Thursday, February 06, 2003

Iraqi Cruise Missiles/Kamakaze Robots

Here's a question for Steven Den Beste and the other amateur tacticians on the net.

I thought the most interesting part of Powell's speech was his discussion of Iraqi experiments with unmanned planes.

According to Powell, the Iraqis have developed small unmanned planes that can fly on autopilot. The US recently watched Iraq test one of its models - the plane was able to fly for 500 kilometers (311 miles) in a roughly rectangular 5 mile by 8 mile "racetrack" course that included several turns. The Iraqis also have the technology to use these planes to spray bioweapons or nerve gas.

My questions:

1) Does anyone know if this is a picture of an actual Iraqi "unmanned arial vehicle" or just an example of the size of the planes the Iraqis are now using?

2) An unmanned light plane that can fly with precision over a distance of 300 miles starts to sound like a rough functional equivalent of a cruise missile (although I assume cruise missiles can fly faster and more precisely, and are a little easier to launch). Let's assume for a moment that Saddam has a significant number of these things - somewhere between 20 and 200. What does that do to our military planning. My rough guesses:

a) Novelty I hate to see the other side introduce a novel weapon in any conflict. (The loss of the Sheffield and the WTC towers themselves are immediate examples, and history is full of them). The presence of a new weapon introduces uncertainty, which means more risk for our troops and surrounding civilians. That said, I assume we have plans to control the risks.

b) Guidance The Iraqis will have a heck of a time guiding the things. We will be knocking out their radio broadcast stations early, and they won't have access to the global positioning system. I think it's likely that these things will be on full autopilot for the whole flight, which means they probably won't be accurate enough to hit moving targets such as ships or soldiers. (In other words, they will be a lot more like V2's than like cruise missiles). That said, if there are US airbases or tempting civilian targets within range, I can see Saddam using them.

c) Defense If we've known about the test flight for a while, I assume we've warned our allies and the surrounding nations. Even if Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Israel don't fight, they will have their fighters scrambled waiting for one of these things to come over the horizon, and the farther they have to fly, the more warning we will get. (I don't like to be machiavellian, but if at least tepid cooperation is the price of access to US/UK advance warning radars, it could be one of the factors Turkey's move towards supporting the US).

Assuming that we can disable radio control, these things won't have an serious evasive capability. Their best bet would be to run low and fast, and hope that they are light enough to have a negligible radar profile. I'd be very interested to know how fast these things can go. Theoretically, an unmanned plane is potentially superior to a manned plane, since it can take more accelleration or centrifigual force than a manned plane can. However, if Iraq was unsuccessful at developing an unmanned combat plane, it probably doesn't have a high performance plane of any kind.

c) Signalling Aside from the gigantic smoking gun that these planes represent, I wonder if Powell was deliberately telling the Iraqis that we would be prepared for these things. I think it's safe to assume that he was.

Update: I think it's safe to assume that Den Beste is right that I meant the V1, not the V2. (Lesson: find a link for everything, which will teach you to check your facts.)

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

(Welcome, USS Clueless visitors. For some reason, the post you're looking for isn't showing up in the archives. (I blame blogspot, naturally. Try going to the main page and scroll down to the February 7 post.)

Anti-Iraq Arguments Part I(b) - More Loser Arguments

(Ok, a little more of this, then I will get back to some more desperate attempts to get people reading this blog . . .)

Yesterday, I closed by saying that I would address the specific versions of the "Attacking Iraq Is Hypocritical" argument. Here goes . . .

7.(a) North Korea/Pakistan/Israel/The US Has Weapons of Mass Destruction, Why Not Attack Them? Because none of them agreed to disarm as a condition of a cease-fire in a war endorsed by the UN. Because Saddam is clearly trying to get WMD specifically so that he can engage in the kind of blackmail that the other nuclear powers (in particular, North Korea and China) do. Because if Saddam gets enough nukes and enough missiles, we will lose our best chance to improve the lives of Iraqis. Because it took us a long time to get to this point with Iraq, and we should finish this job before we start on the others. Because, with the exception of North Korea and maybe Pakistan, the other countries are being reasonably responsible with their nukes. Because the US nukes aren't comparable at all, you doofus - they are partially responsible for containing the Soviet plan to subject the world to communist dictatorship, and they are managed by a country governed by a secular, non-expansive dictatorship.

7.(b) But the US Created/Supported Saddam Hussein. First, we didn't create him. He crawled out from his rock to seize power just like every other fascist dictator. Yes, we supported him somewhat against Iran. It's important to remember that, at that time, the US saw the Iranian revolution as a significant threat to world security. Also, the US was still sufficiently traumatized by Vietnam that it believed that it was no longer capable of fighting its own wars. There weren't crazy beliefs - Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan both believed them (Carter more than Reagan on the latter). As a result, we got the Mujahadeen, Saddam, and the Contras.

In any event, if we created him and inflicted him on the Iraqi people, then why isn't it our responsibility to free the Iraqi people? When some of the founding fathers freed their slaves in their wills, one could justifiably ask "doesn't that mean it was wrong to keep slaves during your life?" However, it doesn't follow that because Washington and Jefferson owned slaves during their lifetimes, it would be wrong to free them. If anything, it was wrong not to free them earlier, and if we are really "responsible" for Hussein, then it was wrong not to get rid of him earlier.

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Anti-Iraq War Arguments Part I - The Loser Arguments

(I know everyone else has already done it, but I'd like to catalogue the anti-war arguments. There are actually a few good ones, but I'll save those for later in the week. Today has been a long day, so I will stick to the rotten fruit, which is either easy to knock from the tree or already in puddles on the ground, depending on how far you want to take the metaphor.)

1. The War Is About Oil. This one is too easy. The war isn't about oil in any significant degree. (a) The simplest and easiest response is that if we wanted oil, all we would have to do is lift the sanctions, which we haven't done. (b) Most people who present this argument don't have any explanation of how the US will "steal" the Iraqi oil. Presumably, the British, the UN, the Iraqis, et al, would notice. Instead, on call-in shows and the like, some shrill-voiced protestor will just start shrieking "Isn't it obvious? Look how many oil executives are in the White House." I'll bet you now that the interim Iraqi government will sell its oil on the open market, and will work with oil companies from around the world. If I'm wrong, I'll admit it. But if I'm right, I hope you admit you're wrong too. (c) Presumably, at least some oil companies would prefer that Iraqi oil stays locked up in Iraq, raising the price of the oil these companies are drilling from elsewhere in the world. It's not clear how lowering the price of the commodity they sell would benefit them. (d) Granted, it is in the US and world interest not to let a homicidal dictator conquer the other nations in the most oil-rich area in the world. However, Saddam doesn't exactly have the right to conquer surrounding countries, so I don't think this is unreasonable.

2. Violence Is Never a Solution I can't believe that most people who say this have thought it through. If you are really against Britain defending itself against the Nazis, and against the Jewish ghetto uprisings during World War II, and if you really believe that Britain was wrong to use force to stop slave ships that it caught on the high seas during the nineteeth century, and if you were opposed to the use of force in Bosnia, then you are a true pacifist. If so, I think you're wrong, but your argument is at least logically consistent. I will let you go on your way, and never vote for anyone who shares your beliefs.

3. Bush Hasn't Shown Enough Evidence that Saddam Has Weapons of Mass Destruction This is just a smokescreen. Everyone I know who has thought about the issue thinks that Saddam has WMD and is intentionally lieing to the UN and the world in order to keep them. As the Weekly Standard helpfully pointed out, we know that from 1991 to 1998, Saddam was not only disarming, he was actually developing more WMD. Today, Iraq simply denies that those weapons ever existed, and can't explain where they went. The only way to believe Saddam is to believe that after developing weapons for 7 years during inspections, then kicking out the inspectors, Saddam just decided to disarm in secret, and is unwilling for some unknown reason to show us the evidence of his secret disarmament program.

4. Bush Hasn't Shown a Link to Al Quada This is true, but irrelevant. Bush's primary points are (1) Saddam has displayed a consistent determination to acquire WMD, (2) Saddam is a meglomaniac tyrant who cannot be trusted to use WMD responsibly, (3) Saddam has been deliberately breaking his obligations under his cease-fire agreement and UN treaties, and (4) the people of Iraq will be better off when Saddam is gone. Bush hasn't shown a link between AIDS and Al Quada either, but he's fighting AIDS.

5. I Just Don't Think Bush Has "Made the Case" Yet This is my biggest pet peeve. It doesn't mean anything except that you are not convinced, for reasons you can't explain. Tell me what "case" do you think Bush is obligated to make, and why do you believe he hasn't made it, then we'll talk. (It's not enough to say the burden is on Bush to justify war. The White House has explained a number of reasons for potential war - unless you at least explain what standard you're applying, we can't have a further meaningful discussion.)

6. Bush Doesn't Care About Iraqi Civilians (or Children) This is the least consistent argument against the war. If you are concerned about Iraqi civilians, then explain to me (a) how many Iraqi civilians will die if we leave Saddam and the sanctions in place (answer - many); (b) how many Iraqi civilians will die if we leave Saddam in place and drop the sanctions (answer - very many); and (c) how many will die if we attack with a lighting campaign and get him out. (Answer - probably fewer). Answer (a), (b), and (c) again for all civilians in the world.

For some reason, not one of the people making the civilians argument seems to grasp that (for example) our campaign in Afghanistan saved many many more civilian lives than it cost. Before we went in, it was hard for women to get medical care, people were being tortured and killed, and the Taliban weren't even allowing the world to distribute free food to all of the people in the country. Now, things are better. Not perfect, but if you want to count civilian lives, count the ones who would die from inaction.

7. Attacking Iraq Is Hypocritical This is stupid. Neil Stephenson has a great passage in The Diamond Age about how in the late 20th century, moral relativism rendered hypocrisy as the only determinable sin - since you can't say that someone's actions are wrong on their own, all you can say is that someone is inconsistant with his own beliefs. I'll address the specific cases of this argument (we supported Iraq; what about North Korea; what about US WMD) tomorrow.

Monday, February 03, 2003

Yes, Give in to the Dark Side . . .

Good, young Burchill. I can feel your anger. Take your word processor -- strike them down with all of your reason and your journey to the anti-idiotarian side will be complete."

The left has some darned good writers, including some, like Cockburn, who still haven't seen the light. On the other hand, the Guardian's Julie Burchill has done a full Hitchens, and just published a piece savaging the rank-and-file anti-war protesters. I think you should read the whole thing, but couldn't resist grabbing some of the sweetest fruit. (Via Andrew Sullivan).

When you look back at the common sense and progressiveness of arguments against American intervention in Vietnam, Chile and the like, you can't help but be struck by the sheer befuddled babyishness of the pro-Saddam apologists:

1) "It's all about oil!" Like hyperactive brats who get hold of one phrase and repeat it endlessly, this naive and prissy mantra is enough to drive to the point of madness any person who actually attempts to think beyond the clich├ęs. Like "Whatever!" it is one of the few ways in which the dull-minded think they can have the last word in any argument. So what if it is about oil, in part? Are you prepared to give up your car and central heating and go back to the Dark Ages? If not, don't be such a hypocrite. The fact is that this war is about freedom, justice - and oil. It's called multitasking. Get used to it!

. . .

4) "Saddam Hussein may have killed hundreds of thousands of his own people - but he hasn't done anything to us! We shouldn't invade any country unless it attacks us!" I love this one, it's so mind-bogglingly selfish - and it's always wheeled out by people who call themselves "internationalists", too. These were the people who thought that a population living in terror under the Taliban was preferable to a bit of liberating foreign fire power, even fighting side by side with an Afghani resistance.
. . .

If you really think it's better for more people to die over decades under a tyrannical regime than for fewer people to die during a brief attack by an outside power, you're really weird and nationalistic and not any sort of socialist that I recognise. And that's where you link up with all those nasty rightwing columnists who are so opposed to fighting Iraq; they, too, believe that the lives of a thousand coloured chappies aren't worth the death of one British soldier. Military inaction, unless in the defence of one's own country, is the most extreme form of narcissism and nationalism; people who preach it are the exact opposite of the International Brigade, and that's so not a good look.

5) "Ooo, your friends smell!" Well, so do yours. We may be saddled with Bush and Blair, but you've got Prince Charles (a big friend of the Islamic world, probably because of its large number of feudal kingdoms and hardline attitude to uppity women), the Catholic church (taking a brief break from buggering babies to condemn any western attack as "morally unacceptable") and posturing pansies such as Sean Penn, Sheryl Crow and Damon Albarn.

Oh, and we've also got Condoleezza Rice, the coolest, cleverest, most powerful black woman since Cleopatra, and you've got the Mothers' Union, with their risible prayer for Iraq's people, a prime piece of prissy, pacifist twaddle that even Hallmark "Forever Friends" would reject as not intellectually or aesthetically rigorous enough.

Sunday, February 02, 2003

My prayers are with the families of the Columbia astronauts. Space is the future, and they should be remembered for the heros they are.