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June 30, 2007

Why Car Bombs?

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Why Car Bombs?


The recent car bomb incidents in the UK (6-29-07 in London,  and 6-30, in Glasgow, Scotland, both using “primitive gas and petrol devices”) mirror the challenges that US forces face every day in Baghdad for a reason.


Before I get to that reason, please note what we’re not seeing much of in the US, nor in London, Glasgow, Paris or Madrid:


  • Planted high explosive charges in urban areas;
  • Biological weapons;
  • Plastic explosives like the fabled C4;
  • Large tuck bombs filled with tons of homemade fertilizer-based explosives;
  • Hijacked airplanes;
  • Rampant automatic weapons fire in crowds;
  • Complex coordinated attacks involving more than a handful of players;
  • Individual, explosive strapped suicidal human bombers.


The Reason? 

Anti-terrorist measures in the US and Euprope, a result of vigilance, surveillance, chemical detection technologies, and hardened targets, have raised the bar on these and other formerly common terrorist methods.


We potential terror victims haven’t been exactly idle since 9-11-01. 


In addition to hardening our commercial airplanes as takeover targets, we have developed new technologies to detect and interdict explosives. In addition to the bio-technologies like the noses of our canine friends, our new technologies are very good at detecting plastic explosives, like the Group A explosives (e.g. TNT, TNB, etc.), Group B explosives (e.g. Semtex H, RDX, C4, etc.) and compounds containing inorganic nitrates that are used in improvised explosives (e.g. ANFO). 


Our high tech surveillance methods are also very adept at catching the larger and more complex terrorist undertakings like the coordinated 9-11 airline takeovers.


As a result, our enemies have been forced to use less effective (though more common) means for terror, like deploying gasoline, propane and other generally available volatiles in ordinary automobiles. 


Truck bombs get special attention because TRUCKS get special attention near potential targets. 


So why car bombs? 


By now, it should be obvious.  So far, we in the “liberal” West have been very effective in raising the bar on all the other the terrorist alternatives.


I believe the US, in particular, has been successful in making progress in suppressing the Islamist terror infrastructures Iraq and Afghanistan, and that the West, in general, has been very successful in breaking the “success momentum” of Islamist terror efforts on our own respective territories. 


The latest three recent events in the UK are evidence of increasing Islamist desperation.  This is hardly a time for gloating, but neither is it a time for despair.


It bears repeating:


All of the terror attacks on us have a common design.  Their goal is to promote the triumph of Western isolationism, so that the Islamist extremists will have an unfettered hand in the Middle East where they intend to destabilize and overtake all the local  regimes that support Western interests, and replace them with fascistic, theocratic regimes inimical to liberal Western democracy.


We are actually winning, in some cases, in spite of ourselves.  Can we still snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?  Of course we can.


Will we?


The jury is out.  Watch the US presidential election closely…






June 27, 2007

Iran and the World: Averting Disaster



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JUNE 6, 2007

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All the Prior “Human Conspiracy” Posts, from June, 2006, though June 6, 2007, are now archived in chronological order. You can visit (and search them) only by going to the following link: .



Jay B. Gaskill

 Printable Version of this post in pdf is at


Ultimately only one of three things will happen:

(1) Iran’s hegemonic nuclear ambitions are abandoned under duress;

(2) Iran is disarmed militarily;

(3) Iran succeeds and – inevitably - there is a nuclear catastrophe in the Middle East, killing millions of innocents, and forever altering the course of history.

The lovers of peace should be working for (1) and (2) in that order.

As the West wakes up to the current reality, outcome (3) will be unacceptable, hopefully in prospect as opposed to retrospect!

Regime change, in the sense that a pluralistic, Western-friendly government “emerges” in Iran just in time to avert disaster did not make my list for three reasons:

(a) It is too implausible.

(b) The time frame is too short.

(c) The military actions we might take to facilitate this outcome will probably backfire.

I have previously described a strategy of inflicting “duress” on Iran. I described it as “stepping on Iran’s jugular”.  It might work because it just might be taking place right now.

Here is a link to my earlier my piece: .   




“Iran's 450,000 bpd Abadan refinery, the country's largest, was shut down for maintenance in November 2006, according to Reuters. One 60,000 bpd crude distillation unit will be down. Abadan produces fuels for domestic use and exports some heavier products.”


Note: The current regime has competence and funding problems.


DUBAI (Reuters):

“Sanctions and insufficient funding are thwarting Iran's ambitious plans to nearly double domestic oil refinery capacity to end its dependency on expensive imported fuels.

“Iran has the world's second largest oil reserves but lacks the refinery capacity to meet its own transport fuel demand. OPEC's second largest crude producer imports around 40 percent of its gasoline needs, which it then heavily subsidizes.”


The Economist

May 30th 2007


Real GDP growth by year -- (%) 7.5, 7.1, 5.1, 4.4, 4.3

Origins of gross domestic product 2004 (a) % of total

Components of gross domestic product 2004 (a) % of total Oil 10.4

Net external sector -7.1


Note: Oil exports are a serious problem for Iran at the moment. The hegemony machine need foreign exchange cash but the oil exports are lagging and the domestic pressures are mounting.


The Wall Street Journal



June 25, 2007


“WASHINGTON -- As the U.S. and Iran consider a second round of talks aimed at stabilizing Iraq, Tehran is calling for the U.S. to stop actions it claims are aimed at stirring trouble within Iran. …


“Iran has listed other issues it wants addressed, as the U.S. pushes it to help tame sectarian violence and weapons proliferation in Iraq. These include an end to Washington's alleged support of ethnic insurgent groups, which Tehran views as part of a broader destabilization campaign against the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. …


“The Iranian government is facing mounting public unrest at home amid signs that the economy is suffering. International financial sanctions pushed by the U.S. in response to Tehran's nuclear activities could further damage the country's economy and Mr. Ahmadinejad's political standing.”



The Bangkok Post

Iran riots over petrol rationing

“Teheran (dpa) - Riots broke out in Iran in the early hours of Wednesday and some petrol stations were set on fire in the capital Teheran following the government's decision to ration petrol.

“According to local press reports, at least five petrol stations in Teheran were set on fire in protest against the rationing. Some banks and supermarkets were also reportedly robbed.

“Witnesses said the people also shouted slogans against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who is considered as the initiator of the petrol rationing.

“The Iranian parliament swiftly reacted to the riots and summoned the oil and interior ministers to investigate the incidents in a secret session.

“The oil ministry announced via state-television that necessary grounds would be prepared to prevent any petrol problems for the people. The ministry's promises were, however, based on establishing new oil refineries in the coming years.”

As of Wednesday, Iran, one of the world's largest oil producers, started rationing petrol nationwide.



Iran is worried and stressed.  Is the administration just lucky -- or is it implementing a plan?

Stay tuned....



June 19, 2007

What Would Harry Do?

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Jay B. Gaskill


What would Harry do?


Mr. Truman


One good thing can be elicited from the last month’s sorry developments on Israel’s border:  No one in his or her right mind can any longer deny that Iran’s proxy malevolent trouble maker, Hamas, is the sort of irreconcilable enemy that can never be accommodated to Western democratic values. 


Palestine could never have formed a viable state as long as it represented the unholy shotgun marriage of the corrupt remnants of Arafat’s Fatah and the tightly disciplined homicidal cohort, Hamas.

The first stage of reality accommodation (among the devotees to the “peace process”) was the recognition that Arafat was a completely disingenuous, duplicitous, corrupt and ineffectual leader who would never be the path to peaceful coexistence with Israel.   We now have arrived at the second grim epiphany: Hamas is the implacable obstacle that must be discredited as well as destroyed before peaceful coexistence can ever be achieved.


So the forces of Western civilization confront a fragile and transient “three state solution” on the ground: Israel, West Bank Palestine, and Existential Hell.  All are within easy driving distance of each other.


Just as the West Bank is now to be fed economic support, Hamas must be starved.  This will require a hard edged, functional approach.  It cannot be done without the US government’s proactive involvement.


Nerves of steel will be needed.


Egypt, Syria and Iran are (in ascending order of mischief) covertly and overtly supporting Hamas in Lebanon and Palestine. So the task of shutting down these lines of support becomes the first priority if peace is ever to be achieved. I believe that Egypt and Syrian will follow Iran.  The Hamas’ jugular vein begins in Teheran. 


If the West (principally the US) is willing to step on the Hamas jugular, then Israel (under say, a Netanyahu led campaign or some other realist government coalition) can do the rest at the borders. 


In a separate posting, “A modest Proposal”, I outlined one possible approach based on Iran’s desperate dependence on its oil revenue. 


See . 


An economic war against Iran, really a paramilitary one directed at contracting its revenue stream and disabling its economy, will open the door to larger dangers. 


For example, Iran could react by turning up the volume of terrorism or attempting to interdict oil shipments though the Straits of Hormus.  In this delicate setting, it is probably a good thing that the fools among the governing clique of mullahs have blatantly embarked on an atomic bomb development program. That overarching threat – with an uncertain timeline – is so serious that even the policy makers on the “anti-war” left will eventually agree that “something has to be done”.


The remaining question is whether the current administration, floundering as it is, can possibly initiate any meaningful action between now and the last few weeks of its term.  I am reminded of Eisenhower’s secret plan to unseat Fidel Castro, hatched by the CIA in 1958.  Its implementation was delayed for various reasons until the new Nixon Administration was to take power.  But JFK was elected.  Had the invasion of Cuba actually worked (and this is hardly the space to talk about whether the CIA was right and Kennedy wrong), there would have been no Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. 


If “W” postpones meaningful action on Iran (even covert action) until the new administration takes office, we now have to ask ourselves: What will Hillary do? Or Rudy? Or Barack? Or Mitt?  Or John? Or Fred?


As a Truman Democrat, my biggest problem with this administration is not its policy mistakes, because, truth be told, no prior administration from FDR forward has failed to make similar errors. My issue is with the administration's almost perverse inability to cogently and credibly explain to the American people the scope and seriousness of the stakes.  


The jihad is important to us precisely because, in the modern globalized economy, weapons technologies first travel to find the money – anywhere in the world, then they travel to targets chosen by the paymasters, anywhere in the world. 


We didn’t choose this war against us; we can’t avoid participating in it by pretending we are at peace; and we cannot afford to lose. It will be a welcome, if overdue change, when more members of my party wake up in time to be part of the solution…



June 08, 2007

Something Bigger than Global Warming?

JUNE 9, 2007










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This is a reprint of an article I first posted on The human conspiracy Blog and The Policy Think Site in March of this year. 

As a species, we are not yet ready for the big time.  Given the present level of incompetence, for the UN or a subgroup of nations  to seriously engage in a program of global climate alteration is a little like allowing a group of hormone saturated teenagers to hack the source code and operating system of a major bank.

an inconvenient choice



Jay B. Gaskill


By now most everyone among the well informed elites in the West has arrived at the same first level assessment on the global warming question: We are living during a planet-wide warming period that has lasted about a hundred years and shows no signs of going away. 

Disagreement sets in at the next level: Most of us believe that human activities -- particularly the hydrocarbon combustion technologies of the industrial age -- have caused and continue to cause the current warming.

At the third level, a large plurality of us (especially in the developed Western nations) believe that we are in crisis mode because the warming trend will continue unless “we do something about it”, otherwise leading to unacceptable ecological and human disasters. 

At the fourth level, a powerful and vocal minority of us believe that the situation urgently calls for dramatic and systemic restrictions on carbon emissions. For this subgroup of opinion, the economic costs of cutting carbon are considered secondary, whether measured by the human and ecological costs or by the longer term economic costs caused by the consequences of warming (droughts, floods, loss of coastland, etc.).

I find that my own opinions are lagging behind those of the most ardent “greens’, but I am persuaded that the warming trend is real and will continue for at least another century. I am also persuaded that (by some as-yet-undetermined percentage) human activity is a significant contributor to the problem.  Having acknowledged the possibility that we humans have really “littered in our nest” this time, it remains very plausible that changes in solar radiation may account for more than half of the warming trend.

The remaining questions concern balance: that between maintaining robust economic and technological progress and mitigating any environmental harm that human activities cause to ourselves and our surroundings.  At some point in our future the temptation to attempt control of the earth’s climate will be too great to resist. 

My personal assessment: As a species, we are not yet ready for the big time.  Given the present level of incompetence, for the UN or a subgroup of nations  to seriously engage in a program of global climate alteration is a little like allowing a group of hormone saturated teenagers to hack the source code and operating system of a major bank.

The current crisis atmosphere about global warming should not trigger a stampede. We have some time to prepare, very little to waste.  A great deal more research is needed and a great deal more political sophistication.

Two respected scientists (Dr. William Ruddiman and Dr. Peter Ward) have contributed to this discussion by advancing two provocative hypotheses, first floated in juried scientific journals, later in the Scientific American.  I would have expected a more spirited discussion by now.  I suspect that the faux consensus in the political-scientific complex is chilling debate.

The takeaway point, however, will survive the eventual vetting of these two proposals: Each choice we make in the effort to “do something” about the global climate will have negative consequences. 

Under these circumstances, there is no reasonable option but to avoid doctrinaire approaches, to remain open to new evidence and to retain the capacity to change course on a dime.  These injunctions would be difficult enough for a single democracy.  Imagine trying to achieve this level of knowledgeable flexibility on a global scale. 

So we should not be fooled by the current climate “crisis” discussion. We are witnessing the inevitable intersection between political forces and the forces of nature.

I suspect that our current “crisis” has a hidden political design: We are being softened up to entertain a project that no previous generation has ever been asked to contemplate. For the first time in our species’ history, we are being prepared for the brave new world of full-on climate control. 

Make no mistake: Any discussion about how to “solve” the global “warming” problem (or the global “cooling” problem for that matter) is inherently and inescapably a discussion about achieving the technological control of climate.  And that means, inevitably, agreeing to the political control of world climate.

But we are being propelled into this brave new era before we are ready. This remains the case whether we can ever agree that our “crisis” is or is not the consequence of prior human actions. 

A side note:  Because we are faced with a complex set of problems that many believe were caused by human technology, some now advocate that we must put technology back into the bottle.  But there are no simple, cost free choices.  Can we jettison our cell-phones, cars and jets and emerge somehow into a pastoral paradise? The costs of taking humanity back to a “simpler time” are far too high to contemplate.


How Did Humans First Alter Global Climate?
March 2005; Scientific American Magazine by William F. Ruddiman, PhD
Dr. Ruddiman is the author of “Earth’s Climate: Past & Future”, and has published many articles in “Scientific American”, “Nature”, and “Science” as well as various scientific journals. He recently retired as Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia, following many years as a Doherty Senior Research Scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University”.

Dr. Ruddiman has advanced two important points:  (1) Human land use and agricultural activities over the last eight millennia have done as much to alter the climate and the more recent wave of industrialization; (2) This warming effect is not bad; according to Ruddiman’s calculations we otherwise would be in the midst of an ice age. The gravity of the ice age scenario should not be minimized because of the profound impacts on our food producing capacity.

Excerpts from the Scientific American article:

“New evidence suggests that concentrations of CO2 started rising about 8,000 years ago, even though natural trends indicate they should have been dropping. Some 3,000 years later the same thing happened to methane, another heat-trapping gas. The consequences of these surprising rises have been profound. Without them, current temperatures in northern parts of North America and Europe would be cooler by three to four degrees Celsius--enough to make agriculture difficult. In addition, an incipient ice age--marked by the appearance of small ice caps--would probably have begun several thousand years ago in parts of northeastern Canada. Instead the earth’s climate has remained relatively warm and stable in recent millennia.”

“…about 8,000 years ago the [greenhouse] gas trends stopped following the trend that would have been predicted from their past long-term behavior, which had been marked by regular cycles… [H]uman activities … - primarily agricultural deforestation and crop irrigation – must have added the extra CO2 and methane to the atmosphere.  These activities explained both the reversals in gas trends and the ongoing increases right up to the start of the industrial era.”

Dr. Ruddiman’s hypothesis is partly based on the discovery of changes in the earth’s orbit around the sun (known since the 1970’s to affect climate). Long term heating and cooling patterns are linked to “regular changes in the amount of sunlight reaching the earth’s surface”.  In effect, the ice ages and the shorter, warmer interglacial periods are driven by the interplay of thee orbital cycles “which operate over 100,000, 41,000 and 22,000 years” and sometimes reinforce each other.  The rise of human civilization within the last 6,000 years coincided with the retreat of the huge glaciers that “had blanketed Europe and North America for the previous 100,000 years”.

An ice core taken from Vostok Station in the Antarctic in the 1990’s preserves a record of trapped ancient air bubbles going back 400,000 years.  “…for example, methane concentrations fluctuate mainly at the 22,000-year tempo of an orbital cycle called precession.”  

Skipping most of the technical details of Dr. Ruddiman’s argument, we learn that both methane, CO2 and temperature levels went off-pattern in the last several thousand years and that this change tracked the development of human agriculture. For example, rice paddies generate excess methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.  There was a substantial warming effect that “escaped detection” because “it was masked by natural climate changes in the opposite direction”. Ruddiman and two colleagues, Steven J. Vavrus and John E. Kutzbach, have calculated that human activities, agriculture and industrial combined, have prevented a substantial cooling.  “In effect, current temperatures would be well on the way toward typical glacial temperatures had it not been for the greenhouse contributions from early farming practices and later industrialization.”

Until the outlines of the current warming trend were understood, scientists in the 1970’s were predicting that another ice age was only a “few hundred years” away.  Ruddiman now asserts that - “If anything, such forecasts of an ‘impending’ ice age were actually understated: new ice sheets should have begun to grow several millennia ago because human-induced global warming actually began far earlier…” [My emphasis.] 

In a publisher’s description of Ruddiman’s new book (Princeton University Press 2005), Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate, we are told that “The ‘Ruddiman Hypothesis’ will spark intense debate.”

So where is the debate?


Impact from the Deep” Scientific American, September 2006, by Peter D. Ward, Ph.D.  Dr. Ward is a paleontologist and professor of Geological Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Dr. Ward has raised another truly scary scenario, one that would trump the global warming problem by posing an even more dire possibility than merely melting a lot of ice and disrupting world climate patterns.

Excerpts from the Scientific American article:

“About half a decade ago small groups of geologists began to team up with organic chemists to study environmental conditions at critical times in the earth’s history. Their work involved extracting organic residues from ancient strata in search of chemical ‘fossils’ known as biomarkers.… And to the great surprise of those doing this work, data from the periods of mass extinction… suggested that the world’s oceans have more than once reverted to the extremely low oxygen conditions, known as anoxia, that were common before plants and animals became abundant.”

“Among the biomarkers uncovered were the remains of large numbers of tiny photosynthetic green sulfur bacteria. Today these microbes are found, along with their cousins, photosynthetic purple sulfur bacteria, living in anoxic marine environments such as the depths of stagnant lakes and the Black Sea, and they are pretty noxious characters. For energy, they oxidize hydrogen sulfide (H2S) gas, a poison to most other forms of life, and convert it into sulfur. Thus, their abundance at the extinction boundaries opened the way for a new interpretation of the cause of mass extinctions.”

“…if the deepwater H2S concentrations were to increase beyond a critical threshold during such an interval of oceanic anoxia, then the chemocline separating the H2S-rich deepwater from oxygenated surface water could have floated up to the top abruptly. The horrific result would be great bubbles of toxic H2S gas erupting into the atmosphere.

“…conditions would have become amenable for the deep-sea anaerobic bacteria to generate massive upwellings of H2S. Oxygen-breathing ocean life would have been hit first and hardest, whereas the photosynthetic green and purple H2S-consuming bacteria would have been able to thrive at the surface of the anoxic ocean. As the H2S gas choked creatures on land and eroded the planet’s protective shield, virtually no form of life on the earth was safe.”

“The so-called thermal extinction at the end of the Paleocene began when atmospheric CO2 was just under 1,000 parts per million (ppm). At the end of the Triassic, CO2 was just above 1,000 ppm. Today with CO2 around 385 ppm, it seems we are still safe. But with atmospheric carbon climbing at an annual rate of 2 ppm and expected to accelerate to 3 ppm, levels could approach 900 ppm by the end of the next century, and conditions that bring about the beginnings of ocean anoxia may be in place. How soon after that could there be a new greenhouse extinction? That is something our society should never find out.”  [My emphasis.] 


We can reasonably doubt whether civilization could survive a major ice age without major advances in energy and agricultural technology. Too much arable land would be lost. Feeding more than a tiny fraction of the current population would probably become impossible, and the disruptions engendered by shrinking vital resources would almost certainly trigger a world war. Human extinction would not be out of the question.

Ruddiman’s Hypothesis suggests that the current global warming trend antedates human industrial activity by about eight thousand years and may have bought our species time to prepare for the next period of planetary glaciation. His point is that warming can disrupt our patterns of land use, but probably won’t kill us.  But the Ward Hypothesis poses another deadly danger: that CO2 concentrations, quite apart from the other features of global warming, may lead to mass extinctions via poison gas. 

The good news in the Ward scenario is that we have about 185 years or so, depending on trends, to bring CO2 concentrations under control.  Before we invite politicians to navigate between the Scylla and Charybdis of Climate Control, we would do well consider the obvious cautions:

(1) Climatologists remain puzzled by the persistent findings that the ice cores evidence shows that increased CO2 levels lag behind increased temperatures by about 800 years. Which is cause and which is effect?

(2) CO2’s warming effect and that of methane (which is about 20 times stronger than CO2) are overmatched by another greenhouse gas – water vapor.  There is more water vapor in the atmosphere by several orders of magnitude than all the trace greenhouse gases, like CO2 and methane; the heat trapping effect of water vapor potentially overwhelms that of the trace gasses. 

(3) Can science describe in detail the mechanism that links changes in the trace gasses to larger temperature swings over time?  Surprisingly, that work has yet to be done.  We are left with “correlations” complicated by a seeming (and awkward) reversal of the cause - effect sequence.

(4) There are a number of abrupt climate changes, most recently a 1,200 year long reversion to near ice age temperatures, a drop of about 10 degrees Centigrade in a very few years. About 12,000 years ago this recent cold spell (The “Younger Dryas Event”) ended and the earth returned to a warmer climate. This and other abrupt changes have not yet been satisfactorily explained.

(5) The Ward hypothesis is not yet well developed.  It appears that dissolved O2 can prevent or inhibit the growth of the sulfur belching bacteria.  Little if any field testing has been done about the actual conditions that could trigger explosive growth of these “death smog organisms”. Some important questions might be answered through better observations and controlled experiments. For example: How are the chemocline and the growth of these submerged sulfuric/anoxic organisms actually affected by changes in CO2 concentrations in the air? What other factors contribute to the loss of dissolved O2 in oceans and lakes?

(6) I recommend that everyone who is serious about getting this problem right take the time to read or reread the Author’s Message and Appendices to Michael Crichton’s thriller, “State of Fear”.  Leaving aside Michael’s conscientious and well researched skepticism about the global warming hype, the larger point he makes is absolutely spot on: Politicized Science is Dangerous. 


Unlike the ship captains who sailed in the time of Homer’s Odysseus, our 20th century decision makers (blithely unaware of the Ruddiman and Ward Hypotheses) were presented by “science” with a simple problem in threat avoidance.

Of course, certain hysterics tended to hype the immediacy of the threat and its existential certainty, but the navigation strategy was clear enough: Avoid warming by curbing CO2. What harm could come from that? Some “minor” economic disruptions were disregarded, raising the question - Will there ever be a time when political leaders understand both science and economics?

Now that 21st century science has revealed that we probably face two threats, the navigation problem becomes more sensitive.  Because of the lead times, the margin for error and consequences of taking the wrong course are less forgiving; and the relevant science deserves much more critical evaluation. 

I can think of at least three provisional steps:

(1) Given the truly scary nature of the Ward Hypothesis, we should avoid the CO2 sequestration scenarios that involve deep ocean storage, and we should be concerned, independently, with O2 levels in our large lakes, seas and oceans.

(2) Given that most of the predicted CO2 emissions over the next century will come from the Third World, possibly outside our political control (note for example that China will soon eclipse the US as a CO2 emitter), we urgently need research and develop strategies to mitigate the impact on ocean O2 levels.

(3) Because fossil fuels and solar power will probably be inadequate to sustain human civilization during any ice age, we should proceed to develop third and fourth generation nuclear power sources without delay.  This strategy is consonant with the CO2 reduction goals that would be required if we take the Ward Hypothesis seriously.


We urgently need political leaders and scientists who rediscover the real meaning of hypothesis.  If a near “consensus” can’t by itself turn a hypothesis into proof, then surely the current politically manufactured faux consensus about the global warming crisis cannot.  Climate science is provisional and is going to give us provisional results for the foreseeable future.

Thank God we have some time here. Twenty first century science is no more up to the task of intelligent climate regulation than the current crop of 21st century political institutions.  Our species is not prepared to attempt large scale climate control right now.

Before we even contemplate taking that dramatic (and irreversible) step, we we’ll need to cultivate a different political and scientific culture, one that promotes intellectual humility, a commitment to constant testing, to an intelligent, non-doctrinaire scientist-economist-policy dialogue, and to cautious, incremental action followed by ongoing reevaluation. 

Will the scientific and political domains be up to this challenge by the end of the current century? Even that remains an open question. Getting up to the challenge within the current US election cycle? Out of the question. 

Science needs to be well insulated from politics, and politics must be guarded against doctrinaire “environmentalism” masquerading as a religion. 

As long as there are leaders willing to exploit popular anxiety about the misuses and unintended effects of technology, we can expect that “environmentalism-as-religion” will be a strong and growing social force.  Some followers of the “new” religion will be strongly drawn to the unattainable vision of a pastoral utopia, a more idyllic world without technology.  Given certain conditions, we should not discount the risk that a major neo-Luddite movement against technology will arise and mutate into a mass movement ideology with the traction of one of the 20th century’s worst lunacies.

In the real world, that boat to a simpler world – that mythical place without all the problems of “high tech” - left the dock about 85 years ago.

When we and our pathogens began the forever arms race -- smart infections vs. smart medicines, and when we humans merely by traveling engendered a vast co-mixing of incompatible species on the planet, we unintentionally created a “must-manage-this-mess” scenario.  I submit that we’ve already reached the technology point of no return:  There is no alternative to the better-smarter technological path. Taking the road marked “Luddite Paradise ahead” would be species’ suicide.

Our one rational choice is to point our development in a general progressive direction (more human centered environmentalism, more human centered technology), but allowing for quick course corrections all along the way as we learn from our inevitable mistakes. We need to go forward cautiously, navigating between Scylla, and Charybdis.  Our alternative is to sink.




W's Mistakes?

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JUNE 7, 2007
“W’s” Worst Mistakes


In Tuesday’s Republican CNN-hosted Debate, all of the participating presidential aspirants were asked a question by correspondent Wolf Blitzer. That question was designed to generate the very headlines we read on Wednesday:


What was President Bush's worst mistake?

Everyone took the bait, and nobody, in my opinion, got it quite right. To make that case, I have four, closely related errors, each of which flowed from the initial one.  I'll list them in chronological order with the following caveat: Both of this president's democratic opponents would probably have made the same mistakes. Of all the actual contenders, Senator McCain would have probably done better.  But hindsight is an unfair standard, except for those who are determined to learn from the past as opposed to make rhetorical points in a partisan political context.   

Mistake One:

This takes us back to the closing days of that pivotal first campaign against Senator Al Gore, the one in which President Bush won in the Electoral College, but narrowly lost the raw popular vote. 

He was the popular republican Texas governor with a common touch, and he was running very well indeed against Senator Gore, an eastern liberal without the common touch. In some polls, Governor Bush was running 3 to 5% ahead.  

It was W’s race to lose.

Then a democratic lawyer from Maine, Tom Connolly, “leaked” a 1976 arrest report to Fox News.  Mr. Connolly claimed that he had sympathy for Mr. Bush, but “It’s conceivable that Bush could relapse.” It seems that the 30 year old George W. Bush had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor driving under the influence, paid a fine and “had his driving privileges rescinded in Maine for a period of time.” The arresting officer, Calvin Bridges, said that Mr. Bush had failed field sobriety tests and registered a 0.10 percent blood-alcohol level.  


Presidential candidate Bush was forced in the closing days of the campaign to talk about his arrest in 1976 for drunken driving and plea of guilty.  He had been visiting the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. “I’ve oftentimes said that years ago I made some mistakes. I occasionally drank too much, and I did on that night. I regret that it happened.’  .As Texas governor, Bush had only referred vaguely to a history of excessive drinking that ended with in 1986, on his 40th birthday.


And that was Mistake One.  A pattern of partial, politically sanitized disclosure was evident, even then. 


First, we are entitled to assume that key members of Mr. Bush’s inner circle were well aware of the problem. After all, the matter had already surfaced in Texas. No doubt, Mr. Bush agreed to the sage guidance of his close political advisors who urged an approach that amounted to a vague disclosure, while avoiding embarrassing clarity.  No one (he would have been assured) would later be able to claim “dishonesty”. 

They were too clever by half.


We have several reports over the years in which Governor Bush referred to youthful “mistakes” without detailing them, admitting he had been engaged in excessive drinking, a pattern that he stopped on his 40th birthday.  In 1998, a Dallas newspaper reported asked Mr. Bush if he had and prior “arrests”.  His not quite opaque reply was - “I do not have a perfect record.”   


That kind of disclosure-non-disclosure might have flown under the Texas radar, where after all, “boys will be boys”.  But anything less than full disclosure was a very high stakes gamble in the 1998 Presidential race.


That DUI burst into the presidential race like a grenade at a coming out party.  Political strategists were surprised that Governor Bush hadn’t leaked the arrest story early, giving his campaign time to rebound.  But the timing of the disclosure was perfect for the Bush opponents. The president-to-be was damaged by an immediate several point drop in the polls, and his recovery was too weak and too late to prevent losing the popular vote.


So Mr. Bush entered office in a pre-weakened position. This was not an ideal posture for the leader of the free world whose nation would, just few months later, be thrown off balance by a surprise attack on its major economic and military nerve centers.


Mistake Two:


The attacks on 9-11-1 exposed the vulnerabilities of a complacent nation enjoying its post Cold War “peace dividend”. 


The outgoing Clinton Administration had drawn down American military capabilities by two and a half divisions.  After all, what kind of trouble couldn’t be handled by deft diplomacy and a few Cruise Missiles? Boots on the ground are messy, unpopular and expensive.


After Pearl Harbor, we were even an more gravely disabled nation, but FDR was able to rouse us from depression, and lead the country through a massive mobilization that rebuilt the world’s largest navy, almost from scratch, and fielded at least 25 more times soldiers than we currently have stationed in Iraq, drawn from a national population that was 45% of our current numbers. 


Some perspective: We lost 4391 soldiers on D day, of 405, 399 killed in WW II, 54, 256 in Korea, 56, 244 in Vietnam. More than 10 million were drafted into the Armed Services 1940-1946. By 1945, 2.7 million US soldiers were “on the ground”, and several million more military personnel were in active duty “in theater”. As of June, 2007, the US has stationed about 260,000 soldiers in Iraq. US combat related deaths in Iraq to date are about 3,600. We more the loss of every one of these brave men and women, but, given the ultimate stakes, the perspective of history is needed.


In 2001, President Bush faced a far more prosperous country, happy in its creature comforts, and in  a state of denial about the jihad.  He would need to face the electorate and tell them hard truths and demand of them hard things.  I’m certain the fact that about 50% of the electorate were convinced he had “stolen” the election, weighed on his mind.


But for a brief time, starting when he found his footing on the World Trade Center rubble, the President probably could have gotten almost anything he asked for from the Congress with the full support of the American people.  But he did not ask for a dramatic surge in American force readiness, and he did not do an equally dramatic purge in the less-than ready American intelligence and security apparatus. That failure, however understandable, was Mistake Two.


Only now, seven years later, is the political establishment finally considering restoring some of the ground forces and other traditional military assets that were cut during those happy Clinton years.


Mistake Three:


Attacking Afghanistan was appropriate and well within our advanced military capabilities. Frankly, so was attacking Iraq, at least in prospect, provided three conditions were met:
(1)   That we would enjoy good luck;
(2)   That we would play our remaining cards astutely.
(3)   That we would be able to supplement our inadequate ground forces with allies.


This required a careful and candid public explanation of the real stakes, the real risks and the real burdens, because, in war – as in a presidential campaign -- things rarely go the way you plan or hope. 


On October, 2002 the President made the case for using military force against Saddam’s Iraq in these words:

The threat comes from Iraq. It arises directly from the Iraqi regime's own actions, its history of aggression and its drive toward an arsenal of terror.
Eleven years ago, as a condition for ending the Persian Gulf War, the Iraqi regime was required to destroy its weapons of mass destruction, to cease all development of such weapons and to stop all support for terrorist groups. The Iraqi regime has violated all of those obligations. It possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons. It has given shelter and support to terrorism and practices terror against its own people.
First, some ask why Iraq is different from other countries or regimes that also have terrible weapons. While there are many dangers in the world, the threat from Iraq
stands alone because it gathers the most serious dangers of our age in one place.
Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction are controlled by a murderous tyrant who has already used chemical weapons to kill thousands of people. This same tyrant has tried to dominate the Middle East, has invaded and brutally occupied a small neighbor, has struck other nations without warning and holds an unrelenting hostility toward the United States. By its past and present actions, by its technological capabilities, by the merciless nature of its regime, Iraq
is unique.
And surveillance photos reveal that the regime is rebuilding facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons. Every chemical and biological weapon that Iraq has or makes is a direct violation of the truce that ended the Persian Gulf War in 1991.Yet Saddam Hussein has chosen to build and keep these weapons, despite international sanctions, UN demands and isolation from the civilized world.
Iraq possesses ballistic missiles with a likely range of hundreds of miles; far enough to strike Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey and other nations in a region where more than 135,000 American civilians and service members live and work.
Over the years Iraq
has provided safe haven to terrorists such as Abu Nidal, whose terror organization carried out more than 90 terrorist attacks in 20 countries that killed or injured nearly 900 people, including 12 Americans.
Iraq has also provided safe haven to Abu Abbas, who is responsible for seizing the Achille Lauro and killing an American passenger. And we know that Iraq is continuing to finance terror and gives assistance to groups that use terrorism to undermine Middle East

As the invasion began in March 2003, the President said:

American and coalition forces have begun a concerted campaign against the regime of Saddam Hussein. In this war, our coalition is broad, more than 40 countries from across the globe. Our cause is just, the security of the nations we serve and the peace of the world. And our mission is clear, to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people.

W’s Iraq speeches were sincere and (I believe were) based on the best information available. But they were incomplete, much like telling a child whose mother is gravely ill, "Mom is going away for a little while".  In this sense, it represented a longer and more eloquent version of: “Long ago I made some mistakes. I occasionally drank too much”, instead of coming clean: “I was arrested and convicted at the age thirty for drunk driving; it was an irresponsible time in my life that I have thankfully put behind me.” 

I am persuaded that that the same advisors, who were whispering in the President’s ear about the DUI problem, urged the President to soft pedal the real challenge in the Middle East. 

Here is the essence of the real message, the one I suspect Mr. Bush's advisors political advisors wanted suppressed because we Americans “weren’t ready”, and (sadly, this part is probably valid) because this pre-weakened president wouldn’t be able to sell a grim reality to a conflicted public in any event:

“We are at war, not against terror or terrorism, although that threat is all too real.  We are at war against a malignant mutation in the religion of Islam that has declared a jihad against us. This is a war in which we will need allies from the sane and reasonable followers of that great religion.  This is a war like no other we have faced since 1941.  We are in the beginning stages of a challenge to our civilization on exactly the same scale and involving the same level of vital interests that were at stake in World War II.  The jihad is a holy war against us and our best friends in the world, not for what we have done or not done, but just for being who we are. We do not face a few disconnected acts of terrorist villainy by a few deranged, misguided men.  We face a multi-front war against us, using terrorism as a weapon, with the covert state sponsorship of Iran, Iraq, Syria and dangerous elements embedded in friendlier regimes in the Middle East.  They want to take us down, destroy us if they can, intimidate us if they can’t. They want exclusive control of the vast oil revenues in the Middle East to buy weapons scientists, missile technology and ultimately nuclear weapons that can be delivered in Omaha, San Francisco, Detroit, Seattle, and New York.  This is a war we must win because we have no other choice.  It is a war that places our cities at risk of mass murder, our economy hostage to fanatic dictators in control of the world’s major oil supplies, and our causes our friends and allies in the region to face the prospect of mass graves.  This is a war of such scope that our military engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq, as difficult as they might seem, will eventually be counted as battles in the larger war.  It is a war whose duration will outlast this administration.  It is the longest and most difficult war we have faced since the Cold War.  We did not choose this war. It chose us.  We will make them regret the day they took on the most powerful free nation in the world.”

Or something like that…

There was no Churchill in the race in the 2008 election, and to be fair, we Americans probably not have elected one.  Instead we had a plain spoken Truman who occasionally mangled his sentences.  We could have done much worse.

But the President made Mistake Three by overselling the imminent threat posed by Saddam and underselling the dangerous, long term threat posed by the larger movement in the Middle East in which taking out Saddam and replacing his regime with something stable and friendly was but one chess move in a long, bitter game of Survival.

Mistake Four:

Having broken open the Iraqi egg so easily, we needed to have taken with utmost seriousness the prospect that we had embarked on the right strategy:  But the attempt to attempt strangle the jihad in its cradle was bound to produce fierce blowback.

They understood the deadly seriousness of the challenge that would be posed by the emergence of a free Iraq lined up as a Western ally. The nihilistic ruthlessness of their counterattack was predictable (more so in hindsight) because our initial strategy was actually sound- if under-resourced. 

We were unprepared. As the months of turmoil unfolded, we were painfully slow in remedying our under-resourced attempt to control that which our soldiers had so swiftly liberated. And, to be fair, we had a double handicap: Not enough soldiers and equipment and too much political correctness.  

Having not psychologically prepared the American people, having lost executive credibility, the President would have been a crippled Churchill at best, had he somehow been able to channel that man’s rhetorical magic. 

Now we and the enemy are waiting out the clock while the American people remain confused, cranky and irresolute.  If we must wait for another Churchill, we should pray that we don’t also have to wait for another 9-11 to make the case that we desperately need one.






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JUNE 6, 2007


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