27 November 2009

Once More Unto The Breech

So it is a done deal. The Empire is escalating once more in Afghanistan. Sending additional 34,000 imperials to hook up with some 180,000 imperials, auxiliaries and hirelings making up the occupation now. 34,000 reinforcements to help bring out the inner American out of the 13 million Pashtuns of Afghanistan.

I will make the claim this is making some cave dwelling inhabitants of Afghanistan very happy right now. First there are the strategic considerations. The denser the occupation, the more legitimacy the Kabul bunch loses, the more legitimacy the Mujahedeen (that is how they call themselves, not "the Taleban") gain.

On the ground the additional 34,000 have no chance to dislodge the resistance in tactical terms. The number is much to small to put them under a serious strain. The fighting is bound to escalate but the Mujahedeen can find the necessary recruits to match far easier than Washington can. Pentagon had just turned over every rock looking for available manpower and the most they could come up with was 34,000 more. This means this will almost certainly be the last escalation. The Empire can raise no higher.

Despite this raising of the stakes there is already subdued talk of possibility of negotiation with "the Taleban" and their eventual accommodation. Such whispers reveal with just how low expectations Washington is going forth with its escalation policy. Why carry on with it at all then? Who even knows at this point. But it certainly has nothing to do with the actual situation on the ground, the actual conditions in Afghanistan.

But there is a another reason the Mujahedeen may be very happy about the soon to be announced escalation. It turns out fighting this particular occupation is actually very profitable. The Mujahedeen have been shaking down convoys hauling in supplies for the occupiers, extorting money from the "hearts and minds" construction projects and even getting some auxiliaries to pay protection money directly.

The occupation is raising the level of violence making life more dangerous for the populace at large. It has to know how to present itself, which colours to show to whom lest they suffer reprisals by the resistance, or be dragged off to Bagram prison complex by the occupation or the collaborators. And then there is always the danger of getting zapped by some moron playing with a joystick in Nevada.

But if you are any good with an assault rifle then this is apparently bonanza time. By Afghan standards the country is awash in cash. There has simply never been as much green in the country and it is all there for the taking. Provided you happen to be a large enough band packing guns of course. But this is Afghanistan, guns are plentiful and everybody has a band if they want it - the tribe.

It is not as unlikely as it sounds. Afghanistan is not like Iraq. Iraq is a modern country. Even after the hardships of the 1980s wartime and the 1990s blockade it was still a country with modern infrastructure. There was still plenty that could be destroyed. The 2003 invasion and the occupation heavily propped up from the air wrecked enormous havoc on the country setting it back years and years in economic terms.

In Afghanistan however already after a few days of bombing in October 2001 the Imperial military had gone onto CNN to announce they had ran out of things to destroy. Afghanistan had simply never had much in the way of modern infrastructure in the first place. It is one of the poorest countries on earth. The proportion of people with a stationary telephone, running water, access to a doctor etc in every such indicator Afghanistan is trailing behind just about everyone else, but for some African countries. This nation of 30 million consumes about as much electricity annually as a small Caribbean island.

But now all of a sudden there are all these income sources. And it is about to get even better with the arrival of 34,000 new money magnets. The more occupiers on the ground the more supplies that need to be hauled in, the more convoys for the resistance to shake down.

Mayhap the Empire could yet succeed in negotiating with the Taleban to let them stay. Perhaps they too are not crazy about a unilateral withdrawal. After all if the Americans leave, where are they going to get their money from? Freedom from the Empire is good and all, but even the Taleban have families to think of, brats to put through college...

26 November 2009

Ronald Reagan and the Brotherhood of Man

Writing the Independence Day review-turned-recap reminded me of a quirk of Ronald Reagan's. While president he on multiple occasions in his speeches went on to say that if humanity came under attack by an extraterrestrial specie our "local" differences would quickly evaporate.

In the midst of all the embarrassing and cringeworthy speeches Reagan ever made, the alien attack pitch was a sole example of something that, albeit overly optimistic, actually made sense. Yet it is the one thing he said he still gets ridiculed for. Figures.

Then again it is a condemnation of Reagan's like no other that the most sense he ever made was when worrying about an alien invasion.

25 November 2009

Independence Day: When a Cable Repairman Saved the World

Independence Day
is an often belittled summer blockbuster from 1996. A major complaint that was raised against it was that placing Americans at the forefront of the effort to repel an alien invasion come to exterminate all humanity was self-absorbed, even propagandistic on the part of the Hollywood. In reality, however, that merely speaks of the bias of its critics. Actually if Independence Day is propaganda it is not of the sort official US would ever commission. If anything the film, portrays official the official United States of America as utterly hapless, and instead assigns the credit for saving the humankind to a few named individuals.

The movie portrays two parallel efforts at repelling the aliens. There is the effort of the state, which is seen to be enormously costly in resources and in lives yet an utter failure all the same. And the improvised, individual effort that is cheap and based on self-sacrifice rather than the sacrifice of others, and ends in a resounding success. This is what makes the film not just an entertaining pop corn flick but, I dare say it, a libertarian classic.

To present the movie's tagline: "On July 2nd, they arrive. On July 3rd, they strike. On July 4th, we fight back," is all that needs to be said of its straightforward premise. When the aliens first arrive on July 2nd the state and the president at its helm are, despite all the resources at their disposal, clueless as to the intentions of the arrivals. It is instead up to the real hero of the movie, David Levinson, a satellite technician with a private cable TV company, to warn the government. Levinson guesses the intentions of the aliens after he discovers a signal in satellite transmissions and has his father drive him to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in order to save his ex-wife, who is a spokesperson at the White House.

The warning provided by Levinson gives the government just enough time to escape on Air Force One as the aliens launch their devastating attack. In the meantime the air force is faring poorly and is decimated in a frontal attack on the alien crafts – giant levitating saucers. It is the case that the alien craft possess powerful energy shields that the ordinances the taxpayers were expropriated for can not penetrate.

Meanwhile back on the Air Force One there is a scuffle about how to proceed. Levinson's father makes a case they should fly to Area 51 and examine the Rosswell ship. Upon hearing this nearly everyone who is present initially gives a resigned look of bemusement, but it turns out this retiree knows more about the workings of the state than any of them. The secretary of defense comes forward to admit that the Area 51 does in fact host the Rosswell alien, but that this has been kept secret from the public and the president.

As Levinson and the president arrive at the Area 51 base it becomes immediately that the government kept an alien craft under lock and key for 50 years, but despite extensive efforts failed to learn anything about how to take advantage of this technology and merely impeded the access of anyone else who might have done better and thus better prepare Earth for its future encounter with the hostile aliens. The record of the nutty, lead scientist on the base is revealed to be horrendously feeble, but fortunately Levinson takes to the alien artifacts there as fish to water, causing the the lead scientist in military employ to exclaim begrudgingly that he is making them look bad.

In the following sequence the first cracks in military discipline begin to appear on the base above the underground Area 51 complex and reason begins to take over. Captain Steven Hiller, the Will Smith character, confronts a military guard and demands to take a helicopter in an unauthorized flight and go search for his girlfriend and other possible civilian survivals. After brief resistance the guard relents. We see that the state despite its obvious ability to help is sparing no thought for the civilians, but is at most, standing in the way of the individuals who are determined to do something immediately useful for the common people.

What is more, just after we have seen state resources being used to save and evacuate civilians in an unauthorized, rogue flight by Captain Hiller, we immediately thereafter witness state resources being used by the state itself in a way that ends the lives of other civilians, as the president decides to target the giant alien saucer over the city of Houston with nuclear weapons fully aware this will entail civilian deaths among his constituents. The plan fails as alien technology proves immune even to atomic weapons.

Having seen the nuke plan that he had argued against fail, the cable technician comes up with a plan of his own. He intends to infect the alien mothership with a virus in order to disable their shielding technology. Unlike the plan of the state Levinson's plan requires no civilians be incinerated. It does, however, require that he himself goes on a bold mission and takes his life in hand. Immediately the hawkish secretary of defense discovers a dovish streak within himself and finds reason to object vehemently to the plan proposed by the non-state individual, because... well because.

Levinson's plan gets the green light and soon a word is dispatched across the world telling surviving fighter squadrons of the upcoming counter-attack. It is here that we are treated to a beautiful scene on a runway in northern Iraq where British, Israeli and Iraqi pilots have all taken refuge. It is certainly nice to see elements of the RAF, presumably in the region from the units enforcing the 1991-2003 no-fly zone, doing something non-criminal for a change, even if just in a movie.

It is just as nice to see Iraqi pilots featuring in the same role as Western pilots without distinction. The movie premiered in 1996, five years after the first war on Iraq and seven years before the second. In the middle of an economic blockade and media satanization of that country, six years after the incubator lie. It is not an insignificant thing for the movie to without a second though portray Iraqi military personnel as human beings, fighting on the right side and providing refuge in their country no less. Sure it is a corny scene, but no less appealing because of it.

All too predictably this was also the section of the film that was most criticized. It left critics complaining that the movie features America leading the counter-attack and everyone else doing nothing until they hear from the Americans. Interestingly enough the loudest objections of this sort came precisely from countries such as Britain that are deepest in Washington's pocket and least likely to act without American approval.

Actually the counter-strike as portrayed in the movie could scarcely be said to have been spearheaded by America. Instead it is led by two individuals, piloting an alien aircraft, who happen to be Americans. A Jewish cable repairman from New York and an African-American marine aviator from Los Angeles who had earlier crashed his state plane. The only real reason they need permission of the state is a practical one the state is guarding the alien aircraft they require for their plan. The movie actually shows American military aviation, objectively the most potent in the world, just as unable to do anything about the aliens as the others and in no way elevates it about the rest.

Additionally, before the counter-strike commences television tells of military forces in hiding, and of the consequential shortage of pilots to partake in the attack. Independence Day may be a popcorn flick, but instead of placing the military on the pedestal as is customary in American culture, it instead dares envision a scenario where US pilot desert their jobs out of cowardice and refusal to sacrifice. It is left to civilians with piloting skills to come forth and fill the void left by military pilots in hiding. Among them is an elderly crop duster with a drinking problem, who was earlier shown to had been a much ridiculed conspiracy theorist, and will become important later.

The president Whitmore, who is a former military aviator, does the same proclaiming that as a pilot he belongs in the air. This was again criticized as flattery to American presidents but is anything but that. A greater condemnation could scarcely be imagined. Whitmore deservingly comes out as a hero in the end, but not in his role as the president.

As the president of the United State Whitmore proactively manages to do absolutely nothing with any beneficial results, but comes out as useless and possibly a war criminal. It is only when he acts to restrain the state that we see his good presidential moments. First of in calling off futher nuclear attacks after the first, despite opposition and later in dismissing the hardline, "sniveling weasel", of a defense secretary. But it is only as a pilot commanding an aircraft, not the machinery of the state, that he truly shines. The clear moral, intended or unintended, is that trained pilots bold enough to fly against giant extraterrestrial saucers are something that we may yet have a use for. But presidents on the other hand will always be useless.

During the first probing strike against the alien saucer in Nevada all but one plane expend their ammunition without bringing the enemy craft to the ground. The one remaining plane with missiles on board is flown by the troubled, but likable, crop duster, who then realizes that his weapons have malfunctioned and may not be fired. He decides to turn his whole plane into a missile and carry out a kamikaze attack against the aliens thus salvaging the strike mission. Again the self-sacrifice of one individual civilian flier save the day where the state can not.

In the end Levinson even gets one over the state in the competition for the affections of his ex-wife. The movie reveals early on that she left him in order to pursue a career in the corridors of power. But the final scene of the movie has the two leads, the cable repairman and the marine aviator being embraced by their love interests, presumably with the implication that the repairman's ex-wife is now reunited with him for good.

The message of the movie is clear: if one day genocidal and technologically superior aliens arrive we better have some brilliant cable guys and lovable crop dusters on standby to save the day. Because the state is likely to do little but get in the way of our efforts. It is one bold message for a summer popcorn flick, but then Independence Day is a boldly entertaining movie.

12 November 2009

Today's LRC

A fine piece today by one Ron Holland at LewRockwell.com explaining the greater extent of freedom in Switzerland than in the USA as a result of Switzerland's direct democracy mechanism that acts as an additional check on the government.

There is an ethical problem with direct democracy as there indeed is with any form of coercive government, but I did always think that as a matter of practicality it has to on balance produce a more libertarian outcome than rule by representationist elites. I am glad to discover I am not alone in thinking so.

However this most recent referendum initiative to prohibit the building of minarets is pushing for what is clearly an illiberal measure.

As a side note I quote a worried paragraph from a different article this one by Lew Rockwell:
"It gets even worse. While most Europeans and Americans think it was a good thing for the Soviet Union to disintegrate, people in India, Indonesia, Ukraine, Pakistan, Russia, and Egypt mostly think it was a bad thing. Yes, you read that right: millions freed from socialist slavery: bad thing."
At least on this point Lew should rest easy, people around the world are nostalgic for the USSR as a lost counterbalance to the USA, not for its economic system.

As for the Russians and Ukrainians, the orgy of plunder in the 1990s made the stagnation of the 1980s in many ways look like a golden age in comparison, but it did not turn the affected into Socialists. It turned them into disillusioned cynics. For a long time to come few in that part of the world are going to be wooed by any ambitious ideology, the least of all Socialism.

01 November 2009

Can There Be Foreign Liberators?

It is clear the US military in Iraq is a far cry from a liberating army. The US propaganda machine packed the "freeing" of Iraqis from a ruthless tyrant into its extensive collection of rationales for invading Iraq, but that was not a line they expected anyone to actually swallow. At most it was thrown out there so it could be taken up as the publicly stated excuse for support of the war by the more squeamish types who need a humanitarian spin to justify getting behind carnage of war to their progressive friends.

In reality nearly everyone on either side of the divide understood the war was actually about power, empire, Israel, oil, attacks on WTC, unfinished business, "islamofascism" and blowing shit up. A far greater number of people got behind the invasion due to erroneous and ridiculous belief - carefully nurtured albeit never expressed clearly by the propaganda machine - that Iraq had something to do with the attacks on WTC in 2001 than was the number of people who got behind it because they expected the invaders to be greeted with flowers and kisses.

Additionally the last people who imagined the invasion force is going to be an army of liberation were the soldiers that were going to make it up. Not only did they not presume they would play the role of liberators, but they would not want to in the first place. They had not signed up to be shipped half way across the world to liberate Muslim foreigners, they had signed up to blow away America's enemies. Therein lied one of the most basic problems for the prospect of the US military as a liberating force in Iraq. The troops did not want to be liberators. They did not want to be heroes of Iraq, they wanted to be heroes of America. Understandably they did not care for the Mesopotamia Arabs enough to want to be shot at for their benefit.

The helm understood this all too well and anyway privately felt the same. It also understood it it is far easier to dispatch troops with an unspoken agreement that they would not actually have to behave as altruistic liberators and put lives of liberated Iraqis before their own safety. So instead they would be given every conceivable leeway and room to use deadly force whenever they perceived themselves to be in any amount of danger, regardless of what hazards that brought upon ordinary Iraqis for whose benefit they were supposedly there.

Therefore regardless of Saddam Hussein being an unpopular dictator and the US invasion resulting in his removal the US military could never be labeled a liberating force. But can foreigners in theory be liberators and be seen as liberators?

In some cases the answer would have to be yes. In the instance of the Philhelenes for example. During the Greek Revolution of 1821, hundreds of Germans, Frenchmen, Italians and Britons came to the aid of the Greeks in their struggle to overthrow the Ottoman Empire and continue to be revered by them for their contribution. But the Philhelenes being private citizens were in much different position from an eventual interfering foreign army.

Firstly, being volunteers they had proved just by coming that they care about Greeks sufficiently to risk life and limb for them thus they would have never contemplated putting their own safety before the lives of the populace and were not going to be the cause of any "collateral damage". Also being there of their own accord they were free to leave had they discovered that actually they were not welcome. Lastly they were not a part of a bureaucracy controlled by a government abroad, they were not agents of a foreign government. Instead they joined with Greek formations and subordinated themselves to Greek commanders. They were not interested in imposing nor could they thus impose on the Greeks their own vision of how Greece should be organised after the war. They subordinated their fighting wholly to whatever the Greek agenda for when freedom comes.

On the contrary it is exceedingly hard to find examples where a military of a foreign government rather than private individuals were welcomed as liberators. Certainly no case can be found of the populace showing gratitude to a foreign military for deposing a local home grown government and then establishing a client regime in its place. Even where the home grown government was deeply criminal and unpopular there is a fundamental contradiction that in this respect makes regime change a failing proposition from the start. A government can not be seen legitimate as long as it owes its existence to foreigners, and a government seen as illegitimate requires some form of occupation to maintain.

Crimes of the previous, homegrown regime could not result in the subsequent foreign installed government enjoying any amount of legitimacy even in Cambodia, where the preceding rule was by the murderous Khmer Rouge who were deposed in 1979 in a war they had started with Vietnam. The guerrilla resistance to the Vietnamese was always overstated, on the ground it consisted of a few ten thousand Khmer Rogue remnants animated by aid from the United States and China with the former playboy king Norodom Sihanouk representing their public relations front. The tired nation had no taste for another war. However the Cambodians who were more than glad to see the backs of the Khmer Rouge did not in the least appreciate the imported government of the opportunistic Heng Samrin which was therefore unable to create any meaningful power autonomous from Vietnam. A situation that did not change until 1989 when the Vietnamese left and largely left the government they had installed to its own devices

The only real examples of foreign militaries being seen as liberating forces are when they expel a different set of foreigners, provided the other foreigners were even worse and that the new foreigners do not overstay their welcome. This indeed seems to be the decisive factor in judging whether a foreign military will be seen as a liberating force. Anglo-Americans invading France in 1944 despite clearly not being primarily concerned about the wellbeing of the French populace, as thousands of civilian deaths in France due to allied bombing can attest to, were except in places directly affected by the carnage of allied ordnance welcomed as liberators of sorts for driving away the Germans who had dismantled the independent French state.

Not interfering with a home grown government arising uninterrupted and uninfluenced as important factor as it is however does not always seem to be a prerequisite to be seen as liberators if the evicted foreigners had been sufficiently unpopular and if the new status grants the people in question significantly more independence than they could enjoy before. Eg the Soviets are still honoured for liberating Czechoslovakia from the Germans in 1945 even after they had influenced Czechoslovak politics to transform Czechoslovakia into a communist state and even if their later presence was resented. Similarly the Russians are still revered for freeing Bulgaria from the Turks in 1878 despite the tsar's meddling in the aftermath of the war meant independent Bulgaria would be a conservative monarchy and not a republic as were the aspirations of Bulgarians.

Finally we should mention cases where foreign armies expelled a different set of foreigners and moved in at their expense bringing new foreign authority without being seen either as liberators or occupiers but instead being met with ambivalence. Such cases however while numerous in number are confined to pre-modern societies. Societies before mass literacy, mass media and mass politics. Confined to time and place where the populace is not permeated with democratic spirit and does not see itself as the entity upon which it rests the ability to grant a government its stamp of approval and legitimise it, but instead being unable to conceive of such thing as government from the people perceives all government and potential government as essentially alien and - having no expectations of freedom from government - inevitable. For example the French taking over the Austria`s Adriatic coast in 1809 which found the populace indifferent, seeing French rule and Habsburg rule as interchangeable and equivalent.