The battle's done, and we kind of won, so we sound our victory cheer - where do we go from here?
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Friday, April 18, 2003
I've always found it ironic that the idiots over in InstaLand adopted the term "fisking" for their moronic, trivial, and lemming-like practice of responding to someone else's work with a series of non-sequiters and insinuations. Ironic, because the source of their little game is Robert Fisk, one of the most prolific and independent journalists of our time, someone who has spent most of his career living in and reporting from places that the warbloggers write about with such ignorant authority. Sure, he's not much a fan of America, but that's not the point - he's a cynical bastard, and he's not much of a fan of anyone. Anyway, I use all this as a preface to his latest dispatch from Baghdad. Even taking into account his prejudices and his acerbic tone, it is a frightening and sharply observed account of the anarchy of postwar Iraq and the often inexplicably counterproductive American approach - protecting only the oil ministry while museums and other ministries burn; not bothering to collect information about ex-Baathis from police stations and then hiring them as security officers; imposing a dusk to dawn semi-official curfew; and on an on. After you read that, read Jon Anderson's latest dispatch from Baghdad in The New Yorker - another great journalist in the right place at the right time, god help us all - and then try to go on believing the US-UK nonsense about the absence of any serious civilian casualties.
I'm glad that the Liberal Media Giant New York Times has opened its cloistered pages to Weekly Standard peon Claudia Rossett, who repeates almost verbatim the obnoxious and stunningly misinformed essay initially published in the WS (and blogged upon at that time by the aardvark, whose archived links seem permanently bloggered). She insinuates that the Oil for Food program became nothing more than a giant pork barrel for UN diplomats and aid workers - if she had any conception whatsoever of the cash shortfalls which crippled the UN humanitarian program, she hides them well. She insinuates that somehow Kofi Annan, or the Security Council, was responsible for the distribution of contracts, somehow failing to mention that it was the Iraqi government which made those contracts - the sanctions committee only had the power to reject or place on hold contracts which raised concerns about possible military dual uses. The sanctions reforms that she mocks were the Bush administration's idea, and included a lot of items other than "recreational boats." If Ms Rossett has the slightest idea about the history of the sanctions or the manifold problems in their implementation, she betrays not a glimmer. She makes a great deal of the secrecy of the program, as well she should - Joy Gordon's essay in Harpers last fall might remind us why (hint: it had a lot to do with the reckless and highly politicized use of holds by the United States). By relying on innuendo ("yes, France") and misdirection, Rossett completely misrepresents the very real problems of the oil for food program. And one can only wonder what Bechtel thinks of her charge that "putting a veil of secrecy over tens of billions of dollars of contracts is an invitation to kickbacks, political back-scratching and smuggling." The Times should be ashamed of itself for allowing itself to be used by such a hack - what will Mr Kaus and Mr Sullivan make of this, I wonder?
: Also in the Times: "We are in control on the ground and creating facts on the ground," said a senior administration official who declined to be identified. "Iraq will not be put under a U.N. flag. The U.N. is not going to be a partner. And right now, people don't have the stomach to make a theological fight over this." The administration also opposes the return of United Nations weapons inspectors, senior officials said."
Well, that settles that.
The free market works! Unlike in state socialist economies, where governments allocate contracts based on political connections and shadowy, corrupt dealings, in the United States a free and open bidding process ensures that the best qualified company - the one offering the best services at the lowest price - gets the contract. And that's why we should celebrate Bechtel's winning the first major reconstruction contract in Iraq. A free, fair, open, and public process that produced a surprising result, a complete outsider with perfect qualifications for the job and with no Republican connections whatsoever.
Thursday, April 17, 2003
Why does Donald Rumsfeld hate America? Or, perhaps, why is Donald Rumsfeld still employed by the United States government? The AP reports: "The U.S. military's search for chemical and biological weapons is unlikely to succeed until Iraqis lead American forces to them, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday. "I don't think we'll discover anything, myself," Rumsfeld said at a town hall-style meeting with Pentagon employees."
What happened to bulletproof evidence, and, oh, the reason for fighting the war? Is Mr. Rumsfeld finally admitting that that was all a bunch of bull-hooey? Shouldn't people care about this? Or, as I noted earlier today, does that TV footage of a hundred people toppling a statue with US military help justify the war anyway? Possibilities here: the US had bad intelligence and didn't realize it, and now should admit it, and major heads should roll for one of the worst intelligence failures in modern history; the US had bad intel and did realize it, and lied, and major heads should roll (what did Bush know and when did he know it, might be useful question to ask); or the US didn't have any iintel but figured it would find the stuff so it didn't matter (see above re: it lied); or the US did have good intel, but in the course of collapsing and fighting an incompetent war, the Iraqis managed one of the most efficient clean-up jobs in history. Oh, they may still find some stuff - I always thought that they would - but will anyone believe them when they do?
Don't miss this sober briefing on humanitarian aid in postwar Iraq. Here's the executive summary: "This briefing examines some of the political, financial and operational problems surrounding the provision of aid, and the project of reconstruction in Iraq. In particular, it focuses upon the difficulty in striking a balance between the US and the UK fulfilling their responsibilities to provide aid and assist in rebuilding, and their control of the process to the detriment of its effectiveness. The politicisation of relief complicates the provision of aid, and may yet scupper the effective reconstruction of Iraq. At its worst, using humanitarian aid as a political or military tool to woo the ‘hearts and minds’ of the Iraqi population risks prolonging suffering, entrenching unilateralism, and reducing the willingness of states to contribute towards the rebuilding of Iraq."
That didn't take long. The AP reports: "Just days ago, U.S. troops were cheered and kissed as they destroyed the symbols of Saddam Hussein's regime. Today, after a week of chaos, it's a whole different story. After looters ran wild, American forces shot civilians and the lack of basic services spread misery across the land, many Iraqis turned their anger away from Saddam Hussein and toward what they saw as their new oppressor: the United States of America." I think it is far too early to tell what is going to happen, and that a well-designed postwar administration working with the UN and moving towards genuine democracy could win over many Iraqis. Unlike, say, virtually every war supporter, most every American media outlet, the Bush administration, and a great deal of the American public ("a hundred people smashed a Saddam statue with American military help, and they conveniently did it on TV - it must mean that the Iraqi people welcome us as liberators and were in favor of the war!"), I do not want to jump to a major conclusion based on a very limited base of information. Set an example for the kids and all that.
Syria. Really. Look, the case for war against Iraq was very weak - as the absence of WMD and the absence of ties to al-Qaeda attest - but it was a dozen times stronger than any case against Syria. Syria poses slightly more of a threat to the United States than my orange tabby cat. Ties to al-Qaeda? Come on - at least try to be serious. Sure, Syria has ties to various organizations which have employed or been accused of terrorism - Hizbollah, the PFLP, various Palestinian factions - but none of these target the United States or pose any kind of real threat. Weapons of mass destruction? Chemical weapons, which have never been used but are held as part of a defensive military doctrine when facing a militarily superior enemy who kicked your behind 20 years ago back when you were stronger and who never did get around to negotiating a peace agreement to give back your territory - that doesn't seem so irrational to me. Repressing its own people? Hama was awful, really awful - I've been there, and the scars will never heal. But Hafez al-Asad is dead, so there's no point trying to kill him for his evil deeds. Syria is no democracy, but it is not a totalitarian state like Iraq's - not even close. Syria is not in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, it cooperated with the US against al-Qaeda after 9/11, and it even voted for Resolution 1441.
I haven't been too worried, since I assume that Team Bush is just trying to parlay its "victory" in Iraq into influence over others that it finds annoying, and doesn't really intend to invade. But that might be committing exactly the mistake that the aardvark often points out in others - assuming that Team Bush just wouldn't dare to do something outrageously offensive. But Team Bush always will, and usually gets away with it. We should never underestimate Team Bush's hubris. Certain factions in the Bush administration would manifestly like to continue into Syria. We've already seen the groundwork on "Hizbollah is the A Team. " And the hawks might be taking the same "facts on the ground" approach that got them into Iraq so that by the time people notice what is going on it is too late to stop it. The American people have already proven to be sufficiently gullible in Iraq, and the peace movement may be so stunned into defeatist introspection and factional infighting that it lacks the stomach for another counter-mobilization (by the way, don't read too much about the Dems into Bob Graham supporting a war on Syria - he has always supported a war against Syria, for some reason, which is why I hope this lunatic never makes a serious bid for the Dem nomination). This is a fight that shouldn't have to be fought, which is why, I expect, few people are actively mobilizing against it. Let's hope that isn't a mistake. Moving against Syria would consolidate the free-floating anxiety and anger and fear around the world, and would establish for most of the world that they were right to worry that the Iraq war signaled the emergence of a dangerous, rapacious, power-mad America. I hope that they were wrong.
A hearty cheer to US forces for capturing Abu Abass. A more worthless specimen of humanity would be hard to find - the guy was a real terrorist. Of course, that was more than 15 years ago. He's an important victory in the "war on terror" now, in the sense of being part of al-Qaeda or posing a threat to the United States, the way those pesticides were "weapons of mass destruction." Nice to know where he is, hope they bring the bastard before some kind of an International Criminal Court (huh? what's that?), but completely irrelevant to anything else.
UPDATE: Whoops, boy do I stand corrected. According to Likudnik policy pundit Barry Rubin, the capture of Abu Abass is the most significant progress ever made in the war on terror, was central to Saddam's ties to global terrorism, was the mastermind behind the cancelation of Firefly, and will also conveniently and definitively link Arafat to terrorism. Wow - all of that? Thanks, Mr. Rubin!
Wednesday, April 16, 2003
Once more for the UN - even now, the UN can play a vital role if Team Bush is willing to let it. It would be huge mistake to not let it. There has been a wave of pro-UN editorials sweeping the American press - I've counted a few dozen in the last week, albeit mostly in "second tier" newspapers. The triumphalist right has, of course, mounted its own intense campaign to keep the UN out. That would be a mistake, in the aardvark's humble opinion, but oddly enough the Wolfies haven't asked the aardvark's advice.
A helpful reader points out that in my little historical reverie yesterday (sorry- Blogger's permalinks seem to be messed up again, so you'll just have to scan down), I left out this obvious analogy:
2001 The United States invades Afghanistan. Conventional advantage, technology, welcomed as liberators, blah blah blah.
2003 Still no effective government in Afghanistan, little control beyond Kabul, Karzai increasingly dismissed as an American puppet, no US budget for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, the Taliban appears to be regrouping, opium production skyrocketing, and so on and on.
I could have included that one, sure, but I wanted to get beyond the obvious and look back to history a bit. But consider it included if it brightens up (or depresses, depending on your preferences) your Wednesday!
The Post revisits Basra to find out about the heroic uprising against Saddam that the war critics inexcusably ignored. Except, whoops, turns out there wasn't one: "There was nothing resembling a popular uprising against the Iraqi militiamen who controlled this city during its 13-day siege by British forces. Life continued largely as normal in many neighborhoods, with police directing traffic and residents doing their best to avoid fighting. Doctors at local hospitals treated scores of civilians wounded by British artillery and U.S. bombs during the siege, despite briefing-room claims of pinpoint accuracy. Many others were killed. These conclusions about life under siege emerge from a week of interviews in Basra and they differ in many ways from accounts offered by military and other sources before the city's fall. Reports of large numbers of Basra residents being forced to take up arms and militiamen firing from behind human shields were similarly not borne out in the interviews."
What? Is this story saying that the US and UK lied about the Basra uprising? Is it somehow possible that those stories were not totally based on fact? How can this be? I'm just shocked, shocked.
And then there is this:
"Protests against the American forces here are rising by the day as Iraqis exercise their new right to complain — something that often landed them in prison or worse during President Saddam Hussein's rule. But no one here is in the mood to note that paradox, as Iraqis confront with greater clarity their complicated reactions to the week-old American military presence here: anger at the looting; frustration at the ongoing lack of everything from electricity to a firm sense of order; fear of long-term United States military occupation. "Down, down U.S.A. — don't stay, go away!" chanted Ahmed Osman, 30, a teacher among the several hundred Iraqis protesting today in front of the Palestine Hotel downtown, which the marines are both guarding and using as their headquarters to recruit civil servants to reconstruct Iraq's central authority. "Bush is the same as Saddam," he said. The protest was small compared with the 20,000 who marched today in Nasiriya against the American presence in Iraq, but it was the largest such demonstration in Baghdad yet, prompting the marines to seal off the hotel, and the Sheraton next door, for several hours and to beef up security.... But individual protest has almost reached a fever pitch, as scores of Iraqis around the city asked reporters if it was true that Mr. Hussein was now in the United States (the evidence: that Baghdad fell so quickly, a deal must have been struck). They are also, in greater numbers, beginning to blame American soldiers for the looting that has stripped the nation's property bare, from desk chairs to ancient Sumerian artifacts."
And then there is this:
As Shiite groups, some backed by Iran, escalate their demands for political control in a new Iraq, the Bush administration appears to have little influence or contacts with the factions that could pose the biggest obstacle to creating a pro-American democratic government, U.S. officials and independent analysts said yesterday. Even so, U.S. officials expressed confidence that the turmoil is temporary. "The Iraqi people will do something about it," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said. "If they don't want those people in and those people don't subscribe to the principles that we've set forth . . . then they'll stay out, and that's life." Many Iraq experts, including some who advise U.S. intelligence and military officials, said the demands by competing Iraqi Shiite groups in the southern cities of Najaf, Nasiriyah, Kut and Karbala, as well as in parts of Baghdad, are the beginning of a serious challenge to U.S. efforts to bring about a pro-Western democracy. Shiites make up about 60 percent of the Iraqi population but have been repressed for decades by Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated Baath Party. "U.S. officials don't have a lot of traction in the Shiite community in Iraq," said A. William Saami, a Middle East expert for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty who has advised U.S. national security agencies. "This is going to get worse before it gets better. . . . U.S. government officials are cognizant of these issues but don't understand them."
Does anybody care what Iraqis really think, or was the statue ceremony enough? I stand by my prediction that the people who said that they would be the first to protest against Bush if he didn't deliver democracy after the war will, in fact, hardly be paying attention and will have moved on to the next political battle du jour. Prove the aardvark wrong.
Isn't this getting a bit, um, odd? Most critics of the war such as myself simply assumed that some WMD would be found, that it wouldn't be enough to justify a war and wouldn't be anything that couldn't have been found with inspections, but that something would be there. And given that this is the most determinedly dishonest Presidential administration in history, we assumed that they would just fabricate evidence if they couldn't find any. And still they haven't produced a single piece of evidence of WMD. Not that American public opinion cares, or anything, but this was the single main reason offered for the war. So what is going on here? And why isn't anyone on the pro-war side asking these questions? Where are all of the "Liberal Hawks" - at least the ones who didn't come back over from the dark side at the last minute - who explained their support for Bush's war on the Pollackian thesis of an imminent and existential threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction? Where's the outrage? Did it all evaporate with the stage-managed propaganda stunt with Saddam's statue? What does that say about the basic political competence of the American public? No, don't answer that last one.
Tuesday, April 15, 2003
Protests over the meeting to discuss the new government, unhappy Kurds in Kirkuk and Mosul, angry Shia boycotting... can't these Iraqis just shut up and be free already?
A new reason to be terrified. Towards the end of the NY Times story on Jay Garner, American Proconsul in Iraq, he slips in this gem: "By getting out of Iraq fast, the general said, the United States can avoid repeating past mistakes. "We're notorious for telling people what to do," he said. An example? "Start with Vietnam and the strategic hamlet concept."... Over all, he said, the war in Vietnam was a failure because the United States had the "wrong military objective." "It took too long," he said. "We should have taken the war north instead of waiting in the south. Just like here. If President Bush had been president, we would have won."
Got that? If Bush had been president, we would have won in Vietnam. We would have won in Vietnam. The lesson of Vietnam is that we did not attack hard enough or fast enough. Think about that. Savor it. Fear it. This is the man who is going to win the Iraqi peace?
1980. Soviet forces roll into Afghanistan. Despite predictions that fiercely nationalistic tribes would resist any foreign occupation, the confident Red Army quickly seizes control of Kabul and all major cities. Soviet spokesmen declare victory, and inside the Kremlin advocates of intervention take the upper hand against advocates of moderation. Unlike the Americans, who had been defeated by nationalist Communist resistance in Vietnam, the Soviets were welcomed as liberators by their brothers.
1989. The last Soviet troops finally escape from Afghanistan. Worn down by almost a decade of guerrilla warfare by Islamists backed by Pakistan and by the United States, the Red Army is a shell of its former self. Its technological superiority and massive conventional advantages proved to be of little help in the face of the steady bloodletting. Morale in the Red Army collapsed, drug use skyrocketed, and a generation lost faith in the judgement of Soviet policymakers.
1982. June. Israeli forces roll into Lebanon to finally crush the PLO and put an end to Palestinian nationalism and the threat of terrorism. Defying predictions of a fierce resistance by Syria, the PLO, and Lebanese forces, Israeli forces use their massive technological superiority and conventional advantage to quickly take control of the country and lay siege to Beirut. Welcomed as liberators by the Christian community and by the Shia community of South Lebanon, Israel struck a decisive blow against terrorism. Proving the peaceniks and naysayers wrong, Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon demonstrated that great military power welded to a morally clear mission could avoid quagmire. Their bold military victory demonstrated that Israel could safely international opinion, which eventually would come around to recognize the benefits of the action.
1982. September. The Israelis install a friendly leader in power in Beirut. Within days, Bashir Gemayel is assassinated. Israeli proxy forces move into the refugees camps of Sabra and Chatilla, massacring everyone in sight as the IDF looks on. Begin's government falls, and he leaves public life, a broken man. Bogged down in the horrific siege of Beirut, the IDF finds itself locked in a diplomatic and military quagmire. Terrorism and civil war make life hell for Lebanese and Israelis alike. Meanwhile, in south Lebanon, Shia resistance to the Israeli occupation has given birth to Hizbollah, a new, radical resistance organization backed by Iran which pioneers the use of terrorism.
1987. The Palestinian Intifada breaks out, demonstrating decisively that the Lebanon war had not destroyed Palestinian nationalism.
2000. Eighteen years after invading Lebanon, the Israeli forces which had been occupying the "security belt" in the south finally withdraw in the face of increasingly effective Hizbollah guerrilla resistance.
March 2003. The United States invades Iraq. Its technological superiority and massive conventional advantage allow it to quickly take control of Baghdad and all other major Iraqi cities. American forces are welcomed, at least in places, as liberators. The combination of military superiority and a clear moral mission ensure that this will be no quagmire. Advocates of military activism take the upper hand in national and internal government debates.
June 2003? September 2003? June 2004?
Let's not stop talking about quagmires and unintended consequences and the limitations of conventional military superiority for occupation purposes just yet, okay?
Monday, April 14, 2003
News flash! Andrew Sullivan actually says something that makes sense! He says that "Ultimately, the best reasons for supporting the war were liberal, humanitarian ones." Of course, the reason that those are the best reasons is that the Realist reasons all seem to have quietly fallen apart - the weapons of mass destruction, the ties to al-Qaeda. This means that only the "liberal reasons" remain. It doesn't mean that these "liberal reasons" constituted a strong argument, either - it only means that these were the best of the remaining reasons. Now, I know that Andrew "I Will Defeat The Left With My Powers of Hysteria and Innuendo" Sullivan didn't mean it that way, but still - credit where it is due, right?
Uh oh.. the kiss of death. Syria denies having chemical weapons. But that's just what Iraq said. We have to invade them now - how dare they deny having chemical weapons?
Hmm (via Hesiod: Dr. Amir al-Saadi Iraq's top scientist and a big kahuna in the alleged chemical weapons progbram, who surrendered the other day amidst great publicity, apparently continues to maintain that Iraq doesn't have any WMD. Wouldn't you think that he would want to sing like a canary to save his Baathi behind? Don't you think he would want to tell the US whatever the US wanted to hear? What is going on here? Here are the key grafs: "He had been wanted because he was a special weapons adviser to Saddam and oversaw Iraq's chemical program in the past. He is believed to have in-depth knowledge of other weapons program as well. He was among the key figures who worked with U.N. weapons inspectors and often spoke for the Iraqi government in news conferences between the resumption of inspections in November and their end last month. After Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the U.N. Security Council in February, al-Saadi suggested that monitored Iraqi conversations Powell played were fabricated, that defector informants were unreliable, and that satellite photographs "proved nothing." Al-Saadi had also defended the regime's longtime practice of insisting that Iraqi officials be present during meetings between U.N. weapons inspectors and Iraqi scientists, saying that otherwise the scientists' remarks might be distorted. "I know the programs for weapons of mass destruction and have always told the truth about these old programs, and only the truth. You will see, the future will show it, and nothing else will come out after the end of the war," he said."
Anne Marie Slaughter makes a strong case for the US to return to the UN. I like how she frames the issue: "By turning back to the United Nations now, in the moment of victory in Iraq, President Bush can seize a historic opportunity to pioneer a tough-minded and enduring form of multilateralism. He can commit the United States to leading the world rather than defying it, and he can do so at a time when this country is in a good position to seek new rules and procedures for making the United Nations a more effective protector of international order." This is the kind of appeal to enlightened self-interest which a reasonable administration would embrace - and one which reflects deeply rooted American principles and commitments. I hope that someone in Team Bush's collectively punch-drunk head pays attention.
While the Washington Post is getting all heavy breathing over Arabs who parrot the Bush line about Baghdad falling being like the Berlin wall, let's keep things in perspective. Shafiq Ghubra is a smart and articulate guy, but he's also a Kuwaiti, advocate of the war, and someone who has been saying similar things for a long time. The fall of Baghdad did not change his opinions. To be clear what I mean here - I do fully expect Arab public opinion to debate the meaning of the American invasion of Iraq and the collapse of the Iraqi regime. They will debate it passionately, angrily, rationally, in a wide range of venues - from newspaper columns to television talk shows to cafes to mosques to family living rooms. There will be a range of perspectives, and much of the debate will be flavored by pre-existing narratives and preferences. Some people are going to say things Americans like to hear, many will say things that perplex and infuriate Americans. Both kinds of people will say these things for all kinds of reasons - to score political points, to express sincere thoughtful reflections, to influence specific political actors, to engage others in rational debate, the whole gamut of reasons why anyone engages in political public discourse anywhere. I expect this because, well, Arabs have been engaging in these kind of public debates for quite a while - as I've repeatedly pointed out, Arab public opinion could never be reduced to the Arab street. I'm quite excited about how this Arab public opinion is going to debate the meaning of Iraq, but probably not for the same reasons or with the same expectations as many others over here are.
So, just on a personal note here... take it on faith that the aardvark is a very, very busy aardvark. But last week, he took no less than an hour of his time to talk at length to a very nice, thoughtful, and well-respected journalist who shall go unnamed, about a topic that I leave to your collective imagination. And imagine the aardvark's delight to see the story published and to find not a single quote or attribution, despite seeing ideas from that conversation permeating the story and quotes from a lot of other people peppering the prose. This isn't the first time this has happened, nor will it be the last. Journalists do what journalists do, and they have an obligation to write the best story that they can (and that their editors will permit). The aardvark's ego, while fragile and sleep-deprived, will survive. But when critics ask why academic political scientists don't get out there in the media, this is the kind of thing that happens all too often.
Why does Paul Wolfowitz hate America? Here's what he says, explaining why Saddam's departure will make things easier for the US by reducing the need for a military presence in other Gulf states: "The effort to contain Hussein after the Gulf War left thousands of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia. Their presence, Wolfowitz said, is "one of Osama bin Laden's principal recruiting devices."..."I don't think it's an extreme argument .... We're bombing an Arab country on a weekly basis. We're accused of killing Iraqi children with the sanctions. And we have troops occupying the holiest land of the Muslim world," Wolfowitz said. Without Hussein, "none of that would be necessary." But wait a minute - I thought bin Laden attacked us because he hated our values and our freedoms, and that anyone who suggested political reasons was simply an anti-American Leftist? Is Wolfowitz saying that in fact there were serious political grievances behind the 9/11 attacks? That changing our policies - such as reducing our presence in the Gulf - might reduce the threat of terrorism? Does he realize that this position contradicts everything that the Bush administration, and the Right in general, has been saying for the last year and a half?
This is what I was talking about in that long post on the neocon theory of power conversion- Paul Wolfowitz in the LA Times, suggesting that "Hussein's fall can have a 'demonstration effect' on other gulf nations." Here is William Safire proposing that Iraq will help the US influence North Korea and Syria. Let the tests commence.