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!
mail the aardvark!
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Saturday, April 12, 2003
I'm busy today introducing the aardvark cub to a warm and sunny day (something that has happened all too rarely in her short and wonderful life), but Steve Gilliard over at the Daily Kos says basically what I would have said, so go read that.
I'm sure that this report from Cairo ("At tea shop in Cairo, disbelief at war reports" - "American marines welcomed in central Baghdad? Another clever fabrication, his friends agreed. "The media must be hiding something," said Hanafi Abu Saleh, a television repairman.") will lead to much solemn editorializing about how Arabs need to face reality and all that. All I will say here - more after the weekend - is that given the endless procession of lies and deception that dominated the media during and before this war, Arabs have every rational reason to doubt what they are seeing. Waiting to see what the truth is makes a lot of sense given how many stories have been quickly exposed as lies. There's more going on, of course, but this can't be underestimated.
Nice to see Philip Gordon and Michael O'Hanlon give Ken "Cakewalk" Adelman a spanking. As they point out, it's hard to describe a conflict as a "cakewalk" in "which we so far have deployed 300,000 troops, spent $70 billion, lost more than 130 servicemen and women, suffered hundreds of wounded, and killed many thousands of Iraqis." But what is more, they call him on his blatant intellectual dishonesty by pointing out that Adelman - and the neocon - preferred strategy had been not a US military invasion but rather arming the Kurds and Shia and supporting them with airpower and Special Forces. As they bluntly point out, "Let us be serious about what has been happening in Iraq: A massive invasion force has been winning an ugly fight." And as for the neocons, " Adelman and company did get some predictions right -- thanks mostly to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's decision to ignore their advice by sending in a decisive ground force." I would go farther than Gordon and O'Hanlon do, but I think that their response speaks for itself.
Friday, April 11, 2003
Two stories about Iraq in the new issue of the New Yorker offer an instructive comparison. Jon Anderson from Baghdad is a real journalist, an outstanding journalist, who gives us real life - real people, hospitals, barbershops, street scenes - without glorifying either side. He reports the politics but shows us the humanity. Jeffrey Goldberg, writing from Kurdistan, shows again what a miserable excuse for a journalist he is. Everything there is a lark, an advertisement for this jolly war - everyone loves America, Mr. Barzani sat right next to him with his impeccable clothes and cracked a joke about Saddam, one Kurd gave him a piggyback ride because he's an American (okay maybe not that last one). I wonder if Remnick didn't put the two articles back to back (as he did last week with the two authors) because he didn't want to humiliate Goldberg. What an embarrassment to a great magazine.
I was just tracking down Michael Ledeen's typically insane (and inane) article begging Bush to go on and invade Syria and Iran too, when I noticed that he was identified as a "Freedom Scholar." I'm confused - does that mean he lives in Paris, or just grew up there? Is his native language French (I mean Freedomish) or English? Is he perhaps a Freedomish Exile, waiting for his chance to return to Paris on American humvees? Okay, the aardvark is tired... no more silliness.
While it's wrong to focus on a single episode, and miss the wider context, the evidence is growing that the famous Saddam Statue Ceremony was carefully stage managed. Pictures widely circulating in the international (if not American) media and, of course, the internet, clearly show that there were only a few hundred people involved (and that's including the journalists), that the rest of the plaza was empty, and that the scene was ringed by American tanks. I've seen these published in enough places that they don't seem fake, though of course anything is possible. Look, without going all X-Files here, Team Bush needed these images very, very badly, and it got them. Even if they turn out to be a fraud, it won't change the overall context in Iraq, especially if most Iraqis do in fact decide to welcome the American regime (something which has not yet, despite the new conventional wisdom, been determined). But it would fit well in the general Team Bush approach to the media and to the world in general: a lie, which becomes everyone's reality through repetition, brute force, and the absence of a challenging media. If the scene was a fraud, it would greatly undermine whatever tenuous, post-facto legitimacy now claimed for the war, although that is going to depend far more on more serious questions like how Iraq is governed, what role the UN plays, and so on.
One of the key neocon contentions - albeit a more generically hawkish one - is that American victory in Iraq will increase US bargaining power with other potential enemies. The reasoning is that the show of strength and determination increases the credibility of our threats, so we can parlay this one victory into a much wider set of gains as others bandwagon with our dominant power. Other International Relations theorists would argue, by contrast, that a more aggressive, threatening and powerful America will provoke a balancing response, as others seek any means possible to protect themselves against this growing threat. Syria may be the first test case. Rumsfeld has been pounding the Syria key for a couple of weeks, and some of us may remember that the infamous report by the Project for a New American Century saw an invasion of Iraq as a way of getting to Syria. The Monitor quotes John Bolton as saying "that the fate of Hussein's regime should serve as a stark warning to Syria." Other officials seem to be trying to reassure the Syrians that an invasion is not imminent, but that the US is serious about its demands. What do Syrians think? Well, no doubt they are worried. They know that the Israelis have been pushing for action against Syria for a long time, and they believe, for some wacky reason, that Israel's Likud party has a great deal of influence over the Bush administration. From the CSM: "We are very concerned and we are not taking these threats lightly," says Mohammed Aziz Shukri, professor of international law at Damascus University. "But we can't understand what the Americans want from us. We are not going to start a war with Israel nor the United States." It also says: "Most Middle East analysts rule out an imminent attack on Syria, saying that the US has its hands full in Iraq and is unwilling to engage in a new Middle East conflict likely to rile the Arabs even more." Salon reports that Syria hasn't changed its behavior much, noting that "the Syrians' defiant behavior may seem hard to fathom with a US victory now near a certainty." The article speculates that the Syrians hoped to get the US bogged down in Iraq: "It's simple... as long as they face problems in Iraq, there's less chance they'll start on us." It also notes that the war has given Bashar al-Assad an opportunity and excuse to crack down on dissent, while allowing him to channel public anger towards Americans.
So. Consider this the first test of the neocon "power conversion" thesis against the counter-position of "most Middle East analysts" (and most IR Realists). Will Syria give in to US demands out of newfound respect for American power, or will it cautiously downgrade American threats on the premise that US hands are full and continue with whatever it has been doing, or will it actively increase anti-US activities and/or rhetoric in denouncing its occupation of Iraq, hoping to parlay this populist rhetoric into more Arab leadership?
The aardvark's working premise is that neocons generally do well these days at predicting American policy, largely because they control it, but are very poor at predicting international outcomes, because their theory is profoundly flawed. So if Powell, Rumsfeld, Bolton, et all continue channeling Michael Ledeen, that's one thing; how Syria, and the rest of the Arab world respond, is something else.
Okay, here's something scary from someone who knows of what he speaks, David Albright of ISIS. Albright is a nuclear weapons expert, a former UNSCOM inspector, and an extremely sharp analyst of these matters - I don't always agree with him on politics, but I really respect his analysis. Here's what he has to say in his latest issue brief about the danger of unsecured Iraqi nuclear materials - let's hope that there really aren't any al-Qaeda activists running around Baghdad right now.
"Media reports have stated that specialized seals have been broken on a stock of nuclear material stored at the Tuwaitha nuclear research center at a site called Location C. The seals are in place to ensure that any tampering with the material would be detected.
A key issue is what happened in the days between the abandonment of the site by the Iraqi guards and the arrival of US troops and the imposition of adequate security. Has some of the nuclear material been taken? Some of this material is highly radioactive and poses a health and safety risk to anyone mishandling it. All the material could be useful for terrorists or other nations intent on making nuclear weapons or radiological dispersal devices.
This case demonstrates the confusion that can be caused by inaccurate reporting by individuals without a firm technical understanding of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In addition, it highlights that the United States military needs help in its efforts regarding WMD. The military has placed an appropriate priority on locating and containing any secret WMD activity in Iraq, but they are not prepared to conduct safeguards activities. Indeed, they should not be expected to do so. The IAEA has the experience and the responsibility to carry out the task of determining the status of the nuclear material at Tuwaitha, even during times of conflict."
Daniel Pipes for the USIP? This is one of those absurd, insulting, obnoxious things that people always say that Team Bush wouldn't dare do. And then they do it, and they get what they want. Nominating Pipes for the USIP is a calculated insult to all scholars of the Middle East - Pipes is an op-ed pundit whose most recent claim to fame is the Campus Watch attempt to intimidate and browbeat all academics who are not sufficiently pro-Israeli; to Muslims, upon whom Pipes has built a career upon defaming and inciting hatred; and to anyone who hopes for positive relations between the United States and the Arab and Islamic world. But for Team Bush, these are all credentials, not disqualifications. Let's hope that wiser heads prevail, but I wouldn't hold my collective breath.
Islamist coup attempt in Egypt? Received this news item over email from the Islamist website al-Khilafa. I don't vouch for authenticity or anything else, just looked interesting:
> On the morning of Tuesday 8/4 n Cairo there was a military coup attempt
> against the agent ruling regime, and the force tried to head towards the
> presidential palace to occupy it and force the agent Hussni Mubarak to
> resign. But very unfortunately, the Republican Guards, with the aid of the
> Military Police and some other units led by other agents, were able to
> block this unit (Liwaa).
>> And when the negotiations reached a dead end, the Liwaa was surrounded and
> artillery fired on them, and also Apache airplanes were used against them,
> and many were killed and injured on both sides. As for the group that was
> arrested, they were assassinated on the spot, which was only about 20 km
> from the Republic's presidential headquarters in New Cairo.
>> As for the Egyptian media, it was mentioned on the news that the shots
> heard were military manoeuvres with live ammunition, and this is obviously
> not correct because for more than 50 years there has never been manoeuvres
> with live ammunition this close to the capital Cairo.
Thursday, April 10, 2003
In response to a query:
No. I do not care what Andrew Sullivan thinks - he is a hateful, irresponsible writer who seems to have taken the last two years as an open-ended invitation to wreak destruction on American public discourse. He can say whatever he wants. I just don't care. His opinions don't matter to me. I don't read him - I read Neal Pollack, and that's enough. I quickly lose respect for anyone who actively links to him, treats him seriously, who adopts his stylistic tics, uses the word "fisk" as a verb, or quotes him approvingly. Occasionally I'm directed back to his site by someone else's link to find out what he really said - it never fails to disappoint. It's always tediously predictable. It's always the same silly fixation on this phantom "Left" - let him slay his demons on his own time. Is that clear enough? Does that put me in such a minority?
Michael Kinsley, talking good sense as usual. "Victory in the war is not victory in the argument about the war" - what a heretical notion! Some useful questions Kinsley poses: "The serious case involved questions that are still unresolved. Factual questions: Is there a connection between Iraq and the perpetrators of 9/11? Is that connection really bigger than that of all the countries we're not invading? Does Iraq really have or almost have weapons of mass destruction that threaten the United States? Predictive questions: What will toppling Saddam ultimately cost in dollars and in lives (American, Iraqi, others)? Will the result be a stable Iraq and a blossoming of democracy in the Middle East or something less attractive? How many young Muslims and others will be turned against the United States, and what will they do about it? Political questions: Should we be doing this despite the opposition of most of our traditional allies? Without the approval of the U.N.? Moral questions: Is it justified to make "pre-emptive" war on nations that may threaten us in the future? When do internal human rights, or the lack of them, justify a war? Is there a policy about pre-emption and human rights that we are prepared to apply consistently? Does consistency matter? Even etiquette questions: Before Bush begins trying to create a civil society in Iraq, wouldn't it be nice if he apologized to Bill Clinton and Al Gore for all the nasty, dismissive things he said about "nation-building" in the 2000 campaign?"
Thank you, Pioneer Press, for another lovely "getting mentioned in a Best of the Warblogs story" moment. It does help keep us going.
Paging Stephen Hayes, paging Stephen Hayes: (Reuters) - "The Pentagon has sent 69 Iraqi exiles, trained by the U.S. military in Hungary, to help coordinate humanitarian efforts in Iraq -- far fewer than originally envisioned, a U.S. Army general said on Thursday. "I would like to have a lot more. This is what I have," said Brig. Gen. John Kern, commander of the Army 352nd Civil Affairs Command in charge of using the so-called Free Iraqi Force soldiers." 69 of them - wow!! That was a good program!
The Baseball Hall of Fame should be ashamed of itself. It should be humiliated of itself. It should cower under the covers of agonizing mortal degradation of the soul. And I don't even like Susan Sarandon - not even in Bull Durham.
Iraq's future? Is it Afghanistan? Honestly, when the next budget comes around, and it's either health care in Baghdad or in Milwaukee, or paying for the reconstruction of Iraqi public services or else social security, which do you think is going to be more important in an election year? Just asking.
Robert Dreyfuss says: "The Pentagon is rumbling into Baghdad completely unprepared to fashion a viable new Iraqi government, seemingly obsessed with installing the discredited and corrupt Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), as the country's leader. The task force assigned the job of putting Humpty Dumpty together again after the shooting stops is woefully ill-equipped for its mission, is keeping the Department of State at arm's length, and has few regional experts and Iraq specialists aboard. At the U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., where the military staff is supporting the task force, there is something akin to panic. "[The Pentagon brass] haven't a clue as to what's going on,'' said Judith Yaphe, a former CIA analyst and Iraq expert at the National Defense University. "They don't have plans for a transition in place, they don't know where the money is going to come from, they don't have any organization. And they just don't know anything about Iraq."
Not that any of it matters, right? We have our dancing Iraqis, damn it! That proves we were right!
This could get ugly, part 32: "A crowd rushed and hacked to death two Shiite Muslim clerics -- one a Saddam Hussein loyalist, the other a returning exile who had urged support for U.S. troops -- during a meeting meant to forge reconciliation at one of Shiite Islam's holiest shrines, witnesses said."
Oh, and suicide bombings.
Meanwhile, Kurds move into Kirkuk, Turks say that the Americans promised to remove the Kurds from Kirkuk, Turks imply that if the Americans don't do it, then Turks will do it. No problem, move along, nothing to see here.
Not making any claims for this - either its authenticity or any analytical claims derived from it - but this is a striking series of photos of the famous "tearing down the statue of Saddam" square. The progressively wider lens seems to show that while the tight angle of the cameras made it look like there was a huge crowd, in fact there were only a handful of people there and most of the square was empty. Doesn't invalidate what happened, and I don't even know if it's for real, but it sure is a striking sequence of photos.
Triumphalism is in full gear at the Post. Ken Adelman says nyah nyah, it really was a cakewalk. I beg to differ - the war went nothing like he predicted, but whatever. Krauthammer goes on and on about what a great American war it was, and can hardly wait to do it again in Damascus (did he really say " Which is what makes the Three Week War a revolution in world affairs. It is one thing to depose tin-pot dictators. Anyone can do that. It is another thing to destroy a Stalinist demigod and his three-decade apparatus of repression -- and leave the country standing. From Damascus to Pyongyang, totalitarians everywhere are watching this war with shock and awe"? Yikes.) The editors opine that "Yesterday's scenes of celebration were an answer to skeptics who doubted that Iraqis wished to be liberated from Saddam Hussein by American troops, just as the collapse of resistance in the capital silenced critics, including several senior field commanders, who questioned whether the Pentagon's war plan was too ambitious or relied on too few troops." I point to this because my great fear, as it has been all along, is that the hawks will learn the wrong lessons from Iraq and will be inspired to go on to other adventures that will be even more detrimental to American national security and international order than Iraq was; and that reasonable critics will be intimidated into silence exactly when they are needed most. We can not allow that to happen.
You just knew they were going to say this: "From the coalition's point of view, the moment justified its assertion that the war's character was about freedom and the force necessary to obtain it from a dictator accused of assembling an arsenal of weapons of mass destructions. The existence of those weapons has not been demonstrated, but the reaction of the Baghdad segment of the Arab street, the so-called essence of political sentiment in the Middle East, was on display for all of the Arab world and the rest of the globe. This almost instant de facto legitimization appeared enormously powerful."
No, no, and no. This is another self-portrait, not an account of Arab public opinion. The images were powerful, but they were only one snapshot in an ongoing political campaign. Arab public opinion is in an ongoing process of formation, and while many Arabs are no doubt surprised by the sudden collapse of Baghdad and the seeming joy among some Iraqis there, it isn't going to overturn the basic narrative overnight. The scenes were enormously important for pro-war advocates in the West, who desperately hoped to have this footage to justify their war, but at this point they aren't much more than that. They could become something important in the Arab world, or they might not - it depends on how the argument goes and, especially, what happens next.
Mamoun Fandy's spin on the Arab reaction to the fall of Baghdad is sort of right, but also dangerously misleading. Fandy says, correctly, that "Despite the images of war and the antiwar demonstrations that the Arab world saw on television, most Arabs' hearts were not in this fight. They were dismayed that Saddam Hussein had sent Iraq's army on a suicide mission against a superior army simply to save face. No one was shedding tears as Mr. Hussein's statues came down. They knew about the nightmare suffered by Iraqis during his 32 long years of oppressive rule. The orgies of violence of Uday and Qusay, Saddam Hussein's two sons, have been widely reported." Saddam was no Nasser - there was no great support for his regime, just a great disgust at the ongoing tragedy of the Iraqi people, for which many Arabs saw Saddam as only partly to blame; and a lot of outrage at the double standard of his being singled out for war under what are widely believed to be false pretenses; and some excitement at what initially looked like more effective resistance than was expected. Saddam had no ideology to offer, no soft power to command. And he's right about the absence of attacks on American targets on the region, although I don't think this is any great surprise - I've argued repeatedly that terrorists are not simply Muslims that got angry; and that periods of high tension and crisis are the least likely times for terrorist attacks, since everyone is on guard and there are fewer openings to exploit. Where he's wrong is in conveying the impression that this lack of support for Saddam and absence of terrorist attacks means that Arabs tacitly welcome the invasion and occupation. Everyone is looking to see what America does next, which is the real war, one for which Team Bush does not enjoy the overwhelming advantage that ensured victory on the battlefield. Let's hope that the administration does not read the negatives (no support for Saddam, no terrorist attacks) as a positive endorsement for American occupation.
Gideon Rose is spot on again in Slate today, arguing, as has the aardvark, that the INC is no better suited to rule Iraq today than they were suited to a central role in American planning to overthrow Saddam in the past. He does a great job reviewing the very real problems with the INC, and their inadequacy for dealing with the very real problems postwar Iraq is going to face. The whole thing is worth reading. I also agree with his conclusions about the reality that Team Bush is going to face with regard to the international community:
"The determination to keep out the United Nations, Europe, and the rest of the world might also eventually fall by the wayside, because it is sustained more by ideology and petulance than by logic. Precisely because the United States did not fight the war to seize control of Iraqi oil or colonize the country, it will end up wanting to share with others the unenviable burdens of getting Iraq back on its feet, and it will have to give up some autonomy in return. The Bush administration may scorn those who didn't support the war, but it will regret not having their help and blessing for the task of reconstruction - to paraphrase Bogie, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of its life. Negotiating the details of how to bring in others without ceding too much control over Iraq's future will be tricky, but hardly impossible - this is what the much-maligned striped-pants set over at the State Department does for a living, after all. What the administration hawks seem not to realize yet is that toppling Saddam will not end the debate over the war's legitimacy. For many abroad, in fact, it will only confirm the belief that American power is dangerously unchecked. This is a problem. Scaring the bad guys is one thing; scaring the entire world is another, and something only a fool would laugh off."
Wednesday, April 09, 2003
It begins. "The main Iraqi Shi'ite opposition group said on Wednesday it would boycott a political meeting the United States is trying to arrange in southern Iraq (news - web sites) next week because of the U.S. military presence. "We are not going to take part in this meeting in Nassiriya. We think this is part of General Garner's rule of Iraq and we are not going to be part of that project at all," said Hamid al-Bayati, the London representative of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." What kind of Iraq will the US build? We will see.
So the UN gets to deliver food, huh? French (I mean, Freedom) food? Russian food (yuck)? Chinese food? That would be pretty darn "vital," no doubt about it. But it most assuredly will not allow the US to build a widely shared stake in a new Iraq, bring in specialized and experienced international agencies, create an internationally legitimate government, rebuild shattered international relationships, reassure others of its commitment to multilateralism and cooperation, demonstrate that the war was not fought out of self-interest or imperial motives, share the burden of peacekeeping, or anything like that. Remember - this was never really a military campaign, it was a political one, and that war - the real war - has barely begun.
A day that I really wish I could be blogging. A lot happening. No doubt lots of triumphalism out there in the western blogosphere - they've finally got their televised hugs and puppies. Kind of, at least until the sun goes down and the TV cameras go home. But I'm too darn busy, barely have time to write this over a wolfed down lunch. Is the aardvark preparing to eat his termites and admit that the neocons and warbloggers were right? Of course not. As I've written repeatedly, my opposition to this war was never based on whether or not the US could defeat Iraq militarily, it was based on whether we the US should invade Iraq. The war isn't over yet, despite the big headlines and fast-developing events, but it looks like the major campaigns are over. It was going to end eventually, and the US eventually would win - for me it was always the sooner the better in terms of Iraqi and American/British casualties. But now comes the occupation, and picking up the shattered pieces of the international order, which was always the hard part. Sure, people are dancing in Baghdad (and AEI) today - the bombing has stopped, Saddam seems to be gone, they can leave their houses safely. It won't last, especially if Team Bush goes in the direction it appears to be going in the postwar administration. I don't have time to really develop this today, but the basic point is that the military conduct of the war was never really the issue for me, and the end of the war doesn't change any of my arguments. The hard part, the dangerous part, is just beginning, and I fear that the administration will learn exactly the wrong lessons.
Have to go, but here's a question. Assume that you knew everything you know today about the progress of the war - the amount of resistance, the absence of major terrorist attacks during the war, the scenes from Baghdad today - would your position from before the war be changed? Many people seem to say yes, they would support this war - these are many of the same people who last week were saying that maybe no, this war wasn't what they signed up for. A lot of the right is assuming that now everybody is going to realize the error of their opposition and jump on board, or else be mocked and ridiculed for their silliness. For the aardvark, the answer is emphatically yes. My positions haven't changed at all. The war should not have been begun, and the problems that it has caused have barely begun to be appreciated. More later.
Mulder! Scully! Where are you? Someone has taken over Robert Kagan's identity and is making him say strange, sensible things - this just isn't natural. This alien replicant pretending to be Robert Kagan says that the US shouldn't install Ahmad Chalabi as ruler of Iraq, that the US shouldn't recklessly punish its allies, that the US should rebuild bridges to Europe and use persuasion rather than pressure to recapture their support, and that now is the time for careful diplomacy rather than triumphalism. Diplomacy, caution, persuasion? Avoid triumphalism? Sure, "Robert Kagan" - just stay nice and still while the nice men come and take you back to the Pentagon for, um, "inspections."
Wednesday is hump day in aardvarkostan, so blogging will be light and late today. Sorry. But luckily Josh Marshall is still hitting on all cylinders, so go read him. It's fun seeing him go after Stanley ("I've never written anything but please take me seriously") Kurtz's lame rebuttal to "Practice to Deceive." I wonder if Josh even noticed that class clown Jonah Goldberg also tried to take him down - the assault was so feeble that Josh probably didn't even notice he had been attacked. Anyway, I'm just really busy and exhausted (did you know that aardvark cubs don't sleep AT ALL at night for weeks and weeks?) so can't get into things today. I will tomorrow.
Tuesday, April 08, 2003
Some time last week, I saw a post on somebody's blog which linked to Congressional testimony about intelligence failures regarding 9/11. I really want to get hold of that testimony now, but I can't for my life remember which blog it was on, and I can't find it surfing around the sites I usually frequent. If anyone else remembers that blog entry - or just knows the answer - could you mail the aardvark and let me know? Thanks!
Interesting piece on al-Jazeera by Mohammed al-Nawawy in the Christian Science Monitor . Al-Nawawy wrote an interesting book on al-Jazeera last year, so this isn't new terrain to him. He points out the remarkable similarity, albeit with the normative valence reversed, of the coverage on al-Jazeera and on the American cable networks. Nothing particularly new in his essay, but it is sharply observed.
Good piece by Harold Meyerson on Team Bush's move to create facts on the ground in post-war Iraq, which is worth quoting at length: "While the debate raged over whether to go to war in Iraq, [the Pentagon] dispatched a couple of hundred thousand troops to the region, establishing a fact on the ground that ultimately made the war unstoppable. Now, while the debate is just beginning over the nature of the interim government in postwar Iraq, they have dispatched a postwar government of their choosing to the Kuwait Hilton.... Deployment precedes -- and damn near obviates -- debate... The neoconservatives have their team in place, complete with their opposition group of choice: the Iraqi National Congress. Never mind that the Iraqi National Congress is one of six opposition coalitions in exile. Never mind that its leader, Ahmed Chalabi, left Iraq the same year the Dodgers left Brooklyn. Never mind that Chalabi is bitterly opposed by the other exile groups, and that his standing in-country is all but undetectable. What matters is that he's a longtime friend and associate of such leading defense neocons as Richard Perle and James Woolsey, who apparently loom large in the Iraqi electoral college being drawn up in the Pentagon.... In his decision to hand postwar Iraq to the Pentagon, however, Bush is utterly alone. No member of the coalition of the willing is willing to go along with him on this: Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi want the United Nations to control the interim authority; so does the European Union; so does the pope. Even congressional Republicans -- and not just the moderates -- are emphatic that Iraqi reconstruction should come under Colin Powell's jurisdiction, not Rumsfeld's. And Powell has been arguing for a greater role for the United Nations, too. Understandably so, for the decision to run postwar Iraq as an adjunct of the Defense Department may prove even more fateful than the decision to go to war. It suggests that conquest alone confers legitimacy; it spurns international efforts to reconstruct a shattered nation; it fairly begs the world to view us as occupiers rather than nation-builders. It could well mean that our forces will be the only authority in postwar Iraq, subject (even if embraced by most of the population) to a steady stream of suicide bombings, mayhem and rage. It could ignite the entire region in a slow-fuse jihad. Yet these all seem matters of relative indifference to the president, the vice president and the guys at Defense."
The aardvark agrees with all of this. It is astonishing how much these people are able to get away with while facing almost no public scrutiny or sanction. Creating this kind of postwar Iraqi administration is a recipe for disaster, its failure as close to a sure thing as was an American military victory. I would also say that this is one more thing that the neocons learned from Ariel Sharon: go ahead and let people debate, but all the while just keep on doing things on the ground that create an irreversible situation. Eventually, the debate gets rendered irrelevant because a new reality has been created (settlements in the West Bank and Gaza; hundreds of thousands of troops in the Middle East) that can no longer be avoided, and even the critics will then be forced to reconcile themselves to the new reality.
Nicholas Kristoff is right about the problem with Team Bush's PR campaign. The problem with the American approach has always been a focus on sales rather than substance - the idea that American policies are pretty good, but silly, misinformed Arabs misunderstand them so we just need to do a better job explaining them (as per Barry Rubin's absurd article in the November 2002 Foreign Affairs, which bizarrely argued that American policy has been pro-Muslim most of the time); or alternately that American policies might not meet the current desires of Arab consumers, but some good advertising will persuade Arabs that actually American policy is pretty tasty after all; or, most recently, that showing enough power will cow Arabs into accepting that current American policy is as good as they are going to get, so they might as well get on with the eating. Kristoff quotes Ragheda Dergham, the outstanding al-Hayat columnist: "It's the policy, stupid.", and then goes on to say "Arab perceptions of America are framed by Mr. Bush's coziness with Ariel Sharon. No amount of spin can soften that; it will take a serious and balanced Middle East peace initiative of the kind that Tony Blair is urging." American approaches to Arab and Muslim publics will only work when the administration starts to accept that a lot of these people are actually smart, informed, and can figure out for themselves what does and doesn't serve their interests. It isn't about better packaging, it's about the contents of the package.
Monday, April 07, 2003
From transcript of 60 Minutes story on Chalabi, 4/6/03: During [Martin] Indyk's management of Iraqi policy during the Clinton years, he says that he trusted, but always verified, information provided by Chalabi and his group... But does Indyk think Chalabi was getting faulty intelligence out of Iraq, or that he deliberately misrepresented it so he'd get U.S. support? "He wanted to bring Saddam Hussein down," says Indyk. "He had an interest in convincing us of the need to go and do that, and that it could be done relatively easily. It's not Chalabi's fault that he was trying to sell us a bill of goods, and that we bought it."
Yup. A bill of goods, indeed. And the price just keeps going up.
Thanks, ever so helpful Reader X.
The aardvark just got wind of the rumor that Jim "World War IV" Woolsey is to be appointed Information Minister for the new Iraqi administration. Maybe everybody else already knew this, but I was pretty surprised (what can I say? without giving too much away, the aardvark neither lives in Washington DC nor works for AEI). I mean, how bad does an idea have to be to get shot down in this administration? To appoint a former CIA director who is both highly partisan and closely linked with various pro-Israeli groups, and who has relentlessly lied and deceived everyone in sight for a decade to promote war with Iraq - including endorsing Laurie Mylroie's lunatic theories and pushing the Iraqi National Congress against all objective reality - to be the Information Minister is just breathtaking. It would send a powerful signal of Team Bush's intentions to not only ignore international and Arab opinion in its administration of Iraq, but to actively flaunt its contempt. Let's hope that this just one of those crazy trial balloons that explodes on contact with air. Or that the aardvark has been the victim of a late April Fools gag. UPDATE - Alas, the aardvark isn't the only one to hear this terrifying rumor.
Here are excerpts of an essay circulated by Barry Rubin, one of the leading Likudnik policy intellectuals: "The big lie, the ridiculous exaggeration, and whatever you want to call it is typical. Time after time, regarding Israel or on other matters, Western media, governments, academics, and large elements of public opinion have been accepting such things as accurate or at least put them on a par with other versions of events. Yet now the lesson of the Baghdad airport scam should be learned once and for all: this is the way things work so very often in the Arab world."
On the question of toleration of the big lie, Barry Rubin should tour the contents of aardvarkostan. Indeed, the previous entry here in aardvarkoville concerns the overwhelming American public opinion to the effect that it makes no difference whether or not the weapons of mass destruction for which Bush insisted on war really exist or not. This blog has recorded dozens of lies by Team Bush and by the American media, and the happy acceptance of these lies by the mainstream of American public opinion. Rubin may be correct about the propensity to accept exaggerations or inconsistencies in Arab public opinion, but at least Arabs have the excuse of serious government efforts to control and manipulate information. What is America's excuse? For that matter, one of the Big Lies in the Iraq propaganda campaign was a British dossier on Iraqi intelligence and security services, which turned out to have been heavily plagiarized from an internet journal, MERIA, edited by... Barry Rubin. Barry Rubin expressed no displeasure with this dishonesty, only modest appreciation that British intelligence found his journal useful in the battle against Saddam. So let's keep Rubin's arguments about lies and deceit in the Arab world in perspective here, shall we?
Sunday, April 06, 2003
This poll just blows me away. I mean, it literally leaves even the aardvark speechless (just kidding... nothing can stop an aardvark from talking except a new Buffy or Angel episode). Here it is: "More than two-thirds of those interviewed -- 69 percent -- said that going to war with Iraq was the right thing to do even if the United States fails to turn up biological or chemical weapons, up from 53 percent in a survey taken the day after the war started... But the poll and follow-up interviews with some survey participants suggested that relatively few Americans are disturbed that no hard evidence that Iraq currently possesses these weapons has yet surfaced. Many said they would not be bothered if none was ever found. "I would not feel that I had been sold a bill of goods by the Bush administration," said Brad Stephens, 27, a law student living in Morgantown, W.Va." So let me get this straight. The war was sold as a necessary one because of Iraqi pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Inspections could not be given a chance to succeed because they had failed to uncover the WMD. No WMD have been found - and even if none are found, 69% of Americans, and Brad Stephens, don't feel that they have been sold a bill of goods (Mr. Stephens is going to make a great lawyer, I'd say). Lord help us all (it is Sunday after all). Seriously, one can only hope that the Washington Post conducted its survey on a day when nobody was home except for hung-over Fox News junkies, and that subsequent polls show this as an outlier. But I doubt it - for simple cognitive dissonance reduction reasons, people need to feel that the war is justified now that it is happening, and the reasons no longer matter. I'm sure that Team Bush has learned the lesson well and is in the process of making up more blatant lies to justify war against Iran, Syria, and whoever else - Americans won't care if they are lied to, as long as they kick ass, right? Sigh.
Agence France Presse reports: "The Iraqi opposition plans to end the country's state monopoly on oil, opening the door to international companies to play a lead role in the industry after the fall of Saddam Hussein, a leading exile said here Saturday after a US-backed policy meeting. "We are going to 'demonopolise' the oil," Dara Attar, an Iraqi Kurd oil consultant told AFP after two days of meetings in London." I actually think that removing the state monopoly on oil is not a bad thing, but it all depends on how it is done. Turning it over to "international companies" strikes me as a bad way to do it, though - turning back the clock on that whole nationalization thing without any commensurate political or economic advantages. It would be better to find some innovative way of controlling the oil and distributing its benefits in a way which minimizes the concentration of economic resources outside of Iraqi society in order to build the foundations for a healthy civil society and presumably democracy. Transferring control of oil from the state to international companies does not accomplish this - it simply creates another non-societal power center. Anyway, it's not as if what the Iraqi opposition thinks matters in the least, unless what they "think" has been dictated from Dick Cheney's office.
Glenn Frankel writes in the Post about the ambivalent response of many Muslims to the war. While I think that he's right in broad terms about the nature of the response, the surprised tone is more an artifact of unrealistic expectations. Most people seemed to have bought into what I call a naive theory of terrorism, or perhaps a "popcorn theory" of terrorism - basically an idea that when a Muslim gets angrier and angrier, at some point he "pops" and becomes a terrorist. But that really misrepresents who terrorists are and where they come from, and it does serious injustice to the political competence and basic humanity of Muslims. The aardvark wrote weeks ago that he did not expect to see an immediate surge of terrorism in response to the beginning of the war, but that the greater risk came from the likelihood of increased repression by unpopular Arab governments which radicalizes more and more Islamists over the longer term. Frankel's article has some good reporting and some good quotes - here's one - "Muslims are depressed and angry, and many are praying not just for an end to the war but for America to be defeated," said Azzam Tamimi, director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought here. "But that doesn't mean they support the regime -- Islamists have always hated Saddam, although some of them may begin to see him as a hero because he is fighting the Americans."
Shafiq Ghubra, a Kuwaiti political scientist and until recently director of Kuwaiti public information efforts in the US, interviewed by Bill Moyers on PBS, has this to say about the Arab media and the war (which you may have realized is an important topic with the aardvark):
"In Kuwait it's not, and we have to make it clear that there is a difference in the way we perceive this whole phenomena from Kuwait, in Kuwait, as we host American troops. And we are a part of this all together negatively or positively. Yet, at the level of the region, there have been many statements coming in the beginning of the few first days of the war, and then the Iraqi media somehow came to express some sort of some credibility in saying that they've downed an American airplane before other media and the US has been able to confirm this, that they have prisoners of war, before others confirmed this. But let me also add it's not all the Iraqi media. It seems that the Arab media has gotten this satellite phenomena of Arab media to a point where it is competitive, it's able to get the story, it airs more the Iraqi story, it gives more space to the Iraqi point of view. Believing as well that on the other side the space is not given to that point of view neither to other points of views in the region."
I find this comment by Ghubra really interesting. Even if he is saying things others have said, it resonates differently because he's Kuwaiti. For the last decade, Kuwait has played a leading role in trying to police Arab public discourse about Iraq, punishing journalists, writers, commentators, TV stations, artists, and others who present pro-Iraqi (or even insufficiently anti-Iraqi) versions of the first Gulf War. This has been a losing battle, and one which increasingly isolated Kuwait within the wider Arab public arena. These battles went on inside of Kuwait as well, with memories of the war as well as the ongoing sanctions and containment strategies fiercely politicized. And of course now Kuwait is the one Arab country which is really actively and openly working with the US-UK forces - even though many others are participating, they do so as privately and secretively as possible. This Kuwaiti perspective on the influence of Arab media is therefore pretty interesting and worth tracking. By the way, the rest of the interview is pretty interesting too, and worth reading.
From a sharp-eyed reader in the aardvark-o-sphere comes this tantalizing bit of conspiratorial goodness:
"Laurie Mylroie has sent around an INC circular claiming (in part) that: "As well, sources out of Baghdad inform us that four Republican Guard officers were executed after failing to implement orders given to attack Shu’la Street in the capital city. The aim of hitting this area was to have the media falsely identify the attacks as the work of Coalition forces. In the end, other officers of the Republican Guards carried out the orders.
Colonel Abd Muhallamd [um, fix that spell-checker, INC! - xx] al-Ubadi
Colonel Saad Yas alGhariri
Muthana Hamad Kazim"
Also on Friday, Richard Sale at UPI reported that:
"Three Iraqis who aided the CIA in the March 20 attempt by the United States to kill Iraqi President Saddam Hussein were executed this week by Iraqi counterintelligence, former and serving U.S. officials told United Press International."
"Does the Aardvark care to speculate on the odds that the executed "CIA assets" and the executed Republican Guards officers are one and the same? Call me conspiratorial, but this would fit the INC's pattern of spinning on-the-ground "intelligence" in the manner preferred by the White House's current PR...not to mention that they want to cast aspersions on the CIA's "intelligence." Let's see if their story about the Republican Guards officers appears in neo-con or Pentagon pronouncements any time soon."
The aardvark always cares to speculate, but in this case, Reader XX has done the job for him.
A few days ago I mentioned MERIP's brutal chart detailing the growing repression of American-allied governments in the Middle East during the war on terror. I said that it was not available on line; I have now learned that it is available online - go check it out, if you want to ruin your Sunday breakfast.