chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
This article was written a long time ago, when Bin Laden was still alive. It is, however, just as relevant today with ISIS as it was back then: Terrorist Strategy 101: A Quiz

The two most relevant points:

1) "The first and biggest obstacle to your victory [your = the terrorist] is that the vast majority of the people who sympathize with your issue are not violent extremists. They may agree with you in principle. They may even sound like violent extremists late at night over their beverage of choice. But when the hammer comes down, they won't be there."

2) "In radicalizing your apathetic sympathizers, you have no better ally than the violent extremists on the other side. Only they can convince your people that compromise is impossible. Only they can raise your countrymen's level of fear and despair to the point that large numbers are willing to take up arms and follow your lead. A few blown up apartment buildings and dead schoolchildren will get you more recruits than the best revolutionary tracts ever written."
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
Various news outlets remain confused as to whether or not the San Bernardino shooting earlier this week was terrorism or workplace violence. In support of the later, the shooter worked with these people and apparently had an argument with one of them, left the event, and returned with guns. On the other hand, he'd had guns, pipe bombs and the like for some time.

Here's a thought - the type of person most likely to become a terrorist is also the type of person most likely to shoot up their school or workplace. In short, we are not talking mentally-stable, rational or calm individuals. Even shorter, nutty people are gonna do nutty things.
chris_gerrib: (Me)
Like the label on the tin says:

1) From Frank Rich Thomas Frank, How a gang of right-wing con men destroyed Washington and made a killing. Basically, the College Republicans of the 1980s went into business - the business of politics.

2) Newt Gingrich is an arse, but every once in a while he gets something right. In this case, he asks of his fellow conservatives what they would have done if they were Nelson Mandela? Gingrich suggests that Mandela, much like George Washington, did what he had to do and took what allies were available to gain freedom for his people.

3) An interesting article about the war on terror. Money quote: Clausewitz may have been a characteristically modern thinker about war, but at least part of his famous declaration that war was politics by other means was an observation about wars and victors past as well as future. I think the first basic thing that any state or society going into a war would consider is: what would be victory and when might we expect to achieve it? The second thing, following directly on that, is “how”?
chris_gerrib: (Me)
Thought #1

Various gun people will tell you that "an armed society is a polite society." By that standard, modern-day Somalia must be the most polite country in the world, and the post Civil War American west the most polite era in American history.

Thought #2

We frequently call terrorists "cowardly" even those that launch suicide attacks. Now, there is some "bravery" in being willing to die. On the other hand, attacking those that can't defend themselves isn't particularly "brave."

Thought #3

There was an article I read (behind a paywall, alas) about a shopping mall in a very conservative backwater of Saudi Arabia. The point of the article was that religious fundamentalists are fighting a losing battle. The attractions of western civilization will eventually win - what Jerry Pournelle calls the "weapons of mass distraction."
chris_gerrib: (Me)
Random links, presented randomly:

A) Interesting trivia about WWII - True fact: The last Nazi SS troops defending Berlin were…French. The Nazis were very concerned about racial purity when the war was going well, but by 1943, they changed their tune and busily recruited everybody they could find. This "everybody" included Indians from then British-governed India. Guess where those folks were stationed? Normandy on D-Day! Yep - some of the folks shot while Saving Private Ryan were dark-skinned Indians.

B) I've said it before, but the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion was no accident. The plant had been ignoring safety rules for decades.

C) Yesterday was ANZAC Day, the 98th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings in WWI. Future historians will divide this period of history into pre-WWI and post-WWI, as that was by far the most influential war of the 20th Century.

D) What writers earn - a cultural myth. (Note - 1 British pound = $1.50 US)
chris_gerrib: (Me)
Occasionally, somebody else says something to which my only response is "that's just what I would have said." From here, today brings one of those cases. The topic is targeted drone strikes overseas against US citizens.

*** quote ***

That's it exactly. This kind of stuff [drone strikes on US citizens overseas] deserves the strictest level of scrutiny from an involved citizenry because it's the very definition of the banana peel on the top of the slippery slope.

You pull some guy's charred AK-clutchin' remains out of some smoking van wreckage filled with Taliban corpses in the Hindu Kush somewhere, and I'm not going to shed any tears if you find a blackened passport with a blue cover in his pocket; I wouldn't expect Patton's Third Army to stop the drive on Bastogne and call out the lawyers if one of the Jerries in front of them yelled "Hey, Mac, I'm an American!" either.

Too far down this path, however, and I could win the argument in this thread by calling 1-800-RAT-FINK and tell them I had some rock-solid information that [Other Poster] was a... what was the term he used? a "radical Islamist"? ...and I'd win the thread by default, since he wouldn't be able to respond due to the JDAM through his roof.

If all it takes to sign a death warrant for somebody is to hang a label on them, you want to be very careful about how hard you make it to hang that label.

In the long run, it may well will almost certainly turn out that letting the occasional terrorist set off a bomb or hijack a plane would have done far less damage to the fabric of the Republic than we've done in trying to stop them.

*** end quote *** (emphasis mine)

The part in italics I emphasize because that's by far the hardest thing to get an elected official (any elected official) to say. In nearly any political environment, any politician who says that will be hounded by the opposition, unless we the people say otherwise.

Thus endeth the lesson.
chris_gerrib: (Me)
Over the weekend, I went to see Zero Dark Thirty, the Academy-Award-nominated movie about the hunt to find and kill Bin Laden. I highly recommend it.

The movie opens with audio from people stuck in the World Trade Center during the attack playing over a black screen. The first "full" scene is the torture of a detainee by CIA operatives at a black site. It's not clear at first, but they are trying to find out when an attack in Saudi Arabia is about to happen. Jessica Chastain's character is fresh off of the plane from the US, and although obviously repulsed, jumps in to help with the waterboarding. As her character progresses, she gets much more comfortable with torture.

For the rest of the movie we closely track Jessica's character "Maya" and she is in nearly every scene. It's clear to me at least that the producers were of the opinion that the CIA thought torture was critical to finding Bin Laden. Just for the record - whether or not the CIA needed torture to find Bin Laden, using torture is wrong. It's also clear that the people doing the torture knew they were in the wrong - there's a line in the movie to the effect of "you don't want to be the guy holding the dog collar when the oversight committee comes by."

Also celebrated in the movie is "HUMINT" or "human intelligence." For example, Bin Laden's courier is tracked by having a bunch of local Pakistanis stand on the side of the main road and call in every time they see the courier's car go by. Gee-whiz gadgetry plays a supporting role. The whole movie is gritty and as realistic as possible. Maya is involved in two terrorist attacks, and both of them happen with no warning or even a change of background music.

I have to say, both from the movie and other information, that I don't quite understand one part of Bin Laden's thinking. He hides himself in a secure building, but seems to have no plan for defending the place. A helicopter crashes in the man's back yard, for Pete's sake, and there is no real attempt at an armed response. The man's kids are in the house, and there is no effort to move them or Bin Laden to a defensible position. He just waited around to be shot.

At any rate, a thoughtful movie, highly recommended.
chris_gerrib: (Default)
Like the label on the tin says...

A) Coming home from work yesterday, the road leading to my house was blocked. Three ambulances, two cop cars and two fire trucks were called out for an acid spill at the local wading pool.

B) Gollancz, the SF and Fantasy imprint of the Orion Publishing Group, announces the launch of the world's largest digital SFF library, the SF Gateway, which will make thousands of out-of-print titles by classic genre authors available as eBooks. Yeah!

C) A fascinating report on the raid that got Osama Bin Laden.

D) A reminder that paper maps will never be completely obsolete. Since I will be traveling in these same areas, I've already gotten my paper maps.

E) Found via dinking about, a reminder that there were no libertarians in the 17th century Scottish highlands. Libertarianism, as a philosophy, is a symptom of effective government.
chris_gerrib: (Default)
Because they're cluttering up my web browser, that's why.

1) The California Vikings?. Actually, evidence suggesting that some of the American Indians came by boat.

2) One of the things that is becoming apparent to me is that advanced civilizations tend to be much more efficient in their use of resources, including energy. Exhibit # 5343? using CRT tubes as light bulbs. (I think I got this from [livejournal.com profile] jeff_duntemann.) On a related note, geothermal energy without breaking rocks. (I think this is a [livejournal.com profile] jaylake find.)

3) The most detailed account yet of the Bin Laden raid. Per the article, OBL was running into a bedroom when he got shot.

4) When dealing with pirates, sometimes you just gotta shoot up their boat.

5) I frequently disagree with Megan McArdle, and she's made some really bone-headed mathematical errors in her posts. However, when she says there's no magic privatization fairy dust that will make any government function work better if privatized, I have to agree with her.

6) Via Making Light, I found this fascinating, although long, article from 1987 pointing out that the Mississippi River is desperately trying to change course and the US Government is desperately trying to stop it.
chris_gerrib: (Default)
A few additional thoughts:

1) In a perfect world, Bin Laden would have been captured alive. Since we don't live anywhere near perfect, as the commercial goes, Bin Laden dead and buried in the ocean is more than adequate for me.

Two thoughts from Top Ten Myths About Bin Laden's Death:

2) Bush 43 did not spend his time hunting Bin Laden. In fact, in 2006 he closed down the CIA department charged with finding him.

3) Don Rumbsfeld says we did not get the courier's name via waterboarding. Now, I don't recall saying that torture was never effective at getting information, but I do recall saying that torture was bad for America. Here is evidence that it was unneeded.

On Pakistan's involvement in hiding Bin Laden:

4) Pakistan suffers from the same type of problem as Colombia: the central government is weak and the bad guys are strong. This power imbalance makes Pakistan inherently unreliable. That and the fact that the type of compound Bin Laden was living in was not terribly unusual for the area means that it's possible for him to have been hiding there without government help.

5) On the other hand, Pakistan has interests that differ from America's. The biggest difference is that Pakistan wants a weak Afghanistan, and the Taliban are a tool to get that. The other difference is that the people in northern Pakistan are of the same ethnicity as southern Afghanistan, and these people share common goals and interests. In short, sometimes and for some people, helping America is not in their interests.

Bin Laden

May. 3rd, 2011 11:29 am
chris_gerrib: (Default)
On Celebrating His Death

Brian Dunbar ([livejournal.com profile] bdunbar) and others take some issue with celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden. I do tend to agree that celebrating a death is unseemly, but there is a moral distinction here. Bin Laden killed thousands of innocent people, while those that celebrated 9/11 were celebrating the death of innocents.

By any standard of justice, Bin Laden deserved to die. Celebrating his death is celebrating justice being done. It's unseemly but not immoral.

The "Law Enforcement" Approach to Terrorism

The operation that killed Bin Laden is exactly the kind of operation we should pursue with other terrorists. It's the "pirate Bin Laden" approach. We go try to get the bad guy with whatever appropriate force needed. If he survives the getting process, we try him in a court. If he doesn't survive, we bury him.
chris_gerrib: (Default)
So, I've written before of my idea that terrorists should be considered under the piracy model. I read today of somebody else who suggests that we look at terrorists like we look at drug cartels. The article has some good points, namely:

1) Both entities operate in lawless areas.
2) Neither entity is particularly popular with the locals.
3) Significantly, unlike the drug cartels, Al-Qaeda doesn't have a lot of money.

Now, where I disagree with the author is that the military does have a role to play in law enforcement. Specifically, if the bad guys have too much firepower for the police to handle, then send in the Army. Also, sometimes just shooting the bad guy is a better all-around solution then attempting an arrest. Simply put, if an arrest is not possible, don't bother. Consider it Tuco's Law - when it's time to shoot, shoot. Don't talk, shoot.
chris_gerrib: (Default)
I’ve written before of the link between piracy and terrorism. Some of those links are obvious – pirates flew a black flag to strike terror in their victims. Others are not so obvious. But the more I think of this link between piracy and terror, the more I think that the two are historically analogous situations, and that the “law enforcement approach” which ended piracy in the Caribbean is the correct approach for today’s terrorist threat.

I put “law enforcement approach” in quotes because the idea that the military is not involved in law enforcement is one of those “only in America” ideas. In the rest of the world, and for that matter in the USA prior to 1876, militaries were and are routinely involved in law enforcement. As part of the Compromise of 1877, the Posse Comitatus Act was passed, creating a firewall between the military and law enforcement. Even under current law, it only applies within the United States.

At any rate, what put an end to the piracy problem in the Caribbean was a simple concept – the military (usually Navy) captured pirates and cleared out pirate bases, and those pirates that survived the capture process were tried in civilian courts. Also important was that government support for piracy ended, about which more in a minute.

Although we tend to snicker at “Pirates of the Caribbean” and think of Johnny Depp, in the 17th Century pirates were a serious threat. The pirate Henry Morgan sacked Panama City and Maracaibo, two towns with fortifications and battalion-sized garrisons of regular troops. But this was only possible because Morgan, who ended his days as Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica, had the more-than-tacit support of Great Britain. (A Great Britain that did not yet rule the waves – in 1667 the Dutch fleet sailed up the Thames and shelled London, then left, brooms flying from their rigging.)

But despite Morgan’s power, the idea of attacking a mainland Spanish city didn’t even cross his mind. Nor could Morgan hold the colony towns he sacked. Once government support ended, piracy declined steeply. This was followed up by a vigorous use of military and police force, and, eventually, piracy came to a near-end. Piracy was a serious threat, but never an existential one.

The analogy to Al-Qaida should be obvious. Although the nuclear nightmare is a possibility, nobody seriously thinks Al-Qaida will develop its own nuclear weapons. They can hurt us, as we saw on 9/11, but overthrow the country? Not likely. Even less likely without their bases in Afghanistan – a place that makes Tortuga island look like a hub of industry.

So, in regards to Al Qaida, at least, we are roughly in the same place as the anti-piracy forces in the Caribbean were circa 1720 - plenty of pirates, but dispersed and relatively weak. Rounding them up required a lot of effort, including civilian police work. History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes.
chris_gerrib: (Default)
The title of today's post is in quotes because it's the stupidest possible name for what we're engaged in. "Terror" is a tactic, not an ideology nor an entity. We could announce that we are at war with terrorists, or Islamic fundamentalists.

The problem with the first idea (war against terrorists) is that we don't have a good definition of "terrorist." (One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.) Well, actually, we used have an internationally-accepted definition of "terrorist." We called them "pirates."

Today, you say the word pirate and everybody snickers, thinking of Johnny Depp. But piracy was a real problem, involving the looting and burning of entire cities. Well, some bright legal thinker did his historical research and came up with a working definition of terrorism based on existing law about piracy. (Hat tip Making Light) The article is worth a read.

There's a second problem. Some people seem to be convinced that there is no such thing as "Islamic Fundamentalism." Today's Exhibit is also from Making Light - their post and discussion on the British beheading plot. (The comment thread is especially interesting.)

I fully agree that, as a matter of law and fairness, the accused deserve a presumption of innocence. However, I do not accept the arguments being made there that there is no such thing as Islamic fundamentalism, or that such beliefs aren't a threat to our civilization.

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