Category Archives: War Commentary

Asymmetric Diplomacy

Much has been made of the asymmetry of the war, but until now, no one except Dr. Krauthammer has explicitly pointed out the diplomatic asymmetry. Why indeed should we have to continue to demonstrate our religious tolerance, in light of the continually-demonstrated religious intolerance in the Middle East?

Imagine if 19 murderous Christian fundamentalists hijacked four airplanes over Saudi Arabia and, in the name of God, crashed them into the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, destroying the holy Kaaba and killing thousands of innocent Muslim pilgrims. Could anyone doubt that the entire Christian world — clergy and theologians, leaders and lay folk — would rise as one to denounce the act? Yankee Stadium could not hold the trainloads of priests and preachers, reverends and rectors — why, even rabbis would demand entry — that would descend upon a mass service of atonement, shame, ostracism and excommunication. The pope himself would rend his garments at this blasphemous betrayal of Christ.

And yet after Sept. 11, where were the Muslim theologians and clergy, the imams and mullahs, rising around the world to declare that Sept. 11 was a crime against Islam? Where were the fatwas against Osama bin Laden? The voices of high religious authority have been scandalously still.

From The Duuuuhhhhhhhh File

Reuters reports that the US State Department has issued a warning today to travelers that “it was not a good idea to travel to Afghanistan right now because of war, banditry, political instability and an acute food shortage…”

Dang, they just blew my vacation plans right out the window. And I had such good fares, too…

Two Hits of Smack, Please–Hold the Anthrax…

Well, according to this story from Italy, we’ve had the first reports of anthrax-tainted heroin.

I predicted something like this but I expected it to show up in powdered cocaine, which is generally ingested through the nose.

This is kind of a weird story on a couple levels. There’s no percentage in the Taliban adulterating the heroin, because it would damage the market for what is just about the only export commodity that they have to offer. Also, assuming that this is the kind that one shoots up, it’s not clear to me that injecting anthrax would cause an infection, or what kind it would cause.

I’m wondering if this is either a mistake, or a psywar lie, to both reduce drug use and to cut off one of the sources of the Taliban money supply.

Empowerment vs Passivity

This column by David Brin is a must read. It echoes and expands on many of the themes on which I’ve been ranting since 911. What happened on September 11 was not a failure of airline security, though it was a failure of many of the institutions in which we have now (inexplicably, at least to me) placed our trust. What it was truly a failure of is the notion that we aren’t responsible for ourselves, and must let the “professionals” take care of us. Flight 93 dramatically proved that notion wrong.

We’re all in the army now. This is the message that we have to promulgate, through the fog of the media, many of whom, unfortunately, still live in the old paradigm.

Further Flight 587 Thoughts

As more info comes out, I’ve switched back to “glass-half-empty” of sabotage mode. While it’s extremely unlikely for a piece of primary structure to simply fall off on an airplane, airplane crashes themselves are extremely unlikely, as evidenced by the demonstrable fact that they are rare. Such events are, almost invariably, caused by a fatal and improbable combination of circumstances and events, and I now think it likely that this will be eventually found to be the case here as well, even given the horrendous coincidences of timing and location.

While it’s possible that it was deliberate, the particular plane (full of Dominicans on the way to the Caribbean) seems improbable (though, of course, the saboteur might not necessarily know the destination or manifest), and I would think that there would have been an attempt to do multiple aircraft nearly simultaneously, as occurred on 911, rather than a single isolated case. Also, now that they’ve determined that it wasn’t a fastener problem, it’s harder to come up with a theory of just how the tail would have been deliberately weakened in a way that an inspection wouldn’t catch. Also, absent some kind of active device (e.g., radio controlled charges), I don’t think that one could really plan when or where the aircraft would hit. It seems likely to me that, even given the fact that it was Mike Moran’s and the other fire fighters’ neighborhood and timing on Veterans’ Day and all, the location of the impact was just a tragic coincidence–a few seconds more and it would have ended up in the ocean.

Airbus was the first major manufacturer to use composites for primary structure, and we are only now getting enough life in the fleet to really understand long-term fatigue issues. Given that the vertical stabilizer did not come off quite as cleanly as originally reported, I’m now willing to entertain scenarios in which a stress-fatigued stabilizer came off, perhaps under whipsaw loads from hard rudder action to control the plane in unusual wake turbulence. Once the stabilizer was lost (particularly if the pilot didn’t realize this had occurred, which seems likely, since it’s fly-by-wire with no direct force feedback), there would be no essentially no yaw control from the airplane. This could result in fairly high g-loads on the engine pylons as it went into a flat spin (they aren’t designed to take much in terms of lateral loading–they’re cantilevered below, and are designed mainly for vertical loads), and could easily snap off, taking both engines. Once the engines were gone, there was no hope at all, because those would have been the only possibility of yaw control (using differential thrust).

Although I don’t buy the official story about TWA 800, I think it unlikely that there’s any coverup here–I just don’t see a motivation for it. If people think that the government is trying to keep us calm by hiding the “real” reason–terrorists, my response is that I’d much rather think that it’s terrorists, which we are already addressing, and could come up with new maintenance security procedures to address, than that we don’t know what happened, and that there’s a possibility that the entire Airbus fleet (and perhaps even Boeing as well, since they’ve started using composites in their latest series of aircraft as well) is at risk to an unquantifiable defect. Thus, at least to me, the current government position is more likely to keep me off an airplane than a sabotage theory.

Post-Modernism and bin Laden

In a recent speech, Paul Wolfowitz termed Al Qaeda our age’s Khmer Rouge. In this week’s Weekly Standard, Waller R. Newell has an interesting piece that points up one of the many parallels–both movements have been heavily influenced by western post-modern Marxists.

Many elements in the ideology of al Qaeda–set forth most clearly in Osama bin Laden’s 1996 “Declaration of War Against America”–derive from this same [opposition to hedonism, materialism, egoism, etc. through death and moral rectitude] mix. Indeed, in Arab intellectual circles today, bin Laden is already being likened to an earlier icon of Third World revolution who renounced a life of privilege to head for the mountains and fight the American oppressor, Che Guevara. According to Cairo journalist Issandr Elamsani, Arab leftist intellectuals still see the world very much in 1960s terms. “They are all ex-Sorbonne, old Marxists,” he says, “who look at everything through a postcolonial prism.”

Just as Heidegger wanted the German people to return to a foggy, medieval, blood-and-soil collectivism purged of the corruptions of modernity, and just as Pol Pot wanted Cambodia to return to the Year Zero, so does Osama dream of returning his world to the imagined purity of seventh-century Islam. And just as Fanon argued that revolution can never accomplish its goals through negotiation or peaceful reform, so does Osama regard terror as good in itself, a therapeutic act, quite apart from any concrete aim. The willingness to kill is proof of one’s purity.

And as an interesting follow-up to my post of a couple days ago on the post-modern left’s fear of technology, and (not always so) veiled admiration for Al Qaeda, he writes:

What the terrorists have in common with our armchair nihilists is a belief in the primacy of the radical will, unrestrained by traditional moral teachings such as the requirements of prudence, fairness, and reason. The terrorists seek to put this belief into action, shattering tradition through acts of violent revolutionary resolve. That is how al Qaeda can ignore mainstream Islam, which prohibits the deliberate killing of noncombatants, and slaughter innocents in the name of creating a new world, the latest in a long line of grimly punitive collectivist utopias.

An interesting read, and one more dot to connect as to why the rabid left cannot get behind the war–at their core, they share many of bin Laden’s aims–and methods…

More On L’Affaire JIR

In response to my latest rant on the possibilities that the terrorists are either unimaginably moronic, or that they want us to think that they are, and that both possibilities seem incredible, an anonymous reader offers an alternative explanation, to wit:

You know, maybe they aren’t that stupid. What if they were browsing the web some day and came across it. “Hey Abdul, you need to read this, it’s so funny!”

Then it got left behind. And we thought they were serious. Just wait until the archeologists of the future start talking about the significant news outlets of our time. “Most people got their weekly news from The Onion, America’s most respected source, while other chose the New York Times or the satire and comedy paper, The Wall Street Journal.”

Well, it is a third alternative, but given all the available evidence on offer, this seems to be a particularly humorless crowd, so to the degree that it is a viable explanation, it seems as astronomically improbable as the others. I’ve still gotta go with the theory that they really are major-league, world-class, galactic-championship-grade imbeciles…