News Brief, Pictures of You Edition


  • David Axe has a great idea, based on the success of targeting pods: “Forget sinking $100 billion into developing a new airframe. After all, an airframe is only as good as its weapons and sensors, and those you can cram into a pod. Just stick to the most reliable, cheapest existing airframes — say, the F-15 and F-16 — and constantly upgrade the pods for a fraction of the cost of new airframe programs.” He’s wrong that the F-22 is a better bargain than the JSF, but whatever. The basics of it, upgrading avionics and electronics instead of wasting hundreds of billions on airframes we don’t need, is a great one.

Around the World

  • Wow, British academics are shortsighted and possibly Jew-hating? I feel comfortable with the label, since last I checked the UCU hasn’t boycotted Iranian, Sudanese, Laotian, Pakistani, Venezuelan, Chinese, North Korean, Libyan, Saudi, Syrian, or Belorussian academics for daring to have lived in a country with questionable policies. Why single out the Jews, when so many others commit so much more misery? Moreover, why target academics, who are more often in opposition to the existing power structure than enthusiastic participants?
  • Noah Pollack has a great piece on why a nuclear Iran is not acceptable: not the direct threat of nuclear weapons, but the drastic change to the balance of power. That being said, I still think there can be alliances to counter a nuclear Iran, including possibly starving it further of income, without resorting to warfare and bombing (which would probably post more problems than it would solve).
  • The dark side of economic development in Northern Afghanistan: increased narcotics trafficking.
  • I take a stab at a neo-Soviet history of Central Asia, and the strange geopolitical tangle of the region’s security interests, over at, which should be in everyone’s RSS reader.
  • Bob Gates says Iran is arming the Taliban while ignoring the Iranian opposition to the Taliban throughout the 90’s and its collaboration with the U.S. to oust them in 2001. Considering Iran’s shaky control of its far east, there very well might be either Afghan expats or sympathetic Iranians (minorities, almost certainly) smuggling weapons. But it is about as official as smuggling drugs through Texas. And WTF with the charges that the Taliban got their hands on Chinese anti-aircraft missiles? That’s something I haven’t heard anywhere, and you’d think the commanders would be more urgent in their desire to destroy or neutralize them, considering the hundreds of millions of dollars and years of fervent effort to recover stingers after 1989. Meanwhile, here is a haunting collection of pictures taken by a Soviet Hind pilot.
  • What idiots in the Bush administration were urging Taiwanese officials to declare independence? That’s the one issue—the one and only issue—over which China might be willing to tank its relationship with the US, causing financial ruin to us and a military disaster for them (assuming they didn’t use nukes). It is foolish in every sense of the word. Meanwhile, a jailed Chinese dissident has joined the suit against Yahoo for selling him out. I hope they make Yahoo bleed.
  • An amazing pair of stories on innovative small businesses taking advantage of and growing emerging markets in India—sustainably, cheaply, and with a decent profit margin. Markets are how you eliminate dire poverty, not aid. It stands in stark contrast to this plea to use the World Bank to “do something” about dire poverty. The World Bank hasn’t, and won’t, do much—it can’t, not really. That’s because aid, or gifts, are never as effective as loans, and markets. The richest countries got rich by leveraging markets; the poorest remain poor by not doing so, for a variety of reasons. Altering those reasons, not throwing money on the problem, is what will eventually work.
  • Those Iraqi graduates sure do hate Iraq. Too bad we’re not allowing any of the victims we created to seek refuge here.

Back at Home

  • Kevin Drum has a big time LOL: “Besides, there are lots of reasons why a congressman might have bricks of hundred dollar bills wrapped in aluminum foil and stuffed in his freezer. Right?” One of his commenters responds: “It seems obvious to me. He did not want it to spoil.” Innocent until proven guilty, I suppose.
  • It’s not just uppity civilian judges who hate American and want to undermine the war effort: military judges, too, are dismissing war crimes cases against Guantanamo detainees too. You’d almost think most of them were locked up for no good reason, and the administration is too embarrassed to let them out or something (this is especially damning considering one of the detainees was Osama’s driver, of the infamous Hamdan v. Rumsfeld). That being said, there are some bad men there—and there they deserve to remain. But why not place them all on trial and release the innocent (though hopefully to places happier than Albania)?
  • On this day, a lot of bad things happened (yes, I know it was yesterday).
  • This leaves me deeply pessimistic of Americans’ ability to handle democracy. Luckily, only crazies write into
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9 Responses to “News Brief, Pictures of You Edition”

  1. on 07 Jun 2007 at 2:12 pm ChrisB

    Just saw this story about Iran and the Taliban. I don’t get why people think that just because they were enemies at one point they wouldn’t cooperate against a greater enemy. Didn’t we see that in WWII with Germany and USSR? Wasn’t that the whole reason why Yugoslavia fell apart after Tito and communism left? The reason that we supported Iraq against Iran and Afghanistan against the USSR?

  2. on 07 Jun 2007 at 2:31 pm Joshua Foust

    Well, except that “at one point” was three years ago, the Taliban hasn’t changed its stance on the necessity of violent death to all Shia, and Iran could not possibly want a radical violent Shiite sect taking over Afghanistan. With most secular ideologies, marriages of convenience make sense; with radical fundamentalism, which is about non-compromise in the first, it’s much harder to fathom. Iran funding Shia militants makes sense. Iran funding radicalized Sunni militants does not.

    Furthermore, the existence of Iranian weapons is fairly meaningless. Russian weapons are showing up in Iraq and Afghanistan as well. That doesn’t mean Russia is actively, officially funding or supplying either insurgency, just that they sell weapons and these happen to make their way to conflict zones.

    At this point, all the evidence amounts to supposition based on really weak facts (why aren’t there any photos or after-action reports of that supposedly Iranian convoy?). They assume Iran will do whatever it can to proxy-fight the U.S., even if it means actively working against their own interest. One big bugaboo missing in all the wild speculation? Ismail Khan, the so-called Emir of Herat (a city in western Afghanistan). He was a strong and vital ally of the Iranian regime during the 90’s, and he has maintained such close ties to official Iran that he has drawn the scorn and mistrust of sections of the Karzai government, as well as NATO and State officials.

    Ismail Khan has renounced the Taliban, and remains their bitter enemy.

    Are these American officials seriously making the case that Iran is supporting two sides of an insurgency? If so, then that is a far grander (i.e. complex and fundamentally different) strategic problem than simply supplying the Taliban. Rather, I see it more as the same kind of fear mongering the Bush administration is trying to gin up to bomb Iran.

  3. on 07 Jun 2007 at 6:17 pm Lance

    Are these American officials seriously making the case that Iran is supporting two sides of an insurgency?

    You may be right, but I have seen lots of evidence they are doing just that in Iraq. They have certainly aided Al Qaeda at times, though the extent is certainly an issue we don’t have a handle on.

    That their behavior doesn’t make sense in light of Al Qaeda or the Taliban’s long term goals doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense to Iran, or more likely, certain elements or factions within Iran. If our view of what made sense always prevailed then we would be able to easily conduct foreign policy, but others perceptions of their interests often diverge radically from what we think makes sense.

    In many ways the Iranian and Al Qaeda goals and actions don’t make sense except by us saying it makes sense if you accept that they view the world in this fundamentally screwed up way. Thus their actions make sense. However, if their view of the world politically, economically and so on, is so fundamentally irrational, why are their actions in support of that view going to be neatly amenable to our rational analysis?

    Furthermore, we often accuse our own government of taking actions fundamentally at odds with our best interests, you certainly do. Why wouldn’t that be true of elements within Iran? That is, assuming we actually understand their interests correctly, a pretty big stretch in my opinion. It may turn out (though it doesn’t seem logical to me) that supporting the Taliban and Al Qaeda is a darn canny move. I have seen stranger things work out in the past, or at least they seemed strange before they worked out.

  4. on 07 Jun 2007 at 6:34 pm Lance

    Too bad we’re not allowing any of the victims we created to seek refuge here.

    I agree that we should allow them to come here. I agree with the students that we didn’t do enough to stabilize the country (and we should also point fingers at the rest of the world for not doing enough either.)

    I do have a nit though. Whatever criticisms we levy at ourselves, we didn’t create the refugees. Jihadists, Saddam, the insurgency and sectarian groups such as Al Sadr’s gang have created that hell. Being inadequate in stopping them from doing so is far different than doing it. The French government deserved a lot of criticism in its preparations for the attack by Germany, but the invasion and its aftermath were the Germans fault, and those who aided them. I know that isn’t what you really meant, but that kind of comment always irritates me, however it was intended. Many of course do make it our fault. Iraq was an awful place, it is still an awful place. We have failed in making it better so far, and we maybe should never have tried.

    The actual agents causing the suffering should always be portrayed as the real issue. They could have not done so, they could have built a better society, they chose not to.

  5. on 07 Jun 2007 at 6:45 pm Joshua Foust

    Lance, you’re right that we don’t have enough information to properly divine the true intentions and motivations about Iran. But wouldn’t that argue for prudence when slinging about accusations and possibly agitating for war? I mean, you make it a point to say “elements in Iran,” and not “Iran.” That’s an important distinction, one I hope I at least alluded to in the bullet point… and should, again, indicate that it’s probably not official Iran funneling supplies into Afghanistan, if Iranian weapons are directly flowing across the border at all. The rhetoric the government is using just strikes me as reckless.

    As for the second bit, I agree with you that we certainly didn’t kick people out of their homes and threaten them with execution. But when has there been a modern-day invasion that has not resulted in hundreds of thousands of refugees? That kind of should have been a no-brainer, though I have to admit I swallowed the “they’ll greet us with flowers” kool-aid just like everyone else.

    More importantly is our behavior after the refugee crisis was created. In particular, our refusal to help the Assyrian Christians for fear of angering some Muslim elements within the Iraqi government, but really for all of the people who fled in terror. That is deeply shameful, and we have no excuse for it. We admitted hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the communists in South East Asia (130,000 Vietnamese in 1975 alone), even if we placed them in “secondary asylum” camps to be processed first. That is why there is such a huge thriving Hmong and Vietnamese (and Cambodian and Laotian) community here and especially in California. But even Iraqis who were granted security clearances and worked closely with the coalition until the danger became overwhelming have been denied entry visas. That should shame us right to the core, and I’m baffled more people don’t feel outrage over it.

    Dare I say it’s because they’re Arabs?

  6. on 07 Jun 2007 at 7:59 pm ChrisB

    The rhetoric the government is using just strikes me as reckless.

    I find this assertion odd considering that it’s the US govt that is the one saying that Iran’s involvement is not for certain, essentially agreeing with your speculations about the weapons. It’s an unnamed military intelligence source saying the weapons are coming from the Iranian govt.

  7. on 07 Jun 2007 at 8:19 pm Joshua Foust

    From the NYT story I linked:

    “American officials say that even as Iran pledges its support for the Karzai government, it is possible that it is trying to destabilize its neighbor to the east to tie down American forces in the country. American military officials have said they believe that a large part of the arms shipments has been material to make roadside bombs.”

    From the ABC story you linked:

    Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stopped short earlier this week of blaming Iran, saying the U.S. did not have evidence “of the involvement of the Iranian government in support of the Taliban.”

    But an analysis by a senior coalition official, obtained by the Blotter on, concludes there is clear evidence of Iran’s involvement.

    So you’re right, SecDef Gates is downplaying the “evidence” (as he should), and some “coalition official,” from which country we don’t know, leaked an “analysis” to a news channel’s blog. But no “military intelligence source” was reported as saying these things — and if they were, it would prove my point: military intelligence works for the government, and has even less business anonymously leaking analysis and study to influence policy debates than does the CIA.

    That hardly seems conclusive, or even likely, for Iran’s involvement with the Taliban.

  8. on 07 Jun 2007 at 8:25 pm ChrisB

    Opps sorry, I misremembered the military intelligence official thing. I assumed the “coalition official” was military intelligence for some dumb reason. But reading your quotes, all the claims that Iran is arming the taliban come from unnamed unofficial sources, while the only named official person is parroting your reasoning. I’m not sure what you want the US govt to do, stop having intelligence leaks?

    Plus given those documents found in iraq that had Iran helping the sunnis too, I’m still not sure Iran helping the taliban is so far fetched.

  9. on 07 Jun 2007 at 8:43 pm Joshua Foust

    Chris, you’re right that it’s silly to demand an end to intelligence leaks, but I also think intelligence leaks are used very strategically to espouse a position all the officials can deny… Especially in this administration.

    Also, Iran helping the Sunnis in Iraq is a totally different ball game. Those Sunnis don’t want to restart the Iran/Iraq war, they don’t want to overthrow the Iranian regime, and the operational environment is totally different. Iran, especially after we rebuffed their attempt at rapproachment in 2003, has been fairly open about its intention to act as a spoiler agent in the reconstruction process — especially after they got an idea that their efforts with the Shia were so successful.

    They were open and enthusiastic, on the other hand, about teaming with the U.S. to oust the Taliban (which is all of those bad things). Furthermore, the one and only major, possibly ruinous point of contention between Iran and Pakistan is the Taliban — it is highly unlikely Iran would suddenly throw their support behind a group it has considered a mortal enemy for well over a decade.

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