Thursday, August 25

Missing something?

Oh look it's a democracy! Come snuggle with the United States!

The title of this post refers to the punch line in a series of TV commercials in the USA for Sears Optical eyeglasses. The ads feature amusing skits of people in serious need of a pair of glasses, such as the woman who mistakes a police patrol car for a taxicab. But helped along by bravura performances from Tara L. Clark as a blind-as-a-bat cat owner and Squirty as a wild raccoon who can't believe his luck, one of the skits is so funny it's gone viral on the internet. (Click on the above link to see the ad on YouTube.)

There is nothing funny, however, about American officials who are so blind to what the United States stands for they snuggle with governments that march to a very different drumbeat than their own. Yet the officials are supported in their blindness by an equally blind populace. So in this post I'm going to break a taboo and wrestle with topics that are only whispered about in this country: monarchism and America's involvement with it. To set the stage I'll start with quotes from two recent news reports:

From the Globe and Mail (Canada), August 19, 2011:
Stephen Harper is working to recast the Canadian identity, undoing 40 years of a Liberal narrative and instead creating a new patriotism viewed through a conservative lens.

Restoring the “royal” prefix to the navy and air force this week is just part of the Prime Minister’s attempt at “creating a new frame” for Canada and Canadians. ...
From the New York Times, August 17:
A photograph taken last Friday of Gary F. Locke, the new United States ambassador to China, buying coffee with his 6-year-old daughter and carrying a black backpack at a Starbucks in the Seattle airport, has gone viral on the Chinese Internet. The seemingly banal scene has bewildered and disarmed Chinese because they are used to seeing their own officials indulge in privileged lives often propped up by graft and bribery and lavish expense accounts.
The first impression from the Starbucks episode has been bolstered by another photograph that shows Mr. Locke, his wife, Mona, and their three children carrying their own luggage after landing at Beijing Capital International Airport.

Chinese who saw them then spread the word that the family had gotten into an anonymous minivan because a formal sedan that had been sent to pick them up was too small.

“To most Chinese people, the scene was so unusual it almost defied belief,” Chen Weihua, an editor at China Daily, an official English-language newspaper, wrote in an article Wednesday.

Cheng Li, a scholar at the Brookings Institution who studies Chinese elite politics, said in an e-mail: “Ambassador Locke’s photo contrasts sharply with the image of the Chinese officials who often live in a secret, insulated, very privileged fashion.
Often I've heard it asked why Britain's political Right doesn't seem much less socialist than the country's Left. I'd say the answer is that the United Kingdom's welfare state has as much to do with Marxism as bread and circus did under the Roman emperors. I'd also say the same answer would apply to the welfare state in the Kingdom of Norway and the Kingdom of Sweden and a number of other countries that are constitutional monarchies.

Yet my fellow Americans have such difficulty seeing monarchism that they confuse it with something else. The same blindness can afflict Americans who insist that China is not much different from the United States. In his 2008 article for the May/June issue of Good magazine (Ten Reasons Why China Matters To You), Thomas P.M. Barnett, an American security analyst, wrote that "China’s transformation echoes much of America’s past. ... right now, China is somewhere in the historical vicinity of 'rising America' circa 1880."

In my retort (The National Petition Bureau will see you now, Dr Barnett), I pointed out that Chinese make the pilgrimage to a bureau that's a CCP place marker for an emperor's go-fers. I added in exasperation, "Ah yes, I remember as if just yesterday the tens of millions of American peasants in the 1880s who pilgrimaged to the nation's capital every year to seek redress from the emperor."

Dr Barnett turned out to have a sense of humor or at least a fair-minded attitude about receiving criticism because he linked my post at his blog. Yet that did little to allay my concern that Washington's foreign policy establishment was blind as a bat to the fact that modern China is an imperial society with a frownie face of Communist Party dictatorship painted on it, and that modern Britain and a good number of other NATO-member countries are basically monarchist societies with a smiley face of democracy plastered on them.

One could even make an argument that modern Mexico's most entrenched problems are rooted not in the rule of the Spanish but in indigenous imperial civilizations that predated Spain by thousands of years.

In fact, the more one starts looking around the world for societies that are not holdovers from the days of kings the more one appreciates that the United States of America has very few natural allies; i.e., countries that represent a real break with monarchism and the class systems that uphold it.

Norwegians might bristle at their society being described as monarchist. They would point out that their noble class has no political power anymore and that Norway today is an egalitarian society. However, it is an egalitarianism so rigidly enforced that the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik believed after he set off a bomb in Oslo that he would be caught and killed by the police before he reached Utoya island.

His faith in the omniscience of Norway's government was dashed but the point is that the country's egalitarian "open society" is maintained by the second largest deployment of public-space CCTV cameras outside the United Kingdom. And Norway's generous public welfare system means that from cradle to grave Norwegians are easily monitored by the state, which helps the government make sure Norway stays an open, egalitarian society.

Yet Americans insist on describing such states as Leftist! Karl Marx would roll in his grave if he saw what passes today for many Leftist governments.

These same Americans decry their government's close alliance with absolute monarchies such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They do so without realizing that there is a long history of the United States being closely allied with monarchies; that many of these are no longer "absolute" but "constitutional" with parliamentary forms of government and voting rights makes them no less monarchist.

Americans were also miffed at what they considered snobbishness when they heard the Swedish Chairman of BP, Carl-Henric Svanberg, expressing concern for the victims of the Gulf oil spill by referring to them as "the small people."

Translation malfunction, explained his apologists. There was no malfunction; English is Svanberg's second language. And he wasn't being snobbish, he was being Swedish. Noblesse oblige and all that; one must always look after the basic needs of the small people so they don't revolt.

None of the above is meant as a criticism of the countries I've mentioned or their people, and one would be hard-pressed to find nicer peoples than the majority of Swedes or Norwegians -- and Canadians for that matter, who also live under a constitutional monarchy. I see no harm in people upholding traditions that provide them with a sense of order and give them continuity with their past, which is why I cheered on the royal pomp associated with the marriage of William and Kate. If it helped Britons get clearer on their values I was all for that.

The harm comes when Americans are so unclear on their own values, their own past and traditions, they can't engage closely with the rest of the world without becoming terribly confused. One consequence is that the more the U.S. government has tried to mesh with the "international community," the lower America's standing in the world has fallen.

Americans can't turn the situation around without first acknowledging that the international community is in large measure of bunch of royalists. Arriving at this realization doesn't mean Americans should eschew friendly relations with people in such societies or that official Washington should spurn engaging with the governments on issues of mutual interest. It does mean that Americans are asking for ever greater trouble by lumping "democratic" monarchies" with American democracy.

Over at ZenPundit, Mark Safranski has again expressed concern about what he calls an emerging American oligarchy, an elite that's manipulating the rest of the American populace to accept its rule. Meanwhile, Fareed Zakaria is seriously proposing that America replace its president with a prime minister and Congress with a parliament -- with an upper house, I suppose, to be stuffed with Mark's oligarchs, duly elected of course, so that Americans will stop the troublesome habit of vehemently disagreeing with one another.

Now just see how one thing leads to another. First you're snuggling with liberal monarchies, then authoritarian ones, then one day you're asking, 'Why is there no USA anymore? Why is there only the international community?'

Missing something?

Wednesday, August 24

One species at the National Zoo raised an alarm 15 minutes before the earthquake struck Washington, DC

Man's Newest Best Friend?

From DC Day After the Quake, NBC Washington:
The first warnings of the earthquake may have occurred at the National Zoo, where officials said some animals seemed to feel it coming before people did. The red ruffed lemurs began “alarm calling” a full 15 minutes before the quake hit, zoo spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson said. In the Great Ape House, Iris, an orangutan, let out a guttural holler 10 seconds before keepers felt the quake. The flamingos huddled together in the water seconds before people felt the rumbling. The rheas got excited. And the hooded mergansers — a kind of duck — dashed for the safety of the water.
There's a large body of lore about unusual animal behavior prior to an earthquake but nothing definitive as far as science is concerned. And while many pet owners have noticed unusual behavior in their dogs, cats, or birds just prior to an earthquake, the anecdotes I've read suggest that much of the behavior occured just a few seconds before the quake struck.

And it's possible that much of the behavior, as seems the case with that of the flamingos and ducks at the National Zoo, was actually after the fact: the quake had already occurred at the epicenter, 80 miles from Washington, but the fowl were reacting to subtle vibrations as the shock waves traveled outward.

To be sure, a few seconds warning would be better than nothing -- it would be enough time for a pet owner to run out of the house or take cover in the bathtub, but not enough time to act as any kind of public warning.

Fifteen minutes warning, on the other hand, would be an eternity in relation to an earthquake warning because humans have no public warning system of any kind. When one considers that even a three-minute warning ahead of a 6.5 or higher earthquake could save thousands of lives and prevent many serious injuries, the notations of the zookeepers at the Washington National Zoo about the lemurs' behavior will probably come in for serious study by scientists who study earthquakes and tsunamis.

Assuming for the sake of discussion that the lemurs at the National Zoo were indeed reacting to a subtle precursor of the 5.8 earthquake that was felt across one-third of the United States and in parts of Canada yesterday, the first question would be whether they would have been as sensitive to an impending earthquake of the same magnitude in the western part of the USA.

Different soil density and types of tectonic plates mean the difference between tremors carrying from a quake epicenter over a huge area, as happened in the eastern part of the USA and Canada yesterday, or carrying over a very limited area, as they do in California and other western regions of the USA.

Another big factor is the depth of a quake. The fault that opened yesterday in Mineral, Virginia, the epicenter of the quake, was only three miles underground. Would the lemurs at the National Zoo have noticed anything if the depth of the fault had been twice or three times that?

No way to answer the question now, because even if the lemurs were reacting to something associated with the quake, it's not known what the something is. So scientists have their work cut out for them.

In the meantime, however, those who live in an earthquake alleyway might want to ring up their neighborhood zoo and ask if there are any red-ruffed lemurs in residence. If not, well, lemurs seem to be pretty low-maintenance and if they turn out to be duds at earthquake prediction they're still a nice addition to a zoo.

I'm an endangered species, I'm vegetarian, oh and by the way I'm extremely clean

Tuesday, August 23

Libya, NATO, and the Pottery Barn rule

John Batchelor, host of the John Batchelor Show -- the best news analysis show on the planet -- writes today on his blog:
You break Tripoli

Tripoli is a tragic opera that illustrates how little we have learned since the catastrophes of Kabul and Baghdad.

My information is that NATO and the Transitional National Council at Benghazi have been negotiating with the Qadhafi family for some weeks about en exit with dignity and assurances.

Mustafa Jalil heads the TNC. Since the assassination of the rebel war chief Younes at the direction of the TNC some weeks ago, Jalil has not provided answers about why and how and who.

Now he double-crosses Q and launches the jihadist cells in Tripoli. They behave as expected: hysteria, gun-shooting, boasting, pointing weapons they'd just grabbed as if they were playing video games; no fire discipline, no organization at all, marauding enthusiasts. They even claimed that they had captured Q's number-one thug son, Saif al-Islam.

For twenty-four hours, the speculation in US media was that this is "the end of Q" and that POTUS Obama's peculiar "leading from behind" was a surprise victor. Now Saif al-Islam dashes into the camera at the hotel where the journalists are crowded and under siege -- and he makes a zesty argument that the rebel cells were lured into attacking in order to identify the turncoats. Laughter.

Am told that Qadhafi will now fight to martyrdom -- whether in Tripoli or to the South. The Obama administration's "leading from behind" will now stand a test: how long can it explain anarchy and call it progress toward democracy? Colin Powell's dictum: "You break it, you own it."
Batchelor away tonight, back on the air tomorrow night. See his blog for broadcast details. Stay tuned.

Juan Cole's "Top Ten Myths about the Libya War" and Chase Madar on the weaponization of human rights

Juan Cole's list of what he calls the top ten myths about the Libyan war, published August 22 at CNN's website, stays away from addressing the key issue, which is that neither France nor the governments that followed France into bombing Libya made a sincere attempt to first establish a peacekeeping mission in the country.

Cole's list also avoids the key question for Americans, which is how the U.S. government managed to rationalize an obvious decapitation strike against the Gadhafi regime as a mission to protect Libyan civilians. However, the answer was spelled out far in advance of the bombing of Libya by an American civil rights attorney named Chase Madar in an essay, Care Tactics: Samantha Power and the weaponization of human rights (September 2009), and which he elaborated on in a June 2010 essay, How Liberals Kill.

Because both essays were first published in the American Conservative magazine, I asked an American attorney whose Leftist credentials are impeccable and who's long been involved with human rights issues to read and comment on them; this as a way of checking whether political bias might have greatly influenced Mardar's arguments. He replied that for the most part Madar was spot on.

"Spot on," in this case, is nothing short of horrifying because Madar is describing how a perversion of the concept of protecting human rights became institutionalized and then weaponized. In fact, I found his points so frightening that the only way I got through the essays was by telling myself, "Nah, they wouldn't dare go that far."

In Libya, they did.

What's more, support for the U.S. bombing of Libya from certain Conservatives brought out a point that Madar didn't specifically address in his essays, which is that certain Liberals are not the only Americans who've recognized the usefulness of weaponizing human rights.

In the piece for CNN Juan Cole attempts to head off critics of the issue by arguing in his introduction, "You can’t protect all victims of mass murder everywhere all the time. But where you can do some good, you should do it, even if you cannot do all good."

A more pointed version of the argument is expounded in an August 22 opinion piece for the Atlantic magazine by the Brookings Institution's Shadi Hamid:
When you have the ability to act, doing nothing is no longer a neutral position. To be sure, this is not a time for settling scores. But it is a time for arguing for the utility, necessity, and morality of a doctrine -- the Responsibility to Protect...
You can gain a good introduction to the doctrine from Wikipedia's article, which Hamid links to in his piece. But readers who've seen the 1997 American action film, Air Force One, can get in the ballpark fast about the doctrine by recalling the speech that Harrison Ford, in the role of a U.S. president, gave at the film's opening.

I do not know, and I am sure I do not want to know, whether Samantha Power was inspired by the movie speech. I do know that what started as lines in a scripted fiction came horribly true. In the name of protecting human rights, it is now perfectly possible for foreign powers to overthrow any government and get away with it, provided the powers have enough heavy metal at their command and do enough horse trading at the United Nations.

Below is Chase Madar's September 2009 essay in its entirety. As to how I can see fit to present his criticism of the Iraq and Afghan Wars, given my strong support for both -- I supported war, and nothing else. That's the entire point, the point that Juan Cole seemingly refuses to confront. War is awful but it turns fiendish when it's made to pass for something else; I think no other American, and perhaps no one else writing in this era, has done better than Chase Madar at bringing home the point. That he's done this in one short essay is a tour de force.
September 01, 2009 Issue
Copyright © 2011 The American Conservative
Care Tactics: Samantha Power and the weaponization of human rights
by Chase Madar

American liberals rejoiced at Samantha Power’s appointment to the National Security Council. After so many dreary Clintonites were stacked into top State Department positions—Dennis Ross, Richard Holbrooke, Hillary herself -- here was new blood: a dynamic idealist, an inspiring public intellectual, a bestselling author of a book against genocide, a professor at Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights. And she hasn’t even turned 40. The blogosphere buzzed. Surely Samantha Power was the paladin, the conscience, the senior director for multilateral affairs to bring human rights back into U.S. foreign policy.

Don’t count on it. “Human rights,” a term once coterminous with freeing prisoners of conscience and documenting crimes against humanity, has taken on a broader, more conflicted definition. It can now mean helping the Marine Corps formulate counterinsurgency techniques; pounding the drums for air strikes (of a strictly surgical nature, of course); lobbying for troop escalations in various conquered nations—all for noble humanitarian ends.

The intellectual career of Samantha Power is a richly instructive example of the weaponization of human rights. She made her name in 2002 with A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. In this surprise global bestseller, she argues that when confronted with 20th-century genocides, the United States sat on the sidelines as the blood flowed. Look at Bosnia or Rwanda.

“Why does the US stand so idly by?” she asks. Powers allows that overall America “has made modest progress in its responses to genocide.” That’s not good enough. We must be bolder in deploying our armed forces to prevent human-rights catastrophes—to engage in “humanitarian intervention” in the patois of our foreign-policy elite.

In nearly 600 pages of text, Power barely mentions those postwar genocides in which the U.S. government, far from sitting idle, took a robust role in the slaughter. Indonesia’s genocidal conquest of East Timor, for instance, expressly green-lighted by President Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger, who met with Suharto the night before the invasion was launched and carried out with American-supplied weapons. Over the next quarter century, the Indonesian army saw U.S. military aid and training rise as it killed between 100,000 and 200,000 East Timorese. (The figures and the designation of “genocide” come from a UN-formed investigative body.) This whole bloody business gets exactly one sentence in Power’s book.

What about the genocide of Mayan peasants in Guatemala -- another decades-long massacre carried out with American armaments by a military dictatorship with tacit U.S. backing, officer training at Fort Benning, and covert CIA support? A truth commission sponsored by the Catholic Church and the UN designated this programmatic slaughter genocide and set the death toll at approximately 200,000. But apparently this isn’t a problem from hell.

The selective omissions compound. Not a word about the CIA’s role in facilitating the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Indonesian Communists in 1965-66. (Perhaps on legalistic grounds: Since it was a political group being massacred, does it not meet the quirky criteria in the flawed UN Convention on Genocide?) Nothing about the vital debate as to whether the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths attributable to U.S.-led economic sanctions in the 1990s count as genocide.

The book is primarily a vigorous act of historical cleansing. Its portrait of a “consistent policy of non-intervention in the face of genocide” is fiction. (Those who think that pointing out Power’s deliberate blind spots about America’s active role in genocide is nitpicking should remember that every moral tradition the earth has known, from the Babylonian Talmud to St. Thomas Aquinas, sees sins of commission as far worse than sins of omission.)

Power’s willful historical ignorance is the inevitable product of her professional milieu: the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. One simply cannot hold down a job at the KSG by pointing out the active role of the U.S. government in various postwar genocides. That is the kind of impolitic whining best left to youthful anarchists like Andrew Bacevich or Noam Chomsky and, really, one wouldn’t want to offend the retired Guatemalan colonel down the hall. (The KSG has an abiding tradition of taking on war criminals as visiting fellows.)

On the other hand, to cast the U.S. as a passive, benign giant that must assume its rightful role on the world stage by vanquishing evil -- this is most flattering to American amour propre and consonant with attitudes in Washington, even if it doesn’t map onto reality. A country doesn’t acquire a vast network of military bases in dozens of sovereign nations across the world by standing on the sidelines, and for the past hundred years the U.S. has, by any standard, been a hyperactive world presence.

For Samantha Power, the United States can by its very nature only be a force for virtue abroad. In this sense, the outlook of Obama’s human-rights advocate is no different from Donald Rumsfeld’s.

Power’s faith in the therapeutic possibilities of military force was formed by her experience as a correspondent in the Balkans, whose wars throughout the ’90s she seems to view as the alpha and omega of ethnic conflict, indeed of all genocide. For her, NATO’s bombing of Belgrade in 1999 was a stunning success that “likely saved hundreds of thousands of lives” in Kosovo.

Yet this assertion seems to crumble a little more each year: estimates of the number of Kosovars slain by the province’s Serb minority have shrunk from 100,000 to at most 5,000. And it is far from clear whether NATO’s air strikes prevented more killing or intensified the bloodshed.

Even so, it is the NATO attack on Belgrade -- including civilian targets, which Amnesty International has recently, belatedly, deemed a war crime -- that informs Power’s belief that the U.S. military possesses nearly unlimited capability to save civilians by means of aerial bombardment, and all we need is the courage to launch the sorties.

Power has recently admitted, perhaps a little ruefully, that “the Kosovo war helped build support for the invasion of Iraq by contributing to the false impression that the US military was invincible.” But no intellectual has worked harder than Samantha Power to propagate this impression.

A Problem From Hell won a Pulitzer in early 2003. America’s book reviewers, eager to be team players, were relieved to be reminded of the upbeat side of military force during the build-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom. Surely Saddam Hussein, who had perpetrated acts of genocide against the Kurds, needed to be smashed by military force. Didn’t we owe it to the Iraqis to invade? Hasn’t America played spectator for too long? Power, to her credit, did not support the war, but she has been mighty careful not to raise her voice against it. After all, is speaking out at an antiwar demonstration or joining a peace group like Code Pink really “constructive”? It is certainly no way to get a seat on the National Security Council.

The failed marriage of warfare and humanitarian work is also the subject of Power’s most recent book, Chasing the Flame, a biography of Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN humanitarian worker who was killed, with 21 others, by a suicide bomber in Baghdad just months after the U.S. invasion. Most of the book is a sensitive and rather gripping account of Vieira’s partial successes and heroic efforts in refugee resettlement in Thailand, Lebanon, and the Balkans. He eventually rose to become the UN’s high commissioner on human rights -- a position he left when asked by George W. Bush to lead a UN “presence” in Iraq.

That the UN’s top human-rights official would rush to help with the clean-up after an American invasion that contravened international law may strike some observers as strange. (One can imagine the puzzlement and outrage if the UN’s high commissioner on human rights had trailed the Soviets into Afghanistan in 1979 to help build civil society.) But for Vieira, and for Samantha Power, there is nothing unseemly about human-rights professionals serving as adjuncts to a conquering army, especially when the prestige of the UN -- scorned and flouted during the run-up to the war -- is on the line.

Besides, Vieira had the personal assurances of the U.S. administrator, L. Paul Bremer -- a simply charming American: he even speaks a foreign language -- that the UN taskforce would have a great deal of sway in how a new Iraq was built.

In June 2003, Vieira arrived in Baghdad and was surprised to find himself completely powerless. That Vieira and company believed the UN insignia would be more than a hood ornament on Blackwater’s Humvees bespeaks not tough-minded idealism but wishful thinking. Power herself claims that Kofi Annan’s main reason for sending Vieira off to Baghdad was to remind the world of the UN’s “relevance” by getting a piece of the action. But for him and his colleagues, this confusion of means and ends proved deadly, one of tens of thousands of blood-soaked tragedies that this war has wrought.

The clear lesson is that humanitarian work is always fatally compromised if it’s part of a militarized pacification campaign: NGO workers wield no real power and serve mostly as window dressing for the conquering army.

But this isn’t the moral that Power draws. She is still looking for Mr. Good War. Today, her preferred human-rights adventure is an escalation of the war in Afghanistan.

For the past seven years Afghanistan has been the “right” war for American liberals, but this carte blanche is fast expiring, as more civilians and soldiers die, as the Taliban resurges, and as the carnage whirlwinds into Pakistan.

The numerous humanitarian nonprofits in Afghanistan are no longer backed up by the military; it is they who are backing the armed forces, having morphed into helpmeets to a counterinsurgency campaign. This transformation has, according to one knowledgeable veteran of such work in Afghanistan, rendered humanitarian work unsustainable. But Power, like so many American liberals, remains committed to “success” in Afghanistan -- whatever that means.

As a human-rights entrepreneur who is also a tireless advocate of war, Samantha Power is not aberrant. Elite factions of the human-rights industry were long ago normalized within the tightly corseted spectrum of American foreign policy.

Sarah Sewell, the recent head of the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard, has written a slavering introduction to the new Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual: human-rights tools can help the U.S. armed forces run better pacification campaigns in conquered territory.

The Save Darfur campaign, more organized than any bloc of the peace movement in the U.S., continues to call for some inchoate military strike against Sudan (with Power’s vocal support) even though this disaster’s genocide status is doubtful and despite an expert consensus that bombing Khartoum would do less than nothing for the suffering refugees.

Meanwhile, the influential liberal think tank the Center for American Progress also appeals to human rights in its call for troop escalations in Afghanistan—the better to “engage” the enemy.

Nor is the imperialist current within the human-rights industry a purely American phenomenon: the conquest of Iraq found whooping proponents in Bernard Kouchner, founder of Médecins Sans Frontières, now Sarkozy’s foreign minister, and Michael Ignatieff, also a former head of the Harvard’s Carr Center and poised to become Canada’s next prime minister.

Gareth Evans, Australia’s former foreign minister and a grinning soft-peddler of Indonesia’s massacres in East Timor, is perhaps the leading intellectual proponent of the Responsibility to Protect, or R2P as it is cutely called, an attempt to embed humanitarian intervention into international law. Evans, who recently stepped down from leading the International Crisis Group, laments the Iraq War chiefly for the way it has soiled the credibility of his pet idea.

To be sure, the human-rights industry is not all armed missionaries and laptop bombardiers. Human Rights Watch, for example, is one of few prestigious institutions in the U.S. to have criticized Israel’s assault on Gaza, for which its Middle East and North Africa division has endured much bashing not just from right-wing media but from its own board of directors. That said, HRW’s rebuke was limited to Israel’s manner of making war, rather than Israel’s decision to launch the attack in the first place -- the jus in bello, not the jus ad bellum.

Human-rights organizations can do a splendid job of exposing and criticizing abuses, but they are constitutionally incapable of taking stands on larger political issues. No major human-rights NGO opposed the invasion of Iraq. With their legitimacy and funding dependent on a carefully cultivated perception of neutrality, human-rights nonprofits will never be any substitute for an explicitly anti-imperialist political force. In the meantime, America’s best and brightest will continue to explore innovative ways for human rights to serve a thoroughly militarized foreign policy.

Monday, August 22

Battle in Tripoli, Libya: Two different views of Operation Mermaid Dawn (UPDATED 9:50 AM EDT)

(U.S.-based) CBS News has picked up on the sleeper-cell angle (see below) in a report posted at 7:45 AM EDT. The report doesn't mention Operation Mermaid Dawn but it cites (without a link) a quote from yet another AP report (undated) that completely removes the fig leaf from NATO's 'humanitarian intervention' in Libya's civil war:
A senior rebel official, Fathi al-Baja, told The Associated Press that over the past three months -- as the fighting appeared to have stalemated -- the National Transitional Council worked with NATO to set up sleeper cells within Tripoli, armed with weapons smuggled in by the rebels.
This will be my last update to this post but bit by bit, the details of the military operation will emerge -- although if the history of NATO operations is any guide, the American public will be the last to know.
Starting at 9 PM EDT last night I switched for about an hour between CNN and FNC live coverage of the situation in Tripoli. Then for the next hour I checked in at both stations at random times. Never once did the coverage, which focused greatly on the jubilation of Libyan rebels in taking over large parts of Tripoli, mention the term, "Operation Mermaid Dawn." Nor did the retired U.S. military talking heads who spoke to anchors on both stations mention the operation -- at least, not while I watching.

(For readers outside the USA, CNN and FNC are the USA's major national cable TV news stations.)

Nor did America's major newspaper, the New York Times, mention Operation Mermaid Dawn in its latest coverage of the situation; the report mentioned only the rebels' increased "coordination" with NATO.

Indeed, the only U.S. news source about the Battle of Tripoli I've found so far that has alluded to Operation Mermaid Dawn, which was not an 'uprising' but a well-planned military operation, comes from the Associated Press newswire service, which al Jazeera quoted yesterday:
Colonel Fadlallah Haroun, a military commander in Benghazi ... told the AP news agency that weapons were assembled and sent by tugboats to Tripoli on Friday night.
That's the first time I've ever seen a NATO war vessel referred to as a tugboat, but perhaps the first reporter I quote below got tugboats confused with a warship. Or perhaps the weapons were offloaded from a NATO warship to tugboats and Colonel Haroun forgot to mention that part.

In any case the latest AP report, featured at HUFFPO news website and updated at 7:00 AM EDT, makes no mention of the operation.

And the only reference to Operation Mermaid Dawn I could find in the British press (including the BBC website) is from the Telegraph.

However, the Telegraph's account of the operation differs so markedly from the only other description of the operation I found that I'm posting both reports below in their entirety.

The first report is from the Centre for Research on Globalization, a well-known news analysis website based in Canada. The site has a strong anticolonialist slant and thus, tends to view state-backed globalization policies as a mask or rationalization for neocolonialist interventions.

The second report is from the U.K. (Daily) Telegraph; the Telegraph, while slanting to the Right (although less so since its Conrad Black era) comports in its view on the Libya situation with all other major British press including the BBC and the Left-leaning Guardian.

Note that it's not until almost at the end of the Telegraph report that there's any allusion whatsoever to sleeper cells, which are mentioned in the first report. And the Telegraph makes no mention of al Qaeda involvement in the uprising, and has nothing to say about any reports of a NATO warship off Tripoli's shore or how the rebels in Tripoli got hold of "heavy weapons."

As to which of the two reports is more accurate, Americans better find out fast.
NATO SLAUGHTER IN TRIPOLI: "Operation Mermaid Dawn" Signals Assault by Rebels' Al Qaeda Death Squads

By Thierry Meyssan
August 21, 2011
Voltaire Network
Centre for Research on Globalization

Tripoli, Libya, Aug. 22, 2011, 1 AM CET– On Saturday evening, at 8pm, when the hour of Iftar marked the breaking of the Ramadan fast, the NATO command launched its “Operation Mermaid Dawn” against Libya.

The Sirens were the loudspeakers of the mosques, which were used to launch Al Qaeda’s call to revolt against the Qaddafi government. Immediately the sleeper cells of the Benghazi rebels went into action. These were small groups with great mobility, which carried out multiple attacks. The overnight fighting caused 350 deaths and 3,000 wounded.

The situation calmed somewhat on Sunday during the course of the day.

Then, a NATO warship sailed up and anchored just off the shore at Tripoli, delivering heavy weapons and debarking Al Qaeda jihadi forces, which were led by NATO officers.

Fighting stared again during the night. There were intense firefights. NATO drones and aircraft kept bombing in all directions. NATO helicopters strafed civilians in the streets with machine guns to open the way for the jihadis.

In the evening, a motorcade of official cars carrying top government figures came under attack. The convoy fled to the Hotel Rixos, where the foreign press is based. NATO did not dare to bomb the hotel because they wanted to avoid killing the journalists. Nevertheless the hotel, which is where I am staying, is now under heavy fire.

At 11:30pm, the Health Minister had to announce that the hospitals were full to overflowing. On Sunday evening, there had been 1300 additional dead and 5,000 wounded.

NATO had been charged by the UN Security Council with protecting civilians in Libya. In reality, France and Great Britain have just re-started their colonial massacres.

At 1am, Khamis Qaddafi came to the Rixos Hotel personally to deliver weapons for the defense of the hotel. He then left. There is now heavy fighting all around the hotel.
Libya: how 'Operation Mermaid Dawn', the move to take Tripoli, unfolded

For weeks rebels promised that opposition groups in Tripoli were just awaiting the word to stage their own move to take the Libyan capital.

By James Reevell in Djerba
11:33PM BST 21 Aug 2011

Few knew whether their promises were real, or whether they had the strength in numbers or arms to make good on them.

On Saturday night, the promise was put to the test. According to rebel sources in the capital and opposition groups abroad, including in the Tunisian resort town of Djerba, "Operation Mermaid Dawn" was launched from the Ben Nabi Mosque on Sarim Street near the heart of the city.

"Mermaid" is a long-standing nickname for Tripoli.

The rebels moved just after Iftar, the breaking of the Ramadan fast.

A group of young men began chanting Allahu akbar, God is Great, signifying the start of a new protest at the mosque, witnesses in Tripoli and rebels said. Prayers were cancelled and all women sent home. The men then locked themselves in and began shouting anti-Gaddafi slogans.

They then used the mosque's loud speaker system, normally used to call people to prayer, to broadcast their chants across the city.

As shooting and explosions lit up the Tripoli night, Gaddafi forces arrived and initially opened fire on the mosque with machine guns, also summoning reinforcements armed with anti aircraft guns mounted on pick up trucks. The men inside the mosque were unarmed.

Local residents and rebel fighters then converged on the mosque to defend it, using machine guns and Molotov cocktails in a fierce firefight. The rebel forces were able to drive the Gaddafi forces back forcing them to take refuge in the state TV centre on Al Nasr Street nearby.

This TV centre has been previously bombed by Nato but has several underground levels.

It was still in the hands of loyalists yesterday. A woman presenter brandished a gun while launching into an impassioned speech declaring she would fight the rebels to the death if they attacked the station.

From the mosque the uprising proceeded to spread in what, from telephone reports, appeared to be a coordinated movement. Opposition members inside the capital reported that as many as thirteen suburbs within the city were actively taking part in the uprising and engaging in firefights with loyalist troops.

Multiple sources reported that fighters temporarily entered Green Square and, in a hugely symbolic moment, raised the outlawed Libyan national flag.

Green Square is the epicentre of Colonel Gaddafi's power and status in Libya, the scene of his great rallies early in the uprising and his dramatic personal appearance in the arches of the ruined fortress on its edge. It features a giant mural of the Colonel.

Local residents said Gaddafi forces had begun to use heavy weapons, including artillery shelling, against the mosque, killing at least a dozen people in the immediate vicinity.

According to witnesses one shell hit a civilian home next door to the mosque, killing an elderly woman inside. They also said that Gaddafi forces commandeered garbage trucks as a form of disguise before ambushing opposition members near the mosque.

Later in the day, as the imminence of the rebel advance became clear, opposition forces came out elsewhere.

Prominent opposition members confirmed that the rebels had been shipping weapons into Tripoli for several weeks, in preparation for this uprising.

Mass text messages were used to urge residents within the capital to rise up. The rebels do have weapon caches along with small numbers of fighters smuggled into the capital, according to sources.

Although rumours swirled among opposition supporters both in Tripoli and abroad that Col Gaddafi and his family had fled, few gave them much credence.

They were confident, though, for the first time in the conflict that this was the end, and the fall of the Gaddafi regime was near. The question they were asking was not whether Gaddafi would fall, but how many lives he would take with him.Just for good measure I'm going to include the New York Times report I mentioned above because while it doesn't mention Operation Mermaid Dawn by name it presents the U.S. government's 'narrative' of its involvement in the Tripoli battle, or 'spin' it one wishes to be cynical. These narratives can change, so I'd like to have the record of the Times account; the Times as with many other publications often updates a report on a fast-changing situation rather than publishing a new report, which can mean deletions of entire passages without mention of the deletions.
Surveillance and Coordination With NATO Aided Rebels

By Eric Schmitt and Steven Lee Myers
Published [online]: August 21, 2011 [no time stamp but probably published around 11:00 PM ET]

WASHINGTON — As rebel forces in Libya converged on Tripoli on Sunday, American and NATO officials cited an intensification of American aerial surveillance in and around the capital city as a major factor in helping to tilt the balance after months of steady erosion of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s military.

The officials also said that coordination between NATO and the rebels, and among the loosely organized rebel groups themselves, had become more sophisticated and lethal in recent weeks, even though NATO’s mandate has been merely to protect civilians, not to take sides in the conflict.

NATO’s targeting grew increasingly precise, one senior NATO diplomat said, as the United States established around-the-clock surveillance over the dwindling areas that Libyan military forces still controlled, using armed Predator drones to detect, track and occasionally fire at those forces.

At the same time, Britain, France and other nations deployed special forces on the ground inside Libya to help train and arm the rebels, the diplomat and another official said.

“We always knew there would be a point where the effectiveness of the government forces would decline to the point where they could not effectively command and control their forces,” said the diplomat, who was granted anonymity to discuss confidential details of the battle inside Tripoli.

“At the same time,” the diplomat said, “the learning curve for the rebels, with training and equipping, was increasing. What we’ve seen in the past two or three weeks is these two curves have crossed.”

Through Saturday, NATO and its allies had flown 7,459 strike missions, or sorties, attacking thousands of targets, from individual rocket launchers to major military headquarters. The cumulative effect not only destroyed Libya’s military infrastructure but also greatly diminished the ability of Colonel Qaddafi’s commanders to control forces, leaving even committed fighting units unable to move, resupply or coordinate operations.

On Saturday, the last day NATO reported its strikes, the alliance flew only 39 sorties against 29 targets, 22 of them in Tripoli. In the weeks after the initial bombardments in March, by contrast, the allies routinely flew 60 or more sorties a day.

“NATO got smarter,” said Frederic Wehrey, a senior policy analyst with the RAND Corporation who follows Libya closely. “The strikes were better controlled. There was better coordination in avoiding collateral damage.” The rebels, while ill-trained and poorly organized even now, made the most of NATO’s direct and indirect support, becoming more effective in selecting targets and transmitting their location, using technology provided by individual NATO allies, to NATO’s targeting team in Italy.

“The rebels certainly have our phone number,” the diplomat said. “We have a much better picture of what’s happening on the ground.”

Rebel leaders in the west credited NATO with thwarting an attempt on Sunday by Qaddafi loyalists to reclaim Zawiyah with a flank assault on the city.

Administration officials greeted the developments with guarded elation that the overthrow of a reviled dictator would vindicate the demands for democracy that have swept the Arab world.

A State Department’s spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said that President Obama, who was vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard, and other senior American officials were following events closely.

Privately, many officials cautioned that it could still be several days or weeks before Libya’s military collapses or Colonel Qaddafi and his inner circle abandon the fight. As Saddam Hussein and his sons did in Iraq after the American invasion in 2003, the Libyan leader could hold on and lead an insurgency from hiding even after the capital fell, the officials said.

“Trying to predict what this guy is going to do is very, very difficult,” a senior American military officer said.

A senior administration official said the United States had evidence that other members of Colonel Qaddafi’s inner circle were negotiating their own exits, but there was no reliable information on the whereabouts or state of mind of Colonel Qaddafi. Audio recordings released by Colonel Qaddafi on Sunday night, which expressed defiance, were of limited use in discerning his circumstances.

Even if Colonel Qaddafi were to be deposed, there is no clear plan for political succession or maintaining security in the country. “The leaders I’ve talked to do not have a clear understanding how this will all play out,” said the senior officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to maintain diplomatic relationships.

The United States is already laying plans for a post-Qaddafi Libya. Jeffrey D. Feltman, an assistant secretary of state, was in Benghazi over the weekend for meetings with the rebels’ political leadership about overseeing a stable, democratic transition. A senior administration official said that the United States wanted to reinforce the message of rebel leaders that they seek an inclusive transition that would bring together all the segments of Libyan society.

“Even as we welcome the fact that Qaddafi’s days are numbered and we want to see him go as quickly as possible, we also want to send a message that the goal should be the protection of civilians,” the official said.

The administration was making arrangements to bring increased medical supplies and other humanitarian aid into Libya.

With widespread gunfire in the streets of Tripoli, Human Rights Watch cautioned NATO to take measures to guard against the kind of bloody acts of vengeance, looting and other violence that followed the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government.

“Everyone should be ready for the prospect of a very quick, chaotic transition,” said Tom Malinowski, the director of the Washington office of Human Rights Watch.

Thursday, August 18

USA: The jobs aren't coming back

Currently 9 million Americans work in the private manufacturing sector while 30 million work in government. But all ideas for bringing back manufacturing jobs in a large enough measure to pull the U.S. economy out of its doldrums are up against the rising tide of consumerism in developing countries fueled by vast numbers of young buyers starting families.

So set aside the problem of trying to woo American companies away from low tax rates in places such as Zug, Switzerland; even if the U.S. government slashed taxes on U.S. corporate profits, many American companies are investing in the countries where consumers are flush enough, and young enough, to buy big-ticket items in big numbers.

Bravo, Don Lee and the Los Angeles Times for the following clear-eyed, highly informative report.

August 8, 2011:
As U.S. stumbles, companies invest in consumer growth overseas

Many begin to give up on the ailing American shopper and make plans to chase growing demand in Asia and Latin America.

By Don Lee, Los Angeles Times

(WASHINGTON) Many major U.S. companies are making big plans to expand overseas even as some of them announce new layoffs at home, and there's a chilling reason why: They're beginning to give up on the American consumer as a source of future growth.

For years, U.S. companies went off shore to get cheaper labor and lower manufacturing costs for products to be sold to Americans. Now, as the nation's economy stalls and personal incomes stagnate, they see consumers in Asia and Latin America as offering brighter prospects for future sales and profits.

In effect, as many corporate executives look ahead, the United States has a diminishing place in their thinking.

The nation's tax laws reinforce the pattern. American companies have piled up mountains of profits overseas, but they must pay very high taxes if they bring the money home. So instead of investing back home, they are more apt to put the money into overseas expansion, adding jobs there.

That shifting focus is one reason new job growth here has slowed to a trickle in recent months. And without more jobs to propel incomes and consumer spending, the U.S. economy is looking increasingly vulnerable to a prolonged period of sluggishness, if not outright recession.

Big multinational firms are adding droves of sales and marketing employees in countries such as China, India and Brazil — even as many cut back or hold the line on employment and other spending at home.

Newell Rubbermaid Inc., one of the biggest marketers of children's car seats, for example, is expanding in Brazil instead of the United States. While young Americans are putting off having children, in part because of the poor economy, Brazil's middle class is growing, and many more young couples are starting families.

So more Brazilians have the money to buy new, upscale car seats while more U.S. parents are making do with cheaper brands or hand-me-downs.

It also helps Brazil that it recently mandated car seats for infants, says David Doolittle, a spokesman for Newell, which sells Graco baby gear, Parker pens and Sharpie markers. While Newell's employment and operations in the U.S. are stable, he said, "We're just not doing a lot of new investment. We're putting it all behind emerging countries."

The U.S. market remains huge, but it's not growing significantly and prospects — reflected in the downgrading of the nation's debt Friday — are similar for the next few years.

In the long term, developing economies such as Brazil's are projected to grow 2 to 2½ times faster than those in the U.S. and other industrialized nations. That difference could be even greater over the next decade, given the deep budget cuts and austerity measures taking hold in the debt-burdened U.S. and Europe.

A downturn in the rich countries, of course, would dampen growth around the world and could lead to a new global recession. Gripped by such worries, stock markets have plunged in recent days. That could motivate companies to pull back further in the U.S. and look even harder at investing overseas to protect their profit margins.

Major layoff announcements by big corporations already have begun to rise again in the U.S., hitting a 16-month high of 66,414 jobs to be shed in coming months, according to the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.

Strikingly, the largest layoff actions last month were accompanied by disclosures that the same companies planned to ramp up their operations — including hiring — in emerging economies.

Merck & Co. Inc., the New Jersey pharmaceutical giant, announced plans to eliminate as many as 13,000 positions by 2015, up to 40% of them in the U.S. The rest will come in Europe and other countries, but not in fast-growing markets such as China and India — where the drug maker is seeing huge new opportunities for its cholesterol, arthritis and diabetes medications.

Like many major American companies, Merck's business overseas now outstrips its U.S. numbers. Its total sales reached $12.2 billion in the second quarter, with international sales accounting for the bulk of it and growing at more than triple the pace of the domestic side.

Talk of cutting back Medicare and other government spending on healthcare is almost certain to increase that imbalance — and the focus on overseas investment by companies such as Merck.

Merck spokesman Steven Campanini insisted that the company was continuing to invest in the U.S., citing as an example a large vaccine plant in North Carolina that's expected to open in 2013. But he noted that emerging economies, with their faster growth and unmet medical needs, were expected to account for 90% of the industry's future growth.

"Strategically, the anticipated layoffs of the corporate sector are evidence they already recognize that the financial and human capital will have to be where the demand is," said Patrick O'Keefe, economic research director at accounting and advisory firm J.H. Cohn.

The new domestic-market cutbacks at large companies are all the more significant now because small businesses with fewer than 100 employees, which typically have led job growth out of recessions, are doing relatively little hiring in the face of weak sales and credit constraints.

After crowing in early 2010 that it was adding 2,000 to 3,000 jobs in the next several quarters, Cisco Systems Inc. announced plans last month to eliminate 6,500 jobs.

The San Jose company wouldn't discuss details of the restructuring, but analysts said the reversal was driven by missteps in expanding into certain consumer lines and a tech marketplace in which more and more computers, smart phones and other products are being bought outside the U.S.

"That's just the cold, hard reality of where the growth will be over the next decade," said Brent Bracelin, a technology analyst at Pacific Crest Securities in Portland, Ore.

Other companies, responding to this reality, are reorganizing to capitalize in places where consumer purchasing power is expanding. Kraft Foods Inc. said last week that it was spinning off its North American grocery business from its global snacks group to put a sharper focus on "fast-growing developing markets."

Analysts reckon that such corporate repositioning will be played out over many years, just as American off-shoring of production to Asia and Latin America spanned decades.

O'Keefe sees this transition as equally epochal, reflecting the shift in the balance of power in the global economy and in what he believes is an underlying reduction in the long-term U.S. growth potential.

Simply put, he said, "Our middle class is constrained."

Some companies and business coalitions have called for a tax holiday on repatriated profits, but Wells Fargo senior economist Mark Vitner doubts that will do much to divert activity to the U.S.

"If your business is growing overseas, why do you need to repatriate it?" he asked. "You want to invest it where it's growing."

The outlook for American consumption, which accounts for 70% of the U.S. economy, has dimmed considerably in recent weeks.

Consumers are eating at home more often, putting off needed home repairs, trading down on personal care and other services and hanging on to their clanking washing machines and cars longer than they might otherwise.

Some consumers such as Dean Wedgwood, a 54-year-old who lives in a Denver suburb, are learning to go without their own cars altogether. Last winter Wedgwood banged up his Mercedes sedan, but instead of getting a new car, he used the insurance proceeds to pay his medical bills.

Eventually, Wedgwood hopes to buy a car. "I don't know when," said the former self-employed online publisher who now is looking for work.

Consumer spending could take a further hit next year: About 3.7 million unemployed face the loss of extended jobless benefits. Also set to expire at year's end is a Social Security payroll tax cut that is now putting, on average, an extra $700 a year in workers' pockets.

The one bright spot in consumer purchasing has been in the luxury market, but a falling stock market is likely to take a big bite out of that too.

"Now there are more doubts about how temporary the slowdown is" in American consumer spending and economic activity, said Lynn Reaser, chief economist at Point Loma Nazarene University.

"Instead of positioning for demand in the U.S.," she said, "larger companies will shift more resources abroad and small businesses will be staying in the sidelines. ... Pent-up demand isn't enough."

Friday, August 12

England's Crime Wave/London Riots: Los Angeles Times Photo Album

The LA Times has put together an 'album' of 48 large color photographs, taken by photographers working for major news agencies, that together convey in a way words or even clips of film cannot that Britons have experienced a national tragedy.

While looking through the photographs I also thought of the photographers, whose names are virtually unknown to the public, who worked under difficult conditions to bring people around the world this deeply troubling but very valuable record.

Thursday, August 11

Surprise tactic broke U.K. crime wave but not before British officialdom's four unforced errors turned London riots into siege of England

Emphasis on attackers and their motives rather than their tactics

At the start of the rioting British officials immediately took up armchair sociology and ruminated about the types of people who were rioting and their motives. Then they tried to mount a response to the riots based on their speculations about motives. This ill-conceived exercise cost the officials precious time as the violence escalated. And, if this report is true, the mistake led to the federal police being ordered to only "contain" the rioters; i.e., in effect watching as mobs destroyed property, thieved and terrorized neighborhoods.

In any event the initial refusal to correctly prioritize -- i.e., before pondering motives first act to stop the violence by responding to it in purely tactical terms -- set up the three major unforced errors that followed. I'll outline the errors but first an overview of the situation as it stood on Wednesday night:

England was mostly quiet on Wednesday night; this after four straight nights of arson, looting and attacks on police that left devastation in parts of London, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham and several towns and in effect placed the mainland under siege to a crime wave that British officials and the press still insist on terming 'rioting.'

On Wednesday morning, after a meeting with the government's emergency committee, Cobra, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron authorized the police to use water cannon and non-lethal bullets and to take all other measures to quell the rioting.


Yet the uneasy calm has less to do with the large deployments of federal troops in London and other cities than with the actions of thousands of British civilians, who, inspired by the courage of a few hundred shopkeepers, by Monday had mounted patrols and actively defended their neighborhoods with makeshift weapons.(1)

It was these Britons, not the police, who broke the back of the crime wave. The massive deployment of troops (16,000 in London alone) only served to keep the peace in neighborhoods where the civilians had already stopped the criminals. This is an amazing story because there's a technical reason why the civilian forces were able to accomplish what the police couldn't.

The greatest efficiency of the officials during the crisis was that they methodically stripped themselves of every viable counter-tactic they might have mustered against the criminals' tactics. Yet it so happened that without guidance from the military, and probably with little to no knowledge of military tactics, the civilian patrols carried out the one viable counter-tactic left. They did so in a way that I think government and police officials don't understand because they still don't understand the tactics used against them. I discuss the tactics under the second and third 'unforced error' headings in this post.

As to why the official response to the crime wave was largely ineffectual, because of the following interlocked reasons:

Failure to deal with key role that encrypted communications technology was playing in criminals' strike tactics.

Even if the police had been allowed to fully deploy and zealously combat the criminals during the first days of the crisis, they still would have faced the problem that had beset them from the beginning, which is that it was hard to catch up with many of the criminals.

That's because many of the criminals were using encrypted text messaging such as available on BlackBerry cell phones. The technology means the user's location can't be immediately traced by the police. This allowed the criminals to warn each other of the location of police deployments. This in turn allowed them to strike where the police were absent, then move to another location before the police arrived -- all without fear of their communications being traced quickly enough to identify their whereabouts.(2)(3)

From the earliest hours of the crisis the federal police (Scotland Yard aka Metropolitan Police) were aware of the problem. At least one Member of Parliament, David Lammy from Tottenham (which was the site of the earliest rioting), called for a suspension of BlackBerry's encrypted instant-message service, although whether he did this formally I don't know; he made the recommendation on his Twitter page.(2)

Yet for reasons that are still unclear the encrypted messaging service used by BlackBerry, reportedly the favorite messaging service of the criminals, wasn't suspended.(2) In any event, failure to suspend the service during the crucial early hours of the rioting left the authorities with only one viable tactic to quickly halt the violence: call up the military to supplement a full deployment of federal police in order to blanket Tottenham and other hot spots in London. When the tactic wasn't deployed, then it was falling-dominos time in England.

Failure to acknowledge the radically altered nature of the attacks

Use of the encrypted technology gave the criminals a huge tactical advantage over the police because it allowed them to 'spot' for criminals who didn't have the technology, then communicate via unencrypted technology (either through social media sites such as Twitter or cell phone calls), where to avoid police.

This tactic also meant that increasingly large numbers of arsonists -- people who meant to do serious harm -- and professional thieves could join the relatively small number of Britons who launched riots on Saturday night because they were reasonably sure of not being confronted by police.

The burgeoning numbers participating in looting also exposed a major flaw in the government's heavy reliance on closed-circuit television cameras (CCTVs) as a crime deterrent. (The U.K. leads the world in the number of CCTVs mounted in public places.) No matter how many CCTVs, the sheer number of criminals and their mobility meant that the CCTV technology was virtually worthless at tracking and preventing attacks.

In summary, while there were always 'rowdies' interspersed with the crime wave -- e.g., people who just wanted to get drunk and throw bricks through windows or help themselves to the remains at stores that had already been robbed -- once word passed that looters had a method for avoiding the police, this transformed many rowdies into amateur thieves. This turned the rioting into a crime wave that spilled out from London to other cities in England.


From then onward the proven ability of the criminals to strike multiple locations without police interference meant that what had started as unstructured violence had morphed into what is known in military parlance as the "swarm" guerilla warfare tactic.

This tactic, which was on display during the 2008 terrorist siege of Mumbai, allows a small number of guerrillas to flummox even large police and paramilitary deployments by forcing them to split their numbers in the effort to respond to surprise attacks at numerous locations.

Yet because British authorities were still not putting tactics first they simply failed to recognize the changed nature of the violence and thus, remained against calling in military support for the police. This was a disastrous error.


For readers who want to learn more about the swarm tactic see John Arquilla's discussion in a February 2009 op-ed for the New York Times (The Coming Swarm). Below is the graphic for the writing, which symbolizes (on the left) a swarm attack and, on the right, an effective counterattack.

Illustration: Oliver Munday and Ramell Ross

As you might intuit from the graphic, the key problem in dealing with the surprise swarm attack is that security forces can't always be present in sufficient numbers at all locations that have come under swarm attacks. There are military workarounds to this, as Arquilla outlines in his op-ed. But the graphic helps convey the importance of 'citizen readiness' and civilian watchdog groups in supplementing security forces. During the first minutes or hours of a surprise attack, civilians and local police might be the only people who are available to meet an attack until paramilitary/military units arrive.

In short, the swarm attack is best met with counter-swarms -- often comprised of local police and civilians working together or in tandem.

And it just so happened that the civilian patrols that sprang up all over English cities in response to the swarming tactics of the criminals were textbook proof of the viability of countering swarms with swarms.


Why was the counter-tactic so effective in this case? The technical reason is that it canceled out the criminals' one great tactical advantage over the police, which was the ability to strike and move on before the resistance arrived. The advantage was mooted when the criminals weren't chased from place to place but instead met with resistance from civilian patrols in more and more places.

This collapsed the dynamic of the crime wave, given that the crimes were based on opportunity, and that word of gathering civilian resistance was quickly spread by the criminals through the same means they'd used to evade the police -- cell phone technology and social media!

And of course cell phone technology and social media are two-way streets; as law-abiding civilians got in the swing of countering the criminals they too made the technology and social media into tactical weapons -- and even if they couldn't participate directly in the civilian patrols.

In addition, the civilian patrols solved one of the most vexing problems for the authorities, which is that processing huge numbers of arrested persons had wreaked havoc on the country's criminal justice system. See the Guardian's August 10 report, UK riots: More than 1,000 arrests strain legal system to the limit.

Not only the courts but also the police were overwhelmed with processing such large numbers of arrests. This was partly due to reliance on procedures that weren't designed for such emergency situations; for example, every arrest required taking two police officers off the street to give evidence.(4) But what was really needed by Tuesday was quick crowd dispersal -- for the hordes of rowdies and amateur thieves to give up and go home rather than clogging the justice system to the point where it could barely function. The civilian patrols, which were unencumbered with the need to make arrests and do bookings, accomplished just that objective, thus taking pressure off the justice system.

Quick crowd dispersal was also important because the large numbers were making it easy for the cats among the pigeons, the professional thieves, to work under cover of the chaos.

So in ways no one could have predicted the civilian patrols countered every major problem that the authorities couldn't deal with.

This brings me to the last major unforced error:

No plan for engaging civilian help in emergency policing

The violence would have ended sooner if close civilian-police coordination had been established before the criminals struck. Yet as a formal security measure, the counter-swarm tactic is not something to be undertaken lightly -- particularly if large numbers of civilians are put at risk.

Thusly, the crucial importance of planning, training and drill of volunteer civilian responders. This must include the authorities setting clear boundaries and rules for civilian involvement, and working out legal protections for civilians who volunteer to be on call for such duty.

Failure to plan in thorough fashion for formal civilian assistance during a policing emergency is an unforced error that the United Kingdom shares with many countries, I might add. Even here in the United States, which since 9/11 has fashioned itself into one of the hardest targets for terrorists, there is still much to be done in terms of increasing civilian readiness.


Yet even without planning and training, the Britons who formed neighborhood patrols and showed willingness to fight the criminals improvised splendidly. For their pains and courage they were described as "vigilantes" by officials and the British press. And some British police complained that these civilians were interfering with police work and downplayed their contribution by warning against "vigilante mobs" and "vigilante justice."

Given the amount of rumination expended by officials on the psychology of the criminals who were placing England under siege, one would think they'd do a ittle ruminating on the psychology of people who helplessly watch their livelihoods go up in smoke and their neighbhorhoods turned into war zones while hearing the police tell them that their only recourse is to barricade themselves inside their homes and wait for police assistance.(4)

If society does not give its citizens a viable action path for responding to clear threats to their lives and property when police help is obviously slow in coming, if it criminalizes civilians for acting responsibly to protect themselves and their neighbors, many citizens can become enraged and the more aggressive ones can indeed act on their rage through vigilante justice.

The solution is to lay down an action path for civilian assistance to the police during emergency situations, and do so before the path is tested by events.

The path can't be established fast enough. In an era when far more deadly adversaries than the criminals who wreaked havoc in England are combining swarm tactics with sophisticated communications technologies, recognizing that well-prepared civilians can play a key role in successful counter-swarm tactics is vital to a nation's security.

Notes and Source Reports

1) Two News Accounts of the Civilian Response

August 10:
Vigilantes take to London streets
Agence France-Presse (AFP) via Hindustan Times

Defiant Londoners took to the streets in their hundreds to defend their communities against the looting and arson which have consumed the British capital over the last four days. Hundreds of Sikhs, some dressed in traditional outfits, gathered outside the their gurdwara (temple) in Southall, west London, yesterday after earlier rumours circulated it was next on the looters' hit list.

The group organised motorcycle patrols and monitored the train station for potential troublemakers, according to an AFP reporter.

Around 200 locals in Enfield, the north London borough at the heart of previous attacks, strode through the area to "protect their streets", an AFP correspondent explained.

Amateur video footage released today showed a group of around 100 men running down an Enfield street chanting "England, England, England".

The group earlier became involved in an altercation with a youth carrying a hockey stick, but the situation was resolved after a majority of the mob called for calm.

A similar number of football fans congregated in the south-east suburb of Eltham, also rumoured to be a likely hot spot.

"This is a white working class area and we are here to protect our community," one man told the Guardian newspaper.

"We are here to help the police. My mum is terrified after what she saw on the television in the last three days and we decided that it's not going to happen here," he added.

Meanwhile, mainly Turkish shopkeepers in the north London districts of Hackney and Kentish Town sat outside their shops into the early hours, many with makeshift weapons by their side.
August 10:
Vigilantes join 16,000 police on capital's streets
By Jerome Taylor
The Independent

Shop owners across London vowed to protect their own businesses as anger over the police's inability to stop widespread looting pushed them towards setting up their own neighbourhood vigilante groups.

Inspired by reports of Turkish and Bangladeshi groups chasing would-be looters out of their neighbourhoods in east London, many shopkeepers took to the streets to deter looters. Hundreds of Sikhs turned out in the Southall area last night in a collective show of force after rumours circulated that jewellery shops were going to be targeted.

In Enfield, sporadic chases occurred between a large group of people in their thirties and masked youths. Residents said they were out in a "show of strength." No violence was reported in either borough.

The news that shopkeepers were fighting back came as police investigating a large fire which destroyed The House of Reeves furniture store in Croydon arrested a man on suspicion of arson with intent to endanger life. The 21-year-old suspect was detained by officers last night and is being held at a south London police station, police said. And while most of the capital was quiet, it was reported at 1am that a recycling centre in Tottenham was on fire.

Many others said yesterday they too would defend their livelihoods if rioting erupted in the capital again. "We're planning to get together and defend our streets," said one 32-year-old shopkeeper from Hackney, who asked not to be named. "I don't want to take the law into my own hands but if I have to, I will."

Pictures of Monday night's rioting mainly showed police and locals conceding the streets to baying mobs which trashed shops and set fire to cars or buildings with near impunity. Yet there were instances where locals physically resisted the looters.

In Dalston, a corner of north-east London with a large Turkish community, men armed with baseball bats and sticks fought running battles with masked youths. Shop owners in Dalston said they felt compelled to arm themselves because it was clear there weren't enough police to protect the area. Many of the businesses on Kingsland Road, Dalston's main thoroughfare, do not have shutters protecting their windows and are therefore vulnerable to vandals.

"There were no police so we came out to defend ourselves," said a shopkeeper who gave only his first name, Mehmet. "I don't know if it's breaking the law but what can we do?" he asked.

In the more affluent neighbourhood of Stoke Newington further north – an area filled with boutique shops and independent retailers – there was widespread praise for Turkish people who stopped rioters.

In Whitechapel, home to Britain's largest Bangladeshi population, locals described how 70 masked rioters were chased out of the neighbourhood by Bengali youths who had gathered for evening prayers outside East London Mosque.

"There's a real sense of community here, especially during Ramadan when people are supposed to look out for each other," said Abdul Jalil, the manager of the Deshi Fish grocery store opposite the mosque. "The shutters will come down this evening but I'm going to stick around in case the rioters come into the area again."
2) Text Messaging Angle

From a Seattle Times report compiled from Associated Press, Bloomberg News and New York Times reports; the Seattle Times report addresses several aspects of the violence so I'm featuring just those quotes that refer to the text messaging:
British rioters rely on text messaging
August 9, 2011 at 8:40 PM

While a car goes up in flames in Hackney, east London, a man types on his cellphone. Encrypted messages sent via BlackBerrys are being used by mobs to encourage rioting.

LONDON — Some of the text messages read like real-time rallying calls for rioters.

"If you're down for making money, we're about to go hard in east London," one looter messaged before the violence spread.

Others directed troublemakers to areas of untapped riches — stores selling expensive stereo equipment, designer clothes, alcohol or bicycles.

Encrypted messages sent via BlackBerrys were being used by mobs to encourage rioting that has spread from London across central and northern England for a fourth night of violence driven by poor, diverse and brazen crowds of youths.
In Manchester, police said they have made at least 47 arrests, including one man on suspicion of using Facebook's social-networking site to incite disorder.
Many of the masked or hooded youths have been photographed typing cellphone messages while cars and buildings burn.

BlackBerry's messaging system is popular among youths because it's free, compatible with multimedia and private, compared with Facebook and Twitter. Its encrypted messages give troublemakers an added benefit: Police aren't able to immediately trace message traffic the way they can with regular cellphones.

BlackBerry said it was cooperating with police, but shutting down the messaging system could penalize more than just the troublemakers. More than 45 million people use the BlackBerry messaging system worldwide. President Obama is said to use the same secure system to communicate.

BlackBerry maker Research in Motion, based in Waterloo, Ontario, posted a message on its official U.K. Twitter account last night saying, "We feel for those impacted by the riots in London. We have engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can."

On Tuesday, hackers compromised BlackBerry's blog site in response to the company saying it would cooperate with police.

Social media have been used to coordinate demonstrations in the Mideast, to campaign for Saudi women's right to drive and to call for lower prices for cottage cheese in Israel.

In a Twitter post, David Lammy, a member of Parliament from Tottenham and a former intellectual-property minister, called for a suspension of BlackBerry's encrypted instant-message service.[...]
3) Lesson from the 2008 Mumbai siege

The terrorists who struck at Mumbai relied on a primitive variation of the encrypted-messaging technology tactic to stay ahead of the police in Mumbai: The terrorists' handlers, who were in constant contact with them via cell phones, watched live TV coverage of the attacks, which showed where the police were being deployed in Mumbai and in what numbers. The handlers then simply relayed this real-time information to the terrorists!

When the Mumbai police realized what was happening they ordered a blackout of all live news coverage of the siege. Once the handlers were greatly hampered in their ability to track the locations of police deployments, this shifted the battle in favor of the police, who'd honed in on some of the phone conversations between the terrorists and their handlers.

4) Police response prior to Wednesday

I've highlighted a passage from the following Wall Street Journal report that starkly illustrates just how poorly prepared the police were for dealing with large numbers of arrests during an emergency situation. This is another report that addresses several aspects of the violence so I'm only featuring quotes that relate to the general police response:
Beleaguered U.K. Police Step Up Response
By Cassell Bryan-Low and Paul Sonne
August 10, 2011

(LONDON) Police in the U.K. capital nearly tripled the number of officers on the streets to try to contain a fourth night of violence, and fended off criticism about their failure to stop the spread of looting and rioting.
London's Metropolitan Police, known as Scotland Yard, said it was deploying 16,000 officers Tuesday night, up from 6,000 on Monday, marking the largest deployment the force has ever made for an event. Scotland Yard brought in officers and equipment from police departments outside the capital and has put on hold other probes apart from the most serious ones.

Amid Britain's worst outbreak of social unrest in years, London police have arrested more than 560 people and charged 105 of those with burglary or other offenses.

[Pundita note: This tally didn't include arrests in other cities up to the time the report was published.]

More than 100 officers have sustained injuries, including fractured bones and serious head injuries, after being attacked with bricks, bottles and in some cases, hit by motor vehicles.

Scotland Yard also has about 500 detectives investigating those suspected of looting and other crimes who weren't arrested at the scene of the violence. They are screening close-circuit television footage that monitors transportation systems and other public spaces.
The unrest comes at a critical time for British police, who are dealing with heightened terror alerts and plans for next year's Olympic Games while also facing budget cuts.

It also comes as Scotland Yard is under transitional leadership following the resignation last month of its top cop and another senior official over the force's handling of the News Corp. phone-hacking scandal. (News Corp. owns The Wall Street Journal.)
Stephen Kavanagh, deputy assistant commissioner at the Metropolitan Police, added that police resources had been sapped by having to protect fire and ambulance crews, which also came under attack as they responded to incidents around the capital. He also noted that each arrest requires taking two police officers off the street to give evidence and that Scotland Yard had fielded more than 40,000 calls on Monday night alone.

The police say they have already used new tactics, such as driving armor-plated vehicles towards crowds to disperse them. They are also prepared to use measures such as rubber bullets, if necessary, but are mindful of the repercussions that could have damaging police relations with communities.

Some politicians, business owners and residents in affected neighborhoods have expressed frustration at what they called an inadequate level of police response, calling for a greater police presence and tougher tactics. Some were taken aback by images that showed rampant looting under way with no police in sight to contest it and accounts by some residents and merchants of police standing by while looting took place.

"Questions need to be asked," said Dai Davies, a former senior Scotland Yard officer who advises governments on policing.
Mr Kavanagh defended the force, saying the scale and intensity of the violence, and the speed at which it moved, had never been seen in the U.K.

"I don't believe the Met failed," he said. "It was stretched in a way it never has been before."