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"History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it."-Winston S. Churchill

"The wandering scholars were bound by no lasting loyalties, were attached by no sentiment of patriotism to the states they served and were not restricted by any feeling of ancient chivalry. They proposed and carried out schemes of the blackest treachery."-C.P. Fitzgerald.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Connecting the Dots, and Friedman Gets It.... 

Thomas FriedmanOne of the frustrating things about the Left is their ability to see the trees for the forest. Since the march on Baghdad and the fall of the Hussein Regime, there has been a concious effort on the part of the Left to deconstruct the conflict, making the argument that the entire effort was illegitimate because it was based on a foundation of lies. Naturally, as I'm a conservative who observed the goings on in Iraq for some time during the 1990's, I believe these charges to be spurious at best. They bespeak a lack of seriousness on the part of liberal Democrats concerning the gravest issues of the state: war and diplomacy.

But one liberal Democrat actually does get it. Thomas Friedman was a veteran Middle East correspondent for the New York Times during the 1980's and early '90's. He got kicked upstairs to the editorial page and now bangs out a foreign affairs column for the Times twice a week. Two of his books won him honors; From Beirut to Jerusalem and The Lexus and the Olive Tree.

Friedman never accepted the Bush Administration's argument that Saddam was pursuing a weapons program that posed an imminent threat to the United States. Most liberal Democrats didn't, although that was an argument the Administration never actually made. The central thesis of the Administration was that Saddam had to be killed now before he could invest his considerable oil wealth in a weapons program that he had invested in over a period of two decades. Friedman, however, has always asserted the the central aim of the Administration was to remake the Middle East in a more democratic image, with governments accountable to the governed. His reiteration of that belief is found here. I tend to agree with his central assertion.

The U.S. Government can hunt down every terrorist on the hit list until the cows come home, but unless the corrupt states of the Middle East are dragged from the Nasserism of the 1950's into the 21st Century, the hate and sense of grievance will always be with us. Throughout the Cold War, the Left admired "Arab Nationalism". The idea of shaking one's fist at the West appealed to liberals and leftists alike. Leftover guilt from the era of colonialism, coupled with a rage over having been fed too well by the G. I. generation, led to a strange identification with some of the most squalid tyrants to have graced the pages of history. What the left was applauding was fascism, of course. Entire generations of Arabs have lived under the heel of one dictator or another. Quite frankly, the Arabs have eagerly licked the boot of any fascist, any con man, any intellectual mountebank who promised to "confront" the West and destroy the "Zionist Cancer". Only now, when it is too late, are the Arabs coming to realize that it was all a lie.

It is the Arabs who must change, lest they remain an insignificant strategic backwater whose only virtue is that they live their lives on top of an ocean of oil. If they do not change, or are not forced to change, they will remain as they are: angry, vengeful, and full of hate.

That's my take, not Friedman's. Click on the link above to go to his column, however. It's quite a good read, as most Friedman articles are. It's not that Friedman is a Bush fan. He's not, he's a liberal Democrat. However, while he does tend to be rather condemnatory of tax relief, Friedman articles tend to avoid the acidity and partisanship of Paul Krugman and the chatty silliness of Maureen Dowd.

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One of the things that enrages me about liberals is the way they have attempted to blame a surprise attack on the United States on George W. Bush. This effort has led to a phrase, "connecting the dots", that has come to plague journalism and political discourse. In other words, people who don't know and never tried to know are trying to blame others for not knowing what they know now in advance.

I've always tried to make an effort to compare the run-up to 9-11 with what happened to the American naval command in Pearl Harbor and the political leadership in Washington in November and December of 1941. Akagi After mid-November, Naval Intelligence lost sight of Japan's First Mobile Fleet. The fleet had left Hiroshima Bay for a secret anchorage in Hokkaido Island. Combined Fleet Headquarters had opted for a risky, northerly route that would take the fleet north of Hawaii, then turn it south, charging several hundred miles directly at the islands. Despite the fact that radio silence was broken by several ships, the fleet approached undetected and cloaked. The rest is history.

In the weeks that followed, as America suffered one reverse after another in the Pacific, the Congress held hearings into the attack. There was a political need to find scapegoats, in order to cover for the general intelligence failure of the Americans and the tactical brilliance of Admiral Isoruku Yamamato and his staff. Naturally, this led to the railroading of Admiral Husband A. Kimmel, then CINCPAC, and General Walter Short, who was Army commander at Schoefield Barracks in Oahu. In later years, they would both die broken men.

The upshot of my comparison is this. Kimmel, Short, and the staff back at Old Navy in Washington, D.C., didn't have the imagination to put themselves into the mind of their adversary, Yamamato. Everyone understood that Japan was on the verge of an offensive in Asia; the American oil embargo had insured that things would happen. But they expected an attack to the south, on the Phillipines, Borneo, and the Dutch East Indies (where the oil was). The Americans were supposed to have time to gather themselves, and steam in battleship order off to meet the Combined Fleet in a huge naval gun duel in the Carolines or the Phillipine Sea. Yamamato had other plans. No one but Yamamato, Nagumo, Genda, Fuchida and the other members of the planning assault groups knew of the time, place, and means of attacks. The Americans couldn't conceive of the possibility that someone would directly attack American territory. It was simply not possible.

Six decades later, the comparisons to 9-11 are obvious. The terrorists had the element of strategic surprise. As with the Japanese before them, they had the luxury of the initiative. Time, means, and location all lay in the hands of the senior Al Qaeda personnel (namely bin Laden, Al Zawahiri, Mohammed Atef, and a few other technical people). The idea that Americans should have been able to "connect the dots" prior to this attack is laughable, and betrays an ignorance of history and a shallow understanding of basic military strategy. It also fails to allow for the fact that on the morning of September 11th, we were a nation at peace. We had convinced ourselves that a new age was at hand, old hatreds would be buried, and a new interdependent global economic order was at hand.

Someone forgot to teach the chattering classes some history.

My cousin, Jack Getzz, had a commentary about this after he and I had knocked this stuff around a couple of weeks ago. His take on the jihad that the liberals had declared following the 9-11 report:

I've always been fascinated with systems analysis, have picked up bits and pieces.
One key aspect of any self-regulating open system is the feedback loop - approval ratings for politicians, applause for actors, telemetry for rockets, whatever. Once you look for it, it's everywhere. You also tend to notice …
Systems tend to fuck up. Systems tend to do the opposite of what they're designed (or have evolved) to do.
The common thread I've noticed in a lot of this is what I call "the perverse paradoxical feedback loop."
Normally, positive feedback keeps you ("you" including humans, robots, natural systems, whatever) on track when you're achieving or getting closer to some goal; negative feedback zaps you when you're of course, not getting it. Sometimes it works the other way around - hence perverse. It's often predictable, but at the same time, also a case of systems doing exactly the opposite of what they're designed for - i.e.,  IT SHOULDN'T HAPPEN - hence, paradoxical.

Examples -
Railroad fatalities in 1810 are X per number of miles traveled. Over the years, designers improve the safety level of trains, tracks, tunnels, grades, whatever. In 1830, the level of fatalities is still X. The reason: engineers compensated for the increased safety by taking more risks.
A guy and a chick are having an argument. He's irritated, is driving too fast, a little erratically. She says STOP DRIVING LIKE AN ASSHOLE. The result: he drives faster, more erratically, more like an asshole. The reason: responding to the negative feedback would mean admitting, in fact, he was driving like an asshole.

Many of the perverse results arise because humans are aware of feedback systems and work to circumvent them. Why study, when you can whine and cry until your teacher into gives you a good grade? Why put on a good play, when you can use advertising pressure to bully a newspaper into giving a good review? Why listen to hard facts now that you're a Hollywood STAR when you can surround yourself with sycophants? Why accept bad news when you can shoot the messenger?

Perverse results especially crop up when the feedback loop is digital (on-off) as opposed to analog (a series of gradual corrections). I.e.: zero tolerance. If making ANY MISTAKE means getting fired, I won't correct my mistakes, I will do my best to cover up my mistakes and put the blame on someone else - hence there's absolutely no feedback.

So: airplane pilots are supposed to have perfect vision. The minute your eyesight weakens, you're out. The result is not pilots with perfect vision but pilots doing their best to hide any defects - not wearing glasses, cheating on eyetests, taking exams on their own time. (Lasik surgery's probably made this a date example.)

Broadly speaking, if you create a system where anything less than perfection is failure, you destroy any possibility of self-correction through feedback. The ideal is constant real-world feedback of every step of the process from idea to execution. Demming got into this in the industrial process. You can apply the same principle to marriages, relationships, philosophical thought, whatever.

But the only way it works is if it's safe to be open.

Hence: if we approach 9-11 as a "catastrophic failure of the intelligence community" with the intention that someone - better still, a whole line of someone's - must be crucified for it, a nice little Appian Way of crucified FBI, CIA, NSA and other governmental fuck-ups, because it HAS TO BE SOMEONE'S FAULT - the result will be that everyone involved right on down the chain will do their best to make everything about what they do opaque - to cover asses, shift blame, destroy, disappear or lose evidence, not put two and two together, to stonewall, obfuscate, lie or find sacrificial lamb if you have to because IT'S YOUR CAREER, the result will be we'll learn very little or nothing, won't refine, fix or improve the process, won't learn any lessons, won't be ready next time.

The smart thing is to say what happened was, literally, psychotic and inconceivable - that it didn't occur to us because we are a healthy, open, non-psychotic democratic society - that they're the motherfuckers, not us - that the thing to do is dispassionately examine the chain of what happened and figure out what to do differently so it'll never happen again. But that can't happen if you're looking for scapegoats.

It has to be safe to be open.


That is as superb an analysis of what happened following the September 11th attacks as I have ever read, for it gets to the nub of the matter. We either remain open to learning from our mistakes or we look for scapegoats and set ourselves up for another attack. While my cousin is not a conservative (he's a middle of the road independent voter), he is one of the people who has seen the forest for the trees.

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