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 26, 2003
Hard to say which line in this NYT story should be more disheartening to those who genuinely supported the invasion of Iraq for the reasons offered by Team Bush - an urgent, existential threat posed by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Is it "Some officials are even saying that they are losing hope of finding actual weapons"? They still are totally confident that they'll find evidence of a program, of concealment, of precursors, whatever (I always expected that they would and am baffled that they have not) - but that wasn't what Bush, Rumsfeld, D.Y.U.T.B.C. Powell, and company said - they said that they had definite knowledge of large numbers of actual weapons. So don't let them lower the bar, folks.

Or is it this: "Even the State Department, which advocated trying to find the weapons using United Nations inspectors last fall, has no tolerance for asking those inspectors to return. "Forget it," one official said. "On principle, we don't want the United Nations running around Iraq."" And what principle is that? The principle of making sure that the rest of the world continues to hate us? The principle of maintaining our isolation? The principle of seeking empire? The principle of hating the UN? Or the principle of retaining the option to ignore international obligations applicable to occupying powers? Which principle, exactly?

Bottom line - the aardvark submits that he was right about the faulty arguments for the war. Will any hawks, liberal or otherwise, admit that they were wrong?

Every time I tried to blog yesterday, Blogger was bloggered. Sorry. Busy today too, alas.
Best story of yesterday (via everybody, but Kos's take was best): ABC reports Team Bush officials admitting that they exaggerated the WMD threat in order to sell the war. Gee, where has the aardvark ever heard that before? Don't have the link right now, but the ABC spin in the headline as I recall was "It was really about 9/11." But that doesn't fly either - we know perfectly well that all of the key Iraq hawks - Wolfowitz, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al - were aggressively pushing for a war against Iraq since the late 1990s. So it wasn't really all about 9/11 for them, at least.

Thursday, April 24, 2003
Why do people always make this mistake? The AP reports in its story about the alleged capture of Tariq Aziz, (sorry, for some reason I can't make the link work): "Aziz changed his name from Mikhail Yuhanna. In Arabic, Tariq Aziz means "glorious past."" No it doesn't. "Tariq" means "path"; "tarikh" means "past." Different letters of the alphabet. It's like saying "the Milwaukee Bucks" have a waterfowl as their mascot, probably because the city is located on a lake." No... bucks aren't ducks, and tariq isn't tarikh.

The Weekly Standard runs another compendium of supposedly stupid things said by anti-war critics. As with past efforts, it's really funny, because it's hard to see why some of them are supposedly so mistaken. Scott Rosenberg says "hundreds of thousands of American and British soldiers are now stuck in what could prove to be a much more harrowing situation than those planners promised." Well, are those American troops home yet? What's going on in Iraq? A bit early to say, don't you think? Jon Carroll says "But as before [in Vietnam], Washington's war policy is made in fantasyland--and is even now being exposed as such." I think this is still fundamentally right - US military advantage was so overwhelming that it couldn't possibly cost it victory in the war, but now in the peace we are seeing the importance of such ideologically driven policy. And so on. I wouldn't care, because Weekly Standard staffers are paid to be Weekly Standard staffers. No, what makes this unacceptable is the title: "Once more, with feeling." That violates a sacred law of aardvarkostan: thou shalt not appropriate Buffy for the forces of evil. Say stupid things on your own time, Weekly Standard, but leave Buffy out of it.

Can anyone explain to the aardvark why the United States is upset at being called an "occupying power" by Kofi Annan? What else is it? What else would the US like to be called? "Liberating force"? Sorry, not a category under international law. "Legitimate governing authority"? Sorry, no government yet. The same article notes that the US was "angered that Annan cited "the decision to go to war without specific authorization by the U.N. Security Council." "This is an egregious misstatement of the facts of our going to war in Iraq," the U.S. envoy said." Huh? So there was a Security Council resolution passed that Annan failed to notice? Or the US didn't actually go to war in Iraq? Seems like these people are awfully touch about the UN these days, just picking a fight for the sake of the fight - "Were you talking to me? You must be talking to me, because there's nobody else here. You want a piece of this?" What the heck, it impressed Jodie Foster, maybe it will impress Kofi Annan.

Jay Garner, as reported by the aardvark last week, believes that the United States lost in Vietnam because it failed to go after the North and neighbors harboring the enemy aggressively enough. He believes that if George Bush had been president, the US would have won in Vietnam.

Donald Rumsfeld, Garner's close friend, believes that Iran is encouraging anti-American agitation among the Shia of Iraq. He also believes that Syria has been aiding and abetting the former Iraqi regime.

Why does adding Garner's beliefs to Rumsfeld's make me very, very afraid?

Dear Blogger,
I hate you. I just wrote a long, detailed discussion of the Shi'i of Iraq, which took a lot of time that I don't really have, and which it fills me with exhaustion to thing of recreating. And you just lost it. For no reason.
Yours hatefully,
the aardvark

Dear Blogger,
The Shi'ism post just reappeared, with no more explanation than for its original disappearance. I take it all back - I love you desperately! I was wrong! Can you ever forgive me?
Yours remorsefully and imploringly,
the aardvark

From the Times: "Confronting mounting resistance in Iraq from militant Islamic clerics and Arab nationalists, the White House said today that it was determined to see an "Islamic democracy" built in Iraq and that it had recently warned Iran against interfering with its efforts to organize a government. The warning to Iran reflected a growing concern in the White House that the American-led plans for the occupation of Iraq were facing fresh difficulties. Responding to the instability still evident in Baghdad, competition for power among Kurds and Arabs in the north and an anti-American outpouring from Shiites in the south, a senior administration official said today that "it's clear we are going to have to step in a little more forcefully." American officials said the United States was redoubling its efforts to promote pro-American clerics and other leaders in Iraq to counter the radical messages being heard from many mosques, particularly in the heavily Shiite south."

What is an overworked and sleep deprived aardvark to make of all this? Blaming Iran for Shi'i opposition is all too convenient, and ignores the realities of internal Iraqi opinion and the contradictory and ambiguous possibilities of transnational Shi'a networks. Thinking about the Iraqi Shi'a always seems to snap back and forth - first, many people thought that they would side with Iran against Iraq back in 1980 out of religious identification with the Islamic Republic. When that didn't happen, many people swung all the way to the other side and came to assume that Iraqi national identity and Arab nationalism trumped Shi'ism. Now, with Shi'i opposition erupting, people are swinging back to the "pro-Iranian" thesis. Both extremes missed the continuing existence of religious and family networks which linked Iraqi and Iranian Shi'a communities. These networks don't determine political identity or political behavior, but they provide opportunities for political entrepreneurs to attempt to mobilize - and now, in the absence of any countervailing forces (an Iraqi state, an effective American administration), those networks are available to mobilization. Can this be countered by finding "pro-American clerics"? Perhaps... although such creatures will be harder and harder to find, especially if public opinion quickly hardens against the occupation. "Clerics for sale" will have no more legitimacy than will an INC puppet regime - Shi'a have always insisted upon making their own choices about leadership and sources of emulation. Anyway, that's the aardvark's take on things.

One other thing what is up with that "Islamic democracy" thing? I thought the whole argument against Iran, and against Islamism for that matter, was that Islam and democracy aren't compatible, and that's why we need to spread a modernizing, secularizing revolution? If an "Islamic democracy" is okay in Iraq, why not in Egypt, or Algeria, or Iran? Was this a slip of the White House's tongue, or is something new going on here?

Bill Safire casts about in the wind for a new way to attack the French. With great modesty, Safire claims that France reversed its position on sanctions because of an "op-ed firestorm" (although to be honest, Safire, Krauthammer, and *ahem* Claudia Rosset seems more of a sparkler than a firestorm - it's like "Mickey, Goofy, and Donald ALL say that Disneyworld is better than Six Flags!). Powell and Rumsfeld, no problem, but look out! Safire is seething mad! But credit where due - Safire is right, more or less, about the French strategem - they want international law respected, UN resolutions followed, and for the UN to retain a position in Iraq... they probably even want to prevent the US from exploiting the resources of its illegally conquered new colony. The quality of that strategem comes through fairly well in Safire's indignant spluttering - we demanded that they lift the sanctions and now they are calling for the sanctions to be lifted... they must be stopped! My favorite part of the whole piece is this sentence: " The U.S. has a seat on the "611 committee," which supposedly oversees this $12 billion bureaucratic bonanza..." The 611 committee? What is that, Mister Safire? Could you, perhaps, mean the 661 committee? If you can't even get that right, does this mean that other things that you say are perhaps less than 100% accurate? Or.. is this some clever new conservative postmodern word game - like Freedom Fries or Homicide Bombers - and I'm betraying my non-conservative anti-Americanism by continuing to refer to the "661" committee?

Wednesday, April 23, 2003
Grr... I'm too busy for this... but the Post today reports that "As Iraqi Shiite demands for a dominant role in Iraq's future mount, Bush administration officials say they underestimated the Shiites' organizational strength and are unprepared to prevent the rise of an anti-American, Islamic fundamentalist government in the country. The burst of Shiite power -- as demonstrated by the hundreds of thousands who made a long-banned pilgrimage to the holy city of Karbala yesterday -- has U.S. officials looking for allies in the struggle to fill the power vacuum left by the downfall of Saddam Hussein. As the administration plotted to overthrow Hussein's government, U.S. officials said this week, it failed to fully appreciate the force of Shiite aspirations." Well, let's see... is it true that nobody anticipated this? Yup, it's true, nobody except for every academic expert on Iraq and the Middle East, most of the State Department, the CIA, Anthony Zinni, and virtually everyone other than the neocon ideologues and their pet Iraqis in the INC. Once more, with feeling: this was entirely predictable and was in fact predicted by a whole bunch of people who are now supposed to be prostrating themselves in shame before ascendent neocons, for some strange reason. Let's hope Team Bush gets it together fast, so that worst-case scenarios stay scenarios - go on, prove the experts wrong... it would be a welcome change, and a relief. But so far I'm not seeing it. And that, with 5 minutes of valuable time now gone, is all for a while!

Insanely busy today, and behind on everything, so don't expect much aardvarkian insights today.

Last night I had to tape 24, so I'm still a week behind, but has anyone else noticed that 24 has become the new X-Files? The aliens were never the point of the X-Files.. it was always the conspiracies, the whole "trust no-one" ethos, the possibility that our government was complicit in horrible things and that our heroes always struggled through a fog of uncertainty. That's now 24. I remember that when the X-Files petered out, there was a lot of cultural criticism along the lines of how the era of paranoia and cynicism had ended.. but maybe it's just that David Duchovny was the franchise, and the show couldn't survive his departure. 24 has rekindled the flame of mistrust for government, paranoia, conspiracy, and trusting no-one. Hear hear!

Tuesday, April 22, 2003
Interesting. France proposes suspending the sanctions quickly to allow oil revenues to finance reconstruction. That takes the wind out of some folks' collective sails, I guess. I'll just repeat the aardvark's position: sanctions should be lifted, and should have been a long time ago, but it must be done through legal channels of the Security Council, and oil revenues should be run through an escrow account administered by the UN in order to prevent their exploitation by the illegally occupying power(s). Furthermore, all disarmament findings should be verified through UNMOVIC on the ground, as stipulated in UN resolutions. I don't know if this is where the French are going with this - I just now saw the very brief AP report - but that's where the aardvark would go (scan down for my lengthier discussion of this).

Don't miss Juan Cole's essay on the Shi'i of Iraq, available soon on Middle East Report Online. Cole, a leading historian who recently published a masterful overview of the modern history of Shi'ism, has a slightly more textured appreciation of the area than do most of our pundits and journalists. He is unsurprisingly critical of neocon assumptions about postwar Iraq (he would be, of course - as Stanley Kurtz and Daniel Pipes and company endlessly remind us, everyone who actually knows anything about the Middle East seems to end up on the wrong, i.e. non-neocon, side of every major issue. This means, of course, that it is better to know very little in order to not complicate one's ideology - something that Kurtz and company succeed at brilliantly).

Here is the introduction of Cole's essay - I recommend reading the rest once it is published online:
"Religious Shiite parties and militias in Iraq have recently stepped into the gap resulting from the collapse of the Baath Party, especially in the sacred shrine cities. This development must have come as a shock to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, who in early March preferred Iraqis as US allies to Saudis, saying that they are secular and "overwhelmingly Shia, which is different from the Wahhabis of the peninsula, and they don't bring the sensitivity of having the holy cities of Islam being on their territory." Wolfowitz and other pro-war policymakers were right that large numbers of Shiites, from the educated middle class to factory workers, are secular Iraqi nationalists. But they were dead wrong to discount the power of the religious forces, and seem ignorant of the centrality of the shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala. The neo-conservative fantasy of Iraq is now meeting the real Iraq, on the ground, in the shrine cities as well as in the smaller, mostly Shiite towns in the south of the country. Western audiences are discovering that Iraqi Shiites, while perhaps unified in their hatred for the dissipated Baathist regime, are not unified in their vision for a
post-war Iraq."

Donald Rumsfeld says that the US has no intention of taking permanent bases in Iraq. By the first law of Team Bush (lying is policy), this means almost by definition that the US does intend to take permanent bases in Iraq. Remember, when Rumsfeld wakes up in the morning and says good morning to his wife, she immediately checks to see if it is afternoon, and then remembers that she has the flu. So let's take that as settled - thanks, Don (... IF that's your real name.)

Has anyone bothered to ask whether the rather astonishing mismatch between American claims on Iraqi WMD and what has been found might have something to do with the Pentagon's formation of an alternative intelligence team to go around a more skeptical CIA? Rumsfeld's team was politically motivated - their mission was to prove that Iraq had WMD, not to find the truth - and it relied heavily on the eminently untrustworthy exiles produced by the INC. That intel was widely viewed by experts as largely bunk. Events seem to have vindicated the experts. Now we have Rumsfeld telling us that he doesn't expect the US to find any WMD unless defectors lead us right to them - which mirrors the overreliance on the defectors in the leadup to the war. The politicization of intelligence should have been a major red flag, and for many people it was - but who remembers that now?

Today will be an interesting day at the Security Council. Hans Blix gets to respond to the war and its aftermath - I wonder if he will be as restrained and modest as Bush officials? Will he politely ask the US to report to the Council on all of the WMD it found that his team somehow overlooked? Will he suggest that American failures to this point cast the slightest bit of doubt on US claims to have ironclad, bulletproof evidence? I suspect that Blix will be diplomatic as always, and again politely suggest that UNMOVIC expertise might be helpful in resuming the quixotic search for WMD. The Post says that "Blix said today that he is willing to return to Iraq if the council grants its blessing. But he said that he would require "independence" from the U.S. military and the same freedom he possessed during inspections he led from November until shortly before the start of the war in March, including the authority to go anywhere in the country and interview any Iraqi specialists he chooses. "I can't be on a leash," he said in an interview." Also on today's billing, Benon Sevan will discuss the oil for food program with the Council. Given the concerted and obviously coordinated conservative attack on that program - Safire, that Weekly Standard staffer, Krauthammer, et al - and the French-Russian attempts to use the program to reposition the UN, this should be a heated exchange. Get your tickets now!

Monday, April 21, 2003
Thanks to the indispensible Cursor for this great takedown of Tom Friedman. Not quite required reading, but recommended in the snippy "it's about time" category. Excerpt:
"The problem with Mr. Friedman is that for all his time in foreign lands, he has little ability to see things from someone else’s point of view. There is a secret xenophobia about him. ... For all his time in the Arab world (including five years in Beirut), it is hard to read his work without concluding that he really is anti-Arab. He cannot abide Arab culture as it is; it is all of it infected by bin Laden–ism. "Mr. Hobbes’s neighborhood," he calls the Arab world in his latest book. "Backward," he said of young Arabs in a recent column. He writes dismissively of "the wall in the Arab mind."There is always the sense about Mr. Friedman that he is playing "Gotcha!" with the Arabs, and there is never any subtlety. This is best demonstrated by an incident in his latest book. His plane from London is about to arrive in Riyadh, and an "attractive raven-haired" Saudi woman in the seat beside him begins to fret. She has left her veil at home. She is calling home madly on her cell phone to make sure someone has come to the plane with her veil. To Mr. Friedman, this is a great sadness. What a waste of time—she is so attractive. Think of all the useless energy she and other Saudi women who seem to actually like the veil are expending, putting on the chains of servitude. But Mr. Friedman never really talked to the woman, and the resulting observations are facile and self-serving. A subtle mind, a truly inquiring mind, would be forced to different observations. Like: She is from a very different culture from my own, and she sees a value in this thing that seems hateful and pointless to me. But then, think of all the energy that women in our culture spend to deal with the same essential condition—men stare at them—by prettifying themselves with expensive makeup. Is that a waste of time and resources? Is a free-speech culture inevitably one of public pornography, as these Arabs often say? And what does that do to civilization?" No, Mr. Friedman can be counted on to go into any situation and come back with a hosanna to globalization. He is a sort of modern-day Babbitt. At the dinner table, he advises his girls that they can believe anything they want, but they can never not love America and not thank God that they were born Americans. He repeatedly calls the World Trade Center a "temple" of our "civic religion," which apparently is invention and making money. And in the wake of the war, he can be counted on to bash Arab societies because their media and elites have failed to recognize the American "liberation" of Iraq. They are guilty, in his view, of "Saddamism," anti-democratic backwardness."

As the aardvark heads off to the termite mines for the day, here are some choice bits of analysis from two very sharp guys.
Josh Marshall:
"...You only have to study Iraq for about an hour and a half to understand that the idea of turning the policing of Baghdad over to Kurdish peshmergas is just a tragic joke. The subtext of the whole piece is, "It's gonna cost a lot more than we thought, it looks really complicated, so let's just give them a good running start, send over a few water purifiers, and then get the hell out." What's so depressing about this article is that none of the difficulties which are now carted out as excuses for pulling out quick were at all unexpected. For months, reluctant hawks were saying, 'Yes, go in, but only if you're willing to commit to the sort of long, expensive effort that can insure a good outcome.' At least some senior administration officials seem willing to toss aside all the grand rhetoric just a couple weeks after the major battles stopped. .. It's hard to read this article and not get the sense that at least some big players in the administration had never really thought seriously about what they were getting us into. Or, if not that, that they're cynical almost beyond measure. I always feared that we'd get into Iraq on the sparkling vision of Paul Wolfowitz and then govern it with ethics of Richard Perle and the parsimony of Mitch Daniels. If this article is any sign ... well, you know the rest."

Gideon Rose:
"Since the postwar problems in Iraq were entirely predictable, you'd think appropriate solutions for them would be waiting in the wings. But you'd be wrong. As in Afghanistan and the Balkans, postwar events in Iraq are being handled largely on the fly and far less smoothly than they could be because the U.S. government has yet to face its new global role squarely and plan for it appropriately...... This simply will not do. Bungling the peace in Afghanistan would be a tragedy; bungling the peace in Iraq would be a catastrophe. So unless the Bush administration changes its mind and decides to hand off responsibility to the United Nations and the rest of the international community, it will have to do much of the work of postwar nation-building itself. Interestingly, one result of going it alone might be to force the United States to finally develop the institutions required to run what is now a de facto empire (albeit one designed to be temporary and managed on behalf of the dominions rather than the metropolis).

Interesting Reuters piece on Kuwait - how isolated Kuwaitis feel from Arab public opinion: "Kuwaiti newspapers and official statements complain about what they call the rude behavior of fellow Arabs toward their wealthy country, "There is complete Arab hatred toward Kuwaitis," executive Adel Marafi told Reuters. "They (Arabs) envy us. They want everyone to be poor and living under a tyrannical regime." But still the criticism touches a nerve. Intellectuals blame journalists steeped into anti-Gulf Arab prejudice for inciting the man on the street against their country. "Arab media is against the war, inciting the Arab street against the Americans and any one who helps them," said Yassin al-Yassin, deputy editor-in-chief of the daily English-language Kuwait Times." No real comment here - Kuwaitis have been outside the Arab mainstream on Iraq for a long time, and they were extremely public in their support of this unpopular war. It's just like Kuwaitis (or Americans, or human beings) to blame dislike on "envy" rather than on specific policies... so much easier.

Good article in Salon on the "American al-Jazeera" question. I've already written my say on the topic, and all my links are once again bloggered, so can't be bothered to repeat myself.

Oh, and don't miss this great Tom Tomorrow cartoon, after watching that great "Mr. Personality" ad to get a free day pass from Salon. Wow, that show looks great! Do you think Fox is really going to pick an Elephant Man looking guy, and then force one of those beautiful and accomplished women to marry him just to prove she isn't shallow? Maybe I've found my post-Buffy show at last! Man, those ads are effective. (shudder.)

I'm trying to have an open mind and play nice on this, but I'm sorry. All of this sudden newfound concern about the sanctions just makes me sick. I'm not going to track down a bunch of links... you know the folks I'm talking about. I wish they would just come out and say it - "we conquered the oil and now we want to sell it and make lots of money." Don't try and dress it up in "oh, the poor Iraqi people suffering under sanctions" when you spent the last decade making fun of sanctions critics. The same people - trust me, this is well-documented, from adminstration officials to the punditocracy - who are now pushing to lift the sanctions were, up until about 2001, wrote regularly and scornfully about the sanctions, belittling their impact on the Iraqi people or blaming their impact on Saddam. Well, if the sanctions only hurt the Iraqi people because of Saddam, Saddam's gone, so there's no need to worry about them any more, right? For what it's worth, the aardvark does think the sanctions should be lifted - he thinks they should have been lifted a long time ago. But they can only be lifted through the legal channels in which they were created, which means the Security Council. And the US told the Security Council to go Bush itself, so it's hard to blame the Council members for being a bit persnickety now ("Oh you need me now, do you? Well, isn't that special. I think I might have an opening sometime next June - don't call me, I'll call you.") The US just wants the UN out completely; the UN, and most of the world, wants the UN in. For Krauthammer, destroying the UN by simply declaring the sanctions irrelevant and selling the oil would be a bonus, not a problem - no surprise there, since destroying the UN and isolating the US permanently from the rest of the world has long been part of Krauthammer's anti-American agenda. I don't want anyone playing politics with the lives of innocent Iraqis, but I'm afraid that Team Bush has been doing exactly that (and, to be fair, Team Clinton did exactly that) all along, and it's more than a little obnoxious, and a little bit revealing, to suddenly get all teary eyed now that it's "our" oil - our precious oil! - that is suffering. The aardvark thinks that all trade sanctions should be lifted; the oil put into a new UN escrow system to protect oil wealth from exploitation by the illegally occupying powers, and used exclusively for humanitarian and reconstruction purposes. Oh, and Buffy and Firefly should both be magically renewed for next season, too! And the Brewers should win the pennant! And, and... sigh.

The aardvark apologizes for being away over the weekend. Well, actually, he doesn't apologize at all - sunny days and aardvark cubs learning to enjoy nature had a bit more allure, I'm afraid.

At last! The "I will say anything you want me to say, just please don't send me to Guantanamo" Olympics have begun! Judith Miller reports on a very, very important Iraqi scientist who says that Iraq did have lots and lots of WMD until they all disappeared just before the marines arrived, that Iraq has been cooperating with al-Qaeda for, like, forever, and that, sure, Iraq has been sending all kinds of WMD and al-Qaedaists to Syria for years now! Oh, and also that George Bush is extremely dreamy and that Saddam had a smelly moustache. What? Oh, and yes, the thing Saddam feared most of all was that Congress would pass more tax cuts for the wealthy - that always sent shivers down the Saddamist spine. To her (very limited) credit, Miller admits that she was not permitted either to meet the scientist or see any evidence, but of course that didn't stop her from filing the story or pointing out what an important piece of evidence it was for Team Bush (before getting around to admitting that she hadn't seen any, you know, evidence).