point presentation interesting. It is the Chinese military parade. It is a large file (7 megabytes).
Are people afraid to go to Dodgers games? Given what happened on opening day, damn right they are, and have been for some time, as should anyone sane. The security cameras aren't much use, the security isn't very effective in the parking lots, there are plenty of thugs around Dodger stadium, and while it is easy to identify them, nothing can be done about it. And the alcohol flows freely. I can remember when baseball was fun, but I sure wouldn't go to Dodger Stadium. Apparently it is reasonably safe around Staples Center after basketball games, but even there it can be sticky, But at Dodger Stadium the stakes are higher.
The media are saying "Well, those thugs weren't baseball fans." Well, they claim to be, but mostly they are barbarians. We have long allowed the barbarians inside the gates. We do not enforce the rules of civilized society. We have what amounts to abandoned areas in our cities where the writ of law does not run. We long tolerated those conditions, and now they are considered normal. There are places along the Arizona border that are effectively not part of the United States, and are posted so: there is no law in there. Stay out.
We have not the resources to do anything about these conditions, but we are seeking to bring Gaddaffi to justice in a court in Brussels. We have for decades sown the wind. We now reap.
April 7, 2011
It is rapidly approaching tax time so I will be brief for the next week or so.
Donald Trump has apparently been investigating the Obama birth certificate, and reports that he is astonished to find that it is not simple at all: the government issued document Obama relies on is unsigned and of no value, and Trump says he can't find anything else. Now it no longer matters: Obama was elected President, and the legal issues generated by the discovery that he didn't qualify to be elected would be so profound, and waste so much time and money to no end but the enrichment of lawyers, that one shudders to think of it. A court could have enjoined him from running, or the Electors from considering him, but that is long past. Nothing beneficial can come of this. He isn't going to be Un-Presidented. That will not happen, and it is a distraction we can do without.
What is odd is why there is any question of it in the first place. Surely there is a real document, routinely issued, signed by someone at the place of birth. Hawaii was newly a state at the time, but it had long been a major and important territory, and those born there were citizens: there had to be a mechanism for recording their birthright, as there has long been for Puerto Rico.
One possibility surfaced recently with a letter from Gaddafi to Obama. It begins 'Our dear son, Excellency, Baraka Hussein Abu oumama, your intervention in the name of the U.S.A. is a must, so that Nato (NATO) would withdraw finally from the Libyan affair.' Now suppose that Obama's name appears on the birth certificate in that long and formal fashion, written that way at the insistence of his Kenyan father. One can understand Barry Obama's reluctance to have it become public that his legal name was Abuoumama or some variant of that. Mere speculation of course, but I note that the New York Times and most other mainstream media that purport to show the "full text" of the letter show, formatted as if it were a copy, a letter beginning 'President Obama'. The long arabized name is not shown. Very odd.
And having said that, it is important to understand that the 'birther' debate is a snare and a delusion. The only upsides to it go to Obama. It ought to be retired, and not brought up again until Barack Hussein Obama is no longer President of the United States, at which time it may furnish material for various Master's theses, and trivia quiz show games.
The Wisconsin supreme court election teaches a lesson. It is not a pretty one.
Latest MIT report from Fukushima: the situation is under control.
Under control and gradually getting better.
There is mail including a deployed officer wondering about pay.
Apologies for having to do this. Normally I do pledge drives when KUSC does theirs, this site being operated like public radio, namely that it's always free but if it doesn't get subscriptions it will go away. The recent required reconstruction of the sewer connection at Chaos Manor was expensive and distracting and has to be paid for: I can look for more journalistic work at the expense of activities like this place, or I can bug you. Apologies for bugging you...
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Those are spectacular photos. I note the debris in the yards, and I am surprised by the lack of destruction of the trees and debris in the harbor.
Do not ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence. Napoleon Bonaparte
My only evidence is that I have known political strategists who are brilliant at devising politically effective strategies without having any inkling of their long term effects, and I have known Liberals who really and truly believe that their noble ends justify any means necessary. As to Obama's intentions, I have no way of knowing those; but he is surrounded with people who are not likely to have such intentions. The Liberal philosophy includes an ethics of intention: if everyone means well, then that is sufficient to absolve one of the prudential outcomes. If it is absolutely necessary that "we win this one" then, well, yes, election fraud is evil and must be prevented, but this outcome is so important that --
We have sown the wind. I have been pointing this out for many years. Our education system is in ruins. The nation is dominated by Iron Law institutions. Every American now bears a debt of $45,000, as a share of the national debt (in addition to any personal debts). The median household income in the United States is about $50,000. That's household, not individual; in other words, in general, the household share of the national debt is larger than the annual income of the household. If there were no interest, then if everyone in the USA paid 10% of income into a debt relief fund, it would take ten years to pay it off. Of course there is interest.
This is one reason for the fanatic emphasis on "growth" rather than profitable income. In a normal society without inflation and crazy booms there isn't any way to pay off that debt load. But perhaps with some Goldman, Sachs magic we can manipulate our way through. Or, perhaps with luck, we can keep putting off the day of reckoning and leave this problem to our children -- most of whom will have many thousands of dollars worth of student loan debts to pay in addition to shares of the national debt. Of course "we owe it to ourselves" as Samuelson's Econ 101 text used in most colleges in my day told us. Of course that isn't really true. Really, we owe it to -- well, other than Goldman, Sachs to whom do we owe it? When we default who goes broke? If we owe it to ourselves we could just write it off -- I'll be glad to forego my share -- but in fact that won't work.
Within a decade a majority of the city tax income will go to retired workers. I suspect that's true of many cities. State budgets have less acute but similar problems. When a great part of income goes to people no longer working, who does the work? But any attempts to change that will be met with the usual street riots and occupation of the capitol building.
What has happened to democracies who got themselves into this situation? Does anyone know?
There is a way out, but we are not taking it. We are reaping the whirlwind -- but we go on sowing as before. I do not know where all this is going. I have never seen anything like this in the US, nor even in Europe between the Wars. I do see Greece and Portugal, and beyond them Tunisia and Egypt and Iran; they never were rich, but they allocated their resources to building Iron Law institutions. They sowed the wind, and now hope that someone else will bail them out.
Stable republics are rare in human history. Mr. Franklin told us we have a Republic -- if we can can keep it. For more than two hundred years we kept it, but the prospects for the future are not so certain.
It is not too late, but the clock ticks loudly, and the wind is rising. As we sow, so shall we reap; and we sow the wind.
April 8, 2011
The day has been eaten by a plague, potentially pretty bad but so far the news is good. More another time, but this will slow me down for the next few days. I'm not much in shape to do an essay today.
Back in the early days of the Flame of Islam that began in
February, Spengler pointed out that Egypt was doomed to be a failed state.
Egypt, Western Libya, and Tunisia, were breadbaskets of the Roman Empire at one time. How the mighty are fallen. Italian peasants in the 12th Century were more productive than most farmers in modern North Africa. Spengler also notes
Given our crackerjack school system with its dropout rates, how long before we approach a 45% illiteracy rate? Since we do try to teach the girls to read, we aren't so thoroughly doomed, but the trends are not good. We pour more money into the schools, but the kids don't learn more, and the only remedy we are given is to pour in more money to feed the system. Good luck with all that.
And our food prices are rising, and without limit. While the Congress haggles over a few billion dollars out of a trillion. Note that One Billion is 1/1000 of a Trillion. The budget next year will exceed two trillion no matter how drastic the cuts. Drastic, so far as I can tell, is, My God, wait for it, a hundred billion dollars. We spend that every 29 days. And that's the unbelievable drastic cut that we can't stand and which will send people to the barricades. Meanwhile our food prices rise. But I digress. We were talking about failed states in the Near East. And we're all holding our breath. Will the government shut down? Stay tuned.
Midnight. The Government did not shut down. Sooprise...
April 9, 2011
Roberta is back home from the emergency room. It's a long story. She's fine. It was not a heart attack and she's now got a referral to the appropriate specialist, and she's recovering. It was a pretty awful Friday and Saturday, but that's done.
I'll be doing TWIT tomorrow.
http://www.aei.org/video/101414 Charles Murray AEI Lecture 1:28 (One hour, 28 minutes including Q&A) On the Founding Virtues and social trends. This is the most important lecture I have heard this year. It is one hour with a half hour of questions, and his comments to the questions are important and form an integral part of the lecture. He will bring this all out in a book, and I will recommend that book. I watched the entire lecture with fascination, and began to take notes almost as soon as it began. If you are concerned about the future of the nation, watch this and think about it.
April 10, 2011
TWIT in a few minutes. All is well here. Catching up from the weekend crisis. Later.
Great TWIT show with Leo, Steve Gibson, and John C. Dvorak. I always enjoy doing those. Now I have other stuff to catch up with. I'll get there.
I do note that the Libyan mess goes more and more toward stalemate, with a growing possibility that the stalemate will end with Qaddafi's reconquest of Benghazi and Tobruk, assuming that he really wants the eastern half of the country. The oil is almost all from al Aghiela and west.
In Syria the Empire strikes back, but so far half-heartedly. Bashar's father would not have been so gentle. We don't know what will happen there. In Yemen there is now an offer on the table: honorable exile to the President if he'll bug out. The places where the United States could pour blood and treasure have not lessened. We can always find a sink for resources. What we will get out of that is not known.
I am pretty sure I do know what kind of return we could get for investment in developing American resources.
We are the friends of liberty everywhere.
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