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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Friday, May 09, 2003
Out of town today. When I return, analysis of the US draft resolution on sanctions, oil, and Iraq. Meanwhile, don't miss Kieran's excellently amusing post and comment section on plagiarism!

Thursday, May 08, 2003
The contest is over! The correct answers to the question "when will this story be proven wrong?" are (a) one day, and (d) the Liberal Media won't publicize the retraction. Kos reports (I didn't see it myself til now): "This is pretty pathetic. We've gone from claiming "hundreds of tons" of chemical and biological agents, to dismantling a so-called mobile lab fervently hoping to find a molecule or two of the stuff. '[Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence] Cambone said that experts had done initial tests on a trailer taken into custody April 19 at a Kurdish checkpoint in northern Iraq but said more substantial testing is required. Cambone said the surface of it was washed with a caustic material and it likely would have to be dismantled before testing can be done on hard-to-reach surfaces.' In other words, their initial tests came up with nothing. But what the heck -- announce the find. Make a big deal about how this justifies the war and its thousands dead and $80 billion (and counting), and then meekly admit, on page 37, that perhaps they jumped the gun (again). Indeed, Cambone already admits that some of the equipment on the truck could be "used for purposes other than biological weapons agent production". This is tiring. Why not shut their trap until they confirm the recent presence of banned substances? Because these leaks serve to advance the administration's lies regarding the justification for war. Notice how it wasn't a general making the announcement, it was a Pentagon civilian political appointee. 'nuff said."

Thanks Kos! And thank you all for playing "Bush Lies!", the game where the answer is always "Bush lied." Oh, and I can confirm that Jonathan Chait (see two posts down) was not one of the winners of this week's contest.

What a disgrace. The National Magazine Award for reporting (This category recognizes excellence in reporting. It honors the enterprise, exclusive reporting and intelligent analysis that a magazine exhibits in covering a story of contemporary interest and significance) goes to: The New Yorker: David Remnick, editor, for In the Party of God, a two-part article by Jeffrey Goldberg, Part I, October 14 & 21; Part II, October 28.
The New Yorker has published some extraordinary work over the last year, but Goldberg's article on Hizballah was astonishingly weak. He tried to build a case for Hizballah as the next great global threat, and completely failed - he produced no evidence, didn't get the big interview he wanted, and relied on insinuation and misdirection. As he always does - remember his influential article on Ansar al-Islam, which drew completely on PUK handlers to make the still absurd case that this represented the "link" between Saddam and bin Laden? Goldberg is a travesty of a journalist - intensely ideological, sloppy, and intentionally deceptive in his writing. The National Magazine Awards, like David Remnick, should be deeply humiliated.

Jonathan Chait of TNR criticizes liberals today (the shock! the amazement!) : "Perhaps the most disheartening development of the war -- at home, anyway -- is the number of liberals who have allowed Bush-hatred to take the place of thinking. Speaking with otherwise perceptive people, I have seen the same intellectual tics come up time and time again: If Bush is for it, I'm against it. If Bush says it, it must be a lie." Now, I'm not totally unsympathetic to his line of argument - yes, thinking is a good thing. But let's face facts - virtually everything Bush says is, in fact, a lie. The administration has proven itself virtually incapable of telling the truth about anything, large or small. Assuming that whatever Bush says is a lie isn't some "liberal intellectual tic" - it is hard-won wisdom based on the inexorable accumulation of evidence.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003
Gentlemen, place your bets. The Post reports the following: " A suspected mobile biological weapons lab has been recovered in northern Iraq, a development that senior U.S. officials said yesterday would lend support to Bush administration allegations of a banned weapons program by the government of deposed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein."

The bet: how many days will it be until this claim is proven wrong? (a) one day; (b) two to six days; (c) one week or more; (d) we won't know because the Liberal Media won't report the retraction; (e) this one will prove to be true. Really.

Yay Halliburton! Who needs open bidding when you can have the very best without all the hassle of open competition or laws or stuff like that?

Busy, busy, busy. But can't let last night's hellacious Buffy pass without comment - still reeling from its many directions. Faith can't be dead, she just can't be - her story isn't over yet. But Caleb played them like amateurs - shouldn't they have realized that if they kidnap one member of a hive, then he's still a member of the hive even if he's kidnapped? And what good would an arsenal be to an enemy planning to raise an army of ubervamps? Buffy turned out to have been right in principle - the vineyard was the place to be - but interestingly, her plan would have failed if she had in fact rallied the troops. Everyone keeps forgetting that the First is semi-omniscient: semi, in that it sees and hears anything it wants to see or hear. So Buffy's plan could work precisely because she didn't tell anyone about it - the First can't see into her mind, but if she tells anyone about it then the secret is blown. Giles at least should have recognized that ambushes aren't going to work against the First, not when it can spy on everything they do. So anyway, Faith just can't be dead, I can't accept that. A bunch of the potentials? Sure. Kennedy? Please. Other things that worked brilliantly - the Spike-Buffy scene was pure gold. Faith's treatment of Wood - hop in bed, then "I'll call you when I need you" - reminds us of the classic Zeppo episode when Xander got his. Buffy's tactics against Caleb - can't fight him directly, so avoid being hit and find what you're looking for - show what she's good at, even if leadership isn't her calling. Okay, enough - much, much more, and the aardvark will be most annoyed with anyone who blows any spoilers whatsoever (thanks to TV Guide, I already know that Angel shows up next week, dammit).

Tuesday, May 06, 2003
By the way, don't miss the Buffy-talk over at Altercation. Michael Tomasky complains about the Bush-ite tone of the season (war, good and evil, unilateral leadership, Buffy's claims to moral superiority), and Eric points out that in fact Buffy's approach led to her being tossed out as leader by the Scoobies, which seems like a criticism of Bush. The aardvark commented on this last week, but links, as usual, are bloggered.

Update - Sy Hersh backs up the aardvark's read on the "intelligence failures" surrounding the Iraq war. Below, and before reading Hersch, I commented on Kristof's NY Times piece to the effect that the lies came from Rumsfeld's politically motivated alternative intelligence teams, charged with proving the administration's case rather than finding the truth. Hersh puts some meat on the bones of this assessment. Go read it.

The craziness that is Michael Ledeen ("Isn't George W awesome?") continues: "No one I know wants to wage war on Iran and Syria, but I believe there is now a clear recognition that we must defend ourselves against them. Left undisturbed, they will wage war on us in Iraq and Afghanistan, and mount new attacks on our homeland." Huh? New attacks on our homeland? Did I miss the old ones? Ledeen at least recognizes that actual war might not be appropriate right now, but still seems to believe that American backing for a popular revolution will bring down the "mullahs" of Iran. At which point, presumably, when terrorism continues to not be defeated, Ledeen will find some more countries to invade to finally, really, completely solve the problem. "All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again. This proves to me that the king needs more horses and more men."

Another political scientist weighs in - this time Michael Desch, who compares the American occupation of Iraq with the Israeli experience in Lebanon. The parallels are, in fact, striking, and should be cautionary: "Israel’s Lebanon war and the U.S. war in Iraq are alike in at least four respects. Proponents of both wars regarded them as parts of larger plans to change fundamentally the strategic landscape in the Middle East. Advocates of each took liberties with the truth in making their cases for war. Both the Israelis and the Americans made some questionable alliances in the course of their wars. And finally, both sought to implement major political transformations in deeply divided societies." But no, we're different, right?

Via Alterman, this absolutely horrifying story about cluster bombs littering the landscape in postwar Iraq: " When the shooting ended in Karbala, a holy city 60 miles southwest of Baghdad, the killing began for the family of Samira Jabar. Emerging on April 6 from two days of hiding from U.S. bombing, Jabar took her daughter Duaa Raheem, 6, to fetch water. Duaa happened on a black plastic object shaped like a C-cell battery attached to a white ribbon. Curious, she picked it up and brought her discovery home to share with her two sisters. On the concrete floor of their tiny kitchen, she cradled the object in her lap and twisted a screw. The explosion it triggered ripped Duaa's body in half, killed Duha, 3, and severely injured Saja, 8. "We thought we were safe because the bombs had stopped," says Jabar, 30, a farmer's wife. "My daughters were stolen from me." Duaa had no way of knowing her plaything was a live cluster submunition, the lethal leftover sprinkled by U.S. warplanes and artillery. The Americans dropped some 1,500 cluster bombs, which are continuing their deadly work among innocents all over Iraq. Unlike GPS- or laser-guided "smart" bombs delivered to, say, a tank or other specific target, cluster bombs come packaged in warheads that split in midair and rain as many as hundreds of grenade- like bomblets. They are effective against dispersed troops, but the bomblets generally cannot be targeted individually. And not all the devices explode on impact. Some remain, like leftover land mines, as a deadly postwar risk to civilians."

Wish we could say that this is surprising in any way. But it isn't. Landmines - and especially this kind of mine - have been one of the worst of the many awful things in the plague of civil wars and interventions of the 1990s. There is a global campaign against landmines (Princess Di was a major leader, as is Queen Noor of Jordan), and a consensus which includes most of the world outside of Washington DC against their use - very little military utility, clearly horrific impact on civilians, especially children. The US resisted the moves to ban these landmines, and now here it is, using them again... for what military or political end, it is hard to imagine.

Love that coalition! The Post: " Poland's defense minister said he received an assurance from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday that the United States would help raise tens of millions of dollars from international donors to finance a Polish peacekeeping contingent in Iraq." Remember back when we had coalition partners that actually paid for the first Gulf War?
UPDATE - Reuters reports: "Poland said on Tuesday it would need a U.N. Security Council mandate to take part in a proposed peacekeeping mission in Iraq. "We believe that we need that kind of resolution. I understand that in days ahead there will be some initiatives opening the way to have such a resolution," Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said after talks with Secretary of State Colin Powell." - Once more for the coalition of the willing!

This is dangerous: "The failure of al Qaeda to launch terrorist attacks against the United States or its allies during the war in Iraq has bolstered a growing belief among U.S. intelligence agencies that 19 months of worldwide counterterrorism operations and arrests have nearly crippled the organization." Smart terrorists don't attack when everyone is on high alert. They attack when you have let your guard down and think that the threat has passed. If US intelligence is now feeling confident and less threatened, I suddenly am starting to get a little bit worried.

Nicholas Kristof is mostly right and partly wrong. This part is right: "When I raised the Mystery of the Missing W.M.D. recently, hawks fired barrages of reproachful e-mail at me. The gist was: "You *&#*! Who cares if we never find weapons of mass destruction, because we've liberated the Iraqi people from a murderous tyrant." But it does matter, enormously, for American credibility. After all, as Ari Fleischer said on April 10 about W.M.D.: "That is what this war was about." I rejoice in the newfound freedoms in Iraq. But there are indications that the U.S. government souped up intelligence, leaned on spooks to change their conclusions and concealed contrary information to deceive people at home and around the world." This is the part where I think he's wrong: "The C.I.A. was terribly damaged when William Casey, its director in the Reagan era, manipulated intelligence to exaggerate the Soviet threat in Central America to whip up support for Ronald Reagan's policies. Now something is again rotten in the state of Spookdom." The reason? My reading of the situation is that the CIA resisted the manipulation of intelligence and its misuse, but that Rumsfeld's end-run of setting up "independent" intelligence analysts in the Pentagon, which relied heavily on defector information provided by the INC and which had the mandate of justifying the war rather than learning the truth, produced the corrupted and damaging information that we are now seeing exposed. In other words, what is "rotten" here is the political end - Rumsfeld and Team Bush - and not the professional intelligence end - the CIA. I have nothing at stake in this - I don't much care for the CIA in any principled way, and take no sides in turf fights for their own sake - but there seems to be an important point of principle at stake here. The CIA shouldn't be made to take the blame for Team Bush's lies and deceit - they should be held accountable for their own sins.

Looking like another busy day... until the end of the semester, I expect they will all be busy days. Just a few quick notes. Shaun Narine's essay on on "Power and Legitimacy in Buffy" is one of the very best analytical pieces on Buffy that I've read in a while. Much better than Tony Cordesman's clever but off-key (he obviously isn't really a Buffy fan) piece on the "Buffy paradigm," or the short piece in Dissent (no link, sorry). This isn't the same Shaun Narine who writes on Asian regional integration, is it? How many political scientist Buffy fans can there really be? UPDATE: Shaun Narine writes to say that he is in fact, the only one of him. Let's here it for the ongoing contribution of political scientists to the study of Buffy!

Oh, one other thing - as readers of the aardvark have no doubt figured out, I feel no need to comment on everything that happens in the world. Some bloggers seem to have this bizarre idea that people care about their opinion on everything, and that if they don't weigh in, they'll be ignored by the rest of the in-crowd (which is probably, in fact, true). So away they go: Rick Santorum said homophobic things! Every blogger must have an opinion on the bizarre possibility that a right wing Republican might be anti-homosexual, and also on the equally bizarre possibility that the sun might rise in the morning. Bill Bennett is a gambling hypocrite - wow! a conservative moralist is a hypocrite! Alert Nathaniel Hawthorne immediately - there might be a book in this! I mean seriously, I'm really bored with blogs that go on like this: "the sun rose this morning. Dan Drezner has a good post on it, but Kevin Drum disagrees. The definitive post comes from Matt Yglesias, but Digby is really on top of the story." I like most of those folks, but honestly... the story is the sun rising, not what bloggers have to say about it. Right? Grumble.

Nope. The aardvark is sticking to his brief... international relations, the Middle East, neoconservatives, and Buffy. Iraq continues to matter, even after the great liberation. That's enough to keep an aardvark way, way too busy. You'll just have to infer my opinions on such matters by reading between the very, very sarcastic (and nocturnal, alas) lines.

Monday, May 05, 2003
Can't make this stuff up, folks. Financial Times reports: "The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he would be "amazed if we found weapons-grade plutonium or uranium" and it was unlikely large volumes of biological or chemical material would be discovered. He suggested that the sanctions and UN inspections probably prompted Mr Hussein to dispose of much of his stockpile."

All together now: this means that Team Bush lied, and knew they lied (although I wish these anonymous officials would just start taking responsibility already). It also means - let's speak slowly so everyone can follow - that the administration knew that the sanctions and inspections were succeeding at their stated mission. The war was based on a lie. And yes, Mr. Friedman, this matters.

I find this description of the rise of Shia influence extremely interesting: " Rather than attempting to form political parties, these groups have made the strategic political decision to make themselves indispensable to their people. Within 10 days of Baghdad's fall, for instance, mosques began providing crucial services — including water distribution, garbage collection and security guards — that Americans have been unable to organize. Religious leaders are asserting control over an increasing number of institutions. Walk into any clinic in the former Saddam City and someone will quickly introduce himself as an emissary from the Al Hawza movement. The Shiite Muslim organization, based in the holy city of Najaf, encompasses an array of well-funded charitable organizations." What I find interesting is that this has been the route taken by most Islamist groups in the Arab world over the last decades. Frustrated by blocked political systems, many Islamists turned to what has been called "social Islam" as an alternative route to building an Islamist society. Olivier Roy famously described this as "the failure of political Islam," but his argument was always more subtle than that - "political" Islam had failed in terms of seizing power or producing a realistic alternative to existing political structures, but this failure led to a societal focus with potentially far more transformative impact. Charities, good works, enforcing local order, and an aggressive outreach (dawa) - all aim at bypassing the political institutions and building an Islamic society from below. The most famous examples of what we're seeing now are probably the earthquakes which hit Cairo and Algeria in the early 1990s - in each case, the Islamist movements quickly provided the emergency relief with the government either could not or would not provide, winning them widespread public support and sympathy and revealing the potency of the social networks built largely under the official radar. The other obvious comparison is to Hizbollah, which combines militant resistance to Israel with an extensive social service network. At this point, though, I would say that Egypt and Algeria are the better comparison, a social Islam willing to work within the system in order to build support from below in order to avoid state repression.. but if the movements are not integrated into effective political institutions, and a societal consensus against the American occupation builds, Hizbollah's combination of armed resistance and social network building could be the future.

Hey, what's this headline? "US Struggles in Quicksand of Iraq." She almost used the "Q" word. Didn't she get the memo about the liberation and all that? That writer must not have seen the picture of the statue being dragged down by American troops, or she wouldn't say things like that. I mean, jjust because there's not enough fuel (it's the UN's fault, says Jay Garner), not enough food (we're trying to do something about it, says the UN), random tribal leaders and Shia clerics are seizing power (Iraqis can not choose their own leaders, they have to choose the leaders we select for them, says the United States), and "dangerous anti-Americanism" pervades Iraqi opinion (aha! so Iraq is going to be transformed into a new European democracy!, says the aardvark), that doesn't mean it's a quagmir... um, I mean, quicksand. Because that's just silly.

Wow! Man, am I shocked that the Liberal Media is annointing Joe Lieberman the big winner of the first Dem debate. Given all those Dem choices - from Kerry to Dean to that crazy guy from Florida, the Post really likes... the Republican!

Ken Pollack responds:

Does Iraq have WMD? "We really don't know yet. I still think it is very premature to suggest that Saddam either did or did not have the weapons. Now it's not just that the fat lady hasn't sung yet, it's that in some senses the orchestra is just starting to tune up. We are only at the very beginning of what will have to be a very extensive weapons search throughout Iraq. But that said, my own feelings about the war, my own reasons for going in, stem from the fact that this was an expansive, aggressive regime by nature, unlike many of the other nasty dictatorships of the region. This was one which for 34 years had made very clear that it wanted to dominate--if not control--the Middle East [and] its oil reserves, and believed that the only way to do so was by use of force. My real concern with Iraq in terms of weapons of mass destruction was principally the potential for Iraq to acquire nuclear weapons. I always felt that Saddam's possession of biological and chemical weapons was a problem, potentially a big problem if there were a crisis for other reasons, but did not constitute in and of itself a major threat to the vital interests of the United States of America."

That isn't very satisfying - if the question had been framed as "Iraq is aggressive, blah blah, but doesn't have WMD," nobody would have supported the war outside the neocon base. Pollack framed it as "nasty AND WMD-dangerous" - he's backtracking here just like a lot of other folks. In the rest of the interview, he says that he saw no urgency and doesn't know why Bush insisted on war immediately. He also insists -as he has done consistently -that inspections could not have worked. The interview is worth reading - as I've said many times, I think Pollack is a smart and honest guy who oversold the Iraqi threat and undersold non-military options in order to build an otherwise shaky case for a war which he believed necessary. He can't entirely be blamed for the careless way that others used his work, but he also never stood up in public to denounce people who misread him - I missed all those interviews where he said, as he does now, "there's no real urgency here."

Does the UN have a role in postwar Iraq? Today's story - " Most Iraqis, like Nadir, depend on food rations delivered as part of a U.N.-monitored program for their daily meals. But the last deliveries were before the war, and the World Food Program estimates most families have only enough food to last until the end of the month. The WFP is rushing flour, rice and beans to the country, hoping to head off a disaster. "We are trying to bring in the food before there is a crisis," said Torben Due, the World Food Program representative for Iraq. "There is no alternative to bringing in the food now and getting the system up and running."" - suggests that it does, and should. The Bush concept seems to be to limit the UN and its agencies to this kind of support role, which seems incredibly short-sighted. If the US didn't want the UN involved, then it should have been prepared to meet these needs. It's abundantly clear that it was not prepared. So time for plan B, people - do you really think that starving Iraqis are going to be enthusiastic democratic transformationalist Iraqis?

Want to know what it's like to have several generations of aardvarks, from grandparent aardvarks to various ages of little aardvark cubs, together in a single burrow for four days?

No you don't.

Just kidding - wonderful weekend, for all the chaos.