Friday, January 06, 2006

Could he wind up on Wall Street? 

Anyone remember all the moaning and groaning coming out of certain quarters a few months ago when Chavez had Venezuela's foreign reserves transferred from US dollars to Euros? Don't expect to hear much about it from those whiners anymore. The dollar just reached a three month low against the Euro showing indeed what a brilliant move this was by Chavez.

In fact, the Euro gained 3% against the dollar in just the past week. So, if we assume that say $10 billion out of the aproximately $30 billion in foreign reserves were part of that switch then Venezuela just made 300 million dollars ($10 billion times 3%) on that switch in the past week alone!!! Maybe that will help pay for a new bridge.

If the Venezuelan electorate is foolish enough to vote Chavez out later this year I suppose he can always get a job as a currency trader on Wall Street.


Viaduct 1 down for the count 

As most of you are probably already aware the Viaduct number 1 has been closed to all traffic and the Caracas-La Guaira highway is effectively closed. This is very bad news for Venezuela.

Here is what happened. As I mentioned earlier in the week, the viaduct had been in serious trouble for some time now with some of its support beams being undercut by land sliding down the side of the ravine which it spans. To try to save it the original supporting beams had been cut and new ones put in its place. While initially successful that effort has now failed. The reason being that the slow motion landslide has now accelerated and is even pushing down the replacement support columns. There have been very heavy rains recently which may have contributed to the acceleration of this process. The end result is that Wednesday night the Viaduct moved out of place another 26 centimeters and the road surface developed large cracks. With this it had to be closed and will probably never re-open.

Looking at this picture one can see how distorted the original supporting colums were. But that isn't the problem - they had already been cut. It is the new supporting columns to either side that are now starting the same slide down the mountain. Note metal scaffolding to the left side and you can see that it too is now distorted. The vaiduct moved even more over Thursday night and it has now been closed to even pedestrian traffic.

In addition to indicating the definitive demise of this viaduct this also indicates the replacement to it will have to be creative. They can't simply build a simliar viaduct right next to it as ultimately the same thing will happen to it. So although that would be the easiest and quickest solution it would be an irresponsible one. So they will have to either come up with some original design that won't be effected by these slow motion landslides or build a bridge with supports that can somehow withstand them.

But before any of that happens there is a huge mess. The main route now between Caracas and the coast is an old two lane road which cannot handle this amount of traffic. It is also in a state of disrepair and parts of it are also collapsing. During the day they are allowing only passenger traffic on it in both directions. At night it is for the exclusive use of cargo trucks in one direction only with different directions on alternating nights. The only saving grace there is that this happened after the time of peak imports before Christmas so cargo traffic is fairly light right now.

These alternate routes are of little use to the people who communeted into Caracas on a daily basis from the cost. They will probably have to find temporary shelter in Caracas to continue with their jobs. The tourist areas on the coast will certainly be devestated. So there will be adverse economic impact from this. And all this with the knowledget that a temporary replacement bridge won't be ready for at least another month. All in all, this, while not catostrophic, is certianly bad news that could have been averted if the government had acted with more foresite.


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

This sure sucks 

There was some rather disheartening news in Ultimas Noticias today. In 2005 there were 1,621 murders in the Caracas area and this represents a 25% increase over 2004. This is not actually an official number but rather a compilation put together by Ultimas Noticias based on press reports and fragmentary police statistics. They have done this before and apparently these unofficial estimates are reliable.

Earlier in the year I had done at least a couple of posts reporting that based on statistics released at that time crime and homicide rates seemed to be going down. They may have been accurate as according to the Ultimas Noticias estimate there were 612 murders in the first half of the year and 1,009 in the second half. So maybe there was some progress and then for some reason a significant step backwards? I'm not really sure on that but the balance for the year is now known to be decidely negative.

So, this point is going to have to be conceded to the opposition - crime, as least in as much as this one statistic reflects overall crime patterns, is not only out of control but became decidedly worse in the past year. The buck clearly stops with Chavez and his allies as this past year was pricesly the year when the forces of Chavismo controlled most of the major law enforcement departments in metro Caracas including the all important Metropolitan Police. So this is a major failing by Chavez backed local governments and in particular the mayor of Libertador, Freddy Bernal, and the Metropolitan Carcas Mayor, Juan Barreto. Its now past time for someone to put a foot in their rear ends to get them to take effective action on this. This sort of incompetance with deadly consequences certainly isn't going to win Chavismo any more friends or converts.


A prediction sadly turned true 

As I mentioned a few days ago the U.S. bombing offensive against Iraq was bound to kill innocents and create more insurgents. We sure didn't have to wait long for confirmation of that. And remember for every incident like this that makes the news there are probably scores that don't.

I guess the only question now is how long it will take the relatives of these dead women and children to become fully trained insurgents. My guess is a few months. Maybe they killed some insurgents in this bombing run but I think it is virtually guarenteed that they created more insurgents than they killed.


An interesting move 

In an interesting move that I'm not sure I fully understand Venezuela sold 600 million dollars of the Argentinian bonds it had bought to help the Argentine government to private Venezuelan banks.

They didn't give any details (such as how much money the government made on the transaction) but this sounds to me like the Venezuelan government is no longer on the hock for these bonds. That is, if Argentina were to default it would be the Venezuelan banks that would be at risk, not the Venezuelan government. That was always the primary concern of the opposition about this transaction, that Venezuela was taking a big risk with its money, and hopefully this should at least partly remedy it.

Hopefully, more details will be forthcoming on this.


Monday, January 02, 2006

Making Venezuela proud 

Many people who have not been to Venezuela may have the false impression that its capital, Caracas, is a coastal city. It isn’t. It is a pseudo costal city at best. It is actually located less than 10 miles from the ocean as the crow flies. But even that overstates how close Caracas is to the sea. The reason for that is that between Caracas and the ocean there is a large mountain chain which is essentially where the Andes mountains that form the spine of South America end. These mountains, know as “El Avila”, top out at around 7,000 feet and almost completely cut Caracas off from the sea. Further, Caracas itself is in a valley at an altitude of about 3,000 which was key in providing for a more moderate climate less prone to tropical disease.

Skyscrapers of downtown Caracas (with very tacky advertisements) with the Avila in the background. On the other side of the mountains lies the Caribbean Sea.

But what Caracas’s location gave in terms of a favorable climate it took away in terms of ease of transport. To get from the coast to the city required an arduous and lengthy trip through the mountains. In the 1950s the trip was greatly eased when a modern 4 lane highway was built between La Guaira on the coast and Caracas. The highway, called the Caracas-La Guaira highway, is truly an engineering marvel. It winds its way through steep valleys, crosses deep ravines, and when necessary tunnels directly through mountains. All of this is done through terrain that is very rugged. The mountain and ravine walls are very steep and jagged reflecting the youth of these mountains – they are much more rugged than anything people in eastern North America will be used to.

Some of the rugged mountains that the Caracas- Guaira highway traverses.

In this case the only path is to tunnel straight through a rather massive mountain

However, the ruggedness of the terrain not only created problems in the construction of the highway but also for its maintenance. As you can imagine combining these steep mountains with the heavy rains that frequent Caracas is a recipe for landslides. This is precisely what happened in 1999 when rain induced landslides killed thousands along the north face of El Avila.

Now the movement of land is taking its toll on the Caracas-La Guira highway. Specifically, one very long viaduct that crosses a deep ravine known as Viaduct #1 is being threatened with collapse. I will use the following graphic from Ultimas Noticias to show what is happening:

The top center picture shows what the viaduct looks like from the side. It is an arched concrete structure spanning a ravine that is about a thousand feet long and, I’ve been told, about 500 feet deep.

The fundamental problem is that the earth on the south side of viaduct is sliding down the ravine and taking the viaduct supports with it. However, the land isn’t moving straight down. It is also moving to the side. So the supports are being moved in two directions, one is toward the middle of the span which is compressing the viaduct and creating a prominent upward bulge in its center. The other lateral movement is pushing the viaduct off its axis to the side. Both these movements, if they continue, threaten the viaduct with collapse.

This is a picture taken while crossing Viaduct #1. If you look closely you can see that the center span is buckling upwards with the taxi straight ahead being at its apex

These movements have actually been going on for some time now (they were first noticed in the 1980s) and due to their potential seriousness have been monitored closely by the Venezuelan authorities. Of late the late the situation has become much more serious as the rate of movement of the land, and hence the viaduct supports, has accelerated. Where once the movement was measured in millimeters per week now it is centimeters. At that rate it was calculated that the viaduct would collapse within weeks. This would be disastrous for Caracas, cutting it off from the coast, its port, and from Venezuela’s principle international airport. There are alternate routes that could be used but they are not at all capable of handling the amount of traffic that the highway does, and they are generally much longer and more dangerous routes. Worse still, they are in state of disrepair and would take weeks or months of work to be made ready for traffic. So finding a way to avert the collapse of the viaduct #1 took on a great deal of urgency.

The engineers of the Venezuelan Infrastructure Ministry and their private contractors came up with an ingenious and novel solution. To prevent the supports that are being pushed down the ravine from pulling down the whole viaduct with them the decision was made to build replacement supports and then completely sever the original concrete supporting pillars.

Referring back to the Ultimas Noticias diagram they have a picture of the supports on the left and a schematic diagram of them on the right. The original supports are in red and looking at the photo one can see how far they have been displaced (the superimposed orange graphic shows what their original position was). The picture also shows the replacement supports with the bottom part of them being a concrete base (in green) and the top part of them being a metal scaffolding (in blue) that reaches up to the roadway. Why the substitute concrete base was not built all the way up to the roadway will be apparent shortly.

With the substitute supports in place by mid-December the original supports, the ones sliding down the ravine, were completely cut so that they are no longer supporting the viaduct and are no longer putting dangerous pressures on it. One of the more amazing aspects of this is that the viaduct has remained in operation during all of this. It has rarely been shut down for more than 20 minutes during particularly delicate parts of the work. This really is the civil engineering equivalent of open heart surgery. But the severing of the old supports is only half the story. To give the other half of the story I need to show another Ultimas Noticias graphic:

In the top part of the graphic we again see the original structure (bluish-grey) the new concrete supports (brownish-grey) and the steel supports (brown) on top of the new concrete supports. In the bottom left of the graphic we see why there are two parts to the new supports. To save the viaduct it isn’t simply enough to stop its movement. It was already so far out of position that it was under tremendous stress which put it in risk of failure. So not only did the moving supports need to be cut but also a way needed to be found to move the viaduct at least part way back to its original position.

To accomplish this the metal part of the new supports doesn’t directly lay on the concrete base but instead on steel rollers. As is also shown in the graphic they have position hydraulic jacks on the concrete base and intend to push the metal part of the supports, and the roadway along with it, back into its original position or at least as far as possible. This was actually begun right before the Christmas holiday and has proven more difficult than was anticipated. They only managed to move it a few centimeters before taking a break for the holidays. Due to the difficulties in moving it with the hydraulic jacks they were talking about bring in heavy lift helicopters with slings to pull the viaduct into position!!

So this is very much still a work in progress and the work is set to resume on January 3rd. Lets hope that the rest of the work goes as well as it has up to this point (I sure hope this post doesn’t jinx anything). What’s more, this is only a temporary solution. After all, the new supports will eventually begin sliding down the ravine too. The engineers’ estimate that what they are doing is giving the viaduct an additional 300 days of use by which time alternate routes can hopefully be prepared. But needless to say, following the day to day work on the viaduct with all the potential risks has been both suspenseful and amazing. Some day I expect to see a Discovery Channel special on this – it really is that dramatic and unique.

Finally there are some other comments that really need to be made here. The first is that to the best of my knowledge this is an entirely Venezuelan operation. In all that I have read about it I have never heard any reference made to foreign involvement in any of the work or even consulting. Venezuelans unfortunately often suffer from the notion that what is Venezuelan is inherently inferior and what comes from abroad is better. Yet what is taking place with the Viaduct #1 is world class engineering which if successfully completed will probably be studied by civil engineers for years. This should clearly show that technical competence is not solely the province of those from northern latitudes.

Maybe even more importantly, although the Venezuelan opposition media often comes across as hoping the viaduct collapses just to embarrass the Chavez government, the people carrying out the work aren’t showing their political colors – only their engineering excellence. Given that most of the people are involved are private contractors it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that many of them oppose Chavez. But quite frankly I couldn’t care less what their political tendencies are just as I had no use for the debate about whether Ozzie Guillen was a Chavista or not. It just really doesn’t matter. It is often lost amongst all the hot air that politics isn’t a sport were we sit around and rout for “our” side to win. What politics is supposed to be about is making peoples lives better. The workers and engineers fighting to save the Viaduct #1 are not only making Venezuela better with their hard work and ingenuity – they should also be making Venezuelans very, very proud.


Too bad for them Ali Rodriguez already has a job 

No sooner than I post on Iraq's energy problems thinking they are about as bad as they can get they screw me up by getting even worse:

Iraq's oil exports hit their lowest level since the war, according to figures released on Monday, heightening a sense of crisis as fuel supplies grow scarce and political leaders struggle to form a government.

Iraq exported 1.1 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil in December, a senior official said -- less than any month since exports resumed in mid-2003 after the U.S. invasion and about half the level seen during sanctions under Saddam Hussein.

Sabotage is damaging plants and blocking investment, keeping exports at a fraction of targets officials say should be met if Iraq's vast reserves are to provide its people with the prosperity that might draw the sting of civil conflict.

The oil official was speaking after Oil Minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum announced his resignation in opposition to fuel price rises imposed last month as part of an aid deal with the International Monetary Fund that demands big cuts in subsidies.


If the new government is to revitalize the economy, economists say, it must harness Iraq's vast proven oil preserves -- the third largest in the world.

But successive governments have struggled to do so since the fall of Saddam, and the latest export figures suggest things are getting worse.

December's 1.1 million bpd was down from 1.2 million the previous month, said Shamkhi Faraj, Director General of Economics and Oil Marketing, who oversees Iraq's oil exports.

That compares with a post-war peak of around 1.8 million bpd in early 2005 and is well below exports under Saddam, when Iraq regularly exported 1.8-2.5 million bpd.

With oil production dropping I'm sure they are getting desperate to find someone who can turn the situation around. Ali Rodriguez, who as the then president of PDVSA, got the sabotaged Venezuelan production back up from zero to over 3 million barrels a day in a matter of months would seem the ideal candidate. But he already has a job as the Venezuelan Foriegn Minister and given his life long anti-imperialist stance I seriously doubt any amount of money could persuade him to aid the U.S. imperial adventure in Iraq.

On another note, I briefly mentioned this in a post a few days ago but it is really stunning to see Iraq getting jerked around by the IMF. The U.S. is in a hugely important war their that they very much risk losing. You would think they would want to do absolutely everything they could to avoid having your average Iraqi get any more pissed off than they already are. Yet they allow the IMF to ram draconian gas price increases down the Iraqi's throats. You really have to wonder what gives. After all, the U.S. could easliy pay the few billion dollars that is being saved by those increases out of its own treasury. So why are they allowing something like this to be done by the IMF which puts in jeapordy their whole project? I don't know. Figuring out how these neo-cons minds work is not something that comes easily to me. But I suspect that the IMF is such a key organization when it comes to imposing their economic will on countries all around the world that they don't want to risk doing anything to undermine its authority even if it makes the situation in Iraq worse.


A poster referenced this link which provides additional and highly interesting information on this topic. It starts out with some of the information that we already knew:

Two-and-a-half years after the US invasion of Iraq, the country's oil industry is still in disarray. An official of the Oil Ministry in Baghdad told ISN Security Watch, on condition of anonymity: “We do not know the exact quantity of oil we are exporting, we do not exactly know the prices we are selling it for, and we do not know where the oil revenue is going to.”

According to Baghdad press reports, export revenues are still not sufficient to cover the Iraqi state budget. The government is forced to take loans from international banks to cover its running expenses.

Although the US invested around US$1.3 billion in the rehabilitation of oil plants damaged by lack of maintenance during 13 years of UN sanctions, the daily output of approximately 1.3 million barrels remains far below Iraq’s pre-war production level of 2.5 million barrels.

The production goal for December 2004 of 3 million barrels per day, set by the US and the Iraqi government, cannot be reached in the near future, according to experts within the Iraqi Oil Ministry who talked to ISN Security Watch.

The Iraqi government looks set to lose US$8 billion a year in potential oil revenue, due to the poor current state of the oil industry.

But then its gets into some analysis of why the Iraqi oil industry is doing so poorly:

One of the reasons for the decline of the industry is a lack of progress in the reconstruction effort, due to serious managerial deficiencies.

For instance Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) was awarded a US$225 million contract, without a tender, to rehabilitate the Qarmat Ali Water Plant in southern Iraq, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

The plant is used to pump water into the ground in order to build pressure that brings the oil to the surface.

However, the contract did not include the repair of the pipelines carrying the water to the oilfields. When the water was pumped into the ground, the old pipes burst, spilling large amounts of water into the desert. In addition, farmers often tap the water pipes in order to irrigate their fields.

That KBR was chosen due to political connections rather than competance probably comes as no surprise to anyone. But the next scapegoat turns out to be quite ammusing:

US officials apportion some of the blame for the delay in rehabilitating the oil industry to their own Army Corps of Engineers. During the first months after the war, the Corps was given responsibility for the first phase of repairs to oil pumps and pipelines.

Members of the Corps lacked experience in handling the complicated, outdated technology that was imported by Iraq from the former Soviet Union. A member of the Corps later told a Congress hearing: "The Corps of Engineers had absolutely no abilities as far as oil production is concerned."

So the Corps of Engineers isn't too good when it comes to repairing oil fields? Who'd have thought? Especially given the superlative job they did in making sure the New Orleans levees held up just fine. Seriously though, they clearly aren't too good at flood control and now it turns out they don't know anything about oil. One has to start to wonder what exactly they ARE good at.

Then there is just good old fashioned theft:

Analysts say that the third reason for the decline in Iraqi oil production is widespread corruption within the Iraqi Oil Ministry. In March of this year, the ministry sacked 450 employees for the illegal sale of oil and oil products.

In the same month, the Oil Ministry’s Director General for Drilling Mohammed al-Abudi said that “administrative corruption” was taking many forms. “The robberies and thefts are taking place on a daily basis on all levels […] committed by low-level government employees and by high officials in leadership positions of the Iraqi state,” he added

Instances of fraud include the manipulation of measuring instruments at the end of pipelines and the provision of inaccurate data on tanker oil loads. The supervision of tanker loads, which is usually done through the checking of insurance papers, has ceased in many cases.

Oil industry experts say that corruption has not ended with the sacking of the 450 ministry employees.

Often, tribal chiefs and criminal gangs tap the pipelines, depriving the government of significant oil revenue. Trucks carrying gasoline to gas stations are robbed by gangsters, while gunmen frequently attack gasoline stations, even in town centers.

The oil acquired in this way is sold on the black market or transported to neighboring countries like Iran.

Responding to questions from ISN Security Watch, Oil Ministry officials in Baghdad predicted that reconstruction efforts and the fight against corruption will not produce significant results in coming years. Rather, they expect a continuous stagnation, and even a further downturn in production.

What's interesting is that some of the theft involves oil tanker shipments. That would seem to indicate that some people outside of Iraq must be involved in the theft. Hmmm. Do you think some major oil companies or even, heaven forbid, people in the U.S. government could be involved? Wouldn't it be nice to have an answer to that someday.

But all this does show why the U.S. government and some of its lackeys in Iraq are determined to fight on. They want to be able to steal as much as possible before all is lost.


Energy - everywhere and nowhere 

If there was any single thing that sums up the utter failure of the U.S. occupation of Iraq and gives lie to the notion that it is making lives better for average Iraqis it is this: In spite of sitting on the second largest energy reserves in the world Iraqis themselves have an appalling shortage of energy. Witness this from the Los Angeles Times:

Much of Iraq ushered in the new year under a near blackout today as a week-old power crunch worsened across huge sections of the northern and central parts of the country.

Baghdad's already sporadic electrical power supply was cut to about an hour Saturday, causing a legion of private generators to roar steadily and dampening the spirits of millions of Iraqis preparing for New Year's Eve, traditionally a joyous time of fireworks, family gatherings and public outings.

"I filled the water tanks," said Firyal Fadil Khafaji, 40, a biology professor at Baghdad University. "Now we are trying to fill up the generator with gasoline because we are going to have a long night."


The power outages added to the building frustration over last week's steep increase in gasoline prices. Baghdad residents waited up to three hours in lines Saturday to get fuel, apparently prompted by a shortage and fear of further cuts in subsidies.

As is customary, Baghdad residents flocked to outdoor markets for gifts and party supplies. But they braced for a night without light or heat with temperatures in the 40s.

"We are doing our best to clean the house without hot water," said medical assistant Diaa Hammed Doulimi, who was preparing to receive his parents for New Year's Eve at his home in middle-class west Baghdad.

"I have a very small generator that I turn on for two hours, as I can't afford to turn it on for more," Doulimi said. "I guess we're going to have to eat in the dark tonight."

One hour of electricity a day and a three hour wait for gasoline! And then they wonder why the insurgency keeps growing.


Sunday, January 01, 2006

Three billion reasons why Venezuelan's should celebrate the arrival of 2006 

At the stroke of midnight on Saturday Venezuela took a big step at regaining soviergn control of their oil and making sure that the financial benefits that accrue from that oil go to its true owners, the Venezuelan people, and not to foreign oil companies. The 32 oil "partnerships" which in reality had been a defacto illegal privatization of Venezuelan oil resources have now been returned to Venezuelan control as reported by Business Week:

Thirty-two privately operated Venezuelan oil fields returned to state control on Sunday with the start of the new year, the government said.

At midnight Dec. 31, a deadline expired for all private companies with contracts to independently pump oil here to agree to joint ventures that will give Venezuela's state oil company majority control.

The 32 operating agreements were signed between 1990 and 1997 when Venezuela's petroleum industry was open to private and foreign capital. The objective at the time -- when the price of crude was below US$10 a barrel -- was to increase production at low-priority oil fields that had been closed because of their location or a lack of resources, and which Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., or PDVSA, had no plans to reactivate.

As oil prices crept back up in recent years, President Hugo Chavez's government sought to boost its control and share of profits from the industry. In 2001, it passed a hydrocarbons law that made the operating agreements illegal by requiring oil production to be carried out by companies majority-owned by the government.

As of Sunday, Venezuela had successfully completed "the recovery" of the 32 fields, Venezuelan oil minister Rafael Ramirez said in a statement.

The government had threatened to reclaim oil fields from companies that refused to sign the so-called transitional joint-venture agreements, which will later be converted into permanent agreements with PDVSA.

Chevron Corp., BP PLC, Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Brazil's state oil company Petrobras S.A. were among those that signed earlier.

Spanish-Argentine firm Repsol YPF was the last to sign earlier this week after buying out Exxon Mobil Corp.'s stake in the Quiamare-La Ceiba oil field. Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil had resisted the contract changes, which will significantly reduce the oil companies' share of profits and control over operations and could also undermine the value of their Venezuelan assets.

The state could take as much as a 90 percent stake in the new ventures. The amount the private companies have invested in the fields will determine the amount of control they have, Ramirez has said.

The 32 oil fields have been responsible for about 500,000 of Venezuela's official declared production of 3.2 million barrels a day.

Its not pointed out in the article but according to the Venezuelan Energy and Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez overcharging by the foriegn oil companies cost Venezuela $3 billion per year. Those three billion dollars instead of lining the pockets of foreign shareholders can now go to Venezuelan schools, infrastructure, co-operatives, hospitals and pensions. And that sure sounds like three billion very good reasons for Venezuelans to celebrate the new year.


The New Year looks to be anything but happy for Iraq 

Despite all the U.S. propoganda and spin things are clearly not going well for the occupying forces in Iraq. Moreover, they are starting to show signs of desperation. An article today in the Sunday Times had so much clear evidence of that its hard to know where to begin.

For starters, the U.S. is dramatically stepping up its bombing capeign. From the Times:

AMERICAN forces are dramatically stepping up air attacks on insurgents in Iraq as they prepare to start the withdrawal of ground troops in the spring.

The number of airstrikes in 2005, running at a monthly average of 25 until August, surged to 120 in November and an expected 150 in December, according to official military figures.

The tempo looks set to increase this year as the Americans pull back from urban combat, leaving street fighting increasingly to Iraqi forces supported by US air power.

From a military point of view this is a complete disaster for the U.S. In effect, it is an admission of defeat. In spite of U.S. claims, there is no way this bombing will kill only insurgents - it will kill a great many civilians (it probably already is but seeing as in the U.S. there is almost no media coverage of the war its not possible to know). And killing civilians is a guarenteed way to boost support for the insurgency.

In fact these kind of air campeigns are almost a guarenteed way to increase the resistence of your adversary. In the second world war the U.S. deliberatly bombed the German civilian population. When they reviewed the effect of the bombing campeign after the war, in a study called the Strategic Bombing Survery, they realized that bombing civilians only surved to increase the determination of the German population to resist to the end, which they did. Similiarly, although far more bombs were dropped on Vietnam than in all of the second world war the Vietnamise population never capitulated. They fought on in an ever more derermined fashion until the U.S. finally left.

So the U.S. military commanders know this won't work. They are probably turning to air power a) because they simply don't know what else to do and b) because the U.S. government is coming under pressure to draw down troop levels and one way to do that without it looking like a retreat is to increase bombing. Regardless of the intent, we can expect the insurgency to grow in proportion to the use of airpower.

As to the so-called troop drawdown here is what the Times said:

“The bottom line will be that as the Iraqi army and police gain in competence, they will be able to take on more and more of the territory,” said General Peter Pace, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, announcing a cut in troop numbers from 160,000 to fewer than 138,000 by March.


If the use of planes proves effective, US troop levels should fall below 100,000 by next autumn in time for the American mid-term congressional elections. The US death toll in Iraq last year was 841 — just five short of the 2004 total.

First off, this "reduction" of 160,000 to 138,000 is a joke. The normal level of troops in Iraq for some time had been 138,000. It is only 160,000 because they increased it due to the elections. So rather than a cut this is just a return to normal. Whats more, this is not a move they are attempting due to success on the ground in Iraq. Rather, it is a response to political pressures in the U.S. where even some formerly pro-war politicians are starting to see the writing on the wall and want out. With both Bush and the war polling very poorly they know they can't keep this up much longer.

Yet, any reduction is U.S. troops will only embolden and streanghen the insurgents. They certainly won't be fooled. They will see it for exactly what it is, the beginnings of a retreat. Additionally, the fewer U.S. troops there are in Iraq the better for the insurgents. In spite of what the U.S. high command says they DON'T have enough troops there to win the war. U.S. generals can't say that because they know they'll lose their jobs. But officers in the field say it. Last week on a Sunday morning talk show they had a rountable which included Lara Logan who has been the CBS correspondent in Iraq and very, very much a pro-war cheerleader. When asked about a troop drawdown she stated emphatically that all the officers she talks to in Iraq complain bitterly they don't have enough troops and therefore can't actually hold any ground against the insurgents. Coming from such an apologist for the war that says alot about the true nature of what is going on there.

So far, we have the U.S. adopting military tactics that they know will fail and beginning a troop drawdown that no matter how they dress it up is nothing but the beginning of a retreat. Given these facts it would seem that the U.S. is beginning to acknowledge defeat in Iraq and would need to begin to change what its objectives are there. In fact, from the Sunday Times article we see that they are beginning to do just that:

President George W Bush promised in a pre-Chistmas speech that America will leave Iraq only when “victory” has been achieved, but the term is being quietly redefined.

Dov Zakheim, a senior Pentagon official during Bush’s first term in office, said: “The goal is not democracy, it is a united Iraq that doesn’t bother its neighbours. There is no law that says American troops have to be in the most hostile areas.”

So lets see if we have this straight. First the goal was eliminating Weapons of Mass Destruction that Iraq supposedly had. Then when it turned out that they didn't have any the goal was we were "liberating" Iraq and bringing democracy to the Middle East. Now democracy is no longer important, they just need a "unified" Iraq that doesn't attack its neighbors. Sounds kind of like what they had when Saddam was in power. And if they had some face saving way to do it I'm sure they would put him back in power. But they don't so they will come up with some new dictator who they will have try to rule using an iron fist supported by American bombs. 2006 and 2007 will be about seeing if that works. But for now it sure looks like a steady descent into hell.


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