Abu Aardvark

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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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 30, 2003
The American Enterprise Institute, ground zero of neoconservatism, has been holding a weekly "black coffee" panel discussion on Iraq for quite some time. Luminaries such as Richard Perle and Reuel Gerecht, among many others, offered their thoughts on the course of the war, the diplomacy, and the reconstruction of Iraq. These were always good events to keep an eye on - you could get useful information, sometimes, and more importantly you could get leading indicators of where the neocon line was going before it hit the media. Why do I bring this up? Because on April 22, AEI held its last black coffee event on Iraq. The symbolism here is beautiful beyond belief. Forget all that silliness about the importance of winning the peace, the priority placed on building a democratic Iraq, the promises that they would never forget their Iraqi charges. Nope, the war is over and it's time to move on. No more AEI resources available for such an old and no longer important topic - especially if the discussions are going to be depressing (why no WMD? why are Iraqis shooting our soldiers? why no democracy? why did our buddy Jay Garner get run out of town for being all incompetent and stuff?). And where AEI goes, so goes Team Bush.... what does that tell us to expect?

In related news, the aardvark was very excited to watch the C-Span broadcast of a debate about Iraq between Bill Kristol (principled war advocate, Weekly Standard), Christopher Hitchens (bandwagon hopper, not particularly principled anything), Jonathan Schell (principled war critic, The Nation), and Chris Toensing (editor of the invaluable Middle East Report). Well, the aardvark just got word that apparently Kristol backed out. Wonder why?

John Bolton, uberhawkish Rumsfeld plant at State, lowers the bar even farther: "Iraqi “intellectual capacity” for producing unconventional weapons was sufficient justification for the successful U.S.-led war against the country, a senior Bush administration official said today, addressing criticism that U.S. forces so far have found no illicit weapons there." Intellectual capacity! Well, you could see how Bush would find that intimidating, indeed possibly even an existential threat. But honestly... is that their fallback position? You couldn't make stuff like this up.

Is this a quagmire yet? Who gets to declare a quagmire?

The aardvark was on local talk radio the other day, and the host asked whether the Iraq war was over. I was a bit surprised, and said "of course not," pointing out the long list of unaccomplished goals, the continued killing of US troops, and the failure to establish order in much of the country. Later, I got some flak for being all anti-American and stuff for saying that kind of thing - I mean, of course we won, right? We toppled the statue, and toppling that statue was our number one war aim! Turns out that it isn't only anti-American, objectively pro-statue aardvarks that say this sort of thing... it's a US commander in the field. Lt. Gen. David D. McKiernan: "After another attack that killed a U.S. soldier, the commanding general of U.S. forces in Iraq declared today that "the war has not ended" and signaled the start of a new military phase to root out what he described as die-hard supporters of fallen president Saddam Hussein." Statue lover.

Brilliant Krugman today : "The Iraq war was very real, even if its Kodak moments — the toppling of the Saddam statue, the rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch — seem to have been improved by editing. But much of the supposed justification for the war turns out to have been fictional."

Brilliant Kristof today:
"On Day 71 of the Hunt for Iraqi W.M.D., yesterday, once again nothing turned up. Maybe we'll do better on Day 72. But we might have better luck searching for something just as alarming: the growing evidence that the administration grossly manipulated intelligence about those weapons of mass destruction in the runup to the Iraq war.... "The American people were manipulated," bluntly declares one person from the Defense Intelligence Agency who says he was privy to all the intelligence there on Iraq. These people are coming forward because they are fiercely proud of the deepest ethic in the intelligence world — that such work should be nonpolitical — and are disgusted at efforts to turn them into propagandists."

Slate's Jack Shafer has a withering take on Judith Miller and the WMD tales. When the question about a reporter becomes "Did Miller get taken by sources with an agenda, or did she promote their suspect data for her own ideological reasons?" you would say that there's a problem. Or you would if you weren't much more interested in attacking the New York Times over the Jayson Blair foolishness than over something which really matters but which is a wee bit inconvenient to your ideological agenda.

The BBC reports that Tony Blair - despite his hot denials - had the Iraq intelligence dossier rewritten to make it sexier. Wow - there really is a US-UK special relationship. Robin Cook (can't track down the link right now, sorry) is blasting Blair over it - so are the usual suspects like Tam Dalyell, but Cook matters, it seems to me. Funny how Cook has become this big anti-war critic, after all those years he spent pushing the sanctions and attacking critics of the sanctions (you should see some of the old Voices in the Wilderness UK caricatures of him as Pinnochio). Would be very interesting to hear him explain his personal development on this issue.

Check out this PBS show on the missing weapons of mass destruction. Watch Richard Perle lie, obfuscate, bob and weave. Watch Judith Yaphe (ex-CIA) and David Albright (ex-inspector) nail his lying asterisk. And watch none of it matter in the least.

Thursday, May 29, 2003
Everyone and their cousin is linking to the Paul Wolfowitz admission that Team Bush settled on Iraqi WMD as the way to sell the war for "bureaucratic" reasons. Everyone and their cousin should. Could this at long last be the "smoking gun" that has eluded us for so long? It has always been clear that we would need the testimony of insiders to find out the truth, and Wolfowitz was a key figure in the Bush regime's secretive policymaking circles. Inspections alone could never hope to penetrate the veil of deception surrounding its decisions.

My favorite line of the day, from the Times story on the "mobile germ labs": "The Bush administration yesterday made public its assessment of two mysterious trailers found in Iraq, calling them mobile units to produce deadly germs and the strongest evidence yet that Saddam Hussein had been hiding a program to prepare for biological warfare. "We're highly confident" of that judgment, an American intelligence official told reporters. The official said the administration's strong conviction was based mainly on the similarity between the testimony of Iraqi sources and the evidence found on the ground."

Where to begin? Okay, you are highly confident of your judgement. Well, that's great. You were highly confident of the hugs and puppies, too. And of the massive WMD programs. And lots of other things, all of which turned out to be wrong. So, not to put too fine a point on this, who the hell cares if you are highly confident? Show us the evidence, or shut up. And I'm sorry - if "similarity between INC tall tale tellers and the evidence on the ground" is all you've got... you might want to consider option B.

And the beat goes on, and on. Michael Gordon in the Times: "Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, predicted in February that hundreds of thousands of American troops would be needed to secure Iraq after a war. That estimate was criticized by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz as a gross overestimate of what might be needed. "The idea that it would take several hundred thousand U.S. forces I think is far off the mark," said Mr. Rumsfeld, who has shown interest in cutting the size of the Army. Defense Department civilians generally avoided providing their own estimate in public but some suggested that a force of about 100,000 American troops might be sufficient at the start and that the figure could quickly taper off. They asserted that the Iraqis would hail the Americans as liberators, that Iraq had little history of ethnic strife and that nations like France, which opposed the war, would assist in reconstruction."

The amazing thing is that, judging by what they write in their house journals (Weekly Standard, NRO) and what they say in their AEI events, the neocons seem to think that they have been vindicated by events, that they got Iraq right. This, even though they have been proven wrong in virtually every particular - on WMD, on being welcomed as liberators, on the number of troops needed, on internal Iraqi politics, on the UN and international opinion, on the INC and the role of the exiles. And so, with the toppling of Saddam's statue somehow not solving all of America's problems, on to Iran!

More killer intel: CBS reports that "The Baghdad bunker which the United States said it bombed on the opening night of the Iraq war in a bid to kill Saddam Hussein never existed." Really. Hey, wasn't that the bunker that doesn't exist where he was hiding the WMD that don't exist? They should check the phone records that don't exist to find out whether he ever called Osama bin Laden (who does exist, and the US still haven't found him, has it?) about his relations with al-Qaeda that don't exist? I think I'm starting to get the hang of this whole intel that doesn't exist game!

Wednesday, May 28, 2003
The latest ISIS Issue Brief from David Albright - a serious analyst, former inspector, and no dove - is worth reproducing:

"On May 28, 2003, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency released a joint white paper report on the trailers recently found in Iraq, entitled "Iraqi Mobile Biological Warfare Agent Production Plants." The report states that the United States is "confident that the trailer is a mobile BW production plant." However, no biological weapons agents were found on the trailers. Instead, the government's finding is based on eliminating any possible alternative explanations for the trucks, which is a controversial methodology under any circumstances. Given the high stakes for the United States to prove the existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, this methodology is particularly suspect. Because this report does not provide any conclusive evidence that these trailers are bioweapons facilities, an independent international investigation of the trailers is necessary. A logical group to perform this investigation is UNMOVIC. There are several problems with the report. The chief findings rely heavily on intelligence gathered from a single source-an Iraqi chemical engineer who revealed this information to the United States in 2000. However, much of the US intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction has turned out to be flawed, including information derived from human sources. The report lists other additional human sources as supporting this defector's information, but close scrutiny of their information shows only weak confirmation of this original story. The selective use or disregarding of information raises questions whether the report was written with a preferred conclusion in mind, namely to support the claims presented by the United States about mobile biological weapons facilities. In addition, the disregard of Iraq's alternative explanations about the purpose of the trailer and lack of Iraqi corroboration of the United States conclusion of the trailers' purpose raises additional questions about the credibility of the study's findings. Because the United States has such a vested interest in proving the existence of WMD in Iraq, the report's findings cannot be trusted without independent confirmation. An examination of the trailers by a United States-selected group of international experts is unlikely to have significantly more credibility. A credible independent inspection of the trailers is critical before these trailers are indeed determined to be mobile biological warfare production plants."

Fellow political scientist Shaun Narine has another good piece on Buffy in the buzz. He slams the writers for failing to deliver on the vast promise of the season, for abandoning intriguing plot lines such as the plan to eliminate the slayers and Joyce's bizarre appearance, and for turning the First into an incredibly stupid and weak enemy. Here's the email I sent him in response - reproduced here for no other reason other than to prove that I'm not allowing my disastrously absurd workload to keep me from wasting time on non-essential pursuits:

Hi Shaun - good piece on "before the end." I don't quite share your harsh judgement on the season - I think it's as good as Season 5, better than 4 and 6 (not close to 2 and 3, but what is?). But you're right about the frustrating failure to follow up on major plot points. The grand plan to wipe out the slayers, for example, was really interesting - but now seems totally pointless. If the big plan is just to unleash a bunch of ubervamps onto the world, then who cares whether there's a slayer somewhere? If Willow's big spell created new slayers all over the place (playing softball?), then the plan was effectively impossible - Caleb and the Bringers could never have found them all. I have been constantly complaining about their ignoring the obvious problem of the First's omniscience - any plan voiced aloud is going to fail (this is why the Bring on the Night Thunderdome plan worked, and why Buffy's commando raid on the vinyard worked - they were never communicated aloud so the First couldn't overhear). I am still baffled by the failure to follow through on Joyce's appearance - I always assumed that would be in the finale, but it wasn't. And Willow - I've never been able to tell whether the writers misunderstood their own storyline with regard to her power, or whether they just allowed Will's own confusion to mislead us. Willow thought that it was the power that made her all black and veiny, but wasn't it pretty clearly her rage and anger over Tara which sent her to the dark side?

Oh well - thanks for another intriguing essay. Do you get to put your Buffy writings into your tenure file?

Is July 27 the starting point for the Iraqi counterattack? Pepe Escobar, never a particularly reliable source, claims that a CIA report has identified a still-alive Saddam Hussein as carefully planning an uprising with 40,000 loyal fighters timed to coincide with the date of Saddam's 1979 acsension to power. How much credibility to place on this? At this point I wouldn't hold one's breath - top-secret plans that depend on surprise that show up in the Asia Times might seem to have a slight flaw in them. But that provides cold comfort in the face of the very real problems in a war that is far from over.

Update on yesterday's post on assessing the role of air power in the Iraq war - Fred Kaplan in Slate offers some smart analysis and links to the first Air Force assessment of the air campaign. Remember, this is a preliminary analysis, and much remains to be learned. But this is an interesting beginning point.

More from Ken Pollack, interviewed on NPR (via Joe Conasan in Salon). His defense rings more than a little hollow. But here it is:

INSKEEP: I really appreciate you agreeing to talk to us especially since -- I do want to put you on the spot a little bit. I want to know if the news from Iraq or maybe the lack of news from Iraq about weapons of mass destruction has changed your opinion about anything.

Mr. POLLACK: Yes and no. Probably not as much as I think you'd suspect. At first, what you may remember from my book was I'd never thought that Iraq posed an imminent threat to the United States.

INSKEEP: That's right.

Mr. POLLACK: I felt that it was a much more distant threat. And the real threat that I felt from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program was the potential for Iraq to eventually develop nuclear weapons. Now I did believe that the Iraqis probably had some weaponized [chemical and biological] agents in the country, somewhere that they probably did have some ballistic missiles.

INSKEEP: U.S. officials did suggest that Iraqi military units were ready to use chemical or biological weapons, that chemical weapons had been distributed to front-line troops and that sort of thing. That does seem to have turned out not to be true at least.

Mr. POLLACK: Right, that's absolutely the case. And, you know, here's one where, you know, I think that, you know, my expectation was off base.

INSKEEP: On another point, which is the most crucial point to you, about nuclear weapons. You told us last November when you came on this program that you believed there was a consensus among American, British, French, German and Israeli intelligence that Saddam Hussein had everything he needed to develop nuclear weapons. I suppose some people would question now whether all of the components for a nuclear program could really be hidden that well, whether they could have disappeared.

Mr. POLLACK: Yeah, I mean, you're now getting beyond my area of expertise, Steven. I try very hard not to talk about things I don't know. I mean, the point that I made on your show was a true point. That was the consensus of opinion among the intelligence community. It was hearing things like that that brought me to the conclusion that, you know, 'Boy, if this is the case, we've got to do something about this guy.' I think, you know, that is exactly the kind of thing that we're going to need to go back and look hard at the evidence that we were getting and those various intelligence services who were making those claims, I think, are going to need to go back and re-examine the methods they used. As I said, that was not me making that claim; that was me parroting the claims of so-called experts.

Today's first must-read, from the New York Review, do not miss:
Clifford Geertz on interpretations of Islam.

Stanley Hoffmann on America, the world and France. (Bob Dylan once sang about Gregory Peck, "I'll see him in anything" - well, that's how the aardvark has always felt about Stanley Hoffmann. Why don't we political scientists write with this precision, grace, or insight anymore? Or most of us, anyway?)

Elizabeth Drew on the neocons is okay too - a bit old hat by this point, but as important as ever.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003
A few weeks ago, the aardvark was having lunch with some political scientist friends and we got to talking about the great air power debates, and the implications of the non-battle of Baghdad. I threw out a couple of possibilities as hypotheses - precision bombing really did render defense impossible; precision bombing successfully neutralized command and control and rendered defense ineffective; shock and awe really did break the will to resist - but insisted that at this point we just didn't know and that it would be foolish to draw any conclusions until we get real evidence about how and why the defenders of Baghdad faded away. As a final possibility, just to be provocative, I put out another hypothesis - the US bribed Iraqi generals to give up, so there was no defense to overcome. Everyone waved that one away as absurd - some laughing, some rather indignant. Well, the new stories coming out (link later - I'm doing this away from my office) that Tommy Franks did in fact bribe a senior Iraqi general to give up Baghdad are making the aardvark feel pretty smug. Doesn't make me feel any better, of course - if there isn't going to be a fight, why all that bombing of the city? - but it's a reminder never to rule out possibilities in the absence of evidence.

Monday, May 26, 2003
Hey, I somehow missed this the first time through the story - among the changes ushered in with the Bremer regime: Zal Khalilzad has been politely reassigned. Well, all right - back to screwing up Afghanistan! That might be a little harsh, I know... his job of whipping the Iraqi opposition into anything resembling a useful and coherent group was always doomed. But since he pushed them all this time, and took on the job, he deserves a little criticism.

Oh, this is too beautiful for words. Howie Kurtz, courtesy of the wonderful new resident of aardvarkoville Suburban Guerrilla, reveals that Ahmed Chalabi has been Judy Miller's main source on her odd little quest. This isn't a surprise, of course, but should be deeply embarrassing to anyone who cares about such little things as the difference between political advocacy and reporting (which Miller has never shown much concern for - if you remember that Miller once co-authored a hatchet-job bestseller on Iraq with the bizarrely obsessive Laurie Mylroie, raise your hand!). Oh, and can I add that if our crack WMD team is relying on Chalabi's intelligence, this might explain a lot about its total failure to find anything? Anyway, iIn all its glory, Mr. Kurtz dishes the dish (hey Eric, you can ease up on him for one day, okay? This is good stuff):

"An internal e-mail by Judith Miller, the paper's top reporter on bioterrorism, acknowledges that her main source for such articles has been Ahmad Chalabi, a controversial exile leader who is close to top Pentagon officials. Could Chalabi have been using the Times to build a drumbeat that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction? The Chalabi connection surfaced when John Burns, the paper's Pulitzer Prize-winning Baghdad bureau chief, scolded Miller over her May 1 story on the Iraqi without clearing it with him. "I am deeply chagrined at your reporting and filing on Chalabi after I had told you on Monday night that we were planning a major piece on him -- and without so much as telling me what you were doing," Burns wrote that day, according to e-mail correspondence obtained by The Washington Post. "We have a bureau here; I am in charge of that bureau until I leave; I make assignments after considerable thought and discussion, and it was plain to all of us to whom the Chalabi story belonged. If you do this, what is to stop you doing it on any other story of your choosing? And what of the distress it causes the correspondent who is usurped? It is not professional, and not collegial." Miller replied to Burns: "I've been covering Chalabi for about 10 years, and have done most of the stories about him for our paper, including the long takeout we recently did on him. He has provided most of the front page exclusives on WMD to our paper." She apologized for any confusion, but noted that the Army unit she was traveling with -- Mobile Exploration Team Alpha -- "is using Chalabi's intell and document network for its own WMD work. . . . Since I'm there every day, talking to him. . . . I thought I might have been included on a decision by you" to have another reporter write about Chalabi."

I really don't like Maureen Dowd, but here I am linking her for the second week in a row. For all her faults, the lady can get off a zinger, and this is a good one: "The C.I.A. is snooping around itself and other spy agencies to see if prewar reports of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda were exaggerated. The suspense is killing me. The delicious part is that the review was suggested by Donald Rumsfeld, a main culprit in twisting the intelligence to justify a strike on Baghdad. It's like O. J. vowing to find the real killer."

Good sign. The Times reports: "In little more than a week, during which the United Nations passed a resolution granting broad powers to the United States and Britain to run Iraq, the country's political groups have come to the realization that they have lost their bid to dominate the postwar transition.
...Ahmad Chalabi, whose Iraqi National Congress, a coalition of political exiles, was acting like a government in waiting until Mr. Bremer's bombshell, is shutting down the political campus he was running at the once fashionable Hunting Club in Baghdad. He has sent his political operatives to Washington to find out what happened to the "promises" made by Bush administration officials that have now been rescinded."

Anything which reduces the role of the INC is likely to improve the prospects for Iraq's future. Not much else promising coming out of Iraq, so here's something to cling to. Of course, if the alternative is - as it appears to be - direct American administration for the forseeable future, this isn't much better than the phantom of the Iraqi exiles. But that's another question - clearing the deck of one illusion is a good start. Admitting that Garner was a disaster, that the Pentagon civilian neocons had no idea whatsoever about the realities of Iraq, that post-war planning was disastrously weak - despite intense questioning and criticism at the time, so this isn't just post-war sniping, that the WMD claims were grandly inflated, that invading Iraq had little positive impact on the anti-terrorism front and probably made it worse - these would all be good reality checks as well. Nice to see Richard Lugar, an actual grown-up and a strong representative of what used to be the Realist wing of the Republican party, actually making these points in public.

As the Post reports the same story: "The Pentagon at first envisioned a relatively short stay in postwar Iraq based on the belief that Iraqis would broadly welcome U.S. forces as a liberating army, according to senior officials involved in the reconstruction effort. ..."The U.S. government, in this case, the Department of Defense, wanted 'occupation-lite,' " said a senior official at the U.S. authority overseeing the effort here. "They never thought they would actually have to alight in Iraq, just pass through. Basically, our ideology got in the way of our analysis."

No kidding. That could be the epitaph for the entire Iraq war: "basically, our ideology got in the way of our analysis."

This story in the Telegraph is downright reprehensible, though. Another one of those "the dead Iraqi babies were propaganda" stories that have long been a staple of defenders of the sanctions. "The Telegraph can reveal that it was all a cynical charade. Iraqi doctors say they were told to collect dead babies who had died prematurely or from natural causes and to store them in cardboard boxes in refrigerated morgues for up to four weeks - until they had sufficient corpses for a parade." Let's be clear - there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein's regime would do such things. Propaganda, whether parading coffins for cameras or giving a speech from an aircraft carrier, has been a major part of the international politics of Iraq all along. But the inference that the sanctions did not have a massive impact on Iraqi children is simply ludicrous. Perhaps the reporter failed basic logic... or perhaps this is another tiresome polemic. Was it too much to hope that after all this trauma, war, deception, and "liberation," we at last be done with sanctions defenders playing politics with the lives of Iraqi children in the face of all evidence to the contrary? Nah... scoring cheap points is always too tempting.

Let the countdown begin! Cam Cloughlin reveals another "smoking gun" in the Telegraph (sorry, no link):
"British military officers have uncovered an attempt by Saddam Hussein to build a missile capable of hitting targets throughout the Middle East, including Israel, The Telegraph can reveal. Plans for the surface-to-surface missile were one of the regime's most closely-guarded secrets and were unknown to United Nations weapons inspectors. Its range of 600 miles would have been far greater than that of the al-Samoud rocket - which already breached the 93-mile limit imposed by the UN on any Iraqi missiles. Saddam's masterplan for the new missile, which was being developed by Iraq's Military Industrialisation Commission (MIC), the body responsible for weapons procurement, constitutes the most serious breach uncovered so far of the tight restrictions imposed on Iraq's military capability after the 1991 Gulf war. The range of Saddam's missiles was restricted to prevent him from using them as a delivery system for weapons of mass destruction. David Kay, the former United Nations weapons inspector responsible for dismantling Iraq's nuclear weapons programme in the 1990s, said the British discovery proved that Saddam had no intention of complying with UN requirements. "This is the smoking gun we have been looking for," he said. "We have known all along that Saddam was desperate to develop a delivery system for his mass destruction weapons, and this missile would undoubtedly have given him that capability."

So, the countdown begins - how many days until this story is discredited? I mean, given the source (Coughlin wrote a rush-job biography of Saddam Hussein which packed in every rumor and anecdote he could find, without bothering to check whether they were true or, um, contradicted each other), this seems likely... although given the Bush administration's record, I'd have to say that Coughlin might have more credibility at this point. At any rate, the story in part discredits itself - "plans".. "might have"... "intention." In other words, even if true, this is no smoking gun. Have to do better, guys.