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polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

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    Friday, March 28, 2003
     
    Rent-extraction in Perth:
    I have been in Perth since Wednesday night for a work related trip and will probably be here till Tuesday afternoon, comfortably ensconced at the Duxton. One thing that has struck me is that it seems awfully dead at night, in fact, it seems awfully dead even during the day. But perhaps that's just representative of the part of the CBD I'm in. (I have to confess I've so far spent most of the time either in my hotel room, or in the court room but hopefully I'll have some time to explore more during the weekend).

    I got to sit in on a cross-examination of an economic expert witness today. My role was to pass the QC notes and suggestions if any came to mind on how to further derail the testimony of this witness. He only used one of my suggestions so I'm not sure how much value I added to the exercise. I'm meeting precocious media wonder-boy Gareth Parker for coffee tomorrow morning and he said that he would drop Resident Red and recent delinquent Rob Corr and a few other Perth bloggers a line to see if they're interested in coming along.

    Thursday, March 27, 2003
     
    The non-use of CBW

    If Saddam really has chemical weapons, why hasn't he used them?

    This is a question I've heard a few people around asking. It's usually followed by "because he hasn't got any. This war is about oil"

    Whilst "he hasn't got any" can't be discounted, I'd give it a low probabilty. Other possibilities that probably have a higher likelihood in my view are

    1) Saddam is holding off on using CBW till the last minute because using CBW will probably swing the political/propaganda war in the favour of the US/UK. In fact he may never use CBW in open warfare, but the risk of Iraq supplying terrorists with CBW agents was (is) also a possibility that has to be considered.

    2) Tactics. Using chemical weapons is all about timing, especially against an enemy that has protective equipment and has spent a fair bit of time training in how to use it. In my view, the tactically optimal window for using chemical weapons would be once the coallition forces have built up large troop numbers in close formations, in terrain that can not easily be fled. E.g. if the US/UK spend too long laying siege to Baghdad, they may become a tempting target, and a few chemical shells would also be helpful in advance of a counterattack to break the siege.

    3) Another possibility is that Saddams delivery capability has been taken away already. The coalition have air superiority and quite possibly air supremacy. (and yes there is a technical difference I will explain if needs be - ddhrg at hunterlink dot net dot au). Scud and other surface to surface missiles could well have been taken out by now. Enemy aircraft probably wouldn't get far either. This leaves artillery, which has only battlefield use and poses minimal threat to Iraq's neighbours.

    There are probably many other reasons, but the point of this post is to highlight that it is too early to say 'he never had any", especially whilst the other scnearios above can not be ruled out either.
     
    Basra Rising follow-up.

    First off, a quick response to a postings by Prof. Quiggin on my post on the alleged uprising in Basra.

    The post was made as the first reports came to hand. Subsequent reporting has shown that it is now questionable just how much of an uprising there actually was. At the time it seemed the first positive sign of Iraqis actually wanting to overthrow Saddam. I welcomed the news because I believed that it would help bring that battle to an end, thereby allowing quicker restoration of essential services to the city. I also continue to hope that there will be a change of mind amongst the Iraqi people, who, (even if only for temporary convenience) will support the US/UK forces in overthrowing Saddam. I think this offers the best hope of a transition to an Iraqi government of Iraq. If the US/UK forces get little support once they finally do take control of the country, then I would be concerned about how long it will be till Iraq is returned to the Iraqi's,

    Back to the Basra uprising - I'll continue to comment on news items as they appear (and as my time permits). On some of the other falsehoods Quiggin points to...

    I made no comment on the alleged chemical weapons factory because even the US military spokespeople were very 'wait and see' in their official statements. On the killing of Saddam I said

    "First off - the "decapitation" strikes with cruise missiles. These were reportedly launched (on CIA advice) with the aim of killing senior Iraqi leaders and thereby shortening the war. So far no luck in eliminating Saddam or his sons, but of course we don't know if the hits actually took out other key figures."

    On the easy victory at (insert locations), I said in my first post about the ground war that

    "In the 1991 war, allied forces did not attack until there had been quite an extensive aerial bombardment. As a consequence, there was virtually no resistance to allied ground forces. I suspect this time around the US/UK don't believe they can't [HG -double negative not intended] afford to wait weeks before sending their ground forces in to action. I don't doubt they will overpower Iraqi forces, but not pulverising the Iraqi ground forces prior to infantry and armour assaults is going to mean higher casualties for the USUK."

    I continue to be of the view that the US/UK forces will prevail, but in my view a lot is going to depend on how long the coallition forces decide to lay siege to Baghdad prior to their final attack. A long siege offers the best opportunity to reduce friendly casualties (assuming no CBW use), but is the worst outcome for the civilian population. But attacking before everything is in place is also a potential recipe for disaster. There is no easy choice for General Franks on this one.

    Closing thought- I'm still not convinced that Saddams own media statements and Al-Jazeera can be treated with any more credibility than western reports. I think a healthy skepticism of reporting by both sides is probably in order.

    Wednesday, March 26, 2003
     
    Battle for Basra

    It seems some Iraqi's have decided they would prefer to fight Saddams regime than the US/UK.

    "Iraqi forces in Basra have fired mortars against their own people, the British defence ministry said today, adding that US and British forces had destroyed the mortars and some artillery pieces.

    'Following a number of reports of insurrection in Basra, it has been confirmed in theatre that Iraqi forces have fired mortars against their own people,' the ministry said in a statement.

    'These mortars, and some artillery pieces have been destroyed by coalition forces,' the statement said.
    The British Broadcasting Corporation quoted a journalist "embedded" with the British Army's 7th Brigade as saying British officers had ordered artillery fire on Fedayeen irregulars and Iraqi soldiers who are trying to contain the uprising by firing mortars at their own people."


    If this helps end the siege of Basra quicker, without the needs for large numbers of allied forces to enter the city, then this is positive news at least.
     
    PRE-EMPTIVE PANIC
    Is it time to freak out yet?

    Every war the Anglosphere has waged in the past decade or so has been described as a quagmire.
    Normally it takes a few weeks for pundits to freak out, but in the case of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the freak, just like the war, has been pre-emptive.
    Before the war, certain bloggers pooh-poohed the notion that the presence of spontaneous mass demonstrations in support of the Coalition would be a sign of Iraqi popular support for Regime Change. It is equally likely that the absence of popular support of the Coaltion is a sign of the continuing fear that Iraqis have of Regime Stasis, for fear of replay of the retribution unleashed on them by SH's henchmen the last time Coaltion forces confronted SH's regime.
    Some pre-emptively compared the "Shock & Awe" campaign to the Dresden war crime. TO his credit, the accuracy of US bombing has forced that blogger to revise his view.
    This blogger has been guilty of the opposite sin, over confidence, in that he let himself be conned by Coalition spin doctors into believing that there would be:

    • more popular assistance for the Coalition military

    • less armed resistance from the Iraqi military

    • greater fragility in the Iraqi Regime

    Becaue of the Coalition mismangement of media expectations there has been an adverse media reaction to the failure of the Iraqi people to rise up and overthrow the regime. As chronic Hawk, Andrew Sullivan, admitted:
    I also think that we hawks might have under-estimated the Iraqis' sense of national violation at being invaded - despite their hatred of Saddam.

    This has caused a silly overreaction. Now Reason's Tim Cavanaugh believes that the Coalition forces are faltering because Al Jazeera (AJ) told him and AJ is supposed to be the most credibe source because it presents:
    a coherent and convincing picture—and that picture is of an American war effort going disastrously wrong.

    Now that Coalition forces are surrounding both major Iraqi cities, and attacking Islamicist terrorist bases stationed in Northern Iraq, certain bloggers are speculating about Operation Free Iraq's (OFI) to realise a potential humanitarian disaster in the besieged city of Basra. The first point to make about humanitarian crises is: where are the refugees? Since there has been no mass outflow of refugees, there are reasonable grounds for supposing that the Iraq's humanitarian crisis is not yet serious.
    This blogger will continue to bet on Tony Blair's committment to: 

    • Regime Changing SH's fascist dictatorship

    • humanitarian prosecution of the War

    • multilateral construction of the Peace

    Update: Blair come through. He has committed the Coaltion to relieving the humanitarian crisis that Coalition forces have precipitated on Basra..
    Upperdate Basraites come though. They are rising in opposition to SH's henchman, now that it is apparent that the Coalition forces will protect them.
     
    Iraq - WWHT?
    There was a fairly rigorous and vigorous thread on the Hayek mailing list not too long ago on how to apply Hayekian ideas to the Iraq war. I didn't have time to participate but the debate would be of great relevance to people who have primarily come to their current positions (whether for or against the war) because of internationalist considerations. Here is particularly brilliant contribution by classical liberal scholar Guz di Zerega which also touches on the issue of 'how to interpret dead thinkers', which has also been raised by friendly intellectual nemesis John Quiggin in the past:


    My point has to do with whether there is an international order that has evolved norms of significant power to maintain peace better than a normless assemblage of nations might. Sort of a basic international common law, if you will, with its roots in the Treaty of Westphalia, and transformed in favor of international multilaterialism by the impact of liberal democracies - which have disproportionately favored such international organizations.

    The issue is important because in the name of pursuing a specific goal - attacking Iraq - the US has acted with little respect to past patterns of international cooperation. This may be justified in terms of real politick IF there is no significant order that has arisen from growing experience and custom. So-called "realists" would make this argument.

    On the other hand, if there IS such an order, the error may well be along the line of Hayek's observation that specific purposes will always outweigh abstract rules if we look at anticipated gains because the order disrupted is so complex that we will not be able fully to appreciate the disruptions interventions will cause.

    Rudy Rummel has given some evidence that such an order may well be very powerful - because international politics is far less bloody than domestic p0litics in undemocratic nations.

    As Bush, sr., demonstrated, a large international effort against Iraq could be developed and implemented by working within the framework of international rules and custom.

    That Hayek did not see international politics as evidencing anything other than simple pursuit of power - assuming that was his view - is beside the point unless we are primarily interested in hagiography. I participate in this list because it is a place to discuss the IDEAS and CONCEPTS that Hayek developed, and his REASONS for them - his own view of them being of secondary, but still interesting, relevance. That Hayek had some opinion or other is in itself not particularly interesting if we treat his contributions as an on going research program rather than a system of thought preserved in intellectual formaldehyde.

    Tuesday, March 25, 2003
     
    Zmirak
    Even if his politics are a little dodgy and his blog is really a collection of links how can I resist linking to a self-described high-tech blue-collar Habsburg monarchist Yalie?
     
    To all Perth bloggers
    I may be in Perth from Thursday evening till Wednesday next week. This will be my first time in Perth. I'm on a work-related trip (my first time too sitting in on a cross examination of an economic expert witness) so I don't know yet when I'll be free but perhaps I may have some time to meet some Perth bloggers on the weekend. Email me at jasonsoon@mail.com if you're interested.
     
    Sanity a victim of the war
    What is it about the war in Iraq that is driving formerly reasonable people insane? Tex has given Murray of the Silent Running blog a well-deserved fisking for this psycho crap:


    Just fucking carpet bomb the whole miserable fucking country now. The Iraqis have shown by their actions that they are just as evil as their leader and they are guilty either by action or inaction of maintaining the regime. They are all guilty. They have no claim on our pity on our help on our blood or our mercy.


    Tex also fisks one of my intellectual heroes, Richard Dawkins (sigh) here again for this nonsense. Professor Dawkins, please stick to your worthy speculations on evolution and religion.

    Finally, though his derangement is not on the same level as Murray of Silent Running, Professor Quiggin deserves an honourable mention for this throwaway line:


    One of the most striking features of the war so far has been the fact that, on a wide range of issues, Iraqi official statements have been a more reliable source of information than those of the US and allied governments.

    Sunday, March 23, 2003
     
    Warning - site rebuild in progress. Do not be alarmed if you see curious things happening
     
    THE BILIOUS WORLD OF ALAN RAMSEY
    A great journalist loses it in public.

    Alan Ramsey is rightly known as the doyen of the Canberra press gallery. He is the author of many fine articles on Australian politics. He has an unrivalled lode of souces to mine. And John Howard is driving him slowly going insane.
    In his latest outpouring of bile he spends 1500 words rubbishing the PM whose the sin was to utter some unpleasant truths about SH's appalling regime, namely that SH tortures and murders his opponents.
    Rather than acknowledge the moral truth Ramsey prefrer to liken the PM to a gutter journalist:
    the Government's increasingly hysterical attempts to whip up fear and loathing of its straw man, Saddam Hussein...was just more of the Howard fudge and sludge

    Ramsey then goes on to belittle the small size and unrepresentative composition "coalition of the willing":
    in the crusade led by the Administration of Bush the son, just three countries have committed troops.

    This is a set up for R. to ask the rhetorical equivalent of a two-inch up hill put:
    Why, if Saddam is such a monster who must be gotten rid of -...such a miserable and risible response from US allies this time

    Well obviously because Howard:
    has his head firmly up the lower orifice of the US President

    Finally Ramsey manages to combine two anti-American myths in his construction of the modern US aerial way of war, as he speculats about the war casualties, which will:
    likely be many thousands of Iraqi civilians, if the Americans conduct the same sort of war they did 12 years earlier

    The first myth is that the US killed "many thousands of Iraqi civilians" in the first Gulf War. In fact, according to the Iraqi government, the total number of Iraqi civilians killed in GWI was about ~ 2,000. There is some excuse for this error as it took a few years for a truer picture of the casualties to emerge.
    The second myth is that the US military might wage "the same sort of war they did 12 years earlier". Ramsey is just not keeping up with the curve - he could not be more wrong.
    GWI was run according to the Powell Doctrine where US forces should only be committed:

    • reactive use of force for wars of necessity when vital US interests were at stake

    • indiscriminate force, 90% dumb ordinance, against opposing military forces

    • limited political objectives with an exit strategy

    GWII is being run according to the Rumsfeld Doctrine:

    • preventative wars of choic against potential threats

    • discriminate force, 90% smart ordinance, against opposing political leaderships

    • unlimited political objectives with long term committments

    Alas Poor Alan, I wish I knew you when you were well.


     

     
       
       

     

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