(Pretty Much) One Year Ago Today in the Objectionable Content Archives
The Secret of Thanksgiving "Today marks two months of Matt and me. In celebration, we have given the nation the day off, scheduled football games and parades, and are recommending a feast of turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. For dessert, you are obligated to have some pie, preferably pumpkin, in our honor."
Contributors to Stand Down have pointed out that the no-fly zones over Iraq that the US and UK have enforced since 1991 have little to no justification under international law or UN resolutions -- a point that is little mentioned here at home but often discussed in the foreign press (Jim Henley being, as usual, a welcome exception).
Leaving aside their illegality, the main argument for the no-fly zones has been that they protect Iraqi dissident groups (the Kurds in the North and the Shi'a Muslims in the South) from the wrath of Saddam Hussein. However, Arab and non-Arab organizations have long claimed that the no-fly zones do not achieve their avowed purpose:
There is ample evidence to demonstrate, however, that human rights abuses committed by the Government of Iraq have continued unabated on the ground throughout the ten years in which the No Fly Zones have been in operation. Indeed, despite the claim made ... that the No Fly Zones are necessary for the protection of Iraq’s civilian population, the fact remains that the No Fly Zones only prevent the use of air power by Iraqi forces. Offensive actions by US and UK pilots have consistently been linked to infringements of the No Fly Zones themselves, rather than to humanitarian abuses against Iraqi civilians, while violations of UN Security Council Resolution 688 have been routinely reported but rarely prevented or checked. The No Fly Zones, therefore, are not only failing, but not even attempting to protect the civilian populations of northern and southern Iraq from ground attack. - CAABU [emphasis mine]
At their inception during the early `90s, no-fly zones were created to provide a safe haven for Kurds and Shiite Muslims and to contain the regime of Saddam Hussein. Today they represent less a shield for persecuted ethnicities than a burden and an embarrassment for the U.S. and Great Britain. No-fly zones have been successful in that the Iraqi military does not threaten Kurds or Shiites from the air. Unfortunately, unless the Allies are willing to maintain a military-exclusion zone—prohibiting the movement of heavy armor and military convoys—the no-fly zones remove only one weapon from the Iraqi military. They do not deter the type of destruction visited upon the Kurdish uprising in the fall of 1995 [was actually 1996 - Jim], which the Iraqi Republican Guard conducted in under a week without the assistance of aircraft. That the no-fly zones offer no protection to people on the ground was obvious to those Kurds who watched Allied planes circle overhead while Saddam's armored divisions crushed them below. - Brookings Institution [emphasis mine]
When evaluating the no-fly zones, it seems we must set aside not only considerations of legality, but also those of effectiveness.
No-fly zones! What are they good for? As policy, the no-fly zones appear both poorly conceived and executed. Though they could serve several useful purposes, these goals are either being pursued ineffectively or not pursued at all. Consider five possible aims for the no-fly zones:
Extract diplomatic concessions
Contain the regime
Impede miltiary build-ups
Topple the regime
How successful have we been in achieving these goals?
Defend dissidents. The no-fly zones have been a mixed bag at best when it comes to their stated purpose of protecting dissidents. Hussein retains control of the ground, which allows him a great deal of leeway, as his 1995 suppression of the Kurdish uprising demonstrated.
It is true that Hussein's influence in the North has waned since 1995, and the Kurds now operate in what is effectively a semi-autonomous zone. However, this is due in part to U.S. commitments made after 1995 to respond should Hussein once again move against the Kurds.
"Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright reinforced this belief in a September 2000 speech laying out "red lines" that would generate a U.S. response, which included attacks or provocations against the Kurds, threats against Iraq's neighbors or U.S. forces, or a reconstitution of WMD. In July 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell went further when he wrote a letter to the two main Kurdish leaders, Jalal Talabani (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) and Masud Barzani (Kurdistan Democratic Party), stating, "As we have said before, should Saddam's forces move against the Kurds, it is our policy that the United States would respond in a strong and sure manner..." - Washington Institute for Near East Policy
We have already seen the no-fly zones fail at protecting the Kurds. It seems clear that what is now securing their safety are new U.S. commitments to retaliate on their behalf. Deterrence is proving to be an effective policy where no-fly zones on their own have not.
The situation in the South is much worse. Hussein continues to actively persecute the Shi'a there, and his government has "drained the marshes that had supported their villages for centuries. These actions, combined with artillery attacks, have reportedly reduced the Shi'a population in the marsh region by 75 percent over the past few years." - Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Extract diplomatic concessions. It is possible to construe the no-fly zones as conditions imposed on the loser of a war by the victor (though they were not part of the UN-imposed cease-fire). Still, as the price of its aggression against Kuwait, Iraq could easily have been told that it forfeited its sovereignty over the former Northern and Southern regions of Iraq -- until specific reforms were enacted which would allow it to reclaim them.
But what is the plan? No attempt has been made to use the no-fly zones as bargaining chips. Where are the encouragements for Hussein to change his behavior or to enact reforms in exchange for an end to the enforcement of no-fly zones? We are holding Iraqi airspace hostage... what are our demands?
Since the no-fly zones are not supported by the UN, any diplomacy involving them can only be pursued by the US and UK; but we have not cared to do so.
If the no-fly zones are not bargaining chips, then what do we hope to get out of them? It is hard to imagine that we desire permanent control over large sections of Iraqi airspace -- but then what is the exit strategy?
One might well argue that the no-fly zones have kept Iraq contained, but is this an effective long-term strategy for ensuring that Iraq does not threaten its neighbors? We have already enforced the no-fly zones for eleven years; without either war or a final peace with Iraq, can we afford to do so indefinitely?
It is also quite possible that Iraq could be kept in its box even without our enforcement of no-fly zones. If bombing is not part of the equation, spy satellites could monitor Iraq as effectively as reconnaissance aircraft do. Further, force buildups in Kuwait and elsewhere in the region, modeled after our presence in Taiwan and South Korea, could effectively deter Iraqi aggression.
Of course, a force presence in the Middle East may have its own pitfalls, but the good news is that one exists already. Ending the enforcement of the no-fly zones while maintaining U.S. force presence at status-quo levels could be seen as a diplomatic win and it would have little to no security cost to us. If we find in the long term that our soldiers don't need as much of a presence in the region in order to deter Iraq, then we can remove them -- the threat of retaliatory force should work regardless of where we are deployed, given our ability to mobilize anywhere in the world on short notice.
Impede military build-ups. Can we use the no-fly zones to fetter Iraq's armed forces? If the Bush Administration is to be believed, then the no-fly zones have not prevented Iraq from developing weapons of mass destruction. The administration's own stance is that the no-fly zones are not sufficient impediment to Iraq's attempts to acquire WMD.
Even if we focus on purely conventional arms, there is no evidence that the no-fly zones have provided significant benefits above and beyond those of the UN arms embargo. While we are now in a position to bomb military infrastructure, it is unclear how much value this has provided us:
In fact, despite the coalition's continuing strikes on air defense sites and partially effective sanctions efforts, it appears that Saddam has actually improved his air defense network. The most significant recent improvement in capability has been the installation of fiber-optic cables, a move that not only protects the Iraqi air defense communications network from attack, but also allows the network to process information faster and prevents the data from being easily monitored by the coalition. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has stated that China was responsible for assisting Iraq with this upgrade, and that this increase in technological capability was the reason behind the February 2001 U.S. attacks against five military command and control sites around Baghdad. Although those attacks were deemed successful, Iraq was able to repair the damage to the network within a few months. - Washington Institute
While our bombings have certainly imposed a cost on Iraq, they have also apparently trained the regime to build an infrastructure that is more resistant to air attack. Overall, have the no-fly zones provided a clear incremental value relative to the arms embargo and our other efforts?
Topple the regime. After eleven years of no-fly zones, Saddam Hussein remains in power, despite one or two attempts at rebellion by various Iraqi groups. Every insurrection was put down, while the U.S. conspicuously refrained from assisting the rebels.
OK, so it's clear what the no-fly zones don't do: practically anything useful. What do they do? Simple...
A thorn by another name The no-fly zones make normalization of relations with Iraq nearly impossible. Enforcement of the no-fly zones constitutes an undeclared air war against Iraq, and it has since the policy began in 1991.
The military forces of our nation (and the UK) are conducting operations in the airspace of another sovereign nation (Iraq) without its permission. These military actions may or may not be justified (protecting the Kurds is certainly a noble goal), but this does not change their character as acts of war.
The no-fly zones could have been made legal -- they might've been included in the UN cease-fire agreement, for example -- but they were not.
It is possible that the US and UK initiated the no-fly zones with some hope that these alone would indeed topple Hussein. But when it became evident that this was not going to happen, we chose to continue the interdiction despite its almost total uselessness as a humanitarian or military tool.
Though the no-fly zones could have been used as bargaining chips as part of efforts to sue for a workable peace, they were not -- our air war against Iraq went on while inspectors were there, and it continued unchanged after inspectors were withdrawn. The enforcement of the no-fly zones has had almost no connection to political developments in the region, which it would have to if it was being used as a bargaining tool.
Diplomatic use of the no-fly zones would involve tying their presence or removal to some action on Iraq's part. This hasn't happened, because a workable peace with Hussein is not desired. What is desired is a replacement for him.
What's the opposite of a peace process? Though they serve almost no justifiable military purpose and are untried as a negotiating lever, the no-fly zones make it practically certain that no rapproachement with Iraq will occur. Enforcing the no-fly zones is effectively a commitment not to make peace with the current Iraqi regime. How can we, when we are bombing them?
Lt. Col. Gibbons opens his analysis (linked to above) by noting that "Since 1991, the United States has averaged over 34,000 military sorties per year in support of no-fly zone operations in Iraq." Thirty-four thousand sorties per year. It should not be difficult to see this as an obstacle to any normalization with Iraq -- and it bears repeating that this occured even while UN inspectors were present.
An obstacle to normalization is a facilitator of war. If we desire war, the no-fly zones turn out to be quite useful. First, they make war more likely by closing off avenues for peace. And second, they make it easier for us to re-invade. Gibbons quotes the Commander of the US Central Command in his 2001 testimony before Congress. There, the Commander said that the no-fly zones "ensure [that] the ingress and egress routes that would be necessary to prosecute an expanded war against Iraq remain sufficiently clear of sophisticated surface-to-air missile systems." [emphasis mine]
While of limited incremental defensive value, no-fly zones have a plain and obvious use if we desire to invade Iraq again. They're great on offense.
... but war is interested in you As hawks and doves debate the merits of a full-scale invasion of Iraq, it is easy to ignore the fact that we have been conducting a low-intensity war for more than a decade. Aside from trade sanctions and other non-military acts has been this overt invasion of sovereignty.
Why weren't the no-fly zones made legal? It was certainly possible. The problem is that legality might've introduced norms for their use and conditions for their end, and this would have impeded our purpose in establishing the zones in the first place. The no-fly zones are not part of a peace process, but a war process. They have become another example that our intention is to topple Hussein regardless of his actions and regardless of international rules or agreements that we are party to.
The bastard child of Cassandra and Oedipus Rex Perle's comments simply reinforce what the no-fly zones have illustrated for years: the steps we are taking are meant not to avoid war but to make it inevitable.
Brian invited his mother over for dinner. During the course of the meal, Brian's mother couldn't help but keep noticing how beautiful Brian's roommate, Stephanie, was. Mom had long been suspicious of a relationship between Brian and Stephanie, and this had only made her more curious.
Over the course of the evening, while watching the two interact, Mom started to wonder if there was more between Brian and his roommate than met the eye. Reading his mom's thoughts, Brian volunteered, "I know what you must be thinking, but I assure you Stephanie and I are just roommates."
About a week later, Stephanie came to Brian saying, "ever since your mother came to dinner, I've been unable to find the beautiful silver gravy ladle. You don't suppose your mother took it, do you?" Brian said, "Well, I doubt it, but I'll send her an e-mail just to be sure." So he sat down and wrote:
I'm not saying that you 'did' take the gravy ladle from the house, I'm not saying that you 'did not' take the gravy ladle. But, the fact remains that one has been missing ever since you were here for dinner.
Several days later, Brian received a letter from his mother that read:
I'm not saying that you 'do' sleep with Stephanie, and I'm not saying that you 'do not' sleep with Stephanie. But, the fact remains that if she were sleeping in her own bed, she would have found the gravy ladle by now.
They are about New York, which makes it easy for me to appropriate them and make them mine.
The Blogger's Motto
My income is in the 95th percentile in the richest nation on Earth.
This is how Hugh explains it:
About the same time I moved to New York (December, '97) I got into the very annoying habit of doodling on the back of business cards. The format stuck.
All I had when I first got to Manhattan were 2 suitcases, a couple of cardboard boxes full of stuff, a reservation at the YMCA, and a 10-day freelance copywriting gig at a Midtown advertising agency.
My life for the next couple of weeks was going to work, sleeping at the YMCA, and walking around the city in the evenings. Lots of bars and coffee shops. Lot of weird people. Being hit five times a day by this strange desire to laugh, sing and cry simultaneously. At times like these, there's a lot to be said for an art form that fits easily inside your coat pocket.
The freelance gig turned into a permanent job. I stayed. The first month in New York for a newcomer has this certain amazing magic about it that is indescribable. Incandescent lucidity. However long you stay in New York, you pretty much spend the rest of your time there trying to recapture that feeling ... I suppose the whole point of the cards is to somehow get that buzz onto paper.
There are forty-seven batches of three cards each. You have plenty of time.
Ah, it is Monday and I am feeling fashionable and well-dressed. Like a mild drunk I am certain that my conversation is delightful, which is sure to be a detriment to my blogging. It all seems cut from a fantasyof CapitalInflux's -- we are all very decadent and intellectual, but a little more of the former than the latter.
Can you feel well-dressed?
I am sitting at home in flannel pyjamas, unshaven and in need of a haircut ('Mr. Content, you've fallen on hard times!' I can hear the well-meaning English ladies saying, still hoping to clean me up just in time to marry me off to their daughters).
I'm reading Evelyn Waugh and finding it surprisingly enjoyable. Tonight I ought to go out as a British country gentleman and find companions wholly unsuitable to my station. Perhaps it wasn't a feeling of being well-dressed but a premonition.
"He thought he was coming with us. Sloth undid him too. Well, I did tell him ten. He's a very gloomy man in my college. He leads a double life. At least I assume he does. He couldn't go on being Hardcastle, day and night, always, could he?"
Yes, let's all talk in British accents. The girls can wear their mothers' shoes and hats and invite the boys to tea.
I will have something marvelously intelligent to say about Brideshead later. And there is politics too, I know you've been starved for it. There is an incredible backlog of non-self-involved posting, politely awaiting its turn. Which will come, but not yet.
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over
I'd like to attribute the spottiness of my posting to my picaresque, seat-of-the-pants, spontaneous lifestyle, one that takes me to the farflung wilds of Brooklyn or maybe Studio 54 to hang out with Halston. One that leaves me so exhausted that I simply can't update enough. This is not the case. Most nights, my head is lolling on my chest around 11 pm while Emeril is overseasoning the universe on my TV. The quality of my posts is lacking due to my staggering lack of ambition, both on this page and in life.
It is easy to waste your life when things are going so well.
I am back from my trip.
There's a feeling I have now -- I've been trying to put my finger on it for a long time -- like I've left something important unbegun.
Let's start with a premise:you are wired a certain way. You're a slave to neurons, dendrites, and deoxyribonucleic acid. Even nurture is nature now: your mother did or didn't hug you once and it was recorded in the grey matter. Everything comes back to electricity and chemicals; to wiring.
This is something that you know instinctively to be true.
You cannot play like Pele, quip like Wilde, or calculate like Penrose. You listen to audio tapes and read Dale Carnegie, but you still can't work a room like Bill Clinton. You are his fucking son, but you can't write songs like John Lennon, fight like Bruce Lee, be prudent like George H.W.
Or you are one of those people. You can be where the ball is before it gets there. You can pull off arch and urbane from inside the filth of a 19th century gaol. You work on relativity by day and in your spare time you pursue recreational mathematics as if the phrase itself was not absurd. And it isn't, for you.
Half the people in the country don't care that you got a blowjob in the Oval Office and then bombed some innocent black people in Africa to distract their attention from it. They know, but they don't care. You are that charming. And you're used to this. It's normal. Like being bigger than Jesus.
People can put "the legendary" in front of your name and it doesn't seem ridiculous. You're Bruce fucking Lee.
Yes, they worked. No, it wasn't effortless for them.
Except that it was. Because they worked at this -- at whatever it was, the one thing they were made for. It still takes work, but they were naturals. Lennon didn't try with all his might to become a physicist. Bruce Lee didn't fight his way into shape after back surgery to play futbol. Pele didn't run for President, and Slick Willy didn't parlay his Rhodes Scholarship into a professorship, or throw it away to try his hand at the rock music.
There is a difference between playing to your strengths and playing in spite of them.
Even the naturals are limited by wiring. The extroverts need to socialize, the introverts dread it. Maybe this drives both to be great, but it drives them to the greatness they are suited for. And it leaves their weaknesses and mediocrities intact.
I'm lucky to be incredibly smart. I am egotistical too, which means you shouldn't trust me to tell you about how smart I am.
The point is that lots of things come easy.
The problem is that some important things don't. You fight your nature as hard as you can just to achieve the smallest thing. You watch others move easily through terrain that is lined with obstacles for you.
Sometimes you make it, the way an alcoholic can go a day or a week without drinking. It wouldn't even rate as an achievement for a sober person, but for the drinker it means sleepless nights, sweating and cursing, shouting and begging at God, sighing in relief when it's over... and then knowing that no victory is permanent.
Every step is a pitched battle that you lose as often as you win. And every day the fight begins all over again, and you can't be sure if you grow stronger or weaker with each try.
There are victories, but what you really want isn't victory, it's ignorance. You don't want to be proud of your successes or your battle scars. You want to be blissfully unaware that there is a fight going on.
Most of the time, I am. But I came back from this trip feeling tired, and defeated, and lonely.
I feel old, like my future is already my past, lost before it was ever realized. I am out of my element and I can hear the poetry like a lullabye.
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.
This is what it really means to be self-made -- not that you capitalize on your gifts, but that you have fought your worst instincts and won. Where your every cell cries out to be meek, you force yourself to be brash. When your lizard brain shouts flee! or whispers fight! you hold still and do neither. If your body is sinking in sloth, you drive yourself into action.
Your inner self might be a simpering coward or a ravening beast, but you let neither define you.
Reason is a fist around the Id. You do not let go.
Natural ability flows. It is effortless. Like water it finds the broad and easy path, the lowest point. But you are a creature of willpower and the will is a graceless, talentless thing -- not innate but acquired, not inborn but earned. The will is an antagonist. It chooses the narrow path. It struggles and tries. It hammers against the anvil of fate.
This fate isn't an outside thing. Fate is you. Biology = destiny, and you are defined by your wiring. You are the anvil.
You are the hammer that says "fuck destiny."
You are the metal that is being forged between them.
You're here to change -- and the only way to do it is to take a beating.
You are a process and there are only two: growth or decay. Take your pick.
USA: Okay, I’d like to call this meeting to order.
BRITAIN: Right-o! I second that.
USA: You don’t have to second that – either the meeting’s started or it hasn’t.
BRITAIN: Quite right. Quite right. Dreadfully sorry. (to the room) Attention – nobody should second the call to order. Do we understand?
USA: All right, now let’s get to hashing out a resolution we all can sign.
RUSSIA: Is stupid! Russia will never sign such violent rhetoric! The UN’s authority must is being respected!
USA: We haven’t shown you the new proposal yet.
RUSSIA: Oh. Da. Give here… Ooh, is nice binder! I can be keeping this?
FRANCE: You think you can make wiz ze bullying of us to sign an agreement that bullies someone else, eh? Nevaire! As our philosopher Jean Louis Baptiste de Trenteville d’Armignac once said – “Fuck you!”
USA: Yes. Okay, so you’ve got our new resolution. Any objections to it?
RUSSIA: Is exactly the same as resolution from last week. Still has “material breach” clauses, and is including the “serious consequences” phrasing that we are having been rejecting last week. Is no different from one we said we would not be signing!
CHINA: This is outrageous! It is almost as if you have absolutely no interest in crafting a resolution that we can agree on. It is almost as if you called a meeting of the full Security Council because you simply want to be able to claim to your people that your tried to reach an agreement before you just go in and take the entire country by yourself without any international restrictions and ensuring that the whole post-war configuration of Iraq including the allocation of its economic resources is yours to decide on!
(A pause. The US ambassador stares unblinkingly at the Chinese ambassador for a long, long time.)