Abu Aardvark

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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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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Saturday, April 05, 2003
Just added Hullabaloo/Digby to the links after following Jeanne D'Arc's recommendation. Looked like fun and sympatico.

This LA Times survey is interesting: "With the Iraq war in its third week, 95% of Americans say they are following news coverage closely and 61% generally approve of the way the media are covering the conflict, according to the Los Angeles Times poll. In a sign of changing times, nearly 70% say they are getting most of their information about the war from all-news cable channels such as Fox News, CNN and MSNBC. Only 18% indicated they are relying on the traditional nightly network news broadcasts produced by ABC, CBS and NBC, the survey found." In case you were wondering, "13% mentioned the Internet." These kinds of results really do bring out the significance of the warped coverage offered by Fox, CNN, and MSNBC. If only a fraction of the audience were watching the cable networks, then their biased, nationalistic, and military minutae-dominated coverage might be annoying but insignificant. But with so many Americans getting most of their information from these sources, the numbers of war support start to make more sense, above and beyond the traditional rally around the flag effect. The findings also, I rush to add, should give bloggers a sense of humility - although I would argue that those 13% tend to be opinion leaders, journalists, and other more influential individuals, and so the influence of the internet for shaping their views, and thus perhaps indirectly shaping a wider audience, might be understated in those numbers. UPDATE - Atrios spotted this nugget in the LA Times poll: "Nearly eight in 10 Americans now accept the Bush administration's contention - disputed by some experts - that Hussein has "close ties" to Al Qaeda (even 70% of Democrats agree). And 60% of Americans say they believe Hussein bears at least some responsibility for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks - a charge even the administration hasn't levied against him." Good lord help us all. Liars win.

A little good news, at least. Condi Rice seems to have sided against the Pentagon Follies on the INC question. Doesn't resolve the debate, of course, but it's a hopeful signal.

Love this graf: ""The fact is that no one in the administration has ever shared with me or any members of [the Foreign Relations] committee of either party what in the world they had in mind" for postwar Iraq, said Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), the committee's chairman. "It's not as if we didn't want to know."" Is it a secret, is it still up for grabs, or has nobody really thought about it?

Where are those pesky chemical weapons that we were promised? I mean, sure, Hans Blix couldn't find them because he's just a lackey of the UN, but surely manly Americans must just be sweeping them up off the streets, right? Well, still no. I still think that the precursors and materials are there, somewhere, but this just feeds right in to all the skepticism about Bush's justifications for war. Bart Gellman's article looks like Team Bush is trying to lower the bar - it's complicated in there, there are lots of factories, we don't know exactly where they are, it's going to be a long, uncertain road, all that. Yes, all of that is true - but that is exactly the reason why the inspectors needed time to do their highly professional work; it is why Team Bush should have been willing to share its evidently not-bulletproof information with the inspectors; and it shows again why so many of us don't believe anything Team Bush says.

Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab writes about his experience of the war watching Arab TV. It's interesting, if by necessity ideosyncratic. But it is worth pointing out how astonishingly superior Kuttab's analysis is to the breathless, sensationalistic - and highly influential - expose of al-Jazeera by the vastly overrated Fouad Ajami in the NYT Magazine a year and a half ago. Kuttab shows the diversity of sources of information as he switches channels restlessly, and also shows how everyone he runs into over the course of the day seeks out information from all over. He also shows an ability to place what he is seeing into context - a sense of audience which Ajami never demonstrates. He points out how the Arab networks can galvanize reaction simply by showing the human costs of the war - just as American networks mute reaction by avoiding showing such costs. Neither choice is apolitical or "objective," and either choice has really dramatic implications for public opinion. It would be interesting to examine audience reactions to Arabic broadcasts that avoid the Arabist narrative but do show the human impact of the war to try and isolate out how much of public opinion is shaped by the images as opposed to the Arabist rhetoric and discourse (hint, hint - any grant funding officers out there in the aardvark-o-sphere?).

Depressing, but not surprising. Aryeh Neier points out that "With international attention focused on Iraq, despots are seizing the opportunity to get rid of their opposition — real or imagined. In Zimbabwe, Cuba and Belarus, independent journalists, opposition leaders and human rights advocates have been thrown in prison. Absent scrutiny, the leaders of these rogue regimes have been emboldened, aware that their actions are causing little more than a ripple of protest beyond their countries." This is exactly one of the reasons why many Arabs doubt and even scorn American talk of democratizing the region. They hear the talk, but they've heard it before, and they see (and live and feel) the walk. The new issue of Middle East Report has a brutal chart (not available online, unfortunately) detailing the growing repression in the region, especially among American allies, since the war on terror began. It is the hypocrisy of the rhetoric which makes it so galling to many Arabs and Muslims - particularly when so many American neocons (and liberals and others) then blame them for the absence of democracy in their countries. It isn't entirely America's fault, of course - that is far too simplistic - but American support for these kinds of regimes, increasing since the war on terror, sits unhappily with the official critique of the reasons for the failings of Arab and Muslim democracy.

So the Battle of Baghdad appears to have begun, and seems to be going well for the US. For now. I'm not really a warblogger, despite being identified as one by the media - I'm actually a political science blogger, which is probably much less fun for most people! - and I'm not going to do the Sean Paul thing and try to analyze the military tactics or strategy. Maybe Baghdad will fall easily, maybe it won't - I still lean towards the same position I've had all along: direct conventional confrontations will always be extremly lopsided in favor of the US forces, while guerrilla attacks, harassment, and ambushes in urban settings will favor the Iraqis. The longer it plays out, the more chances for bad things to happen, but in the end the US forces will "win" - but defining victory will be difficult. Reactions among Iraqis will be mixed, fickle, often dissimulated in one way or the other, and highly contingent. And nothing will end with military "victory" - the politics will just keep on going. I just hope for the fewest casualties possible, civilian and military, while making the campaign expensive enough - though preferably not in lives - to dissuade Team Bush from further adventures. Those who are now saying that war critics will be humiliated and silenced when the US triumphs are just being silly - my political analysis has never hinged on the military outcomes (though this may be less true for other writers - I can't speak for them). I could be wrong, but I don't think that even a quick win in Baghdad - which is far from happening, but even if it did - changes very much.

Friday, April 04, 2003
Well, that didn't take long. A few hours ago, the aardvark said he would reserve judgement on the "chemical weapons" in those 3000 vials to see if, when and how the story would fall apart. And now, only hours later, the Associated Press reports: "American officials have admitted that the thousands of boxes of white powder they seized north of Baghdad are explosives. The US military and various media outlets had suggested that they may have made the first discovery of chemical weapons in Iraq." Not believing anything you hear from US forces about Iraq... always worth the wait.

Via The Agonist, Anthony Zinni repeats his opposition to the war: "This is in fact the wrong war at the wrong time," the retired Marine general said Thursday night at Canisius College. Zinni was head of Central Command until Gen. Tommy Franks took over nearly three years ago. Zinni had served as President Bush's peace envoy to the Middle East until this month, when he spoke out against the war. "I had grave reservations about this whole undertaking and expressed those," Zinni said. "That's one reason why I'm no longer the Middle East envoy." Zinni is worth listening to, given that he ran the US military operation in the Gulf for years.

Jeanne D'Arc has a fabulous post on humanitarianism, hearts and minds, propaganda, and the problems of relief assistance. Read it.

Atrios provides this excerpt from the subscription only essay by Peter Beinart in TNR: "I still believe the war will be vindicated. But it is proving harder and uglier than expected. And, if the media, and the public, were not prepared for the hard days that may lie ahead, it has little to do with spineless, irresolute reporters. The real blame lies with us hawks, who made our political work easier by selling the country a rosy war. And, for the time being at least, we are thus justly reaping what we sowed." Atrios makes some good points in his response, but I just want to make this one - Beinart is doing the opposite of what the aardvark blasted George Will for doing the other day: using the passive voice to escape responsibility. The New Republic has been a head cheerleader for this war for years, and did more than its share to sell the war. Beinart admits this instead of trying to pass the buck. I'm really glad that Beinart, unlike most of the neocons, is willing to take responsibility for these efforts, even if this retroactive sense of responsibility doesn't excuse what TNR did back when it mattered. So a qualified tip of the hat to Peter Beinart for at least showing some accountability.

Check out David Cortright's essay in The Nation on where the peace movement should go next. Cortright says "We should not retreat from our core criticisms of Bush's war or be intimidated into silence. This war was and is completely unnecessary." I agree. He goes on: "We must organize a broadly based campaign to address the causes and consequences of this war and to prevent such misguided adventures in the future." He makes this extremely important point, which too many people - but not the aardvark - lost sight of the day the war started: "We can start by recognizing the tremendous accomplishments of the past few months. We have created the largest, most broadly based peace movement in history--a movement that has engaged millions of people here and around the globe." He then lays out some principles that others, including myself, will surely take issue with - The Nation prints several responses which do just that - but for now I'll just say that the essay is worth a look.

Michael Kelly was killed reporting on the war. Wow. Well, I've never had a nice word to say about Michael Kelly. I think he has long been one of the more toxic presences in our national discourse. He rarely found a dirty innunendo he wouldn't spread or a noxious insinuation he wouldn't insinuate. He recklessly led the cheers for the war, and didn't even try to contain his excitement that it finally got underway. If he didn't know what he was getting in to by going to Iraq, that only makes his tireless advocacy of the war more reckless. But none of that really matters. Michael Kelly is one more victim of a war which should not have been started, and his family and friends will suffer just as will the families and friends of all who die for Bush's folly. My genuine and heartfelt condolences to all of them, especially to his young children who will go through life without a father, something no child should ever have to do.

Who would have thought that the Ken Jowitt post would attract so much attention? A Sort of Marxist friend, who I'll call the Badger, writes his take on Jowitt:

"The Marx-Fukuyama thing mentioned by Jowitt if fairly straightforward: both of them rely on a Hegelian sense of History (yes, that is with a "H"); that is, both are teleological, understanding
history as necessarily tending toward a particular end. So, both believe there will be an "end" to history. For Marx it is communism; for Fukuyama, liberal democracy. I imagine that conservatives who jumped on the Fukuyama bandwagon were blind to the irony here. Lenin, of course, believed that History could be accelerated by revolutionary action headed by a vanguard party of enlightened intellectuals. So, Condi seemed as first to buy into the Marx-Fukuyama inevitable unfolding of History toward a particular end, but then she shifted to the Leninist impatience, wanting to forcefully intervene to push History forward. Condi is a Leninist!"

Makes sense to me - I guess that background in Soviet defense policy is paying off for Dr. Rice after all!

James Woolsey in a lecture at UCLA: "We want you nervous. We want you to realize now, for the fourth time in a hundred years, this country and its allies are on the march and that we are on the side of those whom you -- the Mubaraks, the Saudi Royal family -- most fear: We're on the side of your own people." (link via Atrios). Well, point one: wanting the rest of the world afraid of you strikes me as a rather foolish ambition but one which, admittedly, Team Bush has dramatically accomplished. So score one for the home team ("home team" if you have a cubicle at AEI, I mean). Point two: having actually spent a lot of time with Mubarak's "own people" and talked to them and read their newspapers and seen their TV and scanned their public opinion poll data, I feel safe in saying that they do not consider "us" to be on "their side" right now. They aren't such fans of Mubarak either, but they aren't exactly angry at him for being too unfriendly to the United States or too unsupportive of the war on Iraq. Just for the record.

Hey, Incadenza takes up the Jowitt challenge and tries to explain what he meant by that whole "Marx-Fukuyama" thing. His conclusion is interesting - "That's what Jowitt means when he says that Condi had a "Marx-Fukuyama" policy--that we would only have to wait for our enemy's demise and that we would use "deterrence" for our own defense. But Sept. 11 revealed that maybe the end of history hasn't arrived, and now the administration has taken on what Jowitt calls a "Leninist" foriegn policy--direct intervention to secure our goals and bring other countries onto the path of capitalist development and (in theory) democracy." There's more at his site - go read it there. I still think that the essay is more about Ken Jowitt than it is about George Bush or Condi Rice, but hats off to Incadenza for an interpretive adventure!

According to the LA Times, "Alarmed by intercepts of Iraqi communications mentioning use of "special" weapons and other fresh intelligence, U.S. special operations teams and mobile units of scientists and weapons experts have stepped up their search for suspected Iraqi caches of chemical and biological weapons, U.S. officials said Thursday." Maybe. But that escalated search for chemical and biological weapons wouldn't have anything to do with growing embarrassment at not finding any, would it? As I've said before, I fully expected there to be some CW and BW elements found, though not nearly the kind of active programs Team Bush hyped; but as things progressed, I've started to have doubts. Team Bush saying that it is true is almost enough to convince me that it is false. But there's been so much disinformation and flat out lying going on by the US in this war that I'm not going to get worked up over this type of warning. Nor am I going to get too excited about discoveries of vials of white powder in a factory right away, until I see if (when? how?) the story falls apart. Hey, maybe they could ask that captured Iraqi general to lead the defecting 51st from the liberated city of Basra to the giant chemical weapons factory through the streets of Baghdad populated only by soldiers who have abandoned their posts and jubilant citizens offering hugs and puppies?

Leading dove (a joke, people, a joke!) David Ignatius reports on the battle over post-war Iraq. Here's a nice little quote from his piece: "The Pentagon's own roster for the reconstruction team could provide the guest list for a neoconservative gabfest: The overall civilian coordinator is Michael Mobbs, a former law associate of Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith. The proposed adviser for the Iraqi Ministry of Defense is hawkish former Pentagon aide Walter Slocombe. Another possible nominee, initially proposed to advise the information ministry, is former CIA director James Woolsey, who is close to the Pentagon's preferred opposition leader, Ahmed Chalabi. One of Chalabi's relatives, Salem "Sam" Chalabi, is said to be already part of the reconstruction team in Kuwait." He also quotes Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal as saying " "All it would require is that the United States live up to what it promised -- that it is not there to occupy Iraq; that it is not there to steal the wealth of Iraq; that it is not there to impose its will on Iraq. It must allow Iraq to choose its government. It must allow Iraq to be what Iraq wants. And it must allow Iraq to use its resources as it sees fit." Bush living up to his promises? What world of alternative narratives is Saud living in?

It's hard to believe, but I actually agree with Robert Satloff about something. He argues against investing in a pro-American Arabic sattelite television station. I've made very similar arguments elsewhere. Radio Sawa succeeded for its music, in markets that lacked good music stations. I've never seen any evidence that the political content made any inroads whatsoever. TV is totally different - a crowded market saturated with high quality (if you call it that) entertainment and news and everything else. Creating an Arabic Fox won't get any audience; anything which looks like US propaganda will be rejected; anything which is open and honest will run into problems with certain Congresspeople (R-you name it); and Arabs really don't need anymore sitcom reruns, trust me (I've watched Buffy in Beirut, believe you me).

Here we go again. Rumsfeld wants to put Iraqi exiles in charge of Iraq. A worse idea is hard to imagine - even an American viceroy would be better than handing any power over to unrepresentative, corrupt, and unpopular figures like Ahmad Chalabi and the INC. Hold it - I said "unpopular," but that is too kind - to be unpopular with Iraqis, Iraqis would need to have the slightest idea who he is. "Unpopular" will come later, when he's made the figurehead of the American mandate. The fixation that the neocons have on Chalabi has always struck me as a politically useful fantasy more than anything else - pretending that the INC mattered allowed them to savage Clinton for not supporting them. But Clinton was right on this one. The INC is and has always been a joke, as everyone who cared about such things always knew - for the neocons its being a joke didn't matter, since it was never anything more than a political weapon. But as with so many other parts of this war, putting this fixation into practice will only weaken the US position and further reduce any hope that this war will actually improve the lives of Iraqis or American security or interests.

Rami Khouri's piece in the Times today about the Arab press nicely captures the competing trends there. Calling it "anti-American" or dismissing it as propaganda has long been too simplistic. Khouri describes it this way: " Like their audience, the Arab world's newspapers are angry, nuanced, multifaceted, passionate and argumentative." That sounds about right, on many levels. He's also right that competition from foreign media puts greater pressure on the Arab media to be more truthful and journalistically sound - although the ascendance of Fox and the decline of CNN certainly casts question on that particular comparison/driving force.

Thursday, April 03, 2003
Doesn't this just make you sick? CNN reports: "The United Nations warned Wednesday that humanitarian food rations being distributed in Iraq by U.S.-led coalition forces are wrapped in the same yellow packaging as deadly so-called bomblets being airdropped by the coalition." So who's the bad guy here? (a) the United Nations, for issuing a warning sure to make people around the world feel even more that the US is kind of oblivious to the human impact of its war; (b) CNN, for publishing said warning; (c) the US, for making such a sick mistake - again. It did the same thing in Afghanistan, see, so you really can't say that it never occurred to them. You'd think they would have corrected such a horrific mistake by now. I don't think that this is intentional, as some further east of the aardvark no doubt will; I see it more as evidence of the near-complete absence of serious humanitarian planning on the part of the US on anything other than finding a way to keep the UN out of it.

My word, can nothing stop this guy? No Longer Chair of the Defense Policy Board But Still Deeply Dangerous and Annoying Richard Perle "write[s] off Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien as "a lame duck" who was giving support to Saddam Hussein, and said Ottawa would pay a price for not sending troops to Iraq." Are there any countries left with which Perle hasn't actively worked to destroy American relations? Why isn't this guy treated as an enemy of the state? He's done more damage single handedly to America's place in the world than a lot of others who get that treatment.

Bad news: "Secretary of State Colin Powell told Washington's European allies and friends Thursday the United States -- not the United Nations -- must have the lead role in Iraq's postwar reconstruction." This seems to me likely to maximize the negatives of this war and to minimize the positives. Let's hope that this still an early gambit in ongoing negotiations.

An exceptionally helpful post over at Daily Kos about open source intelligence. Here's a gem from Open Source Solutions, which the guest poster Steve Gilliard recommends: "Zip, Nada, Rein, Found in Iraq at "Top Ten" Suspect Sites" - Extract: "Britain and the United States suffered a fresh blow last night when their main justification for war was undermined by reports that special forces have failed to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. As Tony Blair launched a charm offensive to persuade the Arab world to understand his decision to go to war, senior officials in Washington said that intelligence information about weapons of mass destruction at 10 sites had proved to be unfounded. The Washington Post reported yesterday that tests had proved negative at all "urgent" sites in the western desert. "All the searches have turned up negative," a staff officer told thenewspaper. "The munitions that have been found have all been conventional."

Ken Jowitt, until recently of UC-Berkeley, has a bizarre and fascinating essay in Policy Review called "rage, hubris, and regime change." The essay is all over the place, and hard to summarize, but is shot through with eccentric but possibly brilliant insights. I particularly enjoyed this: "Prior to 9-11, Condoleeza Rice articulated the new administration's "Marx-Fukuyama" policy quite clearly when she said Iraq was 'living on borrowed time... [and] there need be no sense of panic.'" Um, okay - I have no doubt that Bush had worked through a Marx-Fukuyama dialectic, but how does Condi's rather mundane boilerplate demonstrate it? Who cares - it's fun to see how he develops his contentions. He presents a devastating rejoinder to optimistic democratization scenarios, and has some fun with "the near genetic quality of the missionary impulse in American political culture." He concludes with this tidbit for thought: "Given enough power, a conquering authority can impose any kind of rule it wishes on a defeated society. More often than not, however, military-political imposition produces social dissimulation, not cultural assimilation of the conquerer's way of life." I'm not sure if his final suggestion that Bush is well-placed to respect the centrality of ruling families to Arab political culture is meant to be tongue in cheek.. Jowitt keeps us guessing!

Michael Tomasky goes after William Kristol in the Prospect. Pow! Ouch! Kaboom! The aardvark already wrote about Kristol's piece offering helpful advice to liberals, but Tomasky is wonderful: "As a single cloud at sea can augur a typhoon, so can a short and superficially amiable piece by conservative intellectual godhead William Kristol in The Weekly Standard describe a coming right-wing line of attack against liberals that will thunder across the airwaves and op-ed pages for months, probably right up through November 2004. So buckle up, folks, because Kristol, for the April 7 Standard, has just written such a piece. It is a house -- no, a skyscraper -- of propaganda and lies." More: "Propagandizing about the present cannot work without first lying about the past, and Kristol and others on the right accomplish this with an easy cynicism." Ouch! "But legitimate debate means nothing to these people. Only partisan advantage does. The point is to scare the other side, club it into submission, and you do that by setting up a phony argument and repeating it over and over. And, tragically, it works. That's the fun thing about being in the Ministry of Truth: If you say it, it's true." And more. Read it.

Edwin Starr is dead. Of a heart attack... perhaps the war broke his heart? War... what is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Rest in Peace, Edwin.

The Rabbit writing about Madonna. What could be more fun? Quoth the Rabbit: "Hold on. Madonna doesn't want to risk offending anyone? Madonna is worried about those who might misinterpret the meaning of her throwing a hand grenade at George W. Bush, who proceeds to light his cigar with it?"

Good piece on al-Jazeera. Showing the strain, it appears - true to al-Jazeera's form, it has pissed off the Americans, the Iraqis, the Kuwaitis, the New York Stock Exchange, and everyone in between. Good quote from Samer Shehata, a very smart Middle East expert at Georgetown, who wrote a great article on the subject for Salon a while back for which I can't find the link right now: "The war coverage on al-Jazeera compares favorably with the war coverage on American networks. They have a perspective. It's from a perspective of what the war is like for the Iraqi people. . . . But I've never seen anything favorable to the Iraqi regime on al-Jazeera." Chris Suellentrop in Slate also makes the point that al-Jazeera is probably as fair as CNN. I have always said that al-Jazeera is very similar to Fox, but maybe he's right about the CNN comparison these days (and that is not to CNN's credit, I'm afraid, as he points out: al-Jazeera hasn't changed much, but CNN has).

South Korea promises to send 700 troops to help with reconstruction. Well, that's nice. Good thing that the North Koreans are keeping quiet and not, you know, building nuclear weapons and threatening war or anything like that, which might keep the South Korean military pre-occupied with local affairs.

Finally, hugs and puppies! It's so infuriating that the Liberal Media totally ignored this story, since they are so intent on undermining American security and Our President. You wouldn't even know it happened unless you read the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, USA Today... or watched CNN, Fox, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS... Okay, sarcasm powers, de-activate. Can you imagine the sighs of relief in certain quarters to finally get some hugs and puppies? At least until sundown, or the cameras are turned off, whichever comes first. Cynical!Aardvark can't be de-activated.

Why all this sudden speculation about whether or not Saddam is alive? The aardvark thinks that part of it is a hope to goad him into appearing, which might give the US some information about his location, and increase the chances of taking him out. Just a hunch, though.

Patrick Basham writes for the Cato Institute about the unlikelihood of Iraqi democracy. He draws mainly on Ronald Inglehart's findings on political culture, and casts doubt on the possibility for democratic institutions to shape democratic political culture. While I'm deeply skeptical about Team Bush's intentions with regard to democratizing Iraq, for reasons I've explained at length, I don't share this idea that Arab or Islamic states generally, or Iraq specifically, can not be democratic. Iraq's ethnic divisions, legacy of strong state and political violence, oil and so forth - not to mention US strategic interests - make it unlikely in Iraq. But this shouldn't be generalized too far. A major obstacle to liberalization in the region has been the persistence of authoritarian regimes and the fear of Islamist movements, which generally do well in open elections. This scares the US, alarms entrenched elites, and consolidates a convergence of interests around the status quo. The neocon bandwagon - dump the entrenched elites and push democracy - is patently insincere, since they would never allow any real expression of the popular will, be it Islamist or nationalist or leftist. I'll be writing a bit later about possible ways past this stalemate - just thinking about it right now.

Ha! You guys were all wrong - look at how easy we're winning now with Mr. Rumsfeld's brilliant plan! That, or something like it, is what I've been hearing since last night, with the US military sweeping through the Republican Guards defending Baghdad. But I at least have never thought that Iraqi conventional forces could offer much resistance to US forces in open combat. It's the urban fighting and guerrilla warfare that pose problems the US struggles fighting on Iraqi term, Iraq struggles fighting on US terms.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003
Since I've been calling for some time for greater involvement by the academic IR community in the Iraq debate, and since Robert Lieber of Georgetown has been one of the few IR scholars arguing the pro-war side (and had advertised his piece on the Perestroika list), I was quite looking forward to his article in the April issue of Commentary on "The Folly of Containment." Unfortunately, it's surprisingly weak. Far from using academic insights to shed light on policy debates, Lieber more or less rehashes each link in the standard pro-war line, without adding much of anything new. He mischaracterizes the arguments of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, seriously misrepresents the record of UNSCOM (while spelling Rolf Ekeus's name wrong, twice), and never seriously engages with the possibility of containment (which, given the title, might be expected). His arguments against containment boil down to two main points: Saddam is irrational, and why choose containment when there are other options. On the former, which follows Ken Pollack's line, he is unconvincing - okay, as one pundit once put, I get it - he's evil. But that doesn't explain why he would be suicidal, and the record of 1980 and 1990 does not really support it either (see Greg Gause's article in the Middle East Journal last year, for example). On the latter, this would seem to depend on the alternatives, and Lieber never engages even tangentially with the costs and risks of war - he poses the dangers of containment against a perfect world without Saddam, which is just bad argument and beneath what we'd expect of a scholarly contribution. Lieber also recapitulates the September 11 line - the world is scarier now - but doesn't do any better than anyone else in making a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. The aardvark would be delighted to see good, solid arguments for the war which are well grounded in the IR and political science literatures, but Lieber hasn't given us one here. Pity - I had hoped for better.

Stephen Holmes in TAP writes one of the best reviews I've yet seen of Robert Kagan's "Of Paradise and Power." He takes it seriously, as he should, and shows its tragic flaws - in particular its failure to appreciate that in a real war on terrorism, European intelligence sharing and cooperation is every bit as essential to American and international security as the military. He explains what Kagan doesn't, which is that the exercise of power through institutions is no less the exercise of power; I would go further and say that exercising power by crafting laws that favor you is actually greater power - cheaper, more predictable, less risky, more efficient - than having to use military force to seize what you want. He also catches, and appropriately ridicules, the gendered coding of effeminate Europe and manly America. Nice piece of reviewing.

I've been sent this leaked document (via Greenpeace) sent from the US to a number of countries considering the idea of a UN General Assembly meeting about Iraq. The correspondent describes as such: "the United States warns that the simple act of support for a General Assembly meeting to discuss the war will be considered "unhelpful and directed against the United States." They further threaten that invoking the Uniting for Peace resolution will be "harmful to the UN." I don't know whether or not this document is authentic, though it looks real enough. It also doesn't particularly surprise me - so the US is trying to persuade, or even threaten, states to prevent the GA meeting that it doesn't want? No shock there. But it still looked interesting enough to post, just for curiosity's sake.

All right! The Connection responds to the call, even if the show aired two days before the appeal was made! Great to be included with faves like the Agonist and Body and Soul. I admit I haven't listened to the show yet - I have a lot of problems with my streaming media these days for reasons that are unclear - but I'm sure it's interesting.

The aardvark needs links! With all the increased traffic, which is great and makes it worth eating termites in the morning (okay, what doesn't make it worth eating termites in the morning?), he's tired of being an insignificant microbe,when in fact he is a genetically unique, nocturnal African mammal with bunny ears. Link me, please!

Gosh, that was shameless, wasn't it? Maybe I should try this instead:
A story in the London Times today describes how US Marines are getting pissed off at Iraqis and more than a little trigger happy. How anti-American is that! Typical of a non-American newspaper to cast aspersions on American troops like that - don't those ungrateful Brits remember Normandy, when we used their country as a launching pad to liberate France, just like we're going to liberate Iraq? Ka-ching! Advantage: Aardvark!

God, I'm getting exhausted even faking it. If you link to me, I promise never to do the Instapundit/ Kaus routine again!

Yet another brilliant piece by Tony Judt in the New York Review of Books. Judt has really been essential over the last year, and he just keeps on going. This essay reviews a bunch of recent books about America and the world, so there is less of Judt's own voice. Here is his strong conclusion, though: "Things can go wrong very fast, even and perhaps especially for an over-reaching great power. Like the German planners of 1914, today's Washington strategists are obsessed with challenges, timetables, windows of opportunity—and the eschatological urge to tear down a frustrating international order and remake it in their image. They, too, have exaggerated the threats and underestimated the risks. That is as far as the analogy goes—Imperial Germany and Republican America have little else in common. But hubris is not a shortcoming peculiar to any one constitutional form; and the inability to envisage nemesis is modern America's distinctive failing. To be sure, things can go right, too, and the twenty-first century may yet belong to America. But just now, as Zhou Enlai is reported to have replied when asked what he thought were the consequences of the French Revolution, it's too soon to tell. In the meantime, as they are about to go to war, our leaders are betting the farm on the dream of a world that will for the foreseeable future perform America's bidding on nonnegotiable American terms. When, at the dawn of the American age, George Kennan urged that the US contain the Soviet challenge, he added: "It is important to note, however, that such a policy has nothing to do with outward histrionics: with threats or blustering or superfluous gestures of outward 'toughness.'" Fifty-six years on, his advice goes unheeded. It is a bad sign."

An interesting LA Times piece on blogging and investigative journalism on the war - which gives Josh Marshall his props, as it should, although it gives the wrong URL - includes this lovely bit: "William Schneider, CNN's senior political correspondent, points out that .... surveys in Europe find that many opposed to the war fear the consequences of the neoconservative drive for U.S. preeminence. "Antiwar Europeans express a great deal of anxiety about this," he said. "Unlike Americans, they think ideas matter and that these particular ideas are dangerous."" So, um, William Schneider needs to get out more. Or at least read the aardvark, and most other people the aardvark reads and links to. Hello, constant, verging on the annoying, criticism of the neocons here! We won't shut up about the neocons! And many of us are, at last check, Americans!

The Post has a story today about the Pentagon's planning for postwar Iraq. Most attention will probably, or should probably, go to this graf: "In Washington, meanwhile, disagreement over control of the program surfaced as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld vetoed the State Department's selection of eight current and former diplomats to join Garner's team. Some officials here complain that the Pentagon is seeking to dominate every aspect of Iraq's postwar reconstruction." Yup - let Rumsfeld run everything, since he's done such a bang-up job running the war (link to Sy Hersh here I suppose). But the aardvark was equally intrigued by the more technical discussion of how Garner's team is organizing things, who he wants to hire, and what kinds of plans are in the works. For perspective on this, I again recommend this report from the International Crisis Group, which paints on a broader canvas and demonstrates the structural problems caused by the US trying to freeze out international agencies and by the poor planning and preparation to this point. If this reconstruction is going to work, the UN and experienced NGOs are going to have to be involved, for both political and pragmatic reasons. Take this out of Rumsfeld's hands now, please. Pretty please. Pretty please with a cherry on top?

Since I don't like to pay for neocon silliness if I can help it, I don't subscribe to the New Republic. But since everyone and their Krugman have been recommending Jonathan Chait's piece on homeland security, and Beinart for some reason hasn't made it available on line, I dragged my furry tail over to the library to read the hard copy. Wow. It is, indeed, a scary picture he paints, and a damning one. Go read it, even though it's inconvenient.

Tom Friedman does his usual job of channeling the spirits today, explaining how Arabs really feel even though they can't actually, you know, express it (no, seriously - that's exactly what he says). Behind the silliness of that exercise, though, he actually makes a good point about the Arab response to the war. He probably overstates the "liberal" side, because he's so desperate to find people who think just as he does. Even those who want the US to succeed in creating a democratic Iraq don't, in my experience, really expect it to happen. They fall more into what he calls the silent majority - embedded in an Arabist narrative (gosh, these words he's using - you'd think Friedman had been reading the aardvark! If so - hey, Tom, sorry about the snippy stuff above, but it's all in good fun, hey? Welcome aboard! Borrow my ideas anytime you like - just work the word "aardvark" into a column at some point and we're square!). That Arabist narrative is what the revolutionized Arab media is building and developing through an ongoing, high-pitched but genuine dialogue at numerous levels - newspapers, radio, TV, cafes, seminars and lectures, and on and on. What Friedman and many others don't want to admit, it seems, is that this narrative won't be broken until something happens dramatically to falsify it. I mean, why should Arabs abandon a narrative of a unilateralist, pro-Israeli, arrogant, self-interested America if Team Bush acts in ways that appear, well, unilateralist, pro-Israeli, arrogant, and self-interested? These narratives are not impervious to change - indeed, they are developing all the time. But until you can tell a better story - and trust me, Team Bush is not telling a better story right now - most Arabs are going to stick with the one that seems to explain everything pretty well. It's not about better marketing, it's not about getting more information out there - it's about actually listening to what Arabs are saying and thinking, understanding how they view their interests, identities, and fears, and then engaging them seriously on that level.

Interesting article in the Village Voice about the changing views of the Iraqis living in Jordan. Fahim describes: "As the coalition armies await the Iraqi revolt that isn't yet, war strategists will note with interest the apparent about-face by the political dissidents in Jordan who, only weeks ago, couldn't wait for the war that would remove Saddam Hussein's government. While the majority of Iraqis in Jordan are economic migrants, there are a number of political dissidents as well; that these people, many of whom have spent time in Iraqi jails, would return was unthinkable before the war." I've talked to a lot of Iraqis in Jordan over the years, and there has always been an interesting pattern of political views when you talked to people in private. Most of what I've seen from them is cynicism or exhaustion or apathy towards Saddam - except for the showmanship of defending him in front of an American, which then goes away pretty quickly. If the reports of thousands of them going back to fight are true - and you've probably seen these reports in lots of other places - it really does mark a dramatic change in preferences. It's a good article - check it out.

When top military officials say things like this, it means trouble: "Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B. Myers, the nation's highest-ranking military officer, denounced critics of the campaign in Iraq today, declaring that complaints about the handling of the war were misinformed, inaccurate and harmful to American forces in combat." Declaring criticism harmful to the military goes hand in hand with the shameful conservative attacks on political dissent. What is more, it cuts directly against what supposedly makes democracy more efficient. One of the arguments for the superiority of democratic politics is that the open and free exchange of argument and information facilitates more rational decision making. Rumsfeld and Myers are, in essence, denouncing the very democratic ideal for which they claim to be fighting. But everyone says that - my point is a bit different. Cutting off public debate actually reduces the power, competence and efficiency of a democratic state's military and foreign policy - so the converse of what Rumsfeld and Myers are saying is actually more true: NOT debating and criticizing the war plan would be harmful to American forces in combat.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003
Alongside the Daniel Benjamin dialogue on al-Qaeda/Iraq mentioned below, Slate has two other good pieces. Gideon Rose contributes another first rate piece of analysis, showing exactly how political scientists can contribute to the public debate without sacrificing rigor. And the always smart Robert Wright kicks in with a good question: "can the people mismanaging this war manage the peace?"

Some day, some way, Blogger will work again. I'm sorry everybody for the long morning without the aardvark. I may have to relocate from Blogger if this doesn't get fixed. UPDATE - at last, at last, blog almighty, up at last.

Cursor is still and always the best. Just wanted to say that. Among the fine stories it tips today, go check out Brendan O'Neill in Spiked on why the "coalition" (his word, not the aardvark's) is switching from a focus on WMD to a focus on Saddam being evil. Short answer - because they haven't found any WMD and it's starting to look bad. But the article is better than that. And David Corn writes on the theme which the aardvark has been harping on for way longer than most other people and will never get tired of: "the hubris of the neocons." And lots more, as always - be sure to stop there every day.

You know why I like neocons so much? Because they are givers - they really care, not only about themselves, but about their opponents. They are always so full of helpful advice to liberals, explaining what liberals should and shouldn't be doing if they want to be politically successful. William Kristol's latest piece in the Weekly Standard is a good example of this, but this kind of advice is standard fare for Sullivan, Instapundit, the NRO, the WS, and the rest. All dire warnings - oh Liberals, if you protest the war, you are doomed! oh Liberals, if you don't shift to the Right, you will be marginalized! It's so nice of them to give this advice, because the untrained observer might think that Liberals being marginalized and doomed is exactly what the Right wants, and that they might be delighted to see Liberals marginalized and doomed. So for them to give advice to help Liberals avoid this doom and gloom is just beyond the call of duty, and couldn't possibly be intended to intimidate Liberals or to lure them down a false path which might in fact actually doom and marginalize them. Because why would neocons give bad advice to their mortal enemies?

Interesting piece in al-Ahram Weekly about the Iraqi opposition. It quotes Kamil al-Mahdi, who has never been impressed with the INC, to the effect that the INC's failure to anticipate Iraqi resistance to the US-UK forces just shows how out of touch the INC leaders are with Iraqi reality. We'll see if the Iraqi opposition can get its act together, but history tends to suggest that it won't - at least not under its current leadership. The same issue also has a great story about the March 20 protest in Tahrir Square in Cairo. I've been to a few protests there, and they tend to be just as the story describes - a few activists surrounded by hundreds of riot police. This one looks entirely different - and the story describes it quite evocatively. What is striking in the article also is the claim that the security forces seemed completely unprepared for the scope and magnitude - and persistence - of the demonstrators. Why would they have been surprised? The heavy handed repression on Friday seems more typical of Mubarak's approach to dissent. But Arab public opinion is more than the street, and bashing heads isn't going to do it for Mubarak this time.

Daniel Benjamin, co-author of the fascinating book The Age of Sacred Terror, presents a tough and skeptical rebuttal to the thesis of a Saddam-al-Qaeda relationship. This is significant because Benjamin, in addition to having been one of the key terrorism guys under Clinton, is no dove. Their book paints al-Qaeda as an enormous threat, probably over-hyping it in fact, and sensationalizing political Islam in order to portray a wider and more comprehensive threat to the US. One of the less convincing parts of his book is an attempt to justify the cruise missile attack on the Sudan and to vilify the press for their skeptical coverage. So when Benjamin writes, he (a) knows what he's talking about, and (b) has demonstrated that he is quite willing to cry wolf. He walks through the Iraq/al-Qaeda case point by point and doesn't leave much standing.

Here's my comment over at the Daily Kos in response to his query about what a Dem president should do in 2004, assuming a moderately painful war:
Kos, that's a good question - it's too easy to just damn Team Bush for getting us into this situation. Like a lot of the other commentators, I think the essential first step is a serious return to the UN. Internationalize the administration of Iraq, make sure that others are fully invested in its success. Use the administration of Iraq to restore credibility of key institutions and alliances and to demonstrate goodwill. Be seriously committed to democratizing the country. What you do with the oil is going to be key - if you appropriate it to American ends, you will prove everyone's worst assumptions correct. But you don't want to just turn it over to the Iraqi state, either - that way lies authoritarianism and corruption. What is needed is something genuinely innovative with regard to the oil, which could empower Iraqi society at the expense of the state without simply paying off American debts. Scott, in the comments, probably makes the worst suggestions of all. If Iraq were partitioned, it should be two way (not three way) partition. Give the Kurds their own state at last - the foundations are already there, and give it serious security guarantees against the Turks (and give the Turks serious guarantees against Kurdish spillover). But keep the Shia and Sunni parts of Iraq together. Iraqi Shia have generally shared in the Iraqi identity, and a small, weak Shia state would be torn between Baghdad and Tehran - a recipe for internal and external instability. I don't think that Iraq should be partitioned at all, but if it is, better to do it this way. And "exterminate the Baathis" - um, no. That would be inhuman, even kind of a, well, Baathist solution, don't you think?

Meanwhile, Richard Cohen is ahead of the curve as always: " In about a week, the Bush administration has done in Iraq what the Johnson administration took more than a year to do in Vietnam: opened a credibility gap. This one is about "the plan," which the Bush administration describes as both "brilliant" and on schedule. As anyone can see -- and as some field commanders keep saying -- it is neither." Right on the substance, but... "in about a week"? The "credibility gap" only opened for Richard Cohen over the last week? Where have you been, Richard Cohen? The "credibility gap" has been one of an important force behind opposition to Bush's war from the beginning - the near-constant series of lies, deceptions, exaggerations, and misrepresentations that eroded any possibility of believing pretty much anything Bush said. That isn't new. Cohen noticing it... maybe that's new.

It is in the nature of war to escalate, part 372: Rick Atkinson in the Post, reporting from Najaf: Col. Ben Hodges, commander of the 1st Brigade of the 101st, gestured with his field glasses toward the smoking trees below the escarpment in the middle distance. "We are under no time pressure. . . . There are villages in that wood line, so we can't be indiscriminate. But I'm probably pushing it more than I would have two weeks ago." Bradley Graham, in a seperate Post story: "Girding against Iraqi attackers who have blurred the line between what's military and what's civilian, U.S. commanders have instructed troops to assume the worst and employ a range of tougher tactics aimed at weeding out and hunting down Iraqi militia, defense officials said yesterday."

Monday, March 31, 2003
In response to the news about American soldiers firing on a van and killing 7 Iraqi women and children, here's what I posted in comments over at Counterspin Central:
Yeah. I share your horror Hesiod, but not shock. And I don't agree that it's because our soldiers as individuals are somehow barbaric - it reminds me, as it does others, of the IDF in the West Bank and Gaza, where many Israeli soldiers were just put in horribly untenable, morally impossible positions by the political decision to continue occupying the Palestinian territories. A lot of those Israeli soldiers were (are) kids, without any real idea of how to cope with being an occupying an army - and they reacted in very different ways, as people will. And many of them have struggled with their own behavior for the rest of their lives, trying to come to terms with how they could have acted as they did. I'd expect the US soldiers quoted above to go through the same kind of reckoning later in their lives. I blame this one again on the political decision to put our troops in this position, not on the soldiers themselves.

My lord, is Team Bush actually capable of opening its collective mouth without lying? Rumsfeld issues his extremely provocative warning to Syria, threatening to widen a war that he has already screwed up pretty badly. He warns them that their provision of night-vision goggles is an aggressive act. So, what do we find today? The Times: "today, a senior American commander serving in the Gulf said he had seen no evidence that the Iraqi Army has obtained night-vision goggles." I mean, when Rumsfeld wakes up in the morning and says to his wife, "good morning," does she immediately check the clock to see if it is, in fact, afternoon and she somehow slept through the morning? Makes this easy to understand: "France and Russia demanded that the United Nations be prepared to verify any contentions that coalition troops may make if they find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq." Trust takes... well, you know.

Atrios is right: today's Daily Howler is a classic - "How Bad is the Washington Post Op-Ed Page?" Atrios also links to a great public service from the Guardian - keeping track of the ever-increasing mistakes by the media on the war. The aardvark would only add, again, that it's worth noticing that almost every single mistake is in a pro-US direction. Very, very few stories that are unfavorable to the US end up getting retracted. Funny, huh? What a run of bad luck for our vigilant media.

Have I mentioned recently, again, how brilliant Josh Marshall's article in the new Washington Monthly is? He accurately describes the neocon mode of thinking and then calls their bluff, repeatedly and effectively. It still just boggles the mind that a guy this smart and this well-informed could have been taken in by the pro-war arguments, but I'm really glad to have him back from the dark side. If you haven't already, go read this article. Now.

Aha! Thanks for the tip, anonymous reader! Apparently the aardvark got mentioned in this Washington Post story on warblogging - complete with the old description ("Iraq, Iraq, and more Iraq, plus the Middle East, International Relations, and Buffy"). Thanks, Cynthia Webb of the Washington Post! Quite an honor to be up there with Sean Paul, Daily Kos, and company.

Whoopsie. Apparently they didn't find any chemical weapons in that Ansar al-Islam camp after all (via Jim Henley - thanks). This apparently is the camp that Didn't You Use To Be Colin Powell made such a fuss about at the UN. More bad intelligence? Incompetence? More lies? You know, I've just assumed that there would be chemical and bio (but not nuclear) materials found, just on the odds, even though Team Bush said there would be. But you do start to wonder after a while if everything that Team Bush says is by definition untrue. <

Wow - the aardvark's visitors have been increasing over the last couple of weeks, which is neat, but today's numbers are really dramatic by aardvarkian standards. Since Sitemeter refuses to give me any referral information, I can't imagine where you all are coming from. How did you find a noctural, solitary, sarcastic, and genetically unique African mammal's blog? Welcome, and feel free to mail the aardvark if you want to say hi, comment, or let me know how you found me. Cheers!

This is just too funny. A Weekly Standard staffer contributes a stirring account of "Iraqi exiles going to war." Wow - all 74 of them? Less amusingly, another staffer writes a hatchet job on the Oil for Food program, complete with typically misleading statistics and what must be a willful misunderstanding of how the program works. You would think that the 661 Sanctions Committee and the dual-use holds didn't even exist - for this writer, Kofi Annan signs off on everything personally. For more accurate understanding of how oil for food works, go visit the CASI website.

There's an outstanding analysis of the protests in Cairo by Paul Schemm up on the MERIP website. Go check it out. While you're there, read Robert Blecher's analysis of the intellectuals who pushed this war, including Dan Pipes, Bernard Lewis, and Martin Kramer.

You might remember the aardvark complaining a few weeks ago about the remarkably limited role that academic political scientists had played in the public debate over war with Iraq. Well, this has been the subject of a lively debate on the Perestroika list-serve, a kind of electronic forum for political scientists frustrated with the mathematical, formal, and overly abstract nature of much of the mainstream field of political science. Rogers Smith of Penn got the ball rolling by asking where the IR specialists were in the public debate, and a bunch of major figures in the field - including Stephen Walt, Bill Wohlforth, and Randy Schweller have pitched in. Where do the major figures in the field stand on these system-transforming events? Gideon Rose and others have pointed out that many International Relations specialists lack the practical experience, understanding of the needs of policy makers, or detailed knowledge of military or diplomatic affairs necessary to contribute meaningfully, and further that the structure of the field tends to actively discourage such public interventions. I think that this is a really important issue, and one which I have been discussing with colleagues in my non-aardvarkian as well as aardvarkian life. Some political scientists have played such a positive role - I can think of Walt, John Mearsheimer, Joe Nye, Neta Crawford, Robert Lieber, and many others off the top of my head - but many others have absented themselves from the debate. The Perestroika list is not, to the best of my knowledge, archived for the public, but it's worth letting people know that at least the field is beginning to have this conversation.

Sorry for the light posting - really busy this morning. More later, probably this afternoon. In the meantime, go read this report from the International Crisis Group on the problems of humanitarian assistance in Iraq. Sobering reading, if no real surprises. You could also go read this report by G Luciani on a European policy towards Iraq. I haven't read it yet - one of many things on today's plate - but it looks interesting.

Neal Pollack is right, of course: "Rumsfeld uses careful phrases carefully phrased. This is very important, because the media is trying to deny the undeniable. During wartime, the only true version of reality is the one put across by the Pentagon. If Donald Rumsfeld tells you that there is no humanitarian crisis, then there is no humanitarian crisis. If he says that Iraq is not suffering civilian casualities, then Iraq is not suffering civilian casualties. If he says that Syria is arming the Republican Guard, then it must be true. Every single human being in the United States military agrees with Rumsfeld's plan to begin the war with too few troops, limited supplies, and the unrealistic expectation, based on shoddy intelligence, that the people of Iraq would view us as righteous liberators rather than an occupying power." (Note - Pollack is being ironic, or sarcastic, or just plain funny, in case you missed it!)

Sunday, March 30, 2003
Yuval Rubinstein of Groupthink Central posted on Stand Down about Islamic Jihad's claim to have sent suicide bombers to Iraq. Here's my response:
I'm not sure how much stock to put in claims like this - given the current political and popular mood in the Arab world, groups like Islamic Jihad have every incentive to make unverifiable claims about their contributions to the cause. It makes them look good to their audiences, and costs them nothing. And the neocon media has every reason to take them at face value, because it lets them tie Iraq to terrorism, it lets them further demonize the Palestinians, and it gives them an excuse for the unexpected Iraqi resistance. I posted on my site a few days ago about Michael Ledeen claiming that the Iraqi resistance was being waged not by Iraqis, but by Hizbollah and al-Qaeda - for exactly those reasons. Islamic Jihad may or may not have sent suicide bombers or guerrilla warfare experts to Iraq. I tend to think not, given no real evidence either way - local Iraqis would be more than capable of figuring out how to carry out such an operation.

Tacitus, who I've seen linked before but never read, has an interesting post on Islam and democracy. He makes some good points. At one point he/she/it says this: "I am, for my part, quite convinced that Europe and America have developed relatively successful democratic political cultures largely because of the heritage of the Protestant Reformation; what the Islamic analogue would be there, I've not a clue." There are several Islamic analogues to the Protestant reformation, surprisingly enough. The initial move towards what we now call Islamic fundamentalism took the form of a direct challenge to the entrenched clergy (the ulema). The Islamic modernists at the beginning of the 20th century wanted to strip away encrusted tradition and return to direct access to the sacred texts. For the most part, these influential thinkers embraced modern technology and science, and pushed for the application of individual reason and interpretation within an Islamic framework. This also coincided with the introduction of newspapers and popular book publishing. No analogy is perfect, but there are interesting correlations - Dale Eickelman has probably written the most accessibly on this point.

Meanwhile, over at the National Review, Victor Davis Hanson tells us what's what - the war is going great, damn it! Everyone who thinks otherwise is just uninformed, stupid, or anti-American. OK. Scariest part - he sounds downright eager to start inflicting some more casualties. Not enough Iraqi blood has been spilled yet for old Victor.

The Daily Kos has good stuff on Rumsfeld's tenuous relations with the senior military staff, channeled through Robert Novak.

Some slobberer named Ralph Peters writes in the New York Post today about the tragedy of the Arabs. His essay is a wonderful self-portrait, though obviously not intended as such. He writes: " Our natural response to the Arab world's phenomenal lies is anger: We resent their indecency in glorifying murder and war crimes. We cannot understand how anyone can believe these gruesome fairy tales for adults." Okay, change the proper nouns - "Our natural response to the Bush administration's phenomenal lies is anger: we resent their indecency in glorifying murder and war crimes." Peters then says: "My advice is to ignore the Arabs. ...We cannot convince them and we cannot force them to change." This, speaking from long experience working on and with Arab public opinion, is exactly wrong. One of the main complaints expressed by many well-educated and cosmopolitan Arabs is precisely that the US does not listen to them, take them seriously, or treat them as adults. Dismissing rational Arab protestations as simply "the rage of the Arab street" is both foolish and counterproductive - and the easy way out from actually listening to the reasons for their anger. Why are Arabs angry? For Peters, it's obvious: "The most important thing for Americans to grasp about the impotent fury of the Arab world is that it isn't really about us. It's about their own internal demons." Again, self-projection: "the impotent fury of American conservatives... isn't really about the Arabs (the Left). It's about their own internal demons." It goes on in this vein. The cultural arrogance is unbelievable - and is itself Exhibit A of why so many Arabs and Muslims resent America. Shorter Ralph Peters: "Why do they hate us? Because we are so much better than them and they are jealous. What can we do? Nothing - their hate has nothing to do with our invasion of Iraq or support of Israel or of their repressive dictators, it is envy and impotence." (Note - "Shorter Ralph Peters" also works with Andrew Sullivans, Bernard Lewises, and a suprisingly wide range of conservative writers on this subject - so it's a bargain at any price!). UPDATE - Hey, guess what - Instapundit likes it (okay, I peeked, because someone else linked to Peters through him). Enough said.

I'm not a conspiracy fan, usually (oh, who am I kidding - I'm was an X-Files fanatic before Mulder left the show and it fell apart), but still.... Three or four times over the last few days, I've gone to a New York Times story, and one particular ad has come up, and it has crashed my computer cold. The ad is from the Department of Homeland Security, with Tom Ridge's Big Brother-esque face front and center (I assume it's him and not Ashcroft; it usually kills my computer before I can really take it in). Am I the only one who has this problem? Does anyone else find the ad a bit creepy, and the fact that it crashes my anti-war computer every time a bit odd? Okay, I'm sure it's just a Mac thing.. probably it kills all Macs... but that's kind of creepy too, don't you think?

Josh Marshall continues to shine. Do yourself a favor and read him today, tomorrow, and yesterday. He tips us off to a Reuters article previewing Sy Hersh's latest masterpiece in the New Yorker. Here are the key grafs: "He thought he knew better. He was the decision-maker at every turn," the article quoted an unidentified senior Pentagon planner as saying. "This is the mess Rummy put himself in because he didn't want a heavy footprint on the ground." It also said Rumsfeld had overruled advice from war commander Gen. Tommy Franks to delay the invasion until troops denied access through Turkey could be brought in by another route and miscalculated the level of Iraqi resistance. "They've got no resources. He was so focused on proving his point -- that the Iraqis were going to fall apart," the article, by veteran journalist Seymour Hersh, cited an unnamed former high-level intelligence official as saying. Hersh, however, quoted the former intelligence official as saying the war was now a stalemate. Much of the supply of Tomahawk cruise missiles has been expended, aircraft carriers were going to run out of precision guided bombs and there were serious maintenance problems with tanks, armored vehicles and other equipment, the article said. "The only hope is that they can hold out until reinforcements arrive," the former official said." Josh also publishes a really striking letter from a retired military guy who sees the options in the war narrowing dramatically - basically, either escalated bombing of Baghdad to avert an urban war, which turns world and Iraqi opinion violently against us; continued urban and rural harassment of the troops (here's a key quote: "2. Like the Russians against Napoleon and later the Nazis, there is "defense in depth." Let them get deep inside your country, and then start nibbling at them and making their life miserable. It's already happened -- we were rolling to Baghdad with little opposition against our main and heavily-armed forces, and then all hell broke loose against our lighter armed but critical logistics chain that is in the rear. Following this pattern, Saddam eventually will make it "easy" (that's in quotes, because it won't be that easy) for us to enter Baghdad as a ruse, and once we are there, with only 20 to 30K troops inside an unfamiliar and large city of 5 million, his forces will engage in hit and run, guerrilla, terrorist tactics against us. We will have to retreat from the city, bloodied and demoralized -- to borrow your phrase, this is the chickenhawk down scenario. There will be calls from within the US (and certainly from Britain) to pull out of Iraq all together, because the mission has failed. How do you spell "Dunkirk?" We will have to get us forces safely out of the country across 300 miles. (Is that the distance from Baghdad back to Kuwait?) Remember April 1775? The British lost more troops marching back to Boston than they did at Lexington and Concord."; or a third, somewhat confused diplomatic option. Thanks to TPM for both of these.

Arabs are angry over the US invasion of Iraq. How can this be? In my other, non-aardvarkian, life, I've fielded quite a few calls and emails the last week asking why Arabs prefer Saddam to the US, why they don't appreciate this war of liberation. It's hard to know where to begin. I usually start by pointing out that for most Arabs, Saddam is not the issue - it's not a question of preferring Saddam or liking him. They've seen the US back their own dictators for years, and American tolerance of repression has gone up since 9/11; they blame the US for the sanctions and for the general suffering of the Iraqi people; and they link Iraq to Palestine in a way which the American public generally refuses. And the new media - especially al-Jazeera but also other satellite stations, internet, and so on - has allowed them greater information about this and opportunities to discuss it openly than ever before. It is good that the Post story quotes some students who are getting their information from the internet - this should complicate stereotypes of an enraged but ignorant "Arab street." It isn't surprising that Arabs are against this war - it would be surprising if they weren't. No, the only shocking thing is that well-informed Americans could even conceive of asking this question - it shows their complete submersion in the American discourse to the point where they simply can't understand the world on its own terms.

Isn't this interesting? Today's Post just notices that, according to the headline, "Special Search Operations Yield No Banned Weapons." Bart Gellman turns a skeptical eye on this, as he well should. Now, I have no doubt that eventually WMD elements will be found, one way or the other, but isn't it interesting that with all that "bulletproof" evidence that Blix just refused to act on, we still haven't found anything? Shocked, just shocked.

Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive echoes the aardvark today, telling conservatives to shut up about the sanctions already. Yes, they are bad - we've been saying so for years, and you didn't give a darn. To suddenly discover the evils of the sanctions on Iraq only when it is convenient, after attacking and ridiculing those of us trying to draw attention to them over the last few years, is disgusting and, dare we say, hypocritical. For all the canonization of Tony Blair these days, we shouldn't forget that Blair was instrumental in keeping the sanctions in place for his entire tenure in office - the Brits often took the leading role in negotiating sanctions resolutions in support of the US. Blair may seem like a giant next to Bush, but he is even more of a hypocrite about the sanctions (since Bush hardly even pretends to care).