September 17, 2012

Volokh: When you reward certain kinds of behaviour, you get more of it

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:52

The context here is the various arms of the US government scrambling to condemn the alleged maker of the alleged film Innocence of Muslims. Eugene Volokh explains that this is actually inviting further demands for “satisfaction” on the part of the offended:

In recent days, I’ve heard various people calling for punishing the maker of Innocence of Muslims, and more broadly for suppressing such speech. During the Terry Jones planned Koran-burning controversy, I heard similar calls. Such expression leads to the deaths of people, including Americans. It worsens our relations with important foreign countries. It’s intended to stir up trouble. And it’s hardly high art, or thoughtful political arguments. It’s not like it’s Satanic Verses, or even South Park or Life of Brian. Why not shut it down, and punish those who engage in it (of course, while keeping Satanic Verses and the like protected)?

I think there are many reasons to resist such calls, but in this post I want to focus on one: I think such suppression would likely lead to more riots and more deaths, not less. Here’s why.

Behavior that gets rewarded, gets repeated. (Relatedly, “once you have paid him the Dane-geld, you never get rid of the Dane.”) Say that the murders in Libya lead us to pass a law banning some kinds of speech that Muslims find offensive or blasphemous, or reinterpreting our First Amendment rules to make it possible to punish such speech under some existing law.

What then will extremist Muslims see? They killed several Americans (maybe itself a plus from their view). In exchange, they’ve gotten America to submit to their will. And on top of that, they’ve gotten back at blasphemers, and deter future blasphemy. A triple victory.

Would this (a) satisfy them that now America is trying to prevent blasphemy, so there’s no reason to kill over the next offensive incident, or (b) make them want more such victories? My money would be on (b).

September 16, 2012

Benghazi was a symptom of a deeper problem

Filed under: Africa, Bureaucracy, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:06

Mark Steyn almost forgets the humour in this week’s column:

So, on a highly symbolic date, mobs storm American diplomatic facilities and drag the corpse of a U.S. ambassador through the streets. Then the president flies to Vegas for a fundraiser. No, no, a novelist would say; that’s too pat, too neat in its symbolic contrast. Make it Cleveland, or Des Moines.

The president is surrounded by delirious fanbois and fangurls screaming “We love you,” too drunk on his celebrity to understand this is the first photo-op in the aftermath of a national humiliation. No, no, a filmmaker would say; too crass, too blunt. Make them sober, middle-aged midwesterners, shocked at first, but then quiet and respectful.

The president is too lazy and cocksure to have learned any prepared remarks or mastered the appropriate tone, notwithstanding that a government that spends more money than any government in the history of the planet has ever spent can surely provide him with both a speechwriting team and a quiet corner on his private wide-bodied jet to consider what might be fitting for the occasion. So instead he sloughs off the words, bloodless and unfelt: “And obviously our hearts are broken…” Yeah, it’s totally obvious.

And he’s even more drunk on his celebrity than the fanbois, so in his slapdashery he winds up comparing the sacrifice of a diplomat lynched by a pack of savages with the enthusiasm of his own campaign bobbysoxers. No, no, says the Broadway director; that’s too crude, too ham-fisted. How about the crowd is cheering and distracted, but he’s the president, he understands the gravity of the hour, and he’s the greatest orator of his generation, so he’s thought about what he’s going to say, and it takes a few moments but his words are so moving that they still the cheers of the fanbois, and at the end there’s complete silence and a few muffled sobs, and even in party-town they understand the sacrifice and loss of their compatriots on the other side of the world.

But no, that would be an utterly fantastical America. In the real America, the president is too busy to attend the security briefing on the morning after a national debacle, but he does have time to do Letterman and appear on a hip-hop radio show hosted by “The Pimp with a Limp.”

September 12, 2012

The real reason for the Cairo and Benghazi attacks

Filed under: Africa, Media, Politics, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:44

Tim Cavanaugh on the real as opposed to claimed reason for the attacks on American diplomats in Egypt and Libya:

Mohamed al-Zawahiri, brother of al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, says he called a “peaceful protest” in Cairo as part of the 9/11 anniversary attacks on U.S. embassies that left the U.S. ambassador to Libya dead and the U.S. embassy in Egypt in shambles.

The putative cause of the attack in Cairo was anger over a satirical movie depicting the founder of Islam’s life. The attacks in the adjacent North African countries, both of which last year saw secular autocrats toppled, came on a day commemorating the Zawahiri family’s direct role in coordinated terror attacks that killed more than 3,000 people from more than 60 nations.

[. . .]

But there is no real point in rebutting Zawahiri’s stated claims about a movie. I’m not even sure the movie Innocence of Muslims exists, given that producer Sam Bacile told the Wall Street Journal it had a budget of $5 million, and that doesn’t match up with the production value in Bacile’s trailer. (Bacile’s “100 Jewish donors” seem to be the real victims here.)

The purpose of the attacks in Egypt and Libya was for the Sunni leadership to show it can unleash mob attacks against American diplomatic assets. (There may be some historical exceptions, but it’s more or less axiomatic than mob attacks cannot happen without government approval.) That point has been received by everybody except U.S. State Department employees.

January 22, 2012

“We don’t do kings”

Filed under: Africa, Government, Middle East, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:03

Colby Cosh suggests that the long aversion to monarchy on the part of US policymakers may be hindering their long-term plans around the world:

Monarchies in the Middle East and North Africa have been stable relative to their republican neighbours; the replacement of a monarchy with a republic rarely if ever makes the people better off; and the monarchies in the region tend to be more liberal economically, even if they don’t have particularly liberal political structures.

In the ci-devant monarchies of the Arab and Persian world, nostalgia for overthrown Western-friendly regimes of the past seems fairly common. When the Libyans got rid of Gadhafi last year, for instance, they promptly restored the old flag of the Kingdom of Libya (1951-69), and some of the anti-Gadhafi protesters carried portraits of the deposed late king, Idris. From the vantage point of Canada, constitutional monarchy looks like a pretty good solution to the inherent problems of governing ethnically divided or clan-dominated places. And in most of the chaotic MENA countries, including Libya, there exist legitimist claimants who could be used to bring about constitutional restorations.

The most natural locale for such an experiment would have been Afghanistan, where republican governments have made repeated use of the old monarchical institution of the loya jirga or grand council.

December 26, 2011

Evaluating French aircraft carrier performance in the Libya campaign

Filed under: Africa, Europe, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:59

Strategy Page summarizes the efforts of the French aircraft carrier de Gaulle in the recently concluded Libyan operations:

The French nuclear aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, put in an epic performance of sustained combat air operations off Libya this year. From March to August France was one of the major contributors to the effort, flying 25 percent of the air sorties and contributing many of the warships off the coast of Libya. The 4,500 French air sorties put their aircraft in the air for 20,000 hours. About 30 percent of French sorties were flown from the de Gaulle and over half the French strike sorties were flown from the de Gaulle. Most (62 percent) of the carrier sorties were combat missions (usually bombing). The de Gaulle averaged 11.25 sorties per day when it was conducting air operations. The de Gaulle spent 120 flying days off Libya, in one case 63 straight days conducting combat operations. Aircraft operating from the de Gaulle spent 3,600 hours in the air and conducted 2,380 catapult takeoffs and carrier landings.

French warplanes carried out 35 percent of the bombing missions, using 950 smart bombs. These included 15 French made SCALP missiles and 225 Hammer GPS guided bombs. French helicopter gunships flew 90 percent of NATO helicopter attack missions, using 431 HOT missiles and thousands of cannon rounds. French warships fired over 3,000 rounds of 100mm and 76mm naval gun rounds at sea and land targets off the Libyan coast.

December 9, 2011

Praise for Britain’s MI6

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:55

It’s the rough equivalent to the US Central Intelligence Agency, but it rarely gets public attention. Strategy Page has a thumbnail sketch of the organization as it gets a brief mention in the British press for its operations against Libya:

MI6 is less than one tenth the size of the CIA (in manpower) and has a budget that’s even smaller. But the CIA is by no means ten times as effective as MI6. For all its size and resources, the CIA cannot, or often will not, do things that MI6 will. Part of this has to do with MI6s greater experience and need to make do with less. But a lot of it has to do with different styles of operation. Both organizations are in the overseas espionage business, but both go about their business in quite different ways, and with often quite different results.

A large part of the difference can be traced to the fact that MI6 has always had a healthier relationship with its diplomats. CIA agents operating overseas often operate out of the local US embassy. Their cover is a diplomatic passport indicating they work for the State Department. But from the beginning, the diplomats were hostile to this sort of thing (British diplomats were not.) So CIA people were forced to use diplomatic passports indicating they were part of the Foreign Service Reserve instead of just Foreign Service. For those in the know, and that means just about everyone, it was easy to find out who the CIA guys were.

MI6 has a degree of legal cover for its operations that the CIA could only envy. Under the Intelligence Services Act of 1994, MI6 officers have immunity from prosecution for crimes committed outside Great Britain. The Criminal Justice Bill of 1998 makes it illegal for any organization in Great Britain to conspire to commit offenses abroad, but Crown agents have immunity. Which means, in effect, that yes, Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service really is licensed to kill.

[. . .]

Another advantage of MI6 is that they have a number of SAS commandos trained to work with MI6 and are always available for any MI6 needs. This commando organization is called Increment and is used for assassinations, sabotage or other dangerous jobs (like arresting war criminals in the Balkans.) In addition, every station chief has a direct line to SAS headquarters and a good working relationship with the commandos.

August 31, 2011

O’Neill: Winston Smith is working overtime in NATO’s “Ministry of Truth”

Filed under: Africa, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:37

I guess you could say that Brendan O’Neill wasn’t a fan of the NATO intervention in Libya:

Not since Winston Smith found himself in the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s 1984, rewriting old newspaper articles on behalf of Big Brother, has there been such an overnight perversion of history as there has been in relation to NATO’s intervention in Libya. Now that the rebels have taken Tripoli, NATO’s bombing campaign is being presented to us as an adroit intervention, which was designed to achieve precisely the glorious scenes we’re watching on our TV screens. In truth, it was an incoherent act of clueless militarism, which is only now being repackaged, in true Minitrue fashion, as an initiative that ‘played an indispensable role in the liberation of Tripoli’.

Normally it takes a few years for history to be rewritten; with Libya it happened in days. No sooner had rebel soldiers arrived at Gaddafi’s compound than the NATO campaign launched in March was being rewritten as a cogent assault. Commentators desperate to resuscitate the idea of ‘humanitarian intervention’, and NATO leaders determined to crib some benefits from their Libya venture, took to their lecterns to tell us that their aims had been achieved and they had ‘salvaged the principle of liberal interventionism from the geopolitical dustbin’. In order to sustain these bizarre claims, they’ve had to put the real truth about NATO’s campaign into a memory hole and invent a whole new ‘truth’.

Over the past few days every aspect of NATO’s bombing campaign has been, as Winston Smith might put it, ‘falsified’. Since everybody now seems to have forgotten the events of just five months ago, it is worth reminding ourselves of the true character of NATO’s intervention in Libya. It was incoherent from the get-go, overseen by a continually fraying and deeply divided Western ‘alliance’ and with no serious war aim beyond being seen to bomb an evil dictator. It was cowardly, where all alliance members wanted to appear to be Doing Something while actually doing as little as possible. This was especially true of the US, which stayed firmly on the backseat of the anti-Gaddafi alliance. And it was reckless, revealing that military action detached from strategy, unanchored by end goals, can easily spin out of control.

August 27, 2011

QotD: Consistency

Filed under: Africa, Middle East, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:58

We are all glad that the Gadhafi regime is purportedly on its last legs. When I visited Libya in 2006, tragedy was what I saw—and a friendly population under the yoke of a psychopath. But I don’t think we have had much idea of what we were doing in Libya—a sort of diplomatic pastime secondary to presidential jet-setting and golfing. Moreover, I don’t see any hypocrisy in critiquing our confusion over Libya, as a supporter of the removal of Saddam Hussein. Wanting to use American power and influence to its fullest extent when going to war is preferable to not wanting to use all our power and influence when going to war. The hypocrisy is rather on the Left, which once damned the principle of intervention against an Arab Middle East oil-exporting nation that had not recently attacked us, only to support intervention against an Arab Middle East oil exporting nation that had not recently attacked us. In the Left’s defense, one could argue their consistency is that it’s OK if you have a UN vote, but irrelevant whether you have consent of the U.S. Congress.

Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was the object of 23 different Congressional authorizations (one should go back and read that October 2002 long list of “whereas”es), had been in hot and cold wars with us since 1991, attacked four neighbors, and in the heart of the ancient caliphate was hosting all sorts of terrorists. In a post-911 climate it made sense to reckon with him. Indeed, I think one of the great untold stories of Iraq was the carnage of Islamic terrorists who by volition promised that Iraq would be the central theater in jihad, flocked there, were killed and wounded in droves, and lost—and vastly weakened their cause. But in contrast, the West was apparently in the middle of a weird charm offensive with Gadhafi (one advanced by bought-and-paid-for American academics, European oil companies, and multicultural elites), and the result by 2010 was that Libya was considered no longer the 1986 Libya that Reagan had bombed.

Victor Davis Hanson, “The Middle East Mess”, Works and Days, 2011-08-24

June 28, 2011

QotD: Combining stupidity, smugness, and the illusion of legal process

Filed under: Africa, Bureaucracy, Law, Military, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:13

Brendan Behan once said there is no situation so bad that it cannot be made worse by the arrival of a policeman. Well today there is no war so bloody that it cannot be made bloodier still by the intervention of the ICC. From the luxurious environs of The Hague, cheered on by liberals who get a cheap political thrill from seeing white lawyers stand up to evil Africans, the ICC has today issued an arrest warrant for Colonel Gaddafi, one of his sons and his security chief. This act of international moral posturing, designed to make the ICC look serious and superior, is likely to intensify the stand-off in Libya.

On one level, the issuing of the arrest warrant just seems barmy. These ICC bigwigs seem so removed from the real and messy world of politics and warfare that they seriously imagine it is possible to bring a war to an end by press-releasing a piece of paper saying: “Wanted for crimes against humanity: Muammar Gaddafi.” They seem to have confused the war in Libya with a nightclub brawl in Camberwell, imagining it is possible to resolve the whole miserable shebang by demanding the arrest of a few of the ringleaders. Once upon a time only spotty sixth-formers in turgid classroom discussions about conflict resolution would say things like “Hey, let’s just arrest the evil dude!” Now such political naiveté has been institutionalised in the ICC.

Yet on another level, the ICC’s game of cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, the Enlightened West against the Dark Continent, can have unpredictable, potentially dangerous repercussions. If earlier instances of ICC interference into African conflicts are anything to by, the impact of the lawyerly intervention into Libya is likely to be twofold. Firstly it will further entrench Gaddafi and his forces, convincing them that it would be better go down with all guns blazing than to end up in The Hague alongside Karadzic and various other hated evil figures. And secondly it will remove the political initiative from the rebel forces in the east of the country, sending them the ultimately debilitating message that they would be better off waiting for outside forces to come and rescue them — in this instance, white, wig-wearing moral crusaders from the ICC — than to realise for themselves the liberation of their country.

Brendan O’Neill, “There is no war so bad that it cannot be made worse by the intervention of the ICC “, The Telegraph, 2011-06-28

June 24, 2011

Cato Institute: The President doesn’t take an oath to the UN charter

Filed under: Government, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:08

June 18, 2011

When even the Guardian says it’s unconstitutional…

Filed under: Africa, Government, Law, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:20

…it’s very likely that it is unconstitutional:

On Wednesday, the White House provided Congress with a report on US operations in Libya. This report claims that the US military’s ongoing involvement in Libya does not amount to “hostilities” and, as such, does not require the approval of Congress. In this assertion, the Obama administration is engaging in legal spin of the worst kind.

While the president is the commander-in-chief of the US military, since the passage of the War Powers Resolution in 1973, Congress has required that the president seek congressional approval for combat operations continuing after a period of 60 days. This resolution expanded the implied authority of Congress that stems from the constitutional power of Congress to declare war. While the US supreme court has not visited the constitutionality of the War Powers Resolution, the resolution’s precedence has motivated all presidents since Nixon to seek approval (if sometimes indirectly) for relevant US military deployments abroad. This included President George W Bush with regard to both Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the case of Iraq, while a senator, Obama was inclined to a highly assertive consideration of the reach of congressional war authority. In this context, that the Obama administration is now arguing US military involvement in Libya does not require authorisation from Congress is patently absurd. In terms of both material support and strategy, the US is unquestionably engaged in hostilities against the Libyan regime.

June 10, 2011

Royal Navy still regrets decision to retire their aircraft carriers

Filed under: Africa, Britain — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:56

With a significant portion of the Royal Navy deployed in the Mediterranean, the hasty decision to take HMS Ark Royal out of service looks even dumber now:

Just at the very moment that the decisions of the October 2010 “Strategic Defence Review” start to bite, the Royal Navy is being asked by government to do more than ever. With the crisis in Libya and the Middle East showing no signs of ending, RN warships are spread thin across the globe. A quick snapshot of the fleet shows the pace of operations. With such a tiny fleet, our naval ports are almost empty and there are few vessels able to provide reliefs should the Libya crisis continue or escalate.

RN ships involved in Operation Ellamy off Libya include HMS Ocean, HMS Albion, HMS Sutherland, HMS Liverpool, HMS Brocklesby and HMS Bangor and HMS Triumph. The RFA is playing an increasing role with RFA Fort Rosalie, RFA Wave Knight supporting them. RFA Argus, RFA Fort Victoria and RFA Cardigan Bay are ready off Yemen should UK citizens need to be evacuated. RN patrols in the Arabian Gulf continue (as they have since 1980) with HMS St Albans sailing this week to relieve HMS Iron Duke in addition to the 4 permanently deployed RN minehunters in the Gulf. HMS Richmond is involved in exercises in the Far East and HMS Edinburgh has sailed to relieve HMS York in the South Atlantic along with HMS Scott. RFA Wave Knight is in the Caribbean ready to provide relief in case of hurricanes.

That fleet is spread very thin indeed. If something else happens, the Royal Navy probably can’t provide any significant forces to address it: there aren’t any more ships to send.

June 6, 2011

Further extending the powers of the “Imperial Presidency”

Filed under: Government, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 16:51

All that’s left is to start posting proscription lists and calling him “Father of his country” and getting his Secret Service detail to carry fasces1:

Let’s leave aside whether your position on bombing Libya while leading NATO from behind has anything to do with hawk or dove status. You don’t need to be the real Bob Taft or Bob Dole to start muttering about “Democrat wars.”

It’s a sad day for the Republic when insisting that the president actually, you know, get an authorization of force as kinda sorta suggested by the Constitution is seen as akin to open rebellion or creating a fifth column. What is this, Star Wars? Rome? As Tim Cavanaugh and that other super-peacenik outfit, the Washington Times, point out, between Kucinich’s and Boehner’s all-too-timid requests, three-quarters of the House of Representatives have expressed dissatisfaction when it comes to how Obama is deploying troops. The only real question is when Congress is going to take the advice of good ol’ Sharron Angle and man up already and start playing its actual role as a counterweight to an imperial presidency that has never served the nation any good.

1 The fasces were bundles of rods wrapped around an axe carried by Roman lictors who accompanied magistrates in Republican Rome. They represented the ability of the magistrate to dispense low justice (the rods, symbolizing corporal punishment) and high justice (the axe for capital punishment). The symbol was adopted by other nations and political movements after the fall of the empire.

May 19, 2011

Happy 60th day!

Filed under: Africa, Military, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:58

Jim Geraghty notes a special day arriving:

Happy 60-Day anniversary, War Kinetic Military Action in Libya! You’re now… pretty much illegal, but almost all of Washington will avert their eyes and pretend you’re legal. It’s kind of like how all the big people there treat their nannies.

Bruce Ackerman and Oona Hathaway are professors of law and political science at Yale, took to the pages of the Washington Post to point out that for a president who was elected by angry lefties chanting about an illegal war, it’s pretty ironic that we’re now fighting what is, pretty much, an illegal war: “This week, the War Powers Act confronts its moment of truth. Friday will mark the 60th day since President Obama told Congress of his Libyan campaign. According to the act, that declaration started a 60-day clock: If Obama fails to obtain congressional support for his decision within this time limit, he has only one option — end American involvement within the following 30 days.”

April 15, 2011

RAF proves Eurofighter can take out stationary, unmanned, abandoned enemy tanks

Filed under: Africa, Britain, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:29

In a triumph of military daring and precision bombing public relations, the Royal Air Force has demonstrated the ground-attack capability of their Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft:

The RAF has blown up two apparently abandoned Libyan tanks using a Eurofighter Typhoon jet in a move which appears to have been motivated more by Whitehall infighting than by any attempt to battle the forces of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

[. . .]

The video appears to show a T-72 tank neatly parked, stationary and unmanned: the target was plainly not in use. The Telegraph reports that the location struck was “an abandoned tank park”. Many Libyan armoured vehicles are old and not serviceable due to lack of parts and servicing. RAF sources admitted to the paper that the jets making the strike had had to spend “a long time” searching before they could find a valid target to hit, and that the timing of the strike was “no coincidence”.

So why is the RAF not only conducting unnecessary air attacks on useless hunks of metal? The answer is not so much military as it is political:

This hasty effort by the RAF to get Typhoons into ground-attack action took place just ahead of the scheduled release by the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee of a damning report on the Eurofighter, titled Management of the Typhoon project. This report had been expected to be highly critical of the Typhoon, and indeed it is. It says:

In 2004, the Department decided to retire the ground attack Jaguar aircraft early and to spend £119 million to install ground attack upgrades on early Typhoons to cover the resulting capability gap. These upgrades were ready for use by 2008. A year later, the Department decided to retire the air defence Tornado F3 aircraft early to save money and therefore re-prioritised Typhoon away from ground attack missions to air defence tasks. It is now not using Typhoon’s ground attack capability.

So, absent some secret plan of the Libyan army to somehow put their abandoned equipment back into immediate use, this was a PR strike to rally public opinion against parliamentary interference.

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