Published on 6 Nov 2014
Three months after the outbreak of the war, another world power enters the conflict: The Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman war minister Enver Pasha, a supporter of a new Turkish self confidence, wants to gain advantages for a future Turkey by declaring war. Meanwhile, another ship of the German East Asian Squadron is surprising the Royal Navy by sinking two of their ships near Coronel, Chile. Regardless, the battles on the Eastern, Western Front and in Serbia are continuing.
November 10, 2014
November 7, 2014
On Feb. 14, 1989, I happened to be on a panel on press freedom for the Columbia Journalism Review when someone in the audience told us of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s religious edict for blasphemy against the British novelist Salman Rushdie. What did we think? We didn’t, as I best recall, disgrace ourselves. We said most of the right things about defending freedom of thought and the imagination.
But the death sentence from Iran’s supreme leader seemed unreal — the sending of a thunderbolt from medieval Qom against modern Bloomsbury — and we didn’t treat it with the seriousness that it deserved. I recall, alas, making a very poor joke about literary deconstructionism. My colleagues, though more sensible, were baffled and hesitant. Was it even true — or perhaps just a mistranslation?
We knew soon enough that it was true. The literary, media and political worlds rallied in defense of Mr. Rushdie. He became a hero of free speech and a symbol — even if a slightly ambivalent postcolonial one — of Western liberal traditions. But he also went, very sensibly, behind a curtain of security that was to last many years.
And by degrees — when it seemed that not only Mr. Rushdie’s life but the lives of his publishers, editors and translators might be threatened — his base of support in the literary world thinned out. Sensitive intellectuals discovered that, in a multicultural world, respect for the Other meant understanding his traditions too, and these often were, well, sterner than ours. Freedom of speech was only one value to be set against…ahem, several other values. Fear, cowardice and rationalization spread outward.
John O’Sullivan, “No Offense: The New Threats to Free Speech”, Wall Street Journal, 2014-10-31.
October 31, 2014
BBC News provides some information on a massive project currently underway at the British Museum:
A transgender singer hits stardom in Baghdad. Officials scramble to impose order after a Kuwaiti restaurant is found to be selling cat meat. Gulf royals on an official visit to London are left marooned in a drab south London suburb because of a shortage of hotel rooms in the West End.
These are some of the quirky stories hiding in nine miles of shelving at the British Library (BL) that hold the India Office Records — millions of documents recording Britain’s 350-year presence in the sub-continent.
The India Office did not only administer India, it also exercised colonial rule over an area stretching west as far as Aden. That’s why the files cover Persia and Arabia. And the reason the stories are coming to light is that the Qatar Foundation has paid £8.7m for nearly half a million documents relating to the Gulf to be digitised.
Work started in 2012, and many of those documents have now gone online at the Qatar National Library’s digital library portal.
Never formally part of the British Empire, the Gulf nonetheless came under colonial administration after being targeted for trade in the 17th Century by the East India Company. Two centuries later, the government established direct control through the India Office.
But principles of free academic inquiry, which guide the BL’s work, contrast with Freedom House’s assessment of Qatar as “not free”. Amnesty International called Qatar’s new cybercrimes law, passed last month, “a major setback for freedom of expression”, and Qatari writer Mohammed Al-Ajami remains in jail, serving a 15-year sentence for a poem deemed insulting to the monarch.
The BL and Qatar National Library (QNL) both hold copies of the digitised archive but Gibby’s expectation is that the portal – currently hosted by Amazon – will eventually be transferred for hosting in Qatar. That could theoretically expose material to manipulation by Qatari censors.
“That was discussed very clearly right from the beginning,” says Gibby. “Both sides made very clear to each other that there is no suggestion this will be censored. To date that has been borne out. We, the British Library, are trusting [the Qatar Foundation] and our faith is in them.”
H/T to Mark Collins for the link.
October 25, 2014
In the Edmonton Leader-Post, Michael Den Tandt reported last week on the chances of the Canadian Armed Forces getting back at least some of the most recent budget cuts, in light of the increasing deployment tempo in Europe and the Middle East:
Even as the Harper Conservatives have deployed CF-18 fighter jets to Eastern Europe, and now to Kuwait to join the air war against Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, the Canadian Forces have seen their funding slashed. But that may be about to change, as the government considers adding back part or all of the $3.1 billion removed from the military’s piggy bank in last February’s budget.
Friday, it was reported here that Prime Minister Stephen Harper personally intervened recently to settle a dispute between Treasury Board, led by Tony Clement, and the Defence Department, led by Rob Nicholson, over a pending $800-million sole-sourced purchase of next-generation Sea Sparrow naval missiles from U.S.-based Raytheon Co.
Concerns that the acquisition under the U.S. government’s Foreign Military Sales program would tilt the scales in favour of the Raytheon-Lockheed-Martin group in a burgeoning transatlantic competition for up to $18 billion in subcontracts on DND’s new Canadian Surface Combatant fleet, were overruled. As were, apparently, any worries about the optics of making another large military purchase, a la F-35, without opening the process up to competing bids.
October 11, 2014
A report by Jeff Schogol in Defense News on Canada’s relatively trivial contribution to the fight against ISIS:
Canada’s participation with airstrikes in Iraq will free up U.S. aircraft for use in Syria, said Canadian military expert Christian Leuprecht. Historically, Canada has deployed six aircraft to support joint operations, said Leuprecht, who has dubbed the approach “Canada’s six-pack strategy.”
“When there’s a party, you’ve always got to bring something, so you bring a six-pack,” said Leuprecht, associate dean in the Faculty of Arts at the Royal Military College of Canada. “This is what we deployed to Libya. This is what we’re deploying over the Baltics to defend and survey the NATO airspace over the Baltic states.”
The U.S. and Canadian militaries have worked well together for years through the North American Aerospace Defense Command, Leuprecht said.
“Because Canada integrates on the interoperability piece — in command and control, logistics, intelligence, common targeting functions — so seamlessly with the U.S., Canada is always a highly desired partner because the transaction costs are so incredibly low compared participating of many other NATO allies,” Leuprecht said.
October 10, 2014
In Maclean’s, Colby Cosh laments the fact that once again we can’t call something by its obvious name, thanks to criminal misuse of the correct description in previous, ah, “kinetic actions”:
It seems to me the PM would have an easier time pitching the fight against Islamic State if he could call it what it really is: a police action. Politicians abused that term as a legalistic euphemism in the previous century, and now it cannot credibly be used to describe a military intervention. War is war is war. And war really does have a tendency to behave that way — to turn nations into that little old lady who unexpectedly finds herself having to scarf down an entire horse.
But a little policing by the world hegemon and its allies is recognizably just what is needed here. Islamic State calls itself a “state,” but it is really a gang attempting to become a state, a gang that has developed vast, nihilist ambitions.
Thomas Mulcair babbled in the House of Commons about how Islamic State is really just the same buncha jerks that Americans and their Iraqi client government have been jostling with for a decade. He is right, in the narrow sense that some of the people are the same. But he appears not to have noticed that these particular jerks have captured an astonishing amount of advanced military hardware, obtained a monopoly of force within thousands of square miles of territory, and recruited dozens of Canadians and hundreds of Westerners, some of them not even Muslim.
They have accomplished most of this by means of sheer bravado and imagemaking, and it is easy to imagine the regret this moment might inspire later, if it is missed. The Canadian opposition’s argument is that if we cannot in some sense subject Islamic State to total defeat or annihilation, we should not be putting lives at risk at all — even if the lives are few and the risk quite small. There is an unfortunate pro-war/anti-war binariness to all this, particularly since Canada is not proposing to go to war against another state, but is assisting allies in suppressing glorified banditry. Activity like this has become hard for us to comprehend, even though it is the stuff of our own imperialist history.
If you polled Canadians under 25, you’d probably discover that many of them honestly believe Canada has never been a warmaking country, and that blue-helmet-wearing Canadian soldiers were only in Europe in 1914-18 and 1939-45 as peacekeepers (if they even know Canada was involved in the two world wars).
October 7, 2014
Strategy Page talks about the Israeli deployment of the first reliable Battlefield Internet for ground, sea, and air combat:
The July-August 2014 war in Gaza created some very unpleasant surprises for Hamas, which thought it could risk another war with Israel and come out the winner (to the Arab world at least). Hamas knew that Israel had been working at discovering and countering Hamas tactics, but Hamas was confident they had enough new tricks to stay ahead of the Israelis. Hamas quickly discovered that the Israelis were a lot quicker and better coordinated than in the past. This time around the Israelis learned more from their earlier clashes with Hamas and Hezbollah.
This has happened before, to both the Israelis but mainly to the Arabs. It was only after that war ended that Hamas learned details of what they were up against. It turned out that Israel had managed to create an effective and reliable “Battlefield Internet”. This has been the goal of military communications experts for over a decade. The United States was long the leader, but in mid-2014 Israel was the first to demonstrate a Battlefield Internet that consistently worked under combat conditions. This breakthrough development was largely ignored by the media but military leaders worldwide are paying attention.
What the Israelis have done with the Battlefield Internet is link everyone involved (pilots, UAV operators, tank commanders and infantry unit commander, plus people at C4i Teleprocessing Branch that managed the flow of data) so all can all see was what each other was seeing of the Hamas commandos. These multiple views eliminated the uncertainty often present when only one view was available. It made all the Israelis involved more confident and that led to speedier interpretation of the situation and decisive action to deal with it. This capability also reduces the risk of friendly fire.
October 5, 2014
In the Toronto Star, Bruce Campion-Smith and Les Whittington report on the debate in the Commons over sending RCAF aircraft to join the coalition against ISIS:
Canadian fighter pilots will be in combat for the second time in three years after Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced CF-18 jets are being dispatched to the region to battle Islamic State militants.
Political lines were quickly drawn over the planned six-month mission, with the New Democrats and Liberals telling the Commons in a dramatic standoff Friday that they would oppose the military operation when MPs debate and vote on it Monday.
But the government’s motion to deploy the Royal Canadian Air Force as part of the United States-led coalition confronting Islamic State fighters is expected to be approved by the Conservative majority in Parliament.
Speaking to a hushed Commons, Harper laid out the case for war against Islamic State — or Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an Al Qaeda splinter group — for “unspeakable atrocities” and which has threatened Canada.
“Let me be clear on the objectives of this intervention. We intend to significantly degrade the capabilities of ISIL,” Harper said.
Up to six CF-18 fighter jets will be deployed to the region to join in coalition airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq and possibly Syria. As well, Canada will contribute one CC-150 Polaris air-to-air refuelling aircraft and two CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft. In all, 320 aircrew and other personnel will take part in the mission.
The opposition NDP and Liberal leaders quickly spoke against the action.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said the Conservatives have not given Canadians adequate information on how this war would be conducted.
“Will Canada be stuck a decade from now mired in a war we wisely avoided entering a decade ago?” he asked in the Commons.
“The tragedy in Iraq and Syria will not end with another western-led invasion in that region. . . . Canada, for our part, should not rush into this war.”
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said his party — which had backed military action in Afghanistan and Libya — would not support the motion endorsing combat.
Trudeau was dismissive of Canada’s contribution, saying the country could do more than sending what he branded “aging warplanes.”
“Whether they are strategic airlifts, training or medical support, we have the capabilities to meaningfully assist in a non-combat role in a well defined international mission,” Trudeau said.
Update: Lieutenant General Yvan Blondin responds indirectly to Trudeau’s dismissive description of the CF-18 (republished at the Ottawa Citizen).
As the Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and CF-18 pilot, I wish to dispel any questions pertaining to the relevance of the CF-18. I am completely confident in the ability of the aircraft and personnel to extend Canadian air power anywhere in the world, such as in support of the current air operations underway in Iraq.
The aircraft we fly today have been continuously upgraded throughout their lifespan, ensuring that our crews can fly into harm’s way with the confidence that they have the equipment they need to complete missions safely. Our RCAF personnel and aircraft have proven that they can fight alongside our Allies — they are battle hardened, and the capabilities of our CF-18s today certainly enable them to effectively serve alongside the fighter aircraft being flown by Allies in the fight against ISIL.
October 1, 2014
German magazine Der Spiegel reports on the sad state of readiness in the German military:
Last week, a single person pushed Germany’s air force to the very limits of its capacities: Ursula von der Leyen, the country’s defense minister. Von der Leyen requested that two Transall military transport aircraft with missile defense systems be transferred to Amman, the Jordanian capital. The defense minister and a pool of reporters then flew for eight hours on Thursday morning in one of the aircraft to Erbil in Iraq’s Kurdish region. Back in Germany, the military had but a single additional Transall at its disposal.
After her arrival in Erbil, von der Leyen proceeded to the palace of the Kurdish regional government’s president. Her visit was to be concurrent with the delivery of German weapons, intended to aid the Kurds in their fight against Islamic State jihadists. Unfortunately, the machine guns and bazookas got stuck in Germany and the trainers in Bulgaria because of a dearth of available aircraft. One had been grounded because of a massive fuel leak. What could have been a shining moment for the minister instead turned into an embarrassing failure underscoring the miserable state of many of the Bundeswehr‘s most important weapons systems.
Against that backdrop and pressure from the international community, the ramshackle state of the Bundeswehr is no laughing matter in Berlin. At the moment, if Germany’s allies were to ask it to step up its participation in deployments in the Baltic states or Iraq, for example, Chancellor Merkel would likely have to politely pass, creating a highly embarrassing situation for the country. For the moment, though, most pressure related to the Bundeswehr‘s ailments has been directed at von der Leyen. Her critics argue that she has pursued a foreign and security policy vision that goes beyond the Bundeswehr‘s actual capabilities. Now she faces additional criticism that she tried to play down the military’s problems to members of parliament even though senior officials in her ministry were well aware of major shortcomings in the armed forces.
“Contrary to her own list of needed equipment, she created the impression in parliament that anything that could drive, fly or float was capable of full deployment,” said Rainer Arnold, the defense policy spokesman for the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). “But we members of parliament will not be taken for idiots.”
The defense minister hasn’t exactly been blind-sided by the criticism either — she’s known about the problems since before entering office almost a year ago. On Friday, she summoned the heads of the German army, navy and air force as well as the Inspector General of the Bundeswehr to her office for five hours of questioning, much of it centering on events in parliament last Wednesday.
H/T to Mark Collins for the link.
September 30, 2014
Nick Gillespie responds to a really dumb argument against libertarianism:
As one of the folks (along with Matt Welch, natch), who started the whole “Libertarian Moment” meme way back in 2008, it’s been interesting to see all the ways in which folks on the right and left get into such a lather at the very notion of expanding freedom and choice in many (though sadly not all) aspects of human activity.
Indeed, the brain freeze can get so intense that it turns occasionally smart people into mental defectives.
To wit, Damon Linker’s recent essay in The Week (a great magazine, by the way), which argues that the outcomes of U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Libya disprove libertarianism, in particular, the Hayekian principle of “spontaneous order.”
No shit. Linker is being super-cereal here, kids:
Now it just so happens that within the past decade or so the United States has, in effect, run two experiments — one in Iraq, the other in Libya — to test whether the theory of spontaneous order works out as the libertarian tradition would predict.
In both cases, spontaneity brought the opposite of order. It produced anarchy and civil war, mass death and human suffering.
You got that? An archetypal effort in what Hayek would call “constructivism,” neocon hawks would call “nation building,” and what virtually all libertarians (well, me anyways) called a “non sequitur” in the war on terror that was doomed to failure from the moment of conception is proof positive that libertarianism is, in Linker’s eyes, “a particularly bad idea” whose “pernicious consequences” are plain to see.
In the sort of junior-high-school rhetorical move to which desperate debaters cling, Linker even plays a variation on the reductio ad Hitlerum in building case:
Some bad ideas inspire world-historical acts of evil. “The Jews are subhuman parasites that deserve to be exterminated” may be the worst idea ever conceived. Compared with such a grotesquely awful idea, other bad ideas may appear trivial. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore them and their pernicious consequences.
Into this category I would place the extraordinarily influential libertarian idea of “spontaneous order.”
What nuance: Exterminating Jews may be the worst idea…! When a person travels down such a rhetorical path, it’s best to back away quickly, with a wave of the hand and best wishes for the rest of his journey. Who can seriously engage somebody who starts a discussion by saying, “You’re not as bad as the Nazis, I’ll grant you that”…? I’d love to read his review of the recent Teenage Mutant Ninjas movie: “Not as bad as Triumph of the Will, but still a bad film…”
September 28, 2014
It may be little more than a token measure, but the Canadian government is moving to revoke the passports of Canadians known to have gone overseas to join ISIS:
AS WESTERN democracies struggle with how to deal with homegrown terrorists fighting abroad, the Conservative government of Canada has begun revoking the passports of its foreign fighters as well as people still in Canada planning to join them. Chris Alexander, minister for citizenship and immigration, would not say exactly how many passports have been revoked, only that it has been done multiple times against some of the estimated 130 Canadians fighting with extremists, dozens of whom are in Iraq and Syria.
Taking passports away from suspected terrorists is controversial. It gives other countries the incentive to respond in kind, and it severs the route home for those who might be having second thoughts. Human-rights advocates in Canada say the secretive process used to determine whether a person is a threat to national security, one of the criteria for having your passport revoked, allows the government to make arbitrary decisions. These can be challenged in court but only within 30 days of the decision.
Ever since the attacks on the United States in 2001, Canada has been toughening its terrorism legislation. In 2004 a Liberal government brought in a law allowing it to revoke passports under certain circumstances. This is the power the government is now using. In 2013 the Conservative government made it a crime to leave or attempt to leave the country for the purpose of committing terrorist acts abroad. Earlier this year the government passed a law allowing it to revoke the citizenship — not just the passport — of dual citizens convicted in Canada or abroad of major crimes, including terrorism. Mr Alexander has not yet used this power but says he will do so, despite objections that this creates two-tiered citizenship.
September 23, 2014
In Politico, Hisham Melhem explains why the Middle East is in the current state of chaos:
With his decision to use force against the violent extremists of the Islamic State, President Obama is doing more than to knowingly enter a quagmire. He is doing more than play with the fates of two half-broken countries — Iraq and Syria — whose societies were gutted long before the Americans appeared on the horizon. Obama is stepping once again — and with understandably great reluctance — into the chaos of an entire civilization that has broken down.
Arab civilization, such as we knew it, is all but gone. The Arab world today is more violent, unstable, fragmented and driven by extremism — the extremism of the rulers and those in opposition — than at any time since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire a century ago. Every hope of modern Arab history has been betrayed. The promise of political empowerment, the return of politics, the restoration of human dignity heralded by the season of Arab uprisings in their early heydays — all has given way to civil wars, ethnic, sectarian and regional divisions and the reassertion of absolutism, both in its military and atavistic forms. With the dubious exception of the antiquated monarchies and emirates of the Gulf — which for the moment are holding out against the tide of chaos — and possibly Tunisia, there is no recognizable legitimacy left in the Arab world.
Is it any surprise that, like the vermin that take over a ruined city, the heirs to this self-destroyed civilization should be the nihilistic thugs of the Islamic State? And that there is no one else who can clean up the vast mess we Arabs have made of our world but the Americans and Western countries?
September 17, 2014
Allah did not create man so that he could have fun. The aim of creation was for mankind to be put to the test through hardship and prayer. An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious. Islam does not allow swimming in the sea and is opposed to radio and television serials. Islam, however, allows marksmanship, horseback riding and competition …
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, meeting in Qom “Broadcast by radio Iran from Qom on 20 August 1979.” quoted in Taheri, The Spirit of Allah (1985) p.259
September 15, 2014
Brendan O’Neill notes the huge gap between what western politicians say about ISIS and what actually happens:
Has anyone else noticed the colossal disconnect between Western leaders’ rhetoric on the Islamic State and their proposed action against it?
With their words they tell us IS poses the greatest threat to Western civilisation. This bloody cowboy statelet is an ‘imminent threat to every interest we have’, says US defence secretary Chuck Hagel. This ‘death cult’ is a threat not only to the people of Iraq and Syria but to ‘the whole world’, says Australian PM Tony Abbott. Fighting IS is the ‘greatest struggle of our generation’, says Canada’s foreign affairs minister, adding: ‘[The IS] worldview is a direct challenge to the values of Western civilisation.’ IS is ‘the most serious threat’ the Western world faces right now, says British PM David Cameron.
And how do these leaders of the West, these fretters over the future of Western civilisation, plan to tackle this barbaric pseudo-state that is apparently a challenge to every interest we have? With some airstrikes. And by arming the Kurds. That’s it. There will not, as President Obama emphasised with gusto during his address to the American people last week, be boots on the ground. This great struggle to defend the vales of the West ‘will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil’, he said.
In short, this is a generational struggle that will involve very little struggle, a fight to defend civilisation that will involve next to no fighting. Our leaders ramp up the rhetoric – talking about the need to galvanise the West and its allies against what the Canadian minister calls ‘one of the most barbaric terrorist groups the world has ever known’ — while making clear that no Westerner, not even our soldiers, will be expected to put themselves in harm’s way to guard the gates of civilisation from these ‘barbarians’. We won’t fight them on the beaches (or rather, deserts); we’ll just bomb them from the air and leave the messy business of hand-to-hand combat to the ill-trained, already stretched Kurds. Let the Kurds defend the ‘values of Western civilisation’.
September 11, 2014
Amy Alkon draws on lots of sources for this post on why President Obama is making serious mistakes in his approach to fighting ISIS:
First, he gets it wrong on Islam. From his speech:
Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not “Islamic.” No religion condones the killing of innocents…
Islam doesn’t just condone it; it commands it:
So ingrained is violence in the religion that Islam has never really stopped being at war, either with other religions or with itself. Muhammad was a military leader, laying siege to towns, massacring the men, raping their women, enslaving their children, and taking the property of others as his own. On several occasions he rejected offers of surrender from the besieged inhabitants and even butchered captives. He actually inspired his followers to battle when they did not feel it was right to fight, promising them slaves and booty if they did and threatening them with Hell if they did not. Muhammad allowed his men to rape traumatized women captured in battle, usually on the very day their husbands and family members were slaughtered.
…Although scholars like Ibn Khaldun, one of Islam’s most respected philosophers, understood that “the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force”, many other Muslims are either unaware or willfully ignorant of the Quran’s near absence of verses that preach universal non-violence. Their understanding of Islam comes from what they are taught by others. In the West, it is typical for believers to think that their religion must be like Christianity – preaching the New Testament virtues of peace, love, and tolerance – because Muslims are taught that Islam is supposed to be superior in every way. They are somewhat surprised and embarrassed to learn that the evidence of the Quran and the bloody history of Islam are very much in contradiction to this.
Islam may be referred to as a “religion,” but I have been reading about Islam since 9/11, and at first, was surprised to find that it is actually a totalitarian political movement dressed up as a religion. I am aware that many Muslims are peaceful and do practice it as a religion, and that many have no idea about the violent overthrow of the “infidel” world that the Quran commands. Unfortunately, there are also many Muslims who practice Islam as the Quran and other major texts command. (This is not “radical” Islam, simply Islam.)
Islam commands the re-establishment of the Caliphate — and this is what they are trying to do. A bit more on that:
It becomes obligatory on every single individual to do his best to re-establish the Islamic Caliphate. Every one has to do as much as he can wherever his place is to return our Glory, supremacy and dominance…
In addition to air strikes, Obama says we’ll have American service members acting (in my description) as sort of military soccer coaches to the Iraqis. He wants Congress to okay more of this in Syria. Note that he didn’t ask Congress, but merely “consulted” with a few Congresscritters.
Ugh. Right. This is sustainable. And kind of like trying to close a bursting dam with a tube of Krazy Glue.