Archive for September 2009
Here’s an explanation from the Wall Street Journal on why NFL offenses are becoming bigger, faster, and much better at what they do: score touchdowns.
[T]he NFL’s high-speed, high-scoring offenses are a reflection of one of the laws of nature—the tendency of all things to evolve toward efficiency.
Adrian Bejan a professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University, likens the NFL’s evolution to a river’s effect on its basin. (Stay with us, here.) Over time, a river relentlessly wears away its banks and, as a result, water flows faster and faster toward its mouth. When obstacles fall in its way, say, a tree, or a boulder—or in the case of an NFL offense, beefy linebackers like the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Lewis or the Chicago Bears’ Brian Urlacher—it will figure out how to wear those away, too.
“The game is a flow system, a river basin of bodies that are milling around trying to find the most effective and easiest way to move,” says Prof. Bejan. “Over time you will end up with the right way to play the game, with the patterns that are the most efficient.”
Yes, George F. Will it is time to get out of Afghanistan. As General Patreaus has said, al Qaida is not operating in Afghanistan. And if our principle mission is – and should be – to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat” AQ then we can do that mission better by using tactics focused on countering terrorists, instead of diverting attention to fight drug kingpins or battle for “hearts and minds” against an anti-Karzai insurgency.
After all, for how many years can we spend $68 billion in Afghanistan. If Anthony Cordesman is correct then “victory” is still years to come. Yet, it has already been more than 8 years of “democracy/state-building“, even though AQ hasn’t re-established a base there since October 2001. That was some sort of victory; maybe it is the only “victory” we need.
$68 billion is a lot of money but it is not enough to pay for the extra troops that General McChrystal says is needed to achieve “success”. Interestingly enough, $68 billion is about 100x more than the annual Afghan tax income of $715 million. Likewise interesting, Afghanistan is broke (surprise!) with a yearly deficit of nearly $2 billion.
But an Afghan budget deficit of $2 billion doesn’t even compare to the record-breaking US federal budget deficit of $1.6 trillion.
But all of this talk about money glosses over a more important aspect of US operations in Afghanistan, namely the extended troop deployments which have left America scarred with war causalities; and have strained families often to the point of break-up. Potentially endagering national security, these deployments have left our force structure stretched dangerously thin potentially ill-prepared for future conflicts.
To conclude, some other quick tidbits of factual information:
- Two months ago was the deadliest month for coalition forces; until it was surpassed by last month.
- When the US expelled AQ from Afghanistan in 2002, the total cost of the war was around $20 billion; eight years later costs are rising with the war budget this year exceeding the first three years of the war by nearly 3x as much.
- A two-fold increase in Afghanistan’s GDP would make it slightly less than North Korea’s, and comparable to Chad, Kenya, Bangladesh, Ghana, and Zambia.
- The Horn of Africa, Yemen, and United States are all places more likely to host terrorist threats that endanger US interests more than Afghanistan.
If you could have a nuclear weapon, would you give it up?
North Korea doesn’t seem like it would. On September 4th, the bi-polar Pyongyang declared it was in the “last phase” of nuclear enrichment. Apparently, a North Korean spokesman even added that it was open to either “sanctions or dialogue” when talking about six-party talks.
Meanwhile, Iran is ignoring requests by the International Atomic Energy Association to “re-engage” the UN agency on questions regarding its nuclear program. Citing a rule within the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran continues to enrich uranium despite many international objections.
Yesterday, I read this post about why the Justice Department should stop its investigation of “enhanced interrogation.” Maybe I’m reading into this person’s post wrongly, but it seems to say that because the Bush administration Justice department allowed the methods used by interrogators then it shouldn’t be investigated by Obama’s Justice Department. Consequently making any investigations into the interrogations less about legality and more about Obama’s political objectives.
This view is wrong to me, a) because Obama stands to gain nothing politically b) because Attorney General Holder initiated the investigation and c) the authorization for “enhanced interrogation” was of dubious legality, thus should be investigated.
The real question should be was the law broken, not what is the political reason for an investigation? If the legality of the interrogations were questionable, then an investigation is justified. To claim that an investigation should not be done is an affront to what this country stands for.
We can’t really know if the interrogations saved American lives or produced valuable intelligence that we would not have gained otherwise. But what we do know and what should drive us, is that the law is not fungible and cannot be made malleable on a whim. If there is a question about the law being violated then it needs to be investigated. Arguments against investigations are in essence a political attempt to subvert the rule of law.
Related links: Dick Cheney stars in A Few Good Men
From Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong blogs about how Carrots trump sticks for fostering cooperation. Basing his post on a study done by David Rand at Harvard, Yong posits that rewards do better to foster good behavior then punishments do to prevent bad behavior.
[R]esults suggest that when people repeatedly cross each other’s paths, carrots are far better than sticks at fostering behaviour for the greater good. Not only do they lead to greater payoffs for everyone concerned but they minimise the threat of antisocial punishment, where freeloaders vengefully castigate the altruists. This behaviour has the ability to derail cooperation and while fairly rare in countries like the US or the UK, it is far more common in places like Greece and Oman. In such countries, the relative merits of rewards may be even greater.
From Group Intel, Hakim Hazin does the study of Mexican drug cartels a service by touching upon the religious peculiarities of the La Familia drug trafficking organization. His conclusion is perhaps the worst threat to Mexico’s security will come from drug gangs united by radicalism.
In Mexico’s Seeds of Radicalism, Hazin writes:
Mexican cartels are utilizing the benefits of radicalized faith in their war with the state and each other. They are seeking to implement ritualized devotion to a Higher Power and create social cohesion within their networks. Currently Santa Muerte is the deity of choice for most cartels, but La Familia Michoacana is turning to the Bible and cleverly preaching a different Gospel to further its strategic and political aims.
From Kings of War, Thomas Rid writes in Washington’s Afghan Brawl 10 assumptions are universal in the Afghan debate – whether you are for or against an expansion of the war. Later, Rid warns that “words like ‘winning’ and ‘victory’ have no place in this debate, even if the street is shouting for it.” Rid also believes policymakers need to do a “nasty” cost-benefit analysis that doesn’t get entrapped in a calculus complicated by previous losses in blood and treasure.
The Attorney General is a cabinet level official. He/she is appointed by the President and serves at the President’s discretion. Yet, the first responsibility of the Attorney General is to be the chief enforcer of the rule of law, despite partisanship.
The Bush administration’s Department of Justice had three Attorney Generals: John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales, and Michael Mukasey. It was under their oversight that John Yoo and Jay Bybee, from the DoJ Office of Legal Council, penned four memos that condoned “enhanced interrogation techniques” (links to the four memos can be found here).
Eric Holder is now the Attorney General and the Department of Justice under his watch is pursuing criminal investigations of the “torture” memos authors and possibly some interrogators.
But what is the motivation behind Holder’s recent inquiries? Is the country’s chief rule of law “enforcer” doing his job or playing politics? Likewise, were the Bush Attorney Generals negligent of their duty to the rule of law, and instead acting towards political objectives?
We know former VP Dick Cheney believes the investigations are a political act. Similarly Joseph Finder has opined in the New York Times that criminal investigations of CIA interrogators would violate the legal principle of (collateral) estoppel, placing interrogators who had already been cleared from prosecution in “double jeopardy” of re-litigation. As Finder writes, “[t]his doesn’t look much like justice; it looks like politics.”
These arguments are loaded contextually. Jack Goldsmith, former Assistant Attorney General to John Ashcroft, has said one consequence of the DoJ’s Office of Legal Council “power to interpret the law is the power to bestow on government officials what is effectively an advance pardon for actions taken at the edges of vague criminal statutes.” Jack Goldsmith served 9 months in the Bush administration before resigning.
Reminiscent of A Few Good Men, CIA interrogators should be pardonable because they acted in accordance of the law (as it was explained to them). In essence interrogators were following orders. Perhaps their actions were “conduct unbecoming” of federal employees but real fault lies with those who issued the memos that guided their actions.
Yet, the dubious legalese of the memos is inconsequential to Bush administration officials who felt “coercive” interrogation was necessary to protect national security. In their minds, they were doing dirty work that needed to be done.
Perhaps Dick Cheney could conjure up the ‘you can’t handle the truth’ Col. Jessep from A Few Good Men and say:
We use words like honor, code, loyalty…we use these words as the backbone to a life spent defending something. You use ‘em as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it!
Then the question at this point is were the memos justified? Or does our commitment to justice and the rule of law matter more than proclamations that enhanced interrogation techniques saved American lives?