Political Animal


SOLDIERS AS CIVILIANS….Via Road to Surfdom comes this Newsday article about American soldiers dressed as civilians:

The Pentagon on Friday defended the use of some civilian clothes by U.S. special operations forces, a tactic used to help them blend in with the local population.

….Asked at a Pentagon press conference why it is OK for American commando troops to take off their uniforms, but a crime when the Iraqis did it, Defense Department spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said she thought American forces wear something that distinguishes them from civilians, but deferred the question for a later answer.

A week ago I suggested that Iraqi soldiers dressing as civilians was not really very surprising, and that we might even do the same in a similar situation. Mark Kleiman batted me down, and I immediately admitted I was wrong: if this rule isn’t followed then the result is (potentially) mass civilian slaughter.

But apparently I wasn’t wrong: not only are we perfectly willing to disguise soldiers as civilians, but we’re willing to do it in far less perilous circumstances than the Iraqis find themselves in. The outcome, of course, is to encourage the Iraqis to shoot at their own civilians since they can’t tell them apart from U.S. special forces, potentially resulting in ? you guessed it ? mass civilian slaughter.

So: can anybody on the pro-war side of the blogosphere explain to me why this is OK for us, but not for the Iraqis?

UPDATE: Chris Bertram points to this Al Jazeera report on the same subject. They make the distinction between “perfidy,” which is illegal, and “guerilla tactics,” which are allowed under the Geneva Convention. It’s an interesting non-U.S. perspective on the issue.

UPDATE 2: Mark Kleiman has more on the subject. I have a sneaking suspicion that he might be drawing the lines a little too fine in his post, but I can’t really say why. I’ll have to think about it some more. On the other hand, we both agree that if special forces dressed as civilians are killing Iraqi soldiers, this is pretty much the moral equivalent of what we’re accusing the Iraqis of doing.

WHO’S RIGHT?….WHO’S WRONG?….Max Sawicky tots

WHO’S RIGHT?….WHO’S WRONG?….Max Sawicky tots up the claims of the pro-war and anti-war sides from the vantage point of, um, two weeks of war and concludes that the anti-war partisans have the advantage so far.

I’m inclined to agree, but with the caveat that it’s far too early to tell. I will say this, however: if it turns out that Saddam has no significant WMD capability ? and please don’t insult our intelligence by claiming that it’s all been spirited away to Syria ? then the pro-war folks will have been flatly wrong. No matter what they say now, this was the primary excuse for the war and they know it.

I won’t mourn the fall of Saddam in any case, but we damn well better find those swimming pools of anthrax that W and his gang have been promising us.

HOW’S THE WAR GOING?….Today’s news:

HOW’S THE WAR GOING?….Today’s news:

  • David Blunkett, a senior minister in Tony Blair’s government, says he hopes we don’t find any WMD in Iraq. And if his hopes come true? We will have “a very interesting debate.” Well, we certainly ought to if that turns out to be the case, but I have a sinking feeling that we won’t.

  • The righty blogosphere is up in arms over this BBC article claiming that George Bush is a religious man. The article says that (a) Bush thinks he was “called by God” to lead this war, (b) this kind of talk bothers many members of the American clergy, (c) most mainstream U.S. churches, including Bush’s, oppose the war, (d) one-third of Americans belong to evangelical churches, (e) 59% of Americans believe the Book of Revelations will come to pass, (f) many of these people will interpret an American victory as divinely ordained, and (g) George Bush might be one of them.

    Can someone explain to me exactly which part of this is either untrue or unfair? Pro-war partisans might not like to see this side of Bush get a lot of publicity, but the BBC is merely stating something that has already been widely reported. Reporting the facts, even if they are inconvenient, does not make the BBC biased.

  • Baghdad is now “surrounded.” But yesterday we had advanced to “the heart of Baghdad.” Did we retreat during the night?

    And no, this is not just snarky nitpicking. This “heart of Baghdad” stuff was released by the Pentagon and widely reported yesterday, and it appears to simply be untrue. In fact, a BBC reporter in Baghdad said he’d looked around from the highest building in the city (his hotel) and seen nothing. Far from being biased, it looks like the BBC, which apparently is fed up with the obvious dissembling they get from Pentagon briefings, was the one reporting the unvarnished truth.

UPDATE: The LA Times, apparently also annoyed at being mislead, explains what really happened in their top story this morning:

Spokesmen for the U.S. Central Command initially said American forces had reached the “heart” of Baghdad and intended to stay. But later they backed off, saying the troops had reached the suburbs, not the city center, and were not trying to occupy the capital. There were reports early today of large-scale U.S. troop movements on the outskirts of the city.

I just don’t understand this. From a military perspective, the war is going pretty well, and the tank attack in Baghdad yesterday had a sort of Doolittle raid bravado about it that makes good copy. So why lie about it?

NORTH KOREA….Reader James Lucky sent

NORTH KOREA….Reader James Lucky sent along a link to this slide show of a recent tourist excursion to North Korea. The photos and text are by Olivier Mirguet, and they are eerie and oddly compelling. Take a couple of minutes and flip through them.

The pictures are part of a site called foto8, and their home page has links to some other photo journals as well, including one of Iraqi Kurdistan. It’s interesting stuff.