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polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

email: jasonsoon AT mail.com

 
 
 

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    Saturday, August 17, 2002
     
    Revisiting the past.

    That’s the theme of todays piece by Phillip Adams who takes rather a long time to tell us what we already know – that political hypocrisy exists, that political corruption exists, that there are business people both in big business (and although Adams fails to mention it - small business) who do the wrong thing. This is all relatively harmless, albeit unoriginal drivel that is predicably tied in with assertions that perpetrators of business fraud aren’t punished harshly enough.

    And then we get to this:

    “Meanwhile, the big end of town will continue to attack Allan Fels for daring to suggest that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's act be turbo-charged with criminal sanctions. Perish the thought that the sort of chaps one plays golf with should find themselves in prison cells..

    .. Howard is echoing George Bush on this issue as he echoes him on so many others, expressing concern lest the vital energies of the free market be in any way constrained. Mandatory detention for our business elite? That's something we reserve for Aboriginal children who pinch packets of biscuits – or the innocent children of Afghan asylum-seekers. ''.


    The trivialisation and confusion of this issue by Adam’s is outstanding. For starters – (and I’m sure Jason will correct me if I am wrong here) , corporate fraud is the domain of ASIC, not the ACCC. Good one Phil! Way to go!

    On the other hand, Adams might be jumping on the recent bandwagon of calls for criminal sanctions for anti-competitive acts. (more likely he doesn’t know his arse from his elbow and has confused the two issues) Moving to a system of criminal sanctions for breaches of the Trade Practices Act needs to be considered fairly carefully, weighing up the various pros and cons of such a move.

    One has to wonder, for instance, how such a policy will impact on the choices of people considering senior management positions, especially if they feel that there is the prospect of prosecutions being motivated by the political climate and a regulator that has to be seen to be doing something to justify its existence. And there is also the issue of ‘effects’ versus ‘intent’ tests for anti-competitive activity, and whether, given jail terms will be involved, proof of anti-competitive conduct is required beyond a reasonable doubt.

    Jail time for seriously anti-competitive conduct is something that requires some serious debate, as is improving corporate accounting and conduct. But it’s not a debate Phillip Adams can make any constructive contribution to and as such, he should stay well enough out of it.
     
    The people have spoken
    In an earlier post I expressed some reservations about the 55 year sentence handed down to the gang rapist, not because of concern for the gang rapist's welfare but that of future rape victims given the incentives now faced (kill a victim and save yourself 55 years in jail versus whatever additional cost might be meted out if you are caught for both rape and murder). The simplest solution to this going forward, as many other bloggers have pointed out, is of course to make sentences for murder harsher. I certainly have little problems with this per se. Insofar as the verdict is representative of a move towards greater penalties for *all* serious crimes it is to be welcomed. Thus it is always enlightening to gauge public opinion on this by turning to the SMH letters pages.

    The SMH readership is generally more left-liberal than mainstream public opinion yet even here the 'let's throw the book at these bastards" line outnumbers the opposite overwhelmingly and the response is almost like that a liberated populace who feel their views are finally being represented. Some samples of this:

    At last, a sentence befitting the crime. Judge Finnane, you are as true to human rights as you are to administering the law. Stand tall and proud, for you have revived my faith in the Australian justice system ...

    To Judge Michael Finnane: thank you, sir. To his fellow judges: please take note.

    It's about time we saw the punishment fit the crime...

    How wonderful to see a judge so much in tune with community expectations. His description of the foul criminal as "a liar, a bully, a coward, callous and mean" would equally apply to all rapists. Hopefully, potential rapists will be somewhat more circumspect about offending, but if they do, the new standard of sentencing should be maintained ...

    Fifty-five years is a sentence; 55 years plus castration is justice ...

    The time for the rapist's mother to faint was on hearing of his activities - not at his sentencing.


    All generally sentiments I endorse insofar, even from my perspective which is one primarily based on deterrence and deterrence alone, as it means a trend towards sentences that actually have some hope of deterring serious criminals and any resulting disproportionalities are ironed out.

    However the Letters page also contained its usual share of a minority of idiots, not so much actual idiots but what may best be called, in imitation of psychological parlance, idiot savants, that breed of left-liberal that has had their heads muddled up by reading and regurgitating much more than their poor minds are actually able to process (or as the saying goes "it's good to have an open mind, but not so open that shit falls in"). Here are some examples, leavened by my asides in bold:

    As terrible as the crime was, we must not confuse justice with revenge. We need answers. Where has this hatred come from? How have we contributed to it? Perhaps it's time to take a good hard look at the racism by exclusion practised with such a vengeance by our community and cultural institutions ..

    Blogger's note: If this wasn't signed to another name, I would have sworn it was written by Hugh Mackay

    The incomparable deliberate taking of a life in all states, I feel, should attract 25 years, with a scaling down for lesser crimes. There is no way of retrieving a life once it's taken
    Blogger's note: Funny, I didn't know the criminal law was charged with effecting Lazarus-like revivals, I always thought it had to do with deterring antisocial conduct

    Both Bob Carr and John Brogden have endorsed the jailing of the leader of a gang of rapists for 55 years - 40 years non-parole. Messages have been sent, community standards have been established, the victims can live again. Next week, when everyone has calmed down, that sentence will have to be reconsidered. It's not only Muslims who will ask why pedophile priests get so much less.

    And then there are the drunken drivers who actually kill people
    Blogger's note: Does this idiot understand the difference between homicide and manslaughter, reckless behaviour and malicious behaviour?

     
    Saddam Defiant – continued

    As noted in an earlier blog entry, I’m currently reading “Saddam Defiant”, Richard Butler’s account of his time at UNSCOM and the struggle with both Iraq and internal UN factions to get Iraq disarmed. I’m still working my way through this book, but I thought I’d share this great passage with everyone.

    “ To justify the absence of required data or documents, they offered stories that were the equivalent of ‘the dog at my homework’. One actual example: ‘The wicked girlfriend of one of our workers tore up documents in anger’. Another: ‘A wandering psychopath cut some wires to the chemical plant monitoring camera. It seems he hadn’t received his medicine – because of the UN sanctions’. “

    Who needs media spin when you’ve got the nerve to use excuses like these!
     
    Swift Success

    In the first round of the NNL since the Commonwealth Games, the Sydney TAB Swifts managed to beat first place Melbourne Phoenix in a close game at the State Sports Centre, Sydney. During the first three quarters, neither side looked dominant. With Phoenix missing Sharelle McMahon (the last goal hero of the Commonwealth games) , youngsters Andrea Booth and Amy Lynch were both given their chance in goals. However the Swifts defence of Liz Ellis and Allison Broadbent made a difference in a game that at times was quite physical. At the other end of the court, the Swifts attack started slowly, with Cath Cox missing a number of goals. For Phoenix, Liz Boniello struggled with what appeared to be ankle problems and was replaced at half time.

    Even without McMahon and Boniello, Phoenix stayed in the game until early in the final quarter when the Swifts were able to break away to a six goal lead. Not deterred, the visitors made a last minute run to close the gap to just three when the final siren went.

    The result makes the finals battle interesting as it opens up the chance for Swifts to finish in the top two, raising the prospect of a second home grand final.
     
    Paleo-lib punching bags
    Punch the bag takes another swipe at the Lew Rockwellians (one of whose number I recently made fun of in this admittedly rather savage post). Some extracts:

    I don’t have a real quarrel with the DeCoster/LewRockwell.com types when it comes to free market economics, although I think the rest of their spiel sounds like a weird cult that may feel more comfortable in a Waco compound (doesn’t your subconscious pronounce it wacko?)) ...

    If Ron Paul (R-TX) is their only favorite Congressman then what is the Rockwellian plan to elect more Ron Pauls to city councils (to rollback those oppressive regulations on fences, furnaces and gutters that are making De Coster’s life a living hell), state legislatures, and Congress? Rockwellians hate the Republican Party and even hate the Libertarian Party (the group closest to their way of thinking). Think of all those converts that are reading Lew’s tales of woe and De Coster’s rants but have no where to go to roll back government to the era of The Articles of Confederation.


    Go read him, he's like a kinder and gentler PJ O'Rourke.

    Friday, August 16, 2002
     
    Copyright discrimination
    Normally I'm not terribly sympathetic to copyright litigators who almost always tend to be well resourced multinationals wishing to bully money out of people instead of pursuing more innovative marketing strategies - but there are always exceptions. Kim Weatherall describes this sad case:

    Jazz composer James Newton sued Beastie Boys, who allegedly sampled part of Newton's composition "Choir", in BBs' song "Pass the Mic" without seeking permission. Six and a half seconds' worth; looped more than 40 times.
    Newton lost. Apparently it wasn't "original", because the score showed 3 notes (not the multiphonics in the recording).
    Not only did he lose, but BBs filed a motion seeking payment of their legal fees. US $492,000. Ouch.


    She links to the jazz composer's plea for help which is here and I think he has a good case. Why? Because the judge was clearly wrong in applying the law. Furthermore it's exactly people like Newton that copyright laws were originally meant to give incentives to. The unfortunate composer writes:

    She stated as a fact of law that my music was not original! The six and a half second sample consists of three sung notes C,Db, C and a held flute harmonic C2, as a result of the combination of voice, harmonic and a balanced distribution of each a series of shifting multiphonics are created. The judge ignored the multiphonics because they weren't written on the score and said that there are just three notes in the score which aren't protectable. If you go to the Beastie Boy's DVD of the piece "Pass the Mic" to signify the song there is only my flute sample and a drum beat. The judge consistently used European paradigms to judge my music. An aria from Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas" and Cole Porter's "Night and Day" were examples of what is protectable. "Choir" is about four black women singing in a church in rural Arkansas. This work is a modern approach to a spiritual. As you well know, one would be hard-pressed to find multiphonic fingerings in most jazz scores, even when multiphonics are used!!!! If I'm writing for a classical ensemble I'll write out the multiphonic fingerings because of how notation is used in that culture of music.

    The urgency of this letter is that after unjustly winning the case the Beastie Boys have filed a motion with the court for me to pay their legal fees of $492,000 after they stole my music. I have already spent a considerable amount of money for a creative musician and college professor. This would, of course, send me into bankruptcy, and I stand a chance of losing my home and all that I have worked for through the years. If you can spread news of this judgement around, it will help my cause greatly.


    (emphases added)
    I'm no musicologist but I do listen to a lot of jazz and this guy's arguments make a lot of sense to me. Yes, I know, jazz is traditionally all about improvisation and borrowing riffs and so forth. But there are such things as jazz-influenced compositions and they should be accorded the same legal recognition as more conventional forms of musical composition - if a piece of worthless, transient fluff from the Top 40 hits is to be protected by copyright laws then so should a composition by the likes of whomever might turn out to be the successor to the late and great Charles Mingus. I think this ruling sets a bad precedent. Of course I'm also outraged by the chutzpah of it all. Jazz musicians are not exactly the most well-fed people in the world and it's a perverse outcome that this guy is being countersued into bankruptcy by some overpaid purveyors of the sort of artless filth that comprises contemporary popular music.
     
    Like father, like son
    Corporate delinquent Nick Whitlam says that he's being targeted because of his surname:

    AFTER being banned from acting as a company director for five years yesterday, Nick Whitlam accused the corporate watchdog of pursuing him to hurt his father, former prime minister Gough Whitlam.

    The disgraced NRMA director insisted his family connection was critical as he was also hit with a $20,000 fine by NSW Supreme Court judge Ian Gzell for breaching Corporations Law.


    Quick, someone alert the Human Genome Project! Here's stunning evidence that egomania is genetically heritable. And has anyone noticed the irony that Australia's most heralded democratic socialist politician has produced a Gecko-esque yuppy for a son?

    Thursday, August 15, 2002
     
    Rape and proportionality
    The scumbag responsible for organising the recent Sydney gang rapes has been sentenced to a whopping 55 years in prison. I can't say I'm sorry for the guy and if he gets bashed up every year for the rest of his sentence I suspect there will be very few tears. Of course the Law Council is predictably upset at this:

    the Law Council of Australia says the penalty is too harsh.

    The council's spokesman, John North, says it will offend the families of other victims of crime whose attackers were jailed for far less time.

    "We must keep a sense of proportion in our criminal justice system," he said.

    "We can't lock everybody up forever or we will just turn back to the sort of society that founded Australia in the first place, with transportation and ridiculous sentences for minor crimes."


    So typical of these soft headed 'soft on crime' types that they always sounds so illogical and alarmist about every harsh sentence - even when they might be right. Yes, I hate to agree with these knee jerk soft on crime types but I'm afraid he might be right for the wrong reasons. It depends.

    Approaching this from a law and economics perspective there is a good reason for proportionality in sentencing and it amounts to this - if you award nearly the same penalty for rape as you do for murder then this creates perverse incentives. You blunt the law's ability to deter murders.

    Assume the penalty for murder and rape each is the same - say, 70 years in prison. The next time someone commits a rape, there will be now an additional incentive for him to murder his victim. If he doesn't murder his victim he has a higher probability of being caught than otherwise and if he's caught he gets at least 70 years. If he does murder his victim, he now reduces the probability of being caught and put in jail for 70 years. Which will he be more inclined to do, all other things being equal? What does he have to lose if he's going to get the same punishment for murder as for rape? Simple calculation. Of course you'd retort the solution is to punish him *more* for combining rape and murder. But how much more? 70 years is pretty long. My point here is that if you don't differentiate penalties enough then the marginal cost to the criminal of committing the 'extra' crime will be substantially reduced. Perhaps in theory you'd sentence the rapist-killer to 140 years but say in practice this gets bumped down to 90 years. So - an extra 20 years avoided for not killing the victim versus killing the victim and reducing the probability that one might get sentenced for 70 years.

    Of course specific reactions will depend on specific individuals. But we're talking about marginal effects that can have systemic effects on overall crime here. Cold as this sounds it is a factor to be taken into account in design of criminal law. Incentives matter and 'pricing' matters, here as elsewhere. The rule - set the highest 'price' for what you think are the crimes with the most antisocial consequences, taper prices down accordingly for correspondingly less and less serious crimes. An economic justification for proportionality in sentencing. How do gang rape and murder compare on this scale? I really don't know and it's not something I want to get into but just remember that how closely punishments for various crimes align with each other in effect reflects the implicit policy choice on how to rank these crimes - and as my argument suggests, has consequences for the marginal costs of enaging in additional crimes (and hence the deterrence value of the penalties).

    The argument I've just put doesn't necessarily apply to the current sentence (in terms of its consequences for deterring murder) if it could be argued that this is some sort of sui generis sentence, so remarkably horrible that it should be treated as harshly as murder. But if this is some sort of precedent i.e. if one is going to start treating gang rapes as harshly as murder, don't be surprised to see more gang rapes that are followed by murder.

    Wednesday, August 14, 2002
     
    Antiwar left sinks to new low
    Warblogger Watch has made Taliban groupie Amir Butler a co-blogger. Butler's first post is a lame attempt to smear MEMRI by pointing out that .... it is run by former members of Israeli intelligence. Errr, yes, that sounds like the right background to be able to do that sort of work - so what?

    The antiwar Left has now sunk to a new low but you'd find plenty of apologias for dodgy anti-semites and idiot fundamentalists at Warblogger Watch even before Amir came on board. Now they're merely solidifying their alliances with their new friends. Marx must be turning in his grave to see the sort of company his ideological brethren are keeping nowadays.

    UPDATE
    How did I miss this? Amir Butler, in his attempt to discredit MEMRI cites this Online Journalism Review article as follows:

    The first point to know about them is that they are a tax-exempt organisation - in other words they are subsidised by American taxpayers. Money well spent - if you consider, as the Online Journalism Review described MEMRI, spreading "hate speech, baseless conspiracy theories, and vicious calumny in a blatant effort to discredit Arabs and stir up malice towards Muslims" to be a good way to spend money.


    Unfortunately for his credibility he neglects to mention that the OJR article also goes on to say this (emphases added):

    Just how unrepresentative are the comments the Middle East Media Research Institute highlights? Anybody who has spent any time in the Middle East, or even stayed alert to Arab politics, knows that MEMRI doesn't need to travel very far to cherry-pick offensive comments. Indeed, after listening to enough college professors who believe Jews blew up the World Trade Center, priests who say the Holocaust never happened, business executives who tell you McDonalds donates all its Saturday profits to suppressing the Palestinians, burghers who contend that the CIA assassinated Bashir Gemayel, and college students who argue that a rabbinical cabal is suppressing the message of Pat Buchanan, you begin to recognize MEMRI's picks not as extreme outliers but as very common Middle Eastern sentiments, the very air of political discourse in the Arab world.

    MEMRI is enjoying some success. (Steve Stalinksy, the organization's executive director, now brags at National Review Online that awareness of extremism in the Egyptian media has begun to penetrate Capitol Hill). But that success is also a measure of the failure of moderate pro-Arab thinkers to get ahead of this story, to debate, or even acknowledge the existence of, the abundant lunacies that hold sway in the Arabic media. To listen to the many followers of Edward Said's increasingly irrelevant Orientalist critique, you'd think the problem is American misperceptions about Middle Eastern culture. CAIR's Ibrahim, for his part, doesn't confront the issue but simply counterattacks, using the tried and true 'I know you are but what am I' tactic. Meanwhile, it's left to the Arabs' enemies to explain for an American audience why so many people seem to believe that Jews blew up Egyptair 990 and that the U.S. is dropping poisoned food packets on Afghanistan.

    The Web and particularly the kinds of mailing-list approaches that work well for instant news are vital tools for getting a broader picture of opinion in the Middle East. So far, the champions of Arabic and Islamic thought have markedly failed to use those tools. The picture of Arab media presented by MEMRI is a slanted, ridiculous cartoon. But it is not an entirely inaccurate picture. It's also a vital service at a time when Americans are starved for other viewpoints. And at the moment, it's one of the only shows in town.


    So there you go - courtesy (indirectly) of Amir Butler, warblogger watcher extraordinarire - MEMRI is the one of the only shows in town and its portrayals of the Arab world are not entirely inaccurate.

    Tuesday, August 13, 2002
     
    Been there, done that
    Regrets? ALP member Matthew Bates has a few:

    The takedown of many of Beazley's positions is symptomatic of the takedown of the Right in the ALP. That's a tragic thing for me because, federally at least, I find myself identifying less and less with a party I've loved since I learned about Zegna suits and Paul Keating's affection for them. On almost every issue facing the federal Labor party I find myself disagreeing with the positions being taken. The Reformist zeal has been betrayed, replaced by some nasty form of Leftist reactionism.

    What keeps me there, then? Well, fewer and fewer things these days. I think, however, that as long as Tony Abbott remains in the Liberal Party, I'll never join them. I am a Libertarian, no doubt, and my social philosophies are children of the 60s revolution that Abbott and other reactionaries despise. Economically, maybe I'm not so much of a libertine, but I'm far to the right of most of the ALP these days. What happened to the days of the 80s when Keating surrounded himself with (seemingly) fearless reformist economists?

    I miss those times.


    I was for four years a member of and activist in the ALP and Young Labor (well maybe I wasn't so active in the fourth year) and know exactly what he's going through, even though it was a long time ago, though (I joined in high school).
     
    Sense on credit cards
    There's been way too much unthinking, populist bluster on credit cards written in the media lately by otherwise astute commentators, who, faced with credit card interchange fees and other practices, can't distinguish between joint ventures and cartels, or transfer prices and end user prices. My employer Henry Ergas brings some actual economics into the debate though in all probability, the RBA has already made up its mind (it will hand down its final decision on how to intervene and stuff up the system pretty soon). Disclaimer: NECG (which includes its employee, me) has been employed by Visa in this matter, as the disclaimer at the bottom of the article also says.
     
    More Behind the Times News

    First it was the SMH, with its behind the times story on camgirls. Now CNN is covering the Internet incarnation of the Nigerian advance fee fraud.
     
    Quiggin misses the point
    John Quiggin thinks I have got my logic confused in my post below but he misses the point. Of course what Quiggin thinks isn't relevant to whether the CIS is logically inconsistent - but the post wasn't about him. The point of my post was to suggest that Dalrymple, et al were supporting open slather immigration under particular conditions that would be unacceptable to the likes of Quiggin so that the CIS et al and other 'neo liberals' who don't take a purist 'open borders' line on immigration do so as a second best precisely because the sort of quid pro quo proposed by Dalrymple would simply be impractical and politically impossible. All Quiggin is engaging in is pure speculation and so am I for the CIS and IPA have not issued any press releases on what they think of Dalrymple's proposals.

    However this is all beside the point because being in favour of deregulation or being for welfare reform (not abolition of welfare) does not precommit you to a policy of open borders. Just as - as Quiggin has pointed out himself- being for free trade does not logically mean you are obliged to be in favour of free flow of capital. Quite different conditions apply again when you are talking about deregulating flows of labour the only reason I mentioned Quiggin is that the policies favoured by Quiggin do matter to whether an open borders policy would be optimal - there are various externalities created by free flow of labour - some of which might well be policy induced - that simply do not apply to free trade, etc. I don't know where Quiggin gets this strange idea that being an economic liberal makes you in favour of open borders - is he accusing Graeme Samuel of inconsistency? The Chicago school? The PC? It all depends on where you get your 'neo-liberal' views from. If you get them from some sort of consequentialist stance then there is no inconsistency. Let me leave the last word to Milton Friedman:

    I am in favor of the unilateral reduction of tariffs, but the movement of goods is a substitute for the movement of people. As long as you have a welfare state, I do not believe you can have a unilateral open immigration. I would like to see a world in which you could have open immigration, but stop kidding yourselves. On the other hand, the welfare state does not prevent unilateral free trade. I believe that they are in different categories.


    Let me say this - like Friedman I would like to see a world in which you could have open immigration too, in the long run. I don't believe this is possible under current conditions.


    Monday, August 12, 2002
     
    John Quiggin: Libertarian in social-democrat clothing? I don't think so
    John Quiggin and Don Arthur are being a tad sneaky unless Don is being perfectly serious rather than ironic.

    John in particular writes:
    Dalrymple observes that the "illegals" are entrepreneurs willing to risk life, limb and liberty in the search for economic opportunity for themselves and their families – just the sort of people the CIS, IPA and the rest of the alphabet soup of right wing think tanks ought to love. But as far as I can tell, every notable organisational manifestation of the free-market right, with the exception of Gerard Henderson's Sydney Institute has line up behind Pauline Hanson (and her more successful imitator, John Howard) on this issue

    Yes, John but Dalrymple also says:

    that the state, while continuing its efforts to keep people out, should turn a blind eye to those who nevertheless manage to enter. In return, those who do manage to enter could expect no help whatever from public sources; they would have to make their own way economically

    This is in fact quite consistent with the radical libertarian line, for instance, espoused by the US Libertarian Party which states on its platform:

    We therefore call for the elimination of all restrictions on immigration, the abolition of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Border Patrol, and a declaration of full amnesty for all people who have entered the country illegally. We oppose government welfare and resettlement payments to non-citizens just as we oppose government welfare payments to all other persons.


    So does Quiggin seriously endorse the Dalrymple/LP solution? I suspect that some radicals among the right wing think-tank groups John mentions would be quite prepared to have an 'open borders' policy in return for 'no welfare'. No, I'm not one of them but I would argue that the open-ended availability of welfare is the main reason most libertarians don't take a purist 'open borders, free movement of labour' line on immigration. And not even the Sydney Institute endorses Dalrymple's solution - they're just against mandatory detention. In truth Dalrymple's solution is of little relevance to public policy debate and probably impractical - if that were not enough, it's also politically impossible. Even if asylum seekers, many of whom may well be psychogically damaged by their experiences could fend on their own, management of immigration flow is still necessary for infrastructure planning reasons. If Quiggin is prepared to endorse this most radical experiment he should speak up. Otherwise he should stop accusing people of hypocrisy.
     
    Gold Gold Gold

    Somewhat remiss of me not to mention that we ended up with the Gold medal for the netball at the Commonwealth Games. In what will probably be remembered as one of the classic games of netball, the match was not only tied at full time, but still tied after a further 14 minutes of extra time. The match then went into the netball equivalent of golden goal – the first team to get a two goal lead wins.

    Once again, it was Sharelle McMahon who crushed Kiwi spirits by shooting the winning goal. I think it’s fantastic that someone with such an Aussie name as Sharelle should shoot the winning goal AGAIN (having shot the winning goal at the world cup 3 years ago). So who is the Aussie legend – check out her profile.
     
    Saddam Defiant

    Given the current controversy over the looming attack on Iraq it’s quite topical that I am currently reading “Saddam Defiant” by former UNSCOM head , Australia’s own Richard Butler. I picked the book up because of my interest in non-conventional weapons, particularly bio-weapons, and was interested in Butler’s view on the Iraqi program.

    I’ve only read the first few chapters – but it isn’t especially encouraging for peace. The underlying theme so far seems to be that Iraq’s continued possession of NBC weapons is a major threat to international stability. Not because of who Iraq might directly threaten with its weapons, but because its defiance of the UN treaties on weapons of mass destruction undermines the credibility of those treaties ( and the UN) and this in turn could lead to a proliferation of such weapons. Sanctions, Butler argues, have had limited effect. Saddam and his cronies aren’t affected personally by the sanctions, whilst the deprivation visited on the Iraqi people makes for great propaganda.

    That’s as far as I’ve read in Bulters book, so over to my less learned opinion.

    As unpalatable as it might seem, I’m starting to form the view that something is going to have to be done to put Saddam (and his military) back in their box. A ground war would be exceptionally costly in terms of US lives. As for air strikes, the political cost is likely to be high due to the collateral damage. There’s no easy answer so I’m just hoping that if, or when, the next Iraq war begins, that the US and it’s allies have this reasonably well thought it.

    (as a bit of a p.s. Richard Butler recounts in his book how during the last Gulf war Iraq was caught virtually red-handed preparing terrorist attacks on the US, Israeli and Australian embassies in Thailand, where Butler was working at the time.)



     
    More right wing peacebloggers
    The bloggers over at the eclectic Gene Expression blog (one of the best on the web and certainly much better than some better known ones) are having a debate amongst themselves about the necessity of a war with Iraq. This is the sort of debate we have to have. I find the thoughts of the venture capitalist blogger, Elizabeth Spiers, particularly acute on this:


    Being a realist is not the same thing as being a hawk ...

    I think you highly overestimate the power of a nuclear Iraq. Propaganda about Hussein's "madman" persona (an image carefully crafted by Hussein himself) may be good for rallying support for the war, but Hussein hasn't historically proven to be irrational. The fact that Hussein has nukes doesn't mean he intends to use them offensively. As an ex-mentor of mine (also a realist and former Director of Defense and Arms Control) used to say, "The fact that there are red buttons to push doesn't mean that they will be pushed."

    Hussein with nukes may change some of the dynamics in the Middle East, but a "big hammer over our heads?" I think not. We don't exactly "bend knee and scrape" with regard to foreign policy vis-a-vis North Korea and China, do we? Why would this be any different?

    Sure, we'd prefer that Hussein *not* have nukes. But this isn't a new problem. He's been trying to acquire them or build them since the 1960s. He already has chemical and biological (C/B) weapons and has declined to use them for purposes of mass destruction. If Hussein were so irrational and hellbent on destroying the U.S. at all costs, he could have and probably would have used them already. (There are certainly enough C/B buttons to be pushed.)

    But Hussein isn't irrational. He fully understands the ramifications of actually using nukes and isn't likely to ever push the red button. He wants nukes to help ward off hostile advances by the neighbors and generally only bullies other states when threatened. (Accounts of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait typically fail to mention that the Kuwaitis were drilling sideways at the border into Iraqi oilfields. Not that this justified the invasion, but Hussein didn't just roll out of bed one day and decide to take over Kuwait.)...

    If the object is to depose Hussein (and this is the real issue - the WMD threat is only a small component, but an easy sell to the public) it can likely be accomplished through other means. The regime isn't very stable in the first place. Iraq has a long history of conflict between the soldier and the state, and Iraq's civilian control of the military is largely enforced by Hussein's security services, which are in fragile states themselves. Hussein's a suspicious guy and has removed three close relatives from top posts in the last ten years. Qusay is a ruthless murderer but if he were a truly a madman, Hussein would have demoted him long ago, in the same manner he did Uday, the eldest son. Keep in mind that the madman image (and that's basically all it is) serves a purpose. Amoral butcher who ruthless eliminates dissenters, yes. (Just like *every* other head of security services in prior regimes.) Irrational sociopath? No.

     

     
       
       

     

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