Thursday, February 27, 2003

Who is the best fast bowler in the Australian World Cup team?

Well, it sure isn't this joker. You don't bowl a 158 km/h wide-ish outswinger at a batsman from a non-Test playing country and expect them to have any chance of reaching it. As my father said about the delivery, "Sachin Tendulkar might just have been able to get out to that one". Brett, go back and learn some bowling-craft - otherwise it won't just be Namibia who can hit you for 26 runs off 6 overs. You and Australia will be much the better for it.

It could potentially be the Croweater here. 30 overs in the competition so far, despite having a rest today, and averaging under 3.3 runs per over while snaffling 8 handy wickets. However, after today's performance there really can be only one winner.

Step forward, Pigeon. It may have been against Namibia, but there have been easybeats in every World Cup competition (and this is the eighth) - but only one man has previously managed 7 scalps in a single innings before, and that cost him 51 hard-earned Aussie runs. Glenn McGrath's 7 for 15 is the World Cup record and he deserves all the plaudits he gets for it. So far, with 37 overs, 12 maidens (12! in the one-day game!) and the Shep-staggering figures of 11/111, he is the Aussie bowler of the tournament.

Oh, and please keep it up Glenn - you're still in my BBC Fantasy Cricket team. And Supermercado's.
If we laugh at your system, it's because we don't understand it

Best of the Web today carries a piece entitled "Parliament Isn't Revolting", dismissing the Reuters, CNN and British press reaction to what is the biggest single instance of 'crossing the floor' in over 100 years. The Best of the Web method for ignoring this particular issue is two-fold. Firstly, Blair won both the votes, so the opposition is irrelevant. Secondly, the percentage of MPs who voted in favour of the resolutions compares roughly with the percentage of members of Congress who voted in favour of the resolutions supporting war on Iraq, so Blair has comparable support to Bush.

I will admit now that I don't have a clear logical response to the first argument. This is because it comes down to a question of axioms. If you believe that the level of opposition doesn't matter, as long as you can garner a 50.1% or better majority, then you can dismiss this revolt as irrelevant. However, if you believe that there's a material difference between having 50.1% support and much greater support, then a revolt that fails to succeed is still an issue, especially if it is a large one. The next largest case of a 'backbench revolt' in British history in terms of votes against is Gladstone's first Home Rule bill in 1885, when a mere 93 members of his ruling Liberal party voted against him. In the 1960s one Labour rebellion saw 49 votes against and almost 150 further abstentions - I don't know the abstention count from last night so I can't immediately tell you whether the impact was bigger then or now.

The full details of these revolts are covered by The Guardian's reporting.

On the second issue, however, the arguments are clearer. A comparison on percentage terms between Congress and the UK Parliament just won't stack up. To put things into perspective, suppose that Republicans and Democrats occupied the respective shares of the 435 seats in Congress that Labour and non-Labour (lumping together all opposition parties) MPs have in the 659-seat House of Commons in the UK. Under that split (rounded to the nearest integer), there would be 273 Republicans and only 162 Democrats. The current split in the US House of Representatives is 229-205 with 1 independent.

In the Iraq debate, 121 Labour MPs voted against the government run by their party on the motion that the case for war was not yet proven. The Congressional equivalent (in percentage terms) would have been either 67 (on constant percentage of the number of seats held by the ruling party) or 80 (on constant percentage of the size of the House) Republicans voting against the motion. Did we see that? Did we hell. 67 Republicans voting against Bush on war would have been considered Earth-shattering.

What actually happened in the Congress votes on the Iraq resolution? The House of Reps went 296-133, majority of Democrats against. At the time of the resolution the House of Reps was split 223-208 with 1 independent. The Republicans voted for the resolution in the House 215-6 with 2 abstentions. That's right, 6 Republicans voted against authorisation. In the Senate only 1 of the 50 Republicans voted against the authorisation.

Blair gets proportionately 10 to 13 times as much opposition from his own party as Bush and the BotW guys call it "a strong vote of support". Ummm, yeah.

What Best of the Web didn't mention was that the most solid support for the war in the UK Parliament came from the Conservative party, the main opposition. Not really surprising, when you consider that Labour is the left-wing party and the Conservatives the right-wing party (at least by traditional standards, YMMV, etc.)

Also interesting to hear that according to the Best of the Web team, CNN qualifies as a 'left-wing' media outlet who would spin this story to over-exaggerate its impact. I guess that would make the left wing a broad coalition. Still, let's see what the broad spectrum of the British media (unless, of course, BotW believe that all British newspapers are left-wing) had to say about this particular backbench revolt (starting from right and moving left according to my personal judgement, and all emphasis mine):

First, the broadsheets
  1. Daily Telegraph: "Tony Blair is mounting a renewed diplomatic push to win backing for a fresh UN resolution on Iraq after being hit by the biggest backbench revolt of modern times".

  2. Financial Times (not related to the Times): "Tony Blair suffered the most serious revolt by Labour backbenchers since he won power six years ago when 121 of his own MPs backed a rebel motion on Iraq."

  3. The Times: "Labour mutiny leaves Blair out on a limb - Amid dramatic scenes in the Commons, 121 Labour rebels joined 13 Conservatives and 52 Liberal Democrats to vote for an amendment declaring that the case for military action had not yet been made".

  4. The Independent: "Tony Blair suffered his biggest backbench rebellion last night when 121 Labour MPs voted against immediate war in Iraq."

  5. The Guardian: "121 Labour members vote against war · Biggest ever revolt against a government · Tory support helps save PM"

  6. Secondly, the tabloids:
  7. The Sun: "Tony Blair shrugged off his biggest ever Commons rebellion last night."

  8. Evening Standard: "Tony Blair has suffered the biggest backbench revolt of his premiership as 121 Labour MPs voted against military action to strip Saddam Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction..."

    Prime Minister humiliated by a Commons rebellion over plans to bomb Iraq. War plans opposed by 199 MPs - 121 of them Labour..."

Well, guess they're all left-wing. No wonder opinion polls indicate that the vast majority are against war without UN approval, and that the question of war with UN approval is still finely balanced. Still, you have to wonder why left-wing papers would blow up the problems of a leader of a left-wing political party - or maybe I'm just not seeing things in as clear shades of black and white as the BotW team.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

The Best Game-Theoretic Option?

According to the Guardian's summary of the current stances of the Security Council members, Syria isn't going to support a second resolution "in any circumstance".

Well, that makes Saddam's next piece of geopolitical instability clear - invade Syria! The government has just said it won't say boo to you doing anything, so why not take the country over? It's not like he'll get the same complaints as he did with Kuwait - after all Syria has just gone on record in front of over 100 nations at the Non-Aligned Movement conference backing him to the hilt!

Besides, if he invades Syria any action to remove him from Syrian soil will run into the same international dispute that the first Gulf War did, and the tanks will be pulled back after they've chased the Iraqi army about 100 miles into Iraq proper.

In the meantime, he gets himself a bit of extra pan-Arabist prestige (the Syrians having been part of the last multi-country Arab union to exist) and, depending on the way these things are determined, control of their Security Council seat so that he can vote against war on himself!

P.S. Anyone who is still taking this seriously, go get your head examined.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

In Defence of PR

Interesting opinion piece from David Beresford, writing in the Observer today: "The False Promise of Democracy". Please go read it - you'll find something to at least vaguely start thinking about. If it wasn't for the fact that I've heard similar expressions of disdain for anything other than single-member first-past-the-post electoral systems from plenty of people before, it wouldn't have taken me long to spot that it was a piss-take.

At least, I hope it's a pisstake. Right, David?

Oh, dear readers - don't get me started on electoral systems. It will be long, and it may not be pretty. Masochists should consider emailing me to get me started.
Accuracy in Reporting

Observer's Headline: "Saddam told: disarm in three weeks or it's war"

Observer Article: "there would be a definite vote on the second resolution within three weeks. "

I don't see anything in the whole article about the second resolution having a timetable (yes, yes, I'll stop harping on about that clearly non-realpolitikal requirement to put actual dates in the resolution). So why get all gung-ho in the title?

Saturday, February 22, 2003

When 11 goals and 9 points beats 11 goals and 11 points

I love it. They introduce a random new rule in the pre-season competition for the world's best code of football, and the first obvious beneficiaries are my own team.

Even better, it was in the local derby. Go Crows!

Friday, February 21, 2003

Friday Night Is Fight Night! (Oi, Steven!)

Just saw the world's most productive blogger's latest piece. One particular sentence in his piece on the European Union (and the French involvement in it) got me to thinking:
And pay no attention to that highly-successful populist democracy on the other side of the Atlantic.
Now, I don't want to be the one to defend French intellectuals, especially if their main problem is with their own countrymen. However, the idea that the US is a more populist democracy than what exists on the eastern side of The Pond seemed somewhat incongruous to me. I checked the stats - a big thank you both to the US Federal Election Commission and to for having these statistics so readily available - and found out that the numbers indicate that the European democracies are currently more populist. Let's have a look at the figures, shall we (sorted by order of turnout, most recent Parliamentary elections for Europe - I don't have the 2002 Congressionals so I'm using past Presidentials for the US as these have historically been 10% or more higher than the Congressionals).

  1. Belgium - 90.6% for Lower House, 90.5% for Upper House (let's ignore this - voting's compulsory there just like in Australia so the 10% are really informal ballots / no-shows)
  2. Denmark - 89.3%
  3. Luxembourg - 86.5%
  4. Austria - 84.3% for last Parliament elections, 74.4% for last Presidential elections
  5. Italy - 81.3% Lower House, 82.3% Upper House
  6. Sweden - 80.1%
  7. Netherlands - 79.9% Lower House (Upper House indirectly elected based on regional elections)
  8. Germany - 79.1%
  9. Greece - 75.0%
  10. France - 71.6% first round Parliamentary, 79.7% second round Parliamentary
  11. Spain - 70.6%
  12. Finland - 65.3%
  13. Ireland - 63.0%
  14. Portugal - 62.3% Parliament, 50.9% Presidential (the only result lower than the US Presidential Elections 2000)
  15. United Kingdom - 59.4%
  16. United States - 51.3% Presidential (2000), 36.4% Congressional (1998) - I can't find 2002 figures on the Web.

Other interesting figures from past US elections:

The most involved state during the 2000 Presidential election was Minnesota, with a 68.8% turnout. If Minnesota was in the EU, this would place it 12th out of 16.

The most involved state during the 1998 Congressional elections was again Minnesota, with a 60% turnout. That would have placed it 15th out of 16 for turnout.

The most involved state in the 1996 Presidential election was Maine, with a 71.9% turnout. That would put it 10th out of the EU 16 if it joined. In the last 4 election cycles, not even 1 US state has been able to reach the median voter turnout attained in the EU in the most recent cycle of national elections.

The last time a US-wide election produced better turnout than the most recent set of national elections in any of the 15 countries of the EU (and remember, in the most apathetic countries for turnout, such as the UK, the recent figures represented the worst turnout since WWII) was in 1968.

Pay no attention to that non-populist democracy on the other side of the Atlantic.

UPDATE: Actually linked to SdB this time.
UPDATE (2): Fixed the calculation of Maine's position
50% off Long Distance Sin This Week!

The Pope has hit out against our sarcastic culture (thanks to both Ted and Matthew for this magnificent opportunity). Fine, the martyrs condemned by Nebuchadnezzar were righteous types and praised and glorified God. Good for them and good for us that they existed. Fine. However, given the prevalent nature of sarcasm in everyday conversation, doesn't anyone see the potential hypocrisy in the advertisement placed on the news article in question? "Switch to Telstra and be sinningly sarcastic over the phone at up to 50% off for long distance calls?"

I guess the Catholic Church in Australia doesn't have to use sarcasm to get its point across.
Hilarious Random Occurrence of The Week

Being one of those excessively common dual UK-Australian citizens, I dodge the third-degree at Heathrow despite managing to sound vaguely like a cross between the Bush Tucker Man (bless you Major Hiddins) and the Crocodile Hunter. That's probably why I don't get to engage in these lovely erduite conversations (look for This Stuff Shouldn't Happen and go to the comments) with British customs agents:

A friend of mine was traveling from Yerevan back to New York via London's Heathrow Airport. At Heathrow, he was detained, and questioned regarding his stay in Armenia.

"I'm an Iranist" he answered.

"But Armenia is not in Iran," replied the British customs agent.

"No, but you see, I study Iranian religions."

"I was under the impression that Armenians were monophysite Christians and that the Iranians belonged to the Shi'ite sect of Islam."

"Well, I also study Iranian languages."

"Armenian pertains to the Thraco-Phrygian branch of the Indo-European language family, not the Indo-Iranian branch. Sir, would you care to explain what an Iranist, as you describe yourself, would be doing in Armenia?"

"Armenian has borrowed quite a lot of vocabulary from Middle Iranian, which can shed light on pre-Islamic religion."

"You're speaking of the Zoroastrian community?

"Yes, I study the Zoroastrians."

"Very well, sir, that is all. Enjoy your stay in the United Kingdom."

Charles, I want to shake your hand - if this is real you are a saint, if you are fake then inventing this makes you a legend. Cheers.
Oi! Glenny Boy!

I couldn't help but chase down the link provided by Prof. Reynolds about the new-fangled method for counting the size of protest marches. It looks like a much better way to make estimates of overall crowd size than the method used in San Francisco. After all, as the article states, in San Francisco
both police and rally organizer figures are based on estimates of previous crowd sizes and on eye-level approximations
As a result, we can hardly be surprised if an aerial estimation provides a figure with better overall accuracy. Fine, if you're only focused on San Francisco.

Last time I checked, most bloggers weren't. Now as a London-based blogger (at least for now given my random walk across the globe) I'm naturally focused on the way things were counted for the ludicrously large march that happened in London. I wasn't a part of it, but given that my flat lies less than 10 minutes walk from Hyde Park (note: I need an extra flatmate - please email me) it affected me enough that I didn't venture across London last Saturday. However, as the SFGate article mentions,
In London, Metropolitan Police in helicopters counted protesters in the streets based on the density of an average 10-by-10-yard square.

So the "more than 750,000" protestors estimated by the police were actually estimated by the same basic methodology as was used by the Air Flight Service in San Francisco. The 750,000 only starts to look more believable as a lower bound after this article.

Glenn says there will be "much dispute over this" - it looks like there could be even more dispute once people start reading the article.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Doing the numbers - the two million man march can't exist.

Now for a different take on the various assessments of the anti-war marches, including comparison between other attendance figures and demonstration size.

So, how big is a big march? Or, to be measurable, how big could a march feasibly become, and what are the justifications for this limit?

Firstly, let's assume that it is a march rather than a static rally. Secondly, don't worry about where people congregate at the end of the march, and assume that people past the counting point don't ever get stuck in a way that propagates back to the counting point. Now all we need are figures for (a) the rate at which people pass the counting point, and (b) the time during which the rally is crossing the counting point.

To answer (a), let's think about how dense and how wide the march is. If I was in a protest march, I would expect to typically be about 60 centimetres behind the person in front (not a 60 centimetre gap, but 60 centimetres from my back heel to their back heel). This allows enough space that I'm not constantly treading on their heels, while not being so far back that there's room to sneak another person in between. I would expect the sideways spacing to be about 50 centimetres - 40 centimetres is equivalent to two people fitting into a standard door width - doable, but not comfortable for long periods. So the density of the march would be about 3 1/3 people per square metre.

The marching width can't sensibly be wider than 8 lanes of traffic - firstly, in London there just aren't that many 8 lane roads in the marching area, and secondly even in cities which do have many roads of that size, the march can stop traffic but can't be expected to completely block foot traffic as well. A typical road lane would be somewhere around the 1.8 metre mark (I'm guessing here - please correct me if you think I'm wrong), so to be on the generous side let's say the march is 15 metres wide. This means that 50 people on average pass the counting point every time the march advances by 1 metre.

Now comes the assumption I'm least comfortable with - the speed of a protest march. A typical definition has 'average walking pace' between 3.2 and 4.8 kilometres per hour, and 'brisk walking pace' at between 4.8 and 6.4. I don't ever seem to recall 'brisk' demonstrations, so let's go with the extremities of 'average walking pace' as the typical figures. This gives us a range of between 160,000 and 240,000 people per hour as our answer to (a).

On the question of (b), given that the objective (in theory) of a march is to end up assembling somewhere and listening to various political speeches, it can't really be reasonable for the march to continue for more than about 3 hours - it both puts too much of a strain on the people involved, and means that there's either a lot of hanging around at the end waiting for the speeches to start, or a lot of people missing out on the speeches because they were later in the marching order. However, to compensate for this, you could start the march at 2 points at once (as they did in London). I don't know whether it would be sensible to extend this to 3, 4 or more start points - it would significantly worsen the logistics for the rest of society in that city for one thing. I'll therefore assume 2 start points and 3 hours for the marching period - if anyone can provide me with examples where either or both of these have been succeeded, again please let me know.

So, we get an upper bound on the maximum size of a march using this method of 240,000 * 3 * 2 = 1.44 million people. Given the police estimate of 'over 750,000' and the organisers estimate of 2 million, I don't think there's a lot of room between the London march and the maximum achievable march size in a city. So, to those who denigrate it as 'only 1 million', I would ask you how you could expect them to make it any bigger.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Checking da email... checking da email...

Kenan Malik responded to my post on the 'slippery slope' - a big thanks to Matthew Yglesias for telling a lot more people about it than I can contact by myself. Kenan encouraged me to look at his viewpoint on humanitarian intervention, so I headed on over.

Kenan's argument looks to be quite sensible on first inspection. The nature of existing humanitarian interventions (most notably Bosnia) has been such that the international community has severely restricted any political discourse on the part of the local inhabitants. This has not occurred through forcible restrictions on political speech, but rather by setting up the post-intervention institutions in a way that the scope for deviation from the initial human-rights inspired restrictions is minimal. I can see that this has happened in Bosnia, and this excessive restriction of political rights is a problem.

Part of the problem is that we have an international community involved in Bosnia with, as far as I can tell, no clearly spelled-out plan for its withdrawal. If we honestly believe in people's ability to govern themselves, then there must be a point at which we can pull the existing mediators, administrators, and eventually the 'High Representative' out and leave behind a stable and functioning Bosnia. However, what we don't have is (a) a clear process for ensuring that there are stable institutions in place to replace the international community, and (b) a timetable for the handover of full power to the Bosnians themselves, and hence we have an unclear period ahead during which Bosnian political rights are restricted.

What I don't agree with is that the humanitarian intervention must, by its very nature, place excessive restrictions on the political rights of the people who are subject to intervention. I think in the main this is because I disagree with your statement that

If we define beforehand what policies are morally acceptable, we undermine the essence of democracy.

However, this may be based on trying to interpret your statement too broadly. I would object to the claim that it is inappropriate to define any moral boundaries on policy in advance. While the UN Declaration on Human Rights (the most well-known example of an internationally-agreed standard set of rights) may or may not be an appropriate minimum standard, I believe that some sensible minimal standard must exist and that any conflict between this standard and political claims must be resolved in favour of the human rights. It is for this reason that the original intervention in Bosnia is justifiable, but the argument does not justify the long drawn-out process of managing the Bosnians' affairs. A 'perfectly justified' ongoing process would be one which maximised the political rights available to the Bosnians without breaching the minimum standard of internationally agreed human rights. In practice a clear, short-term plan to reach this maximum (and get the UN out of the country) while maintaining sensible human rights standards would be justifiable.

Kenan also mentions East Timor as an example where the result has been
the abandonment of any attachment to real democracy

Now, as far as I can tell, the UN force has done an effective job of handing over the government of the country to the people of East Timor. The last legislative act of the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor was proclaimed on the 23rd of April 2002, one of only 4 regulations to be put in place by the UN authorities in their final year of control.

To say that what is currently in existence in East Timor is a vibrant and functioning democracy and a stable and growing state is obviously an overestimate. December saw riots as a protest from students was mis-handled. However, the UN is not looking for an excuse to go back in, the UN staff have left the island, and East Timor is a state in a position to manage its own affairs without needing to worry about incursions from their neighbour Indonesia. All in all this looks like a case where the humanitarian intervention put the people in a position where they have far greater political freedoms than they had originally.
Thanks again to The Conspiracy (no, honest, I read other blogs too) for the ChicagoBoyz analysis of recent polling data. The interpretation given there is that the peace majority is "in the end, imaginary". That's certainly a sensible interpretation, what with 44% believing Saddam's behaviour justifies UN invasion (only 26% against) and 73% willing to go to war in the event that the UN gives the green light. However, the war majority is equally imaginary when you look at these figures - the key thing to take home is that on average, the British public are sitting on the fence.

The trade-off, no matter what both sides might say, between war and inaction is a tough moral choice to be made. The British response is to agree that Saddam is extremely likely to be building or stockpiling WMD (at least 44% of the population), but to nonetheless insist that lots of other countries (especially France) agree before we do anything about it (at least 55% of the population, probably* heavily overlapping the previous 44%). It's starting to look like a criminal trial - Iraq is being tried by a jury of its peers (although a majority verdict of 9 or more is all that is needed if no vetoes are used), and the sentence to be passed is the death of the regime.

The analysis Sylvain Galineau makes for the Chicago Boyz has an important gap - it omits the get-out clause built into the questions (a get out clause that ICM and/or YouGov would do well to chase down in their next poll if they really want to judge public opinion). The question currently not being asked, but which should be asked, is:

Do you believe that the UN will approve a further resolution, justifying use of force in Iraq?

Until that question is answered separately, people can leave their moral dilemmas safely concealed by the desire to get international consensus.

Britain's public has seen the large number of diplomatic gestures, about-turns, roadblocks, threats and counter-threats ahead of it, and decided to remain relatively noncommittal until the international community has made up its mind. Until that happens, expect to see more apparent trends over time in the opinion polls, but don't expect them to matter. The impact of a sudden shock such as a new UN resolution or a French veto will redraw the boundary lines - and anyone wanting to judge how the British public will react to war will need to wait until then for the real answer.

[*] Yes, probably is a weasel word - but given that the first 44% is against 26% who believe he's not a threat, and the 55% is against 25% who don't want to go to war even with a mandate, it's fair to say that the overlap will be well above zero.

Monday, February 17, 2003

Jacob at The Conspiracy has the news on Professor Aghajari - but it's not clear that he's safe from the death sentence yet.

The BBC has more details - and it looks like there's not necessarily anything to stop the death sentence being passed again. However, the 'procedural' reasoning does provide a get-out for the conservatives, allowing them to avoid what would be another huge student backlash if they had to carry the sentence out. Let's hope somebody sees sense here - the last thing the world needs is another martyr.
OK. N.Z. may well have already summarised the pro-war viewpoint, but I said I was going to answer those questions as well, and so I'm going to do it anyway. To make this a fair comparison, I have not read any of the pro-war answers, so if I'm repeating something someone else has already said, feel free to ignore the rant.

PW 1. (Pre-emptive vs aggressive)

Yes, pre-emption and aggression can be distinguished. However, what you may think of as the 'hard and fast rules' may not actually work. If I had to give a definition of a pre-emptive action right now, it would need to have the following characteristics:

  1. There must be a clear and credible threat to the security of the region in which the action takes place (or to the invader or their allies) which the pre-emptive action will remove.

  2. The invading parties would have to provide a clear plan detailing their method and timetable for withdrawal from the invaded territories.

  3. The invading parties must provide a clear transition to stable, democratic, self-government for the invaded territories and/or the country of which they are part.

The first part here is meant to justify the invasion as 'pre-emptive', the last two are to prove that it is not about gaining direct power. You'll note that there are plenty of weasel words in there (and that with my atrocious German and non-existent French) - a lot of the definition really comes down to a judgement of intent.

Part of the problem with coming up with a clear, testable definition here is that as soon as the rules are set in stone, it becomes possible for an aggressor to get around the definition. It's aggression because the land taken is being subsumed into the country of the aggressor? Rename it a 'protectorate' and install a pliant local governor. It's aggression because the local populace are against the action? Use the usual military threats and ensure there are enough 'celebratory' demonstrations to make it clear that the people really support you. Provide a plan for withdrawal and transition to democracy, then stir up just enough internal unrest to justify extensions and delays ad infinitum and you stay within the letter of the definition. I'm sorry I have to trot out the cliche, but it is like the well-known obscenity definition - you know it when you see it.

PW 2. (Prospects for successful stable Iraq and democratic Iraq)

Frankly, I think both have reasonable prospects, but the prospects of achieving both at once are poor. A successful, stable Iraq is perfectly believable - the country is not an economic basket case and has good intrinsic prospects for growth in the future. A democratic Iraq could also be achieved, with the best recent example of democracy coming out of intervention being Serbia (hey, they've already reached Western levels of voter apathy!)

However, if you truly have a democratic Iraq, I think you'll see a secessionist movement from the Kurds (and/or the Turkmen) in the north succeed, and Iraq would get a lot smaller. To maintain Iraq with its current borders would require the government in Baghdad to ride roughshod over the wishes of the northern third of their country - and I'm not sure how much of a democracy Iraq would be if that were the case.

PW 3. (Success of military and 'regime change' efforts in Afghanistan)

I'm rating the effort so far at 50% on the military and 'regime change' metrics combined. The military campaigns goals were relatively simple - chase al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan, knock the Taliban out of power, and cut off the head of the al-Qaeda monster. The first looks pretty successful, and the third can be rated a moderate success (even though OBL may still be alive, he's in a much weaker position now and is having to resort both to bluster and to calling for support for 'socialists' he opposes). The second worked within Kabul, but the extent of its success outside the capital is definitely open to debate.

This brings me to the 'regime change' question. There has been a regime change in Kabul. There most definitely has not in Herat (where the local warlord just switched sides and continues to run his fiefdom in the same way as he did prior to the US invasion). Outside the capital little has changed, and the signs are not that great that the capital is safe from reverting to more extremist rule. Hamid Karzai is in a very precarious position, and has no influence outside Kabul - to say there is an effective new regime in place is a joke.

There's also a third issue I would want to raise - that of the stated objective of liberating the women of Afghanistan. This was often quoted as an additional objective (although interestingly it has been omitted from this question). The lack of change in everyday behaviour outside of Kabul is an indication that either the 'objective' was a piece of 'feelgood' propaganda, or that there is a lot more work still to be done by various military (US, Canadian, German, etc.) inside Afghanistan.

PW 4. (War with other nations acting similarly to Iraq)

I think my answers to the questions posed to anti-war bloggers indicate that I'm in favour of invading Iraq in particular circumstances. If these apply to any other nation, they should also be invaded - I don't see why Iraq deserves to be a special case.

PW 5. (Most credible allegations from the US)

As both Colin Powell and Hans Blix mentioned, there is a significant stockpile of chemical and biological agents that Iraq is known to have possessed in the past, which they are claiming to be no longer in possession of. Nowhere has Iraq explained how these agents were destroyed, and at no point in these recent rounds of inspections have the inspectors been shown any evidence of what was done with these stockpiles. Given this, the US Administration's claims that Saddam is still holding WMD are extremely credible. However, I don't recall any report indicating that Iraq's dossier was required to include full details of how it got rid of its old WMD (it was always described as an inventory, not a sales and purchases ledger) - obviously if it was then please correct me. So, until there's proof of the stuff still hiding somewhere, it doesn't actually count as a material breach.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

Back to the serious political discourse, brought to you courtesy of the fine folks at N.Z. Bear. Continuation of the answers posed to anti-war bloggers follows. It would have followed earlier, but the post was Ellen Feissed. In the meantime, Matthew Yglesias came up with a much pithier way to say one of the points I was going to make, about the 'slippery slope' of deciding to invade illegitimate regimes.

4. (Are inspections and sanctions sufficient?)

Short answer: The existing system is not sufficient as a long-term solution, but long-term viable methods do exist.

Sanctions, on their own, will not prevent access to WMD, given the ease of evading the sanctions. With a robust sanction enforcement mechanism, they could work as a long-term solution (see my answer to question 2 for an extreme method of achieving decent enforcement).

Inspections are only a sensible short-term solution - we keep them going, with the threat of military action to ensure they happen, until such time as we are confident there are no WMDs left in Iraq (obviously this only reaches a conclusion if there aren't any - otherwise we'll have to invade). As a long-term solution they're a non-starter, due to the need to maintain a large military presence in the area to back up the inspectors' demands.

An inspections / sanctions etc. regime would be superior to invasion on both civilian impact and geopolitical outcome grounds. Firstly, not only would invasion have a significantly larger civilian casualty figure, it would also lead to a huge number of Iraqi refugees (as was seen in the original Gulf War) - of the order of 500,000 or more according to recent estimates. If we can avoid displacing this many people then we are in a much better position in terms of overall impact. Secondly, the consensus in most Western countries is that invasion is likely to increase the threat of terrorism. If we can achieve the key goals of disarming Saddam and reducing tension in the Middle East without increasing the threat of terrorism, surely that would be the preferred option. After all, last time I checked there was a war on terrorism going as well.

5. (On the nature of sovereignty)

I support the view that the consent of the governed is what gives a state legitimacy. It has to be noted that this grossly simplifies the issue - how many people have to withdraw consent for the state to lose legitimacy? Can an individual withdraw their consent and found their own state? If not, why not?

I do, therefore, agree that Saddam has no legitimacy. However, this does not automatically give us the right to invade and turf him out. It should mean that US foreign policy includes the objective of removing Saddam, but if his legitimacy was the only question then the method for implementing that policy should only be economic and diplomatic, not military.

I am against intervention partly because of the slippery slope argument (at what point do you define a country to be sufficiently unfree to be invasion-worthy?), but mainly because it provides a very convenient cover for any local belligerent. After all, Kuwait was unfree in 1990 - its National Assembly was disbanded in 1986, and the elections being held in 1990 were boycotted by the opposition, claiming them to be for a new Assembly lacking real power. I know that Iraq invading Kuwait can hardly be positioned as a 'war of liberation', even by Saddam, but when things are less clear-cut the doctrine of intervention against illegitimate rulers could be a very dangerous thing.

Maybe it is a good thing for you, dear reader, that the previous attempt at this screed was consigned to the bit-bucket. You have a lot less to get through now!
We interrupt this serious political discourse to bring you an entry in the "Brett Lee Publicity Machine" contest.

Look at the title for this Observer review of the Australia-India match. That's right, Lee breaks Indian bats. That's right, Brett Lee who took 3/36 off 9 overs, including Ganguly, Sehwag and Mongia as his scalps. Apparently the efforts of Jason Gillespie, who took 3/13 off 10 overs, including Tendulkar (the top scorer with 36), Dravid and Kaif were not noteworthy.

Watch out Supermercado, it looks like it's not just the Australian press that are lionising the excessively expensive New South Welshman.

Saturday, February 15, 2003

Now for a more thought-provoking and interesting post.

I have been trying to work out whether or not I qualify as 'pro-war' for the last couple of weeks. It is not the most obvious decision to be made, despite what many people on both sides of the blogiverse would have you believe. Every time I think that the pro-war arguments have demonstrated clear superiority, something like the famous UK plagiarised dossier turns up. That only makes me wonder how weak the underlying case must be that the UK can make. On the other hand, if I think that the anti-war arguments are superior, I only need to look at such jokes as Tony Benn's fawning trip to Baghdad (and similar crazy escapades and statements by others on the left) to be disabused of that notion.

So, in an attempt to deal with my own internal debate, I will be answering both sets of 5 questions posed by N.Z. Bear, the pro-war and the anti-war. I will start with the questions to be answered by anti-war bloggers.

1. (Alternative policy for the POTUS)
In answering this question, I would first state that I'm assuming the most important reason for dealing with Iraq is to ensure that Saddam Hussein does not have access to any WMDs or any capability to acquire them. Given that assumption, I'd do the following:

Firstly, negotiate in the UN Security Council for a continuation of inspections with a set of conditions that are actually testable and down in black and white. (Material breach my arse - let's put down on paper exactly what does and does not constitute a set of inspectors findings sufficient to justify war.) The key part of this is actually setting a date. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but 1441 doesn't actually have any deadline dates in there, does it? Let's set a reasonable period for an amount of hide-and-Blix, say 2 months from the date of the resolution. The new resolution would set down the conditions by which Iraq could avoid an automatic war.

These conditions would list exactly what minimum Iraqi compliance was required (how many Iraqi scientists have to be available for interview outside Iraq and without any minders present, with no opportunity for the scientist themselves to refuse to appear, how many sites have to be available for inspection, how many overflights must be permitted and what kind of aircraft must be allowed to do the overflying). The conditions would also contain a long list of triggers, any of which automatically constitute a breach by Iraq (e.g. we find any WMD, any programme to build WMD, or any components of WMD which are not credible as non-WMD components). The resolution would then state that any breach by Iraq, including failure to achieve the minimum compliance standards within the 2 month period, would automatically legitimize a war - no ifs, no buts, no French blocking.

Of course, the number one potential problem with this is the French blocking the resolution. If they object to the use of a fixed deadline at all, or to actually putting clear language in the proposal, then they are clearly not capable of negotiating on this one in good faith. If they are willing to negotiate (e.g. Chirac wants 4 months instead of 2) then do what it takes to get the resolution through, and then there are no more definitional questions or ambiguities left to fall back on.

If the French don't negotiate in good faith (or for that matter, any other permanent UNSC member does likewise), then the US should put the full text of the draft resolution out in the open - making it clear that the blockers have no intention of ever agreeing to a war trigger in the resolutions. Such a move by any of the permanent members would pretty much prove that there's no point trying to get UNSC backing - so it's go it alone or give up all rights to go to war. At that point the US issues the ultimatum to Iraq as if it was the UNSC, continuing to rely on the inspectors efforts and checking Iraq's performance against the same set of conditions as it has published.

So, let's move on to what happens if we assume the resolution gets passed.

Case A: Iraq complies in full (and hence the inspectors find nothing). Get Blix to give an exact deadline as to when he can be certain that Iraq is holding nothing. Repeat the resolution process every x months (for some small value of x, say 3 - 6) until that deadline expires. If Iraq is ever in breach go to case B, otherwise at the end of the period we are satisfied Iraq hasn't got anything, nor any attempts to get anything - go to case C.

Case B: Iraq found to be in explicit breach of the resolution. We publicise it if no-one else has yet (try to get the inspectors to do it for us), then we announce we are going to war and promptly steam in. However, if the inspectors are still there, we give them enough notice to ensure they can all get out safely (but if they are taken and used as human shields we have to go ahead with the conflict regardless).

Case C: Nothing is found for ages and the inspectors have looked everywhere. At that point, we offer Saddam the following deal: The existing sanctions will be removed on everything except for components usable in WMD. However, the tradeoff is that US, UK and Australian military forces become the Iraqi Customs Service, and any breach of the sanctions that is detected is an immediate jump to Case B.

2. Circumstances justifying force without a UNSC resolution

  1. If the US or any of its allies are attacked by a state or a terrorist group sponsored by a state, that state can and should be attacked by the US regardless of any UNSC intervention (the self-defence doctrine, albeit at a somewhat collective level).

  2. If a state or group is committing genocide, we are justified in attacking them in order to save the lives of the attacked group (the Rwanda / Kosovo doctrine).

  3. If any state is harbouring terrorists, refuses to sever ties to the terrorist group and refuses to put the terrorists on trial or hand them over to an international tribunal (e.g. the new ICC), then we are justified in attacking them until they sever the link with terrorism. (You could call this a 'post-9/11' doctrine).

  4. If a state is proven to be pursuing a chemical or biological weapons programme in violation of the relevant international conventions, and refuses to both dismantle the programmes and have independent unfettered third-party verification of such a dismantling, then we are justified in attacking them unilaterally provided that such weapons threaten either us or our allies (through the state itself or through any sponsored terrorist groups).

Note in the above that I do not believe al-Qaeda qualifies as being 'sponsored' by Iraq - if that were the case the last OBL tape would not have had him condemn the regime in the way he did. (Of course, there may be other terrorist groups I don't know about that Hussein supports.) The only ally under threat currently is Turkey, and I can't see Saddam's ambition of being a pan-Arab leader working if he decides to attack Turkey unilaterally.

3. (On the No-fly zones)
I agree, the no-fly zones have been beneficial. What they have done is helped to protect a minority group that the country's leader was intent on persecuting, through methods up to and including mass murder. However, if providing the Kurds with cover was the real goal of the operation, surely it would have been more effective to demand a Kurdish right to self-determination within the Iraqi borders, and organise some kind of referendum to legitimise the creation of a separate Kurdistan, carved out of Iraqi territory?

What this question appears to be asking is whether the plight of the Iraqi people is, in and of itself, sufficient justification for the removal of Saddam from authority, given that the removal of Saddam from effective authority in the north of the country has improved the situation for the Kurdish people there. This is a tough call, and I don't know whether it's sufficient justification, partly because I don't know the numbers.

I don't know how many Iraqis have been imprisoned, tortured, executed for the 'crimes' of opposition to Saddam. I also don't know how many soldiers, both Iraqi and US/allied are likely to be killed in a future conflict. I don't know whether those numbers are even strictly comparable. The current economic situation in Iraq is dreadful, but a war would lead to a large refugee movement as was seen during the Gulf War (Gulf War I ?) I don't know how to compare those yardsticks, either.

Yes, getting rid of a tyrant is laudable - but everyone knows it isn't free. There is a point where the cost is low enough that it should be done because of the positive impact it will have on people's lives. There is also a point where the cost is too high to be justified. Until I have clearer (and thoroughly backed-up) numbers, how can I possibly say whether toppling Saddam is justified from the humanitarian dimension alone?

More questions to follow later.
OK. Last time I was able to update this was before I got sent to work in Holland for four months (I'm a consultant, it's entirely my own fault). Now I'm back, don't expect anything much in the way of more frequent posts - even though absolutely no-one actually ever reads this blog.