The battle's done, and we kind of won, so we sound our victory cheer - where do we go from here?
As seen in the Washington Post!
And The Connection!
and the Pioneer Press!
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Saturday, March 29, 2003
I was about to respond to some more stupid things that InstaMcCarthy said. But then I remembered my vow to not engage with people like him anymore. But honestly, how can I resist... can not resist... Okay, just briefly. Listen, Instapundit - almost nobody is expressing glee at US-UK setbacks (I don't use the word "coalition" like he does because there isn't one). Almost everyone amidst the serious antiwar bloggers (and more general public commentators) - certainly I - has expressed some combination of the following: non-surprise at the problems because we never believed the neocon hype; hope for minimal casualties among both Iraqis and American-Brits; and outrage at the incompetent and hubristic Bush administration for getting the world into this unnecessary and stupid war. And another thing - stubborn, guerrilla resistance to an invading army is not the same thing as posing a threat to one's neighbors, much less to the United States. No link, because on principle I no longer link to Instapundit, but here's the quote: Reynolds prints an email from some idiot that says: "On the one hand, the Anti-American Class has been saying all along that Iraq is no threat to anyone; on the other, they are now crowing with trembling, barely-suppressed glee, that Iraq is far more formidable than anyone had supposed." His comment - "Yes, I've noticed that myself." To say that there is some kind of contradiction between saying that Iraq posed no threat and now saying that Iraqi resistance is challenging the US-UK forces is just willfully disingenuous... oh wait. Glenn Reynolds and willfully disengenuous... that's redundant. Okay, that's it, off my chest, and I'm just not going back to Instapundit for a while. He hasn't changed.
Now Cal Pundit is on the ball, with six incredibly wrong predictions by Richard Perle in a single interview. As I've been writing for weeks, all of this stuff is really important to get on the record, because these guys are used to being able to cover their tracks, or rather to not have to cover their tracks because they largely get a free pass in the mainstream media. Here's the excerpts from the Perle interview:
"I think the [Iraqi] opposition has much greater potential than we give it credit it for....That opposition includes the Kurds in the north, who have had lots of combat experience....And they've got a strong motive, as we've seen in the film. There are the Shi'a in the south, who have been the victims of Saddam in many ways for a long time. I think there's a great deal of potential there.
....[Saddam's government] a house of cards. He rules by fear because he knows there is no underlying support. Support for Saddam, including within his military organization, will collapse at the first whiff of gunpowder.
....I would be surprised if we need anything like the 200,000 figure that is sometimes discussed in the press. A much smaller force, principally special operations forces, but backed up by some regular units, should be sufficient. Of the 400,000 in Saddam's army, I'll be surprised if ten percent are loyal to Saddam. And the other 90 percent won't be completely passive. Many of them will come over to the opposition.
....There is collaboration between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, which means to destroy us. It entails chemical weapons, biological weapons, training in their application.
....[Isn't there a risk if we don't get allied support before we undertake this action that they won't be there to help defray the billions and billions and billions of dollars we'll need to spend for a long time in Iraq?] We'll get lots of allied support when it's over, when it's clear that the result was as we anticipated.
I would guess that the president will not wish to address the Congress again in the State of the Union message without having something to say about what he said last year on the state of the Union....I would be surprised if he would mount that podium without some good news about how we've dealt with Saddam."
The LA Times story on Arab opposition to the war begins: "Cars were burned, police shot tear gas at crowds and protesters threw rocks in antiwar rallies around the world Friday. But it was a peaceful, well-organized demonstration in Egypt that illustrated just how roiled this region has become since the American-led invasion of Iraq." The reporter shouldn't be so surprised that protest can take peaceful forms, or that there are alternatives to violent street protests. The new issue of Middle East Report presents a wide variety of forms of dissent and protest in the Arab world, which can help put these activities into context.
Remember back when the neocons wanted to overthrow Saddam by training Iraqi exiles through the INC? And remember how the neocons bashed Clinton for not fully spending the funds authorized by the Iraqi Liberation Act? With Bush in office and the neocons running the show, the INC and the fully funded and actively supported Iraqi exiles must be emerging as a powerful force, right? Well, the LA Times reports today that "The $90-million effort to equip up to 3,000 has trained only 74. Officials doubt the group will have much of a role in a post-Hussein nation." Big surprise.
Mamoun Fandy has a decent piece on al-Jazeera in today's Post. I don't really buy his argument about the Arabic language and imagery, but I think he's basically right about the frames (he uses the word templates) of Palestinian resistance and Nasserism. The vastly different narratives in the media in the US vs more or less the rest of the world explain a lot about the divergent reactions - although too many people who make this argument seem to accept that the US media has done well and the Arab or European media is deficient. I see no reason to agree with this - American media has been nationalist and overly credulous towards the American side, even if European or Arab media have cast their stories in an American unfriendly frame. He's also right about market forces - al-Jazeera is no different from Fox and CNN in competing to give viewers what they want.
I finally got to watch the Duke-Kansas game on tape - I couldn't watch Thursday night because of a demanding, albeit adorable, little aardvark cub who found eating and being changed more important than the NCAA tourney (go figure! assume she'll grow out of that.). Duke made it as far as I expected - Sweet Sixteen is pretty good for a freshman dominated team, and Thursday's nightmare will be a good learning experience for JJ Redick. I like these kids, and I don't see any of them leaving for the NBA in the next year or two. Kansas is a tough team, one that I respect - they played with class and I wish them well. Kudos to Coach K for developing this team as far as he did - ACC champs is superb, even if the ACC was a bit off this year. The teaching is going to pay off next year, that's for sure.
I'm not going to get too worked up about stray bombs falling on Baghdad marketplaces killing civilians. Not because it isn't horrible - it is. But it is entirely predictable. To pretend like this is some kind of horrible mistake, that somebody must have messed up to have our precision bombing campaign kill civilians, is disingenuous. When you intensely bomb a densely populated city, you are going to kill civilians. That's why I am critical of the Blitz of Baghdad in general, but am not going to be kicking and screaming about specific atrocities. Same thing with Iraqi suicide bombings or guerrilla tactics killing American soldiers - when you send a highly advanced and technologically superior force to invade against determined nationalist resistance, the resistance is going to take nonconventional and asymmetrical form. Complaining that they aren't fighting fair is what leaders of the superior force always do, but it doesn't mean we should take it seriously. I feel horrible for both the dead and wounded Iraqi civilians and the dead and wounded American soldiers, victims of Bush's terrible war. But I won't get dragged into the "isn't that awful" or "how could this happen" game over entirely predictable things.
The Times on Didn't You Used To Be Colin Powell: " With an eye to postwar diplomacy, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said in an interview today that hostility to the war around the world posed a significant challenge for the United States. Mr. Powell said that to counter global antiwar sentiments, the United States would seek a major role for the United Nations in a democratic postwar Iraq, move more "aggressively" to restart the Israel-Palestinian peace talks and reach out to "friends with whom we may have been having some difficulty."" Yes. As this guy said back when the war started, the UN has a role whether Perle, Cheney and Wolfowitz like it or not. But as with the pre-war internal struggles, Powell may well be signaling an internal disagreement in the administration again, rather than speaking decisively. Don't be surprised to hear Cheney or Wolfowitz or others give a speech or interview this Sunday talking down the UN - and to see another private battle seep into the public around this question of the UN's role.
Friday, March 28, 2003
A new poll finds that "Most Americans also want the United Nations to play a leading role in postwar Iraq. By nearly 2 to 1, the public believes that the United Nations and not the United States should have primary responsibility for rebuilding Iraq and help setting up a new Iraqi government, a move opposed by the Bush administration but supported by six in 10 Democrats, independents and members of the president's own Republican Party." (via Hesiod, who always seems to get there first). More support for what I've been arguing here for quite some time - that the UN is not going to be permanently damaged by standing up to the US.
Eric Alterman quotes William Kristol today: “In a certain way, the willingness to stick it out would be as impressive as” a quick victory, because such toughness would dispute the “core [Osama] bin Laden claim that America is a weak horse,” that after suffering 19 casualties in Somalia, “they fled.”" So Kristol is saying that it's a good thing that American soldiers are dying, because that proves that America is tough? He is actually saying that dead Americans is a good thing? Imagine if Janene Garofalo had said that. UPDATE - Here's the Washington Post piece that this originally came from.
Another good takedown of the neocons by Harold Myerson in the LA Weekly (via Tapped). He asks when exactly the neocons managed to sell Bush the Brooklyn Bridge. On their predictions about how the war would be greeted by the world and by Iraqis as a grand episode in American leadership, he notes: "As to the reactions of the peoples of the world to this war, the neocons’ prophecy is already in a class with the Literary Digest’s pre-election poll of 1936. (The magazine predicted Republican Alf Landon would unseat Franklin Roosevelt; FDR won with 61 percent of the popular vote and an electoral college majority of 523-to-8.) As to the reactions of the Iraqi people, those we’ve seen so far are, understandably, more ambivalent than we’ve been told to expect."
Editor and Publisher (via Cursor) gives us 15 stories that the media has already bungled in their enthusiasm to report the American war. The aardvark would only add that not a single one of them is a mistake in opposition to an official American claim - there has not been a single example of the media reporting something happening in Iraq's favor which turned out to not be true - it is always a mistake in favor of the American side which turns out to be incorrect. What do you make of that? On the list - 1. Saddam may well have been killed in the first night's surprise attack (March 20). 2. Even if he wasn't killed, Iraqi command and control was no doubt "decapitated" (March 22). 3. Umm Qasr has been taken (March 22). .... 6. An entire division of 8,000 Iraqi soldiers surrendered en masse near Basra (March 23). 7. Several Scud missiles, banned weapons, have been launched against U.S. forces in Kuwait (March 23).... 9. Basra has been taken (March 23). 10. Umm Qasr has been taken (March 23). 11. A captured chemical plant likely produced chemical weapons (March 23). 12. Nassiriya has been taken (March 23). 13. Umm Qasr has been taken (March 24). 14. The Iraqi government faces a "major rebellion" of anti-Saddam citizens in Basra (March 24). .
Meanwhile, on a related note, Bush is apparently unhappy with the media. Evidently Bush always expected the war to go exactly like this, but the media - presumably the Liberal Media - raised expectations unrealistically. What complete and utter bullpoopy. The So Called Liberal Media, to the extent that it exists, tended to warn that the war would be difficult and expensive and risky. As is well-documented, it was the conservative media, especially the neocons running the Bush administration, who raised expectations of a rapid victory. If Bush is already falling back on blaming the Liberal Media for the way the Iraq war is going, things must be even worse than we realize.
So, Don Rumsfeld is threatening to extend the war to Syria? Man, can't these guys wait on their master plan to conquer the entire Middle East? Or are they really trying to bring on Armaggedon? On the positive side, from Team Bush's point of view, they've established their bonafides now enough to make the threat credible - Syrian leaders might well believe that Bush and his neocon advisers are crazy enough to do it. We're only a week into the war and we've already gotten to Nixon and Kissinger's "madman" theory of credibility!
Now Salon has jumped on board with its own collection of neocons predicting a cakewalk. These guys must finally face some accountability.
Newsday reports that Congress has passed a resolution "calling for a national day of humility, prayer and fasting in a time of war and terrorism. The resolution, passed 346-49, says Americans should use the day of prayer "to seek guidance from God to achieve a greater understanding of our own failings and to learn how we can do better in our everyday activities, and to gain resolve in meeting the challenges that confront our nation." Under the resolution, President Bush would issue a proclamation designating a specific day as a day of "humility, prayer and fasting."" What can the aardvark say but thank you to Congress for focusing on what's important in these dangerous times, and not wasting time or attention on silly things like exercising oversight on war decisions or homeland security. Thank God we are fighting against those religious fundamentalists who terrorize us! Because you know that al-Qaeda never fasts, prays, or demolishes the line between church and state, right? A national day of prayer will show those religious fanatics the meaning of modernity and liberalism like nothing else. And given Bush's war plan, praying for victory seems like a good idea. Thanks, Congress!
A long time ago, the aardvark recommended Jack Snyder's 1992 book, Myths of Empire, as essential reading for understanding the mistakes the Bush administration is making. He updated this in a short piece published online at Columbia International Affairs Online (subscribers only, sorry). He has now expanded that short piece into a still short but slightly longer piece for the new issue of The National Interest. You can read a short excerpt here, but I highly recommend hunting down the journal and reading the whole article - there are a number of other interesting essays as well, so it's worth the effort.
Remember a few days ago, the aardvark got in a conversation over at Stand Down about the Basra uprising? And the aardvark said something to the effect of if it is real then it's important, but at this point we have no reason to believe the news given the regular pattern of exaggeration? Well, the Post today reports that "Troops Call Reports of Uprising 'Largely Exaggerated'." and quotes a British commander as saying "There were reports of a popular uprising in Basra... We saw no evidence of that, really. We saw groups of 40 to 50 people standing on street corners, which is like a Saturday night in Newcastle." The story does report great ambivalence among residents of Basra, and tries to explain resistance there as largely motivated by regime security forces continuing to intimidate a largely anti-Saddam or neutral population. Perhaps - there are many possible competing explanations. That remains open to debate and interpretation - but the Basra Uprising can now safely go down with the CW factory, the SCUDS, and the defection of the 51st as exaggerations, lies, hasty conclusions, whatever term you prefer.
Don't miss this piece by Shibley Telhami, one of our very best Middle East experts. Here's the first graf: "As the battle for Baghdad begins and public opinion in the Middle East is further inflamed, the prevailing view in Washington remains that military victory will fix everything in the end. Two notions drive this view: that the defeat of Saddam Hussein will put the militant forces in the Middle East on the defensive and that the overwhelming exercise of American power will command respect, thus compliance, in the region, even if it doesn't win hearts. Neither is supported by historical trends." No further comment here - I agree with him, and he says it well.
Michael Gordon in the Times, on how Rumsfeld has been outthought and outstrategized by Saddam to this point (Gordon doesn't quite say it like that, but aardvarks can be less tactful and read between the lines): "The Bush administration misread the Iraqis. Defense Department officials warned for months that Mr. Hussein would make his final stand in Baghdad, but would try to slow the American advance to the capital by destroying the infrastructure in southern Iraq. ... But Mr. Hussein had another plan in mind. His strategy, at least for a time, was to leave most of the country's infrastructure intact, stock the cities with food and cast himself as a defender of the Iraqi nation....To tamp down any rebellion in the south, he sent fedayeen the other paramilitary units to that region to enforce loyalty. The paramilitary forces also used the cities as bases to oppose the Americans. The goal, it seems clear, was to take the wind out of the Americans' sails. The Pentagon understood from the start that Mr. Hussein's forces would opt for an "urban-centric" defense. What the Pentagon did not understand was that the Iraqis planned to expand that strategy to include Nasiriya, Najaf, Samawa and other towns in southern Iraq. ... Another reason why the war in Iraq has been so vexing for American commanders is that the Pentagon did not gather an overwhelming force to start the campaign." Or take today's LA Times: "A highly publicized U.S. campaign to persuade senior Iraqi military and civilian leaders to surrender has failed to produce any significant defections, and U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that those closest to President Saddam Hussein are unlikely to give up. The effort now appears to be one of several miscalculations in a high-stakes U.S. strategy to use bombing, secret contacts and inducements -- including cash payments -- to key Iraqi leaders to quickly overthrow Hussein." You can see the theme running through this, right? Overconfidence, hubris, and a reliance on flawed assumptions leading to an overly aggressive strategy based on best-case scenarios and ferocious suppression of internal voices of dissent - why would Rumsfeld's Pentagon be any different from Bush's overall policies or from standard neocon foreign policy theorizing?
Richard Perle has resigned from the Defense Policy Board! I wish it had been a resignation under disgrace for his bad policy advice, lies, deception, and generally unbelievably negative role in turning world public opinion against the US. But I'll settle for resigning under pressure for his corrupt business practices and influence peddling. I can only hope that losing his formal position will reduce his influence, but I suspect that he will continue to be a vocal and influential figure within the Bush administration and neocon circles just because of who he is. He gets to stay on the DPB, unfortunately, even though he's losing his chair position. Can't prevent him from doing his thing, nor would we want to given that we value and endorse all forms of public arguments and open debate - but kudos to Sy Hersh for helping to remove one of the most dangerous and noxious figures in American foreign policy from a top formal government position.
I don't know how I feel about the Oil for Food Program being converted into a wartime relief program. It certainly is a creative adaptation of the program away from its original intent. It might, as the Russians fear, begin to provide retroactive legitimacy to the war. On the other hand, if it helps the UN get humanitarian relief to the Iraqi people, that can only be a good thing - even if it makes it easier for the US and UK to fight the war by alleviating their expenses, I can only be pleased by minimizing Iraqi suffering. What's more, I think it's a good thing to move quickly to demonstrating both the usefulness and the indispensability of the UN here in Iraq and further afield. So let's just say that for me the jury remains out - much depends on how this is administered, how the US relates to the UN over the humanitarian relief program, and whether it does net good for the Iraqi people. It doesn't provide retroactive legitimacy in my eyes - though no doubt Blair wants to spin it that way - and it might even be seen as continuing critique of American failure to plan for this aspect.
Thursday, March 27, 2003
Wonderful Times headline: "U.S. Rejects Criticism on Awarding of Iraq Contracts." Well, that should settle it. If Bush denies something, it isn't true, right? Works for me, because The Greatest President Ever would not lie about anything. And we've already seen that if Team Bush rejects something, it doesn't happen. Like the peaceful disarmament of Iraq, for example.
American military personnel describe Iraqi tactics to Jon Kifner of the Times: " Their weapons are the light equipment common to guerrillas and armies throughout the third world: shoulder-fired rocket propelled grenades, Soviet-era AK-47 assault rifles and some small mortars." Donald Rumsfeld and Andrew Sullivan, et al, describe Iraqi tactics as equivalent to global terrorism. Do they believe their rhetoric, do you think? UPDATE: sorry, this post got interrupted by a snuffling aardvark cub, who needed me more than my blog did. While I was holding her, I read Michael Ledeen making the same argument I was describing here, in slightly sillier form - it's as if no outgunned military has ever resorted to guerrilla tactics because it can't compete in conventional warfare. Certainly not, um, American revolutionaries, who were probably Islamic terrorists, given the tactics they used against the Brits. Ledeen takes it a step farther, though: he claims that the Iraqi resistance is actually being waged by Hizbollah and al-Qaeda fighters. Nice save, Mr. Ledeen! That explains everything! Iraqis do welcome us with hugs and puppies, but terrorists are fighting us. OK, there's no, you know, evidence - but it's such a beautiful theory, who cares?
Some bloggers are so good that you start taking them for granted. Josh Marshall is one of them, despite his regrettable "I got taken in by Ken Pollack" episode. Today's piece is typically sharp in fact, pretty much everything he's written lately has been on target, including his focus on Turkey and his withering critiques of unilateralism. His new piece in the Washingotn Monthly crystallizes his thinking rather devastatingly. After painting an entertainingly plausible nightmare vision six months in the future, and then saying that this is the neocons idea of success, not failure, Marshall explores the foundations of their "logic": "like a TV plot, the hawks' vision rests on a willing suspension of disbelief, in particular, on the premise that every close call will break in our favor." He notes the extent to which the case for war was based on deception - WMD was never the issue for the neocons; it was always about using American power to radically reshape the Middle East. He also gets exactly right their reliance on self-fulfilling prophecies - provoke a war with Islam, and then their analysis of a clash of civilizations becomes true. Readers of the aardvark will not be surprised by Marshall's expose of the radical - and even bizarre - direction of neocon thought. I only wish Josh had been paying more attention to this stuff back when he signed on to the war at a time when liberal opinion was very much in the balance. At any rate, hats of to Josh for one of the best pieces I've seen yet on the neocons.
I've argued previously that this crisis probably won't destroy the UN, and might even make the UN stronger by demonstrating its independence from the United States. Looks like Tony Blair is thinking the same thing. He wants the UN to take a leading role in the reconstruction process, while Team Bush remains undecided. But when those bills start coming due, and the excitement of war wears off for the unilateralist crowd, I suspect that even they will start seeing the virtues of an international - UN - role. I mean, Halliburton will no doubt remain the best qualified company in the world for reconstruction contracts, and American firms will no doubt remain obviously better equipped to handle the remarkably fat contracts. But the UN will prove its value again quite shortly. Even Team Bush - if not the neocon ideologues who don't think about such mundane matters as costs - will see this, I think. UPDATE - The Times reports that Bush is fighting to curb the UN role in postwar Iraq. This battle over the future of the UN is being joined.
Wednesday, March 26, 2003
Hey, Liberal Oasis has done my work for me, with a bunch of nice quotes from neocons pre-war about how easy it was going to be. Some highlights:
VP Dick Cheney, 8/26/02
As for the reaction of the Arab "street," the Middle East expert Professor Fouad Ajami predicts that after liberation, the streets in Basra and Baghdad are "sure to erupt in joy in the same way the throngs in Kabul greeted the Americans."
VP Dick Cheney, 3/16/03
Now, I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.
Ken Adelman, member of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, 2/13/02
[Brookings Institution analysts Philip] Gordon and [Michael] O'Hanlon say we must not "assume that Hussein will quickly fall." I think that's just what is likely to happen.
NY Times, 3/18/03
Military and allied officials familiar with the planning of the upcoming campaign say they hope that a successful and "benign" occupation of Basra that results in flag-waving crowds hugging British and American soldiers will create an immediate positive image worldwide of American and British war aims while also undermining Iraqi resistance elsewhere in the country.
Condoleeza Rice tries hard today to make it look like the US-UK war commands a vast coalition. More than 50 countries! GDP of $22 trillion! And all doing their share towards the common goal of protecting themselves and freeing the world of evil! But you can dress an aardvark up like a duck, but put him in water and he'll still sink (and smell bad), and he's not going to quack no matter how many times you goose him under his tail. You can tell the stress is getting to Rice as she tries to list the substantive contributions of her coalition - this country is going to send a field hospital at some point, and this country lets us use airspace, and this country used to have a dictator too so they can feel Iraq's pain. But nothing can hide the fact that this war has no UN authorization, and outside of the Brits - who have taken disproportionate casualties and have certainly earned their place alongside the American troops - there is no coalition. More interesting than the question of whether there is a coalition - there isn't - is the question of why Rice is trying so hard to convince us that there is. What do the conservatives at the Wall Street Journal care about Uzbeki or Estonian support? Isn't American muscle and moral superiority enough? It looks like naked unilateralism still doesn't play, despite all the efforts of the Weekly Standard and the neocons.
George Will makes me laugh, as always. He writes: " Now, when the country needs the chastening sobriety that should be conservatism's contribution to the national conversation, it has been getting a whiff of something oxymoronic: conservative triumphalism. There has been much breezy confidence that the war will be painless and the aftermath -- replacing Iraq's regime -- easy. This has made the public susceptible to mood swings." Note the use of the passive voice here - who are these dastardly folks who have made the war seem easy? Could it be, um, Bill Clinton (he's to blame for most things in Will's world)? Could it be, um, the Liberal Media (same thing, basically)? No, come on - blame for making the war look easy would have to fall heavily on... George Will, and his friends and comrades - in - arms. I'm heading back to the hospital so don't have time to track down the citations, but Will has repeatedly and with great confidence predicted that an Iraq war would be easy, US forces would be welcomed as liberators, and so on. Spare us the passive voice, Mr. Will, and 'fess up. Say: "I was breezily confident that the war would be painless and easy. I misled the public, and now they are confused." Is that so hard?
Anthony Shadid reports that some Iraqis are seeing the sandstorm as confirmation that God is intervening on their side. There hasn't been a sandstorm like this in living memory, according to one old-timer, and it began just after the Blitz of Baghdad. I don't take this the least bit seriously - my conception of God does not include interventions in or micromanaging of worldly political disputes - but someone in the Oval Office sure does. I wonder how the religious fundamentalists who support the war so strongly and see God as an American (and a Republican American, at that) are dealing with recent setbacks? UPDATE - hey, Hesiod had the same thought I did. Should have read Counterspin Central first.
Here's what I wrote yesterday evening over at Stand Down in response to someone complaining that anti-war bloggers were ignoring the uprising in Basra because it did not conform with their storyline: "If an anti-Saddam uprising emerges in Basra, it will be a significant development in the war. At this point, there appears to be confusion and fog of war, and lots of rumours and denials. At this point, given recent experience with "forbidden Scuds" and "chemical weapons factories" and "the 51st surrendered," a Basra uprising will be taken as possible but not real until confirmed. Sorry, this isn't Fox, and we try to stick to facts before we editorialize." Went to take care of the little cub, came home, went to bed, woke up, checked the news, and.... the Basra uprising doesn't seem to be amounting to much. Let me elaborate a bit on what I said - I really do believe that if uprisings materialize it would be a major transformation of the war. So far the overwhelming theme has been Iraqi resistance - nationalist, most likely, perhaps combined with some of the "fence sitting" which is the American media's preferred explanation (today's Times says that the Shia are waiting to see who will win, Saddam or the US, before throwing in with one side or the other). Another is that the Iraqis, in my best guess, are failing to see how wonderfully humanitarian and precise American bombing is, and are responding to what looks an awful lot like an invasion of their country. The US-UK forces are now dramatically shifting their strategy, in recognition that their assumptions that their forces would be welcomed as liberators were horribly wrong. This is being presented as a small thing, a couple of days to subdue the restive southern cities and to shore up supply lines - maybe it will be, and I'm in no position to second-guess the military leadership. But my sense is that "pacifying the south" is not a two day operation involving killing a few (or a lot) of Iraqi irregulars - it's more of a continuous, ongoing process which the military (and Washington) doesn't yet understand. This might not delay the Battle of Baghdad for too long, but it should be seen as a harbinger of things to come throughout the country, and in Baghdad itself.
Tuesday, March 25, 2003
Gideon Rose has a piece in Slate saying something that the aardvark has been saying for months (longer, actually, but the blog has only been around that long): the neocons and other hawks lied to us when they said that the INC alone, perhaps with a little American air support, could topple Saddam. They lied about the INC offering a meaningful political alternative. They lied about the INC's influence inside Iraq. And the extent of their lies became clear when the Bush administration quietly abandoned them when it got serious about invading Iraq and looking to the future - and given that this is largely a neocon war, it speaks quite loudly that the neocon's pet opposition group got frozen out in the operational planning. Rose doesn't say it quite like this, but he's basically saying the same thing: if the INC was so great, where is it now? Why aren't the neocons being held responsible for their systematic deception of the American people about the Iraqi opposition? When will the Clinton team get its props for properly ignoring the INC?
Be sure to read this piece by James Schlesinger and Tom Pickering in the IHT. Whatever the virtues of their advice for postwar Iraq, their experience commands respect. Pickering, in particular, was probably the most impressive American diplomat working on the Middle East of his generation. He's one of those guys that you have to pay attention to and take seriously no matter what you think of the policy he is currently pushing.
Almost every story about the war these days includes wondering discussion of the near absence of civilian casualties in Baghdad. Some even say that the absence of such casualties is the reason why shock and awe failed to shock and awe. Do I take back my analysis of Shock and Awe as an atrocity? No. Why? Because first of all, I am cynically skeptical about the news itself - I do not know whether or not there have been civilian casualties in Baghdad. On the one hand, I have the controlled information of embedded journalists and a patriotic and conservative news media eager to present the American side of the story. The endlessly repeated formulation suggests a coordinated and structured propaganda campaign rather than independent journalism. On the other hand, I have the evidence of massive explosions and enormous amounts of ordinance - most of it not nearly as smart as the media or the Pentagon wants us to believe - falling onto a heavily populated urban area. Even if it is carefully targetted - and I actually believe that the Pentagon is doing everything it can to avoid major civilian casualties, I really do - that amount of destruction in a densely populated area can not avoid having "collateral damage" (what an Orwellian term). Here's how the LA Times describes it: "But the deaths and injuries from misdirected or errant bombs, or from shrapnel and fragments that spray into nearby homes even when the munitions find their intended target, are making more and more people believe that the United States is heedless of the Iraqi public." And after the first order explosive damage, you get the second order - fallout, destroyed infrastructure, spillover effects, contaminated water, disrupted transportation, and so on. The Blitz of Baghdad is a humanitarian catastrophe deliberately inflicted on a captive civilian population, which could have been avoided - and, for the purposes of winning over Iraqi hearts and minds, even if you don't care about international law or morality, probably should have been avoided.
Aw, the Washington Post is shocked to discover the cost of the war. Spare me. It has been widely known for a long time by anyone who cared to know that the cost of the war was going to be in the $60-$100 billion range, assuming it went well, and that the longer term costs could be many times that. If the Washington Post didn't realize how much the little toy they wanted cost, their mommies and daddies maybe should have explained to them about how money works while they were still in the toy store. The Post has been aggressively pushing this war for months - actually, for years - and to be shocked or angered now at the price tag is highly disingenuous.
I rarely watch cable news - or any television news, to be honest. So it was a bit of a shock to me to be forced to watch CNN for about two hours yesterday with a sleeping aardvark cub on my chest. All I can say is that if this is the primary source of information about the war, and about the world, for most of the American people, then it is no wonder that public opinion is what it is. The narrow focus, the nationalistic reporting - some reporter, Lou Dobbs, I think, has taken the Fox cue and now wears an American flag pin on his lapel, the endless repetition, the banality of the coverage, the absence of any serious dissenting views, the absence of any historical or comparative perspective. I can honestly say, along with the famous survey performed during the first Gulf war, that I know less about Iraq and about the war after two hours with CNN than I did before watching. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to play the babe in the woods here - I know perfectly well what TV news is like, but it does seem to me to have taken a qualitative turn for the worse during this war. This makes it even more impressive that the anti-war movement had such success in mobilizing opposition.
One book I've been reading since it came out last week - but haven't yet finished so am not yet ready to discuss in any detail - is The United Nations and Iraq: Defanging the Viper, by James Sutterlin and Jean Krasno. I highly recommend it. Basically, it uses an extensive oral history project based at Yale University to present a detailed, insiders account of the UNSCOM experience of the 1990s. It largely (at least to this point) avoids editorializing, sensationalizing, or even offering its own position in favor of putting on the record a fully documented oral history of the inspections process. If you don't really know what to believe anymore about UNSCOM, go read this book - it paints a fascinating picture of both the technical and the political - as well as the human - side of this decade long struggle, and it puts the recent brief UNMOVIC experience into much sharper perspective.
Monday, March 24, 2003
What the heck is Donald Rumsfeld doing, whining about the Geneva Conventions? Isn't this the administration which refused to consider the Geneva Conventions as applicable to al-Qaeda captives, or other "unlawful combatants", and which has shipped all kinds of captives off to Jordan and Egypt and Pakistan and other non-squeamish countries to be tortured? Isn't this the administration which has refused to sign on to the International Criminal Court? Isn't this the administration fighting an illegal war without Security Council authorization? And, most to the point, why isn't a massive bombing campaign against a civilian population in Baghdad not a violation of international law, not to mention morality and good taste? Sorry - I feel very badly for American POWs, and wish that the Iraqi government would treat them in accord with international law, but spare me the lectures from Donald Rumsfeld about the sanctity of international conventions.
One of the projects which I keep meaning to get to but never seem to have the time (and doesn't seem likely to get better now!!) is what I call the Neocon Accountability Project. Basically, I am just really struck by three things: the absolute confidence with which neocons make predictions; the regularity with which those predictions are proven wrong; and the extreme rarity of their being reminded of their errors and forced to explain or admit them. Partly this is due to the conservative bias of the media, and especially the near total conservative bias of the pundit class. Part of it is the short memory of the American public, which not even the Daily Howler can seemingly correct. I was astounded to read a supposedly critical article - I'm at home now, just back from the hospital, so can't find the exact link, sorry - say with a straight face that the neocons had been right about almost every foreign policy issue this decade. Really? Pushing a national missile defense, ignoring North Korea, destroying the UN, opposing the ICC, opposing the Oslo peace process.... I could go on. But my point is that they make these predictions, they are almost always wrong, and yet they pay no price for it. And we today, the whole world, are now paying a monstrous price for their fantasies - will they be held to account? Forget what Bush is now saying about how "we always said this would be tough." Bull-hooey - I have extensive records of almost every major neocon pundit explaining at great length how this war would be a cakewalk, the road to Baghdad would be paved with the proverbial hugs and puppies, Saddam would fold like a lawnchair. They also predicted that France would cave, that Russia would come along for the ride, and that Bush's leadership would create a vast coalition. They have predicted many things - the NAP is to give a fair minded reading of every prediction a neocon pundit has made in, say, the last year, and then see how many came true? My hunch - they do very well on predictions about Bush's foreign policy, mainly because they largely control it, outside of (Didn't You Used to Be Colin Powell); and very poorly on anything to do with the rest of the world. So, that's a big project which maybe someday I'll have time to do, alongside everything else.
Thank you to those who asked - the aardvark's cub is doing just fine. Fine indeed. A more beautiful little genetically unique African mammal is hard to imagine. I do appreciate people's kind words!!
This article, and these events, do not surprise me at all. American forces moving into Iraqi urban areas meet with determined nationalist resistance, get drawn into urban maze, attacked from all sides by an uncertain enemy - this is what I, and critics of the war predicted. The neocons, by contrast, predicted - and promised - that American forces would be welcomed as liberators, that their path to Baghdad would be paved with hugs and puppies. The neocons are wrong about a lot of things, and this country, Iraq, and the world are paying the price. The military plan we are seeing fold reeks of neocon hubris - not bothering to defend supply lines, racing forward, leapfrogging cities, expecting an easy victory and a friendly welcome from liberated Iraqis. I have great faith in our uniformed military, and I would be shocked if they bought in to the neocon foolishness - but seeing how the neocons pressured the CIA into cooking its books to provide justification for the war, I worry that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz have been overriding good sense at the Pentagon. I am not saying this to gloat - I am not InstaPundit, and the loss of life sickens me. I derive no pleasure from American or British soldiers being killed or wounded, no more than I do from learning of Iraqi, or Syrian, deaths, and I fear more to come in Baghdad and in all other defended Iraqi cities. I fear that as the fight gets tougher, American rules of engagement will slide. Let's hope that the much promised infusion of American humanitarian aid - which I'm shocked, just shocked, to learn is now not likely to materialize for several weeks at best due to logistical shortcomings and poor planning - can make a difference.
Nick Penniman of TomPaine.com and Richart Just of TAP now argue that it is time for liberals to stop criticizing the war and hop on board the liberation bandwagon. Liberals need a positive vision, they argue, and they should embrace Bush's war as a vehicle for spreading liberalism through the Middle East and the world. Looks like they've been drinking of that neocon brew, and it's a heady trip. Hopefully they'll sober up by morning and get back to offering the good, hard-hitting liberal analysis that both TP and TAP have been offering for some time. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this kind of "hop on board and pretend that Bush is doing our bidding" strategy is exactly the reason why Democrats are in such trouble now. DNC-style "centrists" always make these kind of recommendations - play to the center, capture the swing voter, that sort of thing. But this war strikes me as the wrong place for this kind of mealy-mouthed temporizing. If you opposed the war before it started (and Just, to his credit, supported the war before so is not a bandwagon hopper today), then it is still wrong: still unnecessary, still destructive of our alliances, still highly destabilizing. Playing petty domestic politics with it - support the war because it is popular - only cheapens the war, cheapens the Democratic Party (see: Congressional vote absolving itself of any power or role), and ultimately weakens the United States by eliminating any real opposition party. So, Dems, don't listen to Just and Penniman and follow the bandwagon to oblivion - say what you believe, and make America come with you.
Sunday, March 23, 2003
Most of the war has gone pretty much as I predicted months ago: little resistance at the border, US troops capture large amounts of territory quickly, but meet fierce resistance in the cities; the real battle doesn't begin until Baghdad. I would only point out that to this point most of the neocon predictions have not come true - Saddam does not appear to have been abandoned or overthrown, Iraqis have not capitulated in the face of inevitable defeat, this is not a casualty-free cakewalk. I still have no doubt that we will win a "victory," whatever that means at this point, but to this point I'm not seeing the flowers and candy that Richard Perle and Friends promised.
As my earlier posts make clear, I did not expect the "shock and awe" crimes against humanity - I thought that the US would be sensitive enough to an already outraged world opinion that it would avoid the massive bombardment of civilian targets. Lots of people are saying that precision weapons mean that there isn't much humanitarian impact. Lots of people are wrong. Fog of war sets in, mistakes are made, and Baghdad is a densely populated city. What is more, even if individuals aren't directly harmed, the infrastructure of food, water, electricity, medicine, and so forth is being destroyed - that's where the real trauma will set in. I would repeat the point I made the first day - Dresden and Hiroshima came at the end of a long, total war in which attacks on one anothers civilians had already been well-established. Baghdad comes at the start of an unnecessary war of choice - in which other war options were available, particularly since there was no urgency in our military buildup or plan of action. History will not judge the Blitz of Baghdad kindly... and we have yet to see what verdict will be offered up by the Battle of Baghdad. I pray for our troops - but not for the politicians and neocons who put them in this position.
Sorry for not blogging the last couple of days. Partly, I was just a bit overwhelmed by the beginning of the war, and needed some time away to think. One of the things I sort of decided - I'm not going to be engaging any more with the idiots. Instapundit and the Free Republic can go on saying stupid things; if you want to know what stupid things, go and read them, but it will drive me nuts if I keep listening to their ignorance, their venom, their almost inhuman indifference to human life or dignity. I will continue to engage with people with whom I disagree, from the left or the right, but not with these fools. Another thing I decided - I'm not going to be warblogging. Some people are doing it, and doing it very well. I will comment on whatever interests me, and ignore whatever doesn't.
The other part of why I've been away? Well, let's just say there's a new little aardvark cub in the world. She's beautiful, perfect, and astonishing. She came into the world just at a moment where events might have made me lose hope. She brings hope, she brings love, she brings faith. I'm not going to be writing about her bowel movements or her cute little facial expressions, because this isn't that kind of blog. But I will allow her to take full credit for any moments of incoherence or exhaustion-driven excess over the next few months. You have been warned!