April 2003, Part 1
Jim Miller on Politics
Worth Reading: Daniel Pipes explains why the war on Saddam will not create 100 bin Ladens. In fact, he argues, it will probably lead to a decrease in terrorism.
- 5:14 PM, 8 April 2003 [link]
The American Boycott is hurting German firms. The American boycott is not hurting German firms, but the German boycott is hurting American firms. Who is right? My guess is that both boycotts have had small effects. The unwillingness of many American tourists to go to France will probably be the largest single economic effect of these boycotts. The breach between our countries will not be healed soon, as you can see in this article describing the cooler feelings between German troops and their American hosts in El Paso. The most disturbing part of the article comes in the middle:
Ilse Irwin, 73, was born in Wiesbaden, Germany, near Frankfurt, and emigrated to the US as a Fulbright scholar in 1954. A practicing Catholic, the retired university professor devotes much of her time to fighting hatred and genocide, largely by working with the area's Jewish community. Irwin volunteers at the local Holocaust museum, and lately has steeled herself every time she has to guide German airmen through an exhibit or take them on a tour of a local temple.The rising anti-Semitism in Europe often causes anti-Americanism, as we are blamed for our support of Israel, a nation more and more seen as "just modern-day Nazis". We won't heal this kind of breach soon, regardless of the boycotts, successful or not. The evidence coming from Iraq showing that Saddam was just a modern-day Nazi will help—if the German people are allowed to see it on their television programs or read it in their newspapers.
- 5:02 PM, 8 April 2003 [link]
What Kind of Person Votes Democratic? Well, in one precinct, let's just say they have convictions. And you wouldn't want this civic minded group living next door. (Thanks to the Wall Street Journal's Best of the Web for the tip.)
- 4:38 PM, 8 April 2003 [link]
Canadian Support for the War Grows Too, as you can see in this article. The levels of the support and opposition to the war are now almost identical to those in Britain; 56 per cent support the war, and 34 per cent oppose it. Even more Canadians support the United States than the war, with 41 per cent saying that Canada should have given us verbal support, and 31 per cent saying Canada should have sent troops, as well as supporting us verbally.
- 11:12 AM, 8 April 2003 [link]
British Support for the War Grows: Surveys done for both the conservative Telegraph and the leftist Guardian show increases in support for the war, and for Tony Blair. Although a solid majority now supports the war, according to the Guardian it is still not as popular as some earlier conflicts:
The level of opposition among British public opinion is still significantly higher than at any time during the first Gulf war, the Kosovo crisis or more recently the war in Afghanistan.The support may rise still further, since the British public is still not optimistic that the war will be finished soon. The poll done for the Telegraph found that 28 per cent think that defeating "the bulk of the Iraqi forces" will take a few months and 27 per cent a month. (I think the "bulk" of Iraqi forces have already been defeated.) Though they are still pessimistic about a quick victory, they are confident it will come. The number expecting defeat is now down to 2 per cent.
An earlier poll, after the war had begun, showed that foes of the war were losing support. The Liberal-Democrats, the third party in British politics, opposed the war. They had lost 6 per cent in support, as of a week ago, and their leader, Charles Kennedy, was no longer the clear second choice for Prime Minister. I would guess that support for both the party and its leader are even lower now.
There are still dangers for American policy ahead. According to the Telegraph poll, the British public is almost unanimously against a unilateral American rule in Iraq. Majorities still favor a UN administration, in spite of the many UN failures. On the other hand, they favor limiting post-war construction contracts to coalition firms by 58 to 35 per cent.
(One amusing thing in these results. Anthony King, the professor of government that the conservative Telegraph has hired to analyze these polls, seems to oppose the Telegraph's stand, as you can see in this article. I don't know whether he added some of the questions intended to elicit an anti-American stand, but it is common practice for those analyzing surveys to have a part in devising the questions.)
- 10:51 AM, 8 April 2003 [link]
Worth Reading: Bernard Lewis explains why Iraqis were "slow to embrace their liberators". His last reason is the most interesting: Iraqi caution was strengthened by the "strong and vocal opposition to the war around the world and more especially in the United States".
- 10:15 AM, 8 April 2003 [link]
The World Was Warmer in the Middle Ages, according to a survey of more than 200 scientific papers.
Soon, Baliunas and colleagues analyzed numerous climate indicators including: borehole data; cultural data; glacier advances or retreats; geomorphology; isotopic analysis from lake sediments or ice cores, tree or peat celluloses (carbohydrates), corals, stalagmite or biological fossils; net ice accumulation rate, including dust or chemical counts; lake fossils and sediments; river sediments; melt layers in ice cores; phenological (recurring natural phenomena in relation to climate) and paleontological fossils; pollen; seafloor sediments; luminescent analysis; tree ring growth, including either ring width or maximum late-wood density; and shifting tree line positions plus tree stumps in lakes, marshes and streams.And, here's what they found:
The worldwide range of climate records confirmed two significant climate periods in the last thousand years, the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Warm Period. The climatic notion of a Little Ice Age interval from 1300 to 1900 A.D. and a Medieval Warm Period from 800 to 1300 A.D. appears to be rather well-confirmed and wide-spread, despite some differences from one region to another as measured by other climatic variables like precipitation, drought cycles, or glacier advances and retreats.Does this show that the current theories about global warming are false? No. But it does show two other things, that any observed warming may have natural causes, and that some warming might be, on the whole, a good thing.
- 9:57 AM, 8 April 2003 [link]
Labour MP George Galloway makes Seattle Congressman Jim McDermott look like a Bush supporter. McDermott may have gone to Baghdad, and may regularly repeat Iraqi propaganda, like the claims about the health effects of depleted uranium, but he at least agrees, in principle, that Saddam is not a nice guy. Galloway, on the other hand, seems positively fond of Saddam, seeing him as similar to Stalin—a big plus in Galloway's view. He has compared Blair and Bush to "wolves". Many think he crossed a line last week.
In an interview on Abu Dhabi TV, Mr Galloway urged Iraqis to fight their "foreign invaders" and accused the prime minister of lying on the the war's duration. On Tuesday, he went on to suggest Mr Blair's pursuit of an "illegal war" could lead him to be tried for war crimes, and to insist: "The best thing British troops can do is to refuse to obey illegal orders.The Labour party is now considering "denying him the whip", which means, as I understand it, tossing him out of the party. (Long ago, applying, rather than denying a whip might have seemed more appropriate, but times have changed.)
If this story from the Times of London is true, he has crossed another line as well.
George Galloway has paid for frequent visits to Iraq from a fund set up to save the life of a four-year-old girl with leukaemia. The MP flew Mariam Hamza from Iraq to a children's hospital in Glasgow and launched a public appeal for money using her name. On House of Commons notepaper, he wrote to donors telling them that the money would all go on hospital fees for Mariam and medical care for other Iraqi children.What kind of creep steals from a little girl with leukemia? (Thanks to the Gweilo for the tip on Galloway. If you want to know more about McDermott, and similar Congressmen, see this article. And, if your curiosity goes that far, here's Galloway's defense)
- 2:25 PM, 7 April 2003
Update: While mentioning some of Galloway's other faults, I forgot to add that he is a coward, too. When a Kurdish woman who had been tortured by Saddam's regime tried to contact him, he refused to meet her. And another point. If you are wondering why he even pretended to be helping the girl with leukemia, that's because Saddam's regime has claimed that the depleted uranium used in the first Gulf War has caused leukemia. There is no scientific evidence for this claim, but it has been widely repeated.
- 9:40 AM, 8 April 2003 [link]
Think You Can Trust Eyewitnesses? Then read the third item in this Science Notebook. This is a common finding, by the way. Most people are simply not very good at remembering what they have seen.
- 1:31 PM, 7 April 2003 [link]
Correction: In this post, I said we had captured 8,600 Iraqi prisoners as of March 26th, taking the number from a Washington Post article. At the time, the number seemed a bit high to me, so I checked for a correction the next day before using the number in my post. It was way too high, as you can see in this numerical summary from the Associated Press. We may now have captured that many, but we had not, as of March 26th.
- 1:17 PM, 7 April 2003 [link]
Military Expert Ralph Peters explains some of the great mysteries of the Iraq war:
As many as six Iraqi divisions barely fired a shot and evaded orders to attack allied forces. Chemical weapons still have not been used, despite Iraqi commanders receiving permission to employ them. Secret bunkers and executive hide-outs have been hit, with more success than the world yet knows.Peters credits work by the CIA and Special Forces for these quiet, but great, successes. Don't miss the implications of his claim that Iraqi officers have received permission to use chemical weapons. For him to say that, we must have signal intelligence, or information from captured officers and documents.
- 7:31 AM, 7 April 2003 [link]
With Traditional British Understatement, a columnist for the far left Independent claims that:
We have heard only one truth from the Bush'n'Blair axis of deceit in the past six months. All else is lies, mangled truths and spin.One has to admire the immense effort behind that claim by Ms. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, though one might wish it were put to a better purpose. To make the claim, as she does in this imaginative column, she must have read all the statements by President Bush, Prime Minister Blair, and all their subordinates. (She does not tell us which speed reading course made this feat possible, but she should.)
I hope she will forgive my skepticism about that claim, and other arguments in the column, because she is right about the one truth: The war to liberate Iraq is not a war on Islam. She is wrong about nearly everything else in the column. Since I am feeling charitable, perhaps from seeing the pictures of Iraqis welcoming British and American troops, I will add that this column is better than a previous one. That column began with a claim that she was a woman and a Muslim, and proceeded through an argument so fantastic that, by the end, I wanted to see her take a DNA test, and face a quiz from an expert on the Muslim religion.
(An unimportant digression: As I read it, her last name is pronounced "Alibi Brown". Is that correct?)
- 7:13 AM, 7 April 2003 [link]
British Take Basra: Or most of it, anyway, as you can read in this lively account from the Telegraph. (If you are an American, don't miss the graphic inset, which has brief histories of the British units, as well as the map. Many are Scottish, as President Bush recognized in a letter of thanks to the Scotsman newspaper.) For the most part, the people of Basra approve:
Some shouted and cheered, greeting the British soldiers with waves, thumbs up and smiles. Others took revenge on the men who for years had oppressed them, surrounding and attacking the fleeing Fedayeen.
- 6:36 AM, 7 April 2003 [link]
Worth Reading: Max Boot's explanation of why guerrilla tactics are over-rated. Historically, the United States has won nearly all the wars it has fought against enemies using guerrilla tactics. Vietnam was the great exception, and it differs from Iraq in many important ways. (Warning: Annoying LA Times registration required.)
- 3:07 PM, 6 April 2003 [link]
What Kind of Father produces a son like Uday Hussein? Saddam, of course. This interview with a man who was Uday's musician will tell you why I don't think waiting for Saddam to expire was a good plan. His sons are just as evil as he is, and even more reckless. (Future researchers will have an interesting time sorting out the relative influence of heredity and environment for Uday and his brother.)
- 2:58 PM, 6 April 2003 [link]
The Fog of War: If you compare different maps of the war you'll see that they are, well, different. The main New York Times map, for example, has been showing the Marines driving north to Hilla, about 50 miles south of Baghdad, then straight east toward Kut, meeting another Marine drive. (To their credit, until today, they have had a note by the eastward drive saying they don't know exactly how the Marines got from Hilla to Kut.) The Washington Post, as you can see in this map, thinks the Marines didn't even get to Hilla, but turned east far sooner. The map in today's Seattle Times doesn't show the Marines driving on Hilla, but has the 82 Airborne going there instead. Saturday's Seattle PI had a still different map. This is isn't the only difference you'll find. Today's New York Times shows a British thrust from near Basra almost to Amara, a maneuver I have been unable to find on any other map. Even the situation maps, which supposedly show the current locations of units disagree, as you can see by comparing this map with this one. (Both come from what I consider well informed sources.)
Now what to make of all this confusion? Two things, I suppose. Coalition commanders, in spite of embedded reporters, commercial satellites, and all the other sources of information, have done a good job of concealing many of the troop movements. Second, at least some of the news sources don't know as much about what is happening as they would have us believe. With this much disagreement, some of the news sources must be wrong. All may be. Kudos to the New York Times for their admission of uncertainty on that one point, by the way.
- 2:40 PM, 6 April 2003 [link]
Michael Kelly, RIP: When Michael Kelly's Humvee ended up in a canal in Iraq, we lost a great journalist, a man who shared with the late Senator Moynihan a fierce desire to tell the truth, however unfashionable. Like Moynihan, he was often out of favor with the politically correct. Also like Moynihan, his great talents made him impossible to ignore. Andrew Sullivan, whom he worked for at the New Republic, and who later worked for Kelly, has one of the best obituaries. For a sample of his work, see this touching column about the complexities of a mixed marriage at Christmas time, and the class prejudices against colored lights on Christmas trees.
There is one small story that Kelly did near the end of the 1992 election campaign, that still sticks in my mind. Clinton, perhaps made a little unwary by his lead in the polls, described to Kelly his rules of politics, all of them cynical. I still remember one, that if someone says that it is not about the money, then it is about the money. I think another was that everyone will lie to you, in the right circumstances. Kelly noticed the confession Clinton was making about his own view of the world in these rules. Few other reporters have his insight or ethical standards.
- 9:09 AM, 5 April 2003 [link]
The Iron Hand has struck down another American media figure, a Michigan disk jockey. Unhappily for those who would see this as a sign of repression from Bush and Ashcroft, the DJ lost his job for being too pro-Bush and too pro-war, as you can read in this story. And, just to make the story more delicious, he was fired from a college NPR station for criticizing NPR's bias. Though the story doesn't mention it, I believe that he also objected to running the news from BBC. This example of repression will not make the Guardian, I am sure. (For what it is worth, I think the station was within its rights to fire him, if they did indeed have a policy against political commentary from their disk jockeys. I repeat, if.)
- 11:21 AM, 5 April 2003 [link]
British Commanders, echoed by British newspapers, have been criticizing the American forces for being too aggressive, and too unwilling to make contact with the Iraqi citizens. Many have claimed that the British troops have learned better how to run such operations, thanks to their experience in Northern Ireland and similar places. (This Times of London editorial gives a fair summary of these arguments.) American commanders seem to agree that we have something to learn from our British allies. I think they are right about the advantages of "chicanes" for protecting checkpoints. (A chicane is, if the British meaning is the same as the French, a set of obstacles that forces a vehicle to zig-zag and slow down.)
These British criticisms are strikingly similar to criticisms made in World War II. Then as now, the United States was accused of being too willing to use overwhelming force, regardless of the losses to civilian life or property. I think we would be wise to listen to these criticisms, and learn from them when we can.
- 11:09 AM, 4 April 2003 [link]
Tears for Tyrants: Some of the most brutal leaders in history have been mourned by the populations they terrorized. In this column, Anne Applebaum discusses the seemingly paradoxical ties between the tyrants and their victims. Why do people back tyrants? Some are collaborators, some are fooled by regime propaganda, and many have the all too human fear of the unknown.
Although Applebaum does not mention it in this column, Stalin's death was mourned by most Soviet citizens, in spite of the catastrophes he had inflicted on the nation. When the news broke, Solzhenitsyn went to the central square of the town where he was living in exile to hear the public radio announcement:
This was the moment my friends and I had looked forward to even in our student days. The moment for which every zek in Gulag (except the orthodox Communists) had prayed! He's dead, the Asiatic dictator is dead! The villain has curled up and died! What unconcealed rejoicing there would be back home in the Special Camp! But where I was, Russian girls, schoolteachers, stood, sobbing their hearts out. "What is to become of us now?" They had lost a beloved parent. . . I wanted to yell at them across the square:"Nothing will become of you now! Your fathers will not be shot. Your husbands-to-be will not be jailed! And you will never be stigmatized as relatives of prisoners!"Just as many Soviet citizens mourned at Stalin's death, so many Iraqi citizens will mourn at Saddam's death. And some will fight for him, in spite of the terror that he, like Stalin, inflicted on his own nation.
- 9:09 AM, 4 April 2003 [link]
Facts on the Crusades: Many in the West have treated the Crusades as something for which the West should apologize to Muslims. There were many Crusades, against many enemies, some even Christian sects like the Albigensians. Those against the Muslim occupation of the Holy Lands are the most defensible, as Paul Mulshine explains in this column, which summarizes what historian Thomas Madden says on the subject. The actual history of the Crusades is not what people like former president Clinton or broadcaster Peter Jennings have claimed it is.
Two points to add to those given in the column, one large and one small. According to Bernard Lewis, it is likely that the majority of the inhabitants of the Holy Lands at the time of the Crusades were probably Christians, not Muslims. So, the Crusaders can be seen as freeing Christian lands from Muslim rulers. The small point shows the credulity of people like Clinton and Jennings. One claim, made over and over, is that the Crusaders killed so many Muslims and Jews that they waded ankle deep, or knee deep, or even waist deep, in blood toward the Temple Mount. A moment's thought will show you just how absurd this idea is. Just think about much blood there is in a person (about 5 liters or 1.3 gallons), and you will see that it is nonsense. To believe that the Crusaders waded "knee deep", as Clinton said, you have to want to believe it.
- 9:56 AM, 4 April 2003 [link]
Banned in America: Did you know that Edwin Starr's protest song War was "banned from US radio"? Neither did I. But that's the claim in this Edwin Starr obituary. Since it's an obituary, I guess I can't call it hilarious, but it is hard to think of another adjective for the piece. Besides saying that the song has been banned, the obituary claims that Motown wouldn't release the song as a single because it conflicted with the Truman Doctrine. (The Truman Doctrine is the name given to President Truman's promise of military and economic aid to Greece and Turkey in 1947, both then threatened by Communism. I rather doubt that anyone at Motown even knew what the Truman doctrine was, much less used it as a guide to releases in 1968.)
The claim that the song has been banned comes from the fact that some radio stations in the United States have taken it off their play list. They have taken it off for the most obvious commercial reason; they don't want to offend listeners. Other stations continue to play it, often in the same markets as those that don't. So it is hardly "banned". Two Edwin Starr CDs with the song, War and 20th Century Masters, were at 497 and 604 on Amazon's sales list, when I last checked. Far from being banned, the song is enjoying a mild resurgence.
This idea that there is a great clampdown on freedom of speech here in the United States is a common theme in the British press. Since there is no significant evidence for the idea, the smallest incidents must be inflated all out of proportion, and contrary evidence must be suppressed. When, for example, a security guard arrested some protestors in a mall in upstate New York, this was treated as a sign that fascism, or something close to it, was descending. That the protestors had been bothering other shoppers, and were on private property, did not make it into the original stories. That the mall apologized to the protestors and fired the guard was not, unlike the original arrest, important enough news to print. (The guard may have been fired unfairly. He claims that his supervisor had ordered him to make the arrests.)
(After reading this obituary, I am left with two questions. Did the author err on Starr's musical career as well? And, did the BBC really ban the song in Britain during the first Gulf War?)
- 9:15 AM, 4 April 2003 [link]
Le Monde, a French broadsheet with almost no sense of humor, believes that the coalition will defeat Iraq, but that the United States has already lost the psychological war, the battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. Wonder whether the author wrote that piece before reading this New York Times story on the liberation of Najaf. This reaction sounds to me like we are winning some hearts and minds:
People rushed to greet them today, crying out repeatedly, "Thank you, this is beautiful!"One reason for this reaction is that we freed a local Shiite leader, Ayatollah Ali Alsestani, who is now discussing governing arrangements for the city with the American forces.
If you have been reading my posts, you will not be surprised to learn that this story has not appeared in either Le Monde or Le Figaro, nor have almost any similar stories.
- 9:50 AM, 3 April 2003 [link]
The Sun, a tabloid that does not lack for a sense of humor, reveals a British secret weapon in the battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.
- 9:09 AM, 3 April 2003 [link]
John Keegan is puzzled over Saddam Hussein's military strategy, noticing some of the same odd points I have:
Consider what the Iraqis have not done. They did not defend their frontier with Kuwait. The coalition forces passed through unopposed. They scarcely defended Umm Qasr, Iraq's only and vital port.Like others, Keegan wonders whether Saddam is alive, and whether any Iraqi commander is actually running their side of the war. On the evidence to date, I am inclined to think that the answers to both questions is no. What we are seeing is mostly the reactions of Iraqi units on automatic pilot.
If this view of things is correct, then I think there is much less danger that the people in direct control of the chemical weapons will use them. There may be no one left with the necessary authority to order their use.
(For an alternative view and, I would say, comic relief, read this analysis from Rich Francona of MSNBC, who is, believe it or not, an "NBC military analyst".)
- 9:01 AM, 3 April 2003 [link]
An Old Monster: Scientists examining the bones of Majungatholus atopus, a cousin of T. rex, have concluded that it was a cannibal. This is the first undisputed evidence of cannibalism in dinosaurs, though it is common in mammals.
And a new one: A colossal squid, more than sixty feet long, has been caught off Antarctica. Not only is it big, but it has hooks on the ends of its tentacles for holding prey.
- 8:44 AM, 3 April 2003 [link]
The French Government, I learn from this article in Le Figaro, is worried about anti-Americanism in France. Or at least so the headline says. In the body of the article I find that the police there are worried that the second Gulf War will inspire Islamic radicals in France itself. Anti-Americanism among non-Muslims is not seen as a threat. Was this worry one of the reasons that President Chirac campaigned so hard against the liberation of Iraq? Certainement. The French, like others, are learning the hard way some of the costs of having a significant Muslim minority in their midst.
Others in the French government are worried about the question of how to repair relations between the United States and Great Britain. The French ambassador to the United Nations now wants us to "go beyond the bitterness of what happened" before the second Gulf War. From this brief account of his recent talk, he would seem to want us to do so entirely on French terms, but time, and a lack of American tourists may change that.
- 6:17 PM, 2 April 2003 [link]
Guaranteed Admission Plans: Ever since I read about Bush's plan for guaranteed admissions to Texas universities, I have been intrigued by the way it changes incentives.
(If you are not familiar with these plans, here is a little history. A federal circuit court found that the use of race in admissions, as Texas had been doing for years, was illegal. There was, naturally, a great outcry in the black community after the decision. Bush, who was then governor of Texas, proposed that the state schools automatically admit all students in the top 10 per of their high school classes. The plan increases the number of black students in the universities because most students still attend high schools that are predominately of their own race. The plan, and similar ones elsewhere, have passed legal tests so far, and from the legal commentary I have read, it seems likely they will continue to pass them.)
Now then, back to my main question. How do such plans change incentives for high school students? Many will not be affected by it. The top students will be admitted under almost any plan. It will not matter to those students who do not want to go to college, or those in the bottom halves of their classes. For the students in between, especially the students on the margin, grades suddenly become more important since they can guarantee admission, regardless of other factors. Most in this group will respond by working harder for grades, which is what we want. Others will look for teachers who have reputations as easy graders. A few will try to achieve the higher grades in even less desirable ways. Some will offer bribes to teachers. (If the reports I have read are correct, bribes to teachers are common in South Korea, where grades have been all important for decades.) Some students will threaten teachers, as they already do for other reasons.
Guaranteed admissions plans affect the choices of high schools, too. On the average, suburban schools are the most competitive academically, rural schools less so, and inner city schools far less. In the past, parents usually wanted their children to go to the better suburban schools to improve their chances to get into college. Now, since the students are being judged for admission (under the guarantee) only against the students in their own high schools, there is a good reason to be in the poorer schools, where the competition is weaker. This may or may not outweigh the benefits of being in a better school, but I think it a strong enough incentive so that many parents will move their children to different schools, especially in the last year or two of high school. They will not always be welcome in their new schools.
We can look at the choices of high school through the prism of race, as well. On the average, Asian students out perform whites, who out perform Hispanics, who out perform blacks. If a student is worried about making the guaranteed admissions cut, then the best high school to attend would be one that is predominately black. The more Asians in the high school, the worse it would be for the student's chances. Just as I expect some students to move from suburban high schools to rural or inner city schools, I expect that at least a few will move to predominately Hispanic or black schools. Again, this is especially likely to happen in the last year or two of high school.
Putting this all together, we can identify the likely losers and winners from these plans. It will help inner city blacks and Hispanics get admitted to universities, but it will also help inner city Asians and whites. It will hurt the chances for admission of suburban students, especially blacks, who are, as a group, nearly always at the bottom academically in suburban schools. In the long run, that may be good for them, if it inspires them to devote more time to academics, now that they can no longer rely on their race for admission to state schools.
I have left the question of how fair these plans are for another time, when my own thinking on the subject is clearer. I think on the whole they are far better than the system of racial preferences they replace, but I am not ready to go beyond that.
- 5:30 PM, 2 April 2003 [link]
Last Week I Predicted that the United States might try to encircle the Republican Guard divisions. I don't claim the prediction showed any great prescience, since that maneuver is a standard one in armored warfare, but I don't recall anyone else making it then. Here's what the UPI's Martin Walker reports is now happening:
U.S. troops were pushing hard on two fronts Wednesday to outflank the five Iraqi Republican Guard divisions south of Baghdad and cut them off from the city in a classic encirclement battle that would force the surrounded Iraqi elite troops to surrender before they could fall back into the city.It is possible, by the way, that the press discussions of our difficulties may have helped make an encirclement possible. Whoever is commanding the Iraqis—if anyone is—should have pulled them back some time ago, perhaps during the sandstorm.
- 11:08 AM, 2 April 2003 [link]
Great Names, and one evil one. If you have read even a little military history, it is hard not to get a thrill from some of the names of the American and British units. The Seventh Cavalry, the 101st "Screaming Eagles", the Black Watch, and the "Desert Rats" all remind me of great past victories. And it is hard not to shudder when you see "Kut", a city where the British suffered a disastrous defeat during World War I.
(The British landed a small force at Basra to protect oilfields. They were so successful in their campaigns against the Ottoman forces that they were tempted farther and farther north. They suffered a minor defeat near Baghdad and then retreated to Kut, where they were besieged for months and finally forced to surrender. The thousands of prisoners taken at Kut suffered horribly. The campaign provides classic lessons in the importance of logistics, and the danger of over-reaching.)
- 7:52 AM, 2 April 2003 [link]
Our Bacterial Friends: This New York Times article sketches the bacterial world inside every human:
There is a world within each of us, a living, evolving ecological system of 500 to 1,000 species of microbes, a "bacterial nation" in the words of Dr. Jeffrey I. Gordon, a microbiologist at Washington University in St. Louis. In fact, by numbers of cells, a human being has 10 times as many bacteria as human cells. The bacterial cells are much smaller, which is why we do not look like an overgrown petri dish.Fortunately, the "good news is that they are on our side—most of them, most of the time".
Our internal bacteria help us digest food that otherwise would simply pass through us. They fend off unfriendly bacteria and even regulate the development and metabolic processes of the host.The bacteria in our intestines are not our only symbiotic bacteria. There is a species that lives on our skin, for example, which blocks nasty staphylococcus infections.
- 7:26 AM, 2 April 2003 [link]
Like an X-Ray, the war has revealed the underlying ignorance and bias of journalists all over the world. Here's a small, but telling, example. Yesterday at 4 PM PST, the CBS radio news described the attacks toward Baghdad as the "long awaited offensive". The war has lasted less than two weeks, and there have been advances every day. (They had dropped the phrase by 6 PM, to be fair.) Hugh Hewitt found many more examples in the article headlines in last Sunday's Los Angeles Times. Hewitt says that the anti-war attitudes on the editorial pages have begun to slip into the news stories. I think they were always there, but are now easier to see. Philip Gove, writing in the British Spectator magazine, says that much of the negativism toward the war comes from a very human dislike of being proved wrong. His argument gains force from his own, painfully honest, description of his attitudes during the Kosovo operation. Americans can take a little consolation from the fact that our journalists are not as bad as those in much of the world, as the questions at the CENTCOM briefings show. But only a little, since most of the world gets their understanding of the United States from those sometimes absurdly biased foreign journalists.
- 7:02 AM, 2 April 2003 [link]
Another Common Mistake: I just posted a correction of another common mistake. If you have heard that President Johnson lied to get the United States into Vietnam, you'll want to read this.
- 3:41 PM, 1 April 2003 [link]
Too Many Rightists at NPR? That thought was just expressed by Steve Scher on our local NPR affiliate, Seattle's KUOW. Not that he necessarily believed the argument, but that it was a common criticism of the network, one that he took seriously. Next, too many Catholics in the Taliban? Too many Bush admirers at the Guardian? You see what I mean about the difficulty April Fool's Day poses. Was Scher joking? Probably not. (There are a few moderate and conservative commentators on NPR, but almost no working journalists there could even imagine voting for George Bush, or even know anyone who did.)
- 10:03 AM, 1 April 2003 [link]
John Keegan is one of our foremost military historians. Here's his mostly optimistic assessment of the second Gulf War. His third and fourth positive points deserve some amplification. The Iraqi army so far has died, but has not fought, unlike some of the Baathist party enforcers. To my knowledge, the Iraqi army has yet to destroy a single bridge in front of the allied forces. (And we just captured another crucial bridge, as you can see in this article.) This is a military failure of enormous proportions, since the rivers in central Iraq are the best lines for delay and resistance. In World War II, the lucky capture of a single bridge over the Rhine, at Remagen, altered the course of the entire campaign. (Hitler, recognizing the magnitude of the failure, executed many of those responsible.) Let me repeat: So far, the Iraqi army has not successfully defended a single bridge, as far as I know.
Keegan is a little more pessimistic than I am in his assessment of the Iraqi civilian attitudes toward the troops. In Shiite areas of the south, as in the Kurdish areas of the north, Iraqi civilians are mostly welcoming American and British forces—once they are protected from Saddam's forces. Here's yet another example from a suburb of Basra.
(For a different opinion, see this Fareed Zakaria column. Zakaria is not a military historian, and it shows. German troops were, in fact, welcomed by many in the Soviet Union, until their brutal treatment turned the civilians against them. Even so, more than 600,000 prisoners from the Soviet army volunteered to fight against Stalin.)
- 8:15 AM, 1 April 2003 [link]
April Fool's Day has a long but murky history, as the Times of London recounts. As always, some newspaper articles, columns, and editorials will puzzle me on this day. Are they intentional, or unintentional spoofs? For example, was the British newspaper, The Mirror, joking when they offered employment to the disgraced Peter Arnett? On other days, one would assume that, of course, the bitterly anti-American Mirror would want to hire a man best known as a shill for dictators. But today? It could be a joke.
- 8:07 AM, 1 April 2003 [link]