Assume the Position

Friday, January 31, 2003
There Are No "Good Guys." After years of dictatorships, coups and foreign occupation, the small country was going to try democracy once again—a constitution and an open election of national leadership. One candidate stood ahead of the field, a man popular with the people who was also acceptable to the business community and, more importantly, the military.

He was from a lower-middle class family and had become physician specializing in infectious diseases. He entered the public health service and spent much time in villages, researching and treating the diseases endemic among his countrymen. After a coup, the new "president" appointed him the director general of the country's public health service. Later, he became became minister of health and labor. Another coup, however, forced him into hiding in the nation's interior, where he practiced medicine among the poor. Following a general amnesty for supporters of the prior regime, he came out of hiding and ran for the presidency in this latest attempt at democracy.

It is easy to see where his support came from. The poor supported him because he was a populist and was well known and admired for his medical work among them. Business supported him because, while he was a populist, he was not a hardline Marxist. The military supported him because they did not fear him. Even outside observers, such as the previous foreign occupiers who had withdrawn two decades before, considered him a pretty safe bet—a moderate, seemingly honest fellow not driven by radical ideologies or suspicious motives.

He easily won in an election that was not overly tainted by fraud or violence. Things went downhill fast, as he consolidated power, purged the military, and created a private army of thugs for his personal and political protection. He held a completely fraudulent election four years later, and three years after that he declared himself "president for life."

He was, of course, François "Papa Doc" Duvalier; who conducted a reign of terror in Haiti from 1957 to 1971, which was followed by his son Jean-Claude's only slightly less brutal regime from 1971 to 1986. While some might quibble with me over how fair the 1957 election was, or how rigged the 1961 election was, there should be little disagreement that when Duvalier became president he was the proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing.

Papa Doc wasn't a "good guy."

Many people express a desire for the US government to support the "reform movement" in Iran. Iran is an Islamic republic and the "reformers" have no intentions of changing that:

TIME: What are the limits — inside and outside parliament — to the reform movement's political inclusivity? What if people want secularists in politics?

Karoubi: Well, the majority of people do believe in religion. But what about their interpretation of religious government? If people believe religion intrudes on their lives and causes their rights to be trampled, they may be turned off by religious government. This is our main difficulty. Some have interpreted religion in a way that has turned people away, but the kind of religion that Khatami embodies will not turn people away.

TIME: What if people want socialists in parliament?

Karoubi: If, for example — and I don't really accept this example — people didn't want religious government, then what can we do? I myself want a religious government, but I cannot stand in the way. Government cannot be forced on people. Islam is an abiding principle, but its interpretations can be debated. It should not be made so narrow that you could put it in a bottle. But political activity must stay in the framework of the constitution, which is tied to the Islamic Republic. The constitution can be changed, but in our opinion its Islamic character cannot be changed.

-- TIME interview with Mehdi Karoubi
after his election to Temporary
Speaker of the Iranian Parliment
in Khatami's "reform" government.
June 6, 2000
One of the leaders of the reform movement is Abbas Abdi, arrested by the hardline government in November 2002. Abbas Abdi also happens to be one of the three students who organized and led the takeover of the US embassy in 1979. He is unapologetic and continues his weak justifications:
He offered no regrets over the hostage crisis, saying it was the US which held Iran "hostage for 25 years" by actively supporting the Shah of Iran. The Shah fled to the US after being deposed during the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Mr Abdi said: "The seizure of the US embassy in Tehran was the most non-violent measure possible taken in Iran in response to what the United States had done.

"If such action had not taken place, armed groups would have attacked the embassy sooner or later, which would have resulted in the murder of several Americans."

The US embassy was not taken as part of the Islamic revolution. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi left Iran on a "vacation" January 16, 1979, that everyone knew he would never return from. The caretaker government of Prime Minister Shahpour Bakhtiar didn't last a month; Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile two weeks after the Shah left and Bakhtiar fled into exile 10 days later. On April 1, after a non-secret ballot with only one choice, Khomeini was elected in a "landslide," declared an Islamic republic with himself as Iran's "political and religious leader for life."

The 1979 "reformers" had gotten what they wanted. Meanwhile, the Shah was sick and in exile. Six months after the successful Islamic revolution, the Shah was allowed into the US to undergo cancer therapy. While the Islamic revolutionaries hadn't taken over the embassies of other countries that had hosted the Shah in his exile and refused to extradite him (Egypt, Morocco, the Bahamas, and Mexico) Abbas Abdi led the seizure of the US embassy on November 4, 1979; and while the Shah died in July 1980 in Cario, Egypt, the hostages were held until January 20, 1981.

It is hard to consider Abbas Abdi and some others in the Iranian reform movement as "good guys."

US foreign policy successes and failures both give America-bashers plenty of examples of the US not living up to the principles it espouses for several reasons. First, there are no a priori guarantees that anything will work out as intended. Secondly, there may be no "good guys" of sufficient prominence, popularity and connections to lead a struggling democracy. And finally, because those principles are expressed in abstractions such as democracy, self-determination, freedom, rule of law, etc., that are so malleable they produce dreadful results in the hands of the unwary.

TIME: Why is democracy such a good idea now, but didn't really seem to be 20 years ago?

Abdi: The day we had a revolution, everyone revolted for democracy and freedom. They were just names. For centuries we have lived in a dictatorial environment. Those who sought democracy most fiercely during the Revolution behaved most brutally, most dictatorially afterwards. Now everyone has realized the best way to live.

-- TIME interview with Abbas Abdi,
US embassy hostage taker and
Iranian "reform movement" leader.
June 7, 2000

Those abstract principles face one overriding problem in predominately Muslim countries—the state is always one completely free and fair election away from Islamic theocracy and Sharia. A single 51-49 vote can express the "will of the people" to scrap a constitutional democracy in favor of a council of clerics from which there is no easy way back.

Kemal Attaturk's solution for Republic of Turkey was straightforward, the Constitution prohibited religious political parties and the military were made the guardians of constitutional civilian government for the republic. It was a system that has worked surprisingly well, although it seems undemocratic to many in the West.

The Federal Republic of Nigeria shows what happens when short term adherence to the abstract principles overcomes the pragmatism necessary to consider the long term.

The 1999 Constitution embodies democratic principles including guarantees of generally accepted freedoms such as speech, press, religion, due process, appeals, etc. As a federal republic, Nigerian states have substantial local control. This has allowed the primarily Muslim states in northern Nigeria to elect Islamic representatives and institute strict Sharia, to the general outrage of the West and the southern Nigerian states. The federal government of Nigeria finds itself with "states' rights" issues comparable to those that drove the US into civil war.

The questions of what will happen with democracy in Afghanistan or what form of government might replace Hussein's dictatorship in Iraq hinge in large part on finding what may not exist at all—"good guys" whose attractiveness to a Muslim public is greater than the attractiveness of an Islamic theocracy. If any dictatorship in the world were to suddenly become a democracy and practice it as the US did in 1800, it would be unacceptable to many in the West—states that had slavery, women not enfranchised with the vote, etc. Yet it took 200 years of practice and evolution for US democracy to become what it is today. [Whether any reader considers the current particulars of US democracy as good or bad is a different discussion. --lp]

Unfortunately, from the liberal Western point of view, royalty is one of the few things that has an attractiveness to offset or counteract religious dictates. The cachet of tradition, stability and lingering touch of legitimacy from the divine right of kings that surrounds royalty is powerful. That is why there is still a Queen of England and a King of Spain. That is one reason Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, rather than some military dictator, was placed on the throne in 1941 when the British and Russians invaded Iran during WWII and ousted his father, who was tight with the Germans. That is one reason the 1953 Iranian "coup" shifted power back to the monarchy when it looked like the experiment in democracy was headed toward an outcome unacceptable to the West. And that is why Afghan King Mohammad Zahir Shah was returned to Afghanistan in a mostly ceremonial role.

The "kleptocratic monarchies" in the Mid-East are tolerated and dealt with because democracy doesn't pop out of a tophat or the barrel of a gun. The transition of monarchy in Europe to constitutional monarchy with ever increasing constitutional democracy and lessening royal power is one path being pursued in the Mid-East in some Arab countries such as Bahrain and Qatar. What is unacceptable to many is that it is a slow process.

Another path is the Turkish precedent, and the common refrain that "there are no Arab democracies" seems to discount the progress Egypt has made along that path. Egypt's government is certainly authoritarian in the suppression of opposition parties, but many of the parties suppressed, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, are inherently anti-democratic. It has taken about 80 years and three brief military restorations of constitutional government for Turkey to ease some of the strictures on religious political parties, and that was done primarily to aid its bid for entry into the European Union. Counting from the 1971 Constitution, Egypt isn't quite to the halfway point of the Turkish path.

Whatever governments finally take shape in Afghanistan and the theoretical post-Hussein Iraq will probably be considered as US failures in the "I want it all, I want it now" activist mentality. A few "good guys" are not likely to suddenly appear to run the show, and those that seem good enough may turn out like Papa Doc. Even if the lives of Afghani and Iraqi citizens are greatly improved, the immediate lack of the myriad freedoms that constitute Western democracies will be blamed on the US, though authoritarian training-wheels may really be necessary until the population has enough practice pedaling and steering and has gotten up to speed so that they aren't continuously in danger of falling off and finding themselves in a dictatorship or theocracy. The activists will point out that "the people aren't ready for self-government" has long been an excuse used by authoritarian regimes to prolong their rule without doing anything to prepare the population for greater deomocracy, and they will be right. But there doesn't seem to be any way around it, nor any good rule of thumb for how long the training-wheels need to be in place before they can safely be removed.

I started with Haiti and I'll end there with the "good guy" that came after the Duvaliers, Marxist priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide. No friend of the US, he was fairly elected in 1990 and shortly overthrown by a Duvalierist military coup led by Raoul Cedras. The US followed principle rather than pragmatism in 1994, invading and returning Aristide to office. The Constitution prohibited consecutive terms as President, so his term of office was up in 1996. He was reelected in 2000. Since there are so many differing views on US intervention in Haitian politics, including questions surrounding CIA involvement in the 1991 coup and interferring in the first attempt to return Aristide in 1993, we'll swing halfway around the world to what should be a disinterested party—a Radio Netherlands report following Aristide's return to office in 2001 (emphasis added):

Just eight months after his election in 1990, Aristide was driven from power by a military coup. For a couple of years he lived in exile in the United States. In 1994, an American invasion force helped him back into office. In 1996, Aristide made way for President Rene Preval, but was still pulling the strings behind the scenes. Gradually, Aristide emerged as yet another dictator.
A case where nonintervention was tantamount to supporting the Cedras junta, but intervention under the principle of returning an elected leader to office will likely be seen in the future as the wrong move.

Thursday, January 30, 2003
This is your Prime Minister on a roll. Any questions?
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): Even if Saddam Hussein does possess weapons of mass destruction—most people accept that he probably retains some residual capability—can my right hon. Friend explain why he did not use those during the Gulf war when his arsenal was massively greater than it is now? In particular, can he explain why Saddam represents a greater threat today than he did in 1997, 1998, 1999 and all his time as Prime Minister until President's Bush's axis of evil speech, when apparently the situation changed?

The Prime Minister: First, the one thing about which we can be sure is that his reason for not using his chemical, biological and nuclear weapons back in the early 1990s was not out of the goodness of his heart.

Secondly, my hon. Friend should study the UN inspectors' report. I shall read just one small part of it. Dr. Blix says:

"The nerve agent VX is one of the most toxic ever developed . . . Iraq has declared that it only produced VX on a pilot scale, just a few tonnes and that the quality was poor . . . UNMOVIC, however, has information that conflicts with this account . . . There are indications that the agent was weaponised."
He then goes on to detail similar findings in respect of a lot more weapons.

When my hon. Friend says that we did not regard Saddam as a threat between 1998 and the axis of evil speech, that is wrong. Precisely because he was a threat, thousands of British forces have been down in the Gulf the whole time, flying over the no-fly zones. Precisely because he was a threat, we have had to impose a sanctions regime on Iraq that, because of the way that Saddam implements it, means—I fear—misery and poverty for many, many millions of Iraqis. The fact is that, way before President Bush's speech, at the very first meeting that I held with the President in February 2001, I said that weapons of mass destruction were an issue and that we had to confront them.

In the House on 14 September, I said that, after 11 September, it was even more important to deal with the issue. I simply say this to my hon. Friend: the UN having taken its stand, if we do not deal with Iraq now—

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): Who is next?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend asks who is next. After we deal with Iraq, we have to—[Interruption.]—yes, through the United Nations. We have to confront North Korea about its weapons programme—[Hon. Members: "Oh."] We have to confront those companies and individuals trading in weapons of mass destruction—

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): When do we stop?

The Prime Minister: Another question has been shouted at me. We stop when the threat to our security is properly and fully dealt with. I say this to the hon. Gentleman: if he reads Dr. Blix's report, who can doubt that Saddam is in breach of his UN obligations?

We have talked about the UN in this House. Let us, therefore, follow the UN route. Let us implement the resolution and let us make sure that the threat to our security from those weapons is properly dealt with.

Jolly good show, wot?

You only get one chance to make a first impression. Timothy Garton Ash, "author, most recently, of History of the Present … Director of the European Studies Centre at St. Antony's College, Oxford, and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford," has an essay of over 4,200 words (excluding footnotes) on Anti-Europeanism in America. Here are the first lines:
This year, especially if the United States goes to war against Iraq, you will doubtless see more articles in the American press on "Anti-Americanism in Europe." But what about anti-Europeanism in the United States? Consider this:
To the list of polities destined to slip down the Eurinal of history, we must add the European Union and France's Fifth Republic. The only question is how messy their disintegration will be.

(Mark Steyn, Jewish World Review, May 1, 2002)

What does Ash choose as his first example of anti-Europeanism in the United States? A quote by Canadian Mark Steyn.

No wonder there is a stereotype of Canadians having an inferiority complex, but I suppose we could give Steyn honorary US citizenship to clear up Ash's goof.

Other than that sour note at the beginning, it's not a bad piece; but maybe I'm biased because a small part of it fits in with an identically titled post I wrote back in August.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003
If you feel compelled to say, "I am not a crank," you probably are. Tim Blair points out a Malcolm Street article in the Sydney Morning Herald that contends British and Australian support for a US war against Iraq is so they can get their hands on US anti-gravity technology. In the standard method of cranks and crackpots everywhere, Street strings together disjointed facts and suppositions to push conclusions from incompatible comparisons; like a magician, he relies on misdirection.

The opening claim:

This item is going to sound like a bad reject from conspiracy publications like Nexus or New Dawn, or an X-Files fanzine. It isn't. The indisputable fact is that both the US and the UK are putting serious money into anti-gravity research with military aerospace applications. The only question is how far it is from operational status. There is informed speculation that it is already used in the American B2 bomber.

I believe that access to this potentially revolutionary and obviously highly secret technology, perhaps via the JSF/F35 fighter program, could be behind the otherwise (in my view) inexplicable level of support given Bush over Iraq by Howard and Blair.

For the record I am a mechanical engineer who spent over two years at a British Aerospace guided missile R&D site in the early 1980s and have continued to take a strong interest in aerospace technology. I am a member of ASRI (Australian Space Research Institute). I am not a crank.

Skipping all the 'everything and the kitchen sink' filler to show that the US has successfully carried out previous secret military technology programs, let's cut straight to the "informed speculation" that the B-2 is already using anti-gravity technology (emphasis in original):
What really put the cat among the proverbial pigeons was a feature published in a March 1992 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology, entitled "Black world engineers, scientists, encourage using highly classified technology for civil applications". For the first time in open literature, this article explained how the B-2's sharp leading edge is charged to "many millions of volts", while the corresponding negative charge is blown out in the jets from the four engines.
"Take-off thrust of the [B2 engine] F118- 100 at sea level is given as '19,000lb (84.5kN) class' by Northrop Grumman and as '17,300lb (77.0kN)' by the USAF. These are startlingly low figures for an aircraft whose take-off weight is said to be 336,5001b (152,635kg) and which was until recently said to weigh 376,0001b (170,550kg). Aircraft usually get heavier over the years, not 20 tones [sic] lighter. Even at the supposed reduced weight, the ratio of thrust to weight is a mere 0.2, an extraordinarily low value for a combat aircraft."
In other words, Gunston is implying that the B2 is seriously underpowered unless there is some means of reducing its mass or of increasing its lift beyond that provided by conventional aerodynamic means.
And, of course, the reader is to conclude that the mysterious "means of reducing its mass or of increasing its lift" must be some secret anti-gravity technology since it is obviously "beyond…conventional aerodynamic means;" maybe even an anti-gravity device that can nullify 20 tons of the aircraft's weight.

First misdirection: Gunston tried to make something significant about differing listed takeoff weights ("Aircraft usually get heavier over the years, not 20 tones [sic] lighter.") and mentioned the different thrusts listed by Northrop Grumann and the USAF. The General Electric F-118-GE-100 turbofan is in the 19,000 lb thrust class, but may be limited to 17,300 lbs in the B-2 because of the exhaust dispersion and cool air mixing features used to lower the aircraft's IR visibility. As to the takeoff weight, the specifications at Periscope indicate the B-2 empty weight is around 158,000 lbs, with a maximum takeoff weight of 240,000-376,000 lbs. Maximum takeoff weight of an aircraft includes fuel and armament/cargo and changes depending on runway altitude and air temperature. The specifications at the Federation of American Scientists list 336,000 lbs as the typical takeoff weight.

Sorry, no mysterious 20 ton weight reduction—just a bit of sleight-of-hand substituting one source's maximum takeoff weight for another source's typical takeoff weight.

Second misdirection: Gunston's assertion that a 0.2 thrust to weight ratio is "an extraordinarily low value for a combat aircraft." Using maximum takeoff weights and rounding to two decimal places, we'll look at a typical "combat aircraft." The thrust to weight ratio of the F-15C/D is 0.74. Wow, that's certainly much greater than 0.2. Does that mean Gunston is right?

Well, the F-15 is an air superiority fighter while the B-2 is a bomber which doesn't have to intercept or dogfight anything. It turns out that the thrust to weight ratio of the venerable B-52 is 0.29 and the B-1B's is 0.25, neither of which are "extraordinarily" greater than the B-2's.

Third misdirection: Street's "conventional aerodynamic means" are of the bumblebees can't fly variety. The B-52 and B-1 are conventional airframes relying on conventional aerodynamics: the wings provide lift and the fuselage, even when streamlined, is basically a deadweight producing drag. The B-2, however, is a flying-wing (or flying-wing/lifting-body hybrid, if you prefer). Northrop built Flying Wing bombers in the late '40s. The YB-49 flown in 1947 (eight 4,000 lb thrust turbojets) and the photo-recon version YB-49A in flown in 1950 (six 5,000 lb thrust turbojets) both had a thrust to weight ratio of 0.15—even lower than the B-2's.

So, the mysterious technology that lets the "seriously underpowered" B-2 fly supposedly in violation of "conventional aerodynamic means" is that it isn't a conventional airframe. It isn't underpowered for a flying-wing or lifting-body where the fuselage provides significant aerodynamic lift. There's no need (or real evidence) for any "enormous electrogravitic lift force" in the B-2.

Street then ends his piece with the 'Hey, I'm not say'n, I'm jus ask'n, is all' routine:

So are Howard and Blair playing a very high-stakes game to gain access to a revolutionary military technology more secret, more important, than stealth, one that's perhaps being pioneered on the US-only B-2? Like anti-gravity technology only available to the select inner partners of the JSF/F35 program? And has the US threatened to boot them out if they don't toe the Bush line on Iraq?
Quick answer: NO.

While there's no doubt the US and others are working on various exotic propulsion systems, including things that could be called "anti-gravity," the ideas that it's operational on the B-2 and being used to bribe Australia into supporting a US war with Iraq are the ideas of a crackpot. So, Malcolm Street, you are a crank.

The following table is for those interested in the thrust to weight calculations. I just used straight multiplication and division, then rounded the result to three decimal places without worrying about significant digits. Because Gunston listed differing takeoff weights and engine thrusts, I provide 4 thrust to weight calculations for the B-2 to account for high or low thrust (T or t) and heavy or light weights (W or w) he used.

No. of
B-2 Tw19,000476,000336,5000.226
B-2 TW19,000476,000376,5000.202
B-2 tw17,300469,200336,5000.206
B-2 tW17,300469,200376,5000.184

UPDATE: I see Robin Goodfellow isn't too taken with Mr. Street, either.

Sorry there bub, you couldn't be more wrong. I think you just can't deal with the fact that maybe, just maybe, the Bush administration is not the blackest evil ever to alight on the face of the Earth and that maybe, just maybe, other countries support the US in the war on terrorism out of principle.
He has more to say over on his blog. (Use the first link to his main blog until the blogspot archive updates.)

Monday, January 27, 2003
Crushing Dissent in the nuanced French manner:
A new law passed by the French parliament that will allow the courts to fine or jail people who defile the tricolour or mock the Marseillaise has provoked a backlash from free speech advocates who believe the conservative government is imposing a nannyish new moral order.

The legislation, which was passed on Thursday, allows for a maximum sentence of six months in prison and a fine of almost £5,000 for anyone found guilty of insulting the national flag or anthem. The police say it will be next to impossible to enforce.

(link via Tim Blair)

Original content copyright © 2002-2005 Lynxx Pherrett. All rights reserved.