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, May 16, 2003
The Wall Street Journal rather bizarrely celebrates L. Paul Bremer as harking back to the glory days of the British empire in the person of Lord Kitchener. Says the Journal's editorial board: "One of the last effective Westerners in such a tough assignment also had an L in front of his name--Lord Kitchener, the British general who ruled over Sudan and Egypt a century ago. When he wasn't suppressing local warlords, Kitchener was busy building a civil society based on a rule of law."
How interesting. Others remember Lord Kitchener a bit differently. Kitchener was in charge of the Anglo-Egyptian Army during the disastrous military campaign in the Sudan, which was the very model of imperial overstretch. His greatest claim to military fame in the Sudan was the brutal retaliation to avenge the death of General Gordon at the hands of Sudanese forces, a retaliation which alienated Sudanese and Egyptian opinion alike and horrified many more civilized observers. Kitchener then went to South Africa, where he served as commander in chief in the Boer war - another low-light in colonial history. According to many experts, he was instrumental in setting up a political system whose "ultimate end" was a "self-governing white community supported by well-treated and justly governed black labour" (quoted from the Oxford History of South Africa, volume II) - the foundations of what would become Apartheid. His civil reforms in Egypt galvanized Egyptian nationalist resistance. He later proved instrumental in the disastrously ineffective British mobilization for World War I. He finally died at sea in 1916, much to the benefit of the British war effort. This is the Wall Street Journal's comparison for our new imperial overlord in Baghdad? A man who repeatedly used brutal military force to put down local resistance, alienating local populations for short-term political objectives, leaving behind a series of messes for others to clean up? Did the Wall Street Journal think to look back at how Egyptians perceived his enlightened rule - which might seem to be a useful comparison for how Iraqis might respond to Lord Bremer? If the aardvark didn't know better, he might think that the Journal was intentionally critiquing the American adminstration of Iraq through this infelicitous comparison... those anti-American Leftists.
Thursday, May 15, 2003
Sometimes it's the little things, a couple of sentences in the middle of a paragraph in the middle of a story which is mainly about something else, which catch your eye. One of those in today's Post lead blaming Saddam's loyalists (rather than US incompetence) for all the problems in Baghdad. This little bit about Iraqi children, buried in the middle of the story, just hit me with more force than usual: "The Baghdad representative of UNICEF, the U.N. children's agency, said the inability of U.S. forces to provide security is endangering the lives of more than 300,000 Iraqi children. Compared with a year ago, nearly twice as many children under age 5 in urban centers are suffering from acute malnutrition, the organization said. "We know the risks that Iraq's children face and we know what to do, but we are humanitarian workers, not police. Secure aid delivery equals effective relief. We are still calling on someone to deliver that security," Carel De Rooy, the UNICEF representative, said in a statement."
More than twice as many children suffering from malnutrition now than a year ago, back when Saddam was in control, the sanctions were in place, and Saddam's political manipulation of the sanctions were to blame for whatever humanitarian problems existed? Well, who is to blame now?
Josh Marshall's latest column in the Hill spotlights Paul Wolfowitz's rather contradictory statements on the value of democracy: "Last week, Wolfowitz gave an interview to CNN-Turk, a joint venture of CNN and a Turkish media conglomerate. When asked about the future of U.S.-Turkish relations, Wolfowitz said that if Turkey wanted to get back into America’s good graces, the Turks would have to admit they were wrong to deny the U.S. permission to use their territory as a staging ground for invading Iraq and, in essence, apologize. That’s a rough demand for a fellow democracy and a longtime ally. But what raised the ire of many Turks was another of Wolfowitz’s statements: the Bush administration, he said, was disappointed that the Turkish military “did not play the strong leadership role on that issue [i.e., the Iraq debate] that we would have expected.” Outside the context of Turkish politics, that statement might seem obscure or insignificant. But in Turkey the meaning seemed painfully clear: The United States wished the Turkish military had either overruled the elected government or perhaps even pushed it aside in favor of one more subservient to U.S. demands. As numerous Turkish commentators have noted, that’s an odd stance for a country now presenting itself as the champion of Middle Eastern democracy."
It's good to highlight this contradiction. It isn't surprising of course - it goes to the core of the neocon understanding of "democracy," which is not what other, less enlightened people might mean by "democracy." The central innovation of neocon international relations theory is the belief that spreading "democracy" will resolve a host of otherwise insoluble problems. "Democracy" will produce moderate, pro-American governments which open their states to globalization, which in turn will produce economic growth and open up opportunities which will reduce the appeal of terrorism and anti-American politics. In part, this is a resurrection of classic modernization theory - economic processes will overwhelm politics, economic development produces democracy, modern culture replaces traditional culture. As one of my colleagues always points out, however, these neo-con neo-modernization theorists always forget about Samuel Huntington's classic work on Political Order in Changing Societies, which once upon a time was required reading for political scientists (and was far, far more incisive than the vastly overrated "Clash of Civilizations" idea). More generally, they ignore all of the advances in political science on the subject of democratization since the late 1960s. It's interesting that those academics who most fervently support this kind of argument - Dan Drezner comes to mind - tend not to be comparative politics specialists, or to have any background in the regions about which they write.
Perhaps more obviously, or more directly relevant to the question at hand, the neocon "democracy = security" argument rests on the fundamental fallacy that democracy must produce favorable outcomes. As Adam Przeworski famously argued, the essence of democracy is the uncertainty of outcomes - I accept your victory today because of the chance that I could win tomorrow. But today's democratizers will only accept pro-American outcomes - Afghans can vote, unless they prefer the Taliban; Iraqis can vote, unless they prefer Shia radicals, Baathists, Kurdish independence, anti-American nationalism, and so forth. As I've written before, I can't take this "democracy" initiative seriously unless it is willing to accept uncertainty of outcomes. If not, then it's just rhetoric - and most folks around the world are quite smart enough, and cynical enough, to see through the hypocrisy.
France says that it is the victim of an organized smear campaign of lies and slanders - including a lot of news stories sourced to anonymous administration officials. This is almost certainly true. Welcome to the American media in 2002, Mr. Levitte - perhaps you could get Al Gore or Bill Clinton to show you around the premises. Indeed, the French are being delicate to limit their complaints to anonymous sources - after all, virtually everything the Bush administration says publicly fall somewhere on a spectrum of misleadingly phrased to outright lie.
Ken Pollack, in his own words, via the US State Department's Washington File:
I It is much too early to make a determined assessment as to what the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq did or did not have in the way of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), according to Iraq analyst and author Kenneth Pollack. Pollack spoke to journalists in London, Madrid and Moscow by digital video conference May 13. "I think it is still very early in the process," he said. But he added
that the reported discovery of an Iraqi mobile biological warfare laboratory April 19 "is potentially a very important development." ... "[T]he press reports that we've seen do seem to suggest that this is exactly what it's suspected to be: that it is one of the Iraqi mobile biological warfare laboratories which several of the defectors reported on. But obviously, until the U.S. government comes out and makes an official statement, I'm not going to go out on a limb and suggest that I know something that the U.S. government doesn't know. Because in point of fact, I don't." Pollack acknowledged that though reports before the war indicated that Iraq was deploying chemical and biological weapons (CBW), that clearly was not true. He speculated that the Iraqis may have destroyed their existing stocks of CBW, but kept the capability to make them -- which would be consistent with finding the mobile biological weapons laboratory. The weapons are very easy to make, he said, especially the chemicals, but once weaponized they are very difficult to store. He noted that in the Iran-Iraq war, the Iraqis mixed the components in the field to make chemical weapons. "It's clear that Saddam wanted very much to win the war without weapons of mass destruction," Pollack said. It may be that Saddam thought that the war would develop much more slowly than it did, he said, and it may be that Saddam thought that he would have time to use his CBW capability if it proved necessary. "As it turned out, he didn't have the time to do so," Pollack said. "I think that we will find the [WMD] stuff," Pollack said. "I think it's simply a matter of time, but I think that we will find, at the very least, the production capability."
Amazing how far he has climbed down, without admitting that he has done so, and has talked himself into knots, all without being challenged on it (at least as far as the Washington File reports). Remember - Pollack's argument for war was based on nuclear weapons, not chemical or biological. Even if the mobile labs did turn out to be biological weapons facilities - could be, though we don't yet have proof - that would do very, very little to salvage his pre-war argument. He repeatedly argued that Iraq had large quantities of WMD ready to use and that Saddam would not hesitate to use them, since he was a reckless gambler and had already used them many times before. In his new assessment, he directly contradicts himself - if Saddam thought the war would last longer and he was therefore holding the WMD in reserve until they were absolutely needed (which seems entirely plausible to me), then why and how was he also engaged in the rapid and complete "dumping" and destruction of those WMD in advance of the war? Anyone?
Wednesday, May 14, 2003
The aardvark is not a fan of Maureen Dowd. Not at all. But this one is good, for whatever reason: “Buried in the rubble of Riyadh are some of the Bush administration’s basic assumptions: that Al Qaeda was finished, that invading Iraq would bring regional stability and that a show of American superpower against Saddam would cow terrorists.”
Very busy day, but Buffy deserves comment. The good - or the very, very good: Nice to see everyone working well together again. Nice to see Buffy all zippy again. Nice that the writers decided to keep things down a notch for most of this episode so that we could just connect with the characters before the big finish. Nice to see Faith open up to Buffy. Nice to see Buffy and Spike have a real talk - "no more mixed signals - I have Faith for that" is a great line. The somewhat weaker: Kind of a cop-out that the big bomb only killed potentials whose names we have not learned - pretty wimpy trap if you ask me. If Caleb could blow up the whole Watchers Council, why couldn't he build a bomb big enough to actually kill them all? How did Buffy find the potentials deep in the sewers to save them from the ubervamps? How did Angel find Buffy in the crypt? Why didn't Spike intervene to help Buffy fight Caleb, if he was standing there the whole time? And the great, bordering on perfection: Angel's entrance. Taking Caleb totally by surprise, that beautiful kiss and exchange (the only really natural and good interaction between B+A since he left the show), then standing back - "you are so going to lose." Buffy killing (wounding?) Caleb - he starts to laugh and then realizes that he is, in fact, badly hurt. Great episode.. can't believe only one to go. Okay, back to my typically frenzied Wednesday.
Gee, this can't possibly help but end well: " United States military forces in Iraq will have the authority to shoot looters on sight under a tough new security setup that will include hiring more police officers and banning ranking members of the Baath Party from public service, American officials said today. The far more muscular approach to bringing order to postwar Iraq was described by the new American administrator, L. Paul Bremer, at a meeting of senior staff members today, the officials said. ..."I think you are going to see a change in the rules of engagement within a few days to get the situation under control." Asked what this meant, the official replied, "They are going to start shooting a few looters so that the word gets around" that assaults on property, the hijacking of automobiles and violent crimes will be dealt with using deadly force."
While establishing effective order in Iraq's cities is of obvious and crucial importance, I can't help but think that authorizing our jittery troops to open fire on suspects is little more than the next step in the deterioration of US-Iraqi relations on the ground. A US soldier gets killed; a few Iraqis get killed in retaliation; and the spiral escalates. Seems that they are skipping the Israeli "rubber bullets" completely to get right to the good stuff. Like I said, there's just no way that this approach could possibly go wrong.
This approach is the perfect corrolary of the neocon understanding of Arabs- they respond only to force, they respect strength, they can best be controlled by beating them into submission because they honor a strong hand. This is Reuel Gerecht scaled down to the micro-level. Shock and Awe of Baghdad wasn't enough? "Shooting a few looters" should install that "respect" that the neocons so desperately crave and yet never seem to get to their satisfaction.
Tuesday, May 13, 2003
EJ Dionne says it, and it's true: Bush lies and doesn't get called on it. As he delicately puts it, in stark contrast to how Al Gore was pilloried for his "lies": "All of which makes it surprising that the media do not pay more attention to the ways in which Bush and his White House say whatever is necessary, even if they have to admit later that what they said the first time wasn't exactly true." But Dionne offers a curious set of choices for explaining this phenomenon: " What this suggests is one or all of the following: (a) The Bush spin machine is much better than Clinton's or Gore's, and it can brush off absolutely anything; (b) the mainstream media are petrified that they'll be accused of being unpatriotic or -- much worse -- French, so they report these things and then let them slip away without much comment or investigation; (c) Bush can get away with things few other politicians can because the view that he's "decent, likable and truthful" is now so deeply embedded in public opinion." At risk of sounding too much like Eric Alterman, or even like the indispensible Daily Howler, there's a fourth possibility here .. having to do with the media not being so, you know, liberal. Here's (d) The predominantly conservative media ignores stories harmful to Bush because they broadly support him, while they trumpeted everything they could find against Clinton and Gore because they broadly opposed them.
I have no idea about the reliability of this report, but someone emailed me this press release which seems to exonerate George Galloway, the British anti-sanctions crusading MP who was accused of being on Saddam's payroll:
"Already the witch-hunt against George Galloway MP is unravelling. A report in today's Mail on Sunday reveals that the newspaper has uncovered evidence that documents incriminating the MP are forgeries. The Mail had paid £1500 for documents claiming to show that Galloway received millions of pounds from the Saddam regime. Now the paper admits that the documents it bought were crude forgeries 'littered with inaccuracies'. These documents have been used in reports by the Christian Science Monitor and given credibility in many other newspapers. This revelation casts further doubt on the recent Telegraph story which claimed that George Galloway had received £375,000 over several years from the United Nations oil for food programme. That story was based on documents miraculously discovered in a burnt out building in Baghdad by Telegraph reporter David Blair. These documents, written in a crude literary style with an indecipherable signature at the bottom, formed the basis of a campaign by the Telegraph to smear the entire anti-war movement."
Again, I can't vouch for this information - it was sent out by a pro-Galloway organization, so all due skepticism is in order. If true, though, I look forward expectantly to the Weekly Standard's retraction of last week's cover story by Stephen Hayes, which presented the documents as fact in order to say this: "The bottom line: George Galloway was paid more than $10 million to propagandize for the Iraqi regime.... The Galloway revelations surely help explain the ravings of a fringe British politician." If the documents prove to be forgeries, Hayes would seem to have an obligation to take this back. Right?
Saad al-Fagih, a Saudi dissident, has this to say in the Guardian about "the war that bin Laden is winning" which provides another answer to the question of why al-Qaeda would stage an attack in Saudi Arabia after the US promise to withdraw:
"If the decision to pull US forces out of Saudi Arabia had been announced before the war on Iraq, it would have been seen, correctly, as a major victory for Osama bin Laden and his supporters. Al-Qaida began its campaign with the demand for a withdrawal of American troops from the country. ... The invasion of Iraq provided an ideal solution [for the US]. It broke the link between the presence of US forces and the threat from Saddam Hussein. ... The decision to leave Saudi Arabia can now appear to have been taken from a position of strength. Al-Qaida sympathisers see it differently.... Many Muslims regard US actions since the September events as far more oppressive to them than the presence of their forces in Arabia. The invasion and occupation of Iraq will never be seen as a liberation. The sight of US tanks in Baghdad has been regarded as the most humiliating event for Arabs and Muslims since 1967. Baghdad, the capital of the Islamic Caliphate for 600 years, occupies a central place in the Muslim memory and means more even than Riyadh or Cairo. After 1998, Bin Laden had in any case gone beyond the aim of expelling American forces from the kingdom to full-scale confrontation with the US. Bin Laden and his supporters can now be expected to see his war as more justified than ever because of the occupation of Iraq. The US invasion of Iraq has been a gift to Bin Laden. He had argued that Muslim countries are the main target - and Iraq was attacked, not North Korea. Bin Laden argued that the US was bent on occupation, not simply intimidation - and that has proved to be the case. He argued that most Arab leaders, and especially the Saudis, would side with the US against their fellow Arabs - as it has turned out. He argued that Ba'athism and Arab nationalism do not work and that only Islam and jihad can deliver for the Muslims and Arabs. The collapse of the Saddam regime has strengthened that argument. The course of the conflict also bore out Bin Laden's view that only "asymmetrical warfare" can be effective against such highly advanced military power. US ruthlessness in killing civilians, destroying infrastructure and the encouragement it gave to the destruction of valuable heritage and public records has also bolstered the al-Qaida message. The same goes for US public support for the invasion of Iraq, because Bin Laden has said his problem is with all Americans, not only the government... "
No real comment here - just wanted to make sure people saw this piece.
The bombings in Saudi Arabia do look like al-Qaeda - from the reports I've seen, there were four simultaneous, or at least coordinated, car bombs which found ways to bypass heavy security. And they seem to have been coordinated to Powell's arrival in the Middle East. Doesn't mean it was bin Laden, though - as al-Qaeda adapts to its post-Afghanistan situation, all reports suggest that it has decentralized and regrouped. The first response most people will have is to ask why al-Qaeda would attack in Saudi Arabia right after the US announces that it is withdrawing its troops from the Kingdom. Hard to say exactly what's what, given that there hasn't even been a claim of responsibility yet, but I suspect a target of opportunity, aimed at denting the recent American confidence that it has defeated al-Qaeda (I seem to remember the aardvark posting a few days ago about how premature this seemed, and about how terrorists are most likely to attack when you let your guard down). It will also contribute to the general edginess in the region, the sense that the US-UK military "victory" in Iraq has failed to stabilize yet into anything coherent and that all manner of bad things are still possible. And it puts even more pressure on the Saudi regime - unable to provide security to Americans now, can it defend itself when those troops leave? Will it crack down even harder on dissidents, rendering itself even more distant and unpopular among the vast majority of Saudi citizens? It ratchets up the tension and strain, undermines American confidence, and puts yet more pressure on the Saudi regime - if not al-Qaeda, then a group with similar methods and similar objectives.
Salon runs an obnoxious essay blaming Spike, or rather the focus on Spike, for the "mediocrity" of this final season. I think the writer is way off base - blinded by dislike for Spike's character. I've never heard of the writer before, but his tone is very familiar... the exact reason that I stopped reading the Buffy news groups. All negativity and complaint.. nothing has ever been really good since the second season.. the writers don't really understand the characters... I always wondered why these people even keep watching the show if they hate it so much. For the record, the aardvark thinks that this has been a fabulous season of Buffy. Spike is no Angel, but he's not supposed to be. The First is an interesting villain, and Caleb is the only good thing to come out of Firefly's demise. I could do without the Slayerettes, and it has been painful to see Buffy marginalize Giles, but overall this has been on a par with Season 5, better than Seasons 1, 4 or 6, not quite as great as Seasons 2 and 3.
Monday, May 12, 2003
A reader recommends that I pay attention to the Daily Howler's latest writings on the culture of lying around Bush - the whole week will be devoted to this culture of lies. With pleasure. The indispensible Mr. Howler should be on everybody's required reading list every day, without fail.
Meanwhile, James Robbins of the National Review has this sparkling suggestion for privatized garbage collection in Baghdad: "If the Coalition just sets the terms for market-based activity, Iraqi entrepreneurs will come out of the woodwork to organize it and get things done....Hard to believe that the country with the most vibrant, innovative people in the world can't find ways like this to help the Iraqi people unleash their own creative instincts." Hear, hear! Why should Iraqis let little things like the absence of personal security or protection of property, incipient famine, absence of clean water, mile long lines for gas, cluster bombs, or the devastation of a massive bombing campaign get in the way of entrepreneurship? Why expect the occupying powers to provide new public goods, just because they bombed all the old ones? Nothing, repeat nothing, will win Iraqi hearts and minds faster than the American administration letting them know that it considers the provision of basic public services to be the responsibility of the Iraqi private sector and not of the occupying powers - especially if this is packaged with a big tax cut for the wealthy!
Michael Ledeen offers some more pearls of his wisdom about Iran today. This guy is seriously funny - he makes the aardvark's pale attempts at humor look so very weak. Writing about the Iranian nuclear program, he begins "It's hard to get accurate information on such matters," but doesn't let that stop him... within a few sentences, he is writing with remarkable confidence. Hard, but not impossible if you are Michael Ledeen! For you have seen into the hearts of the Terror Masters and you know their black and twisted souls, and need not worry about the empirical concerns of lesser political scientists. It doesn't really matter whether or not they are close to having nuclear weapons, after all - as with Saddam Hussein, it is the evil, not the threat, which truly matters. At any rate, Ledeen is at great pains to argue that his support for democratic change in Iran does not mean support for a military invasion of Iran. That's a relief - one might have concluded from his many writings advocating tough action against Iran that he supported tough action against Iran, and that his regular description of Iran as a "Terror Master" and support for military action against Iraq because of its alleged support for terrorism might be relevant.... but that is the "slanderous" words of lesser minds at work. I'm just looking forward to seeing more articles arguing against military confrontation with Iran from Mr. Ledeen, and look forward to having him on the side of Good should Team Bush decide to escalate against the Iranian terror masters. Welcome aboard, Michael!
Clare Short resigns. Her reason? "I am afraid that the assurance that you gave me about the need for a UN mandate to establish a legitimate Iraqi government have been breached. The Security Council resolution that you and Jack have so secretly negotiated contradicts the assurances I have given in the House of Commons and elsewhere about the legal authority of the occupying powers, and the need for a UN-led process to establish a legitimate Iraqi government. This makes my position impossible."
Cheers to Ms. Short for resigning on principle. If only she had done so back when it might have made a difference. One more casualty of the lies - if only there were any Americans willing to do the same.
UPDATE Read her whole statement here.
So, the aardvark wants someone to tell him why this headline isn't appropriate for this story:
"Pentagon's hand-picked neocon Jay Garner total failure at running Iraq; actual professional called in from State to clean up the mess." Subhead: "We didn't know what we were getting into," says responsible official."
A friend of the aardvark who is also a friend of a friend of Ken Pollack (don't you love how this works?) writes in:
"I had asked [him] before the war why Pollack was so convinced about Iraqi WMD, and he told me that Pollack "has access to information the rest of us don't see." Last night I called him on that, asking why this bulletproof secret information has not led the Marine Corps straight to the weapons caches, and if Pollack was rethinking any of his pro-war arguments as a result of the non-threatening nature of the thus far undiscovered WMD. His answer: Pollack now thinks that Iraq definitely had the WMD, but must have dumped it "just in time." (That's the obverse of Condi Rice's "just-in-time" production theory.) Now, of course, that's an entirely reasonable explanation for the
lack of WMD finds (though I can't understand why freshly destroyed WMD would not be detectable with the same fancy instruments used by UNMOVIC to look for evidence of WMD allegedly destroyed by Iraq in the mid-1990s). But it got me thinking again about how guys like Pollack are not being called on the carpet for their stealth-hyping of the Iraqi threat."
Aardvark: "The Pollack anecdote is really interesting - they aren't really being called on it anywhere that I've seen, except by people like us who were skeptics all along. I don't actually buy the "dump" thesis - why the hell would you destroy your WMD just when war is inevitable and they might actually be useful, seeing as how you have decided not to surrender and there is no value in restraint?"
[whoops - sorry about using the "h - e - double hockeysticks" there - kids, avert your eyes]
Friend of friend of Pollack: I don't buy Pollack's "dump" thesis, either. Hussein Kamel's "dump"
thesis, which should have been published in 1995, is much more plausible.
Sunday, May 11, 2003
LA Times: " With the departing Bodine going so far as to say that "we didn't know what we were walking into," U.S. officials concede that many of the key assumptions that drove planning for the postwar administration were wrong." You don't say. No real comment here - same old.
Bart Gellman in the Post: "The group directing all known U.S. search efforts for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is winding down operations without finding proof that President Saddam Hussein kept clandestine stocks of outlawed arms, according to participants. The 75th Exploitation Task Force, as the group is formally known, has been described from the start as the principal component of the U.S. plan to discover and display forbidden Iraqi weapons. The group's departure, expected next month, marks a milestone in frustration for a major declared objective of the war."
What planet is Patrick Tyler living on? "No One is Laughing at Iraq's Exiles Now," runs the headline on his tour of fantasyland. My favorite line: "Grass-roots political support is now everything in a country that is about to go democratic, a concept that still takes getting used to. Just last summer, the big worry was that Iraq was about to go nuclear." It's hard to know where to start - the INC has grassroots support? Iraq was about to go nuclear? Iraq is about to go democratic? I know just how Patrick Tyler feels - my life has been very interesting ever since I grew wings and Eliza Dushku moved to town to protect me from the mutant termites.