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Aye, ready, aye., 2001/09/16:13:52

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The contrails are back.

Most evenings during this long, hot, dry summer, so like the famous summer of 1914, the kids and I sat on the back porch while I read to them before bedtime. Crossing the sky to the north we would usually see half a dozen or so planes flying in the course of an hour, leaving behind long straight swathes of water vapour in the preternaturally still stratosphere.

On Tuesday evening, there were none.

Yesterday evening they were back. Not many, but enough. The kids pointed them out to me through the back window (we're reading inside now as the forerunners of fall are upon us.) People are up there again, flying to London, mostly, out of Toronto. The skies are still open for business.


I'm glad Americans are appreciative of the support they're getting from around the world. The title of this journal is the traditional Canadian response to a call to arms. In the past, that call has come mostly from England. Today it comes from America, but the response is the same.

It is worth remembering, however, that the last time, and the time before that, it was America that got the call, and America took a long bloody time before answering fully in the affirmative. There's no doubt that American support was necessary to win WWII. But there's also no doubt that America stood on the side lines for a long time, cheering us on and helping us out, but far from fully committed until she herself was attacked in 1941, at which time England and Canada had been at war for over two years.

The reason for America's reticence was that the American people didn't see it as their fight, and the government was not able to convince them otherwise. A lot of people in Canada and Europe probably don't see this as their fight, either. But in time they'll come to understand that it is.

Total War

Unlike WWII, this will not become a state of total war, in which the entire economy is focussed on warfare. One reason for this is that the military forces arrayed against each other are so ludicrously asymmetric.

In the analysis I did of the Iraqi military prior to the Gulf War it became apparent that Iraq was a major industrial producer of cement, and that was about it. The only other thing that Iraq did was pump oil out of the ground, and while it spent 20% of its GDP on the military, its GDP was one tenth of Canadas. Canada spends about 2% of its GDP on the military, so the Iraqi military was at that time about as much of a threat to the coalition forces as Canada would have been.

The situation facing Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Libya and any other state implicated in this attack is even worse. The forces arrayed against them will be even greater, and their own military forces considerably smaller than Iraq's in 1991. While the Taliban are no doubt skilled and resourceful fighters, they've never faced anything but (at best) an approximation of a modern army. Even in the 1980's the West, and the U.S. in particular, had a considerable technological edge over everyone else in "conventional" weaponry. Today that edge is enormous and we haven't even really begun to apply the last five years of developments in computing technology to the martial arts.

The fundamental problem, however, is political as much as military. In a single generation is it possible to turn out a considerable cadre of kooks dedicated to the overthrow of the West. People tend to believe what they're taught, and it's clear that the most effective educational system in Afghanistan is teaching young men (only) that they are warriors in a cosmic struggle of Good against Evil.

These schools are part of the infrastructure of the new war--the recent attacks appear to have been in the planning stages four or five years ago, when Michael Moore's friend Bill Clinton was President, doing all he could (apparently) to bring about peace and reconcilation between the Arab world and the West, particularly Israel.

These schools are kept going with foreign money, and this is why financial as much as military technology is going to be called upon.

Given the political nature of the basic problem, it is going to be interesting to see how the Powell Doctrine is applied. Colin Powell enunciated his doctrine around the time of the Gulf War: the United States will only bring military force to bear for the purpose of achieving clearly defined objectives with clearly determinate end conditions, and only when the force ratio is overwhelmingly in America's favor. In today's world, unless the U.S. were to do something insane like invade England (where since 1066 the force ratio is for some reason always against you, even when you outnumber them, outgun them and out-everything-else them) the U.S. is pretty much unconstrained by the requirement that the force ratio be overwhelmingly in their favor.

But the question of a clearly defined military goal, and a clearly defined end condition (like "no Iraqi forces left in Kuwait") are harder to enunciate in the current situation. "No organization able to train and finance terrorism anywhere in the world"? That's a clear goal, but how do you know when you've achieved it?

I think a far better political and military goal would be: 75% female literacy in the Arab world, to be achieved by any means necessary.
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