The Long View 2006-12-07: Iraq Study Group; Vladimir the Poisoner; Space Colonization

Alexander Litvinenko dying of polonium poisoning

Alexander Litvinenko dying of polonium poisoning

The Patrick Buchanan article John links to here looks a little batshit [OK, more than a little] in retrospect, given that Vladimir Putin has whacked a number of political enemies inside and outside of Russia in the years since.

Iraq Study Group; Vladimir the Poisoner; Space Colonization

If you insist on reading the whole thing (and I have not yet done so) the report of the Iraq Study Group is here. However, Richard Fernandez has offered what seems to be a balanced assessment at Pajamas Media and at The Belmont Club. He says the report gives a useful description of the situation in Iraq and Iraq's role in the region. The report makes no fewer than 79 recommendations, but he says they come down to these:

* creating a forum at which Iraqís neighbors will be invited to exert their influence in the internal affairs of Iraq;

* linking the legitimization of Iranís nuclear program to any help it can provide to stabilize Iraq; and

* linking Iraq to a comprehensive solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

As the Pajamas Media piece puts it even more briefly:

The intractable is combined with the insoluble.

Is this stupidity or subtlety? As other commentators have noted, the ISG Report is precisely the opposite of a plan for American disengagement from the Middle East, much less from Iraq. The report seems to exclude the possibility of a military withdrawal. Since its explicit recommendations are unworkable and mutually exclusive, they cannot actually be used to embarrass the Bush Administration. The effect, and perhaps the purpose, of the report is nothing more than to give the Administration a few more months to reconstruct the political situation in Iraq.

Readers of Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy will be reminded of the semantic analysis that the Mayor of Terminus ordered done on the statements of the imperial ambassador at the time of the Foundation's first crisis. The ambassador spoke lucidly for a week, the analysis concluded, but did not say a damn thing.

* * *

Oh, that Pat, I thought last week when I saw that Patrick Buchanan was asking whether President Vladimir Putin was the real victim in the poisoning death of Alexander Litvinenko, whose last words, almost, were an indictment of Putin. Buchanan wants to know: Is Putin Being Set Up?

Why would the Russian president, at the peak of his popularity, with his regime awash in oil revenue and himself playing a strong hand in world politics, risk a breach with every Western nation by ordering the public murder of a man who was more of a nuisance than a threat to his regime?

Litvinenko, after all, made his sensational charges against the Kremlin that the KGB blew up the Moscow apartment buildings, not Chechen terrorists, as a casus belli for a war on Chechnya and that he had refused a KGB order to assassinate oligarch Boris Berezovsky in the late 1990s. Of late, Litvinenko has been regarded as a less and less credible figure, with his charges of KGB involvement in 9-11 and complicity in the Danish cartoons mocking Muhammad that ignited the Muslim firestorm....

Scotland Yard has yet to declare this a murder case and is looking into the possibility of a "martyrdom operation" suicide dressed up like murder in which Litvinenko may have colluded. The Putin-dominated Russian press is pushing this line, as well as the idea of an oligarchs' plot to discredit Putin and destroy Russia's relations with the West.

I have, alas, reached the point when I suspect any defense of the Russian government to be evidence of creeping Eurasianism. But what, then, to make of today's report, Radioactive spy's coffin barred from mosque:

The final tragedy for poisoned Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko unravelled today as his family were denied the Muslim funeral he had wished for...

Mr Litvinenko, 43, who was poisoned with a lethal dose of polonium-210, converted to Islam shortly before his death in a London hospital exactly two weeks ago.

Was the late Litvinenko a would-be jihadi who had found a way to subvert the enemies of Muslim Chechnya that would be far more effective than a mere explosion? Then this report puts him in an even worse light:

The FBI has been dragged into the investigation of Alexander Litvinenko's death after details emerged that he had planned to make tens of thousands of pounds blackmailing senior Russian spies and business figures. The Observer has obtained remarkable testimony from a Russian academic, Julia Svetlichnaja, who met Litvinenko earlier this year and received more than 100 emails from him. In a series of interviews, she reveals that the former Russian secret agent had documents from the FSB, the Russian agency formerly known as the KGB. He had asked Svetlichnaja, who is based in London, to enter into a business deal with him and 'make money'.

Profiteering and aggressive suicide are not mutually exclusive, though it seems odd to do one while doing the other. But does any of this fit with murder-suicide?

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Dmitry Kovtun, a contact of dead Russian ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko, is in critical condition in hospital from radiation poisoning, Interfax news agency quoted an unnamed source as saying on Thursday.

I am sorry that all these people are dead or sick, and I don't want to blacken anyone's reputation on the basis of mere speculation, but Russia continues to be one of those countries where Occam's Razor does not cut very deep.

* * *

There is news about pleasanter places. As I am sure most of us know, NASA is promising to return to the Moon, this time to establish a permanent base at the south pole, about 2020. NASA has also followed up from a report last year with good (though not incontrovertible) evidence of flowing water on Mars today.

Well, it's nice work if you can get it, but I have been looking at artists' conceptions of lunar colonies for so long that now I wonder why the artists' conceptions are so threadbare. If there is a law against designing a building on the Moon that people might want to live in?


There are good reasons for putting a base at the Moon's southern pole, but I am not comforted by the comparison with the Antarctic bases. Politics and environmentalism prevented serious human settlement of Antarctica; the bases would simply be abandoned if a few countries made trivial changes to their funding of scientific research. Has anyone ever been born in Antarctica? (Well, yes: a few.)

As for Mars, should settlement occur, it will occur not with the sense of beginning the human extraterrestrial story, but ending it. Short of some great breakthrough in physics, it's not clear that the human race could reach any planets outside the Solar System, and none of the other planets within it are suitable for terraforming (assuming that Mars is suitable). Even so, the architecture being considered would be no better than on the Moon. I don't think that modern architecture will be transferrable between planets, however. Martian settlements, should there be such a thing, will not be modern societies

That picture is from the Gobi Desert, by the way, but it looks more Martian than an artist's conception. [BE I can’t find the picture John used to have here, but I’m sure you can find images of the Gobi that match the description given.]

* * *

And what do we mean by genuinely after-modern? The change would be not so much a matter of high theory (the theories would become heirlooms) as of folkways. Perhaps we see this kind of thing happening when David Clarke looks back at some religious interpretations of UFO phenomena:

So why did the demonic theory of UFOs become such a popular explanation from the late 1960s and early 1970s on? And how many ufologists and, indeed, members of the public, give credence to this idea today?

It is, of course, absurd to believe that UFOs are either modern extraterrestrial vehicles or after-modern demons. They are Sidhe.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site