Yesterday Jonah Goldberg pointed to a story about previously unknown volcanoes 13,000 feet beneath the Arctic Ocean and asked:
“am I crazy for wondering why this story doesn’t even address — if only to shoot down — the idea that maybe it’s volcanoes, and not global warming, that are causing the melting ice caps?”
Goldberg isn’t crazy, nor is he the only one wondering such a thing. In December 2007 Ralph von Frese, an earth sciences professor at The Ohio State University, reported newly discovered volcanic activity beneath the ice sheet that covers nearby Greenland. His analysis determined that it is possible that recent volcanic activity there might melt enough water at the bottom of the ice sheets to accelerate their flow. Von Frese concluded that:
The behavior of the great ice sheets is an important barometer of global climate change . . . However, to effectively separate and quantify human impacts on climate change, we must understand the natural impacts, too.
That seems like a rather pragmatic approach, so let’s attempt to quantify the impact of the volcanoes recently discovered at the top of the world. What the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute’s researchers found was a series of explosive volcanoes along the Gakkel Ridge, an underwater mountain chain 1,100 miles long. There, a series of earthquakes in 1999 were the result of volcanic eruptions each “as big as the one that buried Pompeii.”
Geologists tell us that when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, burying the ancient Neapolitan city, it launched a cubic mile of molten rock into the atmosphere. Doing a little bit of math (see below) we find that a single Pompeii-sized eruption would release enough subterranean heat into the Arctic Ocean to put a hole in the polar ice cap the size of Massachusetts.
Granted, the expanse of the polar ice cap is much greater than the size of the Bay State, but the story says that there was apparently more than one eruption in 1999 when seismologists first learned of the issue. Climatologists before had barely even considered the effect of undersea volcanoes, whose effects are obviously not insignificant. The magnitude of the recently discovered eruptions undoubtedly explains some proportion of the melting ice caps that many before have attributed to the effects of man. As von Frese said, this little understood natural phenomenon deserves more scrutiny.
I say all this to point out what should be obvious but apparently isn’t: we barely understand the world around us. In all of recorded history we have only begun to scratch the vast amount of knowledge of the workings of our magnificent planet. This world is so enormous that we apparently have even missed the existence of one of Earth’s most powerful forces—a volcanic explosion—directly beneath this supposedly well studied area. For man, who possesses so little knowledge, to conclude that he and he alone is responsible for the changes we now observe around us is the height of hubris. Volcanoes, it turns out, rise to even higher heights than hubris.
That “little bit of math” part follows after the jump.
| Category: Iraq
| Posted at: Thursday, 26 June 2008
BAGHDAD – I’m bewildered by the criticism I’ve been hearing about a recent agreement between the Iraqi government and four multi-national oil companies. What I find especially surprising is the suggestion by some members of Congress that the United States demand that the deal be scrapped-particularly as the criticism has been levied by some who have complained the loudest that it is time for Iraq’s government to take control of its own political process. Taking control includes, presumably, making decisions that we might disagree with.
Not that this a decision that I find particularly disagreeable. Let’s face it, even the most transparent and efficient government—which Iraq’s certainly isn’t yet—is ill-suited to the task of running a business like, well, a business. Contracting out the extracting of Iraq’s natural resources to someone whose job that is, in exchange for a healthy cut of the profits, seems to me to be a good deal for everyone involved. It certainly offers the hope of being able to increase oil production sooner than has apparently been possible under bureaucratic control.
It has been more than five years since the removal of the previous regime, and a couple years since the Iraqi government assumed control, and it is only in just the last couple months that the level of Iraqi oil production now matches pre-war levels. The delay is largely due to the fact that there hasn’t been an efficient organization to take charge of making necessary repairs and managing the flow of petroleum. Delaying further, especially in light of record oil prices, is an opportunity cost to this struggling economy on the order of billions of dollars a month.
The decision was met here by barely a yawn. The only opinion I’ve heard from anyone on the matter was about the fact that the agreement preceded the still pending Iraqi oil legislation, which will determine how the oil revenue is to be spent. On that point, I can understand how some American legislators could be perplexed by the concept of actually waiting until they had revenues in hand before agreeing to spend them. Personally, I find the Iraqi sequence quite refreshing.
What I find especially disturbing is the implication that the Iraqi oil agreement “proves” the claim that this was always a war for oil–never mind the fact, that if it were, this would have happened five years ago. Why I object to the charge, aside from the fact that it is demonstrably not true, is that it feeds an enemy talking point. If you haven’t noticed, the security situation in Iraq has improved significantly. While there are still pockets of resistance, Al Qaeda in Iraq is a shell of what it once was. In order to regain some level of popular support, AQI would like nothing more than to tell Iraqis that all along this war was waged so that the occupying infidels could exploit Iraq for oil. That they might now be able to quote senior members of America’s own government to reinforce their point while American soldiers are still in harm’s way is simply disgusting.
Whether this decision was for better or worse doesn’t matter. It was an Iraqi decision to be made, and it was the Iraqis who made it. For Congress to demand now that it be reversed would simply feed yet another enemy talking point: that the Iraqi government is just Washington’s puppet.
Major Bob Krumm is currently assigned as an analyst to Multi-National Corps-Iraq. His opinions are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of MNC-I or the Department of Defense.
| Category: Iraq
| Posted at: Sunday, 15 June 2008
BAGHDAD – It’s Father’s Day, so at the end of the service this evening the Chaplain asked all the fathers to stand for a blessing. Of the 50 people there, I counted only four still in their seats. Granted, I serve in a headquarters, so we’re an older bunch–meaning that there are probably more Dads here than in most units. But the truth is that while wars past were fought by sons, many of today’s Soldiers are Dads.
This is a tough day for a lot of deployed Dads. But I think that it’s tougher still on the kids back home. We volunteered for this mission. The kids, however, did not. This is their day to burn toast and deliver it to Dad in bed even though Dad dislikes crumbs in bed. Today is when a child looks forward to giving Dad a tie even as Dad’s work attire now probably doesn’t require such formality. It’s the day when thousands of children present their Dads with identical mugs proudly proclaiming each one to be the “World’s Greatest”.
Dads looks forward to this day too. Not because they need more ties or coffee cups that don’t sit quite level, but because each one of those gifts comes with a hug. Not the kind of superficial hug delivered at the start of the school day or just before bedtime. A real hug. This is a day for hugs that say (and mean) “Thanks, Dad.” Thousands of kids won’t get to give that hug today.
We deployed Dads signed up for this. We’ll take what we can get: the thanks of comrades, a phone call from home, if we’re lucky—a webcam conversation with our families. But the kids, they have no one to thank with a hug today. So if you know one of the tens of thousands of kids today who have a deployed Dad on Father’s Day, hug them and thank them for loaning their Dad to their country.
And tell them to save some burnt toast for us when we get home.
| Category: Iraq
| Posted at: Sunday, 1 June 2008
Yesterday ended the month with the fewest Coalition casualties since nearly the beginning of the war in Iraq. There were only about 20 combat-related deaths during the whole of May. Hopefully portending even better things to come, only about five of those deaths occurred during the final two weeks of the month.
It isn’t about body counts, however, since one way to ensure a low casualty rate is to sequester American forces on forward operating bases. What makes the statistic even more impressive is that the low death total came even as the operational tempo was as busy as ever. Coalition Forces, now largely in a supporting role, spent the month busily fighting in three of the roughest areas of the country–Basrah, Sadr City, and Mosul–with impressive results.
In the southern port city of Basrah, the Iraqi government launched attacks in March against a thuggish mafia that controlled the city. Immediately some in the press announced that this was Iraq’s Tet–meaning that years into the war, the battle showed that the fledgling government and its American supporters were powerless to stop the insurgency. This time it was Tet as it really happened, not as it was portrayed. The insurgency quickly culminated. The extremist Shia militias destroyed themselves trying to attack the Iraqi government. And unlike what happened during the original 1968 version of Tet, the real story made it into the media. Basrah was a magnificent victory for an Iraqi government and its Army that few outside of Iraq had before afforded respect.
Meanwhile, Muqtada al Sadr, who nominally controls the JAM militias, stirred his extremists to action in Sadr City, a Shia slum on the eastern edge of Baghdad. Coalition and Iraqi forces hit back hard. Nearly 500 JAM fighters were killed during the month-long fight–many of them surgically removed by snipers and laser guided missiles, thus not putting the population at risk.
The Shia militias, however, exercised no such restraint. Dozens, if not hundreds, of bombs intended for American forces also took innocent Iraqi victims with them. Shia rockets and mortars launched toward the International Zone in the center of Baghdad fell short time and time again–especially as the insurgents were pushed further and further from town. Each errant round killed innocent Iraqis, while few ever reached their Coalition targets.
The Shia citizenry erupted–against the Shia militias. They sought out Iraqi and Coalition forces and told them where the fighters were and where they hid their weapons. Shop owners stopped paying protection money that they had been giving to the mafia militants. Just as the Sunni citizenry did in Anbar, the Shia citizens ceased living in fear of the militias, and turned on them.
In the northern Iraqi town of Mosul, Al Qaeda was being routed from its last stronghold. By month’s end, they had ceased to be an organized force there. Again, it was the Iraqi Army taking the lead. And thus June begins with an Iraqi government emboldened by its Army’s success over its two biggest internal enemies.
There are still obstacles. Coalition forces are now almost down to pre-Surge levels and still falling. By mid-summer there will be five less brigades in Iraq than there were a year ago. That presents challenges–although the recent successes of Iraqi security forces indicate there is room for optimism that they are up to taking over the role of departing Allies.
The economy is also a major challenge. Unemployment in Iraq is rampant. Nearly everyone depends on some form of government support. Luckily for Iraq the government is flush with cash since oil revenues are bringing in more than a billion dollars a week . But this is a new government not used to having more money than it can spend. Plus, fraud and corruption is a major danger here.
Probably the biggest obstacle, certainly its biggest remaining security obstacle, is Iraq’s neighbor to the east. Iran is simultaneously one of Iraq’s biggest trading partners and it largest external military threat. Increasingly Iranian munitions are turning up in Iraqi stockpiles, while its “Special Groups” forces are working hand in hand with the Shia militias. There have even been some reports of Iranian support for Sunni extremists–an illogical arrangement if one adheres to the view that the Iraqi conflict is a Sunni-Shia civil war. If it ever was a civil war, it isn’t now. Instead Iran is simply doing what Persia has always done: attempt to keep a weakened Arab state on its western border. Especially now, since weakening Iraq also means hurting American prestige in the Middle East, there is no enemy so reprehensible that Iran won’t potentially ally with it in order to keep Iraq in turmoil.
So as we begin June, Americans can be thankful that Iraq is well on its way to securing itself against internal threats. But there is still much work to be done–especially on the economy and countering Iran’s malign influence. Hopefully, a month from now I will be able to report successes in those areas as well.
Al Qaeda on the Run
Don’t look now, but the U.S.-backed government and army may be winning the war
It goes without saying that these views and opinions are mine and are not meant to be interpreted as the positiion of the Department of Defense, The United States Army, or Multi-National Forces Iraq.