Morning Report: February 12, 2008

While Russia struggles to remain relevant, the struggle for freedom goes on: American forces make headway in Iraq, but Kuwait takes a step backward.

Russian bombers buzz US carrier. Fox: 'U.S. fighter planes intercepted two Russian bombers flying unusually close to an American aircraft carrier in the western Pacific during the weekend, The Associated Press has learned. A U.S. military official says that one Russian Tupolev 95 buzzed the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz twice, at a low altitude of about 2,000 feet, while another bomber circled about 50 nautical miles out. The official was speaking on condition of anonymity because the reports on the flights were classified as secret.' Full story at the link. The Japanese say the flight violated their airspace. OpFor: 'So is this an opening shot in Putin's new "arms race" with the US? This smacks of an attempt to remain relevant, and a poor one at that. The Russians just are not the global threat they once were, and their aging military equipment is not the fearsome Red Army that it once was, poised to storm into Germany. As Russia struggles for relevance, this type of dangerous nonsense may continue.'

Russian espionage returning to Cold War levels: Norway. Strategy Page: ' February 12, 2008: Norwegian counter-intelligence officials believe that Russian espionage has returned to Cold War levels. There was a sharp drop in Russian espionage during the 1990s, and the new spying is directed more at economic than military information. Norway is a leading developer of off-shore oil drilling technology and techniques, and Norwegians believe it's these secrets the Russians are most interested in. Other nations are also after this technology, and their spies are also active in Norway.'

Totten from Iraq. Michael Totten posts the latest installment in his Anbar Province reports. Excerpts:
The United States plans to hand Anbar Province over to the Iraqis next month if nothing catastrophic erupts between now and then. The Marines will stick around a while longer, though, and complete their crucial last mission – training the Iraqi Police to replace them.

The local police force would collapse in short order without American financial and logistics support. “The biggest problem they have is supply,” Corporal Hayes said to me in Fallujah. “They're always running out of gas and running out of bullets. How are they supposed to police this city with no gas and no bullets?”

What they need more than anything else, though, in the long run anyway, is an infusion of moderate politics. Fallujah is in the heartland of the Sunni Triangle. The city was ferociously Baathist during the rule of Saddam Hussein. It is surly and reactionary even today. Even by Iraqi standards. Even after vanquishing the insurgency. Fallujans may never be transformed into Jeffersonian liberal democrats, but young men from New York, California, and Texas are taking the Iraqis by the hand and gently repairing their political culture. ...

Post-Saddam Iraq is not a police state. Even so, while it's orders of magnitude more moderate and humane than the genocidal and fascistic regime it replaced, many individuals in the government and police departments have rough authoritarian habits that are rooted in Arab culture itself as much as they are legacies from the previous era. ...

Meanwhile, Americans back home argue about whether water-boarding is torture and if it should be outlawed. I’ve had no exposure to interrogators who are tasked with extracting information from high-level terrorists like Khaled Sheikh Mohammad – who reportedly really was water-boarded. But I can say, for whatever it’s worth, that I heard nothing but “liberal” opinions about how ordinary detainees should be treated from every soldier and Marine who talked about it, both on the record and off. Military justice, I suspect, is more in line with the values of domestic liberals and Democrats than many probably realize.

Prisoner abuse is a serious violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. American Marines spend a great deal of time and energy trying to eradicate the practice in Iraqi Police departments. ...

Go read the whole thing at Michael Totten's page.

Kuwait's repressive cross-dressing law encourages police abuse. Already linked once at Dreams Into Lightning but worth a mention in Morning Report, Human Rights Watch reports that the Kuwaiti government has started arresting people under a new anti-cross-dressing law.
The law, approved by the National Assembly on December 10, 2007, criminalizes people who “imitate the appearance of the opposite sex.” ...

Security officials have arrested at least 14 people in Kuwait City since the National Assembly approved an addition (Article 199 bis) to Article 198 of the Criminal Code. The amendment states that “any person committing an indecent act in a public place, or imitating the appearance of a member of the opposite sex, shall be subject to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding one thousand dinars [US$3,500].”

Dress codes based solely on gender stereotypes restrict both freedom of expression and personal autonomy, Human Rights Watch said. The only known targets of the new Kuwaiti law have been transgender people – individuals born into one gender who deeply identify themselves with another. Kuwait allows transgender people neither to change their legal identity to match the gender in which they live, nor to adapt their physical appearance through gender reassignment surgery. The new law, coming after months of controversy, aims at further restricting their rights and completely eliminating their public presence. In September 2007, the newspaper Al Arabiya reported a new government campaign “to combat the growing phenomenon of gays and transsexuals” in Kuwait.

Full article at the link.

Commentary. The war against islamist fascism and ba'athist-style totalitarianism is a war for liberal values. It is a war for the liberty and dignity of the individual; and it's a war against the encroachment of organized repression from thugs who think they know what's best for you. Here is Andrew Anthony in the Guardian:
The job of the public intellectual - and the Archbishop of Canterbury must inevitably deal with the public - is to take complex issues and make them accessible. Rowan Williams seems to specialise in doing the reverse: making the simple incomprehensible. And when misunderstanding follows, he and his supporters duly blame the media.

It does seem odd that the archbishop has taken such an unblinkingly pragmatic approach to sharia courts - they're here, so let's accommodate them - while managing to maintain a virginal shock at the existence of the 24-hour news media. But leaving aside the over-reaction, the media ought to be congratulated for speedily unpicking the two key points from Dr Williams's tightly knotted argument: 1) that the adoption of some aspect of sharia law seemed "unavoidable"; and 2) that the idea of one law for everybody was a "bit of a danger".

All the subclauses in the world can't disguise the intention that underpins these positions. In seeking to incorporate a disputed deity's authority (which, by the way, it is blasphemous to question) into the common law, and by challenging the principle of equality under the law, Dr Williams launched a strategic attack on secularism.

He and his supporters argue that we should cherry-pick the nice parts of sharia that "converge" with British law. But if we're only talking about the civil aspects of sharia that are supposedly compatible - and here we have to ignore such inconveniences as gender inequality, forced marriages and polygamy - why does the law have to change?

Norm Geras adds: 'What is compatible with the law is compatible with it and therefore needs no special accommodation .... The Archbishop's words betoken the desire to extend the religious content and authority of law-making in this country and should be opposed on that basis. As Andrew Anthony says, we should be moving in the opposite direction.'