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  • Bush? No, I Don’t Miss Him Yet

    Posted on June 21st, 2010 Helian No comments

    Oh, I agree, Obama seems inept, weak, and lacking in any detectable skills as a leader. But was Bush really all that much better? He certainly didn’t stop the cancerous growth of big government. He launched a completely unnecessary war of aggression in Iraq, freeing the country of a bloody dictator in the process. For that, most Iraqis are probably more or less as grateful as the journalist who threw his shoes at W. The war cost us and continues to cost us blood and treasure that we can ill afford. He got us into another war in Afghanistan that was certainly more justifiable, but failed to take the perfectly sound advice of Donald Rumsfeld to pack up and leave quickly when it was over. Instead, we embarked on a neocon’s wet dream of “nation building,” with the predictable result that we are still bogged down there, with the left and right in cordial agreement that we face almost inevitable defeat.

    Other than that, as the recent “peace flotilla” stunt reminded us, he completely failed to understand the burgeoning threat of a resurgent and politicized Islam that has now become the main contender to fill the ideological vacuum left by the demise of Communism. The evidence is all still out there on the Internet. For example, he strongly backed Turkey’s entry into the EU, as can be seen in this story that appeared in the Washington Post back in October, 2006. Fortunately, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel had other ideas.  (Of course, the Turks, with one of the fastest growing economies in the world, are probably jumping for joy that they didn’t stumble into the EU’s economic black hole, but that’s another story.)  Read the article, and you’ll see how thoroughly Bush was bamboozled by Turkey’s Islamist prime minister Erdogan.  It was “in our interests” for the rapidly radicalizing Turks to become a part of Europe. The U.S. and its Turkish “strategic partner” were “focusing on ways to counter extremism.” Bush nodded sagely as Erdogan inveighed against the use of terms like “Islamic terrorism.”

    In a word, I wouldn’t exactly put nostalgia for Bush in the U.S. in the same category as nostalgia for Stalin in Russia, but it still doesn’t make a lot of sense. The choice between Bush and Obama is basically the choice between being internationally hated or internationally despised.  Take your pick.

  • Depleted Uranium: The Hysteria Rolls On

    Posted on May 30th, 2010 Helian 1 comment

    As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to use depleted uranium (DU) as ammunition because of its potential value as an energy source. Other than that, its substantial advantages as a penetrator for defeating armored targets are likely grossly outweighed by the value of the propaganda weapon we hand to our enemies when we use it, not to mention the massive cost of litigating cases brought by lawyers who are well aware of the potential value of DU hysteria for lining their pockets. That hysteria lost touch with reality long ago, and continues to grow. A glance at the facts should be enough to cure anyone of an overweening faith in the intelligence of human beings.

    The basic propaganda line relating to DU weapons is that a) Great increases in cancer and other health problems are experienced in areas where they are used, and b) Most of these health problems are due to radioactivity from DU.  The professionally pious have devoted a great deal of webspace to the subject, typically short on facts but with lots of pictures of terribly deformed infants and, as usual, featuring themselves as noble saviors of humanity. Those with strong stomachs can find examples here, here and here. It’s all completely bogus, but the truth has never been more than a minor inconvenience for ideological poseurs.

    The World Health Organization, public health arm of the UN, an organization that has not been notably chummy with the US of late, debunked the DU hysteria in a report that appeared in 2001 (click on the link to see the document). Quoting from the report,

    For the general population it is unlikely that the exposure to depleted uranium will significantly exceed the normal background uranium levels.

    Measurements of depleted uranium at sites where depleted uranium munitions were used indicate only localized (within a few tens of metres of the impact site) contamination at the ground surface.

    General screening or monitoring for possible depleted uranium-related health effects in populations living in conflict areas where depleted uranium has been used is not necessary. Individuals who believe they have been exposed to excessive amounts of depleted uranium should consult their medical practitioner for examination, appropriate treatment of any symptoms and follow-up.

    The potential external dose received in the vicinity of a target following attack by DU munitions has been theoretically estimated to be in the order of 4 μSv/year (UNEP/UNCHS, 1999) based on gamma ray exposure. Such doses are small when compared to recommended guidelines for human exposure to ionizing radiation (20 mSv/annum for a worker for penetrating whole body radiation or 500 mSv/year for skin (BSS, 1996).

    Of course, the poseurs dismiss such stuff with a wave of the hand, claiming that, for reasons known only to them, the authors of the report suppressed damning evidence, or didn’t consider certain miraculous processes whereby the DU can be transported into the bodies of its victims without showing up in urine samples.  If one points out, for example, that natural background radiation in places such as Iran and India is much higher than any increase due to DU in the places where all the birth defects and illness is supposedly taking place, without ill effects to the local populations, they merely reply that the DU is carried on insoluble particles, that are infinitely more dangerous than natural uranium.  If it is pointed out that, in that case, it would actually be much more difficult for DU to cause birth defects because the rate at which the body carries insoluble compounds to the vicinity of the reproductive organs is an order of magnitude less than for soluble uranium compounds, or that it is much more difficult for insoluble compounds to get into the food chain, they quickly change tack.  Suddenly, the DU becomes soluble, and the circle is squared. 

    A moment’s rational consideration of the facts demolishes the DU hype.  For example, it is claimed that 320 tons of DU were used in the Gulf War in 1991 and 1700 tons in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.  Those numbers pale in comparison to the approximately 9000 Tons of natural uranium and 22400 tons of thorium currently released each year from the burning of coal.  Much of this material is pumped directly into the atmosphere in the form of particulates that easily enter the lungs.  It is far more likely to contaminate nearby population centers in this form than the byproducts of DU munitions.  Coal consumption in China alone is over 2 million metric tons per year, resulting in the yearly release of about 3000 tons of uranium and 7450 tons of thorium.  There have certainly been health problems downwind of these plants, but they’ve been due to plain old-fashioned air pollution.  There have been no massive increases in birth defects or radiation-related cancer, flying in the face of claims about DU’s supposedly demonic power to sicken and kill.  Uranium absorbed in the body will show up in the urine, whether it is ingested in soluble or insoluble form.  Yet, despite massive screening of military veterans, ongoing studies find no persistent elevation of U concentrations beyond that found in the general population other than in soldiers actually hit by DU fragments or involved in friendly fire accidents.

    Studies of uranium miners confirm the absurdity of the inflated DU claims.  Exposure to increased levels of uranium dust has not been associated with increases incidence of cancer, even in older miners.  Increased levels of lung cancer in such workers certainly have been detected, but it is associated with the breathing of high concentrations of radon in confined spaces.  The contribution of DU to radon gas concentrations in the atmosphere in Iraq is utterly insignificant compared to natural seepage from the earth and release by coal plant pollution.  Meanwhile, massive use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war, the sabotage and burning of hundreds of oil wells after the first Gulf War, and the release of a host of carcinogenic chemicals in the process of oil production are somehow never considered as possible contributors to illness and birth defects, unless, of course, they happen to fit another narrative.

    In a word, the DU propaganda is nonsense, but that doesn’t keep it from being effective.  Other than that, because of DU’s potential value as a fuel in future breeder reactors that will be available to us without the environmental and health hazards of mining new uranium, we are almost literally shooting silver bullets.  Under the circumstances, one wonders what possible justification there can be for the claim that the advantages of continued use of DU munitions outweigh the drawbacks.  Why are we working so hard to confirm the familiar claim that “military intelligence” is an oxymoron?

  • Neocon Watch: Another Wolfowitz Sighting

    Posted on August 28th, 2009 Helian No comments

    It’s nice to see that Paul Wolfowitz hasn’t been intimidated into silence by his many critics. He just published an article in “Foreign Policy,” entitled, “Think Again: Realism,” that addresses fundamental issues of worldview as they relate to foreign policy.

    I do not agree with Wolfowitz on many things, and thought before and after the event that the decision to invade Iraq was wrong. However, he is a highly intelligent and experienced man, and his opinions are worth noting. Looking at the comments following his article, one finds the usual attempts, so typical of our time, to vilify him rather than simply refute his arguments. The Amity-Enmity Complex prevails. Wolfowitz cannot merely be wrong. Rather, as one who has assaulted the ideological dogmas that define the intellectual territory of an opposing “in-group,” he must be evil. Given the nature of our species, this type of reaction is predictable. It is also self-defeating because it excludes rational dialogue. Given our intellectual limitations, it is not to be expected that any of us will be capable of perfect accuracy in dealing with issues as complex as those associated with foreign policy. In other words, the best of us will make mistakes. If Wolfowitz was wrong about Iraq, it was not because he is evil, but because he is human, and, therefore, not capable of infallibly accurate analysis of highly complex situations. We would still be in the Stone Age if we had never listened to anyone who had occasionally been wrong. We become wise by learning from our mistakes.

    Pundits Stephen M. Walt, David J. Rothkopf, Daniel W. Drezner, and Steve Clemons have written responses to the Wolfowitz article that are also interesting reads. I particularly liked the following from Rothkopf’s reply:

    Reading Wolfowitz’s piece, I kept thanking Providence for giving me a concentration in English in college rather than say, political science. I actually was taught what words mean. (In fact, being an English major taught me that “political science” may be the humdinger of all oxymorons … even if calling “realists” realists and “neoconservatives” neoconservatives comes pretty darn close.) Economists have their “lies, damned lies, and statistics” and clearly, political scientists have their “lies, damned lies, and labels.”
    It’s not just “neocons” and “realists” of course who are mislabeled or falsely advertising themselves. There is nothing “conservative” about the reckless fiscal policies of “conservative” champions like Reagan or Bush, nothing “progressive” about the New Deal nostalgia of many on the left, nothing “pro-life” about abortion opponents who also use a misreading of the Second Amendment to allow them stock up on assault weapons, nothing “liberal” about folks who think the answer to everything is greater government control of people’s lives. Say what you may about the underlying beliefs, the labels are meaningless.

    As Rothkopf points out, labels such as “realism,” “idealism,” “constructivism,” etc., are best understood as a form of intellectual posturing, and have little if any actual information content. We are programmed to take advantage of the mental efficiencies of categorization. However, once the labels assigned to identify the categories become meaningless other than as boundary markers between ideological dogmas, they have outlived their usefulness. Take, for example, Walts use of the label “realism” in the piece that precedes Rothkopf’s:

    I’d try to exclude Iraq from discussion if I were him too, because that tragedy demonstrates the virtues of realism and the follies of Wolfowitz’s own worldview.

    Actually, the outcome in Iraq demonstrates no such thing, nor is it rational to claim that it could. One cannot even speak of a single, unified outcome. For example, as far as the Kurds are concerned, the outcome was hardly a tragedy. They might claim it was a vindication of Wolfowitz’ “idealism,” and not the opposite. Certainly, as far as the Kuwaitis are concerned, the elimination of Saddam Hussein was hardly “tragic.” Even if there were universal agreement that the outcome actually was a tragedy, it would not demonstrate the superiority of one general worldview over another, as Walt suggests. To refute such a claim, Wolfowitz could easily point to a plethora of other outcomes, such as the collapse of the Soviet Union, that similarly “prove” the superiority of his worldview. One can certainly claim that some of outcomes of our intervention in Iraq were not those expected by the supporters of that intervention on either the left or the right. One can also plausibly maintain that these outcomes were not in our national interest. However, there is no rational basis for the further claim that these limited outcomes can possibly demonstrate the validity or lack thereof of an entire worldview.

    I personally lean much more in the direction of Walt’s “realism” than Wolfowitz’ “idealism.” In particular, I strongly agree with his comment, “… that military force is a blunt and costly instrument whose ultimate effects are difficult to foresee, and that states should go to war only when vital interests are at stake.” However, there is an odd disconnect between the language Walt uses against Wolfowitz in his article and the “soft-pedaled” policies he claims to support internationally. For example, the architects of the war were not wrong, they were “dead wrong.” Wolfowitz only “bothers” to mention two realists, and he can’t be “bothered” to be better informed on realist doctrine. Wolfowitz was an able practitioner of “threat inflation” and “deception” while in office, and so on. Given the left’s documented attempts to distort what Wolfowitz actually did say, it would seem advisable for Walt and the rest of his detracters to refrain from accusations that he deliberately attempted to deceive unless they have proof thereof that they have not laid on the table to date. Absent such evidence, one is forced to conclude that Wald is himself a liar. His emotionally laden and pejorative language is better understood as an attempt to seize the moral high ground in a shouting match between ideological factions than to achieve a consensus concerning the type of foreign policy best suited to achieving common goals.