Abu Aardvark

The battle's done, and we kind of won, so we sound our victory cheer - where do we go from here?

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Why shouldn't (America) be exempt from some wacky international treaty on women or aardvarks? - Jonah Goldberg, July 26, 2002

The aardvark appears to be the ancestor of all mammals, including humans. - the BBC

I discovered your blog after you attacked me in it, and I enjoy it. Don't agree with hardly any of it, but it's well-written and witty- Martin Kramer

Aardvarks are solitary, industrious, sarcastic, eat termites, graduated from Duke, and watch Buffy obsessively - Encyclopedia Brittanica

My vacation totally sucked, until I met the cutest aardvark. Man, I wish I knew who that aardvark really was! - Eliza Dushku

Nobody likes a wise-guy aardvark. Why do you have to be such an annoying, objectively pro-statue, aardvark? - anonymous reader who sounds a lot like Dave Sim

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Recent Aardvark Comments On MEMRI
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On Iraqi TV
A new cub, or why we blog

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Wednesday, January 07, 2004
 
It's official...


Abu Aardvark has moved.

The new URL is http://abuaardvark.typepad.com/

Find me there, and update your links!

 
Attention everyone: the aardvark has now begun the process of moving. I should be up and running over at Typepad very soon. I'll still be tinkering with the design and content for a while, but all new posts will be at Abu Aardvark courtesy of Typepad. Please update your links and your reading, and enjoy the new RSS feed! Many, many thanks to Jeanne D'Orleans and everyone else for their advice and help on this!

Tuesday, January 06, 2004
 
Shorter David Brooks: Anyone who thinks Dick Cheney played a role in taking the US to war against Iraq is anti-Semitic.

Slightly Longer David Brooks: many people believe that the neocons are an intelligent, highly effective group. As their representative on the New York Times op-ed page, it is my job to prove that we are neither.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003
 
Blogging will be light until early January. Have a great holiday season!

Monday, December 22, 2003
 
On Saturday I suggested that Libya would pose a test of intellectual integrity to the supporters of the application of the "Bush Doctrine" in Iraq. The Bush doctrine declared that war with Iraq was necessary because international inspections could not guarantee American security against the threat of WMD in the hands of rogue regimes, and that only regime change to a democratic system could provide such security. In the case of Libya, the rather clearly non-democratic regime of Moammar Qadaffi remains in place, with a promise to allow international inspections to verify the country's surrender of its WMD. In other words, Libya is fairly clearly a repudiation of the Bush doctrine, not its vindication. The test of intellectual integrity, therefore, was this: would advocates of the Bush doctrine in Iraq attack Bush for violating his doctrine in Libya by dealing with a dictator and relying on inspections, or would they praise Bush out of partisan loyalty?

The results that I've seen so far? Unsurprising. Bill Safire leads the partisanship brigade, celebrating Libya as a vindication of him and his "fellow Wilsonian idealists" (!). The reliably hawkish Washington Post joins in, as does the Wall Street Journal and the National Review (come on - at the very least, Michael Ledeen, scourge of the "terror masters," has to hold the line, right? We'll see). Andrew Sullivan ("Gaddafi made the decision as the coalition invaded Iraq. Hmmm. Maybe Howard Dean would have sent Warren Christopher instead."), Glenn Reynolds, and Dan Drezner fell happily in line. Tacitus too, although he at least reserved some anger about Bush's continuing to deal with a dictator. That's about as far down the right wing food chain as I care to go.

In fairness, it's important to distinguish two arguments - the "hawk" argument and the Wilsonian argument. The hawk argument couldn't care less about regime change or democracy, it simply suggests that expressing strength pays off. The Wilsonian argument is the one that cares about democracy and regime change. Libya can be plausibly - incorrectly, I think, except at the margins, but plausibly - claimed for the hawks, but not for the Wilsonians. I seem to remember an awful lot of Iraq war supporters reinventing themselves as Wilsonians after WMD failed to turn up in Iraq ("this was never about nukes for me, it was about bringing democracy to the Iraqi people"), who now suddenly appear as reborn hawks. But these are differences that make a real difference, and sliding back and forth between them when convenient is intellectually sloppy.

I guess six months ago really is ancient history - remember, your arguments are only weapons with which to attack your enemies, and should be abandoned when no longer useful. Partisan advantage is everything.

Saturday, December 20, 2003
 
Not really here this weekend, but just a quick note on the Libyan announcement about its WMD programs. Three things:

First, this is definitely a positive development, one which would help to strengthen multilateral arms control as a way of providing for international security. Libya has long been identified as one of the states which has resisted such transparency, and has often described the international regime against the proliferation of WMD as a conspiracy by the powerful to keep the weak weak. Its acceptance, even rhetorically, of the legitimacy of the prohibition is a positive step to be rewarded and built upon.

Second, that said, it isn't an enormously big deal, in that Libya has not posed any real threat for a long time. Libya has been trying very hard to get out of the "rogue" game for many years, and this is only the latest gambit in its efforts to do so. Libyan cooperation with the Lockerbie investigation has been the leading edge of Qaddafi's drive for international rehabilitation, a drive which has included largely getting out of the terrorism business.

Third, and following from the second point, this doesn't have that much to do with the Iraq war and doesn't really represent the vindication for hawkish approaches to rogue regimes that is being claimed. I can understand why the Bush team wants to make this claim, and it isn't the stupidest claim they've ever made, but it doesn't really fit the facts. As I noted above, Libya has been seeking international rehabilitation for a number of years, desperate to get rid of the UN sanctions, and has been aggressively pursuing it via the Lockerbie investigation for several years. This fairly obviously means that the new Libyan approach can not be a result of the Iraq war, since the new approach predates that war (and the Bush administration).

So, final score: good news for multilateral arms control, a positive step towards integrating a 'rogue' regime back into international society, but not really evidence in favor of the Iraq war. Compare the British spin to the American spin, and you'll see what I mean.

Let's be clear: what Bush has accomplished here is to get Libya to accept exactly the kind of robust international inspections which his administration roundly denounced as useless in Iraq - while leaving Qaddafi in power, after insisting in Iraq that only a regime change could possibly guarantee security. In other words, this 'success' in Libya is a direct repudiation of everything which the Bush team argued for in Iraq, and a vindication of his multilateralist arms control critics.

Does this hurt Dean and the Dems? Not if you think about it rationally, rather than in partisan terms. Bringing Libya into a global nonproliferation regime would make America safer - which is a victory for multilateral arms control, which Dean, Clark, and most Dems support, and which Bush opposes. This also poses a bit of an intellectual test for the administration's supporters: intellectual consistency vs partisanship. Since the Libya announcement contradicts the hawkish regime change approach to arms control, does the hawkish right attack it, or do they support it out of partisanship for Bush? I haven't gone looking to see the answer to this, but it's an interesting test.

UPDATE: This Robin Wright and Glenn Kessler piece in the Post, which I just read after writing this post, makes many of the same points in more detail - definitely worth reading.

Thursday, December 18, 2003
 
I know this is silly, because if you can read this then the complaint goes away, but.... why oh why does my latest post (the one about MEMRI) appear in the blogger page, but not on the actual blog? This is exactly why I'm thinking of switching to a different host... thanks for the suggestions I've received so far - I'd still love to hear from more people about where I should go and why.

 
MEMRI, again. Here's one small example of what's wrong with MEMRI, and why it matters for non-Arabic speakers attempting to understand Arab opinion: the reporting of Abd al-Bari Atwan's December 15 editorial in al-Quds al-Arabi.

Here's what MEMRI says about it: "While most newspapers reported the act of Saddam's capture in detail, there are beginning to emerge "conspiracy theories." Abd Al-Bari Atwan, the Editor-in-Chief of Al-Quds Al-Arabi and a loyalist of Saddam Hussein, wrote that the arrest of Saddam "without resistance, hiding in a small and filthy hole, was most likely a theatre and a finely woven hatching operation.""

Here's what Claudia Winkler of the Weekly Standard said about the same editorial (although I have to admit some skepticism about how she came across it while browsing the Arabic press - if she does read Arabic, I'm quite impressed, but otherwise she might be a little more candid about where she found the translation) : "In the space of three short paragraphs, the writer--editor in chief Abd-al-Bari Atwan--goes from the grossest conspiracy theory about the Americans' "staged" capture of Saddam to a disarming admission that none other than "democracy, equality, transparency, and an independent justice system" are prerequisites for a restoration of Arab dignity. Here is the passage (dated December 15):
"We realize that the Iraqi president's appearance--with matted hair and ragged clothes--was extremely humiliating because no one expected him to be captured alive and without resistance, hiding in a small, filthy hole. More than likely, it was staged as a carefully crafted operation to mislead people. We have only heard the American story, more accurately, what the American military wanted us to hear. We will need more time for the dust to settle and for some parts of the real picture to emerge. The capture of Saddam Hussein could be a blessing for many Iraqis, especially those who suffered as a result of his injustice and oppression. But it could come back to haunt the Americans invaders. The Iraqis, and especially those who have collaborated with the occupation, are greatly distressed. Some of them have justified their silence, and even their collaboration, saying that they feared Saddam Hussein's return to power. How will they justify themselves now? These are momentous events, perhaps the most important days in the history of the Arab and Muslim community. They hold important lessons. We must learn these lessons if we truly desire a better future. First and foremost among these lessons is that justice, democracy, equality, transparency, and an independent justice system are the basic prerequisites for any real movement toward progress and the restoration of the community's dignity."

Gee, that's a big difference, huh? Wacky conspiracy talk aside, Atwan is actually using his op-ed to put in a powerful appeal for the rule of law, democracy, and equality, in the service of creating a better Iraq. You'd think that MEMRI would want to report such an exciting contribution, huh? No, of course not.

Of course, Winkler isn't totally right either. She reads the passage above as evidence that Saddam's capture has created a "teachable moment" in the Arab world - if even someone as radical as Abd al-Bari Atwan is saying such things now, then it must be true that the invasion of Iraq really is spreading liberalism into the Arab world!

The only problem with this inference, though, is that Atwan has been saying things like this for a long, long time. Al Quds al Arabi is indeed a powerful voice for a radically-tinged Arabism - one which has been consistently critical, often brutally so, of the authoritarian and repressive Arab regimes. It has always combined its hostility to American foreign policy with an equally searing critique of Arab regimes. Is Atwan (or al Quds al Arabi) a beacon of Jeffersonian democracy that would warm the cockles of Tom Friedman's heart? No, not really. But in terms of criticizing Arab autocracy, Atwan's paper is an old hand, and what he said in the editorial above offers little support for Winkler's claim that Saddam's arrest is the trigger for a new openness.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003
 
Not to the change the subject, but have you ever tried to imagine what goes on in Milwaukee Brewer strategy sessions?

"Sir, sir, we have a real problem! We have a player who hit 45 home runs last year, played every game, and - worst of all - he's only 28 years old! We'd better trade him right now!"

"Trade him? But what if we get good players in return?"

"You're right - that's a real danger. We'll have to be sure to take the first offer anyone makes us - and good god, man, don't negotiate!"

"Hey, here's an offer! Arizona wants to give us a washed up utility infielder, an injured second baseman who looks like a one year wonder, a first baseman who couldn't win the job from Mark Grace, and a pitcher with a bum elbow who won two games last year."

"Yes, yes, that's good - but do any of them have any potential?"

"Of course not, sir - what are you paying me for? To find *good* players?"

"Right, right - I trust you, of course. Do the deal... but first, make sure that that second baseman really is injured!"

Oh, the humanity.

 
The new American Arabic language satellite station is coming soon. As I've argued many times, this isn't a particularly good or useful idea. An American-run station won't have much credibility, especially if - as is almost certain - its content comes under scrutiny from partisan groups in Washington. It will be seen as propaganda by most of its target audience - an audience of Arabs which is highly attuned to propaganda and conditioned to expect it from state-run media.

The station's backers draw inspiration from the "success" of Radio Sawa - "Executives of the broadcasting board said they were heartened that Radio Sawa, a youth-oriented radio station that mixes Western and Eastern pop and was also supposedly doomed, had built an audience of at least 15 million throughout the Middle East." But Radio Sawa's "success" reflects the nature of the radio band market - there just weren't very many (okay, any) decent pop music stations in most of the Arab world, which allowed Sawa to fill a niche. And that niche is purely entertainment, not news or politics - I've yet to see any evidence whatsoever that Sawa has had any success in the latter arenas. The TV station - al-Hurra - will not find such an available market niche. The Arabic television market is already saturated with both entertainment and news programming - not just al Jazeera, but a whole array of other competitors. Al Hurra is unlikely to be able to compete, and certainly isn't going to find the kind of opening that Sawa could.

Al Hurra reflects some basic pathologies in the American approach to American public opinion. One is the "subliminal fallacy," of which Sawa is the epitome - the idea that rather than try and persuade Arabs rationally, we should seduce them with pop culture and then change their minds without their even realizing it. That's great for an advertising agency, but is deeply unworthy as an approach to foreign policy. Another fallacy is what I call the "peekaboo fallacy" - the idea that if we ignore something, then it doesn't exist (when my cub covers her eyes, she thinks that I can't see her - adorable in a cub, less adorable in a superpower). Al Jazeera and al Arabiya matter, whether we like them or not, and ignoring them or insulting them only increases their influence. Another fallacy is the "my football" fallacy - based on the mature idea that "if you won't let me be quarterback, then I'll take the football and start my own game somewhere else." This one isn't very cute when kids do it, and it isn't any cuter when a superpower does it.

It would be far better to work with the existing Arab media than to try and start up a competition. Why? Because it is that media which largely sets the agenda of Arab politics today, and ignoring it or trying to bypass it largely avoids the real issue. The real issue is that Arab public opinion makers largely believe that the United States - or at least the Bush administration - does not take their views seriously and has no interest in understanding their interests or concerns. Al Hurra is exactly the sort of thing which confirms those views, and which will drive the wedge between the United States and Arab public opinion even deeper.

To be fair, starting al Hurra isn't a disaster. It probably can't hurt that the station is out there, and it might even become something worthwhile against the odds. The greater concern is the opportunity costs - what is being foregone to pay for this expensive operation which is unlikely to produce much of a payoff? It's more likely to be an expensive and useless boondoggle, which distracts the US from doing what would actually work - which, I suppose, is one definition of disaster.

 
I'm thinking about moving from Bloggerstan to someplace else - either to Movable Type or else maybe to BloggerProStan, or even somewhere more (or less) exotic. But I'm a bit worried about how difficult and time consuming it's going to be, what with links and constructing the template and moving the archives and all that. And I haven't a clue how much it costs. Could anyone out there who has made such a move email me and give me a sense of how hard it was to move, and whether it was worth it?


Experiment!