Monday, February 27, 2006

Saddam, Al Qaeda? Not much...

My interpretation (which you might agree with) is that Saddam had more of an interest in Al Qaeda than Al Qaeda had in Saddam. Certainly Al Qaeda wanted Saddam dead, just like the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Iran, and all other countries in the world. He's effectively the Anarchists' poster boy, whether people know it or not. The existence of human-made law is anethma to these guys.
However, Al Qaeda did manage to drag the spotlight away from Iraq on regular occasion, so Saddam certainly had an interest in keeping them running.
I have no doubt that Al Qaeda would never have informed Saddam of their plans for the 9/11 attacks. From what has been found thus far, they barely even told themselves of their own plan. It's not even clear whether all the hijackers knew they were on such a mission that day.
From what I've read, there were some discussions between Iraqi operatives and Al Qaeda back when Osama was being kicked out of the middle east (in particular I think, Yemen). If he went to Saudi Arabia, he'd be either killed or extradicted, so they let him go to Afghanistan. Apparently one of the options under consideration was Iraq. In retrospect, it'd probably have been better for us if he had gone to Iraq, because certainly Saddam's paranoid patience would've worn thin, and he might've killed him.
But whatever....
To Saddam, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" makes sense. To Osama, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend if he serves Allah in every waking moment".
So no, they were by no means friends.

Either way, the post 9/11 policy has been to brook no state sponsors of international terrorism, period. The message to such states was to be that it's not a question of 'if' we'll do something about it, but a question of 'when'. I make the 'international' disclaimer, because sometimes in civil wars, it can be very difficult to figure out who is who, but when a country supports terrorists acting outside it's borders, that's something we really cannot accept, even if it doesn't target us specifically.
What we do about it (trade war, sanctions, military actions) and when we do it are the difficult questions.

One thing the US has been throughout its history, is pretty much the most ruthless actor in any conflict. I think this is largely because americans see war as a job to do, not an honorable pursuit in and of itself. We've found failure where we failed to pursue overwhelming victory. In the civil war, we abandoned occupation and reconstruction of the south, leaving blacks to wallow under oppression for another hundred years. It would have been extremely taxing to continue reconstruction policies in the south, and there was little care or support in the north, since the blacks were technically free in some respects and the union was preserved. In Korea, we retreated to the south, leaving the communists to pilliage the north for what's going on now 50 years. How much would it have cost us to retake North Korea? That is impossible to know now. How much it cost to not retake it is unfortunately very clear, a nuclear armed rogue nation that exports its technology to any bidder. In vietnam we followed nearly the same policy.
This generalization is certainly undeserved in many ways, as each and every conflict has unique circumstances surrounding it, not to mention the 800 pound gorrilla in the room, the USSR. And I don't know for sure whether taking the conflicts more seriously in terms of understanding it as a fight for survival rather than a fight for ideology would have fixed these situations, but where we did fight like it was for our survival, we succeeded.

The fucked up thing is, that there was serious badness going on in Iraq, and if america really committed itself to fixing the situation, it would probably be much further along towards being fixed right now. Instead we're pointing fingers and trying to determine how to take political advantage of the situation.
Perhaps we do need a constitutional amendment to put war declarations back in the hands of congress. Perhaps if we'd actually declared war on Iraq (which they could have sustained in the house and senate, looking it up - 77 to 23 in the senate, 296-133 in the house), we'd have the resolve to see it through with much less weakness and bloodshed. Perhaps we could have said then: 'What are you talking about WMDs? We're in there to fix the damn problem, not just deal with a symptom or two.'
I'd liken it very slightly to breaking boards with your hands. The moment you are timid, cautious, or less than totally committed, the board wont break, and it's going to hurt like hell. If you punch right through it, it's like it was barely there.

Certainly there are valid arguments that we shouldn't commit to such a war in the first place, being that Iraq was debatably not a direct threat to the US. I can in some ways agree with that, in the sense that if we cannot mobilize the country to support a full scale war, we do run the risk of putting vietnam-like messages out to the world suggesting that we'll withdraw if they just can punch us in the nose once. I'd have voted for the war though, and if we had declared a state of war, I would have expected the naysayers to hold their tongues until it was well done and over.

It just really really sucks that we're so fractured over this... and this isn't a conservative vs. liberal thing, it's an isolationist versus interactive thing. It's the same debate we've had since the founding of the country.

I guess we can hope that the current low-grade civil war in Iraq is showing everybody involved that they're all losing.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Carlyle dragged into DPW?

So do you know what the Carlyle Group is? It's suddenly hit the news in a huge way, but almost every source I can find on the web about it is either partisan, or insane, or both. The Carlyle Group itself has a few web pages which basically say they're a group of saints, dedicated to making the world better for me personally, and saving lost puppies. Leftist crazies, OTOH, say it's a group dedicated to eating puppies, and funneling bribes from rich terrorists to George Bush so that he'll let them kill me.

Frankly, both views seem too extreme to be true.

Which is one thing that irritates me lately- everybody's got SUCH a partisan view that you can't trust anything. If I saw a web page that said "The Government of the UAE has invested N many billion dollars in various Bush family-related businesses. Those businesses are A, B, and C, and the Bush family owns x, y, and z % of them", then I'd say "Whoa, that bears investigating". But they don't, or won't, just say that. They say "Bush connection to UAE more incestuous than an appalchian village". Which is a cute turn of phrase, but contains no facts, and lets me know that the purpose of the whole article/web page is CONVINCE, not to INFORM. And it makes me suspect what facts there ARE in the article, because a serious partisan trying to convince will cheerfully distort facts, or lie.

So I figured I'd ask you, because you're pretty well informed. Do you know what the Carlyle Group is? Do you think they really represent a meaningful financial link between the Bush family, and the government of the UAE?

Only side I've ever heard to it was that they were part of the Bush conspiracy that led to 9/11. That's not precisely what Moore et al claimed, but close. I think that through the Carlyle Group and a small number of other holding corporations, you could easily link pretty much every single extremely rich person in the world. People are generally allowed to put their money wherever they want. If you have a successful holding company, you are going to have investors who are standup business leaders, oil magnates, shipping magnates, and probably front men for drug lords. Where do you draw the line, and how much research are you required to perform to vette your investors? Generally, if there's nothing directly criminal about the investor, their money can't be turned away.

I think part of this is that most people are looking to preach to the choir, not proselytize for converts. Making converts, or at least earning the respect of your opposition is far more difficult than rabble rousing and making yerself a hero to those who already think as you do. And when you are only trying to preach to the choir, it's much easier to use references to appalacian villages than to actually do your homework and present results, particularly if those results end up being rather specious. Like you said, it's easier just to perform a blanket, tacit conviction.

It goes on on both the left and the right. It's not guilt by association or guilt by assertion, it's guilt by tenuous implication. People do it all the time these days by referring to people or groups by their own pet names that implicitly convict (or exonerate) them of something of which they have not been convicted or even generally accepted by the public as responsible. Dailykos assumes in every post that anybody reading their site agrees not just that this administration is the worst ever, but that the vast majority of americans agree with them in that analysis. The right will do similar things by referring to the gov't of this or that arabic country as 'the terrorist training facility' or some such, when it's clear that even if there is a relationship between said gov't and terrorism, it's not that simple. (There are many other examples of this on the right, some of which *really* piss me off, but that's the one which comes to mind right now.)

It's like people just agreeing that everybody knows that Saddam was not involved in terrorism. This statement is true if you add the expression 'directly targetting americans on american soil'. For some reason however, some want to consistently undercut their own arguments by not making such a distinction. What's crazy is that nobody disagrees with me when I mention that Saddam financially supported the families of palestinian suicide bombers... the evidence has been pretty clear on that. But since that's mainly killing jews, and very few americans, I guess it doesn't matter so much, so we reduce the value of the argument to absolute zero. While not targetting america in terrorist support certainly reduced Saddam's threat, it didn't reduce it to zero.

But the issue here is not that specific argument, but the way nobody is trying to extend an olive branch or be inclusive of those with different viewpoints over such issues. Right there, I staked out a middle ground. I said yes, Saddam wasn't working with Al Qaeda on 9/11, but terrorism was still somewhat of a factor, not a completely bunk lie. Maybe it's not enough for people to invade a country over, but at the same time, it's not something to be dismissed lightly.
When I push that logic on my lefty buddies, I get a sensation like I'm working against some sort of preconditioned wall. Anything about terrorism and Saddam is just a lie, and I'm just deluded. Little to no room for dissent or examination of the question. Basically, they're not trying to help bridge gaps.

Yesterday, one of my housemates asked me to make some sort of statement saying that I would apologize for being an idiot if Iraq fell apart into a civil war and turned into a huge disaster. I told him that I wouldn't do such a thing, and I would expect him not to do such a thing on the other end. We all make our calls on the information which we have available to us. Some of us believe this source over that source, and other vice versa. It's not like either side is just inexcusably retarded. So why would anybody want to have such recriminations? I don't. If/when Iraq turns into a major success, I don't expect to go around trying to make people who opposed the war feel bad about themselves. They made their calls with what they knew at the time, same as those in the administration who made the call on invading Iraq in the first place. Being wrong isn't being stupid, even if it's me being wrong.

This whole issue is exactly why I keep several left and right blogs in tabs next to each other. I always want to be aware of the arguments my prospective opponents are making. Where they have good points, I score well by acknowledging the validity of those points. That allows me to focus my efforts on the points with which I disagree. If I am unfamiliar with their arguments, I will undercut my ability to convince them that I understand their position. And understanding the other position is the first step towards trying to reconcile these seemingly different positions. I find myself more often than not, in complete agreement with that very same lefty housemate, yet when he does something like call american military servicemen 'mercenaries', I am obliged to take him to task over it.

I haven't heard Carlyle Group mentioned since Moore's F9/11 fell off the stage. All I dragged up on it at the time was that some rich people had a holding company... with other rich people, and a whole slew of business directions. Some of those were americans, some were prominent americans, some were saudis. The conspiracy theories seem to abound whenever that name is mentioned, but it's honestly been a long long time since I've heard it mentioned at all.
When I was reading about it (shortly after F9/11 came out the websites were particularly active), it sounded just like another huge holding firm with a very diverse portfolio. The Carlyle Group does not make people foam at the mouth like they once did, nor as they currently still do at the mention of 'Haliburton'. :-)

My two 30-second opinion on Haliburton: Haliburton and the companies they have acquired were making a ton of money and expanding prolificly before GW entered the whitehouse. Expecting them to disolve because the VP used to run them is a little bit unreasonable, yet it's the only alternative to what's currently happened. In most of corporate america, you expand or you are bought. I haven't seen any serious accusations of impropriety on their part. There have certainly been no-bid contracts awarded, which, if there actually were competitors in those fields of services, would merit investigation. But in general, on that scale, few companies have the breadth of services that such a large demand requires.

This kind of thing completely sucks for me, because as a competitor, my little company can't deliver to a city an entire software suite, including financial software, legal software, emergency services, and fleet management software in addition to what we can provide. This really hurts us in certain cases, where the customer is looking for one big software project involving all of their departments. Fortunately for us, there are places where that's not the case... and in some cases, our prices fall under the 'must put out to bid' threshold.

Well, I just want people to try convincing each other, rather than just spouting rhetoric at each other. The internet is a very polarizing place unfortunately.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Just because we can't prove it, doesn't disprove it!

Posting this in response to an alarmist message I received, warning about the impending global warming disaster. What I do not accept is that rationale "We can't prove there wont be a catastrophe, therefor we must presume there will be one.."

We're looking at a ~2000 year snapshot of an incredibly complex system that's a few billion years old and that our immediate livelihood and wellbeing depend on. And we keep pushing it like it has never been pushed before - all the while claiming that because we don't understand the system, it's ok to continue current behavior. How is that smart?

Sorry, burden of evidence is upon the doomsaryer here. You are the person who wants to remove people's livelihoods. In order to do that, you had better get a case more convincing than: "How is this smart?"
Don't demean your opposition just because you don't understand them or their arguments. Obviously *everybody* doesn't want a global catastrophe to occur, but on the one hand, we have people who want to make incredible sacrifices based on an argument bound in the faith of 'progress is bad' and if we wait, we loose, and on the other, we have a 'wait for better data' approach.
If the threat were actually as clear as the doomsayers want it to be, it wouldn't be a contentious issue. You'd be able to get *real* groups of scientists working on the problem and providing solutions, rather than this 'environmental activists wrapped in lab coats' group called the supposed 'Union of Concerned Scientists'. (Which would be more accurately labelled Union of Partisan Activists)

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

And on Kyoto

In America, the Kyoto Protocol is a non-partisan issue. It was dead in the water under a democratic majority under Clinton, and it's dead in the water under a republican majority under Bush. The only person who was ever for it in our government was Gore.
There were a couple issues with it:
It's a huge money grab by developing nations. Basically, it placed penalties on existing businesses operating in the US, while exempting China and India because they are technically defined by the protocol as 'developing nations', regardless of their actual pollution output. So it doesn't actually stop pollution at all, it just takes money from already built-out industrial nations, and gives it to developing nations (which are uncapped), making the businesses in the US and other developed nations compete at a large disadvantage.
The second major reason why we never ratified the treaty (Gore did actually sign it), is that America is about the only country in the world that is actually *legally* obligated to honor ratified treaties. The US constitution grants ratified treaties the status of law, as though congress itself passed it as a law. Most other countries can ratify a treaty and choose when and where, if ever, they want to honor it. China has ratified several human rights treaties which the US has not. It's not because China is even close to the US in terms of preserving the rights of its people, but because they can go ahead and ratify anything, and it doesn't really affect them internally. The US however, would be bound by the sometimes asinine terms of such treaties, and thus must be much more cautious when ratifying such a treaty. The same goes for landmine treaties and nuclear test ban treaties. If we ratify something here, our gov't is in a fuckton of trouble if they don't abide by it.... from our own people.
Those are the basic tenants by which the US senate under both republican and democratic domination has never even considered ratifying the Kyoto treaty. Beyond that, under Clinton, the democrat controlled senate passed a nearly unanimous resolution rejecting Kyoto. So this really is not a partisan issue at all, it's about whether the US wants to commit economic suicide and have a voter revolt as jobs move overseas in numbers that make the current outflow look quite paltry.
They really should call it what it is... global socialism. Take from those who have built something, and give to those who haven't. They're trying to wrap it as an environmental package, yet all it would do is shift pollution from developedd countries to undeveloped countries. This is explicitly endorsed in the protocol in the way they allow an international *market* for pollution credits.

That said, we really do have to do something about many types of pollution. As for global warming, I consider myself a scientist, and I have done the calculations by which they predict certain pollutants will cause global warming. Unfortunately those calculations, as far as I have seen, are based upon a lot of conjecture about the absorbtivity and reflectivity of our atmosphere under certain pollutant stresses. It's extremely difficult to make the case for it, so it's not a surprise that the case is currently not particularly convincing. If it were, the circumstances and approach would be quite clear. No one in our gov't *wants* to destroy the planet our children are inheriting. People are just more or less hesitant to be convinced by the currently presented case.

Explaining the unexplainable

Got this query from a bright, close friend of mine, who also happens to be my cousin.
I remember you explaining your views on Bush in Iraq a while ago, but I forget most of your points and am finding myself questioning why he is there again... other than to get his hands on more oil. I look forward to reading your blog.
America does benefit from the oil, in terms of stabilization of oil prices. But going over there to *take* oil was never one of our intentions, and absolutely has not been the case. In terms of oil policy, the motivation for going into Iraq was to allow us to *buy* oil from Iraq at a reasonable market price without the money going to Saddam and the gang. So yes, there was an oil policy reason for going into Iraq, but it wasn't the dominant factor, it wasn't an imperial factor, and it wasn't a 'cheat the Iraqis' factor.
There were a couple obvious policy factors behind the invasion which we obviously couldn't state in public.

First, Iraq is effectively our 'terrorist honeypot'. How many terrorists were in Iraq before the invasion? Quite a few, mostly Palestinian training grounds. How many are there now? A whole lot more. Were there terrorists 'created' by our invasion of Iraq? Probably some, but not a significant percentage considering the incredible forces islamofascism had already built against us. We're talking militant organizations dating back to the late seventies during the Soviet expansionist era. Enough militants to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan, harry their forces in the central asian republics and chechnya, and they continued recruiting throughout the 90's while we did nothing but cut our military. Thousands upon thousands of Afghani war orphans brought up in Pakistani madrassas being taught nothing other than to destroy western civilization in the name of Allah. It's very easy to underestimate the forces we are facing here.
After 9/11 it became very clear that we were in a very asymmetrical conflict. Al-Qaeda and others could hit us without having to confront our main strengths: economic prosperity and military investment. They bypassed all that and did a quarterback sneak into the end-zone.
It was clear to me soon after 9/11 that we could only win this conflict if we could find a way to match our strengths against their weaknesses. This means making effective use of our military superiority in combating terrorism. Having our military forces camped out at home was only costing us a lot of money and providing little to no benefit in the new conflict.
The job of our military at that point became to pick a fight with these guys, and draw them into a situation where we could at least pit them against our military strengths, rather than our civilians at home.

Secondly, we had just gone into Afghanistan. That was required in order to staunch the flow of operations of Al Qaeda. A whole lot of people were opposed to it. There were large demonstration all across the world, but a big majority of the US supported it. It's easy to forget these days how many people were against the invasion of Afghanistan, because many have started using it as their token point of moderation in attacking the other side. How many times have you heard protestors against the invasion of Iraq say that they were for the invasion of Afghanistan? I've heard it a lot. But if you actually look back, many of those people I hear using that reasoning now, actually were *against* the invasion of Afghanistan. They've just forgotten that out of the convenient ledge they feel they gain in discussions. Like: "Oh, I'm all for defending the country, but this is going too far.."
Not true. The protests against going into Afghanistan were extremely large. I was quite disrespected in two workplaces for supporting the invasion of Afghanistan, by the same people who now say they supported it.
Anyways, the more important point, which is again not something that could publicly be used as a justification is that Afghanistan was not enough.
The US needed to make it clear to any tin pot dictators around the world, that if they allowed their territories to be used by terrorists to plan international terror attacks, that their little gig as dictator would be up. We needed to make the case that not only are we going to go after those dictators who supported and/or engaged in terror plottings, but that we were going to strike out and start solving the problem before it became a problem.
Terrorists train and attack under the protection of one dictatorship, we remove two dictatorships in response. We needed dictators around the world to know that they were on notice, and that we will respond with near-illogical overwhelming force.
This is largely credited with having convinced Ghaddafi in Libya to declare and shut down his nuclear weapons research program. I'm not so sure it was that, but if it was, good.
So that's the crux of this particular facet of my argument. We can't say that we were going to make an example out of Iraq, yet we really needed to make an example saying that we will act proactively, even possibly illogically (from the perspective of a dictatorship that really doesn't understand democracy anyways, and just considers it a weak form of government) in preventing another mass attack against the US.

A third unspeakable reason was that not only were our military forces doing pretty much nothing about terrorism, we were losing ground against Saddam. Our pilots were being run ragged enforcing the no-fly zones. We had forces getting bombed a couple times a year in Saudi Arabia, where we didn't want our forces stationed anyways. One could say "but those losses were small compared to what we're taking in Iraq". But on the flip side of the coin, our losses in Iraq are in combat, attempting to build a safer future. Our losses in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere were meaningless, stupid, and defeatists to the morale of our military.
We're going to take on the burden of 'containing' Saddam, expending enormous resources enforcing these no-fly zones, and providing deterrents for absolutely *nothing* in return except maintaining the status quo. This may seem like a great idea for Europe, and countries other than the US, being that it wasn't their guys or money spinning their wheels in the way of danger.
We did everything we could in the UN, and the whole time, the UN bureaucracy was arranging to funnel money to Saddam. We expected that if he was cut off by sanctions, he would lose his grip on power and succumb to internal revolt, except the UN worked to maintain the status quo. Honestly, the last thing the UN needs is more democracies. It drastically reduces their relevance, since democracies do not go to war against each other. I'm not saying the UN is particularly against democracy, but that they don't have any vested interest in helping countries attain it, except for the fat US paycheck they would risk if they're ever caught overtly working against democracy. So Saddam was gaining power, and we were losing power.

The fourth unspeakable reason we went into Iraq, was because we couldn't threaten anybody else in the middle east while we still had to deal with containing Saddam. 16 of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. That makes Saudi Arabia an enemy in my book. But as it was, we had no leverage for threatening Saudi Arabia at all. We needed our military bases on their soil in order to contain Saddam. If we maintained the status quo, and another 16 Saudis found another way to kill 3000 Americans, we *still* would not be able to respond by attacking Saudi Arabia. Now, we have a whole lot of leverage.
I predict the moment Saudi-supported for Saudi-funded terrorism comes to America again, our military will immediately be dispatched to expropriate Saudi oil fields. From there, the gloves will come off with respect to our tolerance of Saudi funding for the terrorist enemy. I'm absolutely certain the Saudis know this as well, and this buys us time.
Getting rid of Saddam both freed up our military, and put pressure on our true enemy.

These are just the 'unspeakable' reasons. The kinds of reasons that you can't publicly claim, because while they're quite realistic and extremely important, they're not acceptable logic under the prevaling attitudes in the world. Making these reasons public would also make the prosecution of this war more problematic, and the last thing we need is more soldiers dying in Iraq.