Sunday, January 28, 2007

Things Saddam Should Have Done as an Evil Overlord

This post is even more belated, since it deals with an article published in June, 2006, but it is never too late to have a little fun. Foreign Affairs magazine published an article in its May and June, 2006 issue discussing the general pathology of Saddam Hussein's regime, as discovered from reading captured documents and interviewing goverment officials. At times it seems almost like reading Thing I Would Do as an Evil Overlord.

Things I Would Do As An Evil Overlord, of course, was written to make fun of evil overlords in B-grade movies. Some of the proposals deal with the cheesy costumes and sets and the improbable gimmicks that allow the hero to escape. In other cases, though, after reading about the actual workings of Saddam's government one is left with the impression that B movies may have considerable insight into how evil overlords think. Consider the following:

I will not hold lavish banquets in the middle of a famine. The good PR amoung guests doesn't make up for the bad PR among the masses.

Give Saddam credit here. The one part of his government that really did work well was his food rationing system. That was because he knew that if famine broke out in urban areas, even his Legions of Doom might not be sufficient to protect him. But he did continue building lavish palaces amid the sanctions.

Before spending available funds on giant gargoyles, gothic arches, or other cosmetically intimidting pieces of architecture, I will see if there are any valid military expenditures that could use the extra budget.

See again the palaces Saddam built as his army crumbled amid sanctions.

I will be an equal-opportunity despot and make sure that terror and oppression is distributed fairly, not just against one particular group that will form the core of a rebellion.

Saddam defeated the Kurdish and Shiite rebellions against him, but they were powerful enough to menace him. His unequal distribution of terror and oppression continues to menace the survival of Iraq to this day.

I will funnel some of my ill-gotten gains into urban renewal projects. Although slums add a quaint and picturesque quality to any city, they too often contain unexpected allies for heroes.
Two words: Sadr City, which formed a major core of opposition, and developed a hostile organization under the noses of his Legions of Terror.

I will remember that any vulnerabilities I have are to be revealed strictly on a need-to-know basis. I will also remember that no one needs to know.

Actually, Saddam did that as well. His main vulnerablity was his lack of weapons of mass destruction, which he simultaneously wanted known and not known:

When it came to weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Saddam attempted to convince one audience that they were gone while simultaneously convincing another that Iraq still had them. Coming clean about WMD and using full compliance with inspections to escape from sanctions would have been his best course of action for the long run. Saddam, however, found it impossible to abandon the illusion of having WMD, especially since it played so well in the Arab world.
Hm. Maybe B movies give Evil Overlords better advice than their critics.

When I employ people as advisors, I will occasionally listen to their advice.

A close associate once described Saddam as a deep thinker who lay awake at night pondering problems at length before inspiration came to him in dreams. These dreams became dictates the next morning, and invariably all those around Saddam would praise his great intuition. Questioning his dictates brought great personal risk. Often, the dictator would make a show of consulting small groups of family members and longtime advisers, although his record even here is erratic. All of the evidence demonstrates that he made his most fateful decisions in isolation.
I will not fly into a rage and kill a messenger who brings me bad news just to illustrate how evil I really am. Good messengers are had to come by.

I will not ignore the messenger that stumbles in exhausted an obviously agitated until my personal grooming or current entertainment is finished. It might actually be important.

These are closely related, and endemic to Evil Overlords; they react badly when told what they do not want to hear:

At one low point during the Iran-Iraq War, Saddam asked his ministers for candid advice. With some temerity, the minister of health, Riyadh Ibrahim, suggested that Saddam temporarily step down and resume the presidency after peace was established. Saddam had him carted away immediately. The next day, pieces of the minister's chopped-up body were delivered to his wife. . . . Officers remembered the story of the brigadier general who once spent over a year in prison for daring to suggest that U.S. tanks might be superior to those of the Iraqi army.

Few things are quite as effective as chopping an advisor into pieces to isolate one's self from unwelcome news.

If my advisors ask, "Why are you risking everything on such a mad scheme", I will not proceed until I have a response that satisfies them.

Saddam might still be in power today if he had followed this advice. But when you cut off people's heads for asking impertinent questions, critical ones like this tend to go unasked. Besides, Saddam rarely gave advisors the opportunity to ask such questions, "He decided to invade Iran . . . without any consultation with his advisers and while he was visiting a vacation resort. He made the equally fateful decision to invade Kuwait after discussing it with only his son-in-law."

If my trusted lieutenant tells me my Legions of Terror are losing a battle, I will believe him. After all, he's my trusted lieutenant.

Saddam never really coped with the fact that his Legions of Terror lost the last war.
In the aftermath of the 1991 war, the Iraqi military made extensive efforts to "learn" from its experiences during Desert Storm. These attempts were hampered by Saddam's conviction that his ground forces had performed well in the fighting. This certainty forced officers compiling Iraqi lessons-learned analyses to avoid issues that might involve Saddam's prestige or question the Iraqi forces' fighting abilities. Instead, they focused on peripheral issues that were almost totally irrelevant to winning wars.

He certainly isolated himself from any real news about the American invasion, by trusted lieutenants or not:

As late as the end of March 2003, Saddam apparently still believed that the war was going the way he had expected. If Iraq was not actually winning it, neither was it losing -- or at least so it seemed to the dictator. Americans may have listened with amusement to the seemingly obvious fabrications of Muhammad Said al-Sahaf, Iraq's information minister (nicknamed "Baghdad Bob" by the media). But the evidence now clearly shows that Saddam and those around him believed virtually every word issued by their own propaganda machine.
One of my advisors will be an average five-year-old child. Any flaws in my plan that he is able to spot will be corrected before implementation.

An exaggeration for the sake of emphasis. Saddam's plans were never that bad, but with no questioning allowed, some his his plans were spectacularly bad. Preparing for American invasion, he prepared a map showing concentric, color-coded circles around Bagdad:

When the Americans arrived at the first ring, on the order from Saddam, the forces would conduct a simultaneous withdrawal. The units would then repeat this 'procedure' until reaching the red circle. Once in the red circle, the remaining units would fight to the death. . . . Compared to previous defense arrangements drawn up by professional military staffs, this new plan was amateurish. It paid no attention to basic military factors, such as geography, nor did it explain how all the units would be able to retreat simultaneously from one ring to the next while being engaged on the ground and assaulted from the air.
So a five year old child could not have spotted the problem. Any soldier of five years experience could.

I will have a staff of competent detectives handy. If I learn that someone in a certain village is plotting against me, I wil have them find out who rather than wipe our the entire village in a preemptive strike.

It is now clear that Saddam created the Fedayeen in October 1994 in reaction to the Shiite and Kurdish uprisings of March 1991. Those revolts had revealed the potentially fatal flaws in Saddam's internal security apparatus: the local Baath Party organs were not capable of putting down uprisings without external support, the Iraqi armed forces were unable or unwilling to suppress rebellions with sufficient speed and ruthlessness, and the tribes of Iraq still represented a significant threat to Baghdad's control, even after more than 25 years of pan-Arabic socialist indoctrination.

I reserve the right to execute any henchmen who appear to be a little to intelligent, powerful, or devious. However if I do this, I will not at some subsequent point shout "Why am I surrounded by these incompetent fools?!"

Saddam saw capable subordinates as potential rivals and deliberately surrounded himself with incompetent fools who would pose no threat:

Saddam used a remarkable set of hiring criteria. As one senior Iraqi leader noted, Saddam selected the "uneducated, untalented, and those who posed no threat to his leadership for key roles." Always wary of a potential coup, Saddam remained reluctant to entrust military authority to anyone too far removed from his family or tribe.
Generally speaking, the higher ranking a military officer, the less capable.

If my supreme command center comes under attack, I will immediately flee to safety in my prepared escape pod and direct the defenses from there. I will not wait until the troops break into my inner sanctum to attempt this.

Saddam might still be alive (though not in power) today if he had taken this advice.

I will maintain a realistic assessment of my strengths and weaknesses. Even though this takes some of the fun out of the job, at least I will never utter the line, "No, this cannot be! I AM INVINCIBLE!!!" (After that, death is usually instantaneous).

This is an abbreviated but fairly accurate description of Saddam's downfall.

Even though I don't really care because I plan on living forever, I will hire engineers who are able to build me a fortress sturdy enough that, if I am slain, it won't tumble to the ground for no good structural reason.

Not literally true, of course; Saddam's palaces are still standing, but the falling fortress is a metaphor. But with the Evil Overlord's downfall, the entire edifice of the Iraqi state that he had built collapsed.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Bush and FISA: What is Going On Here?

Two weeks before the Court of Appeals was scheduled to hear argument on the Bush Administration's warrantless wiretaps, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales issued a cryptic letter that the Administration had reached a compromise with the FISA court and would henceforth be acting with the Court's approval:

[A] Judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court issued orders authorizing the Government to target for collection international communications into or out of the United States where there is probable cause to believe that one of the communicants is a member or agent of al Qaeda or an associated terrorist organization. As a result of these orders, any electronic surveillance that was occurring as part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program will now be conducted subject to the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

In the spring of 2005 -- well before the first press account disclosing the existence of the Terrorist Surveillance Program -- the Administration began exploring options for seeing such FISA Court approval. Any court authorization had to ensure that the Intelligence Communicty would have the speed and agility necessary to protect the Nation for al Qaeda -- the very speed and agility that was offered by the Terrorist Surveillance Program. These orders are innovative, they are complex, and it took considerable time and work for the Government to develop the approach that was proposed to the Court and for the Judge to consider and approve these orders.

It is, perhaps, a little late for me to speculate on what this means, but better late than never. The most obvious conclusion is that the Administration istrying to evade hearing on the legality of its Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP) of warrantless wiretaps. But beyond that, what have the Administration and the Court agreed to, and should we accept it?

Complicating the question of what the Court agreed to is the question of what the Administration was doing without court approval. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales officially announced that surveillance was limited to "a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication is a member of al Qaeda, affiliated with al Qaeda, or a member of an organization affiliated with al Qaeda, or working in support of al Qaeda." Other Administration supporters have suggested that the program included only surveillance of telephone numbers captured from Al-Qaeda -- suspicious, but short of the legal standard of probable cause. However, the New York Times and the Washington Post have reported a much more extensive, data mining program. According to the Post's more detailed account:

Surveillance takes place in several stages, officials said, the earliest by machine. Computer-controlled systems collect and sift basic information about hundreds of thousands of faxes, e-mails and telephone calls into and out of the United States before selecting the ones for scrutiny by human eyes and ears.

Successive stages of filtering grow more intrusive as artificial intelligence systems rank voice and data traffic in order of likeliest interest to human analysts. But intelligence officers, who test the computer judgments by listening initially to brief fragments of conversation, "wash out" most of the leads within days or weeks.

The Post reports that approximately 5,000 calls have been suspicious enough to be listened to, and these have yielded about 10 calls a year suspicious enough to seek a warrant.

Whatever the scope of the TSP, has a FISA judge approved the entire program, or only agreed to issue individual warrants? On first reading that the Administration would have the court's approval for "any electronic surveillance that was occurring as part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program, Law Professor Orin Kerr, an expert in surveillance law, speculated that the judge had given a single warrant approving the entire program. He commented that, although such a warrant would be illegal, it would also be secret and unappeallable and therefore almost impossible to stop.

After reading the Department of Justice briefing, however, Professor Kerr changed his mind. Although the official maintained the Administration's usual vagueness, he did reveal that:

[T]hese orders are not some sort of advisory opinion ruling on the program as a whole. These are orders that comply with the terms and requirements of the FISA statute, just like other orders issued by the FISA court.

I will say, however, that the orders we're talking about here are not some cookie cutter order where you can just take a book down off the shelf with a model application and slap it together and file it with the court.

These orders are complex. It took a long time to work on them. People have been working very hard on this for almost two years actually, and it has just now been approved a week ago by the judge of the FISA court.

Professor Kerr interpreted this to mean that the FISA court will issue "anticipatory warrants," i.e. warrants issued in advance that would take effect with some triggering condition. A classic anticipatory warrant is one allowing search of the suspect's house whenever a package, believed to contain contraband, arrives. An anticipatory wiretap warrant would authorize a wiretap when a certain condition is met.

But the question remains, does an "anticipatory" wiretap warrant mean the court will promise to grant an individual warrant if certain conditions are met? Or does it issue a general warrant pre-approving surveillance in any such case? Different commentators have weighed in with various guesses. Persons outside the United States may be wiretapped without a warrant, and such wiretaps may end up overhearing calls into the US. One suggestion is that the FISA court has agreed to allow such incidental surveillance as evidence for issuing warrants to allow wiretapping in the United States. A similar speculation is that any US resident receiving a certain number of suspect calls, even if all appear innocent, may be subject to surveillance. FISA allows emergency surveillance for up to 72 hours before a warrant is obtained. However, if the judge refuses the warrant, all conversations recorded must be destroyed and the target must be notified. One observer believes that anticipatory warrants are a way of avoiding this difficulty. Another opinion is that the goverment is seeking anticipatory warrants because 72 hours is not enough time to prepare the necessary paperwork. Professor Kerr has interpreted later accounts that the program is a "hybrid," allowing both individual and group warrants, as further evidence that the program is "anticipatory." "In some cases, the trigger of the anticipatory warrant will be general, involving eavesdropping on a broadly defined group." Another suggetion [can't find the link] is that the court has agreed to a more lax standard for determining probable cause to issue a warrant in exchange for more stringent "minimization procedures," i.e., guarantees that government will stop listening if it is intruding on an innocent conversation, or destroy any recordings or transcripts of conversations by non-suspects.

So, what is my view on all this? I will not even venture an opinion on the nature of the deal the Administration and the court have struck. But I do have opinions as to what would be acceptable. Programatic warrants would emphatically not. FISA requires individual warrants, and any program approved must be based on individual warrants. "Group warrants" of the type Professor Kerr postulates are also not acceptable. It seems reasonable to have procedures in place for identifying new, suspicious groups. But FISA would still require a warrant establishing probable cause that any particular individual target is a member of the targeted group. I would not object to an agreement that certain conditions will automatically qualify as "probable cause" to issue an individual warrant provided that the conditions are reasonable (a very subjective word, I know) and there is regular review to ensure if the conditions really are (objectively) reasonable. I would not necessarily object to laxer standards of probable cause in exchange for stricter minimization procedures (again subject to reevaluation). I agree that the Administration can and legitimatel should conceal what exactly the new standards of probable cause are. But should reveal the broader contours of the agreement, such as whether individual warrants are required, how often the standards are reviewed, and at least some general outline of the deal. Finally, if 72 hours is not enough to complete the necessary paperwork, the Administration should explain the problem to Congress and request a longer grace period.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Jeane Kirkpatrick in Retrospect: The Test of Time

The ultimate measure of Jeane Kirkpatrick's insight when she wrote Dictatorships and Double Standards, is how well the work has withstood the test of time. In at least one respect it has. Building democracy remains as difficult as ever, and many of Kirkpatrick's critics are conceding the wisdom of her warnings.

What has survived the test of time very poorly is Kirkpatrick's assumption that totalitarian (read Communist) governments are immutable and incapable of democratization. In one sense, she can be hardly be blamed for her lack of foresight. In 1979 it was universal conventional wisdom the the Soviet Union was forever. But even then, many of Kirkpatrick's critics questioned whether other Communist governments were as solid as she thought. Some, such as Hungary, Yugoslavia and Poland had undergone partial liberalization, sometimes to the point that one could question whether they were truly totalitarian as that term is normally defined. A number of Kirkpatrick's critics pointed out that it was not any internal totalitarian dynamic that prevented the governments throughout Eastern Europe from democratizing, but the threat of Soviet intervention. If the threat of Soviet intervention could somehow be removed, Eastern Europe would democratize in swift order. But no one, neither Kirkpatrick's critics nor her admirers, suspected this would happen in a mere ten years!

More theoretically, Kirkpatrick's whole tendancy to equate "authoritarian" with "traditional" and "totalitarian" with "revolutionary" undermined her entire assumption about democratic potential. The trouble with "totalitarian" governments, she warned, was that they overturned entire social orders and upset tradition. But ultimately this dichotomy is relative. What is now "traditional" was once "revolutionary." What is now "revolutionary," if it remains long enough, will ultimately become "traditional." It totalitarian and revolutionary are synonymous, then even if revolutionary (i.e. totalitarian) governments are incapable of democratization, they will ultimately become "traditional" (i.e., "authoritarian") and therefore capable of democratization Revolution merely delays the possiblity of democracy; it does not preclude it.

Furthermore, Kirkpatrick wrote Dictatorships and Double Standards in November, 1979. Although it was not apparent at the time, in retrospect 1979 was a watershed year. In January, the Shah of Iran was overthrown and Ayatollah Khomeini began his experiment in theocracy. In the summer, Somoza was overthrown in Nicaragua and what proved to be the last Marxist revolutionaries came to power. In the early fall, a wave of strikes broke out in Poland, leading to the independent Solidarity union, yet the Soviet Union failed to intervene militarily. And in November, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to suppress an Islamic revolt against a Communist government they had helped to install. In short, 1979 might be considered the year militant Islam began displacing Communism as the most dangerous revolutionary ideology around.

Once again, not even the most prescient observer of the time was aware of this trend, much less predicted that Communism would largely disintigrate in a mere ten years, so Kirkpatrick cannot be blamed for sharing the universal fear of a Communist menace. But many people were already noticing that Communism was losing a certain momentum. The old revolutionary zeal was long gone in the Soviet Union and waning fast in China. Egypt, Sudan, and Somalia, which had all been socialist and pro-Soviet (though none were actually Communist) had all expelled their Soviet advisors and initiated friendly relations with the United States. The Sandinistas, newly in power in Nicaragua, were proving more flexibible and less dogmatic than Castro had been.

And then there was Iran. Although Kirkpatrick did briefly refer to Ayatollah Khomeini's regime as a "reactionary theocracy," on the whole she seemed to lump the Iranian revolution together with Communist revolutions in China, Vietnam, Cuba, Nicaragua, etc. She showed no interest in how a theocratic revolution might be difference from a Communist one, nor did it seem to occur to her that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan might alarm the government of neighboring Iran and preclude friendly relations with the invaders. In short, while Kirkpatrick can hardly have been expected to foresee just how extensive and dangerous militant Islam would ultimately become, she showed an extraordinary blindness in failing to notice it altogether.

Overall, many of Kirkpatrick faulty assumptions were simply the unquestioned wisdom of the day, which she can hardly be blamed for sharing. But in her alarmist anti-Communism, she lumped together all revolutionaries, failing to see distinctions that were obvious to calmer observers of the time. The prism of pure anti-Communism was far too simplified view to accurately describe the world of 1979. Many people at the time realized this. Jeane Kirkpatrick did not.