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Embracing the solipsism, cont'd: Coshian roundup

A clearing of the backlog of new pieces, reactions, and relevant material for the Colby Cosh fan:

  • Here’s my written ed-page take on the coinciding deaths of Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman, who were among the last living giants of cinema’s auteur age. As the piece hints, I revere Bergman and know relatively little of Antonioni.

  • My signed column last week was about Barack Obama out-neoconning the neocons by launching a tubthumping threat against Pakistan and Pervez Musharraf. But then maybe I’m the neocon realpolitiker; I don’t like the idea of needlessly undermining Musharraf, who may be a bastard but who not only stands between his country’s mullahs and the bomb but has managed to preserve the ever-tenuous border peace with India. Former Mossad agent Michael Ross filed a response: the short version is that someone has to police the North-West Frontier Province and Waziristan, and if Musharraf can’t do it then we should. Question: so what if we can’t do it, either? Do we know more about the terrain, the details of al-Qaeda operations, and the Pashtun culture than Musharraf does?

  • Here’s a Full Comment quickie about what could be a big breakthrough in automotive fuel efficiency. And here’s a link to the most mind-blowing U.S. news story of the week (one whose big implications for national security no one has yet noticed).

  • You think you can figure out without help who wrote this and this? Some of those arguments should sound vaguely familiar.

    Watch for a fresh piece about Barry Bonds in my usual spot in Friday’s Post. Warning: may contain new and counterintuitive ideas that haven’t yet been pummelled into the ground by a hundred beat writers!

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    Comments (28)

    I disagree that Musharraf "stands between his country's mullahs and the bomb." His real opposition is centred around the Bhutto family, who have less ties to the mullahs than he does.

    Obviously, it is impossible to come to final conclusions about the costs and benefits of striking bin Laden in Pakistan in the abstract. However, unlike the Iraq war, an action like that would be comprehensible to the world and so wouldn't generate the kind of fear and loathing the invasion of Iraq did.

    His real opposition is centred around the Bhutto family, who have less ties to the mullahs than he does.

    His real opposition in Islamabad, maybe. Although I still say that Javed Hashmi is more a "real opposition" than Bhutto. Who the "real opposition" to Musharraf is seems to depend on what part of the country you're in.


    ...unlike the Iraq war, an action like that would be comprehensible to the world and so wouldn't generate the kind of fear and loathing the invasion of Iraq did.

    I would say the same thing about the actions in Afghanistan, yet look at the domestic opposition to that engagement here in Canada; there is unstinting effort to tie the action to Iraq and to George Bush. Opponents of a police action in Pakistan will not care to comprehend the the reasons for it, and will use whatever stick is handy to beat on the governments that undertake it. That's not a reason to abandon the idea - but there is no reason to think that it will be evaluated on its merits; more likely it will be lumped in with "generalized armed conflict in the Middle East and South-West Asia."


    Is it really a matter of the Iraq war being incomprehensible "to the world", or is it just a matter of it being incomprehensible to those too lazy and stupid to inform themselves?


    Regardless of the merits of the Iraq War, the simple fact of the matter is, had Bush suggested going into Pakistan last week, every Democrat currently running for president, and everyone who is currently critical of the war effort in Iraq, would be screaming bloody murder, and rightly so, and everyone knows it. Even if there is some merit to the idea of conducting covert raids into Pakistan's NW Frontier area (and there may be), the last thing anyone should want to do is broadcast it to the world. I have far less respect for Obama than I did. At least Hillary would probably have the sense not to involve us in a nuclear war.

    Well, of course there will be critics of any action the US takes. And continuing casualties without any obvious plan of action will be unpopular in the country taking them. But there would be a difference in global reaction between an action that is plausibly in self-defence and the Bush doctrine.

    In response to tschafer, there are benefits to making the possibility of unilateral (and humiliating) intervention public: it puts pressure on Pakistan to do something. Keeping "friends" in power is overvalued in traditional American foreign policy thinking and creating good incentives for whoever is in power is undervalued.


    There is something to be said for your point of view, Pithlord, but I don't believe that a U.S. attack on Pakistan would be seen by the world as "self-defense", and I can't help but be struck by the fact that the one leader in the area who makes any pretense of being pro-American is also the one being threatened with invasion by a Democratic presidential candidate. And while keeping "friends" in power may be overvalued, taking actions that might bring enemies to power would seem to have little value at all. I think that such pressure to "do something" is best applied behind the scenes.

    Well, I think characterizing what Obama is proposing as an "invasion of Pakistan", while technically correct, is a bit misleading. It is an invasion in the sense that the Israeli raid at Entebbe was an invasion of Uganda. Certainly, if it came to pass, it would be bad politically for the Musharraf government, but that wouldn't be the point. The point would be to get some high value targets.

    Obviously, it's impossible to say in the abstract whether some particular operation would be a good idea. The policy point is that if Pakistan can't or won't control its own territory and hand over bin Laden and co., and the US can take action, then Pakistan's sovereignty is secondary to the US's (undoubted) right of self-defence.

    There are any number of points of distinction with Operation Iraqi Freedom.

    It is an invasion in the sense that the Israeli raid at Entebbe was an invasion of Uganda

    I.e., the ordinary sense of the word.

    marc w.:

    The most mind-blowing US story of the week is undoubtedly the 'Your Black Muslim Bakery' story in oakland.
    I just...how...what...huh?
    Criminal gang/cult/bakers keep a city under their thumb for years. I seriously wonder how many unsolved murders are tied to this...bakery. I put the over/under at 9.

    See here, or here.

    William Newman:

    I think "attack" or "raid" would be much more idiomatic than "invasion" for the scenarios under discussion (press conference hypothetical complete with the tidy assumption that of *course* there would be no long-term presence, or Entebbe where there actually does seem to have been none). That's not to minimize them: you don't need to mischaracterize Pearl Harbor or Hiroshima as "invasions" to recognize that they were major acts of war.


    Well, I for one look forward to the Bonds piece (mostly out of anticipation that I'll agree with it).

    Gord Tulk:

    Re: "what could be a big breakthrough in automotive fuel efficiency"

    While the advance you cite could give modest yet significant fuel savings this technology could reach the market sooner and deliver much greater savings - the column suggests up to 25%.


    However, I would also see huge potential in keep the engines the same size as they are currently and getting 80 to 100% more HP and Torque. (I get all a tingle at the thought of having my Hemi-equipped 300C pumping out 500 hp/600lbft instead of its current substantial 345 hp / 390 lbft)


    "It is an invasion in the sense that the Israeli raid at Entebbe was an invasion of Uganda

    I.e., the ordinary sense of the word."

    I disagree wit this characterization, Colby. The Ugandan government collaborated with the hijackers, a position that amounts to a waiving of both their neutrality and the protection against military action that neutrality would ordinarily imply. The chief issue that could be taken with the legality of the Israeli commandos' actions is probably the destruction of Ugandan aircraft on the runway - but even this was arguably a requirement for the safe passage of the commandos and the hostages out of Ugandan airspace (more probably, given that Idi Amin was making the decisions, out of the effective pursuit range of those aircraft).

    The interesting issue of preemptive attack across a border (the most likely reason why U.S. forces would enter Pakistan) is the subject of one of the most fascinating international law cases, the "Caroline" affair, and the standard that arose out of it still seems workable, and the most likely applicable standard for any attack across the Afghan border into Pakistan. But it plainly doesn't cover the Entebbe situation, probably because neither Webster or Ashburton imagined that there would ever be a need for legal restraint or justification when dealing with actions as wicked as those the Palestinians contemplated at Entebbe; Palmerston would simply have dispatched a few gunboats to blast the hell out of anyone who tried it, and cried "civis Britannicus sum" to justify his conduct - and had I been there, I would certainly have approved.

    The interesting question to me, at any rate, is how seriously we have to take a non-country like Pakistan: it's really a nuclearized army with a territory. The rest is a thin veneer of Anglicization resting uncomfortably atop a set of barely-controlled and semi-barbaric groups whose general hostility to a world they can barely imagine more closely resembles Sudanese dervishes than any modern liberal democracy.

    I didn't say it was an unjustified invasion.

    How different would Entebbe have been, legally and morally, if Uganda had been merely unable/unwilling to stop the hijackers rather than supporting them? I don't think it would make much difference.

    "Policing" Waziristan sounds like a bad idea. A well-executed raid is a different story.


    Fair enough!

    To imagine a state that's unable or unwilling to stop hijackers, you have to imagine a state that simply doesn't exist. Terrorists are no match for the might of the state; that disparity in relative power is a part of their raggedy and undeservedly romantic image (in some circles). Only a truly failed state, such as Somalia, could be said to lack the resources to stop, suppress, or kill them. A monopoly on violence, if it's legitimate, is a beautiful thing. But a state, even a screwed-up tin-pot thugocracy like Amin's Uganda (indeed, PARTICULARLY a screwed-up tinpot thugocracy like Amin's Uganda) doesn't just stand helplessly by while these things happen: it makes a specific decision to do so. Helplessness is not a notion that's consonant with sovereignty.

    But I tend to agree that Waziristan ain't really a place I would wish to police; to "raid" I would add "punitive expedition" as one of the operations that might at least accomplish its designed purpose. I have no problem with negative reinforcement, particularly if it's laser-guided, and the Waziris probably have it coming. I wouldn't shed too many tears if Barack Obama REALLY meant that he was taking the words out of Captain Pakenham's mouth, and that he REALLY was "no longer goign to tolerate any mroe of their beastly behavior."

    But I doubt it was anything more than posturing.


    "Invasion" surely connotes some intention to sieze territory, or at least to occupy it for the course of substantial operations. Entebbe was a raid: arrive, carry out objective immediately, get out at once; no camping.

    Obama seems to be contemplating all-out invasion and occupation during the course of pacification, on the Afghan model. But I can only speculate; I doubt that he understands matters well enough to have any precise intention in mind.


    Please note, I did not say that raiding in Pakistani territory was morally unjustified, or a bad idea. It is certainly morally justified if Bin Laden is there, and may be a good move, so long as it doesn't end up with jihadist crazies in charge of the area's one functioning atomic program. But I think that Obama's statement undermined a precarious ally, tipped off our enemies as to what might be coming, and reinforced the (generally mistaken) impression of the U.S. as a reckless aggressor, while doing no good at all, even for Obama. A really bad move, from all points of view.


    I've been reading your comments long enough to be morally certain that Obama is a lot smarter than you.

    What he said was:

    If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will

    As for the notion that Musharraf is an "ally", I would like to see evidence. It just isn't the case that the opposition in Pakistan is "jihadist crazies." The Bhuttos are corrupt and useless in many ways, but they aren't jihadists.

    Here is how his foreign policy advisor Samantha Power describes what Obama is proposing:

    Terrorist Sanctuaries: For years, we have given President Musharraf hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid, while deferring to his cautious judgment on how to take out high-level al Qaeda targets – including, most likely, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Here is the result: * Bin Laden and Zawahiri – two men with direct responsibility for 9/11– remain at large. * Al Qaeda has trained and deployed hundreds of fighters worldwide from its sanctuary in northwest Pakistan. * Afghanistan is far less secure because the Taliban can strike across the border, and then return to safety in Pakistan. By any measure, this strategy has not worked. Conventional wisdom would have us defer to Musharraf in perpetuity. Barack Obama wants to turn the page. If Musharraf is willing to go after the terrorists and stop the Taliban from using Pakistan as a base of operations, Obama would give him all of the support he needs. But Obama made clear that as President, if he had actionable intelligence about the whereabouts of al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan – and the Pakistanis continued to refuse to act against terrorists known to be behind attacks on American civilians – then he will use highly targeted force to do so.

    Samantha Power's cute, but I gotta tell you - "highly targeted force" is an illiterate construction.


    I suspect you just don't understand what you read, pithlord. But of course, Obama could easily be way smarter than me and still not know what the hell he was talking about. No point arguing over it.

    Colby, if I can quote from my own article: "The best case scenario, of course, would be if Pakistan reined in al-Qaeda on its own initiative. Perhaps Obama's musings might provide Musharraf with a little prodding in that regard, especially if other candidates from both Democratic and Republican ranks said the same thing. The unanimous message must be that if Pakistan's leader doesn't clean out the ISI and become a serious partner in the long war on terror, Western soldiers, spies and pilots will do the job themselves."
    The gist of the article contends that there are elements in Pakistan's Directorate of Interservice Intelligence that are actively assisting and aiding al-Qaeda, Kashmiri Islamists, and the Taliban and we are collectively sitting on our hands out of fear of upsetting the political tightrope Musharraf is (supposedly) walking. I say supposedly because his regime is not as threatned or unable to defend itself as many would contend. It's an untenable situation for our soldiers in Afghanistan and I would say it's as ridiculous a scenario as the allies fighting the Nazis everywhere but not invading Europe out of fear of upsetting the political situation in France. Places like Waziristan are what I call "black holes" and its from these black holes that the next 9/11's will emerge. Just as many in the September 10, 2001 west did not know who the Taliban were or even where Afghanistan was on the map, so will it be with Waziristan unless we put the pressure on for Musharraf to: a) purge the ISI of Islamists and b) get busy in the tribal areas with the combined weight of western military and intelligence resources.


    Well, THERE's a blinding flash of the obvious.

    Yeah, it WOULD be great if Musharraf "reined in" AQ. It would also be great if Santa brought me an electric train, if Samantha Power and Scarlett Johansen were waiting for you with a half-drained bottle of Merlot and adventurous grins, and if the ghost of Ronald Reagan could rise from the grave to smite the living s*** out of everything with a crazy beard and a Kalashnikov. But it's also about the least likely thing on my little list, right behind Sam and Scarlett.

    Look, does anyone think Obama's little "declaration" was anything other than Kabuki? Let's face it, the only man in the Democratic race is Hillary Clinton, and everyone knows it. It's one reason why Obama said it: he's trying to establish a little Nixonian crazy cred. But really, given our experience with Democratic presidents since Kennedy - hell, since Truman - does anyone really expect he would DO it? The party has gone soppy-pacifist, and even Hillary gets bomb-dropping cred only because people know how hard she is on personal opponents. It's by no means clear that her aggressiveness extends beyond the members of the VRWC and her husband's girlfriends, but it's pretty much the most we have to go on.

    Michael Ross:

    Pakistan has the ability to rein in AQ (and just about any other Islamist entity on its soil) but it's a case of will and determination. I say this because Pakistan has essentially been running Islamist terror groups through the auspices of the ISI since the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and their sudden appointment as front-line state in the Cold War.
    If Obama's statement was only theatre, it was pretty risky theatre. I think he both senses the growing frustration of the American public with no results against AQ in Pakistan and that his party's constituents are not as hard to Port as many people think they are. Berkeley is no more an example of the American public's mindset than Jack Layton is of the Canadian variety. Personally, I think our supposed "right-wing" Conservative party here in Canada is like the U.S. democratic party on Ativan.
    I simply admire him for saying it when there were a lot of other things he could of said as a means to ingratiate himself with the American voter. Do I think he's a guiding light on foreign policy? No, but I like people who don't get bogged down in dry, abstracted policy and actually talk about the elephant in the room - even when it appears naive.
    I agree that Hillary is ruthless. Perhaps a post-terrorist-attack-on-U.S.-soil Hillary Clinton could end up being a bigger hard-ass than any neo-con republican?

    I think the case he is trying to make is that it is possible to be smarter about belligerence.

    One of the things I like about him is he realizes that tribe runs much deeper than ideology. Hillary has will, but a second-rate mind, and no real insight into people. The Republican field are just playing to the mindless identity politics of white American males.


    If he made that case successfully, he would have changed the terms of the discussion; instead, everyone's talking about what a gaffe he made. That doesn't suggest he has successfully made a smarter approach to the problem of belligerence.

    If 9/11 had happened on Al Gore's watch, our reprisal would, I think, have been far more ruthless than it has been - but that would have been a product of desperation, not strategic calculation. Had that happened, there would have been no way they could have dodged the ownership of a problem that obviously developed through the Clinton administration, but that's no guarantee that they would have handled it well.

    Look, I live in a heavily Democratic city - and the fact of the matter is that most upper-middle class Democrats (the core of the party, along with African-Americans) really do believe that "war is not the answer." That's part of the reason the CW says Democrats will tack pacifist on the war during the primaries and try to head back to the center once they're past. That's what Kerry did - and everyone can see what happened to him. Obama's trying to sail a little closer to the wind in the primaries so he doesn't have so much to make up once he gets into the general election.


    This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on August 9, 2007 5:37 AM.

    The previous post in this blog was Great advice, shame about the timing.

    The next post in this blog is NP: As authentic as Pamela Anderson.

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