Around the world


We've got a new "Think Again" column called "Poor Coverage on Poverty," here.

The Note in the tank: "This is all drama Obama can afford to lose. Fifty never looked so far away: New CBS numbers have the race at Obama 45, McCain 39." Excuse me, but isn't one of those candidates below not just 50 but 40 as well? That, ladies and gentlemen, is somehow good news for John McCain.

Here's Bateman:

Hello, Altercators, LTC Bob Bateman standing in again today. Lately there has been quite a fair bit of news from around the world in the international relations/military affairs realms, so I thought I might step in with a little global flavor today.

Oh, and you might need this.

Rwanda: Francophones vs. Anglophones

In one of the bigger pieces of news which is getting only limited press here in the United States, France was recently accused by a Rwandan investigative panel of aiding and abetting in the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which 800,000 were slaughtered in a few short weeks. (The story got a three-sentence AP blurb on page A10 of The New York Times. I saw nothing in my copy of The Washington Post.)

France, of course, categorically denies that these accusations are true, yet also points out that it has not received the report through "official channels." In this Internet age, making a big deal about that seems a little strange, if not obtusely quaint, but whatever. I love the French, but I make no representations that I can understand them all the time. The story is, however, a complex one and you need to know a little of the background.

Most folks know that the slaughter was one committed primarily by the Hutu against the Tutsi. What many do not know is that the Hutu are Francophones, with longstanding ties to France, and the Tutsi are Anglophones. Further, there had been trouble and bloodshed long before the slaughter. The Tutsi are now in control of the country. The Rwandan President who commissioned this most recent study, Paul Kagame, was the leader of a Tutsi rebel movement who struggled against the French prior to the genocide. The French, for their part, admit to training and providing military equipment and munitions to the Hutu in the years leading up to the genocide (though in 1998 a French court found the French government "innocent"). So there is your "nutshell" to do your own analysis.

In quite a bit more detail (but only in French), this article lays out both the accusations and the rather tepid denial. And some analysis, background, and level headed thought (again, sorry, only in French).

Why does all of this matter? Well, you read the rest of the links and decide for yourself if there might be parallels or connections.

And since we're in European mode ...

Our Steadfast Ally:

Our steadfast ally, the UK, also has some problems. These occur at two levels. As I have written before here and elsewhere beginning in 2005, the British Army was not "all that" in Iraq at the tactical and even the operational levels for much of this conflict (See note). In fact, after their initial successes in the conventional phases of the war, the first couple of weeks, things slipped out of their control fairly quickly. Yes, hubris was in play for them as well. They believed they were the world masters in what is known as "Counter-Insurgency" (aka "COIN").

Now you ought to understand that I like the British soldiers and officers with whom I have served, and consider some of them among my better friends. Moreover, I generally respect their combat abilities in units. But at the same time I have not had their armed forces up on any pedestal either. Indeed, I have been quite as critical of them as I have been of my own service and the US military in general.

Some may remember the brouhaha that arose when British Brigadier General Nigel R.F. Aylwin-Foster (no, I am not making his name up; he served in Iraq in 2004) took the U.S. Army to task. Stating that we needed to be more like the British Army, which he held up as a paragon of COIN virtue, Aylwin-Foster let go with both barrels back in 2005 in the British press and in a British military journal. This got quite a bit of play. For my own part, I highlighted that story at the time because in response to his castigations, the United States Army did something which seems somewhat unique to our culture: One of our primary professional journals invited Aylwin-Foster to reiterate his critiques on their pages for American officers to read. As I recall, my sentiment was one of significant pride in my institution for that act.

Some parts of his critique were, indeed, valid. Indeed we later incorporated similar ideas directly into our new doctrine for COIN. But at the same time I tried to point out (again, back in 2005) that using those techniques which Aylwin-Foster trumpeted, the British had already pretty much lost Basra, Basra province, and the entire province of Maysan as well. By the time he wrote his essay, the few thousand remaining British troops in Iraq were effectively hunkering down on their bases, trying to avoid offending anybody or losing any soldiers. Back in '05 and '06 nobody wanted to listen to me, and I got quite a lot of e-mail from Altercation readers offended by my ideas and claiming that the British were, indeed, the world's experts in these things, most claiming that this excellence was due to the British "success" in Ireland. (I usually responded that the fighting in Northern Ireland was just a blip, taken in context; historically, one had to look longer than that. My point being that any conflict which effectively lasted more than 300 years, and in which the main protagonist eventually lost four-fifths of the territory they once controlled, should not be considered "successful.")

But now not a few others are chiming in on the same notes. Just a few weeks ago at a panel discussion of several leading counter-insurgency thinkers, the cat was let out of the bag on this topic.

English/Irish/American reporter Sean Naylor, writing in Defense Daily (not available online without subscription, but a version of it is reproduced here) noted that the famous counterinsurgency expert, the Australian David Kilcullen, and former Sandhurst lecturer Daniel Marston put it this way:

"The British Army has the reputation of being good at counterinsurgency, and in 2003 and 2004, there was lots of fairly snide criticism of the United States by British commanders saying that Americans didn't understand counterinsurgency [and] were taking too kinetic an approach," said Kilcullen, who described the British attitude as "'Look at us, we're on the street in our soft caps and everyone loves us.' "

Marston, who was until recently a senior lecturer at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst -- the British Army's rough equivalent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. -- said that "as an American working in the British system for the last five years" in 2003, he watched the British "act as if they were the best in [counterinsurgency] in the world."

But the British performance on Iraqi and Afghan battlefields since then has not backed up such strident talk, according to Kilcullen and Marston.

You can read the whole transcript, but if you have been following the news out of the south of Iraq for the past two or three years, you know the truth of this anyway. Essentially, the British pulled out of the population centers, stopped patrolling among the people (in their soft caps or otherwise), stopped imposing order and just attempted to stay on their bases most of the time to avoid conflict. The result was that Basra was given over to both blatantly criminal gangs and competing militias fighting each other and the remnants of the local government for control and the ability to exploit and suppress the people. Here is the transcript.

So that is the tactical and operational level issue, and it is a hit on the British Army. On the other hand, their politicians made some fairly disastrous decisions as well -- the combination of which must have been doubly frustrating for the actual troops on the ground.

What the politicians did was try to go to extreme lengths to minimize British casualties, regardless of the actual effect that had on the ground. The most damning part of that political decision was in "force protection." We have now learned that in the not too distant past, the British politicians went quite far in their attempts to avoid violence and in their willingness to give up the people of Basra and Maysan provinces to the tender mercies of the militias ...

The bottom line is that they negotiated a separate side-deal with Moqtada Al Sadr and his "Mahdi Army," promising that they would not interfere if he would please stop attacking them. Currently this is bringing rage across proud England (and the rest of the UK), because, according to one interpretation, this deal prevented the British from helping the Iraqis or the Americans this past spring when they went in to break the militia's control and oppression of the folks down in Basra. The story first broke in the Times of London, so I'll link to them.

This is all interesting, in a train wreck sort of way, but at the bottom of that story is the one line that absolutely blew my mind.

Remember, unlike the U.S. Army (which does 15-month combat tours, hopefully soon to drop to 12), British units are only in Iraq for six months at a time. Six months. But apparently ... you get a vacation in the middle somewhere. Here is the kicker line, explaining partially why the British could not help out the Iraqis and the US Army and Marines at the outset of the offensive to retake Basra this spring:

The British were partly handicapped because their commander, Major-General Barney White-Spunner, was away on a skiing holiday when the attack began.

Their officers are, still, quite different than ours.

Note: War takes place on four levels -- tactical (skirmishes and battles), operational (campaigns), strategic (a combination of campaigns in pursuit of the overall war aim) and the political (where the decision to go to, or decline, war is made). You can remember it by the acronym PSOT.

Meanwhile, on the Iraqi side of the "COIN" ...

I know that I have made this point before, but it bears repeating. One cannot create an "instant army." No, wait, scratch that. Yes you can. And when you do, you get Bull Run (1861), or Kasserine Pass (1943), or any other of a host of military disasters.

In the absence of a "leavening" of long-service professionals scattered through your force, it takes at least half a decade to make a decent captain from scratch. I believe that you cannot make a good company first sergeant (the senior sergeant in a company of 100-200 men) with anything less than about six or seven years, bare minimum. So Altercators should not be surprised by this story, which explains that the Iraqi officers and men themselves are now developing enough military maturity to know not only how far they have come (and it has been a long way) but how far they need to go. Folks, do not be upset by this story. Professionally, it is good news that they are becoming this self-aware and internally professionally honest. That, seriously, is unique in that part of the world.

Meanwhile, in a story which also goes along with much of what I have pointed out before, the Iraqi government is rife with corruption and is incapable of producing budgets, or spending their money. No, that is not a joke. To draw on the same lesson, I doubt that you can create a competent accountant or budget director (let alone an honest one) in a culture which never had either before, in less than five or 10 years. Just like making professional officers and sergeants, making good bureaucrats apparently takes time.

Furriners tawk funny:

I wondered why there was so little assessment about how Senator Obama's speech was taken in ... Berlin itself. I realized that this was because, rightly or wrongly, the reporters accompanying Obama generally left with Obama, and did not stay in any one place long enough to gauge the local reactions, or read the local columnists.

Because I am a bit obsessive about such, here is a link for you. (German-only this time.) The speech had some very specific things to say on the national security front, and the crowd response which was reported on by the many American reporters who were there in the Tiergarten at the time. (Tidbit: The "Victory Column" in the middle of the Tiergarten was the first serious war memorial I ever saw.)

Freedom of the press, not so much:

I am not sure how this has slipped past the journalism sites I frequent, but the bottom line is quite chilling. Iran just executed a journalist for espionage.

This has nothing to do with nukes, or big politics, but I do not understand how this slipped under the radar. Usually journalists getting executed makes big news. Heck, when journalists are held in jail (or in a combat zone, in detention) by the U.S. it makes big news.

How is actually executing a journalist something that nobody pays attention to?


I will not go into the larger socio/historic reasons for or against the Japanese shrine at Yasukuni except to note that it is really offensive to the Koreans and the Chinese. This gesture, therefore, seems prudent.

Coming soon to a TV near you:

And this story, ladies and gentlemen, will probably get big. I do not know how big, but my gut suggests this will be important. The Pakistani press is more focused on this single story than anything I have seen in at least a year.

If you read more foreign news on a daily basis than Pierce and I do, please write in and send in your application for SecState on the Bateman/Pierce ticket. We have, however, already decided upon our Pentagon press spokes-"man".

You can write to LTC Bob at

From ANP:

This week marks National Night Out -- a sign of solidarity when American families turn on their porch lights to ward off predators.

Crime in the United States has slowed since the 90s, but a disturbing trend is taking place as waves of violence are increasing across many American cities. While presidential candidates focus on foreign wars, many neighborhoods have themselves turned into war zones. According to the first ever American Human Development Report released last month, premature death by homicide is more than five times higher in the U.S. than the international average. Just four miles from the Capitol, DC's Trinidad neighborhood has seen many of its young people die this summer. As the economy slides and opportunities decrease for America's at-risk young we can only hope this is not the beginning of another national crisis.

This Week on Moyers:

As more companies view low-income Americans as opportunities for profit, the "poverty business" is booming. Bill Moyers Journal and Exposé: America's Investigative Reports follow a team of BusinessWeek reporters as they track new corporate practices among auto dealers, banks, and even nonprofit hospitals that some say exploit the working poor. Also on the program, Bill Moyers discusses the rise of the imperial presidency with Andrew J. Bacevich in his first television interview about his latest book, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Michael Green
Hometown: Las Vegas

The sad news about Robert Novak -- I don't wish this even on someone as contemptible as he has become (more on that in a moment) -- and the David Brooks column on Obama bring a couple of points into focus.

One is that we may need reminding that Novak used to be considered an incredible reporter. Timothy Crouse's The Boys on the Bus is very kind to his reportorial abilities, even as it shows the tendencies in 1972 that became full-blown when he became a media pundit. Novak was right-wing, but he dug. In later years, thanks partly to age and partly to the media's culture (too kind a word for it), he became a bloviator exclusively. I prefer to remember the earlier Novak.

Brooks did the kind of think piece that columnists should do. Novak didn't do think pieces, although he could be wisely analytical (he hit early upon where Hillary Clinton's problem was: she ran as though she had the nomination and was in a presidential campaign, and that isn't how to be nominated). That said, how much of what Brooks wrote is due to the very culture that led Novak's reportorial skills to atrophy -- the Dowdesque idea of concentrating on popular culture instead of substance?

Name: Don Hynes
Hometown: Portland OR

Brooks' column on Obama the "sojourner" is the proverbial wolf dressed up as a thoughtful grandma. The problem with our civitas is that we've become inured to smart guys whose gift is disguising an agenda in "reasonable" terms that could never be promoted directly. Enron was good business, invading the mid-East was patriotic, government regulation was the problem, greed was admirable (let's hear it for Steinbrenner), etc, etc. Brooks isn't racist, he speaks for a class. He pretends association with middle America but his "fellows" knew GW from Andover, not Crawford, and George put "their" agenda of wealth and privilege forward. Obama may be challenging that leverage and let's hope he stands "outside" that rotten inner circle. The future of what's left of our country may depend on it.

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL

Eric --

While I agree with George's analysis of how FNB politics has often worked, I think that as good as Bob Herbert's recent article "Running While Black" was, his point about phallic symbols went a step too far. I saw him in an online clip of Morning Joe ask the question, "You tell me why the Washington Monument and the Tower of Pisa" are in those attack ads with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears? Well, first he was pretty quickly corrected -- it wasn't the Tower of Pisa, it was the Victory Column in Berlin. But I was a little surprised that no pointed out that the reason those two admittedly phallic monuments are in the ad is that Obama spoke to very large crowds while using those as backdrops. The point of the ad is that he's a celebrity which is demonstrated, in the McCain view of the world, by the crowds that come to hear him speak. The Paris and Britney references are supposed to minimize Obama's gravitas by making associations with their notably air-headed celebrity. The Harold Ford ad that Herbert compares this one to was entirely a different matter because Ford had been spotted hobnobbing at a Playboy club. I agree that it was a race/sex-baiting ad, but Ford shouldn't have given them the opening.

I'm not suggesting that Obama gave McCain the opening by speaking to large crowds in front of phallic monuments. If memory served, the Obama campaign had requested the Brandenburg Gate for the Berlin event. If the German authorities had complied, one wonders how that vaginal image would have would have worked in Herbert's thesis.

The interesting thing about all the hoopla over the celebrity ad is that it's a pretty stupid ad. The association it tries to forge between Obama and the two air-heads makes no sense. Not to mention that Paris Hilton might just as well remind us of McCain's playboy past, his inherited wealth, and the Republican plan to abolish the estate tax, which Democrats in favor of the estate tax have dubbed the "Save Paris Hilton" initiative.

Name: David Shaffer
Hometown: Harleysville, PA

Doc --

Here's a thought that I don't see being investigated or reported on by the MSM. Why is it *now* that the subject of offshore drilling is such an important issue? Why wasn't this an issue when oil was $100 a barrel and gas prices broke the $3 a gallon barrier?

It would be interesting to see an analysis of the production cost of a barrel of oil produced from offshore drilling. Is the issue front and center because now, with oil prices at $130-$140 a barrel, it's finally economically viable for oil companies to drill offshore? And if that is the case, wouldn't there would be a vested interest on the part of oil companies to keep prices at the $130-$140 a barrel level in order to recoup their investment in offshore drilling? Which means, of course, that gas prices still wouldn't be going down.

Opening up offshore drilling clearly won't reduce gas prices in the short term, and it doesn't seem likely to help in the long term either. Well, let me qualify that -- it won't help *consumers*. Helping the oil companies is another matter entirely, but isn't that what government is for?

Name: Mike Wetzel
Hometown: Bartlesville, OK

Hey Doc,

There is lots of talk on the campaign about the virtue of offshore drilling. McCain says we can drill today if given the go-ahead, by somebody?

He simply does NOT understand the business of drilling. Let's follow the time line of how this might happen. Let's say that Congress removes the ban on offshore drilling in the fall, then the individual states must vote on allowing drilling on their coastal areas, this is by no means a given. But for argument sake, let's say that by next fall some states approve drilling offshore. Then the BLM must nominate the blocks that will be offered to the oil companies, then they distribute maps of these areas and ask for bids, and this takes another year. So we are into the fall of 2010. The oil companies then have to do their homework and do the exploration work to create the areas of best potential for drilling, and then decide if they are even going to bid. Let's say the several companies do the work and want to bid, now it is the fall of 2011. Now the government must evaluate each bid and decide which oil companies will be awarded leases. Now it is the fall of 2012. Leases are awarded and the winning companies gear up for the exploration phase. First step is to record a 3-D seismic survey over each area of interest, then that survey must be interpreted and any prospects must be evaluated and submitted up the line for approval by management. Another year goes by, and now the companies are ready to submit their prospects to the government for environmental approval. Now it is the fall of 2013, NO drilling as yet, but we are getting closer. Environmental approval is given, now the companies must line up drilling rigs, and mobilize the rigs onto the drilling site. Depending on the depth required to test each prospect for the occurrence of oil, it might take six months to reach the objective oil reservoir. OK, now we are in the fall of 2014, and we have a discovery, enough oil to make the project commercial. Approval of this step will have to go to the board of directors. Now more wells are drilled to determine the true extent of the oil discoveries. Another two years goes by, fall of 2016. The project is now given the final go-ahead, and the production platform is ordered, at least one year goes by to build this platform, more time if the drilling location is in deep water, more than a couple of hundred feet. So finally in the fall of 2017, the platform is in place and begins drilling production wells, the exploration wells are not usually used for production, but can be. Now by the fall of 2018 the first oil is flowing, and this happens if everything goes right in every step along the way (most projects have several delays here and there).

So the true answer to drilling offshore is much more complicated than saying, "Let's drill today." McCain needs to be honest to himself first and then to the voters. This is how it is REALLY done in the oil patch!!

Name: Larry Epke
Hometown: Richton Park, IL

If McCain wants to build 45 nuclear power plants, he can build one at each of his homes and be well on the way to achieving his goal.

Name: Tim Hunter
Hometown: Philly

Topical Velvet Underground song lyrics for your next piece on the MSM and McCain: "You're over the hill right now, and you're looking for love."

(from "New Age," but you knew that.)

Eric replies: Did I mention I saw Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson at the UPS Store at the beach the day before yesterday? I would have been more excited, but the kid said she saw them at Citarella earlier in the week. I was not at "Dark Night" when Paul McCartney and Billy Joel apparently went on a date, though. We could have talked about the fact that Paul has not written a decent song since I was in junior high ...

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