Efficiency by mattsteinglass
October 18, 2007, 4:42 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The guy in this picture, shot in Luang Prabang the day before yesterday, is planing beams a house that’s being built across the street. In other words, the wooden beams of the house have actually been cut and planed on site.

laos planer

As with many of the more picturesque activities in a country like Laos, the simple fact of the kind of work he’s doing is evidence of a certain degree of poverty. Once Laos gets richer, those things are going to be delivered to the site pre-cut.  Obviously everyone hopes that Laos, like every other country, gets rich. But it will be a bit of a shame to see this kind of work disappear. It’s a mistake to applaud or try to perpetuate “picturesque poverty”, but you can’t deny that it really is picturesque.


It is best film of 2007 for sure, believe me by mattsteinglass
October 5, 2007, 9:13 pm
Filed under: Russia

A plot synopsis of “Nas ne dogonish“, featuring Konstantin Lavronenko, the taut pinwheel of violence and tenderness who played the father in “The Return” (2003):

The main character picture Wayne (Alexei Nesterenko), a young American, Russian origin, working models and dreams of becoming a famous couturier. On the eve of the New Year, Wayne travels to Moscow, to show fashion. His American dream to be realized if he married millionershe named Sherri. Wedding date has been appointed, and guests sent invitations But on the last day stay in Moscow Wayne meets a charming girl, the future actress named Olga, and on the lives of Americans changed dramatically Wayne fall hostage to the criminals who are three : armed guard women’s colony on behalf of Semen and two runaway prisoners pump and Bison. Soon all, and fugitives and hostage understand that they can be free, if razdobudut large sum of money. Sherry willing to pay for the buyout of Wayne, but…

Translation: An American fashion designer and his millionaire bride-to-be, two escaped criminals and a guard from a women’s prison (named Semyon, Pump and Bison), and the mysterious young actress Olga, all trying to razdobudut a large sum of money before time runs out. Plus, the title means “You’re Not Gonna Get Us” — as in Tatu’s towering lesbian-schoolgirl pop hit! How can it miss?

Vietnam Analogy: getting away with murder in Haditha and My Lai by mattsteinglass
October 5, 2007, 5:26 pm
Filed under: Iraq, Vietnam, War

The NY Times reports today that the military is likely to drop murder charges against the  last of the Marines who were being prosecuted for murdering 24 civilians in Haditha in late 2005.

Instead, the investigator recommended that if the case proceeded to court-martial, the marine, Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, be charged only with negligent homicide for the deaths of seven women and children killed in a home assaulted by a Marine squad after a roadside bomb struck its convoy, said Mark Zaid, a lawyer for Sergeant Wuterich.

The investigator recommended that no charges be filed against Sergeant Wuterich in the deaths of the other 10 Iraqis he was originally accused of killing. The investigator, Lt. Col. Paul J. Ware, a Marine lawyer, has sent his recommendation to the commanding general of the First Marine Expeditionary Force, who will decide whether to try the case by court-martial.

Colonel Ware has presided over hearings for all three enlisted men charged with murder in the Haditha episode and last summer recommended dropping all charges against the previous two, Lance Cpls. Justin L. Sharratt and Stephen B. Tatum, citing a lack of evidence. Colonel Ware said those killings should be viewed in the context of combat against an enemy that ruthlessly employs civilians as cover. He also warned that murder charges against marines could harm the morale of troops still in Iraq.

The commanding general, James N. Mattis, has dismissed the charges against one of the lance corporals but has not yet ruled on the other case.

Apparently the fact that convicting someone of murder might “harm the morale” of other troops is allowed to weigh against prosecution, in military justice.

On March 16, 1968, US troops massacred some 350 to 500 peasants in the village of My Lai, Quang Ngai province, South Vietnam. The company captain had ordered his unit to “wipe out [the enemy] for good”, and had apparently responded in an unclear fashion when asked whether that included women and children. The massacre involved episodes of rape and mutilation by dozens of soldiers. Photos were taken at the scene; numerous soldiers testified to other soldiers’ atrocities. The company captain and all higher officers were acquitted or never charged; all enlisted men were acquitted. Only Lt. William Calley was convicted of murder. He served four months in jail after the conviction.

My Lai was the only one of hundreds of episodes of American war crimes in Vietnam to achieve media prominence, and one of the only ones to result in charges or convictions. In the “Tiger Force” atrocities, the Army found an elite unit of troops had murdered hundreds of civilians over a 7-month period in 1967; none were ever charged. In the early 2000s, Columbia University history Ph.D. candidate Nick Turse pored through hundreds of records of US Army investigations substantiating dozens of incidents of war crimes which went unprosecuted or unpunished, before the Army, reading articles he wrote in the LA Times, hurriedly re-classified the documents.

Even these investigations represent a small minority of the war crimes committed in Vietnam; they do not include incidents such as former Sen. Bob Kerrey’s massacre of five civilians when he served as a Navy SEAL. In general, war crimes committed by US forces go unreported or unpunished, and that pattern appears not to have changed since Vietnam.

Neocon is a term generally used to describe neocons by mattsteinglass
October 4, 2007, 6:14 pm
Filed under: Foreign Policy, Iraq, United States

Roger Cohen has a column today worrying that people are calling liberal internationalists who supported the Iraq War “neocons”, and using this as a term of opprobrium. He should settle down. People who oppose American adventurism abroad, including Matthew Yglesias (who appears to worry Cohen) tend to refer to liberal internationalists like Cohen as “liberal internationalists”, and to neocons (like Jonah Goldberg, David Frum et. al.) as “neocons”. They may also critique the views of liberal internationalists, but they tend to do so in the course of arguing that liberal internationalists take an overly credulous approach to neocon proposals for new wars — in the current case, against Iran. And that is an entirely reasonable argument. Liberal internationalists who supported the Iraq War cannot simply shrug off the mistake and expect people to trust their instincts the next time around, and they certainly have no cause to get huffy when people raise the issue of their mistake. The best course of action, as Thomas Friedman is finally discovering, is to apologize for the mistake, and to account for how one’s worldview might be inadequate in ways that could have produced that error in judgment.

Vietnam Analogy: Stabbed in the Back, Again by mattsteinglass
October 4, 2007, 4:46 pm
Filed under: Iraq, Vietnam, War | Tags:

Earlier this week Rick Perlstein had a piece in The Nation reviewing two of the rash of recent conservative books that argue that the US didn’t actually lose the Vietnam War: Mark Moyar’s and Lewis Sorley’s. Inevitably, anyone who argues that the US didn’t really lose that war must have some explanation for why it is that the hammer and sickle is flying over Saigon. Moyar’s explanation is that the US should have stuck with South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, instead of backing the coup that killed him in 1963. Sorley argues that the turn to counterinsurgency strategy in late 1968 actually won the war by 1970, but liberals refused to believe it. Both Moyar and Sorley blame the defeat on Democrats in Congress for refusing to provide US military support to South Vietnam when the North staged its final invasion in 1975. Liberals, meanwhile, generally attack such explanations as variations on the “stab-in-the-back myth”, or “Dolchstosslegende”, propagated in Germany in the 1920s by furious nationalists who refused to accept that their country really had lost World War I.

Interestingly, the first person to invoke the Dolchstosslegende with regard to conservative reactions to American failure in Vietnam was a US military officer. Back in 1968, Marine Col. William R. Corson complained that other officers were preparing “an American version of the German ‘stab in the back’ myth” to excuse their failure to win the war, claiming that politicians had forced them to fight with one hand tied behind their backs. Corson, who had commanded an armored regiment in Vietnam, was a fierce critic of the massive attrition strategy of Gen. William Westmoreland, and an advocate of a counterinsurgency-oriented strategy of small deployments to protect villages in concert with Vietnamese troops. Corson was also a pioneer of the CAP, or Combined Action Platoon, system, which put US soldiers in units with Vietnamese ones in village-level deployments. He wrote a book in 1968 making the case that the US military’s inept failure to adapt in Vietnam was losing the war, and was nearly court-martialed for his trouble.

Ironically, Corson is one of the heroes in Sorley’s book; Sorley’s “stab in the back myth” relies on the claim that Corson’s counterinsurgency tactics actually won the war between 1968 and 1970. But the even greater irony is that Corson’s counterinsurgency tactics, including the CAPs, stand at the heart of the shift in strategy carried out in Iraq by Gen. David Petraeus. From 2003 to 2006, the US strategy in Iraq to suppress the insurgency — it took a long time for the US even to admit it was an insurgency — resembled the search-and-destroy attrition strategy of Westmoreland in Vietnam. Petraeus is the exemplar of the shift towards counterinsurgency strategy which began at the beginning of 2006, and has continued with the Surge. Every element of his strategy can be found in Corson’s recommendations for Vietnam. It is precisely Petraeus’s recognition of how the US military failed in Vietnam that has motivated this shift. If, like Mark Moyar, you think the US won in Vietnam but was denied victory because of Congressional liberals, then you disagree with Gen. Petraeus and the whole rationale behind America’s current strategy in Iraq.

I originally came across Corson’s “stab in the back” comments in Michael Lind’s 1999 book, “Vietnam: The Necessary War”. Lind, after citing Corson, goes on to describe how this myth took hold in the US military and on the American right; he terms it “the praetorian critique” of the Vietnam War. He then makes some interesting and rather prescient comments.

…the praetorian theory of the Vietnam War is the new orthodoxy in the Pentagon, the Republican Party, and in conservative intellectual circles. Thanks to the majority status of the Republican party and the deference that civilian policymakers today are expected to show to top miliary officials, the praetorian critique is likely to inform America’s military strategy in the early years of the twenty-first century. Unfortunately, the lessons of Vietnam that the U.S. military establishment and its political allies have learned are the wrong lessons. Widespread acceptance of the erroneous praetorian critique of the Vietnam War will make it more, not less, likely that the military will repeat the mistakes of that war.

— “Vietnam: The Necessary War”, Michael Lind, P.81

And so it did.

Open source counterinsurgency by mattsteinglass
October 3, 2007, 9:47 pm
Filed under: Iraq, Vietnam, War

John Robb has a really interesting post up at Global Guerrillas on what he calls open source counterinsurgency. It means relying on an agglomeration of local, usually tribally affiliated militias to provide security and combat an insurgency. Robb thinks the US has stumbled into this strategy in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and that it’s the only effective way to combat modern open-source insurgencies. The problem is that, in the long run, it’s inimical to effective centralized government or modern economic development, since it balkanizes countries into tribal fiefdoms.

One question I had: what, exactly, is the definitional boundary between the “militias” one supports in such a strategy, and the “insurgency” one is trying to defeat? In the Iraqi case, the militias we’re now backing in Anbar are the very same militias who used to constitute the insurgency that was fighting us. True, Al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Taliban are different from such local militias: they’re driven by radical ideology, and lacking (or transcending) traditional local ties. But doesn’t that essentially just mean we’re doing the same thing we did with Montagnard militias in Vietnam, or with the mujaheddin in Afghanistan — arming traditional, localized tribal groups against a coherent, modernizing insurgency?

The Vietnam Analogy: Blackwater Massacre by mattsteinglass
October 3, 2007, 5:38 pm
Filed under: Iraq, Vietnam

Soldiers are told their mission is to clear an area. While unprovoked attacks on civilians are not allowed, attacks on guerrillas mixed in among civilians are allowed. The rules effectively ensure that there will never be any penalties for soldiers who kill civilians, with or without cause. In Iraq, they call it “clearing the X”. In Vietnam, they called it a “free-fire zone”. Result? Vietnam:

No sooner had Stout asked the question than they spotted two Vietnamese running down a hill toward the soldiers, waving leaflets. Stout could clearly hear them yelling, “No shoot, GI, no shoot, GI!”

He froze. Stout expected the soldiers to wait for the peasants to reach them before questioning them. They looked like civilians and weren’t carrying any weapons. He watched as two of the soldiers raised their M16s at the peasants, and figured it was just a precaution.

Suddenly Stout was startled by the instant, rapid sounds of the M16s. The peasants fell in a spray of bullets. “It happened so fast,” recalled Stout. “They just shot them. I couldn’t believe it.” He looked at the other three soldiers who didn’t fire their weapons, and could see the puzzled looks on their faces. One of the men turned around in disgust and blurted out, “Sarge, what happened?” The team leader glanced at Stout before motioning for the soldier to come over to talk to him privately.

Stout stared at the two men as they huddled, and knew he wasn’t supposed to hear what they were saying. As their voices rose, Stout could hear the sergeant saying the words “free-fire zone. It’s a damn free-fire zone, and you don’t question that.” Moments later, the men walked back and joined the rest of the team. Stout looked at the bodies and saw the leaflets in their hands. No guns or ammunition were found.

— “Tiger Force: A True Story of Men and War”, Michael Sallah and Mitch Weiss, P.77


BAGHDAD, Oct. 2 — It started out as a family errand: Ahmed Haithem Ahmed was driving his mother, Mohassin, to pick up his father from the hospital where he worked as a pathologist. As they approached Nisour Square at midday on Sept. 16, they did not know that a bomb had gone off nearby or that a convoy of four armored vehicles carrying Blackwater guards armed with automatic rifles was approaching.

Moments later a bullet tore through Mr. Ahmed’s head, he slumped, and the car rolled forward. Then Blackwater guards responded with a barrage of gunfire and explosive weapons, leaving 17 dead and 24 wounded — a higher toll than previously thought, according to Iraqi investigators.