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April 29, 2003

Tim Blair reports that Baghdad Bob is safe!

Tim Blair links to a Sydney Morning Herald report that "Iraq's former information minister Mohammad Said al-Sahhaf, who denied to the end the presence of US forces in Baghdad, was turned down by US troops after trying to turn himself in". Negotiations to rescue this comedic talent are reported to be continuing.

April 29, 2003 at 05:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Anthrax heading our way?

I would have thought this story would be big news, but as of a few minutes ago, at least, none of the major news services seem to be picking up on it.   (Note to Al Queda: you've got to train your mules not to sample the product.)

Egyptian Sailor Dies; Officials Suspect Anthrax

Knight Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- U.S. law enforcement officials are monitoring the death in Brazil of an Egyptian seaman bound for Canada who might have been transporting anthrax.
A Brazilian government medical investigator whose office performed the tests said that he and federal police suspect that anthrax might have killed Soliman Ibrahim.
Ibrahim had just reached his ship, a bauxite carrier, on April 11 in the Amazon River port of Porto Trombetas, Brazil, when he told shipmates he felt sick. He had been asked to deliver a suitcase to someone in Canada, Ibrahim told them, and had opened the suitcase out of curiosity.
Ibrahim died that night, vomiting blood.
Authorities are awaiting the results of blood tests to determine what killed him.
Brazilian officials are operating on a theory that a terrorist plot might have been foiled but are revealing few details.
Ibrahim's ship and crew of 30 were in quarantine on Monday six miles offshore of Halifax, Nova Scotia.
A team of Canadian health officials boarded the ship Saturday and conducted tests. Results are expected by Thursday, said Health Canada spokeswoman Tracey Taweel. The crew members are all in excellent health, she said. The ship was bound for Port Alfred, Quebec.
Interpol alerted Canadian authorities late last week that the ship was headed their way.
A rash of anthrax mailings broke out in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in Washington and New York and killed five people. No one has been arrested, and the source of the anthrax has yet to be identified.
An aide to Brazilian Justice Minister Marcio Thomaz Bastos said Monday that there is a "strong suspicion" that the dead Egyptian might have been transporting anthrax. Authorities did not say whether he might have been carrying liquid anthrax or the more deadly powdered form used in the 2001 attacks.
Luiz Malcher, director general of the Renato Chavez Forensic Sciences Center in Belem in northern Brazil, said that a necropsy found bacteria destroyed Ibrahim's organs.
"The bacteria colonies were similar to anthrax," he said. "If it isn't anthrax, it is an extremely virulent bacteria."
"He had a very quick death because of the infection," Malcher said. "What we are lacking confirmation of is the bacteria."
Ibrahim's suspicious luggage and his body were wrapped in a plastic seal to prevent leakage of the bacteria.
Wesley Carrington, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia, Brazil's capital, said: "The Brazilians are handling the matter here and the Canadians on the other end. We have full confidence in their abilities."

April 29, 2003 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Who is Abu Mazen?

Very interesting analysis of new Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Abu Mazen's past public statements released today by MEMRI.   Frankly, I was impressed.   Abu Mazen appears to come out firmly against what he calls "the militarization of the Intifada", arguing that it is counterproductive to confront Israel militarily.

"The right thing to do is not to play in [Sharon's] field – that is, not to use weapons, but to focus on the political arena, where we could expose Sharon, and then either he would comply with the demands of peace or he would fall, as did Netanyahu."
He also appears to be willing to use force, if necessary, to restrain attacks on Israel.
"The new government's commitment is to determine the way, to declare it, and to persuade our people that this is the path that will lead to the desired goal. Here and there a number of people who will deviate from the Palestinian consensus will remain, and we will try to coerce them to place the supreme Palestinian interest above their individual interest, if necessary by using force."
If Abu Mazen can deliver on any of this, it will be incumbent upon the US to compel Israel to withdraw from the "occupied territories" and eliminate the settlements.   We shall see.

April 29, 2003 at 10:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 28, 2003

Learning from Iraq

As I wrote on these electrons last November, I think there is a demonstrable need for a new branch of the US armed services.

Last Thursday's WSJ had an article by Greg Jaffe asking the question "Does the Army Really Need Additional Military Police?".   (Subscription required, but if you really want to read it, I can email it to you.)   Jaffe was onto something, but I don't think that more military police is really any part of the solution.

What we need is an entirely new branch of the armed forces, specializing in military operations other than combat.   While these would be soldiers, men and women trained to observe military discipline, obey orders, and use small arms and, perhaps, even light armored vehicles, their mission would not include traditional combat against other armed forces.   Instead, they would strategize, plan, and train to respond to non-combat situations where, by default, conventional armed forces are currently pressed into duty. This would include (among many other things):

  • Natural disasters
  • Peacekeeping duties
  • Restoring and maintaining civil order (due to riots, insurrections, coups, invasions, etc.), and
  • Responding to massive terror attacks like 9/11 or the potential use of WMDs in a major urban area

The special skills and capabilities required to properly handle missions like these would include the abilities to:
  • Establish or restore medical systems capable of treating large numbers of civilian casualties
  • Operate effectively in a nuclear, biological or chemically contaminated environment
  • Mobilize engineering resources sufficient to repair or jury-rig urban infrastructure like power, water, sanitation, and communications
  • Identify, transport and distribute the necessary supplies to the crisis scene in the shortest possible time and in the appropriate sequence. (For example, water and medical supplies are usually needed first.   In some situations, like earthquakes or large scale explosions, heavy rescue equipment and urban search teams may be required.   Blankets, tents and foodstuffs will almost always be needed, but lives will not be lost if their arrival is delayed by a few days.)
  • Restore or maintain order in urban settings without resorting to the use of deadly force, including tactics and training to cope with unruly crowds, looters, political demonstrations, etc.
  • Develop and maintain working relationships with the NGOs and international organizations that traditionally participate in expeditionary disaster relief, like, for example, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, Médecins Sans Frontières, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, etc.
  • Prenegotiate arrangements with civilian contractors and engineering firms that will be needed to restore essential services like water, sewer, power, and telecommunications, including training with these firms to ensure that the appropriate resources can be mobilized on a timely basis.
Why can't traditional Miilitary Police units handle these jobs?

Well, there are at least two problems.   Firstly, the basic mission of MPs is to handle enemy POWs on the battlefield, maintain force security, corral drunken GIs, and conduct criminal investigations.   These are important responsibilities (especially when you consider that the folks they are "policing" are typically 19 years old and spend a lot of their time playing with high explosives, live ammunition and costly military equipment), and there are limits to the amount of training you can reasonable conduct in a given enlistment cycle.   Secondly, and probably more importantly, the Military Police is not a particularly prestigious "community" within the armed forces because they are a support function, they don't have any sexy, high tech equipment, and few officers expect to earn their general's stars by having a brilliant career in the MPs.   As a result of this lack of bureaucratic status, MPs are always going to struggle for budget allocations, high quality manpower, and training resources.  

How would a new military service be more effective?

Creating a new, independent military service devoted exclusively to less-than-combat (or "LTC") operations would ensure that sufficient resources are devoted to preparing for these vitally important, but very unsexy, missions. In this new service, LTC ops would be the only thing that mattered. Virtually all of the command and staff resources would be focused on planning, training, and carrying out these types of missions. There would be no threat of diverting attention or budgets to more interesting or politically rewarding efforts like equipment procurement or traditional war-fighting capabilities.

The key to success in these operations would be planning and staff work.   In the traditional military, there are war plans for almost every conceivable contingency that the country could face.   What I am proposing is that we develop similarly detailed plans for how to deal with natural or man-made disasters.   Having a thorough, fully thought-through plan on the shelf before a crisis happens could save days or even weeks in fashioning an effective response.

Anyway, I've spent enough time on this for now.   I'm sure it is a topic to which I will return in the future.

April 28, 2003 at 05:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Interesting postmortem on Press coverage of the war in Iraq

Howard Kurtz has an interesting first cut at an overview of how the press handled the war in Iraq.   There were no real revelations in the piece, merely a cataloging of views, quotes, and statistics, but it is a starting point.   Personally, I think the biggest story of the war was the success of the Pentagon's "embed" program, which, in effect, was a return to the press relations strategy used by US forces during WWII.

Another interesting development will be to see how the attitudes toward the military of the formerly embedded reporters themselves changed as result of their experiences.   Most Ivy League intellectual types (which would accurately describe the vast majority of journalists) personally know few (if any) members of the armed forces.   In my own experience, I didn't meet anyone who had actually served in the military until I got to grad school, where I met a number of Rhodes Scholars who were West Point or Air Force Academy grads.   (This is not strictly true, since there was the scary mountain-man Viet Nam vet who once picked me up hitchhiking back to Portland, Oregon in the summer after my freshman year at college, but that's another story.)   I was pleasantly surprised by the character and ethics of the young officers I met at Oxford.   I'm not sure what was expecting, but it certainly wasn't the thoughtful, intelligent, ethically minded young men and women I actually found.   I suspect that many of the former embeds will have had a similar epiphany on the road to Baghdad.  (With apologies to Paul.)

April 28, 2003 at 12:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 27, 2003

Whackos in the woods

William Booth has a fascinating piece in last Tuesday's WaPo about the counterculture protesters acting as "human shields" to save redwood trees in California's Humboldt County.   It makes me feel a little nostalgic for my own wayward youth, working as a tree planter one summer in GIfford Pinchot National Forest, replanting Doug Firs on recently harvested clear cuts...   I wonder whatever happened to our foreman, who was a charismatic nutcase and bank management training program dropout who lived in a large teepee...   We used to discuss philosophy on the side of the mountain as I busted my ass planting trees for ten hours a day, weather permitting.   It was damned hard work, but great fun, and the pay was good.   We'd start work at 6am or so, and from about 7:30am onwards, all I could think about was how good that first beer would taste after we knocked off for the day.

April 27, 2003 at 02:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 26, 2003

Last Chance to kill SARS this summer?

SARSWatch.org has reprinted the WSJ OpEd piece on SARS by the Johns Hopkins epidemiologist Dr. Donald S. Burke.   It is worth reading.   Dr. Burke argues that it is likely that the current outbreak of SARS will moderate over the coming months as the seasons change in the Northern Hemisphere.   This normal, seasonal lull in respiratory infections provides us the opportunity, if we seize it, to possibly eradicate and certainly limit, SARS infections worldwide.   However, if we fail to aggressively use this time to isolate and contain the disease, it is likely that SARS will return with a vengeance next winter.   (This was the pattern exhibited by the 1918 worldwide influenza epidemic, which results in something like 20 million deaths.)   Go and read the essay.

April 26, 2003 at 11:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Our friends in Pyongyang

From "Fear and Loathing in North Korea" by Mike Thomson of the BBC.

A North Korean soldier holds shells to blow up Capitol Hill in a North Korean poster

April 26, 2003 at 12:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 25, 2003


Yesterday, my largest short position, Amazon.com, announced better than expected results.   Today, its rediculously overvalued stock traded up more than $3 per share, or 13%.   Ouch.   Oh well, and just when I was getting used to be back in positive territory for the year.   Sigh.

April 25, 2003 at 01:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Good news from North Korea

The boneheaded regime in North Korea has just shot itself in the foot by alienating China, its only important ally, by admitting that it had nuclear weapons and threatening either to test or export them.   Joseph Kahn (who is a very nice guy, btw) reported in today's NYT that:

Chinese analysts and Asian diplomats said they were bewildered by Pyongyang's negotiating strategy, which seemed to be equal parts bluster and belligerence. They said it succeeded only in alarming its neighbors and potentially forcing China, which had been trying to play a mediating role between North Korea and the United States, to take a more decisive role in pressuring its onetime Communist ally.
(It should be noted that Kahn's article does a much better job of highlighting the significance of this development than does the WaPo piece by Glenn Kessler, which mainly plays up the nuclear disclosure angle and buries the Chinese reaction at the end of the article.)

Don't forget that the Chinese government reportedly halted fuel deliveries to North Korea for three days last month, which many observers took to be a message to "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il that the DPRK should accept the proposed meeting with the Americans in Beijing.   Given the posture that North Korean negotiators took during this weeks meetings, I would recommend that folks in North Korea should seriously consider turning down their thermostats to conserve energy.

Also it appears to have a been a very bad week for our friends in Pyongyang, since on Tuseday, Australian special forces busted a North Korean freighter that was trying to escape after having delivered 110 pounds of heroin (worth an estimated $48 million) to a beach outside of Melbourne.

April 25, 2003 at 01:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack