Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Air Power Delusions


An excellent article in this week's The Economist: Air Power - An Enduring Illusion. The article is worth reading when one considers recent events in Lebanon with Israel's ill-conceived use of air power, addressed in an earlier blog post by myself (The Iranian Threat - Puhleeeeeeeze) and American expectations in just about every war it has participated in since WW II.

Right now the only military service in the Pentagon that embraces military action against Iran's nuclear program is ... you guessed it, the U.S. Air Force! I addressed this in U.S. Military: One Up, One Down which covers The New Yorker article by Seymour Hersh which talks about the administrations maneuvers to obtain backing to do "something" about Iran's nuclear program. What's the likelihood that any Air Force, U.S. or not, could wipe out an Iranian nuclear program? Just about zero. What's the likelihood, after doing such a thing, that the Iranian people would opt to overthrow their government and decide that America is the light it needs to follow, especially after we bombed the hell out of their nuclear program? You guessed it, just about zero. After the rubble was cleared, the and the dead buried, what's the likelihood that Iran would indeed go after a nuclear weapon, and in fact be successful in getting one? I'll hazard to say significantly greater than 0, in fact I'd say the odds are pretty darn good. So what would be the point of bombing Iran's nuclear progam? You got me ...

There are few instances anyone can point to where air power has carried the day in a war, and none of any significance where this has happened when faced with a guerrilla war. But the technologically advanced countries of the world repeatedly convince themselves that they can solve their problems with precision guided munitions dropped by stealth bombers or whatever else you can attach a bomb to. The hubris attached to that kind of thinking, in the face of historical evidence to the contrary, is hard to understand, but it also brings to mind a paraphrase of a comment I remember from a book by Michael Ignatieff, which is that the west seems to have an inclination to fight a war with all of its clever machines, but not have its own people die for one - we'll leave that to those we bomb, in the end for little to gain beyond really pissing off a lot of people we could well enough do without pissing off.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Iranian Threat - Puhleeeeeeeze ...

This bothers me no end, and this particular "bother" has been triggered by this morning's article in the NY Times, Some in G.O.P. Say Iran Threat Is Played Down. The leading paragraph to the article states:

Some senior Bush administration officials and top Republican lawmakers are voicing anger that American spy agencies have not issued more ominous warnings about the threats that they say Iran presents to the United States.

Shades of deja vu. Here we have the administration and its lackeys warning the intelligence community, which, by the way, it has stacked with ITS own people, that they're not providing enough evidence to highlight the threat of Iran. I can only conjecture from this that they're looking for support to do something in Iran, such as bomb its nuclear facilities (wherever the heck they may be located as at this point no one really knows, something those tricky/threatening Iranians have been very clever about) - does this sound like something we've seen before? Maybe like what this very same administration was doing to justify the mess we now find ourselves entangled in in Iraq?

I'm not a big conspiracy freak, but this has all the markings of the administration pandering to Israel and its followers here in the U.S. Israel has been embarrassed by its venture into Lebanon, and made to feel vulnerable. The image conveyed of late from the talk pundits and the media in general is that some odd few thousand Hezbollah guerrillas have beaten Israel, the regional superpower. This is ridiculous - Hezbollah suffered far more than Israel did, and the Lebanese themselves have suffered far worse than anyone. This wasn't a classic war, which not a single country in the region could hope to win with Israel, but a guerrilla action that has lines for victory and defeat that are far more ambiguous than when powers of equal standing, or assumed equal standing when one considers the Arab and Iranian militaries in the region, go to war. In an army to army battle no one in the region can expect to defeat Israel, but when it comes to a guerrilla action, such as Israel in Lebanon and the U.S. in Iraq (or Vietnam for that matter), a classic military such as Israel's or that of the United States is at a disadvantage, especially when the guerrillas in question embrace the opportunity to die (the Vietnamese never were so willing to get themselves killed.) Israel's problem was making claims regarding victory it should have known were nearly impossible to achieve, going into this with an army ill-prepared for the mission (this is very disturbing if the reports coming out of late regarding this are true, with troops ill-trained, ill-equipped, and otherwise simply not up to the task), and an over reliance on air power to get the job done, something that technologically advanced countries like Israel and the U.S. should know better than to do, but it seems we have to re-learn this lesson time and time again.

So, Israel's embarrassed, possibly feeling threatened, and the administration feels this is an opportunity to rally around "getting" Iran, which ostensibly is behind Hezbollah's activities in Lebanon, to show support for Israel. Of course there's no evidence to support that Iran is pulling Hezbollah's strings (see cited Times article above) - yes, Iran supplies Hezbollah and that's enough of a concern, but that's not the same as being able to tell Hezbollah what to do which is a different matter altogether. But if we can make the case that Iran's a threat to the U.S. (mind you, it's the U.S. that's threatened per the administration, not Israel) we can then take care of that threat, just like we did in Iraq, right? Interestingly enough, and something I wrote about back in July regarding an article by Seymour Hersh (see U.S. Military: One Up, One Down), the only U.S. military service that seems to be biting at the bit to go into Iran is the U.S. Air Force - what a surprise. All of the ground services see the problem with Iran and know that there's no way to go in there while in Iraq, and even minus complications from Iraq it'd be an extraordinarily difficult mission, and the Navy's not interested in bottling up its aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf to make fat targets of them for the high speed, bomb laden Iranian Revolutionary Guard boats. But if we did go in we'll surely be supporting the Israelis, right, just like we were supporting democracy when we invaded Iraq?

Iran is not a threat to the U.S., never has been, likely never will be. It surely will often be a pain to U.S. policy makers who often won't agree with the leaders of that country, but it'll never be a direct threat. For as much bellicosity rained on Israel by Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, there's little direct threat to Israel from Iran either. Indirectly Iran is a troublemaker for Israel as Iran does support Hezbollah and Hamas, two organizations whose prime reason for existence is to be a thorn in the side of Israel. But even with a nuclear weapon Iran isn't a threat - Israel has many nuclear weapons, and the means by which to deliver them now, Iran doesn't. Israel won't hesitate to wipe Iran off the face of the Middle East were it to believe that it was responsible for a nuclear attack on Israel and it's unlikely that anyone in a position of influence in Tehran isn't very well aware of this.

The administration shouldn't be goading the intelligence community to produce intelligence data that supports its ideological contentions/beliefs - you'd think they'd have learned that after the Iraq debacle, but apparently not. Moreover, there's no possible excuse anyone can comeup with that justifies military action in Iran as the fact remains that if the Iranians want nuclear weapons they'll eventually get them and trying to stop them, especially with military force, will simply give them reasons for getting them that much more quickly and threatening the world with using them. We must be sure to prevent a repeat of what we've already managed to thoroughly foul up in Iraq, though with Iran the costs would be vastly higher and the end results would be even less desirable than what we're now getting in Iraq. This administration has managed to befoul one part of the Middle East already, we must not stand by and watch as it rationalizes going about trying to do it again.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Incredible ...

Taken from The New York Times

While I'll admit that this is an odd assortment of countries, it's likely this way so that the U.S. isn't solely compared to its fellow "first world" countries like Japan and those of the European Union. Having the fewest percentage of people who believe that they evolved from earlier species in that crowd doesn't quite frame where we in the U.S. stand, but throw in Malta, Slovenia, Latvia, Croatia, to name but a few, it's another matter all together. I suppose there's some comfort to be taken from the fact that we beat out the anchor country, Turkey, by a healthy margin, though it's hardly something to crow about.

How is it that in the country that's considered the most technologically advanced and dependent for its riches on science, we have so few people who fundamentally understand how biology works? Maybe it's not a matter of simply not understanding but more a matter of choosing not to understand, which is even scarier when you think about it. Whatever it might be, it is embarrassing and causes me no end to wonder as to where this country is going to go when so many are so ignorant, so unwilling to accept what their religion tells them differently, or just think of themselves as so plain special that the rules of biology just don't apply to them ... I'm afraid that there are likely more in the latter category than one would like to think.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Letter Regarding Mistreatment of Iranian Visitors

Ok, I got a bit hot under the collar on this one, but the whole thing is chock full of the sort of stuff that should make any right thinking person hot and pissed off. This is regarding the abuse of Iranian visitors who were issued visas by our consulates overseas and then detained/arrested at their airport of entry here in the states. This mess was laid our pretty clearly in an article at Iranian.com, specifically Iranians detained at San Francisco airport, 2006. After reading this I was compelled to write a letter that today I sent to both senate representatives for my state, my congressman, and to the President for good measure. Not that I expect anything to come of this, but I felt it was important to have at least expressed my outrage very directly to the "powers-that-be". To go full circle with this I'm sharing the letter, here, too:

August 11, 2006

Enclosed you’ll find a copy of a 9 August 2006 article which ran in Iranian.com, a web site established to provide information to the Iranian community throughout the world. Please bear in mind that the person who has written the email highlighted in this article was one of the victims of the incident described and is writing with English as her second language, a fact that in no way should reduce the impact of what she was subjected to, nor put in question how in this case we treated invited foreigners to this country.

I wanted to bring this incident to your attention inasmuch as it received little publicity here that I’m aware of, it doesn’t seem that anyone feels that there’s a need to explain why these people were treated this way, and frankly I am still incredulous that an incident such as this could occur in my country. I’m a retired naval officer with 22 years of service to this nation, and this is not how I expect the U.S. to represent itself to people who are invited into its borders. Moreover, I’m married to an Iranian scientist currently involved in research here in Providence at Brown University, and I have many personal friends who are graduates of Sharif University of Technology who are also in the U.S. doing graduate and post-doctoral work in some of the more prestigious educational institutions in this country.

I am flabbergasted that our country would have issued visas to Iranian graduates of Sharif University, an institution internationally referred to and respected as the MIT of Iran, only to arrest them upon their arrival here in the United States. What sort of policy allows for this? What sort of disconnect in how we treat foreign visitors to this country would allow for such inhospitable, disrespectful, and flat out rude behavior on the part of this country? The Bush administration professes to want to influence change in Iran and I’d very much like to know how the manhandling and mistreating of citizens of Iran, much less those representing the upper tier of the country, manages to foster any measure of good will between those most likely to be the actual agents of change in Iran and the U.S. government?

I respectfully request that you look into this matter. We cannot hope to expect to positively influence anyone from any country if our policies are going to lead to the sort of incident described in the enclosure to this letter. If we don’t want specific Iranians in this country for whatever reason, and Lord knows our consulates deny them visas all the time for reasons that are rarely ever made clear to them, we shouldn’t be providing them visas and then arresting them and treating them like criminals when they arrive here – I am besides myself with trying to make sense of the lunacy that would justify what was done in this situation to people who now are soured on this country, and who have many friends, relatives, and acquaintances who’ll also take a decidedly negative view regarding the U.S..

Bottom line, I don’t want my family, my friends, or the many Iranians who have traditionally maintained a positive perspective regarding this country subjected to this sort of treatment. I expect that you would feel the same way and ask that you help in preventing this sort of thing from happening in the future.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Death & Destruction Good, Oral Sex Bad - Remember That

Well, gee, why not? It makes about as much sense as anything else he's done there ...

I've just finished reading Thomas Ricks' new book, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. Now this book, on top of Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq by Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor, and Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War by Anthony Shadid, leaves me stunned on the one hand, and angry on the other.

These books have left me wondering how in the world Congress took a sitting U.S. President through an impeachment for lying about an act of fellatio in the oval office, yet doesn't seem to have so much as its feathers ruffled about the ineptitude, arrogance, hubris, and fundamental lack of honesty that emanates out of this administration and it's principal players. Let me be more specific regarding who the principal players are when we're talking about this specific issue, i.e. the current Iraq war: Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz (who is now the president of the World Bank, a McNamarian attempt to expunge himself of his sins from his last job as the man main under Rumsfeld, and he couldn't be World Bank president nearly long enough to make that happen), Gen. Tommy Franks, Paul Bremer, and maybe George Tenet, who I feel sorry for on some level but then again his pain comes no where near what the military in the field is going through, what the Iraqi people have had to bear now and into the future, or what the American people are having lifted out of their wallets daily, so my "feel sorry" quotient for the guy who played no small part in our getting into Iraq isn't high at all.

As of today there are over 2,500 American dead, and over 19,000 wounded (for the most recent numbers I recommend Iraq Coalition Casualties). I'm guessing that this site, Iraq Body Count, is essentially bonafide, as it looks well referenced and the major complaint seems to be that they under-report Iraqi casualties, but let's give it the benefit of the doubt and assume that the 40,000 + Iraqi deaths is a reasonable estimate. So we have a large number of American dead, and the number is increasing pretty much weekly, and a huge number of wounded Americans, and if we take the extraordinary number of Iraqi dead and multiply that by say 4 (Americans, due to on-site emergency critical care and rapid medevac to state-of-the-art medical facilities, are MUCH more likely to survive injury than Iraqis), we have somewhere in the neighborhood of 160,000 Iraqi wounded, and why?

First it was because Sadaam had weapons of mass destruction and was supporting terrorists - no, actually, he wasn't and the intelligence was there to support that neither was true but that didn't support what the administration wanted to do so it wasn't paid attention to. Then our focus became helping democracy take root in the region - it's doubtful that the American people would have bought into this were that the prime motive to begin with. Of course our excursion into Iraq was executed with little to no appreciation for the fact that some regions of the world are resistant to democracy when ethnic, tribal, and religious affiliations take precedence to any consideration of the rules for or implementation of democracy, an institution which of course would limit ethnic, tribal, or religious prerogatives. Whatever the reason and how fallacious they were, the fact was that we went into the country with NO plan to take the necessary steps to secure it and afford it the chance to get on an even keel - there was no plan to occupy the country, in spite of the fact that we just conquered it. Neocon fools like Wolfowitz proclaimed that the Iraqis would take over after we did the fighting and won the war (he appeared to have in mind his buddy Chalabi), and the restoration of the country would pay for itself, so who needed a plan for occupation/restoration, or anything else past winning the war?

Now Rumsfeld bought into this ridiculous self-delusion and, in the spirit of his much vaunted "military transformation", decided to ignore every signal he received from the military that told him he couldn't do what was planned for with the troop levels he was dictating - he was CEO of a company somewhere, and was the SecDef once before, what need he for generals, their training, experience, and good common sense? He of course knew better and frankly he, more than anyone else, with the possible exception of generals like Franks and Meyers who essentially supported the man's plan, is responsible for the large number of dead and wounded - their blood is on his hands, but he's too damn obtuse and self-rightous to likely ever been particularly bothered by that.

Each of the books I mentioned at the start of this provide an outstanding picture for how the Iraq adventure became so incredibly messed up, and it didn't start after we got there. Cobra II, as does Fiasco make clear that the planning leading up to the war was rife with problems from poor direction from the Pentagon; the Pentagon excluding the State department from any part in the planning for the war or its aftermath, resulting in eliminating the expertise that would have helped to identify, address and possibly correct the problems we eventually ran into; a rush to make the war happen which guaranteed that the military was not appropriately prepared to take on what it would have to deal with after it won the war; and the list goes on.

Thomas Ricks quotes an Iraqi blogger by the name of The Mesopotamian who shares a possible outcome, which would arise when we left the country, to our involvement in Iraq:

"That would be followed by fighting between Shiite and Sunni groups along the murky ethnic dividing line running southwest from Baghdad. In the capital, 'all shops and markets are closed and start to be looted.' Next, the Kurds would move to capture the key oil city of Kirkuk, on the edge of their historical territory. 'Turkey cannot allow that and invades from the North.' The Kurds would turn to Iran for protection, as would the Shiites, who would feel abandoned by the west and betrayed once more by the United States. In response to the Iranian intervention, he predicted, a torrent of Arabs from Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia would pour into Iraq to support their Sunni brothers. 'All join an infernal orgy of death and destruction the likes of which have seldom been seen,' he said, and oil prices would rocket past one hundred dollars a barrel as 'fanaticism sweeps the region.'"

Now of course this is just one man's speculation for what might happen, but the problem is that something like this can't simply be scoffed at - the possibility of it, or some variation of it occurring is real. Why? Because we went into Iraq without good reason, completely ill-prepared due to an extraordinary hubris, and worse than and of that, we had no plan for what we'd do after we inevitably won the war. This administration has created the chance that we may find ourselves going back to war in the Middle East, fighting a very different enemy, not to mention potentially providing the keys to the Middle East to the Iranian government and leaving us with a much larger problem that we may never resolve.

So I ask you, how is it that an act of oral sex that was lied about trumps all of this?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Doctors Are Just Special - Part II

My hero!

Now this time out I actually find a doctor that seems to "get it", unlike last week with Doctors Are Just Special. So it's not that she's so special, really, she's simply exhibiting the sort of ethical behavior I'd expect of any responsible professional who's sensitive to conflicts of interest (COI) or with the perception of COI. Anyway, the person I'm talking about is the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Dr. Catherine D. DeAngelis. We get to know a bit about her in today's NY Times in an article by Donald G. McNeil Jr., Tough-Talking Journal Editor Faces Accusations of Leniency. Now if you read the article you soon come to appreciate that Dr. DeAngelis is being anything but lenient. But detractors like Dr. Jerome P. Kassirer, the former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, apparently thinks they're being sloppy over at JAMA because a number of writers who submitted papers to the journal didn't fully disclose potential conflicts of interest (COI). Kassirer of all people should know better, I mean really, what's DeAngelis to do, hold a gun to the head of doctors to make sure they disclose possible COI? I'm sure that NEJM NEVER had this problem because guys like Kassirer were striking the fear of God into all authors submitting papers to his journal - righto.

Of course Dr. Kassirer should have talked to one of his colleagues before he went and shot off his mouth as we have Dr. Gregory D. Curfman, the current executive editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, agreeing with DeAngeils that checking up on every author submitting papers to a journal was impossible, and he went so far as to express admiration for Dr. DeAngelis - gotta love it, I do.

But then there's Dr. Thomas B. Stossel, a hematologist at Harvard who's a living example of the fact that even Harvard can hire the clueless. Let's be enlightened by the good Dr. Stossel:

“ ... academic socialists and the conflict-of-interest vigilantes” are stifling the biotechnology revolution by exaggerating the fear that doctors who own patents or company stock will fabricate data.

“This idea that money is evil and academia is made up of saints is nonsense,” Dr. Stossel said. “Some of my vaunted academic colleagues would run their grandmothers over.” He favors disclosure, too, he said, but journal editors “have acquired halos and become arbiters of scientific morality.”

“There’s this myth that if Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama and Catherine DeAngelis got up and told us what to do, the public’s health would be better off,” he said. “That’s not true.”

Wow, little did I know that it's all about stifling doctors' ability to make money, and the reason my biotech mutual fund has been going down lately is because of people like Dr. DeAngelis - darn! The "conflict-of-interest vigilantes" - how do these nefarious vigilantes go about stifling the capitalist opportunities of doctors? Well, by insisting that they make clear their business associations when what they write about in a scientific journal bears on that business. What in the world is so hard about THAT? Stossel, though, in the spirit of the best spin malarkey, turns this into a "money is evil" crusade, though he does let us know that he, too, favors disclosure - so what's the problem? But those of us concerned with COI are either academic socialists (well, I'm not an academic so I'm excluded) or COI vigilantes, or COIV's for short - Carl Rove surely must love this guy.

What's DeAngelis, as I'm not aware of Mother Teresa, long dead, or the Dalai Lama having a dog in this fight, telling guys like Stossel to do? I'm confused, inasmuch as it seems to be exactly what Stossel says guys like he should be doing, at least with regard to disclosure in journal articles. Is it that the public's health would be better off? Well, yeah, maybe in fact it would be, in fact I'd bet it would be when financial interests compete with patient interests who's likely to lose that fight? Disclosure, getting it out there in the open, doesn't prevent a doctor from writing an article or making money on anything, but it does make it clear that he/she has potentially less than a totally impartial view on what's being written about and disclosure, I would think, would likely make them more careful about putting their name to something they weren't 100% certain, or as close as anyone can reasonably expect to be, confident wasn't a product of some agenda. But I'm sure Stossel is the sort of saint that would never put his pocketbook above his patients, in fact all doctors that seem to have a problem with this issue feel that way; they're special, as I pointed out last time.

Here are some of the entitlements that Dr. Stossel seems to want to protect that Dr. DeAngelis is combating:

... she says pharmaceutical companies do try to corrupt researchers by asking them to put their names on ghost-written articles and by using journals like hers to implicitly endorse their products.

Dr. DeAngelis will not let companies buy advertisements in issues in which their products are studied, and when she attends a medical dinner and discovers a drug company has paid for it, she said: “I don’t eat. It kills me, but I only drink water. Tap water.”

So being paid simply to put one's name on a research paper isn't a real problem in the world of Dr. Stossel, and there should be no concern with thinking that if someone pays for your meal, and is repeatedly allowed to do so, that you might be running into an ethical quandary. Dr. Stossel, being of Harvard, apparently thinks doctors are made of finer stuff and would NEVER be influenced by such things, in fact in his world it would seem that doctors are entitled to every freebie they can get because they would never be swayed by petty trifles like lunches, dinners, trips to the Bahamas ... hmmmm, we likely have to draw the line somewhere, but where oh where should it be? Well, no worry, doctors like Stossel aren't like us, they're special.

The idea isn't to keep doctors from making money, it's to make sure that any possible undo influence that may exist is clear and out in the open, which on its own sets a stage for conferring a doctor benefit of the doubt, unlike when some sort of possible COI is discovered later when an investigation into a drug, machine, or procedure is required due to death or harm. In addition, we get into a whole other area of concern and that's medical-focused companies, big Pharma, with their pretty faces that ply doctors with various freebies, surely not to unduly influence (cough, cough, and no, I'm ot being checked for a hernia as a write this), but rather to show some supplier/customer collegiality, or something like that.

Within DoD, which often enough has it's own ethics problems, there are specific guidelines regarding what you can accept from a vendor or anyone you do business with for whatever reason, and the limits are pretty stringent when you get right down to it - here you're trying to protect the interest of the taxpayer and sustain confidence in the viability of our defense establishment. With medical COI there's a real possibility of doing patient harm, something not quite as abstract as protecting the taxpayer's fiduciary interest. Isn't it about time that the medical community created something of the kind, laying out clearly what's acceptable ethically? My guess is that guys like Dr. Stossel, who seem to be more focused on protecting their right to capitalistic indulgence and apparently obscuring one's professional associations, might have a problem with this, which is likely why COI has been a problem for so long.