Sunday, March 27, 2011


Flesh of the Earth

This Arab Spring has been uncannily like the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, only this one's entirely made by humans. Like continental plates grinding against each other, tensions that can't go on forever have been going on way too long. Once they shift, the energies released are as implacable and unstoppable as a tsunami. Mass movement is scary, more like a force of nature than a volitional act.

Volitional acts do matter, though. In both natural disasters and manmade ones.

Revolutionary situations expose the faultlines usually hiding beneath the surface of a political superstructure. While the unrest of the Arab Spring has spread in ever wider circles, events in the countries where it has broken out have followed rather distinct trajectories. While situations like these are extremely fluid and anything but deterministic, a good deal of what's going on is explicable by the hidden faultlines within the societies now coming to the surface.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

To Intervene Or Not To Intervene?

Fading Mural
Fading Mural, Dresden, 2010

There's a lot of debate about the Libyan intervention. That can only be a good thing, I think. Not so good is much of the quality of the arguments in that debate. There's a lot of knee-jerk nonsense on both sides, and a few very solid arguments, also on both sides. I'm really having a hard time deciding whether I support this action or not.

Bad Arguments Against

"If we're intervening in Libya, why not Darfur, Bahrain, Yemen...?" Yeah, sure, there's a double standard. International politics is a jungle. An intervention will only happen if somebody powerful enough to intervene feels that it's in its national interest to do so—or at least not against its interest not to do so. It will never be possible to intervene everywhere it's needed. That means that the logical implication of this argument is "we should never intervene anywhere," but there are much better arguments in favor of that position. The big flaw with this argument is that it implicitly concedes that intervention is justified in all of these places, then plops you in a place where you can't in practice intervene anywhere. That's a bit too much like a witch's trial by fire for my blood.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The French Moment

Danger de Mort

One of the things that's most been bothering me about the Libyan intervention is the why. This kind of thing demands a lot of effort and big risks. Why? What's the payoff to justify all that? No answers yet, but I'm starting to have a few ideas that make some kind of sense to me. What follows is extremely speculative, essentially me thinking out loud, so take it for what it's worth, i.e., not a whole lot.

First, a little speculation about the "what."

Monday, March 21, 2011

Something Fishy About Libya


The more I think about Libya, the less I like what's going on. Something here just doesn't add up.

This is going way too fast. You can't order precision airstrikes at the drop of a hat. You need to get special recon teams in to identify and designate targets. That means that this has been in the works for at least two weeks at an absolute minimum, which is a good deal longer than the political process on the surface.

The Arab League resolution calling for a no-fly zone. Amr Moussa is now backpedaling on it, shocked that it's actually being implemented. I get the feeling that they were tricked into it somehow. How? By whom? What happened?

The UN resolution 1973. Putin is now backpedaling on it, yet Russia abstained. What did Russia and China get for abstaining? How was that arranged?

What's plan B? Plan A appears to be something like "take out Qaddafi's heavy assets from the air; this will demoralize the officer corps and cause the regime to collapse when the rebels move on it." Fair enough. But suppose the regime doesn't collapse. Then what? The Western powers doing the bombing can't just call it off and go home. I'm pretty sure they don't want a protracted war, what with Iraq and Afghanistan, and they don't even have the resources for a full-on invasion and occupation.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Libya: This Had Better Work

Photo by B.R.Q. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Muammar Qaddafi isn't big on that forgiveness thing.

Almost exactly 25 years ago, President Ronald Reagan decided to send Qaddafi a little love letter, in the shape of some cruise missiles with his name on them. That was for some nasty shit Qaddafi had pulled in West Berlin some time previously. Qaddafi narrowly escaped that time. Lockerbie was his thank-you note to the USA. Hell, it's 1986 all over again, even a nuclear disaster going on at the same time.

If he survives, you might not want to fly Air France for a while.

I blew my strategic overview big-time a few blog posts ago. Sorry. At least I'm in fairly good company; not a great many people have been guessing this one right. I really wish the War Nerd weighed in, he's uncanny. But then perhaps his secret is to only call the obvious ones and leave the rest to us amateurs and wannabies.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Broken Power Line
Broken Power Line, Lebanon, 2005

If the Fukushima disaster really causes us to give up on nuclear power, I hope to God it won't mean more coal, because that's what's really destroying the planet. I'm feeling terribly depressed about it. Unreasonably depressed, perhaps. At some level, I'm still the teenage nerdy techno-utopian that I was a quarter-century ago. The 1950's dream of abundant, clean energy has always held a special allure for me. Imagine what we could do with it – eradicate war and hunger, go to the stars, pursue the arts and sciences... Yeah, it was a beautiful dream.

I still think we have the technological capability to do it. A thorium-based economy is totally feasible, and we know how to make nuclear plants safe. The Fukushima disaster has, however, shaken my already fragile faith in our social capability.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Civil War in Libya

Turning in weapons
Photo by Al Jazeera English. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Civil war is the ugliest kind of war. It's personal in a way that international wars aren't. It's also ugly for a practical reason: the belligerents start out right next to each other. That means they can get at each other, up close and personal, right from the start.

By now, Libya is in civil war. The situation is still very fluid and confusing, but a picture has emerged. It could play out in any of a number of ways, but the longer this takes, the longer it looks likely to take.

Here's a brief strategic overview.