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September 09, 2007

Q&A With Gregory Cochran, Part One

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

In the commentsfest on a recent Friedrich von Blowhard posting, a certain Gregory Cochran made some sharp and wittily-put points.

I was tickled to see Cochran show up and to read his thoughts because -- in my hyper-amateurish and spotty way -- I've been aware of him and of his very impressive work for some years now. Some visitors might not have realized who we were hearing from, though.

A professor at the University of Utah, Cochran is a physicist, an anthropologist, and a genetics researcher and theorist. He's well known for his belief that many ailments that we now think of as genetic might well be of pathogenic origin instead. With Henry Harpending and Jason Hardy, he authored a paper suggesting that the high average IQ of Ashkenazi Jews -- as well as their pattern of genetic diseases -- might be an evolutionary consequence of their history of persecution and their emphasis on jobs involving lots of brainpower. The paper received extensive coverage in The Economist and The New York Times.

Cochran has worked in defence and aerospace; he has speculated that homosexuality might be caused by an infection; he has written a number of articles for the American Conservative scornful of the Bush administration; and he shows up periodically at Gene Expression.

Cochran is a formidable heterodox intellectual, in other words: not only legendarily smart and fearless, but blessed with a remarkable memory -- he was once a College Bowl contestant. The Economist called him "a noted scientific iconoclast." GNXP's Razib says of Cochran, "Information technology is a deadly weapon in this man's hands. Greg Cochran is a genius, and he's got the 'fuck you' money to prove it." Steve Sailer has written of Cochran:

"I stay in touch with some quite smart people, but even among them, Gregory Cochran is legendary for the ferocity of his scientific originality ... I can attest that, although a physicist by education and the leading theorist of evolutionary medicine by avocation, Cochran also has memorized almost the entire political and military history of the human race ... When I'm reviewing a historical film such as 'Master and Commander' or 'Hero' and I need to pretend to actually know something about the Age of Nelson or China's Warring States era, a call to Cochran will not only fill me in on what happened, but, more importantly, why it happened."

Not irrelevant to all this is the fact that Cochran has been right about Iraq. He knew Iraq hadn't been involved in 9-11, and didn't have the resources to build anything nuclear; he knew not just that the war would become a mess but precisely which kind of mess; he saw through the delusions of those who thought we could bring democracy to the mideast ... It's eerie how right his predictions have been, and it's impressive that he arrived at them not from some uninformed political point of view but from a practical, fact-driven, and down-to-earth one. No one can accuse Gregory Cochran of being a sentimental, knee-jerk leftie, let alone a frisee-munching, Manhattan-dwellin' metrosexual, that's for sure. Cochran looked into the facts, he assessed the facts, and he reached conclusions that have so far proven to be 100% correct.

Eager to learn more about Cochran's thinking on current events, I emailed him and asked if he'd be willing to do a q&a with 2Blowhards about Iraq, the mideast, the Bushies, and foreign policy. I'm pleased to report that he agreed. Here's Part One of our interview with Gregory Cochran.

***

Q&A With Gregory Cochran, Part One


2Blowhards: How'd you get interested in the mideast in the first place?

Gregory Cochran: I'm not, really. I have lived through a fair chunk of relevant history. Since I'm a near-grognard, I've looked fairly closely at some of the wars, particularly the '67 and '73 Arab-Israeli wars and the Gulf War. I also followed the Iran-Iraq war pretty closely, and the Russians in Afghanistan. Naturally I know the role the Middle East played in World War I and II. I read the papers and I remember most of what I read. And I've read two or three general histories about the Arabs and the Ottoman Empire, but there are areas and eras that interest me a lot more.

This means that I know a lot more than the average political player, certainly. Some naughty reporter was asking various high muckety-mucks if they knew the difference between a Sunni and a Shi'ite, not the deepest piece of information. Gary Bald, the FBI's counterterrorism chief, didn't. Willie Hulon, chief of the bureau's new national security branch, didn't.

Representative Terry Everett, a seven-term Alabama Republican who was vice chairman of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence, didn't. Representative Jo Ann Davis, a Virginia Republican who headed a House intelligence subcommittee charged with overseeing the C.I.A.'s performance in recruiting Islamic spies and analyzing information, didn't. Incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Sgt. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, didn't. I'm pretty sure that George Bush didn't.

2B:What do you make of the other administration higher-ups who are involved in the mideast?

Cochran: Judging from Wolfowitz's Congressional testimony about Iraq being secular, highly educated, and free of holy cities, he knew nothing. I think that Condi Rice started out not knowing a damn thing about the Middle East and I doubt if she knows much more today: I remember her (back in 2000) suggesting that Iran was backing the Taliban, which was just ridiculous -- they'd come within an inch of war back in 1998. Which I had followed at the time, since I read the papers.

Judging from other issues, I'd say that neither Condi nor Rumsfeld know any history at all. Some might suggest that all the crap they spouted about guerrilla warfare in postwar Germany was a talking point, but I think they were sincere -- i.e. utterly clueless.

Condi was supposed to be an expert on the Soviet Union, once upon a time, but I doubt if she knew much about that, either. I knew quite a bit -- Russia was interesting and a real rival -- enough that I was impatiently predicting the end of the Soviet Union by 1990, to the point of boring all my friends. I was trying to predict the order in which the SSRs would secede -- I got it mostly right, too.

From everything I read and hear, none of the people running for President are any better. They know nothing about Iraq or the Middle East. Mind you, I sympathize, since it's a boring subject, but they really should know what they're doing.

2B: You have some connections in the military and government, don't you?

Cochran: I haven't had much to with anyone very famous. I have lots of friends in aerospace and in places like Los Alamos and Livermore. Physicists, mathematicians, engineers mostly, some of whom read widely. In recent years, some evolutionary biologists, geneticists, and anthropologists.

2B: When did you start to make sense of the current mess?

Cochran: I knew enough about nuclear weapons development to make my own estimate of what was going on in Iraq. It was obvious to me that Administration was full of shit back in late 2002, either lying and/or totally deluded.

2B: How did you know that?

Cochran: I looked at freely available evidence. For example, when the Feds started telling us that Iraq was a nuclear menace, I knew that the hardest step in making a bomb is obtaining fissionable materials, and I knew what the four ways of making those fissionable materials were (breeder reactors, gaseous diffusion plant, centrifuge, calutron), their costs and difficulty, and it seemed to me that none of them were possible (while remaining undetected) in Iraq, considering sanctions, inspections, aerial recon, negligible local talent, and being stony broke.

Since I read the paper every single day, I knew roughly how much oil Saddam was smuggling out by truck and how big a kickback he was getting on the oil-for-food exports. A horseback guess said that the whole Iraqi state was running on a billion dollars a year. Took about fifteen minutes of Googling to determine that. Not much to pay for an army, secret police, palaces out the wazoo, and an invisible, undetectable Manhattan project. Which was right on the money, as later laid out in reports by Duelfer and Paul Volcker.

I'm told that the CIA doesn't do this kind of capacity analysis, why, I dunno. I've also heard that they had only one guy in the entire agency who knew enough to do the technical-capacity analysis I just mentioned and that he was working on something else. They don't have a lot of physicists, partly because they pay peanuts, partly because it's a hateful place to work where you need a key to go to the bathroom. Sheesh, they don't even play "Secret Agent Man" in the elevator. There were plenty of people at DOE who could have done that kind of capacity analysis -- but the Administration refused to listen to the technical experts.

2B: What do you hear from your friends in the field?

Cochran: They tell me that there's not one political appointee in the government who could do that analysis. Likely true. That must always have been the case. However, the Bush people seem to pay no attention to technical expertise, ever. They don't believe in it. As far as I can tell, their position is that everything ever said by anybody is propaganda. Projection? Ad Hominem rules ok, there is no other argument. Steve Sailer calls it "marketing-major post-modernism."

2B: How did your reasoning proceed?

Cochran: When I began to hear people claiming that Iraq was a big backer of international terrorism, in particular, anti-American terror, I knew that every single article touching upon this subject in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal over the past twenty years said otherwise. When I checked later, official US-GOV statements did too, up until late 2001. The stories I remembered had Saddam down as the fourth-largest funder of the one of the main Palestinian organizations and, once upon a time, a backer of one of the less memorable factions in Lebanon, nobody you've ever heard of. Everything I'd ever heard said that the Mukhabarat spend most of its time looking to whack Iraqi exiles.

In other words, never a big player in that game, too busy with the Iran-Iraq war in the '80s, too broke in the '90s. Everybody knew that the Baathists had been a spent force, nothing that would attract any young and coming hothead, for at least thirty years.

When I heard people talk about how civilized and secular and educated Iraq was, I started out remembering how they'd torn the Hashemite royal family to bloody pieces in the streets back in '58. As I said, not a real middle East aficionado, but that incident is hard to forget. When Wolfowitz talked about literacy, I looked it up in the online CIA Factbook: 60% adult illiteracy, worse than any of their neighbors. When he said they didn't have pesky holy cities as in Saudi Arabia, I thought to myself "Karbala? " -- I guess I did remember something from those medieval histories.

And of course I noticed when the IAEA inspectors followed up about 30 of our tips and every one came up dry. I figured our entire case was wrong, a product of fantasy.

Judging from the Israeli occupation of Lebanon, I figured low-level guerrilla resistance in Iraq was more likely than not. Partly came to that conclusion because of recent examples in the Middle East, partly because of what I've read of the long-running story of nationalism and anti-colonialism over the last hundred years and more: books like Alistair Horne's "A Savage War of Peace," accounts of the Boer War, the Philippine Insurrection, Maximilian in Mexico, Portugal's endless colonial wars in Africa, and Vietnam of course.

2B: What are some of the reasons so many observers went so wrong?

Cochran: I think that most people writing about international politics don't have much useable history. They keep making the same two analogies (everything is either Munich or Vietnam) because they simply don't know any other history, not that they really know much about Vietnam or WWII either.

I also think that they have zero quantitative knowledge. Comparisons of Saddam's Iraq and Hitler's Germany used to bug me, since Germany had the second largest economy in the world and was a real contender, while Iraq had the fortieth largest GNP and didn't have a pot to piss in.

I once assumed people were deliberately lying, but now I think that they simply don't have any quantitative picture of the world at all. One, two, three -- many! In the same way, people who equate the dangers of jihadism with that of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union really don't know big from small, don't know anything about the roots of national power. I think most writers and columnists are innumerate, just like the average American. Perhaps more so. If they could count, why the hell would they have gone into opinion writing?

2B: Is everyone involved in the great game inept?

Cochran: I think that some of the Washington lifers know what they're doing, particularly in less-technical areas. There are plenty of people in DOE -- Los Alamos and Livermore and Sandia -- who know exactly what they're talking about. As for the generals, a mixed bag. Some knew what they were talking about, some were downright dense. I'd say that Tommy Franks was effectively stupid. So was Sanchez, so was Odierno, who is still there as #2. In different ways. I'm not sure that any commander we've tried is what you'd call smart, in the sense that Sherman, Grant, Nimitz and Spruance were smart. Since Bush wanted people who "believe in the mission," it was hard to get good execution, considering that mission is and always was stupid.

2B: Is this a new kind of situation?

Cochran: I think that once upon a time the service academies were competitive, and picked up some very smart people. Today, when the Air Force Academy is the 78th-best engineering school in the country, they don't get the same quality that West Point could before the Civil War, as the best free education in the country. Today, the average general spends his spare time reading BassMaster Journal, according to Tom Ricks, and that sounds believable to me. Now I've been known to read von Manstein's "Lost Victories" ...

2B: Does the same hold true for the intelligence services?

Cochran: They're not very good but the politicos don't pay any attention anyhow. When I say "not very good," I'm thinking of Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, which I foresaw just by reading the paper -- but could the CIA? Some years later, the Hindu-nationalist party in India said they'd run nuclear tests if they won the elections. They won, I expected tests, and they happened. The CIA didn't see it coming, though. I guess they couldn't afford a subscription to the Economist.

I also hear that the average CIA "analyst" today has four years experience -- that, for instance, I hear that the young guys specializing in Lebanon haven't heard about Israel's 1982 invasion.

Let me talk about the broader leadership class in the country, though, opinion-makers as well as decision-makers. I think the typical member of that class has no idea what he's doing. I think that the typical pundit is a cheerleader and no one cares if he doesn't know what he's talking about or if his predictions never come true.

2B: Under what kinds of circumstances does it make sense for you for the US to go to war?

Cochran: If someone else started to build up a power that threatened to become overwhelming, such that straight-line extrapolation said they'd be able to run all the shows in the near future, a war that put a spoke in their wheel would be worthwhile. Particularly if the gathering threat were infamous assholes, as has been known to happen. Now dealing with some country whose power was expanding solely because of their charm and efficiency -- creeping Swissification -- would raise new and intriguing questions. If that ever happens, maybe we should just surrender.

That's the old idea of balance of power: England stuck to it and made it work for centuries, helping stop first Spain, then France, then Germany and finally Russia. That would mean peripheral wars, as in the Cold War.

2B: That's an expensive path to take.

Cochran: You have to think hard about that kind of policy, of course (which means we will never do a good job). More often than not imperial adventures are money-losers nowadays and don't actually make the central country stronger. For example, the Soviets thought that the tide was with them after Vietnam and intervened in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Angola, Mozambique, etc. All cost money and none did them a lick of good. You could make a pretty good case that our losing in Vietnam and electing Carter sucked them into a losing game in the Third World. Aren't we subtle?

Anyhow, China might evolve into a second Cold War that, but it hasn't yet. You don't need a sophisticated ideology to look for that kind of trouble. Wilhelmine Germany didn't have one. As for the idea that we face such a threat from the Moslem world, hell, that's just stupid. You can't be a threat without being powerful: they're not and they never will be.

2B: How about in some other cases?

Cochran: If someone attacked us, and if it was up to me, I'd clobber them. As my Dad said, when they reach out a claw, let them draw back a bloody stump. So attacking Afghanistan was justifiable -- although if they'd immediately handed over Osama, there wouldn't have been much point in it. And as for the idea that we're going to "fix" Afghanistan, rather than just flattening the government that pissed us off -- that was a bad idea because we have no idea of how to do it. We still don't. We'll fail.

Resource wars: If we were starving, I'd support stealing food. Reluctantly.

I would help defend treaty allies -- but I'd think three times before signing such a treaty. I would defend other countries, sometimes, depending on how easy it was, their strategic importance, and whether the struggle really had anything to do with us. Often it does not.

Preemptive wars: almost never. If a US submarine had stumbled onto the Japanese fleet near Hawaii, on the night of December 6th -- sure, in that situation, fire your torpedoes. Iraq wasn't doing a damn thing. There was no case at all.

2B: You make some of the same points that the Chomskyan left makes. In what ways do your views of our military efforts differ from those on the kneejerk left?

Cochran: I'm not all that familiar with Chomsky's political views, although I do know that he has said unsound things about the evolution of language. If he thinks that we were worse than the Russians in the Cold War, I disagree. If he thinks that evil rational reasons are at the core of US international policy generally, I also disagree. I think it's more stupidity.

I probably know more about current left opinion on the Web: I hear a lot of talk about mercenary motives for the Iraq war and I doubt it. There are far easier ways to steal, if that's you want.

I think that they usually have no idea what they're talking about when it comes to facts. For example, I still hear people complaining about the US not guarding a particular weapons dump with 380 tons of explosives in Iraq (Al Qaa-qaa), not realizing that we left more like 600,000 tons of explosives and ammunition unguarded. No quantitative sense, no knowledge of history.

I think they were close to right on Iraq, a totally pointless war, but I think it's a coincidence. I think they, like everyone else, have not bothered to acquire the sorts of knowledge that allow to judge whether something made sense or not. I think that they, like almost everyone else, are more interested in supporting the "side" than the truth. Although, with Bush, they don't have to lie. Who knows, maybe they'll get in the habit of telling the truth.

I'm neglecting "war liberals," a separate category of chuckleheads.

As for the 'kneejerk right', at this point I think I'd bag them and sell them for fertilizer.

2B: Are there any aspects of our current overseas adventure that seem even semi well-conceived and well-executed to you?

Cochran: No. The initial phase in Afghanistan was reasonably competent. That was the last competent thing we did. Letting Bin Laden escape was rank incompetence. Deciding to remake Afghanistan was stupid because it was infeasible. Invading Iraq was stupid, because the current unpleasant situation was the likely outcome.

2B: Why did the Administration think we needed to attack Iraq?

Cochran: If the Administration thought that Iraq was really the coming threat (and they may have) they were incompetent -- and they worked at being wrong, rejecting every bit of competent advice. If they really believed that Saddam was a big player in international terrorism, they were stupid. If they believed that they could easily install a democratic, pro-US, pro-Israel government in Iraq -- one that would somehow diffuse democracy to the countries that actually have produced anti-US terrorists, mainly Saudi Arabia -- they were perhaps the stupidest people who have ever lived.

Iraq is one of the worst candidates for democratization in the world, in terms of education, literacy, political experience and traditions, and dependence upon extractive resources. Invasion was the worst imaginable approach. The idea that lack of democracy somehow caused anti-US feelings is incorrect (note that real dictatorships like Iraq and Syria produced none of the 9-11 hijackers), and the idea that democracy would be catching is also ludicrous.

Now some think that our real motive was to control Iraq and its oil, also that of the Persian Gulf. It isn't working. Colonial ventures like that haven't worked in a long time. Still stupid, anyway you slice it.

Oh, and then there's alienating the entire world, another predictable consequence. The invasion also increased support for Al-Qaeda-style jihadism severalfold, but that is one of the less important effects, since jihadism never had much strategic importance, and three times epsilon is still a small number.

2B: So for you it's been less about political cynicism and more about ...

Cochran: Personally, I think that the key players in the Administration did believe many of these things. Looking at what they did rather than what they said -- you have to do that because they're near-compulsive liars -- it's clear that they thought they could pull all but a division out of Iraq by September 2003. They expected zero resistance and wasted a lot of time denying its existence when it showed up. Cretins.

Remember when Rumsfeld tried to redefine the insurgency out of existence? That's not Machiavellian -- that's fucking goofy. Since they had to be almost supernaturally stupid to invade in the first place, it was certain that they would continue to be stupid, would make mistakes in running the occupation that were barely imaginable. Because you can repent of being a snake or a weasel but damn foolishness is forever.

So they laid off the entire Iraqi Army and declared all the mid-level Baathists forever unemployable. It took me 20 seconds to see how dumb that was. It took the Administration years, thousands of dead and hundreds of billions down the drain. Some of their defenders have said that the Iraqi Army disbanded itself -- a lie. They would have shown up on payday, never doubt it. Iraq has no jobs, outside the state. It makes the Great Depression look like a fucking walk in the park.

The army policy of treating all Iraqis like enemies -- particularly true of Odierno's 4th division (Odierno is the #2 in Iraq) -- was counterproductive, not just because it filled up Abu Ghraib. But we had to do stupid things like that, because that's the only Army we have. An Army in which the vast majority of soldiers thought that we were punishing Iraq for 9-11, something that Iraq had nothing to do with. Of course, one can't really expect the Administration to carefully explain that we invaded for no reason at all.

Then there was the CPA, which we were careful to staff with College Republicans who couldn't find a real job -- ones crazed and dumb enough to '"believe in the mission." Shit, why didn't we torture them?

We even hear the Prez and the head of the Joint Chiefs saying that we have to stay in order to prevent the birth of the Caliphate. I mean, there is no Caliphate, there's not a square mile controlled by something resembling the caliphate, there's no strong underground movement working for it, and it sure looks as if the Arabs are the most fissiparous pinheads who ever walked the Earth. The countries they do have barely hold together. But that's why we have to stay in Iraq forever -- although we may have a new reason by Tuesday. Maybe we'll realize that the Yazidis, as worshippers of Lucifer, are our natural allies.

***

Here's an Edge profile of Cochran. Here's an Atlantic Monthly piece about Cochran and one of his collaborators, Paul Ewald. Here's a New York Magazine story taking off from the Cochran-Harpending-Hardy paper about Ashkenazi Jews. Steve Sailer writes about that paper here. Here's Cochran wishing that the Bushies would learn a thing or two from Napoleon's misadventures in Spain.

Many thanks to Gregory Cochran, and thanks too to GNXP's Razib for putting me in touch with Cochran.

Please come back tomorrow for the conclusion of our interview with Gregory Cochran.

Best,

Michael

posted by Michael at September 9, 2007




Comments

I'm proud to say that one of my grandmothers was a Cochran and I certainly hope that a few of the same genes came along with the same name.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on September 10, 2007 12:19 AM



It seems to me that the EU may represent what Dr. Cochran refers to as "creeping Swissification" as they continue their slow but persistent absorption of ever more countries.

Where the US tries to spread democracy and respect for human rights by miltiary force, the Europeans just demand that people stopping being so dashed beastly to each other or they shan't be allowed to join the club.

Posted by: Ian Gould on September 10, 2007 8:32 AM



Thanks, Michael. That was an interesting read.

Unfortunately, underlying the entire interview is a false assumption... one that I hear a lot among the newly minted intellectual class...

Cochran believes that IQ (or intelligence) should rule the political process. This has never been the case, and I doubt that it ever will be.

For our technical and professional classes, it just seems obvious that intellect should rule. Sorry, but they're wrong, and they will continue to be wrong.

Cochran fairly reeks with this arrogance. He's undoubtedly smarter than the rest of us. And, that's a whole hell of a lot more irrelevant than he thinks. In recent weeks, I played at Democratic and Republican political events. In both cases, the entire agenda delivered to the party faithful was vengeful hatred and the desire to wreak revenge.

Politics, like music, is about our base motives and selves. I know that it is hard for intellectuals to conceive of this, but the triumph of the intellect is achieved at considerable cost. You can see this clearly in the childless, bloodless society of the self-interested that Manhattan has become. Or, to put it another way, blues and country music would never have existed if people like Cochran were our predecessors.

For most of us, the bloody stupid reality of people who think primarily in terms of loyalty to their clan is better than what the arid, empty intellectual communities have become. I loved playing for those Jerseys suburbanites towing along their children and grandchildren. They don't care about intellect. They care about their children producing grandchildren, reproducing their religious tradition, and reproducing their patriotism.

The computer will take over one day. I believe Ray Kurzweil's predictions. I don't plan to become a computer, and most people share my outlook. Cochran doesn't like people much. I like people the way the are. Give me Homer Simpson over Cochran any day.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on September 10, 2007 9:01 AM



Good stuff.

The deliberate neglect of history is pretty systematic in American intellectual life, and I think it goes pretty deep. It is tied in with a tendency to be indifferent to particular cases and only interested in general rules. From what I've read, the disastrous application of economic "shock therapy" to post-USSR Russia was similarly oblivious the Russian particulars and Russian history.

I haven't studied it, but a lot of management and finance training also seems to deal only in high abstractions, while bracketing out all concrete details. This can be part of the scientific method, of course, but there are pitfalls if you overdo it.

Economics, analytic philosophy, and psychology also seem to tend toward historical blindness. I think that this is the result of an overemphasis of physics and math models and a neglect of historical and evolutionary models.

One quibble: I think that the intelligence problem in the military is a result of retention and promotion, not the military academies. When I was researching schools for my son around 1990, I found that the military academies ranked pretty high in SAT scores. Right now Annapolis is tied with Oberlin, for example. When I run into smart military guys, they often seem to have left the service as captains, majors, or colonels.

Posted by: John Emerson on September 10, 2007 9:03 AM



Brilliant...and depressing. I would be interested in Cochran's views regarding the increasing influence of Islam in Europe vis a vis immigration. Maybe we'll see that tomorrow.

Posted by: Bob Grier on September 10, 2007 9:18 AM



Don't see any brilliance; what is present, in large quantities, is arrogance and baseless bragging. He was the only one who foresaw collapse of SU by 1990? Thanks for a good laugh. He knows the difference between Shia and Sunni and that makes him an expert on Middle East? What a big deal this guy makes of himself. There are no WMD found in Iraq/Oh, really? And if knows so much about SU - he would have some idea where the bulk of chemical and biological weapons disappear from Iraq.

He misse his true calling - selling used vacuum cleaners door-to-door (not cars...drivers tend not be so easily intimidates as housewifes).

Reminds me of the superintendent of my first apartment in Brooklyn, who anounced every 3rd sentence "I'm smart!"

Posted by: Tatyana on September 10, 2007 10:33 AM



Thanks.

Posted by: JewishAtheist on September 10, 2007 10:36 AM



I'm not that smart and I came to all the same conclusions about Iraq pre-invasion that Cochran did. That's the thing: you didn't have to be that smart to predict this shit.

Posted by: the patriarch on September 10, 2007 10:37 AM



"Cochran is a genius, and he's got the 'fuck you' money to prove it"

"Condi was supposed to be an expert on the Soviet Union, once upon a time, but I doubt if she knew much about that, either. I knew quite a bit..."

"I was impatiently predicting the end of the Soviet Union by 1990, to the point of boring all my friends. I was trying to predict the order in which the SSRs would secede -- I got it mostly right, too."

"I knew enough about nuclear weapons development to make my own estimate of what was going on in Iraq. It was obvious to me that Administration was full of shit..."

"I'm thinking of Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, which I foresaw just by reading the paper"

"Since I read the paper every single day, I knew roughly how much oil Saddam was smuggling out..."

"...they were perhaps the stupidest people who have ever lived."

"It took me 20 seconds to see how dumb that was."

"...sure looks as if the Arabs are the most fissiparous pinheads who ever walked the Earth"


And there's more of this to come, Michael?

Posted by: Robert Townshend on September 10, 2007 10:41 AM



I have just begun reading this interesting interview when I came to this sentence : "When Wolfowitz talked about literacy, I looked it up in the online CIA Factbook: 60% adult illiteracy, worse than any of their neighbors."

I Googled the CIA fact book and the following came up for Iraq: Literacy:
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 74.1%
male: 84.1%
female: 64.2% (2000 est.)

as I read Cochran he seems to imply Iraq literacy (according to the CIA)of about 40% while the CIA own numbers claim 74%.

Perhaps somebody would be kind enough to point out my obtuseness or you can query Cochran about this in part2.

Posted by: Mark on September 10, 2007 10:50 AM



How can someone profess to be widely read on politics and history and not read Chomsky? Inexcusable. Not that it stops him from making an inaccurate assumption of Chomsky's views regarding the morality of state power. Even better - the Moslem world is not powerful and "they never will be"? Why didn't he tell us he is clairvoyant!

Posted by: John Wagner on September 10, 2007 11:42 AM



Hey, y'all are being the rowdy, brainy, and disputatious bunch I love you for being. Great fun watching you jump into the debate.

Can I get you to think about one meta-thing, though? Completely apart from whether you agree with him or not, it's a wonderful thing that Cochran did this q&a with us. He isn't hiding behind handlers, he isn't spinning anything, he isn't holding out for fawning treatment by Big Media. There's no career or ego reason for him to be doing this, and god knows he ain't getting paid for it.

Instead, he's taking the time and making the effort -- hours' worth -- to talk directly to us. That's a hyper-admirable thing. More people with interesting info and p-o-v's should make the effort. And don't we wish that more Influential Big Deals (and Cochran is an Influential Big Deal) had the balls to do so?

Let's do what we can to encourage more (and not less) of this kind of thing. So first let's pause to give him an honest round of applause for effort, directness, lack of putting on airs, and even guts. Then, on into the fun of debate.

Tks, and (as always) enjoying the fray, MB

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 10, 2007 11:47 AM



Methinks Dr. Cochran is thinking a tad short term regarding Afghanistan. No, democratization in Afghanistan won't occur soon. But that doesn't mean it won't happen at all. Establishing a democratic society takes generations. You need to establish the traditions, the political infrastructure. Without the foundation democratization isn't going to work. Witness what happened with Russia. Think we made a mistake by not providing support to Afghanistan? Our lack of substantial support for Russia and other former Soviet states bids fair to give us even more trouble over the next century.

It's time to start thinking long term and putting forth the effort again. When you're the leader of the world, slacking off isn't going to work.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on September 10, 2007 11:51 AM



John Wagner,

In other words, you're asking how can anybody say he's widely read on evolution if he hasn't read Michael Behe?

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on September 10, 2007 11:54 AM



The people who are critical of Cochran here are rather humorous. He may come across as arrogant in this interview, but everything he says about the Bush administration, Iraq, and jihadism in general is spot on. Everything he was saying about Iraq in 2002 is identical to the things that my friends and I were saying about Iraq in 2002.

My friends and I (who created transhumanism) were taking bets on when the USSR was going to dissolve by in 1986, when we were all living in LA. My friend predicted 2000. I predicted 2010. Some of my other friends predicted "sometime in the nineties".

The thing about Cochran is that he is smart. However, everything he said in this interview did not require a "supergenius" to figure out at the time he figured these things out. It required some intellect and mostly horse-sense. If a healthy dose of horse sense and calling a spade a spade is considered "arrogant" today, then our society is in deep doo-doo.

To one of the critical posters here: Do you honestly believe the vengeful hatred and revenge seeking of the right and left is preferable to self-controlled intellects? Which do you think offers more freedom and opportunity to define yourself as you seek to be?

Posted by: Kurt9 on September 10, 2007 12:18 PM



He knows the difference between Shia and Sunni and that makes him an expert on Middle East?

do you know the difference?

Posted by: razib on September 10, 2007 12:38 PM



Nice Q&A, but Shouting Thomas is more thought provoking: "The computer will take over one day. I believe Ray Kurzweil's predictions."

Too true. And then the microchip jihadi will be able to download their Islam virus into our heads (unless you are wearing a firewall helmet).

Posted by: whispering thomas on September 10, 2007 12:39 PM



I Googled the CIA fact book and the following came up for Iraq: Literacy:
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 74.1%
male: 84.1%
female: 64.2% (2000 est.)

2002 factbook says 58%. you can find other numbers. if you nitpick you do digging.

Posted by: razib on September 10, 2007 12:42 PM



I'd like Cochran's thoughts on the strategic importance of the Persian Gulf as it relates to world oil supplies and the possibilities of disruption? Could a major disruption occur, and if it did would it trigger a world depression? Is there anything we can do about it in the short-run? In other words, do we have anything to worry about in the Middle East, or can we go home and relax? Seriously.

Posted by: Luke Lea on September 10, 2007 12:46 PM



Mr. Kellog:

You say

When you're the leader of the world, slacking off isn't going to work.

Can I enquire, who the heck is this effort supposed to pay off for?

Given the immense range of possible future threats to the U.S., and given the immense short-term problems of the U.S. internally (been reading the paper about the credit market turmoil lately? ever heard of the little problem with entitlements that the baby boomer retirement is going to put on steroids?, etc.?), I'd love to know by what calculus inculcating democracy in a region that has no democratic tradition, lacks most of the social resources that were taken for granted in Western Europe in 1700, and is not interested in obtaining them by any obvious measure, qualifies as a sensible investment of our limited resources.

I know our society has been systematically fed 70 years of propoganda that asserts that our self-worth consists of bestriding the world like a colossus, but methinks Americans need to enter a twelve-step program to wean themselves from this expensive and dangerous delusion.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on September 10, 2007 12:53 PM



I last checked out that literacy number in 2005: _then_ the CIA world factbook said this:

"Literacy:
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 40.4%
male: 55.9%
female: 24.4% (2003 est.) "


Posted by: gcochran on September 10, 2007 12:58 PM



Michael,

I think that I did say that it was a great read.

I found Cochran's insights to be very interesting and, probably, true. Everybody's job becomes their viewpoint of what the world ought to focus on, and Cochran is no exception.

Early on in your prefacing remarks, however, things started falling apart for me. This, I believe is your statement: "... he knew not just that the war would become a mess but precisely which kind of mess..."

Can you clue me in on a war that wasn't a mess?

Forty years ago, the anti-Vietnam war movement suggested that it might be a good idea for individuals to cease marching lemming like to the slaughter. I think that this was an important message at the time. Over the past few years, I've begun to think that, as always happens, this lesson was completely over-learned. At what point does simply rooting for your side because it is your side override all the intellectual sophistication? Is there any end to the cult of the individual? Or is there a point at which it also becomes an evil?

I did enjoy the interview.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on September 10, 2007 12:59 PM



razib, you have a point to make?

Posted by: Tatyana on September 10, 2007 1:07 PM



Don't know about the CIA Factbook, but this chart from Encarta support's Cochran's contention that Iraq's rate of illiteracy is much higher than in the surrounding countries. Link.

Posted by: Luke Lea on September 10, 2007 1:08 PM



Can you clue me in on a war that wasn't a mess?

you're hiding behind the vagueness of language. many people (to some extent i myself) were hoping this would be gulf war 1990. that the conquest of iraq would result in an occupation like germany 1945 or japan 1945. it hasn't turned out like that at all. you know what greg is trying to say. and yes, he did say it back then. he was leaving enraged comments on blogs in 2002 and early 2003 (on mine, on randall parker's, emailing steve sailer). there were others out there of course. the point is that many of greg's sneering critics can't say "i was wrong." nor can they say "someone else was right." i went to washington d.c. recently and i talked to several people who had a hard time identifying with the Right anymore do the insanity that iraq has wrought.

Posted by: razib on September 10, 2007 1:13 PM



razib, you have a point to make?

we're in the mess we are because people didn't think that the shia-sunni difference was something to worry about. my tax dollars, and yours (perhaps willingly), will go to supporting our 51st state indefinitely because of this. even if greg is arrogant i doubt most americans would be bothered by this at this point, we're fed up with excuses, we're fed up with the arrogance of ignorance, we're fed up with the religious certitude and the inability to admit error on the part of those who supported the war. i was wrong, i admit it. you grow up, you learn. and some people don't, and never will. that's my point.

Posted by: razib on September 10, 2007 1:39 PM



In 1970 Andrei Amalrik published an essay "Will the Soviet Union Survive until 1984?" He wasn't off by much, but he diidn't live to see the collapse.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrei_Amalrik

Posted by: John Emerson on September 10, 2007 1:40 PM



Cochran is certainly in true Cochran form here; taking some basically good points, and then just running with them. His position on a good many issues seems to be that everyone but him is an idiot, including people who have spent years studying the areas that he just dabbles in. On this point, I'm afraid that I must disagree...

Posted by: tschafer on September 10, 2007 3:26 PM



razib,
er, dude, are you talking to me? about me?
why? what, you need someone to personify An Enemy and you chose me? calm down, kid.

you want to say "i'm wrong" - it's your business.
I wasn't wrong and I'm not saying that now.

you will make a great street preacher on protest meetings. someone, give razib a megaphone and get those matches ready, to burn an effigy.

Posted by: Tatyana on September 10, 2007 3:37 PM



While I agree with Cochran's general conclusions about Iraq and Washington, and I share his generally isolationist views, some of his "fifteen-minutes-of-Googling" thoughts strike me as a little rushed. At least, based on my fifteen minutes of Googling.

Here, for example, is a summary of Iraq's nuclear program, written in 1998, when George W. Bush was still just the giggling, chimp-eared governor of Texas, by arms-control investigator David Albright and Iraqi defector Khidhir Hamza:

http://www.isis-online.org/publications/iraq/act1298.html

It's generally acknowledged that in 1990, Iraq was about a year from producing a crude device. Are Iraq's resources really so different from those of Pakistan, which has been quite successful with its gas centrifuges? Or those of Iran, which held its own for most of the Iran-Iraq war, a decent indication of national wealth and organizing power?

Granted, Iraq under sanctions was a shithole, and certainly no match for its pre-1990 incarnation. But the sanctions regime was falling apart. No one, right or left, imagined it as a permanent solution.

And I have no idea where Cochran gets his "$1 billion a year" figure. Oil-For-Food alone generated $50 billion in six years. Oil smuggling was also widespread, and I somehow doubt that the Iraqi tax rate was zero.

It occurs to me that one feature that has described the entire American response to Iraq, left or right, has been arrogance. Iraqis are either moronic devils who need to be bombed to smithereens, or moronic, lovable children who just need a hug.

Well, the Iraqi national IQ is what it is. But Iraq has and had plenty of doctors and lawyers. No country in the world is genetically homogeneous. Saddam himself was certainly no fool, and neither were his cronies. Or the dominant Sunni elite.

I do believe in Cochran's hypothesis of American governmental idiocy. Because why, for example, would the US invade Iraq with a promise to discover its evil, incriminating WMD programs? There are two possibilities:

(a) Iraq has evil, incriminating WMD programs.
(b) Iraq does not have evil, incriminating WMD programs.

In case (b), the US invades Iraq and looks like an ass. And in case (a), why in Allah's name would the Ba'athists leave their files, factories, and scientists, to be inspected and discovered? Don't they have fires, explosives, and guns in Iraq? Even if they had some moral qualms or affectionate attachments, why couldn't they ship all of the above to Syria, as many allege they did? What could possibly be implausible about this? Would the omnipotent CIA have magically discovered it?

So, in either case, the Ba'ath make America look like a bumbling, bullying ass. Which they have motive, opportunity, and propensity to do. And what do the neocons do? They pull down their pants, bend over, and say "stick it to me." Confirming Cochran's broad thesis - if not his logic or his Googling.

Posted by: Mencius on September 10, 2007 3:40 PM



Also, Cochran seems to be laboring under a misapprehension concerning the nature of the threat that most people see in the Jihad. I don't know of a single person who believes that the U.S. is going to be challenged by a Muslim superpower in the near future, or invaded by a Jihadist army. Most worries about the Jihad center around two very real possibilities; 1) That a rogue state such as Iran or a Jihadist Pakistan will provide terrorists with a bomb or bombs, which will be detonated in an American city, killing millions; and 2)The de facto demographic "conquest" of portions of the world through unchecked immigration, and subsequent imposition of Islamic Law.

Niether of these possibilities requires vast technical competence or lots of money; only manpower, and will, and such worries are not absurd. I would also like to point out that those "fissiparous pinheads" carved out an empire that reached from Cordova to the gates of Samarkand in a couple of generations, and to dismiss the latent power in the Islamic World is the purest blinkered chauvanism. Who developed Pakistan's bomb - Martians? And are the Iranians too stupid as well? I guess we'll see.

Cochran is to smart to spout some of the fatuous crap that he comes up with.

Posted by: tschafer on September 10, 2007 3:49 PM



RE: The Arrogance Thing
Geniuses (and Cochran is a genius) tend to have low agreeableness. To do anything really interesting at some point you just have to not give a damn about what other people think. A little contempt for lesser minds is not always a bad thing. Get-along-charlies, no matter how smart they may be, tend to just follow along with the prevailing conventional wisdom, and thats not much of a formula for getting things right. Now, in some situations it is best just to get along, but sometimes it is important to actually get things right, and the Iraq War would seem to be one ot the latter.

BTW Cochran's attitude, and the reaction to it, kind of reminds me of another fellow at the top of his heap: the famously arrogant literary critic Harold Bloom. Now, Bloom knows more about literature than anyone out there. He's has read way more than any of his detractors and he knows it, and he's got better taste than any of them and knows that too. And so he ends up stepping on a lot of peoples toes and a lot of people don't like it. Everybody has an opinion, but some people actually know stuff.

While I think that manners and presentation are important, I also think its pretty understandable if someone like Cochran or Bloom gets impatient swatting away all the thousands of petty objections that get thrown up in their faces all the time. The stupidity of mankind is an endless sea, and at some point, if you want to get anything done, you have to stop being solicitous of everyone's feelings.

NOTE:
For those unfamiliar with the terminology:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Five_personality_traits
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agreeableness

Posted by: Thursday on September 10, 2007 4:04 PM



Here, by Iraqi centrifuge man Mahdi Obeidi, is the best postmortem of the Iraqi program I can find, at least with another fifteen minutes of Googling.

As Obeidi writes:


Over the course of the 1990's, most of the scientists from the nuclear program switched to working on civilian projects or in conventional-weapons production, and the idea of building a nuclear bomb became a vague dream from another era.

So, how could the West have made such a mistaken assessment of the nuclear program before the invasion last year? Even to those of us who knew better, it's fairly easy to see how observers got the wrong impression. First, there was Saddam Hussein's history. He had demonstrated his desire for nuclear weapons since the late 1970's, when Iraqi scientists began making progress on a nuclear reactor. He had used chemical weapons against his own people and against Iran during the 1980's. After the 1991 war, he had tried to hide his programs in weapons of mass destruction for as long as possible (he even kept my identity secret from weapons inspectors until 1995). It would have been hard not to suspect him of trying to develop such weapons again.
[...]
To the end, Saddam Hussein kept alive the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission, staffed by junior scientists involved in research completely unrelated to nuclear weapons, just so he could maintain the illusion in his mind that he had a nuclear program. Sort of like the emperor with no clothes, he fooled himself into believing he was armed and dangerous. But unlike that fairy-tale ruler, Saddam Hussein fooled the rest of the world as well.

Was Iraq a potential threat to the United States and the world? Threat is always a matter of perception, but our nuclear program could have been reinstituted at the snap of Saddam Hussein's fingers. The sanctions and the lucrative oil-for-food program had served as powerful deterrents, but world events - like Iran's current efforts to step up its nuclear ambitions - might well have changed the situation.

Of course, this does not address anything else Saddam may have been doing. The whole "WMD" label is BS - what do chemical and biological weapons have in common with nuclear? Nothing, except that they're scary. But the Iraqi ballistic missile program, which violated the same UN resolutions, continued.

And none of this violates Cochran's general point. The invasion of Iraq was a success. The occupation was not, and since no one involved in the invasion intended it to be either a British-style punitive expedition which destroyed and left, or a full-on 1945 style reconstruction as razib suggests, the whole plan was clearly a mistake.

Moreover, what if Iraq had nuclear weapons? Stalin had nuclear weapons, and he was as much of an asshole as Saddam, if not quite as crazy. The scalable solution is deterrence, not empire. Similarly, I think Cochran understates the Ba'athist connection to terrorism - Ba'athism was a terrorist movement from day one. Read any good biography of Saddam, such as Said Aburish's. But deterrence is a solution to terrorism, as well. And so is just closing the goddamn borders.

So I am not questioning Cochran's conclusions. But, as another isolationist who believes in deterrence, I think it's important not to overstate the case. Otherwise you end up just like the lefties.

Posted by: Mencius on September 10, 2007 4:06 PM



This (unofficial) site collects a lot of Cochran's stuff:
http://gc.homeunix.net/

Posted by: Thursday on September 10, 2007 4:12 PM



I mean, there is no Caliphate, there's not a square mile controlled by something resembling the caliphate, there's no strong underground movement working for it, and it sure looks as if the Arabs are the most fissiparous pinheads who ever walked the Earth. The countries they do have barely hold together.

Truer words have never been spoken. Six years ago today, on September 10, 2001, any mention of the Arab/Muslim military threat would have provoked laughter and jokes ("Didja hear about the new tanks designed for Arab armies? They have one speed forward and five speeds in reverse!") Well guess what ... it's still a joke. Nothing has changed, except for the way America has become a nation of panty piddling cowards.

Posted by: Peter on September 10, 2007 4:13 PM



gcochran- Thanks for the interview and your comment regarding Iraq literacy and your source. It seems that the CIA world factbook #'s vary substantially from 05 to 07. The 2007 #'s come from a 2000 estimate and the 2005 #'s from a 2003 estimate(odd). So both you and Wolfowitz can make very different arguments about Iraqi relative literacy and use the CIA "factbook" as the source. One more real shot of confidence when it comes to CIA data.

Posted by: mark on September 10, 2007 4:18 PM



Why is the assumption made that tailoring a "solution" to the region has anything to do with real facts? Would a military adventure be necessary if the will and traditions of the people in Iraq were considered important? The military is used to impose one will upon another. I don't think you measure for curtains when you plan on razing the house.

"Anybody could see", or "from a study of the region" doesn't really matter much from this perspective. I would never make the assumption that the war and its consequences are due to stupidity. Its often said that you should never attribute to malice that which can be explained by incompetence. I think you can reverse that in this case. If you were to study the miltary's own plans for Iraq, rather than the history of the region or what you read in the paper, you would find out that stoking sectarian violence and dividing the country up into three different sections was the plan from the beginning. I would also think that the establishment of 6 permanent and huge military bases would also be a tip off that the "dragging out" of the conflict was indeed planned on from the beginning also. The result seems eerily similar to the former Yugoslavia, doesn't it? Weren't we involved in that one too, and are there any critical oil pipelines in that area?

Former Secretary Paul O'Neill said in a 60 minutes piece that it was the obsession of the new Bush administration in winter 2001 to go into Iraq. WMD is pretty irrelevant when youfind that out--you see it was just a (convenient) lie. O'Neill also said that there was a list of companies who were compiled who wanted to bid on the oil exploration rights in Iraq at the time as well. Hmmmm...interesting! Also, anybody who thinks that the oil in Iraq, or the region itself (OPEC has 75% of all known oil reserves on the planet) is not central to the question must be loony. Its not about the price of oil, but control of who gets it and what currency they pay for it in (and what currency reserves of individual nations are denominated in).

I was snookedred in for a while, but I'm dead set against the War now too. But the public debate means little. Its not a war really, because the Congress never declared it. The public debate should first be to have the representative system restored as per the Constitution, and then what we should do. None of us was ever consulted on this boondoggle/genocide from the beginning.

Posted by: BIOH on September 10, 2007 4:22 PM



Mark, re literacy, maybe Cochran was thinking of this USAID report:
"As a result of two decades of wars and economic hardship brought on by misrule, Iraqi schools fell into disrepair, enrollment dropped, and literacy levels stagnated. Iraq's adult literacy rate is now one of the lowest in all Arab countries; UNESCO estimates literacy rates to be less than 60 percent, or 6 million illiterate Iraqi adults. Rural residents and women have been hit hardest; only 37 percent of rural women can read, and 30 percent of Iraqi girls of high school age are enrolled in school compared with 42 percent of boys."
http://www.usaid.gov/iraq/accomplishments/education.html

Posted by: Kai Carver on September 10, 2007 4:23 PM



Not having the information of GC, I imagined a scenario where Iraq with its great volumes of oil would purchase nuclear devices from an impoverished country like North Korea.

Posted by: Jon Claerbout on September 10, 2007 4:53 PM



Are Iraq's resources really so different from those of Pakistan, which has been quite successful with its gas centrifuges? Or those of Iran, which held its own for most of the Iran-Iraq war, a decent indication of national wealth and organizing power?

1) yes, their resources are different. look at the population sizes. iraq had oil wealth, but it has only about 1/7 pakistan's pop. and iran is a more advanced country than iraq, mostly because it is something of a natural country.

2) and of course pakistan got help. and it's helping saudi arabia now.

Posted by: razib on September 10, 2007 6:48 PM




er, dude, are you talking to me? about me?
why? what, you need someone to personify An Enemy and you chose me? calm down, kid.

a blowhard deserves to be blown back at (no offense michael ;-). you seem a pretty good personification of prideful ignorance.

Posted by: razib on September 10, 2007 6:50 PM



"The invasion [of Iraq] also increased support for Al-Qaeda-style jihadism severalfold, but that is one of the less important effects, since jihadism never had much strategic importance, and three times epsilon is still a small number."


Funny, I'm one of those dummies who doesn't know what epsilon is, but I do know that jihadism is a HUGE strategic threat.

Posted by: ricpic on September 10, 2007 6:52 PM



"If you were to study the miltary's own plans for Iraq, rather than the history of the region or what you read in the paper, you would find out that stoking sectarian violence and dividing the country up into three different sections was the plan from the beginning. I would also think that the establishment of 6 permanent and huge military bases would also be a tip off that the "dragging out" of the conflict was indeed planned on from the beginning also."

So the administration flat out lied to eh American public during the pre-invasion period? That's a rhetorical question. Of course they did.

Posted by: the patriarch on September 10, 2007 6:58 PM



razib,
go wash your mouth, 10 times with a saddle soap.
you're talking to
- a woman
- a person 15 years older than you
- someone who in no way or form displayed "ignorance", prideful or not. Only disagreement with your arrogant idol.

If my son opened his mouth with shit spilling out like that, he'd get a slap on his lips.
Shame on your mother, asshole.

Posted by: tatyana on September 10, 2007 7:56 PM



If your son anything like you, you deserve him.

Posted by: Rob on September 10, 2007 9:33 PM



Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) was against the war in Iraq for pretty much the same reasons as Cochran. Holt's a physicist, by the way.

I disagree w/Cochran that stupidity is the reason for the march into Iraq. Even reasonably bright people's emotions can be swayed by events. Sometimes dumb people are hard to sway

It's a temperament thing.

Oh yeah, I think Wolfowitz was fucking lying. He's far from dumb, and he knew about those sacred cities. He just thought that when the US installed the Sunni elite-class in power (the people who had RUN things w/out RULING them and who were secularized and fairly well-educated), the dumb oxen Shia would go along as they always have. What he didn't seem to realize was that it was like taking a lid off a jar that had been sealed 50 years.

Pow!

Wolfie's a mathematician by training. He's not quantitative? You can sometimes be smart about things and not about people.

Posted by: diana on September 10, 2007 9:36 PM



Mencius says:

And I have no idea where Cochran gets his "$1 billion a year" figure. Oil-For-Food alone generated $50 billion in six years. Oil smuggling was also widespread, and I somehow doubt that the Iraqi tax rate was zero.

Cochran's original prediction is here (scroll down).
The "Volcker committee" that officially investigated the oil-for-food program has a summary of estimates of the total amount Iraq got from oil-for-food and smuggling. The time period is different for different reports, but it's about 10 years total - so Saddam got about 1-2 billion dollars per year from the whole thing.

Here, for example, is a summary of Iraq's nuclear program, written in 1998, when George W. Bush was still just the giggling, chimp-eared governor of Texas, by arms-control investigator David Albright and Iraqi defector Khidhir Hamza:

Incidentally, Albright has repudiated Hamza, who is now considered to be a "false" defector who was sent to discredit a previous defector. Confusing, but that just points out the need for a method of judgement that doesn't depend on defectors or the reports of intelligence agencies - such as the laws of physics.

It's generally acknowledged that in 1990, Iraq was about a year from producing a crude device. Are Iraq's resources really so different from those of Pakistan, which has been quite successful with its gas centrifuges? Or those of Iran, which held its own for most of the Iran-Iraq war, a decent indication of national wealth and organizing power?

Yes. From the 2002 factbook, population and GDP: Iran 66m 456 billion, Pakistan 147m 299 billion, Iraq 24m 59 billion. Iraq was known not to have reactors, so that scratches one method. Centrifuges were the central claim in Powell's speech, but those turned out to be unsuitable - as the USA's own centrifuge designers said.

Posted by: tc on September 10, 2007 10:06 PM



Thursday,
I'm not saying Cochran and H. Bloom aren't geniuses, but I find it to be the case with the smartest people I know that they are the opposite of arrogant grandstanders -- diffident, rather than arrogant, usually, but also often deeply engaged with their readers or audiences in a way that never smacks of arrogance. I think of the other Bloom, Allan, and many others for whom being a great teacher not only wasn't at odds with being a great genius, but part of it. And arrogance seldom works as a teaching tool. The arrogant ones are usually a step down on the ladder from geniuses. Usually, not always -- and so I repeat, I'm not saying Cochran's not a genius. I suspect he may be. Though nothing in the interview itself is news, exactly, which is why I suppose the tone grated on some people.

Posted by: Francis Morrone on September 10, 2007 10:22 PM



Tatanya, if "you seem a pretty good personification of prideful ignorance" is the worst insult you've suffered on the internet, count yourself lucky, and stop being so butthurt.

Posted by: rast on September 10, 2007 10:23 PM



If my son opened his mouth with shit spilling out like that, he'd get a slap on his lips.
Shame on your mother, asshole.

LOL. that's all i got.

Posted by: razib on September 10, 2007 10:33 PM



Tatanya, if "you seem a pretty good personification of prideful ignorance" is the worst insult you've suffered on the internet, count yourself lucky, and stop being so butthurt.

Posted by: rast on September 10, 2007 10:39 PM



Alan Kellogg,

You're statement below would imply that Chomsky is a marginal figure with a clearly debunkable theory rather than the most-cited living author (8th all time). But, to technically answer your question - yes, if you claim to be well-read on evolution you should be very familiar with the positions of your critics. A better analogy would have been to not have read Darwin and claim to be an expert on such things.

>In other words, you're asking how can anybody say he's widely read on evolution if he hasn't read Michael Behe?
Posted by Alan Kellogg at September 10, 2007

Posted by: John Wagner on September 10, 2007 11:01 PM



Cochran: If someone else started to build up a power that threatened to become overwhelming, such that straight-line extrapolation said they'd be able to run all the shows in the near future, a war that put a spoke in their wheel would be worthwhile. Particularly if the gathering threat were infamous assholes, as has been known to happen."

This neatly describes Iran, does it not?

Posted by: DHGPJ on September 10, 2007 11:16 PM



tc,

Saddam got about 1-2 billion dollars per year from the whole thing.

On oil-for-food: we are talking about Saddam's revenue, not his "smuggling" revenue. At least for the purpose of funding a nuclear program, there is absolutely no sense in separating "licit" and "illicit" revenue (your link refers only to the latter). Which would you rather have, 50 million dollars, or 50 million dollars worth of wheat? Unless you get your economics from a different planet than me, your answer will be "either."

Incidentally, Albright has repudiated Hamza, who is now considered to be a "false" defector who was sent to discredit a previous defector.

First: from the Grauniad, hardly a hotbed of neocon spies, what Albright said about Hamza.

Then there is David Albright, Hamza's former mentor in the US and himself a former nuclear inspector involved in assessing the scope of Iraq's nuclear ambitions.

'If Hamza has become a monster,' he told The Observer last week, 'I partly blame myself. He had good information on what he knew about, but where we fell out was that I was concerned he was telling me stuff he had read elsewhere, including stuff he could have read in Time magazine. He was not one of the technical experts on the programme, but I found he was a bright man who picked up things very quickly.'

One of the problems, says Albright, was that Hamza was given access in the US to Iraq's own declaration of what its nuclear programme comprised. This was provided in the mid-Nineties after another high-level defector disclosed the scope of the Iraqi programme. Hamza, says Albright, was recycling this as his own first-hand knowledge.

Second: all we know is that the two men had a falling out. Why do you assume Albright is right? How do you know they're both not lying? Your skepticism strikes me as awfully selective.

Third: the facts in the discussion I linked to are, as far as I'm aware, basically undisputed. Everyone agrees that Iraq had an active and reasonably successful nuclear program which was close to device production at the time of the first Gulf War. Whether it was a year or three years away may not have been clear. It certainly wasn't thirteen years.

Yes. From the 2002 factbook, population and GDP: Iran 66m 456 billion, Pakistan 147m 299 billion, Iraq 24m 59 billion. Iraq was known not to have reactors, so that scratches one method. Centrifuges were the central claim in Powell's speech, but those turned out to be unsuitable - as the USA's own centrifuge designers said.

Your link is to a story on the aluminum tubes, which - as we certainly all agree - had nothing to do with centrifuges. And certainly not with Obeidi's centrifuge design, which was never in mass production.

Are you saying that, because Pakistan has six times as many people, it is six times as able to build centrifuges? What, are all 147 million of them on the project?

Posted by: Mencius on September 10, 2007 11:42 PM



razib:

(a) see the reply above: (b) actually, Pakistan may have had help from the Chinese on device design, but the centrifuge design they stole themselves (via AQ Khan); (c) no one, so far as I'm aware, disputes that Obeidi had something like a working centrifuge design, whether he invented it himself, or got it from Khan, or whatever.

And (d), I mean, who cares? The broad argument is that Iraq and Iraqis are too poor and stupid to build a nuclear device. And I think this is just plain arrogant. Smart military thinkers just don't underestimate their enemies this way, especially when we've seen plenty of "fissiparous pinheads" - including the Iraqis themselves - solve the problem.

Cochran's best point is that we have no reason at all to make these pinheads our enemies, or give a rat's ass what they think or do, unless and until they actually physically attack us. In which case we should turn them into little puddles of black Iraqi snot. I agree with this pint

I would be very surprised if the Iraqis, or for that matter the Iranians, Pakistanis, etc, built a good nuclear device. I'm sure that, simply from the perspective of engineering quality and aesthetics, their work sucks ass. Which I'm sure offends the likes of Cochran. But ya gotta put it in perspective.

This argument that the Iraqis couldn't possibly have built or been building nuclear weapons isn't even necessary for Cochran's main point. Cochran's main point is that we have no reason at all to make these pinheads our enemies, or give a rat's ass what they think or do, unless and until they actually physically attack us. In which case we should turn them into little puddles of black smoking Iraqi juice. Which is why they won't even consider doing it.

I agree with this point. I think it's an excellent point. I just think he is supporting it in the wrong way, which detracts from rather than adds to the impact of the whole.

Posted by: Mencius on September 10, 2007 11:52 PM




I once said that from where the sun now stands, I I would argue no more forever - but one more time won't kill me.

emerson: I have Amalrik's book of course. Officer retention is also an issue But consider the SAT scores when the present generals were entering the Point, in the '70s.

Alan Kellog: You want to spend generations on Afghanistan. Wow.

Mencius: You're wrong. The oil-for-food money was held by the UN. No money could be spent without UN approval, which meant that the US had veto power on every single dollar of spending. And we used that veto, so much so that a lot of the money went unspent. You can't fund an arms project with money you can only spend on wheat. I quote: "The Oil-for-Food Programme started in December 1996, and the first shipments of food arrived in March 1997. Some 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people were solely dependent on rations from the oil-for-food plan. The program used an escrow system: oil exported from Iraq was paid for by the recipient into an escrow account possessed until 2001 by BNP Paribas bank, rather than to the Iraqi government. The money was then apportioned to pay for war reparations to Kuwait and ongoing coalition and United Nations operations within Iraq, with the remainder (and majority of the revenue) available to the Iraqi government for use in purchasing regulated items. The Iraqi government was then permitted to purchase items that were not embargoed under the economic sanctions. Certain items, such as raw foodstuffs, were expedited for immediate shipment, but requests for most items, including such simple things as pencils and folic acid, were reviewed in a process that typically took about six months before shipment was authorised. Items deemed to have any potential application in chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons systems development were not available to the regime, regardless of what their stated purpose was."
About 90% of Iraqi revenue had been from oil or from tariffs - tariffs on imports paid for with oil. Other taxes could, at best, cause the government to claim a bigger chunk of internally-produced Iraqi stuff - but there was very little internal production. Remember, it's the oil, not the Iraqis. Components _had_ to be imported. So revenue from smuggled oil or from kickbacks was key. Now, how much money did that bring in? GAO says 10.1 billion from 1996 to 2002, mostly oil smuggling. Duelfer says 10.7 billion, mostly oil smuggling. That works out to about 1.4 - 1.5 billion a year.
Sanctions were going to last as long as the US wanted them to. That's what UN vetoes are for. And enforcement was easy, with Iraq having only one port.
There was no Iraqi missile program: you're wrong again. Paper studies only, by wannabees. No metal bent, no tests. We knew from DSP that there had been no launches.

tschafer: "two very real possibilities; 1) That a rogue state such as Iran or a Jihadist Pakistan will provide terrorists with a bomb or bombs, which will be detonated in an American city, killing millions; and 2)The de facto demographic "conquest" of portions of the world through unchecked immigration, and subsequent imposition of Islamic Law. "

#1 is unreal: no one hands out their strategic crown jewels. #2: How's invading Iraq supposed to affect that? Anyhow, if you're that worried about European demographic decline, go have a baby.

"dismiss the latent power in the Islamic World is the purest blinkered chauvanism" I'd be happy to dismiss it. Islam is a zero in science and engineering: this matters. Look at it this way: _I_ have a quarter as many patents as all of Pakistan over the past forty years. "No major invention or discovery has emerged from the Muslim world for well over seven centuries now. "

ricpic: "Funny, I'm one of those dummies who doesn't know what epsilon is, but I do know that jihadism is a HUGE strategic threat." You're wrong. Go watch "Doctor Strangelove".

Tatyana: There was no nuclear program in Iraq in 2003. We spent a billion dollars finding bupkus. There were no fissionables, no plants for making fissionables, no construction in progress on plants to make fissionables.

DHGPJ : "This neatly describes Iran, does it not?" It does not. You'd have to be nuts to think so. Or innumerate. Or innumerate and nuts.

Posted by: gcochran on September 11, 2007 12:10 AM



gcochran,

Economics 101: every dollar you don't have to spend on wheat is a dollar you can spend on something else. The same goes for pencils, folic acid, whatever.

Smuggling is easy. Especially small parts.

Al-Ubur: the Iraqi missile program.

Posted by: Mencius on September 11, 2007 2:50 AM



Also, re your response to Tatyana: what makes you think there would be anything to find? As I said, what is the Iraqis' incentive to leave it there for American forces to find?

You're assuming enemy incompetence again. Maybe you're right. Probably you're right. But it's not a very military way to think.

Posted by: Mencius on September 11, 2007 2:52 AM



A number of people seem to be really bothered by Cochran's cockiness (hey, that works perfectly: Cochran Cockiness...or Cochriness). But aren't you tired of reading and listening to all the Bureau-nerds? This guy is colorful as hell. I'll try to be like him and make a prediction: he's gotta be constantly smoking a big, fat cigar.

Posted by: Inductivist on September 11, 2007 2:58 AM



Thanks for the interview!

A lot of people seem to be reading a little too deeply between the lines. The point is not that civilization should be run by wise, high-IQ geniuses. It's that it should NOT be run by people who are both indifferent and prescientific.

If we need complicated things done well, and we do, our leaders have to be cautious and let the evidence guide their actions. That means we don't let junior appointees rewrite climate science (such as it is), or invade countries willy nilly, or deliberately hide the size of the money supply, etc.

Posted by: Daniel Newby on September 11, 2007 3:50 AM



Mencius says:

Second: all we know is that the two men had a falling out. Why do you assume Albright is right? How do you know they're both not lying? Your skepticism strikes me as awfully selective.

With hindsight it's clear who was lying - but you're right, if there were no other sources of information, I'd have no reason to choose one side over the other. But as Cochran points out, we do have other ways of knowing: there are only a few ways in which to make fissile material, and strong reasons to believe that Iraq under sanctions was not capable of performing them (at least not without being seen). The calutron method which Iraq used before the Gulf War was low-tech, but would have used up enormous amounts of electricity - enough to be detectable.

And something you said earlier:
And in case (a), why in Allah's name would the Ba'athists leave their files, factories, and scientists, to be inspected and discovered? Don't they have fires, explosives, and guns in Iraq? Even if they had some moral qualms or affectionate attachments, why couldn't they ship all of the above to Syria, as many allege they did? What could possibly be implausible about this? Would the omnipotent CIA have magically discovered it?

The CIA is certainly not magically good at finding things out, but neither would Saddam and company be magically good at hiding or moving things. When people say things like "they could have moved it all to Syria without leaving a trace" that strikes me as giving in to conspiracy theorizing - I don't believe it's possible to completely get rid of something that employed hundreds or thousands of people, or to pack up all equipment and traces of physical evidence, etc in a few days or weeks. Most of the wanted people on the "deck of cards" have been captured, including "Mrs. Anthrax" and "Dr. Germ", and then some have been simply released - because there was nothing to find out.

Posted by: tc on September 11, 2007 3:59 AM




I was of course arguing that the specific country of Iraq, with its specific resources,in those specific circumstances,couldn't have built an invisible, undetectable Manhattan project. Not only were they broke as hell and virtually devoid of local productive capacity, but their human resources were, shall we say, bounded. Iraqis on average have low IQ scores. Those that are literate at all have, on average, low levels of education. And the effective population Saddam could recruit from was far lower than it might appear, since the Kurds were effectively independent during all this time, while the Shi'ites were either restive or in active revolt. I doubt if he would have wanted any on such a project.

Posted by: gcochran on September 11, 2007 9:18 AM



"If someone else started to build up a power that threatened to become overwhelming, such that straight-line extrapolation said they'd be able to run all the shows in the near future, a war that put a spoke in their wheel would be worthwhile. Particularly if the gathering threat were infamous assholes, as has been known to happen."

This neatly describes Iran, does it not?

Iran does not threaten to become "overwhelming". Iran threatens to become a dominant regional power at worst.

Wars to put spokes in wheels have traditionally been proxy wars whenever possible, e.g. Afghanistan vs. the USSR and Iraq vs. Iran. Direct attack is the last choice.

One of the dispiriting things about this whole debate has been the attempt to elevate the Islamic threat to the level of the Nazi or Soviet threat. The Islamists have only two cards in their hand: a pool of kamikazes, and a location near the oilfields. They're not even unified, and except probably for Pakistan, no one nation or group is much more threatening than Taiwan or the Czech Republic. (Hyperbole, I suppose, but not by a lot).

And on top of that, Saddam was a secularist.

Posted by: John Emerson on September 11, 2007 10:08 AM



"One of the dispiriting things about this whole debate has been the attempt to elevate the Islamic threat to the level of the Nazi or Soviet threat. "

It does suggest that you might prosper by luring these feebs into a poker game. Other people's innumeracy can be your opportunity.

Posted by: gcochran on September 11, 2007 10:50 AM



To: Razib Assholes Incorporated*
-My name is Tatyana, that is, T-A-T-Y-A-N-A. Not Titania, tatjana, Tatayana, etc.
- My son definitely desrves me, and I deserve him. He's very polite, smart, handsome, respectful, successful - a best son any mother can dream of. The way your mother raised you, I don't think she can say the same, looser.
-all you can do (LOL) - oh yes, that's all you CAN do. You have no arguments, no ability to reason, no respect, no decency - just the skills of a street mob leader, and a very - very thin layer of what is known as civilized behavior. As your name would suggest.


To: G. Cochran.
First, WMD includes chemical and biological weapons. There were numerous finds of those on Iraq territory, well documented. Some of those finds, incidentally, surfaced up recently in UN building - too bad nobody had sense to open those phosgene cans.
Saddam did gassed segment of Iraqi population. Well-documented. He didn't import the gassing agents, he produced them.
Nuclear facility: to wait till actual facilities will be built would be an unforgiveable negligence and a height of stupidity. With threatening dictator like Saddam it is enough that he had an ability and intent to supply nuclear threat. He had to be stopped before it was too late.
As to everything else - if you're such an expert on Russia (with excellent source of expertise being newspaper articles), you should have better ideas where the documents, equiipment and other physical evidence disappeared from Iraq in ample time our too-trusting military and State department gave Russian "diplomats" at the time of campaign. Look up convoys to Syria, it may surprise you.


Posted by: Tatyana on September 11, 2007 11:12 AM



Tweet -- As entertaining as personal battles can be, let's call an end to 'em and get back to the mideast and such.

And no arguments over who started what!

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 11, 2007 11:20 AM



"Other people's innumeracy can be your opportunity. "

I still don't get how you can blame all this on innumeracy. Are you saying that Paul Wolfowitz, with a degree in math and chemistry from Cornell (son of a statistical theorist), is innumerate?

This rather wordy article

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Wolfowitz

portrays a brilliant man. But he's quite fucked up: very haunted by death and war. Not a good choice to make policy at any time, esp times like these.

Posted by: diana on September 11, 2007 11:33 AM



Greg --

I am sure you are a smart guy, but I think you are dismissing tschafer's two threats way too casually.

Nobody thinks it will be *easy* for Islamists to get their hands on a nuclear bomb. But there is a great deal of nuclear material in the world, and a great many corrupt people. I'm sorry, but I don't respect your intellect enough to accept your assurance -- ex cathedra -- that the risk is trivial. A single game of Russian roulette has a fairly low risk too, but that isn't much comfort if you are being forced to look down the barrel.

As for the demographic threat, which would play out over the next 50 years or so, I would love to given a convincing reason to dismiss it. But you just totally blew it off? "Go have a baby"? What kind of answer is that?

Posted by: JohnB on September 11, 2007 12:08 PM



tc:

But as Cochran points out, we do have other ways of knowing: there are only a few ways in which to make fissile material, and strong reasons to believe that Iraq under sanctions was not capable of performing them (at least not without being seen).

First, I think you're overstating the word "strong." As we've seen, Iraq had plenty of both things you need for a nuclear project: scientists and revenue. As the missile program shows, it also had plenty of channels for smuggling. Those aluminum tubes were rocket tubes, not centrifuge tubes, but they weren't bought through the UN, either.

Second, one of the problems with this discussion is that everyone on the planet has gotten into the habit of confusing the real reason the Pentagon decided to invade Iraq, and the official reason the Pentagon decided to invade Iraq. There was at least a plausible case to be made for both, but they shouldn't be confused.

The official reason the Pentagon decided to invade Iraq is that the Ba'athist regime was in long-term, continuous violation of sixteen UN resolutions.

For example, the fact that he had expelled weapons inspectors, even if he had no prohibited weapons projects - as he clearly wanted the world to think - was the precise equivalent of pointing a toy gun at a cop. In hindsight, it's very easy to say that the cop should have noticed that the device pointed at him was a Super Soaker, and the homeless guy behind it was too drunk to aim straight. But it's basically a Johnnie Cochran-class argument. If you don't want a sucking chest wound, don't go around pointing large black things at cops. (Note: I am not defending the proposition that the US should be the world's policeman, I'm just noting that it has been acting as such.)

The actual reason that the Pentagon decided to invade Iraq was that the sanctions regime was clearly not a viable long-term solution. It was leaky and falling apart. Did you notice how every unscrupulous leftist in the world, in 2002 and 2003, spun around in the wind and decided that the baby-killing sanctions were actually the best thing since sliced bread?

And at least if you believe Obeidi, Saddam certainly intended to reactivate his centrifuge program after the end of sanctions, which he certainly had good reason to expect in the medium term. They were never popular in Europe.

The CIA is certainly not magically good at finding things out, but neither would Saddam and company be magically good at hiding or moving things.

Magic is not required. Only competence. Which I would be surprised to find in either the CIA or Saddam and company, quite frankly - but probably more surprised in the case of the former.

And you missed a third option: destroying things. Saddam was certainly good at that. Burned files, blown-up buildings and dead scientists tell no tales whatsoever.

gcochran:

Not only were they broke as hell and virtually devoid of local productive capacity, but their human resources were, shall we say, bounded. Iraqis on average have low IQ scores. Those that are literate at all have, on average, low levels of education.

A nuclear program isn't an Egyptian pyramid. It is not built by 47 million average Iraqis. It is built by tens of thousands of non-average Iraqis. And only a couple hundred of those have to be very bright or competent.

Furthermore, whatever the bell curve might tell you about the number of 130+ IQs in Iraq, it's probably wrong. The use of national IQ statistics, while certainly relevant in many ways, tends to hide the fact that national genetic homogeneity is a myth, especially in a migrational truck-stop like Iraq. I suspect that the Iraqi aristocratic class (largely the Sunni elite) is about as smart as any set of patricians anywhere. Iraq certainly has a very high plebeian-to-patrician ratio, but this has nothing to do with their ability to generate the brains needed for a nuclear program. Which, as we've seen, in the '80s and '90s they did.

There's no question that after the Gulf War, Iraq was a shambles of its former self. There's no question that this knowledge should have been better appreciated in the Pentagon. Given the stupid game-theory example I gave above, clearly if the Pentagon had an ounce of brains on its shoulders it would have not invaded Iraq while promising to find a Manhattan Project, because any country competent enough to build a Manhattan Project is competent enough to destroy it. However, I still think that describing anyone who thought it was possible that Saddam was enriching uranium as a fool or a knave is overdoing it. I suppose in the end this is simply a matter of opinion, though.

John Emerson:

Saddam was a secularist.

Yeah, I suppose that's why he added a Koranic verse in his own handwriting to the Iraqi flag. Geeze, man, do you believe everything you read in the New York Times?

Saddam didn't give a rat's ass about anything besides money and power, preferably the latter. I really really recommend the Said Aburish biography.

Posted by: Mencius on September 11, 2007 12:31 PM



Mencius, Saddam's Iraq was a secular state where the Muslim clergy had little institutional power. Contrast Iran and Saudi Arabia. The US is a secular state even with "In God We Trust" on the coins and "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

I didn't say that Saddam was a nice guy.

One of the advantages we have is that the Islamic world has far too much leadership. No matter how you slice it (secular, Shi'a, Sunni, Iraqi, Egyptian) you have schisms. Neither the Iraqi Sunni nor the Iraqi Sh'ia are united, and if they were they wouldn't necessarily work well with the Saudi Sunni or the Iranian Sh'ia.

The contrast between Chinese and Muslim history is pretty striking. China has been unified about half of the last 2000 years, and most periods of disunity have been North-South divisions caused partly by non-Chinese conquest of the North. The few periods of serious fragmentation have been transitional.

Posted by: John Emerson on September 11, 2007 1:25 PM



Tatyana: "First, WMD includes chemical and biological weapons."

Prior to the runup to the Iraq war, I had never heard the Weapons of Mass Destruction phrase. The phrase itself mixes together very unlike things, and hence is an impediment to clear thinking.

It should be obvious that nuclear, chemical and biological weapons are not at all alike. Of the three, only nuclear weapons are very dangerous. Chemical and biological weapons have never been much use to anyone. Simple things like rain and sunshine tend to destroy most of them, and they are hard to deploy effectively. There are good reasons that haven't seen much use in warfare. The worst case scenarios for hostile use of chemical weapons are several orders of magnitude less deadly than a nuclear bomb.

Suspicion of arguments that employ phrases that obfuscate more than they illuminate is always justified. [The next-worse offender after WMD is IP (Intellectual Property).]

Posted by: Jeff on September 11, 2007 1:43 PM




Oh, it's not a matter of opinion, Mencius

Iraq produces almost nothing locally, has almot zero _ability_ to produce locally, therefore had to buy parts and materials from elsewhere. Those parts, previously freely available in many cases, had become very much more difficult to buy under sanctions. And Iraq had far less foreign exchange with which to buy such things than previously. Any nuclear project had become much more difficult, because it was necessary that it be undetectable to American national technical means.

As for the idea that money in an oil-for-food account could be used to support an arms program? How? You can't just say 'econ 01'
or 'fungibility', you have to look at the details. One can imagine that food imports might have eventually freed up agricultural labor for use in underground factories making calutrons or centrifuges - but that would have taken years. Moreover, you would first have had to educate those workers - sub-high school education isn't enough.
Then there are the security clearance questions: Saddam couldn't have hired anyone who might have talked, which leaves out 80% of the population of Iraq, minimum.

And as for the idea that there's a pool of smart people in Iraq - or Syria or Jordan or Egypt - the distribution of H1B visas sure does not support that idea. _Nothing_ supports that idea.

And of course _no_ country could hide the remains of a Manhattan project when under occupation, anymore than Germany was able to hide any of their projects after they lost the war. _One_ person willing to give physically verifiable testimony in return for a green card and a house in the Arlington suburbs would have blown the whole story. One person, and there would have been thousands in any real project. It was obvious by June 2003 (a "slam-dunk") that no such person existed - and that there was no story to tell.

This was obvious to me but it surely wasn't obvious to you.

As for the Pentagon deciding to invade Iraq, certainly the Joint Chiefs, most of them, never thought it made any sense. Bush decided to invade Iraq, not the Pentagon, as an example of that deep strategic thought for which he is so famous.


Posted by: gcochran on September 11, 2007 1:55 PM



Jeff,
You very well might nover heard of the term, that doesn't mean it didn't exist, nor the phenomenon it describes.
I know some smirk at Wiki, but it's the closest to the top in a quick googling (and my lunch is coming to the end), but even there the article gives it good 50 years' life.

Nobody argues that chemical/biological weapons are as or more effective as nuclear in terms of number of lost lives. They still remain deadly enough to kill hundredds of thousands pretty quickly - ask the Kurds in Iraq.

Posted by: Tatyana on September 11, 2007 2:37 PM



H1B visas? Now, that's a strange dataset. You don't think there are maybe one or two confounding variables?

Iraq had an open smuggling path through Iran for just about anything. Whatever it bought through oil-for-food it could sell. But besides this, basically: Iraq's only major revenue stream came from oil before 1990, after 1990, after 1996, and (except for Uncle Sam) now. The only change in the OFP era is that its balance of trade was centrally planned, quite ineffectively, by the UN, whose main purpose was to earn a cut. If it had the brains and dollars to run a nuclear program before 1990, why not after 1990?

Again, I encourage you to read a little more about Iraq. It was once considered the Germany of the Arab world, it had a substantial educated middle class, and it defeated Iran in a quite nontrivial war.

Have you ever heard of Mutanabbi Street, for example? Where is the Mutanabbi Street of Angola, Bangladesh or the Congo? What community do you think bloggers like Riverbend came from? How do you think Iraq ended up with physicists such as Hamza, Shahristani, Obeidi, Khadduri, etc, etc? Sure, none of these guys is a Fermi or a Feynman. They didn't have to be.

As for persons willing to testify: you don't think Saddam knew how to kill people? Same goes for your 80% figure. Nuclear physics, whatever. We're talking core competence here. Baghdad under Saddam was basically the Los Alamos of murder and intimidation. Again, read some stuff about Saddam. His operation made Al Capone look like a two-bit asshole.

Posted by: Mencius on September 11, 2007 3:49 PM



John,

The problem is that when people say "Iraq was a secular state," typically what they mean is that the Ba'athists had been reading Dawkins and would never have worked with those nasty Islamic nutcases, or vice versa.

To say this has no relationship to the reality of Iraq, or of any of today's Islamic movements, is putting it mildly. They are all part of the Frantz Fanon third-world gangster complex. Ideological details are entirely irrelevant and easily take a back seat to expediency. It's like saying there's no way the Mafia could have collaborated with Murder Inc, because the Mafia are Catholics and Murder Inc were Jews, and the Jews killed Christ.

Saddam was a little late getting on the Islam train, but he was certainly figuring it out. "Arab unity" - a la UAR - the original basis of the Ba'ath ideology - was definitely last year's flavor.

Posted by: Mencius on September 11, 2007 3:54 PM




There is no Arab Germany. There's not even an Arab Belgium. And I know a lot about the Iran-Iraq war - a war in which Saddam, with a near-monopoly of modern battle tanks, decided that the best course was to _bury_ them and use them as an inferior substitute for pillboxes. A war of blunder and counter-blunder - particularly inexcusable since all the relevant lessons had already been learned in the world wars.

This is silly - I'm supposed to think that Iran was going to allow nuclear imports into Iraq? That never happened.

Enough already: you don't know what you're talking about and you don't care to think it through. No soup for you!

Posted by: gcochran on September 11, 2007 4:26 PM



To say this has no relationship to the reality of Iraq, or of any of today's Islamic movements, is putting it mildly. They are all part of the Frantz Fanon third-world gangster complex.

Jesus, Mencius, you say smart things sometimes, but not this time.

What you said points directly back to the second half of the same statement you're responding to. Saddam, Qaddafi, Prince Bandar, Musharraf, Assad, Osama, and the others are all thuggish guys, but none of them is willing to be subordinated to any of the others, and they can be set against one another. The Pan-Islamic and Pan-Arabic movements have all flopped.

In your words, it's a complex, not a state or an organization.

Usually when people conjure up nightmares, they're talking about unified Islam. Saddam certainly was an impediment to unified Islam, and he would have been even if he had become an Islamist. But he didn't.

The only card you really have left to play is an Islamic nuclear bomb. That's certainly something to think about, but I tend to accept Cochrane's judgment over yours, especially in thinking that they key factor is the ex-USSR's stocks of fissionable material.

Posted by: John Emerson on September 11, 2007 4:39 PM



gcochran,

Not only am I unimpressed - but I'll whoop your ass any day at College Bowl. I thought you were smarter than this. You don't respond to half my arguments and you're unnecessarily rude. You've done great things, but I'm starting to worry that too many people have been kissing your you-know-what for too long.

John,

I don't think we disagree at all. Gangsters always have a lot of trouble working together. It's hard to establish any kind of trust. The same could be said for the Soviet bloc - just because you're a Communist and I'm a Communist doesn't mean we're not trying to kill each other.

My point is that when people say "Saddam was a secularist," what they mean is that he and al-Qaeda were sworn eternal enemies, like the Pope and the Elders of Zion. Which just ain't so. All these people are quite pragmatic, in their own weird way.

Posted by: Mencius on September 11, 2007 5:33 PM



Mencius says:
because any country competent enough to build a Manhattan Project is competent enough to destroy it.

As for persons willing to testify: you don't think Saddam knew how to kill people? Same goes for your 80% figure. Nuclear physics, whatever. We're talking core competence here. Baghdad under Saddam was basically the Los Alamos of murder and intimidation. Again, read some stuff about Saddam. His operation made Al Capone look like a two-bit asshole.

I think this is flat-out false - ascribing magical powers to Saddam's secret police. They were good at intimidation, sure - getting people to shut up out of fear - but the people were still there. No one, certainly not the Baathists, is competent at identifying and eliminating every last person, out of thousands who might have worked on some project - and even then, killing people would leave traces, the killers themselves would know, and now they are the ones who have been captured by the US. Saddam and his police are gone, there's no longer any reason to keep quiet - unless nothing actually existed in the first place.

But besides this, basically: Iraq's only major revenue stream came from oil before 1990, after 1990, after 1996, and (except for Uncle Sam) now. The only change in the OFP era is that its balance of trade was centrally planned, quite ineffectively, by the UN, whose main purpose was to earn a cut. If it had the brains and dollars to run a nuclear program before 1990, why not after 1990?

Because much of the brains (and parts) had to be imported from abroad - not possible anymore without being noticed. The total amount coming in is much smaller than before - a fourth or less during 1991-1996, and subject to UN controls afterwards - if you want to sell your oil-for-food wheat, you have to ship it back out again - not easy. Not just the weapons programs, but the oil infrastructure, the military equipment, etc turns out to basically have been decaying since sanctions began.

Posted by: tc on September 11, 2007 7:41 PM



I think this is flat-out false - ascribing magical powers to Saddam's secret police. They were good at intimidation, sure - getting people to shut up out of fear - but the people were still there. No one, certainly not the Baathists, is competent at identifying and eliminating every last person, out of thousands who might have worked on some project - and even then, killing people would leave traces, the killers themselves would know, and now they are the ones who have been captured by the US.

Don't forget that quite a few Iraqis ended up in Syria. And as for "thousands who might have worked," presumably if they can build nuclear devices, they can keep their HR files on a computer. Also, with many engineering projects it's not hard to compartmentalize the purpose of what you're building - the Germans did a good bit of this in the '30s.

Because much of the brains (and parts) had to be imported from abroad - not possible anymore without being noticed. The total amount coming in is much smaller than before - a fourth or less during 1991-1996, and subject to UN controls afterwards - if you want to sell your oil-for-food wheat, you have to ship it back out again - not easy. Not just the weapons programs, but the oil infrastructure, the military equipment, etc turns out to basically have been decaying since sanctions began.

When you look at the missile program, etc, you see that sufficient smuggling channels were open. Iraq has a lot of borders. The aluminum tubes never made it, but that's because someone in Australia blew the whistle.

It's actually something of a minor miracle that Iraq didn't hook up with AQ Khan when he was running his turnkey bomb-design enterprise. Perhaps this is because they already had their own centrifuge and device designs, although I suspect the AQ Khan ones were probably better. Being European and Chinese in origin respectively, AFAIK.

You are definitely right that Iraq after the Gulf War was a mess, and stayed that way. Low oil prices probably had a lot to do with that as well.

Do I actually think Iraq had a nuclear program, and destroyed it or shipped it to Syria or whatever? No, I don't. But the reason I don't is due to my circumstantial perception of a lot of things we learned only after the invasion - like how disorganized and decayed the regime turned out to be.

For example, it turns out that Saddam didn't really have a plan for reverting his regime to a guerrilla movement after the American invasion. This is just not the Saddam we knew and hated. The young Saddam, the '80s Saddam, always thought three steps ahead. The 2003 Saddam was totally out of it and delusional. I wouldn't be surprised if he had some kind of substance problem or something, like Goering, because at the trial he seemed like more of his old self - again, like Goering. His whole "Moqtada?" thing at the execution? Completely bad-ass, the original thug, total presence, great dignity and courage.

Posted by: Mencius on September 11, 2007 8:10 PM



Can I enquire, who the heck is this effort supposed to pay off for?

Frederick,

Try the western Europe of the 1400s. Plague, war, and authoritariarn government. Not the sort of place where you'd think democracy would take root. But, over the centuries it did. Self-government is not something you can establish overnight, it can take a while. In our case it took centuries. Centuries to overthrow long tradition and once eternal verities. It may well take centuries to perform the same in Iraq and her neighbors.

Troubles we have, but they are matters of the moment. There are solutions to our financial and social problems, if we can become wise enough to use them. Tyranny is a long term problem, one that won't go away if we don't take measures. So long as people live under a despot of any stripe there will be those who hate our guts and would see us reduced to their misery. It's not for us we do this. It is not for us we are making this effort to bring freedom to the world, but our descendents. For as long as any are not free, all are harmed by the oppression.

You say that we cannot bestride the world like a colossus. When have we ever done that? I know there are some who act in that manner,but all? Ever been to a county fair in the midwest? Ever watched as the people went from exhibit to exhibit, display to display. What you're seeing here is pride, not arrogance. We're proud of who we are, and proud of what we do, and if we go on a bit large at time, have we not the right? And if we go on a bit large about the accomplishments of others, of Italians and Chinese and even Iraqis, have we not the right to applaud their accomplishments? That is the strange thing about us, we can and do show pride in what others have done and are doing. We are the first people since the Romans to make heroes of our enemies, and sometimes even when we are fighting them.

This struggle will not be measured in years, but in generations. This struggle will not be counted in nations, but in peoples. A world is ending and a new age is being born. We can no more say where it will end, when it will end, or how it will end, than our ancestors could say with any confidence how Virginia Colony would be in the year 2000. We're not yet that wise. We may never be.

It's time to learn patience, for if we do not we may will doom our species to extincton.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on September 12, 2007 4:57 AM



John Wagner,

Believing somebody is a great thinker is not the same as knowing someone is a great thinker. Have you ever seriously considered evidence that shows that Chomsky is not the wunderkind he insists he is?

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on September 12, 2007 5:07 AM



GCochran,

Spend generations in Afghanistan? I am ready to make the effort if it takes a millennium, for failure is not an option.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on September 12, 2007 5:09 AM



Alan Kellogg: Spend generations in Afghanistan? I am ready to make the effort if it takes a millennium, for failure is not an option.

That's a lovely sentiment, Alan, but I'm afraid you're not going to live that long. I would appreciate it if you restrained the messianic nutbaggery, and the threat it represents to the patrimony I'd like to bequeath to my own descendants, in the time you do have allotted.

Posted by: Moira Breen on September 12, 2007 10:16 AM



"Failure is not an option."

Is that slogan from a comic book, a video game, or an action movie? I'm out of touch with the sources of American political thought, I guess.

Posted by: John Emerson on September 12, 2007 10:23 AM



Mr. Kellog:

There are many possible answers to your arguments, but the best one was uttered 186 years ago by John Quincy Adams:

America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government...Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.
She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force....She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit....

I'll grant you, after 70 years of propaganda urging Americans to search out monsters (and monstrous profits) abroad, it is hard to remember that we were once so sensible.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on September 12, 2007 11:19 AM



"The era of procrastination, of half-measures of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences." - Winston Churchill

- or -

"The chickens are coming home to roost." -Robt Southey

Posted by: Tinman von Blowhard on September 12, 2007 1:01 PM



Mencius says:
For example, it turns out that Saddam didn't really have a plan for reverting his regime to a guerrilla movement after the American invasion. This is just not the Saddam we knew and hated. The young Saddam, the '80s Saddam, always thought three steps ahead. The 2003 Saddam was totally out of it and delusional. I wouldn't be surprised if he had some kind of substance problem or something, like Goering, because at the trial he seemed like more of his old self - again, like Goering. His whole "Moqtada?" thing at the execution? Completely bad-ass, the original thug, total presence, great dignity and courage.

I have a different take. Yes, Saddam was very good at being a dictator: crushing internal opposition, taking out rivals, using force to intimidate potential troublemakers, etc - just like Stalin, who he consciously studied. But that doesn't make you good at dealing with forces outside your regime's power - such as understanding what Bush Sr. would do after he invaded Kuwait, or that Bush Jr. really intended to invade (or, in an earlier case, as Stalin failed to understand Hitler's intentions). It doesn't make you good at being a general - Cochran alludes to the Iran-Iraq war, where Saddam did things that were militarily senseless but designed to shore up his power (again, Stalin wasn't too great militarily in the beginning - but he wised up). And it doesn't make you good at understanding the technology behind WMD.

Posted by: tc on September 12, 2007 4:18 PM



tc,

I pretty much agree - Saddam, at least in his prime, was a genius of violence. He'd never lived outside the Arab world, though, and his understanding of the West was very bad. Internal security was really his core competence.

Of course he was not a nuclear physicist. Neither was FDR or Stalin - or even Groves or Beria. Saddam and Beria may be a good comparison, although Beria was probably a better manager. But when you have total power over an entire country, even a backwater like Iraq, you can usually scrape up one or two decent managers, and even nuclear physicists.

This doesn't tell the whole story, though. There was certainly an energy to the Ba'athist state of the '70s and '80s, much as there was an energy to the Stalinist state into the '50s. In retrospect this reflected the survival of pre-revolutionary elite culture - a la Mutanabbi Street, Baghdad College, etc.

And regardless of oil revenue, Mukhabarat efficiency, IQ gene pools, whatever, Iraqi society after 1990 was smashed, decaying and demoralized. Saddam's supply of human talent just wasn't what it once was. Coupled with the fact that he wasn't what he once was, in hindsight this is perhaps the most salient reason that Iraq was not especially dangerous, and would not have become so even if the sanctions had completely fallen apart. But of course hindsight is always easy.

Posted by: Mencius on September 12, 2007 9:24 PM



Moira Breen,

Obtuseness is not a virtue. When I speak long term it means centuries. When I speak long term it means generations of effort, much as it meant generations to establish the modern representative democracy from it's beginnings in town meetings and village councils. For it is my goal to see that your descendents can live in a world where basic human dignity is valued. That means sacrifices now, then sacrifice and count it a paltry cost.

Friedrich,

It is then wrong to support and encourage, to provide assistance for those working towards a better world? Is our fortune too fragile a thing to share with the world?

Or are we the only ones who deserve what we have? Have we become so jealous of the success of others we must deny them any chance of reaching our level of success? And who said anything about battling monsters as the only way of accomplishing anything?

Fight when you have to, encourage when you can, and learn when each course of action applies.

This is not John Quincy Adam's America. This is not John Quincy Adam's Earth. This is a different world from what he knew, and it calls for different ways of dealing with the problems. The United States is larger, it is stronger, it is more capable. We could change the world for the better, and if that be arrogance, I say good.

Friedrich, who died and made you Judas?

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on September 13, 2007 4:34 AM



Gen. Patreaus believes we will have to be in Iraq for another 7-10 years. We are currently dropping $100 billion in the POS every year we are there. 7-10 more years of this means around $1 Trillion dollars.

Here is what Jerry Pournelle would do with $500 billion:

"The simple solution to US energy problems is 200 new 1000 MW nuclear power plants. While the first of these may cost $4 billion, by #200 they will be under $1 billion each (design to a common standard, streamline licensing) and the whole thing would cost far less than a year of the war in Iraq. Now take $100 billion and tell the US Army (or Navy) to build a space based solar power satellite that can deliver 100 MW to any spot within 45 degrees of the Equator. Once the first one is built, others will be fairly cheap; and we can build a Moon Base on third shifts and weekends.

(My comments: this would make opening up the solar system to human settlement a weekend job.)

That takes care of the primary energy problems. Meanwhile take $100 billion and offer it in $1 billion chunks as prizes for specific goals in electrical energy storage and conversion of the transportation system to electricity in so far as that's possible. Appropriate $200 billion to implement the conversion to electrical in transportation. Give it five years.

That's $500 billion and five years. Assume we'd done that on September 12, 2002, Sable's birthday.

Well, I told you so."

The neo-cons believe in investing $1 Trillion dollars on Arabs. Jerry Pournelle believes in investing $500 billion on new technology and opening up the high frontier.

Gee guys! Which do you think is a better investment?

This whole interventionist foreign policy gig is the worse POS rat-hole that tax-payers' money has ever been wasted on. Do keep in mind what "sunk" costs are and how to deal with them.

Posted by: Kurt9 on September 13, 2007 1:59 PM



Whoa, Greg Cochran. Real amazing guy with his unbarred homophobia yet near-homoerotic relationships with Sailer, Razib, and all the other hyped up third-rate racialist intellectuals. God how do you fucking douchebags even take yourselves seriously?

Posted by: balls on September 14, 2007 2:38 AM



Alan Kellogg, I feel like I'm in an episode of South Park. The one shown in 1999 with the man frozen for a year and revived from 1998. But you've been frozen since 2003. Well, that was then and this is now. The Iraq war is a failure. We're going to give up, retreat, cut and run, chicken out, call it what you will. The political will to keep going for another two years doesn't exist, let alone for centuries. There is nothing inspiring about throwing blood and money down a third world sewer. Lebanon should have taught us this, Somalia should have taught us this, maybe Iraq will.

Posted by: Rick on September 14, 2007 6:43 PM



Retroactive wisdom is OK but I would like to know what Cochran thinks of the atomic bomb development by Iran. Is it nonsense and disinformation as he correctly pointed out for Saddam? Or we are going to wake up one morning with the Ahmedinijad ruling the Middle East and Europe? He has the means of delivery, unlike Saddam. What does he think about China's development? This year its industrial production grew by 17% (17% !!) while Japan's decreased. Are we in the way of sending again ambassadors to offer tribute to Peking?

Posted by: j on September 15, 2007 12:04 PM



Mr. Cochran:

1. The thrust of your article is about how you could see the problems coming. But your CIA literacy factoid was not in place until 2005, well after the invasion and when you could be passing judgement (usefully) on Wolfowitz.

2. The service academies are not Harvard. They're maybe Williams. They have to produce more than Mahans though. They need to produce leaders of men and masters of the operational art. And middle managers. You should not expect genius in generals. It doesn't select for that.

3. Do you really think Don Rumsfeld is not intelligent? He certainly knows how to bitch slap one class of opinion makers, well (newsies). He eschews Powerpoint and requires point papers instead. He succeeded in corporate leadership. I think he's a bit of a beaurocratic schemer and advancer. But not dumb.

4. (This is additive, rather than a critique.) For me (serving during both Gulf Wars), the thing that most made me think Saddam had WMD (well second to trusting those who I expected to have done detailed analysis prior to touting it), was that Saddam was further along in 1991 than what we thought. Or at least that is what the post war intel said. I remember in 1991, thinking that several of my serving friends in the infantry were likely to be dead soon. I was a bit uneasy about the rationale expressed on WMD in 1991. Thought it was glib and worried it was plucked from the ass. But when the post war intel showed that it was underestimated, I took the claims more seriously the second time round. Guess I was wrong on both...

Posted by: TCO on September 16, 2007 7:32 PM



Give me Homer Simpson over Cochran any day.
Posted by: Shouting Thomas on September 10, 2007 9:01 AM

Have you seen Idiocracy?

Posted by: Alan Andrews on September 23, 2007 5:06 PM






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