Archive for the Category » Foreign Affairs «

The curious case of the RQ-170

When dealing with the news organs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, one can never go too wrong by taking their claims with a liberal pinch of salt. The regime has a long and storied history of making outlandish (if not patently false) claims about its military prowess and capabilities—to engender, one presumes, a feeling of patriotism and camaraderie amongst the hometown crowd. Sometimes they even manage to sell these knee-slapping fabrications to the more credulous members of the world media; other times even the journalists are laughing into their sleeves.

"Stealthy" Saegheh fighter, an F-5 variant. Sept 2006.

Doctored photo of Scud C & Shahab 3A missile test, Apr 2008.

Bavar 2 "radar evading" wing in ground effect craft, Sept 2010.


It’s hard not to smile at the jaw-dropping audacity of the Iranian state media, so earnestly peddling the official fictions of the defence ministry. The most egregious embellishments—regarding the doctored photo of a missile test, the Saegheh‘s supposed stealth capabilities, and the “radar evading”, very lightly armed wing-in-ground-effect Bavar 2 craft—are also so unnecessary. Few people outside of Iran would actually believe the defence ministry’s overly optimistic statements.

So when one hears the news that Iran has miraculously acquired an American RQ-170 reconnaissance drone—in reasonably good condition—the immediate response must certainly be scepticism. The doubts are doubled when one learns that the Iranians have changed their story—at first claiming the drone was shot down, then claiming that they had taken command of it and forced it to land, mostly intact.

Still, the thing shown on Iranian TV looks an awful lot like an RQ-170, and some unnamed source who had no qualms about spilling the beans to CBS News claimed it was the genuine article, so… maybe it is?

Hard to say one way or other, based solely on the video. The Aviationist has a half-dozen higher-quality still images, over which one can puzzle and hunt for additional clues. The first thing your correspondent did was grab a nearly head-on shot and crank up the brightness, in order to see whether anything lurked behind the grill covering the engine inlet.

Engine inlet with brightness increased substantially.

If it’s a model or a mock-up, it was at least built by someone who had the foresight to include detail behind the grill; something that seems like it ought to lead to a turbine and compressor blades.

There’s plenty else, though, that doesn’t add up—hence my ambivalence. Instead of the medium blue-grey paint common to USAF aircraft, this drone sports a yellow-beige colour familiar to anyone who’s built an epoxy model kit. Then there’s the duct-tape-like adhesive covering breaks in the wings just outboard of the topside fairings. If the aircraft had been shot down, then showing it in a damaged state ought not to have been an issue. If it had been landed by Iranians after a successful cyberattack, one could also forgive a multitude of bumps and scrapes; the Iranian pilot, after all, wouldn’t know the particular handling qualities of that aircraft type. Nor would he have been presented with many prior opportunities to refine his descent profile and landing technique. Even if the thing had to be cut into thirds for transport, what would be the point in making such a sloppy repair job visible to the television audience?

The claim to have taken control of the drone is entirely spurious. In years past there have been media accounts of insurgents bootlegging Predator video feeds, but it’s important to note that what the insurgents saw was just the ISR output. The command and control signals are encrypted to prevent the sort of cyberattacks that Iran is trying to claim it can execute. I have no doubt that Iran could purchase jammers of adequate range and power, but this would merely cause the drone to fall back upon its loss-of-signal protocol.

The Pentagon confirms they lost contact with a drone last week, and that its last known position and heading would have brought it down just inside Iran. But this too presents problems. All military drones of a certain size have a Flight Termination System (or FTS)—which, in the dry parlance of the DoD, is designed to put an uncontrolled / hazard aircraft in a zero lift, zero thrust condition via some kind of destructive mechanism. The more expensive sorts of drones (and especially the high-altitude kind who must rely on SATCOM for their C2 signals) have less catastrophic safeguards, too. Their loss of signal protocol is to climb to best comm altitude and return to base (or designated orbit point) while trying to re-establish the C2 link and positive control.  This has been relatively standard practice for the larger UAVs, and was successfully implemented in 2002’s X-45 program; it’s hard to believe later designs don’t also incorporate these safeguards.

Last week when this RQ-170 lost contact with its ground-based pilots, it ought to have turned around to come back to the barn. That it apparently did not (and now has a starring role on Iranian television) presents more questions than your correspondent could presume to answer. But perhaps the biggest is how—absent any positive control from the ground—would it manage to come down in such an intact state? The RQ-170 is believed to have an operating ceiling of 50,000 feet, and perhaps more usually inhabits the slightly less rarified altitudes common to long-haul airliners and fast business jets. Descending safely from such a height is not beyond the realm of possibility—the drone may have entered either a flat spin or a “falling leaf” stall, robbing it of much forward and vertical velocity, but arriving unscathed on the ground after such an occurrence would be exceedingly rare and unlikely.

I don’t know what to think, to be honest, but it will be fascinating to learn the truth one day.

Straight Talk Express?

Long before he made his 2008 bid for the presidency, Senator John McCain was the darling of the Washington press corps.  He had cultivated the image of a realist hawk; a raptor who was critical of others of his kind.  The sort of gent who was not afraid to criticise his peers in the Senate (and former peers in uniform) for wanting to shovel barrels of pork at every billion-dollar gewgaw the military-industrial complex could dream up.  Meanwhile, McCain took PAC money from the defense lobby just like everyone else.

None of this will be new to longtime observers of US defence policy, but I still find it entertaining when Senator Maverick gets caught speaking out of both sides of his mouth.  This brief item from the “Verbatim” section of last month’s Air Force magazine was so good it had to be shared:

Sen. Straight Talk, Now …

“Over [about 15 years], Congress has authorized and appropriated funds for 113 F-35 jets. Lockheed has, however, delivered just 11. … Some of us saw this train wreck coming.”—Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), remarks at Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, May 19.

… And Then

“We want to increase funding for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, an aircraft and weapon system that in the view of many experts—including my view—would be far more capable [than the F-22] of meeting the emerging threats of the future.”—Same senator, Senate floor speech praising the F-35 when his immediate objective was to kill the F-22, July 13, 2009.

Good one, John.  Tell us another one!

Category: Foreign Affairs, Miscellania  Tags:  Comments off

La gloire de la France

National Post columnist Kelly McParland on IMF chief (and French presidential contender) Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s bizarre sex assault charge, and the French reaction to it:

3. Roman Polanski angle Has anyone else noticed how quickly all of France has concluded Strauss-Kahn is a filthy dirtbag, and deserves whatever he gets? Fine with me, but isn’t this the same country that insisted Roman Polanski was a brilliant director persecuted by ignorant American philistines just because he had a taste for raping 13-year-olds? So, France has two levels of justice (not to mention morality), one for film directors and another for boring old IMF directors?

— McParland, Kelly. “Full Comment: Some weird theories on Dominique Strauss-Kahn.” National Post, 16 May 2011.

(Via the Tiger on Politics.)

Category: Culpae Poenae Par Esto, Foreign Affairs  Tags:  Comments off

RAF civilian extractions from Libya

Nili nomen roboris omen
(The name of the Nile is an omen of our strength)

Last weekend, the United Kingdom mounted a combined-arms effort to evacuate citizens stranded at remote oil fields in the Libyan desert. As order broke down in Libya, Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS) teams arrived in-country via commercial flights, disguised as ordinary business travellers.  Moving into the eastern Libyan desert, they reconnoitred the situation at oil facilities near Nafoora, Amal and Waha, and marshalled a hundred-odd civilians toward a pair of airfields controlled by rebels.  A trio of C-130s from No. 47 Squadron were summoned, entered Libyan airspace (without knowledge or authorization from either rebels or the Gaddafi government) and plucked the evacuees out of the desert.  Then the C-130s went back and did it again the following day.

The 3-minute video below was taken from the Sunday operation.  It depicts a Hercules transport departing Malta, flying in formation with other C-130s, overflying an airfield (identified in other videos as HLZA Zillah/Zella 74), arriving at the airfield, loading passengers—with engines running, a normal combat loading precaution—and the subsequent flight back to Malta.

In combined Royal Air Force and Special Forces operations, C-130 Hercules aircraft flew into Libya to recover UK citizens stranded at remote oil installations.

The first operation, which took place on Saturday, recovered around 170 people from desert locations south of Benghazi. About 70 of these were British. The second operation into the eastern Libyan desert on Sunday rescued nearly 200 stranded civilians, of which about 20 were UK nationals.

— “Prime Minister praises military effort in Libyan evacuations.”  Ministry of Defence | News, 28 February 2011.

The effort was not without some difficulty; some airfields had been blocked off by rebel forces and could not any landings.  Rebels also misidentified one aircraft as a Libyan government plane and fired upon it; one bullet penetrated the cockpit but fortunately did not wound anyone.

[BBC’s Frank Gardner] said an insurgent group on the ground which fired at the aircraft had mistaken it for a Gaddafi regime plane. They have since apologised for the incident.

Some of those rescued described the moment the Hercules was shot at, forcing it to abandon a landing.

One British oil worker said: “The aircraft took two hits on the right hand side of the fuselage, you just heard ‘bang bang’ as the rounds actually struck.”

Another said after failing to land at two blocked off fields, the Hercules was trying again at a third when the firing started, forcing them to abort.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed that one of its C130 aircraft appeared to have suffered “minor damage consistent with small arms fire”, adding that “there were no injuries to passengers or crew and the aircraft returned safely to Malta”.

One round bounced off the pilot’s helmet but he was unscathed during Sunday’s rescue of oil workers.

— “Libya unrest: UK rescue plane had a ‘narrow escape’.”  BBC News, 28 February 2011. [Emphasis mine]

Identifying the airfields involved in the extraction effort is not so easy.  MoD has been somewhat tight-lipped about the exact airfields it utilised, and media reports generally do not name the fields, either.  A report in the Daily Telegraph lists oil facilities that the SAS and SBS teams investigated, but they do not specify the airfields involved.

The extraction teams flew into to the desert oil facility of Nafora before splitting up and heading to Amal and Wafa.

They then collected around 150 oil workers and escorted them towards two airfields south of the rebel held city of Benghazi.

The airfields had already been secured by militia opposed to Colonel Gaddafi and private security personnel working for the large number of international oil companies operating in the region.

On Saturday afternoon, without the permission of the Libyan authorities and in broad daylight, two specially equipped Hercules C130 transport planes took off from Luqa Airport in Malta for the 40 minute flight across the southern Mediterranean.

— Evans, Martin and Andrew Hough.  “Libya: special forces come under fire during rescue of stranded civilians.” Daily Telegraph, 28 February 2011.

I am a little doubtful that Wafa is the actual town/facility name, because Nafoora and Amal are in the eastern Libyan desert, while the Wafa oil field is hundreds of miles away on the other side of the country—along the Tunisian border.  With apologies to the Telegraph, I consider it far more likely that the third site was actually Waha (not Wafa); it’s only a hundred-odd miles away from Nafoora, is accessible via roads from there, and could be reached in the same day with a borrowed vehicle.  It would be impossible to reach the western Wafa facility from Nafoora, except via aircraft.

I’m afraid I also have to quibble with the given flight time of 40 minutes from Malta to the destination airfields.  Amal’s airport is the closest of the three potential sites listed by the Telegraph, and it is still over 500 nautical miles distant from Malta International Airport in Luqa.  By way of comparison, a turbofan-powered Boeing 737 can fly from Toronto to Montreal in about 40 minutes at 0.74 Mach, and the distance between those two cities is only 274 nautical miles.  According to USAF’s air mobility planning document, a turboprop-powered C-130 travelling at its normal cruise speed (and accounting for slower speeds during takeoff, climb, descent and landing phases of flight) will average just 242 knots over 500 nautical miles.  This would give a C-130 a travel time of at least two hours to either Nafoora or Amal.

I’ve illustrated the potential destinations and flight times in the graphic below.  I’ve also included all of Libya’s oil concessions (territories leased to Libyan or foreign petroleum companies for exploration and exploitation of oil fields) and known oil fields; this helps give us an idea of where the most petroleum-related activity is taking place, and subsequently where the most foreigners are likely to be.

Libyan oil fields, oil concessions, and potential extraction airfields used by 47 Sqn on February 26th and 27th, 2011. (Click image to enlarge)

If you’re curious as to what the airfields look like, they have asphalt-surfaced runways with lengths between 5,700 and 9,900 feet, and a minimum of ground equipment and support facilities.  Here they are—and you can, of course, click the images to enlarge them.

HLNR Nafoora/Nafurah 1

Latitude: 29°12’47″N (29.213194)
Longitude: 21°35’32″E (21.592356)
Elevation: 122 ft (37 m)
Runways: 1
Longest: 9910 × 148 ft (3021 × 45 m), paved


HLAM Amal V12

Latitude: 29°28’46″N (29.479500)
Longitude: 21°07’21″E (21.122442)
Elevation: 145 ft (44 m)
Runways: 3
Longest: 5700 × 95 ft (1737 × 29 m), paved


HLWA Waha/Warehouse 59A

Latitude: 28°19’21″N (28.322383)
Longitude: 19°55’48″E (19.930050)
Elevation: 488 ft (149 m)
Runways: 2
Longest: 6918 × 94 ft (2109 × 28.5 m), paved


HLZA Zillah/Zella 74

Latitude: 28°35’24″N (28.589878)
Longitude: 17°17’38″E (17.293858)
Elevation: 1085 ft (331 m)
Runways: 2
Longest: 7050 × 95 ft (2149 × 29 m), paved


(Undesignated) Wafa

Latitude: 28°53’29.55″N
Longitude: 10°04’48.55″E
Elevation: 2185 ft (666 m)
Runways: 1
Longest: Unknown, presumed paved

This is the outlier, the undesignated airfield near the Wafa oil field.  It doesn’t appear to have any assigned ICAO code and isn’t listed in the aviation databases I have access to.  I can only assume it is a private airfield for use of the relevant petroleum companies, and the airfield data has not yet made its way into general circulation.


Brigadier James Bashall

Well done to No. 47 Squadron, as well as the SAS and SBS men that they support.  Britain has at least retained some idea of what an air force is for, and how it might be used in non-permissive scenarios.  A British general, Brigadier James Bashall, chairs the ponderously-named multinational force—the Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation Coordination Cell—that coordinates international military extractions through the British High Commission in Malta.

Canadian policymakers (and the general public from which they are drawn) are much more timid creatures, less willing to hazard our military aircraft on the unauthorised aerial intrusions for which they are designed.  So our own evacuation efforts are dependent on the approval of Gaddafi’s bureaucracy and have had somewhat mixed luck, with a chartered aircraft being sent away empty, one C-17 initially being denied landing rights in Libya, and a C-130 being turned around midway to Tripoli due to lack of ramp space.

The Canadian aerial contingent in Malta consists of four CF aircraft (two C-17s and two C-130Js) who are tasked with assisting the evacuation of non-combatants from Libya via Operation Mobile.  The first Canadian evacuation flight was made by a C-17 from Trenton’s 429 Sqn on Saturday, February 26th; it flew 24 Canadians, 12 citizens of the United Kingdom and 3 Australian diplomats from Tripoli International Airport to safety in Malta.

The commander of the Canadian NEO mission in Malta, Lt-Col. Anthony DeJacolyn, has ruled out the possibility of non-permissive entry into Libyan airspace (on the orders of his political masters, of course), so in essence Canadian forces will fly when and where Gaddafi gives them leave to do so.

OTTAWA — The Canadian military has no plans to conduct extraction raids into Libya and citizens who want out of the chaotic North African nation should make their way to embarkation points, the commander of the mission said Friday.

The perils of such complex special-forces operations were highlighted this week with the capture of three Dutch marines, who were apparently trying to rescue evacuees in a region under the control of forces loyal to dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Intense negotiations for their release were said to be going on in Tripoli on Friday while Libyan state television showed images of the trio, one of whom appears to be a woman.

…Meanwhile in Malta, Canadian Forces Lt.-Col. Tony DeJacolyn said, “There are no current plans to extract Canadians.”

“The current concept of operations is to move Canadian entitled persons and instruct them to move to points of exit, whether it be by sea or air.”

…The air force has been flying missions, but getting landing permission is a nightmare because there is no electronic link with Tripoli. All requests for landing rights are faxed and often there are few people at the other end to collect the documents.

— Brewster, Murray.  “CF rules out raids in Libyan evacuation mission; waits for orders on aid.” Canadian Press via Macleans, 4 march 2011.

The idea that our air force should seek permission from a tyrant’s collapsing bureaucracy is a farce. But this is Canada, so we pay for our men and women in uniform to be better-dressed surrogates for Air Canada and WestJet, rather than a force that can go into hostile environments and remove Canadians (and allies) at the decision of the Dominion government.  As the SAS, SBS and RAF have demonstrated, this is not a lack of equipment or capability; it is simply a failure of political will.  I’ll be sure to remember that at the polling station, next time the opportunity comes around.

Poisoned environment

The story of Lara Logan’s sexual assault in Tahrir Square is a sad footnote to democratic triumphalism following President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation.  Logan is a CBS correspondent who was—just days earlier—detained (along with her crew) by Egyptian security forces as a supposed spy.  After her release, she and her crew returned to Cairo to continue covering the story, and there they were set upon by evildoers in the crowd.

On Friday, Feb. 11, the day Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, CBS chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan was covering the jubilation in Tahrir Square for a “60 Minutes” story when she and her team and their security were surrounded by a dangerous element amidst the celebration. It was a mob of more than 200 people whipped into frenzy.

In the crush of the mob, she was separated from her crew. She was surrounded and suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers. She reconnected with the CBS team, returned to her hotel and returned to the United States on the first flight the next morning. She is currently in the hospital recovering.

There will be no further comment from CBS News and correspondent Logan and her family respectfully request privacy at this time.

— “CBS News’ Lara Logan assaulted during Egypt protests.” CBS News, 15 February 2011.

As always, the traditional bromides apply:  extrapolation is unwise, and blame should not be attributed beyond this isolated group of individuals, et cetera.  But it’s worth noting that even before this, Egypt (and Cairo in particular) had gained some notoriety in recent years for horrifying attacks on women during the days of Eid.  The perceived increase in harassment was feared to have a chilling effect on tourism, and a particularly shocking case of sexual assault had even been noted by the United Nations’ humanitarian news agency IRIN:

CAIRO, 19 February 2008 (IRIN) – Egypt was scandalised last summer when an 11-year-old girl named Hend Farghali was allegedly raped by a 21-year-old man. Petrified, the girl did not tell anyone until she was five months pregnant.

Such extreme cases involving children may be beginning to change attitudes to rape in general which, though illegal, has traditionally been seen as more of a family misfortune rather than a crime.

…”We want to change traditions, but it is not easy,” Rania Hamid, manager of the family counselling unit at the Centre for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA), said. “These traditions are not 20 years old, they’re ancient. You have to change them bit by bit.”

Hend is one of 20,000 women or girls raped every year, according to Egypt’s Interior Ministry, a figure which implies that an average of about 55 women are raped every day. However, owing to the fear of social disgrace, victims are reluctant to report cases, and experts say the number may be much higher.

— “Egypt: Are attitudes to rape beginning to change?”  Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) / UNHCR, 19 February 2008.

Thanks to groups like the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights (ECWR), in-country attitudes toward sexual harassment were highlighted in media reports (such as this one from the BBC).  The ECWR report (Clouds in Egypt’s Sky, 2008) measured a sample of 2,020 Egyptian participants (half male, half female) and 109 foreign women living and travelling in Egypt; it paints a rather dreary picture, some of which I will excerpt here.  Any emphasis [in bold] is mine.  I believe the report is valuable because it illustrates my contention (previously outlined in this post) that Egyptians may want the efficiency, accountability and transparency of liberal democracy, but they are a long way from desiring significant social liberalism.

First we have a sample image of various women, differently attired.  Survey respondents were asked to identify the clothing choices they perceived as most vulnerable to harassment, while researchers noted the actual type of clothing they were wearing when surveyed.  I have added some survey results directly to the image, although the report’s original imagery does not:

General appearance of women who get sexually harassed: what women wear. (Clouds in Egypt's Sky—Sexual Harassment: from Verbal Harassment to Rape, 2008)

Participants’ views on the most important features of a victim of sexual harassment:

48.4% of Egyptian and 51.4% of foreign women that women of all ages are subjected to sexual harassment. However, the majority of the male sample 62.2% indicated that women in the age groups 19 – 25 years old are most susceptible to sexual harassment. This difference in the views of women and men may be due to the experiences that women have had with sexual harassment. If it happens to them, they are likely to believe that any woman at any age could be vulnerable to harassment, that it is not confined to young women and girls.

In terms of general appearance of the victim, 62.5% of the Egyptian women and 65.3% of men involved in the study stated that Figure 2 (see above) is the most common appearance of women vulnerable to harassment. 44% of foreign women rejected this notion, suggesting, rather, that all women are commonly harassed. They think that the female in Figure 2 will be subject to harassment, but they also thought that the women in Figures 5 or 6 were also likely to be harassed. Generally, foreign women agreed that a woman’s appearance is not a determinant of harassment.

These two points are interesting because they indicate a male-female divergence of perception (males thinking that only young women typically get harassed) and a domestic-foreign divergence as well.

Views  of  the  public  on  the  most  important features of a harasser:

Public opinion research showed that most harassers are young males, between 19-24 years old.

In terms of occupation, the study showed that male microbus and taxi drivers are the most likely to be harassers. However, the vast majority of foreign women emphasized that police and security personnel are the most likely to engage in sexual harassment.

The reaction of foreign women is notable because, of course, some of those uniformed worthies will be the very people now running “democratic” Egypt.

Manifestations  of  exposure  to  sexual harassment:

Results of the study found high rates of exposure to sexual harassment. 83% of Egyptian women reported exposure to harassment, while 98% of foreign women stated they had been sexually harassed while in Egypt.

Results also revealed that 46.1% of Egyptian women and 52.3% of foreign women are subjected to harassment on a daily basis.

According to the results of the study, 91.5% of Egyptian women and 96.3% of foreign women faced sexual harassment on the street and public transportation most often. Second most common were tourist destinations and foreign educational institutions.

This ought to be a major concern of the Interior Ministry and all of Egypt’s tourism/hospitality industries.  The convergence of police and security doing the harassing—with tourist destinations and expat universities being some of the likely areas for it to occur—ought to be an economic blight waiting to erupt.

General  appearance  of women who  get  sexually harassed: what women wear

31.9% of women who reported sexual harassment were dressed like figure 1, wearing a blouse, long skirt and veil. 21.0% of women were wearing a longer blouse, pants, and veil like figure 3. Figure 4 was third, where women were wearing a cloak and veil (20 %), then figure 6 (19.6%). These results disprove the belief that sexual harassment is linked to the way women dress (women are sexually harassed when dressed ?indecently? or are not veiled ? in the words of some participants), since 72.5% of victims surveyed were veiled.

…Participants believed that figures 2 and 4 would get harassed more than the others because these figures were not wearing the veil and were wearing short clothes, but the results prove that this is mistaken, as the majority of women we interviewed were dressed like the figures 1, 3, 4 and 5 – but still experienced sexual harassment.

How  the  Victim,  Witness and  Security  Officers  Deal  with  the Problem of Sexual Harassment:

…Only 2.4% of Egyptian women and 7.5% of foreign women reported the crime.  …Some police officers the mock these women or harass them as well. The vast majority of women – 96.7% of Egyptian women and 86.9% of foreign women – did not seek police assistance because they didn’?t think it was important or because no one would help them. …The vast majority of foreigners confirmed that many times the harasser was himself a police officer – further deterring them from requesting assistance.

Men and sexual harassment:

Results show that the vast majority – 62.4% of the male audience surveyed – confirmed that they have perpetrated and/or continue to perpetrate one or more of the forms of harassment. 49.8% being ogling women’s bodies, 27.7% whistling and shouting comments, 15.9% shouting sexually explicit comments, 15.4% phone harassment, 13.4 unwanted touching of women?s bodies, 12.2% following and stalking, 4.3% exposed or pointed out his penis.

The vast preponderance of inappropriate ogling is to be expected, as it is the easiest to execute without fear of significant consequences.  I am a little bit surprised by the non-trivial numbers of people engaging in phone harassment (97 out of 1012), groping (84), and whipping out the wang (27).

Results indicate that 53.8% of men blame men’s sexual harassment of women on the women. They interpret the cause of sexual harassment primarily as a result of women dressing indecently (unveiled). However, our study shows that most victims of harassment wear headscarves, illustrating the falseness of this claim. 42.4% of men also attributed harassment to women’s beauty.

88% of the sample saw someone harassing a woman. …The reactions of these to seeing such incidents where negative, but that 61.4% ignored the issue completely and failed to provide any assistance to the victim or separate the harasser from her. 29.4% sympathized with the victim and only 0.1% reported trying to help the victim (verbally, physically, or by helping the victim to file a police report).

Reasons that most of the sample ignored harassment and refused to help the victim included: 47.8% indicated that they don’t care, others said that women enjoy harassment, and others replied that since they harass women themselves, they have no right to prevent others from doing the same.

Blaming the Victim:

Most Egyptian women interviewed agreed that it is wrong for a woman to go to the police station to report harassment or to talk about being harassed. Some men in the sample both agreed and disagreed with these ideas.

Most of the Egyptian women and men agreed that women should be at home by 8 p.m.

As for the foreign women participants, we find that the vast majority rejected all these views. They do not provide excuses for the harasser to commit these behaviors, and reject blaming women for being harassed.

The Egyptian government’s own efforts to curb sexual harassment are of course mired in the belief that prevention and self-restraint are the duty of the woman—not the men that wish to pester her.  No image can convey this astonishing attitude as effectively as their own poster campaign:

2008's "Veil Your Lollipop" campaign. Poster text reads "You can't stop them, but you can protect yourself."

ECWR’s study ought to put paid to such notions, since it clearly demonstrates that modest dress is no protection from lascivious conduct.   But the myth persists and it’s not uncommon, both in the West and abroad.  I’ve encountered it in emails and comments discussing previous posts on Islam and the role of women, and the best response is probably that delivered by Susan Carland writing at AltMuslimah:

And as long as Muslims try to make the argument that hijab is the magical protection against sexual harassment and rape, then they continue to place the blame on the victim/survivor and are buying into the “she was asking for it by dressing like that” argument, and not where it squarely belongs: on the man.

— Carland, Susan.  “Sexual harassment, Egypt and the hijab.”, 15 February 2011.

Ends, means, etc.

Somehow I doubt this significant news will affect our leftist friends’ preferred narrative/slogan “Bush lied, people died.”

The defector who convinced the White House that Iraq had a secret biological weapons programme has admitted for the first time that he lied about his story, then watched in shock as it was used to justify the war.

Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, codenamed Curveball by German and American intelligence officials who dealt with his claims, has told the Guardian that he fabricated tales of mobile bioweapons trucks and clandestine factories in an attempt to bring down the Saddam Hussein regime, from which he had fled in 1995.

“Maybe I was right, maybe I was not right,” he said. “They gave me this chance. I had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime. I and my sons are proud of that and we are proud that we were the reason to give Iraq the margin of democracy.”

— Chulov, Martin and Helen Pidd.  “Defector admits to WMD lies that triggered Iraq war.” Manchester Guardian, 15 February 2011.

(Via the Tiger on Politics.)

There’s no question that Saddam Hussein was brutal tyrant of poor moral fibre—a despot who employed chemical weapons against his own citizens—and every punishment that was finally heaped upon him was undoubtedly deserved.   There is no question that the first Gulf War had been ended only by a temporary ceasefire—whose terms Saddam had repeatedly violated from 1997 onward with malice aforethought.  But I would not blame the policymakers, diplomats and servicemen of the United States for feeling a twinge of resentment at having been misled by a zealot into an essentially avoidable endeavour.

Saddam’s story is one we might have seen earlier, in an alternate history.  If the French and British had gone to war in 1936, when Hitler violated the Treaty of Versailles by remilitarising the Rhineland, it’s likely we would have a much sunnier image of the 20th century’s most famous dictator.  Let’s suppose der Führer also managed to survive the 1936 war, clinging to power in an economically crippled Germany (still hobbled by Versailles reparations), only to be deposed by an Allied invasion ten years later when an escaped scientist (an Einstein perhaps, or a von Braun) fabricated details of a Nazi superweapon program.  Without the horrors of a worldwide war and the additional nightmare of the Holocaust to prejudice our judgment, he would probably be a university campus hero today, like Che Guevara; just another hopeless, seedy foreign outlaw snuffed out by the reigning imperialists of the day.

Saddam was not Hitler, of course, though he was demonstrably brutal, tyrannical and anti-Semitic.  But even given all of that, one’s attitude toward the errors and deception underlying our casus belli probably depends on whether one believes Saddam’s greatest evils lay behind or ahead.  It’s a question to which—perhaps fortunately—we won’t ever have a definitive answer.

TRUE LIES UPDATE: A reminder that belief in Saddam’s WMD program was very much a bipartisan affair.

“If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program.”

— President William J. Clinton, Statement on Iraq, 17 February 1998.

“Iraq is a long way from Ohio, but what happens there matters a great deal here. For the risks that the leaders of a rogue state will use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons against us or our allies is the greatest security threat we face.”

— Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, Town Hall meeting on Iraq, Ohio State University, 18 February 1998.

“He will use those weapons of mass destruction again, as he has ten times since 1983.”

— National Security Advisor Samuel R. Berger, Town Hall meeting on Iraq, Ohio State University, 18 February 1998.

“Mr. Speaker, as a member of the House Intelligence Committee, I am keenly aware that the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons is an issue of grave importance to all nations. Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process.”

— Representative Nancy Pelosi (D—California), Statement in support of air strikes underway against Iraq, 17 December 1998.

“This December will mark three years since United Nations inspectors last visited Iraq. There is no doubt that since that time, Saddam Hussein has reinvigorated his weapons programs. Reports indicate that biological, chemical and nuclear programs continue apace and may be back to pre-Gulf war status. In addition, Saddam continues to refine delivery systems and is doubtless using the cover of a licit missile program to develop longer-range missiles that will threaten the United States and our allies.”

— Congressmen John McCain, Jesse Helms, Henry Hyde, Richard Shelby, Harold Ford Jr., Joseph Lieberman, Trent Lott, Ben Gilman, Sam Brownback. Joint letter to President George W. Bush calling for stepped up action against Iraq, 5 December 2001.

“We begin with the common belief that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a threat to the peace and stability of the region. He has ignored the mandates of the United Nations and is building weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them.”

— Senator Carl Levin (D—Michigan), Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, September 2002.

“As a condition of the truce that ended the gulf war, Saddam Hussein agreed to eliminate Iraq’s nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and to abandon all efforts to develop or deliver such weapons. That agreement is spelled out in U.N. Security Council Resolution 687. Iraq has never complied with the resolution.”

— Senator Tom Daschle (D—South Dakota), Statement on authorisation of the use of United States armed forces against Iraq, 10 October 2002.

Category: Foreign Affairs, National Defence  Tags: , ,  Comments off

On Egypt

Demonstration in Cairo, 25 January 2011 (Juan Cole)

For the purpose of foreign policy is not to provide an outlet for our own sentiments of hope or indignation; it is to shape real events in a real world

— President John F. Kennedy, address to the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, September 26, 1963.

It will be tempting for those of us in North America to view the demonstrations and protests in Egypt as a nascent democratic movement; our media and indeed our own popular consciousness tends to view most of these grassroots uprisings through the lens of the American War of Independence.  But it’s worth remembering that revolutions more often yield tyrannies just as awful (if not moreso) than the ones they were fomented to destroy.  The Jacobin Reign of Terror, Stalin’s Great Purge and Mao Zedong’s many domestic slaughters (suppression of counterrevolutionaries, Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution) are just a few of the obvious examples.

We also have a regrettable tendency to regard democracy as an end in itself, when in fact it is merely a decision-making tool.  Democracy allows a society to express its values, and Canadians and Americans see it as being an intrinsic good because our societies propagate values that promote socioeconomic mobility for the vast bulk of our populations.  We’ve been remarkably blessed, having been spared (so far) the tragedy and shame of electing a genuine opponent-slaughtering homegrown despot.  Other nations—Haiti and the Philippines, for example—haven’t been nearly so lucky.  But even if a democratic society avoids the hazard of electing a closeted tyrant, there is always the possibility that the values it expresses will be quite antithetical to equality and social harmony; Canada’s two original Indian Acts, America’s Jim Crow laws and Britain’s Test Act are all pretty good examples of democratically mandated inequality.

With these caveats in mind, we would be right to wonder what sort of domestic and foreign policies an Egypt freed of the Mubaraks might yield.  There’s the transnational Islamist movement of the Muslim Brotherhood, of course, but are they popular enough to command the allegiance of the average man in the street?  What are attitudes in Egypt actually like?  According to a backgrounder by the Council on Foreign Relations (Islam: Governing Under Sharia, Nov. 2010) there are broad majorities supporting both democracy and the strict application of sharia:

In a 2007 University of Maryland poll (PDF), more than 60 percent of the populations in Egypt, Morocco, Pakistan, and Indonesia responded that democracy was a good way to govern their respective countries, while at the same time, an average of 71 percent agreed with requiring “strict application of [sharia] law in every Islamic country.” Whether democracy and Islam can coexist is a topic of heated debate. Some Islamists argue democracy is a purely Western concept imposed on Muslim countries. Others feel Islam necessitates a democratic system and that democracy has a basis in the Quran since “mutual consultation” among the people is commended (42:38 Quran). John L. Esposito and John O. Voll explain the debate in a 2001 article in the journal Humanities.

Noah Feldman, a former CFR adjunct senior fellow, writes in a 2008 New York Times Magazine article that the full incorporation of Islamic law is viewed as creating “a path to just and legitimate government in much of the Muslim world.” It places duplicitous rulers alongside their constituents under the rule of God. “For many Muslims today, living in corrupt autocracies, the call for [sharia] is not a call for sexism, obscurantism or savage punishment but for an Islamic version of what the West considers its most prized principle of political justice: the rule of law,” Feldman argues.

— Johnson, Toni and Lauren Vriens.  “Islam: Governing Under Sharia.” Council on Foreign Relations, November 2010. [Emphasis mine]

For those steeped in the intellectual currents and political economies of the West, that final bolded sentence in the second paragraph may read like the mathematical equation 2 + 2 = potato.  How do they get that result from those inputs?  In the Western world, sharia is shorthand for 7th century oppression; but in the Muslim world, sharia offers—at least theoretically—a way out of the corruption and tyranny governing their lives today.  Western modes of governance and economics, on the other hand, are perceived as being the cause of Muslim poverty and decline.  A further CFR backgrounder (Sharia and Militancy, Nov. 2010) explains:

Sharia in the Muslim world is often associated with good governance. A 2008 Gallup poll of Muslims in Turkey, Iran, and Egypt found sharia is “perceived to promote the rule of law and justice.” Most Muslim-majority countries have political systems and legal codes derived from Western models. However, many of these countries have majority populations that are economically or politically depressed. John L. Esposito, a professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown University, writes in his book, What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam, that many Muslim nations suffer from “overcrowded cities lacking social support systems, high unemployment, government corruption, and a growing gap between rich and poor,” and sharia’s appeal can be attributed to a number of factors, including a widespread feeling of failure and loss of self-esteem. “Many Muslims blame Western models of political and economic development as sources of moral decline and spiritual malaise,” and look to sharia for social and political order, Esposito says.

A 2008 Gallup poll of ten Muslim countries, including Pakistan, Iran, and Indonesia, indicates that most Muslim populations are not advocating theocracy (PDF) when they envision sharia’s role in governance. Experts say many Muslims view sharia as a means to be liberated from government corruption and believe it can exist within a democratic and inclusive framework. However, Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, an Islamic law expert at Emory University, writes in his book, Islam and the Secular State, that advancing the cause of a theocratic Islamic state assumes that the ruling authorities will be less corrupt and more pious than those of a secular one. An-Na’im believes this assumption rests on a weak premise. He writes: “The fundamental defect of the idea of the Islamic state is that the logic of the invocation of religious or moral authority can be very easily inverted, so that instead of regulating political power by religious authority, religion itself becomes subordinated to power.”

— Johnson, Toni.  “Sharia and Militancy.”  Council on Foreign Relations, November 2010. [Emphasis mine]

This dichotomy—that a majority of Muslims want both democracy and strict sharia, and see no inherent paradox in the mixing of the two—is fundamental if we want to understand where the so-called “Muslim street” is coming from.  For this is exactly what the polling results tell us, and Egypt is foremost in wanting to have the best of those two seemingly irreconcilable worlds.  Let’s have a look at the poll results from the 2007 University of Maryland study, Muslim Public Opinion on US Policy, Attacks on Civilians and al Qaeda.  It’s more illuminating than a thousand breathless reporter-in-the-crowd pieces.  I will quote the relevant sections of the poll after each chart; you can click on each chart to enlarge it.

Views on Democracy; Sharia. Muslim Public Opinion on US Policy, Attacks on Civilians and al Qaeda. April 24, 2007.

Democracy: In all four countries polled, strong majorities (67% overall) said they considered “a democratic political system” to be a good way of governing their country.  Support for democracy was highest in Egypt, where an overwhelming 82 percent saw it as good and a 52 percent majority called it “very good.”

Human rights: Support for human rights appears to be strong, even extending to the freedom to practice any religion.  Respondents were asked whether in their own country, “people of any religion should be free to worship according to their own beliefs.”  On average 82 percent said they should (63% strongly)… In Egypt almost nine out of ten (88%) agreed, including 78 percent who agreed strongly.

Sharia: Most respondents express strong support for expanding the role of Islam in their societies, a view that is consistent with the goals of al Qaeda. Large majorities in most countries—an average of 71 percent (39% strongly)—agree with the goal of requiring “strict application of Shari’a law in every Islamic country.”  …About three in four Moroccans (76%) and Egyptians (74%) also agreed.

Views on US Government; Desirability of US Withdrawal from Islamic countries. Muslim Public Opinion on US Policy, Attacks on Civilians and al Qaeda. April 24, 2007.

The US Government: Negative views of the United States government are widespread. An overwhelming majority of Egyptians (93%) expressed unfavorable attitudes toward the current US government, with most (86%) saying their opinion was “very unfavorable.”

Responses were mixed when presented arguments that made the case that the United States has at times been helpful to others or compared favorably to other great powers in history.  Presented the argument, “There have been at times in American history where it has helped to promote the welfare of others.”  A majority in Egypt (58%) and a plurality in Morocco (42%) disagreed…

Similar responses were elicited by the argument, “There is a lot wrong with America, but at least America has done more to promote economic development in the Middle East than past great powers like the British.” A majority of Egyptians (59%) and a plurality of Pakistanis (37% to 28%) disagreed…

Getting the US Military out of the Muslim World: Large majorities in all countries agreed with the goal of getting “the US to remove its bases and its military forces from all Islamic countries”—on average 74 percent.  …In Egypt, agreement was 92 percent (82% strongly).

Views on attacks against US troops; Support for attacks on US and European civilians. Muslim Public Opinion on US Policy, Attacks on Civilians and al Qaeda. April 24, 2007.

Attacks on US Troops in Muslim countries: Consistent with their support for the goal of driving US military forces out of Islamic countries, respondents express significant—but not universal—approval of attacks on US troops in Islamic countries, including both those that are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and those that are based in the Persian Gulf. On average, for each area, approximately half favored such attacks, with three in ten opposed, but there were substantial variations between countries. Very large majorities in Egypt said they supported such attacks, as did robust majorities in Morocco…

Majorities in Egypt and Morocco expressed approval for attacks on US troops in Muslim countries. Egyptians were those most likely to support such actions. Nine out of ten Egyptians approved of attacks on US military troops in Iraq (91%) and in Afghanistan (91%). Four out of five Egyptians (83%) said they supported attacks on US forces based in Persian Gulf states…

Attacks on US, European Civilians at home and in Muslim countries: Consistent with the opposition to attacks on civilians in principle, and in contrast to the significant support for attacks on US troops, majorities in all countries disapprove of attacks on civilians in the United States as well as civilians in Europe. Nearly as many disapprove of attacks on Americans working for US companies in Islamic countries. In all cases the Egyptians are the most opposed, while the Pakistanis are the least…

Egyptians were the most strongly opposed. Nine out of ten disapproved of attacks on both Americans (91%) and Europeans (93%) and most of them disapproved strongly (79% for Americans, 84% for European)…

Most respondents also opposed attacks on US civilians working for US companies in Muslim countries. In Egypt, nine out of ten disapproved, including 78 percent who chose “strongly disapprove.”

Views on Groups using violence against Civilians; Support for Groups that attack Americans. Muslim Public Opinion on US Policy, Attacks on Civilians and al Qaeda. April 24, 2007.

Islam’s view on attacks against Civilians: Most believe that attacks on civilians are contrary to Islam. Respondents were asked about the “position of Islam regarding attacks against civilians,” and asked whether it supports or opposes such attacks. They were offered the additional options of saying that it “certainly” supports or opposes such attacks. Most took the strongest position of saying that Islam “certainly” opposes targeting civilians. On average, 63 percent took this position including 83 percent of Egyptians…

Groups that Attack Americans: Respondents were also given the opportunity to differentiate between various “groups in the Muslim world that attack Americans.” In this context significant numbers expressed support for at least some such groups. Respondents were given three possible responses: “disapprove of all of these groups,” “approve of some but disapprove of others,” and “approve of all or most of these groups.”

In contrast [to respondents from the other three countries], two-thirds of Egyptians (66%) said they approved of at least some of these groups. This included 51 percent who said they endorsed some and rejected others and 15 percent who said they approved of all or most groups that attack Americans.

I think this poll is valuable because it demonstrates quite clearly that the average Egyptian is a not a bloodthirsty terrorist ready to indiscriminately cut civilian throats, but they do support many Islamist goals, and are rather virulently opposed to US influence in the region.

Now that you’ve waded through all of that data, there lies the big question.

What do these poll results mean for a democratic Egypt?

I grant that the data is a few years old, and thus public opinion may have shifted since it was collected.  But if the trends indicated in these polls are still generally true, I believe we can draw several significant inferences.  Egyptians appear to broadly support attacks on the US military presence in the Muslim world.  They may disagree with Al Qaeda’s tactic of attacks on civilians, but not its political goal of US withdrawal from the Middle East.  Even in the unlikely best-case scenario where Egypt develops a fully functioning democracy with an effective bicameral legislature, independent judiciary, official tolerance of other faiths, and so forth—overnight, no less—it’s pretty clear to me that any democratic Egypt (with or without the Muslim Brotherhood in the legislature) is going to bear the following hallmarks:

  • Significant elements of sharia in both civil and criminal law.  Not necessarily Saudi-level brutality in punishments, but certainly sharia will be the cornerstone of Egyptian jurisprudence.
  • Termination of the US-Egypt security alliance, and the cessation of most security cooperation with Israel.
  • Covert or overt support for regional terrorist groups that focus on attacking military targets.

Assuming Mubarak doesn’t simply wait out or crush the opposition (per the example of the Iranian “green revolution”), the democratic Egypt of the future isn’t going to look too friendly.  A people’s impression of a particular nation isn’t going to change overnight, and Egyptians are basically inimical to the United States.

One can see why the decision is difficult for the President; support a tyrant who is a “friend”, or hang the tyrant out to dry and—even in the best case—he will be replaced by a profoundly hostile democratic government.

Category: Foreign Affairs  Tags:  3 Comments

Witchcraft and bestiality at Gitmo

MEMRI does the Lord’s work by uncovering incredible new evidence of war crimes at the monstrous and illegal Guantanamo Bay detention facility.  In an interview with Al-Jazeera (Qatar), a former inmate makes some preposterous astounding claims: namely that Jews used witchcraft on prisoners, and nearly caused him to be sodomised by a cat.  The interviewer asks “But there wasn’t really a cat there?” to which the former inmate replies “Absolutely not.”

Which begs the question of how one can identify a cat as the perpetrator if it can’t be seen or heard.  Prior experience, perhaps.

Category: Foreign Affairs, Media  Tags:  Comments off


…UAVs have them.  Here’s a Georgian UAV versus a Russian MiG-29. No prizes for guessing the winner.

There will still be at least one more generation of manned air dominance fighters. If not several.

It’s also a lot easier to take out 50 guys sitting in stationary control vans on the ground, than 50 guys strapped into jets in the air. Things like that tend to make a difference in warfare.

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Toronto’s own Financial Post does some digging and finds out that the Dutch offered considerable oil-containment expertise to US authorities in the immediate aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon accident, but were turned down because it wasn’t a perfect fit.

Three days after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico began on April 20, the Netherlands offered the U.S. government ships equipped to handle a major spill, one much larger than the BP spill that then appeared to be underway. “Our system can handle 400 cubic metres per hour,” Weird Koops, the chairman of Spill Response Group Holland, told Radio Netherlands Worldwide, giving each Dutch ship more cleanup capacity than all the ships that the U.S. was then employing in the Gulf to combat the spill.

…The U.S. government responded with “Thanks but no thanks,” remarked Visser, despite BP’s desire to bring in the Dutch equipment and despite the no-lose nature of the Dutch offer –the Dutch government offered the use of its equipment at no charge.

Ironically, the superior European technology runs afoul of U.S. environmental rules. The voracious Dutch vessels, for example, continuously suck up vast quantities of oily water, extract most of the oil and then spit overboard vast quantities of nearly oil-free water. Nearly oil-free isn’t good enough for the U.S. regulators, who have a standard of 15 parts per million — if water isn’t at least 99.9985% pure, it may not be returned to the Gulf of Mexico.

— Solomon, Lawrence. “Avertible catastrophe.” Financial Post, 26 June 2010.

Desperate times require desperate measures; something that bureaucracies, in general, are not too adept at handling.

Category: Aut disce aut discede, Foreign Affairs  Tags:  Comments off