Civilian Control of the Military

Watching this 14 minute of clip of Scarborough Country looking at how isolated Bush is. Conservatives Scarborough and Mike Barnicle are (finally) using words like "delusional." Watch it here.

One of the things that they're really hammering is how he is not listening to the generals and not doing whatever they say. Barnicle, at the end, says that if there is evidence that Bush ignored his commanders on the ground, then he should be "relieved of command."

Let's get something straight. Bush was (probably) elected by American voters. Therefore Bush controls the military. What he says goes. Generals should not tell Bush what to do, and their advice should not dictate policy. When Bush was saying that he was "listening to his commanders on the ground" and insinuating that his generals supported his plans, it was obviously "spin" for purely domestic political purposes. If he had actually been listening to his generals, he would have been allowing tactics to drive strategy. His commanders would naturally have skewed opinions, emphasizing their own sectors and missions for resources. While it is important for Bush to listen to those opinions, they shouldn't be the dominant driver of American strategy in Iraq.

Much of the media is treating the fact that Bush has no support from his generals like some unprecedented calamity. There's actually a significant, and positive, precedent. In World War II, FDR went against the advice of his generals all the time, sometimes for diplomatic reasons (to support Britain or the USSR) and sometimes just using his own judgment. The invasion of North Africa, Operation Torch, was undertaken against strenuous opposition from American generals, who wanted to invade occupied France as soon as possible. World War II generals also fought amongst themselves for resources, men, ships, planes, intelligence, etc.

Now here's difference between FDR, who defeated one of the biggest challenges to liberal values, and Bush, who launched an elective war leading to the biggest strategic failure in the history of this country: FDR listened to his generals and occasionally ignored them in pursuit of his own strategic vision, while Bush doesn't listen to anyone who disagrees with him, and has no strategic vision other than "invading Iraq --> ? --> democracy". THAT is what the media should be concentrating on. The entire strategy for "victory" in Iraq is aimed at maintaining American public support for the war, in the belief that staying = winning and leaving = losing.

There are plenty of reasons that Bush needs to be booted out of the White House (torture, illegal domestic intelligence gathering, I'm sure there are others in this book that I saw on the Colbert Report but haven't read). But the American media and the American public needs to accept that the President is responsible for the strategy in Iraq and whatever he says it is must be carried out. If everybody realized that, it would be impossible to pin blame on the failed strategy in Iraq on anyone other than Bush (for example Rumsfeld). We would then be much closer to a consensus around impeaching Bush and Cheney, and getting some civilians in charge who might have a snowball's chance in hell in getting the US out of this mess.

BTW, girlfriend visiting tomorrow for two weeks, so posting will be light (by the standards of this blog, that means non-existent).

Trip down memory lane

The new fad in American thinking on Iraq is the Darwin Principle, which basically says "three ethnic groups just can't get along, let's get rid of one so there are just two." The method to accomplish this is to look the other way while Shi'ite militias cleanse Baghdad, southern Iraq, and basically anywhere that isn't al-Anbar of Sunnis (many Sunnis have been leaving Shi'ite areas already).

So, to take a trip down memory lane, our reasons for invading/occupying/not withdrawing from Iraq:

Saddam has WMD (Rick Santorum still thinks he did)
Saddam can not be contained or deterred (he was)
Saddam perpetrated crimes against humanity (back in the early 1990s, before he was contained)
Spreading democracy (going great!)
Counter Iran's influence in the region (Opposite has happened)
Protect oil fields (Failed)
Prevent an Iraqi civil war by balancing against Shi'ites to protect Sunnis (Iraqi civil war happening anyway)
And now finally, the Darwin principle, i.e., Facilitate and then end the Iraqi civil war as fast as possible by bandwagoning with Shi'ites.

Reasons this Darwin bandwagoning idea is bad:
1) All our allies in the region (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt) are Sunni Muslim and will not like it if we aid the slaughter of their allies in Iraq. Saudi Arabia has even threatened to intervene themselves (while the author of that op-ed, Nawaf Obaid, has since been fired by the Saudi government, that does not necessarily mean his proposal for aiding Iraqi Sunnis has been discounted by the Saudis since there is currently a big shake-up in the Saudi foreign policy community and honestly nobody has any idea what's going on).
2) It is immoral (aiding ethnic cleansing, duh).
3) It's immorality would seriously damage US credibility in the world, which is basically the only reason hawks can cite to keep American troops in Iraq (other than shouting "What if we lose!?!?").
4) It would also reduce American credibility because it would be a complete 180 reversal of current strategy (take, hold, build, or whatever the idiotic marketing slogan is). By its very nature as a 180 reversal it would be ineffective because it would damage perceptions of American reliability.
5) Sunni/Shi'ite identities aren't wholly exclusionary, bringing up the question "how Sunni must you be in order to be deported/killed/etc?"
6) It would aid Sunni Islamist terrorists in their goal of radicalizing as many Sunni Muslims as possible; depending on media coverage, it could radicalize more than the invasion and original occupation itself.
7) It assumes the American military has some semblance of control of the current situation (i.e., would doing something be that big a change from the status quo of doing nothing, in light of our capabilities or lack thereof?)

Sigh. I would have thought this was too horrible of an idea to ever see the light of day, but I keep thinking that and I keep being proved wrong...

You can always trust the NYTimes bring you the news you need.

Americans poop 20% more than they did in 1980. We also drink more bottled water than beer (I will do my best to reverse that tonight when I celebrate the end of finals) (don't worry Mom, I won't drink too much).

Some other stuff from the article:
“The large master trend here is that over the last hundred years, technology has privatized our leisure time,” said Robert D. Putnam, a public policy professor at Harvard and author of “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.”
“The distinctive effect of technology has been to enable us to get entertainment and information while remaining entirely alone,” Mr. Putnam said. “That is from many points of view very efficient. I also think it’s fundamentally bad because the lack of social contact, the social isolation means that we don’t share information and values and outlook that we should.”
I am skeptical of people who think that the internet leads to social isolation. Through the internet this week I talked to people in the Philippines, Iraq, Turkey and probably other places as well (I don't necessarily know where because it's not necessary to know where someone is to talk to them) - internet and other communications technologies don't isolate us from people around us, they just lower the requirement for being physically near someone to interact socially with them, thus leading to MORE, not less spreading of information, values, opinions and world outlooks.
I would describe "isolation" as when my computer was dead, leaving me with no internet and forcing me to walk around in order to talk to people, thus raising the barrier (my own laziness) to social interaction.

Engineering Microorganisms for Energy Production

The JASON group is a science advisory consulting group that does lots of secret research stuff. They recently did a non-secret study titled "Engineering Microorganisms for Energy Production." It's available on the FAS's website. Here are chunks of the executive summary:

JASON was asked by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research of the Department of Energy to assess the possibilities for using microorganisms to produce fuels as a metabolic product, in particular hydrogen or ethanol. We were asked to consider the prospects for achieving such biogenic fuel production in principle and in practice; and what the requirements and fundamental limitations are for achieving viability.
...Boosting the efficiency of fuel formation from microorganisms is an important research challenge for the twenty first century. It is perhaps the major technological application for the emerging field of synthetic biology. In addition to the exciting opportunities for producing ethanol or hydrogen, microorganisms, either individually or in communities, might be used to directly produce liquid hydrocarbons.
...The systems biology of microorganisms is more tractable than that of plants, and thus microorganisms represent an excellent opportunity.

My car is going to run off amoeba farts!!! Oh wait...

Even with an optimistic assessment of the potential for improvements, photosynthetic efficiency will lag behind that of man-made technologies (e.g., photovoltaic solar cells).

Well, I'll settle for a solar car I guess. Still pretty cool.


Here is the text of a letter I wrote to Jeff Jacoby a few minutes ago:

I would like to help correct a few puzzling misconceptions you have about atheists (from your column).
"Though religion remains important in American life, antireligious passion is surging here, too.Examples abound: In two recent best sellers , Sam Harris heaps scorn on religious believers, whose faith he derides as 'a few products of ancient ignorance and derangement.'"
Will your next column be on how Ann Coulter's best sellers demonstrate American hatred of atheism? More Americans go to church every week than any other Western country; to say that there is an antireligious passion surging in America based on some book sales is just silly IMHO especially when there are many many more books being sold that target religious buyers.

"That is because without God, the difference between good and evil becomes purely subjective."

That actually is not true. I am an atheist and I believe society's moral and ethical code comes from thousands of years of societal evolution. Just because you don't think a big father-figure in the sky will punish you if you break a rule doesn't mean that good and evil are entirely subjective (and how "moral" is a person who only behaves because they fear punishment?). The construction of social norms takes hundreds of years and the actions of millions of people - one person's opinion is almost inconsequential, forcing him or her to abide by the rules of the community.
"The atheist alternative is a world in which right and wrong are ultimately matters of opinion, and in which we are finally accountable to no one but ourselves."
Since society's rules come from the community, rule-breakers are accountable to the general community (laws, prison, etc.). And as I stated above, right and wrong are not matters of opinion, but rules that have evolved and been passed down over the generations.
Furthermore it is not a binary either/or set of options - either religion is in public life, or atheists run everything. It is entirely possible to have religion play a very big role in people's lives in the home, and have public life and the public moral and ethical code be informed by the religious beliefs of individuals, but not a platform for expression or proselytizing of those religious beliefs. Judeo-Christian norms (whatever that means... Judeo-Christian tradition is far from monolithic) can be predominant without having a cross in every courtroom.
If you read this far, thank you for your time.
- Adrian

BTW, finals end tomorrow, yay.

US intel communities

This is a good NYTimes article on U.S. intel communities and how/why they are organizational dinosaurs.

...throughout the intelligence community, spies are beginning to wonder why their technology has fallen so far behind — and talk among themselves about how to catch up. Some of the country’s most senior intelligence thinkers have joined the discussion, and surprisingly, many of them believe the answer may lie in the interactive tools the world’s teenagers are using to pass around YouTube videos and bicker online about their favorite bands. Billions of dollars’ worth of ultrasecret data networks couldn’t help spies piece together the clues to the worst terrorist plot ever. So perhaps, they argue, it’ s time to try something radically different. Could blogs and wikis prevent the next 9/11?

H/T to Minstrel Boy.