Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Will Wes Clark run? Can he win?

Amy Sullivan writes in the Washington Monthly that the answer is "maybe" -- but it all depends on Gen. (retired) Clark. It could all depend on one other man from Arkansas who's also a Rhodes Scholar, and for whom Clark worked a few years ago.
Clark just might get the biggest endorsement of them all. In a June interview, former President Bill Clinton told the Associated Press that he has been impressed by every aspect of Clark's career and uttered these magic words: "I believe Wes, if he runs, would make a valuable contribution because he understands America's security challenges and domestic priorities. I believe he would make a good president." The statement has been judged by many political observers to be a non-endorsement endorsement, and a signal to Democratic donors and consultants to wait for Clark.
I wouldn't want to handicap the Democrat race just yet, and I'm not part of any betting pools either. But if you had to pick a long-shot horse to take the cup, it'd have to be Clark. The Washington Monthly is known as an opinion leader inside the Beltway -- especially among Democrats. If Clark can get enough buzz, and if he decides to run, he may well have a shot.

Update: Thursday's New York Times reports that Wes Clark is leaning towards declaring himself a candidate -- but is still conducting his reconnaissance.
It's safe to say he wants to run," said a longtime friend who has had frequent political conversations with General Clark. "But he approaches this like a military man. He wants to know, Can I win the battle? He doesn't want to have a situation where he could embarrass himself, but I'm absolutely certain he wants to run."

Whether he does, his friends said, will be determined by his instincts and a firm assessment of Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, whose early success has come in part through criticism of White House strategies in Iraq that are every bit as strong as General Clark's.

While General Clark has consistently maintained that he has not yet made up his mind, his friends said a major obstacle has been cleared — family approval. They said his wife, Gert, who had initially expressed reservations, now favors his running.

"He is going to do it," said another of General Clark's friends. "He's just going back and forth as to when" to announce.

In an interview from his office in Little Rock, Ark., General Clark said today that he intended to announce his decision whether he would run in two weeks or so.
And the race gets more interesting. . .

On casualty and body counts

The New York Times reports that American deaths in Iraq since May 1 (the day President Bush declared an end to major combat operations) now exceed Americans deaths during the actual "war" phase of the war. (sic) According to the AP's tally, 138 American soldiers died during major combat operations, a number which was surpassed on Tuesday when this story was written.
After a bomb killed a soldier this morning on a highway northwest of Baghdad, the death toll since the end of major combat operations exceeded the number killed during the war, according to the Pentagon. The soldier was the 139th member of the armed services to die since the formal declaration of the end of major combat operations. During the war in March and April, 138 died.

Two soldiers were also wounded by the explosion, caused by a homemade bomb. The soldiers were near the town of Habbaniya, in a support convoy traveling on the major highway linking Baghdad with western Iraq and Jordan.

Later in the day, another soldier became the 140th to die since May 1, when he was hit by a car as he was changing a tire on his vehicle on the road near Kirkuk, in northern Iraq, military officials said.

Of the 138 soldiers who died during the war, most died in combat. The Pentagon classified 116 of the deaths as "hostile" and the remaining 22 as "nonhostile," a category that includes deaths due to illness and noncombat accidents.

Since May 1, most of the deaths have been in the nonhostile category — a total of 78, including the roadside accident today. The remaining 62 deaths were in combat situations like the bomb attack.
Analysis: Presumably, this story is supposed to make us pause and reflect on the cost of our Iraqi endeavor, much as the Vietnam Memorial gives us pause every time we see it. The human cost of this war has been high, both in terms of our dead and our wounded -- a number which is largely unreported by the media and the military. We should pause when we see stories like this to reflect on our reasons for waging war. President Bush made the case yesterday that our cause was worth this cost in blood, and I think he made a good case. But this is a judgment that every American should make, based on the best available evidence from all sides.

However, I do not think that death makes a good metric of success in war -- or nation building -- for at least three reasons. First, focusing on death as your metric of success gears every effort towards producing death, or avoiding it. That strategy is not necessarily consistent with our goals in Iraq, especially today. On the inflicting side, we do not want to inflict maximum casualties on a population that we are trying to win over. On the avoiding side, too much emphasis on casualty avoidance and force protection can frustrate a commander who is trying to accomplish his/her mission. Here's a hypo to explain how this works:
You're a logistics battalion commander with an attached Military Police platoon for security. The MP platoon has 10 HMMWVs with crew-served weapons, organized in 3 squads. Ordinarily, you choose to second one squad with each critical convoy as an escort, allowing for a moderate amount of security. But now you're driven less by mission accomplishment and more by casualty avoidance and force protection. Now you want to escort every convoy, not just the critical ones, and you want to do so with more firepower. So you send out two squads of escorts with every convoy, effectively reducing the number of convoys you can send and exhausting the MPs.
That's just one example of how casualty-avoidance can infect the thinking and planning of a ground commander. I'm the first one to say that our soldiers are our most precious resource -- the heart and soul of our combat power. But we can't afford to let casualty avoidance dictate our tactics or strategy. In the long run, this will subordinate our mission to our avoidance of casualties, and ultimately result in failure.

Second, focusing on death as your metric of success reduces warfare to an attrition-based slugmatch where the winner is the one with the least casualties -- in relative or absolute terms. That's essentially how Napoleon waged war in the early 19th Century with his levee en masse, and it's also how we fought the Civil War. It's not the way we want to fight now, in the 21st Century, with an all-volunteer force that is long on technology and short on manpower. We have substituted capital for labor across our military force, and we simply can't absorb the same casualty counts as we could have in WWII and Vietnam. Moreover, our enemy can afford to lose more people, because he's fighting a guerilla war of national liberation and casualties only fuel his cause. We don't want to get dragged into an attrition fight here. (For more on this, see DNI's library on 4th Generation Warfare)

Finally, death makes a lousy metric of success because it aligns poorly with tactical, operational and strategic objectives. This was illustrated quite clearly in Vietnam, where we inflicted thousands (perhaps millions) of deaths on the North Vietnamese -- but ultimately lost the war. Our objectives in the war did not include the wholesale infliction of death on the Iraqi people, and our objectives today in the nation-building phase certainly don't either. Killing Iraqis won't help us win their hearts and minds. Paradoxically, their view is that killing Americans may liberate their nation from our occupation (see, e.g., Somalia). But if we focus too much on our U.S. casualties, then we will unavoidably resort to using Iraqi casualties as a metric of comparison. I don't think that's a road we want to go down.

Cooler heads appear to prevail in India

The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reported on its International Page this morning that the Indian government has taken a measured response to Tuesday's bombing in Mumbai which killed more than 50 persons. While blaming Muslim groups for the bombing, India stopped short of officially criticizing the Pakistani government for its alleged sponsorship of Muslim insurgents in India. That diplomatic self-censorship may be a sign that cooler heads have prevailed within India's government, and that this latest bombing will not derail the continuing diplomacy between the two nations.
. . . New Delhi's apparent reluctance to blame Islamabad itself for Monday's bombings, as it has after previous terrorist attacks, signaled to many political analysts that India and Pakistan will persevere in their recent attempts at détente. Indeed, officials from the two countries are to meet Wednesday in Islamabad to discuss resuming direct air services.

"I'm cautiously optimistic that the peace process will continue," said Uday Bhaskar, deputy director of the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses in New Delhi. "Over the past six to eight months, so many initiatives have been launched that it will be difficult to go back to square one."

India and Pakistan nearly went to war last year, after Islamic militants attacked India's Parliament in December 2001 and, six months later, assaulted an Indian Army camp in Kashmir. Mr. Vajpayee's government accused the Pakistani government of directly supporting the militants, an allegation Islamabad denied. But in April this year, the Indian prime minister announced that his government would attempt "one last" initiative for peace with Pakistan, an effort that has focused mainly on resuming business and cultural exchanges.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Patriot Act forces investment firms to become nosier

The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reported this morning that firms offering mutual funds and other investments have started gathering more information about their clients in order to satisfy parts of the USA Patriot Act and Treasury regulations promulgated under its authority. I blogged about this some time ago, when USAA asked me to verify my identity despite my having an account with them for several years when I tried to open a mutual fund. Now, the Journal reports that this has become the norm for mutual fund firms and others in the industry, with some important secondary and tertiary consequences.
Starting Oct. 1, mutual-fund firms won't be allowed to open new accounts without first collecting personal data from investors not always gathered previously. Fund companies also must verify each new customer's identity promptly after opening an account. While some firms already check facts like these, these rules go a step further.

Investors who supply incorrect information that can't be corrected quickly could find their fund accounts closed or their activity in those accounts limited under the rules. Firms also will be required to compare the names of new account holders with lists of suspected terrorists and terrorist organizations.

The changes are required by rules to prevent money-laundering that were adopted by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Treasury Department as part of the USA Patriot Act approved by Congress in 2001. The rules, on which regulators gave their final guidelines earlier this month, follow a volley of other Patriot Act rules enacted last year. Those regulations required funds to review customer accounts with balances of $5,000 or more for suspicious trades.

The Oct. 1 customer-identification standards for funds -- like similar rules in the works for other financial firms such as brokerage firms and credit-card companies -- could be felt in consumers' wallets. Government and consultant estimates of the cost for the industry to update systems and train staffers to handle these procedures total more than $100 million in the first year and could exceed $200 million. Spending in future years could total nearly as much, all of which could increase fund expenses for investors.

There also may be logistical problems over providing more data when customers open accounts. "Investors might have to jump through a few more hoops," says Laura Chasney, associate legal counsel at T. Rowe Price Group Inc. "They should expect a few more calls."
Analysis: Title III of the Patriot Act contains a variety of provisions relating to financial crimes. Presumably, gathering the identities of investors will help prevent the use of sham accounts by terrorists, and enable us to connect terrorists and their money more effectively. Unfortunately, this is one area where dismantling terrorists' finances may have a direct impact on all of us. Just as we've learned to cope with more security at the airports, we must now learn to cope with more security in our financial system.

At the end of the day, this latter category of security is very important. If we can take down Al Qaeda's financial network, we can hobble the organization. Without its global network and ability to move money, men and materiel around the world, Al Qaeda will be reduced to a group of thugs with regional reach.

Update: I found my earlier post on this subject from Feb. 11, which I wrote after getting an alarming message from my bank that they needed to verify my identity before opening a mutual fund account. Sec. 326 of the USA PATRIOT Act (Public Law 107-56) is the provision which requires this verification -- here's part of the text:

(a) IN GENERAL- Section 5318 of title 31, United States Code, as amended by this title, is amended by adding at the end the following:


(1) IN GENERAL- Subject to the requirements of this subsection, the Secretary of the Treasury shall prescribe regulations setting forth the minimum standards for financial institutions and their customers regarding the identity of the customer that shall apply in connection with the opening of an account at a financial institution.

(2) MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS- The regulations shall, at a minimum, require financial institutions to implement, and customers (after being given adequate notice) to comply with, reasonable procedures for--
`(A) verifying the identity of any person seeking to open an account to the extent reasonable and practicable;
`(B) maintaining records of the information used to verify a person's identity, including name, address, and other identifying information; and
`(C) consulting lists of known or suspected terrorists or terrorist organizations provided to the financial institution by any government agency to determine whether a person seeking to open an account appears on any such list.

Twin blasts hit Bombay, killing at least 45

A pair of car bombs exploded in Bombay on Monday, killing at least 45 persons and wounding scores more. The news comes at a time of great tension between India and Pakistan -- two nuclear nations capable of dragging the world into a third world war. No group has yet taken responsibility, according to the New York Times, and Indian officials were reticent to blame the usual suspects. Nonetheless, it appears this blast may have been the work of Muslim insurgents, who may have been working with a Pakistan-based terrorist organization.
No one has taken responsibility for the blasts, and it was unclear how the bombs were detonated. Suburban Bombay, whose official name is now Mumbai, has been the site of five explosions — two on buses, two at markets and one in a train — in the last eight months that have killed a total of 15 people. The most recent was in July.

Officials have blamed the Students Islamic Movement of India for the attacks, saying the group operated in conjunction with the Pakistan-based Islamic militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. Both groups are banned in India. The Bombay police commissioner, R. S. Sharma, said on Monday night that law enforcement authorities suspected that so-called jihadi groups were also responsible for the blasts, although he offered no specific evidence for that assertion.

The blasts come during a period of an easing of hostility between India and Pakistan. The lull has enabled them to take small steps toward rapprochement in recent months. For now, at least, the blasts seem to have done nothing to undermine that.

Indian officials, who have often blamed Pakistan in the past for terrorist acts in India, did not do so after the incidents, and Pakistan condemned the blasts as "acts of terrorism."
Analysis: I'm no expert on the India-Pakistan conflict, and I won't speculate on the facts of this event. However, I would like to point out an fact that should be obvious to most. This is clearly an attempt to derail whatever diplomacy is occuring between India and Pakistan. When I heard Gen. Pervez Musharraf talk in Los Angeles last month, he seemed quite adamant about pursuing peace. I think both nations recognize that they ought to peacefully resolves disputes such as the Kashmir problem and their water problems. (See these essays by RAND expert Chris Fair in The Atlantic Monthly on the region) The use of bombings like this to derail diplomacy is a common tactic used by terrorists. It has been used in India, Israel, Sri Lanka, Ireland, and elsewhere. The goal is to force those who might worry about security into opposing whatever diplomatic entreaties are being negotiated. Often, it works. It takes tough leadership and resolute diplomacy to ensure these tactics fail.

One further note: this conflict is probably not getting the media coverage it deserves. Until an American military officer e-mailed me from India to flag my attention, this event flew under my radar too. The New York Times had it on its home page yesterday; it has since fallen off. The Washington Post ran the story on page A7. The LA Times did not give it top billing either. Only the NYT covered the event from Bombay; the other two papers covered it from New Delhi. Contrast this to the way we treated the recent suicide bombing of a bus in Israel. If we want to have India and/or Pakistan as our allies in our global war on terrorism, we probably need to pay more attention to this conflict. Not to mention the obvious implications for a guerilla war between two of the world's largest nations with nuclear arms...

Adam Smith wrote in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, several years before he wrote The Wealth of Nations, that sympathy was often a function of proximity. He used the example of a man who cut his finger, and felt more pain than he did upon learning that a thousand Chinese men had perished in a disaster. This was almost certainly true in the 18th Century, when Smith wrote, and I think it's true today. But in our increasingly interconnected world, we must learn to appreciate the pain and suffering of our global neighbors. Events in Mumbai can affect us in the United States. Threats to our security will increasingly come from failed states such as Iraq and Afghanistan, not states like the Soviet Union, and we must develop a sense of global situational awareness to understand this.

Update: I blogged this note before reading my print edition of the Wall Street Journal, so I did not give credit where it was due. (Lesson learned: read the Journal earlier in the morning) The Wall Street Journal led with this story at the top of its news summary column on the front page, and reported on the bombing from the actual scene of the attack in Mumbai. Pretty good article too.

Monday, August 25, 2003

Top U.S. official for North Korea resigns

The New York Times reports tonight (for tomorrow's paper) that the State Department's top diplomat for North Korea has resigned. This news comes just before the start of 6-way talks between North Korea, the U.S. and four other nations. Suffice to say, this is an awkward time for such a personnel change.
The State Department confirmed the departure of Jack Pritchard, the special envoy for negotiations with North Korea, but denied that he had been forced out. Mr. Pritchard's departure signals disarray in the administration's posture toward that country, experts outside the State Department said. It comes at a critical moment as the United States attempts to rally North Korea's neighbors to persuade the country to drop its efforts to reprocess spent fuel rods for weapons.

Mr. Pritchard's resignation on Friday points to a division in the administration over how best to handle the isolated, unpredictable and highly militarized government of Kim Jong Il nearly eight months after the North expelled foreign inspectors, the experts said.

Mr. Pritchard, who has had long experience in talks with the North, including a stint on President Clinton's National Security Council, is identified with a more conciliatory stance toward the North. He long advocated a carrot-and-stick approach, with incentives to North Korea for good behavior.

But a more confrontational position, favored at the White House and expressed by John R. Bolton, the under secretary for arms control at the State Department, gained ground in recent weeks, and at least one Republican senator complained to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell about Mr. Pritchard's approach.
Analysis: This is a bad time to approach North Korea with different voices. The best analogy I can think of here is from The Godfather, where Sonny Corleone speaks out of turn at a meeting and jeopardizes the family. You never want to show dissent or fracture when dealing with the North Koreans. Now would be a very good time to reaffirm U.S. policy towards the Korean peninsula -- with one voice -- and to clearly designate our point man (or woman) on this issue.

I had a long talk with a friend of mine who's an old infantryman and law school classmate. Between us, we have a few years of service in Korea, where we inhaled deeply whenever we saw headlines like this one. We both agree that North Korea is causing trouble right now because we have committed so much of our combat power to Iraq. The North Koreans did this in 1998 when we rattled our sabers in the desert, and they did it during Kosovo in 1999 as well. The NKs think they can squeeze concessions out of the U.S. right now because we have so little combat power to shift to the Korean peninsula. The Army still has nearly every one of its combat brigades committed to Iraq, or on a deployment plan to go there. Short of calling up the National Guard as we did in 1950, we'd be hard pressed to oppose any major event on the Korean peninsula with ground forces.

Strategically speaking, we have assumed a tremendous amount of risk in the world by committing so much of our combined military capacity to Iraq. At this moment, we lack the flexibility to commit to new missions like Liberia, or reinforce old missions like Korea, or even do continuing exercises like Bright Star. This completely alters our foreign policy calculus, in terms of what we can and cannot do. Our enemies know this too. At this juncture, the most prudent course of action is probably to contain North Korea however we can, lest we allow them to exploit the risk we have created by devoting so much of our blood and treasure to Iraq. More to follow.

Weblogs and politics

Cory Doctorow has this essay in the Boston Globe about the influence of weblogs on politics, and what he perceives to be a sea change in the interaction between information and politics. Among other things, the online version of the column includes "best of" lists from Joe Conason, Mickey Kaus, and Josh Marshall. It's probably worth a read just for those three lists, which I should use to update my blogroll.

Tomb of the unknown citizen

The New York Times reports today on a macabre -- but fitting -- tribute to the thousands of persons who died at the World Trade Center. Despite the best DNA technology available, medical personnel were unable to identify thousands of remains left in the rubble of the complex. Rather than preserve these offsite, or inter them somewhere sterile, the decision appears to have been made to create a tomb for these unknown remains on the site of the World Trade Center.
In its memorial design competition, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation required every entry to include a suitable space to store the remains. The contestants were not required to actually design the storage — that will be done later. There were 5,200 design entries from 62 countries; a winner is to be selected this fall.

The memorial will not just store unidentified remains. It will also house remains that have not been collected by victims' relatives. Families, not surprisingly, have reacted in many different ways to news of a positive identification of a relative's remains, which sometimes are made up of dozens — perhaps hundreds — of pieces. Relatives are given the choice of being notified when the first identification is made, or at any point over the course of the investigation. Some buried or cremated the first remains, only to face the task of dealing with remains identified later.
* * *
The medical examiner's office continues to identify remains, officials said, but most of them are from victims who have already been identified. The preservation process for all uncollected remains will be complete long before the memorial is built. The remains will stay with the medical examiner's office until a final resting site at the memorial is completed.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

A four-letter word for France

Wine. Get your mind out of the gutter. Though I'm a native Californian and a devoted consumer of California wines, I also enjoy French wines when I can get my hands on a good one. (Not too often on a grad student's budget)

Two articles in the New York Times give me reason to celebrate. The first article says that the deadly heat wave sweeping Europe may be creating the best wine vintage in half a century. Vintners and other experts are ecstatic about the 2003 grapes -- being picked early now.
Vintners are busy with an early vendange, the annual grape harvest that normally does not start until mid-September. As a rule, hot summers and early harvests produce great wines, winemakers say.

"It is the earliest harvest since 1893," said Bernard Hervet, who runs Bouchard Père et Fils in Burgundy. Mr. Hervet said that his vineyards began harvesting grapes for its Beaune-Grèves Vigne de l'Enfant Jésus wine this week and that he expected to start harvesting farther north in Chablis on Aug. 25, the earliest date for that region on record.

To reach maturity, grapes require a long stretch of hot dry weather. Without it, they end up with too little sugar and too much acid to make a great wine. But an excessively hot summer like this one increases the sugar content grapes need for fermentation, particularly in temperate regions like Western Europe. Winemakers are expecting this year's grapes to produce wines with a slightly higher alcohol content that could make them last for decades.
Outstanding! I've been told there's a wine futures market, and I imagine it's wild with speculation right now about the prospects for the 2003 vintage. The second article discusses some of the latest research on the French population's health, and posits that red wine may be to blame for the so-called "French paradox" -- why the French eat so poorly, stay so thin, and live so long.
Biologists have found a class of chemicals that they hope will make people live longer by activating an ancient survival reflex. One of the chemicals, a natural substance known as resveratrol, is found in red wines, particularly those made in cooler climates like that of New York.

The finding could help explain the so-called French paradox, the fact that the French live as long as anyone else despite consuming fatty foods deemed threatening to the heart.

Besides the wine connection, the finding has the attraction of stemming from fundamental research in the biology of aging. However, the new chemicals have not yet been tested even in mice, let alone people, and even if they worked in humans, it would be many years before any drug based on the new findings became available.

The possible benefits could be significant. The chemicals are designed to mimic the effect of a very low-calorie diet, which is known to lengthen the life span of rodents. Scientists involved in the research say that human life spans could be extended by 30 percent if humans respond to the chemicals in the same way as rats and mice do to low calories. Even someone who started at age 50 to take one of the new chemicals could expect to gain an extra 10 years of life, said Dr. Leonard Guarente of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the pioneers of the new research.
Great! One more reason to drink red wine. Thankfully, this research applies to all red wine, not just French red wine, that contain the right chemical mix. So I can enjoy my Californian petite syrahs (e.g. Bogle and Stag's Leap) and cabernets (Carmenet and Plumpjack) with the knowledge that they're helping my heart. Now I just need to mimic the French by making red wine a normal part of my diet. Somehow, I don't think that will be a problem.

An interview with one of America's leading Al Qaeda experts

Josh Marshall has posted an excellent interview with Peter Bergen at TalkingPointsMemo. Bergen is a journalist too, and he has authored one of the three best books on Al Qaeda and contemporary multinational terrorism that I've read: Holy War, Inc. (The other two must-have books are Countering the New Terrorism and Inside Al Qaeda) Bergen is one of the few journalists to have personally interviewed Osama Bin Laden, and his research on the Al Qaeda organization is first-rate. I think his expert opinions on the organization -- and its activities in Iraq and Afghanistan -- are as good as any out there. Here's an exceprt from the second part:
BERGEN: . . . We did a very smart thing in Afghanistan. Bin Laden and Mullah Omar made a calculation that we would be drawn into a Soviet-style invasion. They would respond with guerilla warfare. They would have some tactical successes in that warfare, and a strategic success that the United States would be reviled around the Muslim world for its brutal occupation of Afghanistan.

That didn't happen, obviously, and there are only 300 Americans in the whole, on the ground. That was very smart. Obviously, the US and British occupation of Iraq is different from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in many many ways -- not least of which is that Soviets killed a million Afghans and made five million of them refugees. Obviously that hasn't happened in Iraq. But there are some similarities in the following way: We are occupying in large numbers in thick spaces and we are doing that in the middle of the Middle East. And it seems that we're going to be there indefinitely. It seems that way, according to the Iraqis and to everybody else. Obviously we're in a period of guerilla warfare, these kind of high-profile terrorist attacks. You know, that's the future. I mean al Qaida is not going to get off this little exercise. Obviously the United States is not about to change its policy in Iraq. So I think, given those two facts, we're going to see more of what we saw at the United Nations Headquarters in the future. I mean this is just the beginning, I think.

TPM: I think I saw an interview you did on CNN in which you discussed the the question of who, if there are foreign fighters in Iraq now, who are they? And I think you had said that a lot of them seemed to be Saudis who'd actually come in through Syria. Whatever details you have -- who are these people? Where are they coming from? Are governments assisting in bringing these people in?

BERGEN: I don't think governments are assisting in bringing these people in at all. Because if you think about, Syria has been quite cooperative in the war on terrorism, Jordan has fallen all over itself. That's one of the reasons the Jordanian embassy was attacked. Kuwait, don't have to explain that. But judging from what US counter-terrorism officials say and what Saad al Fagih says they're predominantly Saudi, which makes sense. Saudis were predominantly the people in Afghanistan, and the major group of people at Guantanamo Bay are Saudis. So that all kind of coheres. Some Kuwatis, and I would imagine a sprinkling of other nationalities, although I haven't heard any other than the Saudis and Kuwatis--that's all I've heard about. Now you know, if Zarqawi is in Iraq--although apparently he might be in Iran. So maybe there are some Jordanians, I don't know. But it doesn't sound like people from the Philippines are coming to Iraq, as it were, and coming to Afghanistan.

TPM: They would stand out?

BERGEN: They'd stand out. And also maybe it's just a matter of time. After all, this whole thing is a relatively recent phenomenon. I mean it seems to me that these volunteers, as it were, jihadist volunteers, either came directly before the war, during the war, or even more so after the war. The Saudi volunteers especially have come in the last few months. But I think this is all totally predictable. I don't see this as being a surprise.
The first part of the interview is available here on TalkingPointsMemo, and it's also worth a read. The nature of the insurgency in Iraq appears a lot like previous insurgencies in other parts of the world -- most notably Afghanistan. I think we should pay careful attention to the thoughts of experts like Peter Bergen, Brian Jenkins, Bruce Hoffman, and Rohan Gunaratna. They know this threat very well, and their historical insight will help us craft a successful strategy this time around.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

In defense of anti-terrorism measures

Heather MacDonald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute who writes from the right on legal policy issues, has an interesting op-ed in Sunday's Washington Post on the USA Patriot Act. Ms. McDonald takes issue with the ACLU's recent challenge to Sec. 215 of the act, which authorizes the FBI to seek a court order to look into library records and internet browsing records, among other things.
Section 215 allows the FBI to obtain documents in third-party hands if they are relevant to a terrorism investigation. According to the ACLU, this power allows the FBI to "spy on a person because they don't like the books she reads, or because . . . she wrote a letter to the editor that criticized government policy."

The charge is baseless. To begin with, it ignores the fact that the FBI can do nothing under Section 215 without the approval of a federal court. Let's say the FBI has received a tip that al Qaeda sympathizers have taken scuba lessons in preparation for an attack on Navy destroyers off the California coast. Under 215, the bureau could seek a court order for local dive school records to see if any terror suspects had recently enrolled.

The key phrase here is "seek a court order." It is inconceivable that the court that oversees espionage and counterterrorism investigations will approve a records request made because the FBI doesn't "like the books" someone reads, or "because she wrote a letter to the editor that criticized government policy," as the ACLU claims.

The ACLU also argues that Section 215 violates the Fourth Amendment right to privacy. But like it or not, once you've disclosed information to someone else, the Constitution no longer protects it. This diffuse-it-and-lose-it rule applies to library borrowing and Web surfing as well, however much librarians may claim otherwise. By publicly borrowing library books, patrons forfeit any constitutional protections they may have had in their reading habits.
Memo to Main Justice: Hire Ms. MacDonald to replace the AG on his current roadshow, or at least hire her to serve as his chief speechwriter and political adviser. These are the sort of concrete legal arguments that must be made in support of the USA Patriot Act. Rhetorically speaking, the ACLU and DoJ can fight each other to a draw, with one side extolling the virtues of liberty and the other praising the virtues of security. Concrete arguments like these can cut through the rhetoric, and help the American public understand that the act is not as bad as widely perceived.

On balance, I think the USA Patriot Act is a good piece of legislation. Title II of the act gives the FBI broader discretion to apply for FISA warrants, and recognizes that it's not so easy in the age of terrorism to separate criminal investigation work from counter-intelligence work. Title III of the act gives law enforcement more power in the area of financial crime, something which is necessary to take down the intricate financial network on which Al Qaeda relies. Titles VII and IX contain important provisions with respect to information sharing and intelligence analysis -- the bread and butter of anti-terrorism and counter-terrorism. These provisions do carry some risk of abuse. But so too does every criminal statute, and we rely on substantive and procedural protections in our courts to protect us from those risks. Whether the courts do a good job is a matter of dispute, but on balance, I think most Americans are willing to trust the judiciary with their rights.

The defense of the USA Patriot Act and other anti-terrorism measures is important. The American people must buy into our anti-terrorism measures in order to support their enormous fiscal cost and the potential cost in delay, hassle, intrusiveness, and change (see, e.g., airport security). I support these measures, for the most part, but I also sense that many Americans have legitimate questions about them. In the long run, this PR problem will frustrate anti-terrorism efforts by lowering political support for such measures, and for the politicians who support them. Terrorists will exercise tactical patience, and wait for our complacency to set in. They will see political support for anti-terrorism decline, along with discretionary funding for anti-terrorism measures. Manpower and materiel will be shifted to other government programs, and soon, vulnerabilities will start to appear. Terrorists will lie in wait for this moment, and then they will strike. We can't let that happen.

This issue is too important to leave to the Justice Department alone; real policy leadership here must also come from the White House, and from opinion leaders and public intellectuals in society. Mr. Ashcroft does not have the credibility to defend this act, or to advocate for the administration on this issue. Simply put, the American public does not trust Mr. Ashcroft to tell the truth on these issues, regardless of how concrete his arguments are. If the administration is really serious about defending its anti-terrorism measures -- and it ought to be -- it needs to do more here. Jack Balkin thinks this may be part of a deliberate White House strategy to test the waters on this issue for the 2004 political season. That is possible. But I think the results are already obvious -- the public will not react well to Mr. Ashcroft's roadshow.

Friday, August 22, 2003

The book to buy for lawyers, law students, and other law-minded academics

Eugene Volokh's new book Academic Legal Writing scored a rave review from Michael Herrington in Writ today. I haven't purchased my copy yet (financial aid just showed up), but I intend to. Eugene taught my First Amendment law class last semester, and I think he's absolutely brilliant. Herrington agrees, and recommends this book without reservation:
Having now, for the first time, carefully read a style book, I now see the error of my ways. If you have a sibling, a child, a friend, even a distant acquaintance, in law school or trying to get something published in a legal publication, buy them a copy of Academic Legal Writing.

Final thoughts from Oxblog on the BBC: Josh Chafetz has a lengthy discussion of his Weekly Standard article on the BBC, and the allegations he made in that article. As one can imagine, the article provoked a fair amount of criticism, which proved the old adage: never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.

LT Smash is about to redeploy from Iraq. I think the right expression in the Navy for a job well done is "Bravo Zulu". In the Army, we'd grunt "hooah" at you. In either case, stay safe and thanks for the reporting from the desert.
Ashcroft goes on the offensive

But will his PR blitz really lead the public to trust him?

Seeking to defend the administration and defuse criticism of its stance on civil liberties, Attorney General John Ashcroft has hit the road on a speaking tour of the United States. His goal, according to the Washington Post, is to explain why measures like the USA Patriot Act are so vital, and to reassure Americans that his Justice Department is finding the right balance between liberty and security.
In a strongly worded speech that included quotations from Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill, Ashcroft portrayed the Patriot Act as a linchpin of the government's war against terrorism.

"We know now that al Qaeda exploited the flaws in our defenses to murderous effect," Ashcroft said. "Two years later, the evidence is clear: If we knew then what we know now, we would have passed the Patriot Act six months before September 11th rather than six weeks after the attacks."

Ashcroft also issued a veiled warning against any attempts to curtail government powers under the law. Two civil liberties groups have filed legal challenges to parts of the Patriot Act, and the law comes up for review by Congress in 2005.

"To abandon these tools would disconnect the dots; risk American lives; sacrifice liberty; and reject September 11th's lessons," Ashcroft said, adding later: "To abandon these tools would senselessly imperil American lives and American liberty."
The Washington Post follows this news story with an editorial about "Mr. Ashcroft's Roadshow". The editorial echoes some things I wrote on TIA and the planned terrorism futures market, regarding the general American sentiment towards the Bush Administration on these issues.
. . . if people are worried about how the Justice Department is wielding its authority under the Patriot Act, a big piece of the blame lies with Mr. Ashcroft himself. Muscular congressional oversight of this new law is critical, but the department has until recently balked at answering reasonable questions from lawmakers. At one point last fall, House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) was so exasperated he was threatening to issue a subpoena to get the information. This is no way to make the public feel better about how the department is handling sweeping new powers.

More important, it strikes us that a great measure of the public's "unease" over the law, as Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) put it, is in fact discomfort -- legitimate discomfort -- over the administration's broader disregard for civil liberties: its insistence that American citizens can be held for months without access to lawyers simply by designating them "enemy combatants"; its sweeping roundup of non-citizens in the days after 9/11; and its unapologetic stance toward the treatment of detainees who had nothing to do with terrorism but were held for months. Technically, these are separate matters from the Patriot Act. In reality, the Patriot Act has become something of a repository in the public mind for wider worries about Mr. Ashcroft's Justice Department. As the attorney general barnstorms the country, he might do a little less preaching to the already converted and a little more listening to the legitimate concerns of the American public.
I think that's right. Granted, I live in Santa Monica, which ranks with Berkeley and Cambridge, Mass. as one of the more liberal cities in America. But I associate with a balanced cross section of friends and colleagues, on the left and the right, who all evidence some distrust of John Ashcroft and this admininistration with respect to civil liberties. Mr. Ashcroft has almost become a punchline of sorts to any joke about spying, eavesdropping, or otherwise invading someone's privacy. ("Don't talk about your last date on your cell phone; John Ashcroft's listening.")

The net result of this distrust was seen very clearly in the debates over TIA and the Pentagon's planned terrorism futures market. Americans -- and their legislative representatives -- didn't care how these programs actually worked. They didn't care that academics on the left and right supported such ideas in the abstract. Despite TIA's fate, we still need computerized tools to look for "non-obvious relationships". And a closed-access futures market for experts could have been a great way to quantify collective expert opinion. Nonetheless, the American public answered these programs with a resounding "Enough already!"

After a series of anti-terrorism measures passed since Sept. 11, I think the Bush Administration has effectively spent its political capital on terrorism. These measures include, but are not limited to:

- The USA PATRIOT Act, which has become a lightning rod for criticism of the Bush Administration. I think some of that criticism should be directed at others, such as Congress, who raced to pass an omnibus bill after Sept. 11 without considering any of the secondary or tertiary implications of its provision.

- The Homeland Security Act, which consolidated and reorganized America's domestic security apparatus. I think this consolidation was probably necessary because of the inefficiencies and gaps which existed before, but some people feel threatened by the consolidation of all these agencies under one roof -- and the sharing of intelligence between them.

- The implementation of a new security regime for airports, including the use of computer-assisted passenger screening system that may have racial-profiling implications.

- Expanded powers to detain and deport immigrants, based on the USA Patriot Act and executive rulemaking authority in this area, which have led to the detention and deportation of thousands of immigrants.

- The secrecy of these proceedings, which has left Americans guessing about their true extent, and left Americans with a tangible distrust of the Justice Department on this issue

- The decision to detain Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters at Guantanamo Bay without formal designation as prisoners of war, despite Art. V of the Third Geneva Convention. (See this essay from Feb. 2002)

- The decision to detain two American citizens and a Qatari man as "enemy combatants" based on a Presidential declaration -- a designation which has resulted in their imprisonment without charge or legal process, solitary detention, seclusion from counsel.

- The executive order establishing military tribunals as an option for non-citizen terrorists -- an option that would incorporate fewer legal protections for the defendant than a civilian criminal trial or military court martial. It's not clear whether the President has the power to issue such an order, let alone conduct such tribunals.

- The prosecution of so-called "little fish" for providing "material support" to foreign terrorist organizations, under a statute added by the 1996 Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. It appears that most of these individuals have contributed some measure of support, whether money or training, to some terrorist organization, but there is no clear nexus between these men and a) actual terrorist activity and b) future terrorist acts. At most, defendants like the Lackawanna Six appear to have visited Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan (which is probably a bad thing). These men appear to have pled guilty in order to avoid designation as enemy combatants. But the prosecution of these little fish -- in the absence of any big fish prosecutions -- makes Americans feel threatened. It may ultimately be the right course of action, given the way Al Qaeda's network depends on these little fish, but it has political consequences.

- The secret detention of top-level Al Qaeda operatives at undisclosed locations, where they are being interrogated with undisclosed methods, and where their fate is uncertain. We are at war, and it is legal to detain and interrogate enemy prisoners of war. But there are rules for doing so, developed after abuses during WWII created an international consensus about the proper treatment of prisoners of war. Following the rules may impede us in some respects, but it helps us retain the moral high ground in the war on terrorism. We should not discount the importance of the moral dimension of warfare. That is what gives us international support to lead campaigns in places like Iraq; that is what enables foreign politicians to support us, because their population supports us. Moral capital is one more form of ammunition in the war on terrorism, and we squander it when we don't live by the rules of war.

Blowback: The term "blowback" refers to the unintended consequences of a policy choice. The classic example is Al Qaeda -- which appears to have developed out of the Afghan Arab movement that fought the Soviets in Afghanistan with our covert funding and support. (See Peter Bergen's Holy War, Inc. for more on Al Qaeda's history)

Now we are seeing another form of blowback, from the policy choices made by the Bush Administration in its war on terrorism. The common perception (true or not) is that this administration has a cavalier attitude towards civil liberties -- and that it will not let those things stand in the way of fighting terrorists. That's a normative judgment, and one that may be justified if you think the threat of terrorism on the scale of Sept. 11 is real and imminent.

But this normative judgment also has consequences -- the biggest one being that the American public no longer trusts John Ashcroft or the administration with their civil liberties. Every policy recommendation -- whether from the Pentagon or DoJ -- that touches civil liberties will meet a firestorm of criticism from now on. I'm not sure how the administration can remedy this distrust, or prevent this blowback from reoccuring. But I don't think Mr. Ashcroft's roadshow is going to do the trick.

Update: This isn't going to do the trick either. The Washington Post reports that the AG has instructed his 94 U.S. Attorneys to lobby Congress about the success of the USA Patriot Act and the problems with a provision in a pending House bill that would cut off funding for "sneak and peek" searches.
An Aug. 14 memorandum from Guy A. Lewis, director of the executive office for United States Attorneys, encourages federal prosecutors "to call personally or meet with . . . congressional representatives" to discuss "the potentially deleterious effects" of an amendment approved in the House last month that would cut off funding for "sneak and peek" warrants in terrorism cases.

Attached to the memo is a list of names and telephone numbers of House members, with an asterisk next to the names of those who voted in favor of the amendment sponsored by Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter (R-Idaho).

Justice officials said they believe the effort does not violate the Anti-Lobbying Act, which generally prohibits government employees from lobbying for or against legislation. But Rep. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, wrote a letter to Attorney General John D. Ashcroft yesterday questioning whether a current speaking tour by Ashcroft and contacts between U.S. attorneys and members of Congress amount to a violation of the law.

Justice spokeswoman Barbara Comstock said the campaign was fully vetted by government attorneys, and the memo warns that only U.S. attorneys themselves, who are political appointees, can initiate and attend the congressional meetings. "Congress has been saying they want to know how the Patriot Act is being used. The 93 U.S. attorneys are people who can . . . help tell members of Congress how the Patriot Act is working and how important it is," she said.
I'll reserve judgment on the Anti-Lobbying Act (18 U.S.C. 1913) issue, except to say that there is an issue here that could land U.S. Attorneys and their staffs in trouble if they don't follow the letter of the law. If anything, this order almost screams for some sort of independent prosecutor, because it would be odd for the Justice Department to prosecute one of its own U.S. Attorneys for something the AG told him or her to do.

Furthermore, this could frustrate attempts by the AG to sell the Patriot Act as something that's not threatening. Waging guerilla warfare (also known as lobbying) in the halls of Congress is not something the American public probably wants to see on this issue -- it will only make them more suspicious