Growing Increasingly More Complex


Iraq: It's a Crowd Pleaser

To get a war going you need the people on the top policy level to create the vision.
You need the people in the middle who administer the plan and give the orders.
And you need the "little guys" who actually kill.  They are usually not motivated at all.
They need different kinds of inducements, like fear, peer pressure and drugs.
It's a distasteful thing they are going to do, and it's hard work convincing them.

- Landon Hancock, a specialist in conflict analysis and resolution at George Mason University in Virginia

As we head to war with Iraq, President Bush wants to make one thing clear: This war is not about oil!
It's about gasoline...

- Jay Leno

by Molly Ivins

Iraq.  What.  A.  Mess.

As Cousin Eddie Faulk used to say during Vietnam, "If those folks don't like what we're doin' for ‘em, why don't they just go back where they come from?"  Eric Alterman sums up the position of the "We told you so" crowd thusly:

bulletThe invasion of Iraq will cause, not prevent terrorism.
bulletThe Bush administration was not to be trusted when it warned of the WMD threat.
bulletGoing in without the United Nations is worse than not going in at all.
bulletThey were asleep at the switch pre-9/11 and have been trying to cover this up ever since.
bulletAnd they manipulated 9/11 as a pretext for a long-planned invasion of Iraq.
bulletAny occupation by a foreign power, particularly one as incompetently planned as this one, will likely create more enemies than friends and put the US in a situation similar at times to Viet Nam, and at other times, similar to Israel's occupation of Lebanon; both were disasters.
bulletAn invasion of Iraq will draw resources and attention away from the genuine perpetrators of the attack on us, and allow them to regroup for further attacks.
bulletBonus: Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ will increase anti-Semitism worldwide.

OK, that's the bad news.  What's Josh Marshall calls "the hunky-dory crowd" is still telling us the electricity is back on and things are almost back up to where they were under Saddam Hussein.  There's a mark to aim for.

Look, I never root for bad things to happen, and maybe Moqtada Sadr has just set off a spasm of violence, not a real Shiite insurrection.  As Marshall also notes, we expected Sunni opposition, but it doesn't make much sense for the Shiites to rise up now when all they have to do is sit back and wait.  Maybe the Shiite outburst is just a reaction to Paul Bremer's incredibly dumb move in shutting down their newspaper.  (Just for the record, occupiers purporting to bring democracy should never shut down newspapers.)  If that's the case, why wasn't Sadr invited to the table and given a stake in the transition?

The "we told you so" crowd often points out we'd be a lot better off if anyone in the administration read history, usually citing the British occupation of Iraq.  Hell, try Napoleon's occupation of Egypt - and he was an administrative genius who brought along a team of culturally sensitive advisers.

I like to think of myself as part of the "so what do we do now?" crowd, but it is like drinking gall.  We could try what we clearly should have done from the beginning - put more boots on the ground.  We've got 130,000 troops there now.  (Remember when the Bushies told us it would be down to 30,000 by the end of last summer?)  General Eric Shinseki's "several hundred thousand" prediction looks more prescient all the time.  The trouble with that scenario is that it violates the First Rule of Holes (when you're in one, quit digging.)  Second, it may be too late.

Then there's the old reliable, "Bug out now."  I always liked Senator Aiken's advice on how to get out of Vietnam: "in boats."  Yep, it could be time to declare victory and go home.  That seems to be President Bush's plan.  He can just say, "Well, we took care of the weapons of mass destruction, so we're outta here."

As many others have pointed out, June 30 is just a ridiculous deadline.  Even though we're not planning to withdraw on June 30, damned if I can see how we're going to hang onto what was supposed to be the great strategic advantage of this war.  Those of you who follow neo-con thinking know this never was about weapons of mass destruction, it was supposed to give us a place to plonk ourselves down so we could restructure the entire region.  I suspect what we'll wind up doing is the inevitable "muddle along" until our leaders can lie us out more or less gracefully.  (George W Bush will admit he made a mistake the day the Cubs win the World Series.)  If I were John Kerry, I would be having such horrible nightmares about winning the election - and actually having to ask an American soldier to be the last man to die for a mistake.

Source:  6 April 2004 (c) Creators Syndicate Austin, Texas

The Political Economy of Energy

CNN said that after the war, there is a plan to divide Iraq into three parts: regular, premium and unleaded.

- Jay Leno

by Stan Goff

The beginning of the fossil fuel age was not simply a technological shift but a specific outcome of a specific set of historical circumstances.  It is difficult to understand why global society is like it is today without understanding its evolution.  Late British historian Mark Jones described the advent of human hydrocarbon dependency thus:

bulletIndustrial capitalism was a response to a crisis of relative over-population which emerged in Europe and elsewhere by the end of the 17th century.
bulletThe population of Europe doubled from 100 million in 1650 to 200 million by 1800.  By 1789 Paris had more than 600,000 inhabitants, of whom at least 100,000 were vagrants: the foot soldiers of the French Revolution.  London's population grew from 575,000 in 1750 to almost a million by 1801, "including a mass of the bustling street-hawkers, pickpockets, urchins, and felons so well captured in contemporary prints." [Paul Kennedy]
bulletThe burgeoning population huddled into the cities from the countryside and inhabited sprawling slums of jerry-built houses, lacking water, light, heat, and sanitation... in the new manufacturing towns hordes of children lacked adequate health care, nutrition and education; gangs of unemployed agrarian workers attacked the new farming machines that had thrown them out of work; social protest was common, especially in years when poor harvests drove up the price of bread.
bulletBy 1750 European economies were increasingly gridlocked and hunger was common, especially in France.  The agrarian revolution impacted the environment in destructive ways.  Enclosing of commons destroyed the last great British forests, which had been under intensive pressure as competitive uses for timber proliferated.
bulletThe most dangerous bottleneck faced by the British economy was the complete collapse of the iron industry as supplies of wood for charcoal dried up.  By 1700 Britain was importing iron wrought and pig-iron from Sweden, Spain and even the Urals.
bulletThat this trade was profitable evidences the desperate straits the English iron industry was in.  The iron famine affected the entire English economy and imperiled its defence.  This was the background to British activity in India and the Far East.
bulletThere were many attempts to solve the problem of smelting iron with substitutes, the most obvious being coke made from coal.  These attempts did not succeed in solving the iron shortage until almost the end of the 18th century.
bulletWhen the solutions came they synergistically combined to provide the platform for industrial take-off, a take-off that happened largely because of fortuitous accident (available coal in waterlogged deep mines required the development of pumps and then steam engines).
bulletThe technologies of steam power and of iron manufacture utilising coal instead of wood charcoal had interdependent origins.  The first railways and steam engines were developed in coal-mining districts to answer specific problems of deep shaft working, where coal had to be transported considerable distances and flooded mines had to be pumped dry.
bulletOnce the technologies emerged they swiftly became generalised, first to the iron and steel industries, then to textiles, machine building, transport, agriculture and arms manufacture.
bulletThe era of fossil-fuel-based industry was launched and led to very rapid population increases, which consolidated the new system's dependence on its material and energy basis.
bulletWorld [hydrocarbon] capitalism has enjoyed two centuries of sustained development since 1800.  However, despite the gigantic growth in social productivity, resource-use and population and the creation of a vast new "built" environment, capitalism today is more critically dependent on fossil fuels and the use of non- renewable resources than at any time in the past.  The absolute level of resource-extraction and energy use continues to grow.

Even as those finite resources are depleted.  Consider the implications.

According to Alf Hornborg, the United States' share of world energy consumption is 25%, while 20% of the world's people do not have access to enough energy to successfully maintain their own body metabolism.  The richest 20% of the world's population consume 86% of the aluminium, 81% of the paper, 80% of the iron, and 76% of the lumber.  Per capita CO2 emissions in 1990 were approximately 5 tons in the United States but only 0.1 tons in India.  (Another way to look at this is CO2 emissions per dollar of GDP.  India produces very little, but damages the environment more, considering what it is they make.  The US produces quite a lot but is tidier, considering quantities they produce.  If it is felt resources should be used most efficiently and the environment should be protected maximally - two concepts almost always synonymous in practice - then however many goods are produced, it may be best overall if the US produces the bulk of it.  The implicit argument of looking at resources the US consumes is that it would be better if the US used less.  Maybe so, but that's an argument NOT based on environmentalism because some countries would do more damage if processing the same resources to produce the same goods.  It all depends on whether an argument is based on social justice or on efficiency.)

Roadside stands in Haiti, for example, cannot be replaced by strip malls because most Haitians do not have automobiles, nor do they have the money to buy expensive consumer goods.  In the US, on the other hand, most people would be incapable of obtaining food or a job to get the money to buy it without an automobile to get to the vast, refrigerated, central-heat-and-air, super-lighted energy sinks that are malls and supermarkets.

The United States is now involved in war, a wretched military and political quagmire.  (Though perhaps the reconstruction of Iraq is no worse than the reconstruction of. say. Germany after World War II.)  Further, few still believe that oil had nothing to do with the US decision to invade Iraq.  It is important to empirically analyse energy as well as to understand its social and political relations.  An energy crisis would impact everything.  The eventual and inevitable decline of the fossil energy economy will not leave behind the potential for a return to a more sustainable existence that is "closer to nature" - instead, it will likely leave behind a wrecked, toxic, and simplified biosphere.

The current energy regime depends overwhelmingly on fossil hydrocarbons.  These sources of energy cannot be replaced on a calorie by calorie basis with alternative energy sources.  "Alternative" energy sources are today not even close.  In brief: an energy source contains energy; an energy carrier only moves it.  A battery is an energy carrier.  Hydrogen is an energy carrier.  All energy carriers, with no exceptions in the physical universe, are energy sinks.  An energy sink is any process that uses up more "past" energy than it returns as "present and future" energy.

Energy density refers to how much energy is stored in how much volume or weight.  Volumetric energy density is how many watt-hours per litre, for example.  Gravimetric energy density is how many watt-hours per kilogram.  Gasoline has a volumetric value of 9,000 watt-hours per litre.  150 Bar gaseous hydrogen, on the other hand, contains 405 watt-hours per litre.  A 15-gallon gas tank would have to be replaced by a 334-gallon gas tank to carry around the same energy.  The simple fact is that the world system as it is now constituted, in every facet, including technological development and population, has been fuelled predominantly by fossil hydrocarbons.

The central question regarding "alternative" energy is whether and how it can replace fossil fuel.  Neither wood, hydropower, solar, wind, wave, tides, fission, geothermal, batteries, nor gas hydrates are interchangeable with oil.  These can produce electricity, but electric batteries that store it cannot replace oil.

Walter Youngquist, in "Alternative Energy Sources--Myths and Realities" (Electronic Green Journal, December, 1998) explains:

How to use electricity to efficiently replace oil (gasoline, diesel, kerosene) in the more than 700 million vehicles worldwide has not yet been satisfactorily solved.  There are severe limitations of the storage batteries involved.  For example, a gallon of gasoline weighing about 8 pounds has the same energy as one ton of conventional lead-acid storage batteries.  Fifteen gallons of gasoline in a car's tank are the energy equal of 15 tons of storage batteries.  Even if much improved storage batteries were devised, they cannot compete with gasoline or diesel fuel in energy density.  Also, storage batteries become almost useless in very cold weather, storage capacity is limited, and batteries need to be replaced after a few years' use at large cost.  There is no battery pack which can effectively move heavy farm machinery over miles of farm fields, and no electric battery system seems even remotely able to propel a Boeing 747 for 14 hours nonstop at 600 miles an hour from New York to Cape Town (now the longest scheduled plane flight).  Also, the considerable additional weight to any vehicle using batteries is a severe handicap in itself.  In transport machines, electricity is not a good replacement for oil (Jensen and Sorensen, 1984).  This is a limitation in the use of alternative sources have where electricity is the end product.

However, fuel cells might actually work for large passenger aircraft - they are a technology in its infancy, and not yet all that well understood.  It wouldn't take vast advances to make it work, and there is no real reason to think such advances aren't possible.  Fuel cells will already work for small planes (such things are already being developed), and for large scale transport, fuel cells would work perfectly well in dirigibles, where their poor power-to-volume ratio would be less important.  People use aircraft now because they're fast, and affprdable, but there are cheaper options should lower cost become critical.  The notion that one must use 747 jets or society will fall into the long dark night of entropic decay is unsupportable.  A society without nonstop flights between New York and Cape Town will still be worth living in.  Even one where a New York to Los Angeles flight takes two days would be tolerable in a pinch - probably less stressful, too.

We will not use batteries to fly airplanes or run 18 wheelers, nor coal, wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, or wave power to run these vehicles.  The unpalatable truth, which must be faced squarely is that

  1. there is currently no equivalent alternative to fossil fuel, and
  2. it will take many years more dependency on fossil fuel to effectively transform our energy paradigm into anything that approaches sustainable.

We are stuck with hydrocarbons for now.

China has been for several years now one of the fastest growing economies in the world.  This is not solely a function of population.  China is developing its industrial base, to include its research and development capacity at an unprecedented rate.  Its domestic oil production peaked in the mid-1990s and is now in permanent decline, even as energy needs increase with its phenomenal growth.  From 1995 to 2005, China's energy consumption will have doubled.  By 2015, it is projected to have doubled again.  This is just one example of the emerging conflict over finite global energy supplies.  This is the diminishing lifeblood of the global economy and why it may seem necessary to resolve the situation in favour of US economic interests by military means.

The logically simple but socially very difficult solution is energy conservation, something that can only be accomplished through a revolutionary change in society - a change that is unlikely without financial shocks and social struggle.

Source: Excerpts taken from "There He Goes Again: Kerry's 'Energy' Plan" Counterpunch 13 August 2004

The following article may not seem to apply here - but I think it does...

What Was Wrong with Burning Witches?

by Mark Kleiman

Burning witches was wrong.  Since no one actually has powers witches pretended to have, believed they had, or had attributed to them by others, they could not have been justly punished for wielding non-existent powers.  The history of the witch trials has lessons for the present day.  But what lessons?

One candidate lesson is that early modern Christians were superstitious and cruel.  Aren't you glad we're not like that anymore?  The First Amendment ensures that religious disputes aren't carried into criminal courts.  Hurrah for us!  That's more or less the way the witch trials are taught in most schools.  It's partly valid.  And it leads to the maxim: Keep religious questions out of secular law courts, especially criminal courts.  But the narrative version of that lesson involves a confusion of moral and factual judgments.  Since we now know (or at least believe) that "witchcraft" as understood by its persecutors was nonsense, it's easy for us to say it was silly and wicked to burn and hang a bunch of poor old women as witches.  A law against witchcraft would be barred by the Free Exercise Clause.  But the Free Exercise Clause is sustainable only if we don't believe in the capacity of the practitioners of some religions to acquire and use destructive supernatural powers.

Imagine that you believe in witchcraft.  Or - since that's a hard thing to imagine - imagine instead that there exists a real contemporary threat parallel to the threat that witchcraft was conceived to pose.  Say, for example, that a group of aliens want to conquer earth, and that some Earthlings sell out to the enemy and, as their payoff for acting as spies and saboteurs, they receive the power to kill with a glance, in ways beyond the capacity of our science to understand or trace.  Your problem is to decide how criminal law should be applied to such cases.  Should it be a crime to be an alien 5th-columnist with destructive psychic powers, or part of an organisation for the purpose of cultivating and using such powers on behalf of a planetary enemy?  What rules of investigation, evidence, and criminal procedure should apply in such cases?

Now imagine further that the alien 5th column is set up as a church, with the planetary traitors not merely working for, but worshipping, the planetary enemy.  Should membership in the Church of Aldebaran be protected by the Free Exercise Clause?  That is a hard problem, once you've stopped giggling and actually wrapped your head around the hypothetical.  Can you have some sympathy for those who, confronted with what they thought was a parallel problem, created the witch-hunting craze?

Perhaps we shouldn't cut them too much slack, given that they were in fact wrong.  That's a fair response.  Acting on excessive certitude based on deficient information, the witch-hunters created huge amounts of avoidable suffering.  But suggesting that alleged witches should have been prevented from committing their supposed crimes by cutting them off from their materia magica and familiar animals avoids taking the problem seriously.  How would it have been possible for someone in the 17th century to know there wasn't a huge Satanic plot (or even to assure himself that he ought to assign a Bayesian probability of less than some critical value to the existence of such a plot) in the face of voluminous testimony that it was real added to a consensus of the theologians, who were the carriers of what was deemed at the time to be the relevant expertise?  If there were such a plot, failing to deal with it would have generated large amounts of avoidable suffering.

So the Free Exercise Clause represents an empirical (or metaphysical) as well as a moral judgment: that no one can actually pray his neighbour dead.  If prayer were an efficacious means of homicide, Free Exercise would be a very poor idea.

If we're going to defend ourselves against analogues to witch-hunting, we need a maxim more general than the Free Exercise Clause.  It might go like this: In the face of what is believed to be a wave of crimes whose nature makes them hard to prove, resist the temptation to craft new rules of evidence and standards of proof, and to tear down old procedural barriers, in ways that make the charges almost impossible to defend against.  That general warning, if heeded, would have avoided some of the horrible injustices of the child sexual abuse prosecutions of the 1980s, in which many innocent people were convicted.  (One California man was released just yesterday after 20 years in prison on child-molestation charges that were transparently absurd; coincidentally, Gerald Amirault, the victim of similarly egregious injustice in Massachusetts, was just released on parole; the state still won't admit it got that one wrong.)

Such a maxim would also have prevented some of the egregious injustices of the war on drugs, while at the same time making it more difficult to convict the guilty in drug trafficking cases.  The application to terrorism is left as an exercise for the reader.  It is not, I submit, an easy problem.  But it will be on the exam.

Source: "A Fair and Balanced Weblog" with reference to Eugene Volokh and C S Lewis 2 May 2004

If oil were the cause of the war in Iraq, how serious is it to have said that it was really about weapons of mass destruction/terrorism/potential terrorism?  Do the ends (ever?) (always?) justify the the means?

Senator, Iraq Is No Viet Nam

War continues in Iraq.  They're calling it Operation Iraqi Freedom.  They were going to call it Operation Iraqi Liberation until they realised that spells "OIL."

- Jay Leno

We have an important decision to make now about who controls Iraq.
You know, that's a critical question, because it's who we're going to be fighting in 5 to 10 years.

- Jay Leno (again)

by Pavel Felgenhauer

The administration of US President George W Bush has plenty of enemies both at home and abroad.  A lot of people would love to see Bush get a bloody nose in Iraq, or anywhere else.  Last week the critics had a field day: with heavy fighting in Fallujah and sporadic clashes breaking out elsewhere, Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy said that Iraq had become "George Bush's Viet Nam," and declared that the US needs a new leader.

It was Kennedy's older brother, John F Kennedy, who dragged the US into the Viet Nam quagmire, and the senator should know better than to compare Viet Nam and Iraq.  The Viet Nam War was a battlefield in the global Cold War that pitted the US against the Soviet Union and its allies.  The Soviet defense industry supplied the North Vietnamese with the latest weapons.  In 1975 North Vietnamese regulars, armed and trained by the Soviets, took Saigon.  "Winning" the war in Viet Nam was impossible without first winning the Cold War.  So long as the Soviets were able to maintain a global balance of power, any local war - in Viet Nam, Afghanistan, Nicaragua - tended to develop into a quagmire.

Today the world is a very different place, and the scope of the fighting in Iraq cannot be compared to Viet Nam.  The US lost more than 60,000 soldiers and 8,000 aircraft in Viet Nam.  US casualties in Iraq number fewer than 500.  The nature of combat of Iraq, as demonstrated in Fallujah last week, is also different.  Four US civilian contractors were killed and their bodies mutilated by local residents.  Fewer than 2,000 Marines moved in to find and punish the perpetrators.

Under Saddam Hussein, the Sunni Muslims of Fallujah, a city of some 400,000 inhabitants, were regularly recruited to serve as officers in the armed forces and the security services.  When Baghdad fell, these loyalists found themselves out of a job and returned home.  In Fallujah, they formed underground armed groups and waited for the Marines to attack.  It is possible that the killing of the four contractors was a deliberate provocation intended to lure US forces into the streets of Fallujah, where local armed bands lay in wait.  In Viet Nam, and more recently in Somalia in 1993, US losses during street fighting led to outcry back home and the unconditional withdrawal of US troops.

The Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah outnumbered the Marines and were armed with Kalashnikov automatic rifles, RPG-7 antitank grenade launchers and mortars.  Chechen fighters used the same weapons in Grozny in 1995, 1996 and 2000, killing thousands of Russian soldiers and destroying hundreds of armored vehicles.  Just like the Russians in Grozny, the Marines last week were supported by tanks and attack helicopters, but the end result was entirely different.  US forces did not bomb the city indiscriminately.  The Iraqis fought well but were massacred.  According to the latest body count, some 600 Iraqis died and another 1,000 were wounded.  The Marines lost some 20 men.

The Marines are far better trained, of course, but the Iraqis were fighting in their hometown.  The decisive difference between the two sides was the extensive use of a computerised command, control and targeting system by the US military.  Satellites, manned and unmanned aircraft collected precise information on enemy and friendly movements on the battlefield night and day.  Modern US field commanders have real-time access to this system, allowing them to monitor the changing situation on the battlefield as no commander in the history of war has been able to do.  This technology has greatly enhanced the effectiveness of aerial bombardments in the last decade.  And now the nature of house-to-house combat has changed as well.

The more accurate historical analogy to the current war in Iraq is not Viet Nam but, say, the battle at Omdurman, Sudan, in 1898, when Horatio Herbert Kitchener, a British field marshal, crushed the Sudanese forces of al-Mahdi by bringing machine guns to bear against the enemy's muskets and spears.  Today the United States has the capability and the technical superiority to fight and win colonial wars against numerically superior enemies.  But military superiority is not enough.  Will the Bush administration - or the Democrats, should they win the White House in November - prove better, kinder rulers of the world than the British Liberals and Tories of a century ago?

Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent defense analyst.

Source: Tuesday 13 April 2004

Indeed.  They were/are all human, fallible, arrogant, male and relatively privileged, so I doubt it.  No.  More of the same.  All of them.

For articles on bioterrorism, patriotism enforcers, airport security, children in war, McCarthyism, humanitarian killing, Voice of America, pipelines, truth, lessons, anthrax, hatred and pain click the "Up" button below to take you to the Index page for this War on Terrorism section.

Back Home Up Next