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, June 14, 2003
It's the weekend, so don't expect much blogging, but here's exhibit A as to why the Democrats are so pathetic. Bush lied about the WMD which brought us into a war which, victory celebrations on aircraft carriers aside, isn't going very well right now, and the Democrats don't know what to do? They can't decide whether its a *good idea* to attack him on this or not? Sigh. Yeah, when your opponent is trailing blood from his self-inflicted wound, it's time for ... a spirited internal debate about whether or not to try to gently push him on it. But not *too* spirited... careful there, guys.

Friday, June 13, 2003
The new issue of Middle East Report is out, and it has some great stuff - check out the article by Raad al-Kadiri and Fareed Mohamedi on Iraq's oil is sobering. I found the discussion of Iran and Saudi Arabia particularly interesting, but go read it all. Better yet, go buy the issue, or subscribe - MERIP needs money!

And the conservative machine pumps along. Charles Krauthammer jumps on board the "museum scandal" today - same story, same words, same conclusions (see my post from yesterday - I've given up on internal linking with blogger). Watch the meme spread!

But Krauthammer does even better - for true audacity, this is hard to beat: "The weapons-hyping charge is nothing more than the Iraqi museum story Part II: A way for opponents of the war -- deeply embarrassed by the mass graves, torture chambers and grotesque palaces discovered after the war -- to change the subject and relieve themselves of the shame of having opposed the liberation of 25 million people." Really. Anti-American Liberals are trying to change the subject away from the liberation of the Iraqi people by raising questions about the WMD... which Team Bush never mentioned, or never used as a justification for the war, I suppose? Krauthammer piles on the conservative talking point, designed to change the subject away from Bush's WMD lies, by accusing WMD questioners of... trying to change the subject? Sometimes these things make one angry, other times they just make you shake your head in admiration... this is one of those times (in both senses, I suppose, but mainly the latter). Bravo to Charles Krauthammer... you made an aardvark's morning!

Bart Gellman has the state of play in the hunt for WMD. An elite Army unit has been searching inside of Iraq since before the war and has come up with nothing: "It sent a stream of initially promising reports to a limited circle of planners and policymakers in Washington pointing to the possibility of weapons finds. The reports helped feed the optimism expressed by President Bush and his senior national security advisers that proscribed weapons would be found. Thus far, military and intelligence sources said, the expectations are unfulfilled." Gellman reports: "Yet Task Force 20 has come no closer than its widely publicized counterpart, the 75th Exploitation Task Force, to the Bush administration's declared objective. Sources with firsthand knowledge of its mission and personnel, and others with access to its reports, said the team has found no working nonconventional munitions, long-range missiles or missile parts, bulk stores of chemical or biological warfare agents or enrichment technology for the core of a nuclear weapon. The administration cited all those components specifically as part of Iraq's concealed arsenal. The arms were forbidden to Iraq under U.N. Security Council mandate, and Bush used them as his primary argument for war." Gellman quotes a "high ranking official" that ""People who say there are no weapons are going to be quite embarrassed within weeks or months, when the material comes out." This sort of thing probably explains Democratic timidity in exploiting the issue, but I would note that the official gave no details and was contradicted by Gellman's other sources. I'm sure that they are coming up with a few things - as I wrote yesterday, we know that Iraq had a weapons program, that was never in question. But what they are not going to find, I feel increasingly confident (as I was and wrote long before the war), is an operative WMD program that posed a serious threat to the US which could not be met with inspections.

You have to be excited by renewed student protests in Iran. Unlike the great Iraq neocon scam, I would be delighted to see internally driven reform inside of Iran - just because the neocons want something doesn't mean that it is bad. But before getting too excited, go read Genieve Abdo and Jonathan Lyon's recent book, Answering Only To God. It powerfully captures the political stagnation in Iran after the enormous excitement of the Khatemi moment, and the current disillusionment of would-be reformers. There is considerable potential for positive change in Iran. It has seemed for some time that Mohammed Khatami and his reformist supporters had been conclusively routed in the struggle for power, and I can understand why Team Bush gave up on him, even if I disagree with that decision. Perhaps these protests can shake things up, and convince Khameini of the need to loosen up a but. I hope that Khatami can seize the opening and push for change, or that if he can't some other reformist figures can.

Let's not go all Ledeen here. Neocons think that the "axis of evil" speech and the tougher line on Iran can embolden the reformers and undermine the conservative deadlock on power. I think that this badly misunderstands the nature of political opposition in Iran, as well as the impact of hard-line statements (which I think strengthen the hard-liners, not the reformers). Things are a wee bit more complex than the "good vs evil" smackdown that is often portrayed, and Bush's hard-line rhetoric is unlikely to reassure the hard-liners that they have the breathing room to open up. As I wrote a few days ago, Iran (and specifically Khamenei and the conservative faction) has actually come out of America's post-9/11 foreign policy crusades in pretty good shape. I don't see a system on the brink of collapse. I do see a system with tremendous built up pressure for change, which Khatami failed to harness. Instead of trying to push for some phantasmic liberal revolution, the US should be encouraging reform and undermining Khamenei's ability to portray America as an urgent existential threat demanding national unity and extreme vigilance.

Thursday, June 12, 2003
Yup, victory in Iraq sure did smooth the path to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Saddam's money really was the only thing keeping the violence going. Bush's charm, and America's great credibility as a result of its crushing victory, has made all the difference. I have to concede yet another argument to the neocons - achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians is yet another brilliant success of their grand Middle East vision.

Bush's defense on WMD - "Iraq had a weapons program. Intelligence throughout the decade showed they had a weapons program. I am absolutely convinced with time we'll find out that they did have a weapons program." - really misses the point. Of course Iraq had a weapons program. UNSCOM proved this beyond a shadow of a doubt. I still fully expect that at some point, *something* will be found which Bush and his supporters can hold up and say "see, here's the WMD program." But that was never the question. The question was whether that weapons program posed a threat which could not be met via inspections. And here, the overwhelming conclusion of the last few months has to be "no." Don't let Team Bush lower - or, more precisely, change - the bar.

The new issue of the Atlantic arrived yesterday. The articles aren't available online yet, but be sure to read Robert Kaplan's piece, "Supremacy by Stealth." Kaplan, to be kind, has gone quietly insane. I left the magazine at home, so I can't quote directly, but basically he argues that because the US is an empire, it's time to start running a more effective one. And how to do that? Mainly through the Special Forces, which he repeatedly describes in such loving terms that it borders on soft-core ("The grizzled, manly Colonel leaned close to me. I could feel the power of his manly arms radiating as his eyes, wise beyond their years, penetrated me to my core.") The success of our Empire will rest on our Good Men in the field, whose American ingenuity and charm and manly forearms can change history. American Cold War policy in Latin America is the best model, he explains. We did a great job training the El Salvadoran military in the early 1980s - this should be a model for how we can cheaply build a more stable empire, by subcontracting to local militaries under our tutelage. The military is the best way to spread democratic values, anyway - didn't you know? The Colombian guerrillas will inevitably hook up with al-Qaeda if we don't stop them now. We should just ignore the UN and international law - the best possible world is one ruled quietly by American power. And democracy at home isn't such a great thing either... our quite supremacy will require fast and decisive action by a manly leader who doesn't have time for political games such as democratic institutions or an annoying media. The best way to run the Empire? Reward our friends and punish troublesome rulers with a quick assassination (yes, he really says this). He goes on in this vein, presenting his imperial fantasies as the height of cold-eyed Realism. And judging by his track record, Kaplan's piece might well become influential, god help us all.

Several readers wrote in (some politely, some less so) while I was away in the termite mines, challenging the aardvark to respond to the new "museum looting scandal." This, apparently, proves the liberal bias of the media, or something. Well, that's interesting - let's see what all the fuss is about. David Aaronovitch writes in the Guardian that the reporting on the looting of the Baghdad Museum were greatly exaggerated. Andrew Sullivan picks up the story and uses it to bash liberals for being anti-American. Howard Kurtz repeats Sullivan's story almost verbatim. Then the Right end of the blogosphere picks up the story en masse... InstaMcCarthy, Drezner, OxBlog... all saying the same thing and all drawing the same conclusions. The Wall Street Journal opinions page weighs in. All are sure to point out that the story was published in the Guardian - The Guardian, bastion of British anti-Americanism! - evidenly blissfully unaware that Aaronovitch has long been a vocal supporter of the war (calling an essay by Aaronovitch "the Guardian" is like calling a piece by Bill Safire "the New York Times." Conservatives tend to make this mistake because their own newspapers generally only publish fellow conservatives, so they can't conceive of an opinion page with a diversity of views.)

And so we are left with.... what? When the original story broke, it was abundantly clear that the museum had been emptied of its priceless pieces. Nobody knew where they were. The building was left undefended. These aren't contentious or imagined points - nobody contests the basics of what happened. Those pieces that were saved survived because of the museum staff's foresight, not because of any heretofore unknown American policy. When the news broke, people immediately reacted according to their politics: the far left no doubt said "US troops looted it themselves for Don Rumsfeld's private collection!" (though I don't remember anyone actually saying that....), while the right said things like "Saddam probably destroyed them himself to make the US look bad" (I do remember this being said). But most people were just shocked and horrified, and saw this as one more piece of inhumanity in an inhuman war. When news started to trickle in that objects were being recovered (and this was covered in the NYT, the Post, and everywhere else, conservative insinuations to the contrary), the overwhelming response in the blogosphere and in the media was "thank god" - if there was some kind of widespread "Museum Denial" going on that the conservatives are in a tizzy about, I missed it. Meanwhile, the National Archives were torched - no luck there - and, according to today's Post, regional antiquities sites continue to suffer. So overall, I just don't see what everyone is going on about - where's the scandal?

What is going on is fairly obvious. The conservative media is operating exactly as I would expect - from Sullivan to Kurtz to the echo chamber - as they manufacture a false scandal by taking a few statements out of context and using them to stand in for "The Left." Time to whip up some outrage, to distract attention from the real story - the missing WMD and Bush's lies. Until the Right Blogosphere shows as much concern about Judith Miller's shoddy reporting (about something that matters) as they do about Maureen Dowd's selective quoting (and I'm no fan of Dowd's) or Jayson Blair's freakshow, I just can't take their complaints about media bias seriously. The Baghdad Museum story is a non-issue, which the right is trying to puff up as a smokescreen for the real issues. Nothing new there.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003
Busy today. Sorry. Just remember this and pass it on: Bush lied, people died.

Also, props to Hesiod, who offers the correct term for Iraqi civilians killed in the course of the war: the Grateful Dead.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003
Conasan relates the latest pundit to weigh in on the missing WMD.... Bill Kristol. Yes, Bill Kristol. I assume that tomorrow we'll be seeing a piece in the Weekly Standard by Kristol claiming that he has been misquoted. But in the meantime, it's quite interesting to hear someone who as much as anyone drove the United States into war with Iraq now suddenly break ranks and admit that some things that Bush said were, just maybe, not entirely true.

Conasan's presentation: "We shouldn't deny, those of us who were hawks, that there could have been misstatements made, I think in good faith," said the Weekly Standard editor, attributing those "erroneous" statements about WMD to "the president and the secretary of state." (For some reason he left out Rumsfeld, Rice and Cheney.) "I hope [the WMDs] are found," he said, "but I'm very skeptical." As he acknowledged, "We have interrogated a lot of people and we haven't found a single person who said he participated in disposing, destroying the stock of weapons of mass destruction. Or in hiding them." This unsettling realization has led Kristol -- who is far smarter than the average Fox dittohead -- toward a partial, limited rethink: "People like me, who were hawks, said the war was both just, prudent and urgent. I think just and prudent -- fine. But it is fair to say that if we don't find serious weapons of mass destruction capabilities, the case for urgency, which Bush and Blair certainly articulated, is going to be undercut to some degree." His rationalization is that the fault lies with inaccurate intelligence rather than political distortion of the information that was available."

It's early, but the aardvark is becoming a Howard Dean aardvark. The main reason: he's a fighter, not a nibbler. What I've seen of him really reminds me of the early Clinton - the ability to connect with an audience, the intelligence, the agility to run circles around his attackers, and the gift of delivering hard-hitting, direct positions that once said sound obvious. I love his slogan - "Take Back America." He does a great job of arguing passionately for something rather than searching for a position just *slightly* to the left or right of the conventional wisdom to capture a few swing voters without alienating the DLC.

Will Saletan picks up this line: "When Ronald Reagan came into office, he cut taxes, we had big deficits, and we lost 2 million jobs. When Bill Clinton came into office, he raised taxes without a single Republican vote; we balanced the budget; we gained 6 and a half million jobs. George Bush has already lost 2 and a half million. I want a balanced budget because that's how you get jobs in this country is to balance the books. No Republican president has balanced the budget in 34 years. …You had better elect a Democrat, because the Republicans cannot handle money. … We're the party of responsibility, and they're not."

That's the sort of thing we need to be hearing. I think that Bush is vulnerable to a Democrat willing to attack and to tell the truth - not going negative, just telling the truth: Bush has been a disaster on every front. Foreign policy, the economy, social programs, civil liberties - on virtually any issue, his record would appall the majority of Americans if they only knew what his policies really were. Given the conservative bias of most of the media, they won't know these things unless a Democratic candidate can force it onto the agenda, argue it passionately and persuasively, and seize control of the agenda. Can he win? Who knows. But I would rather lose a good fight with a candidate who stakes out a strong, principled position than lose with a nibbler whose careful campaign implicitly affirms that Bush is basically right on the big issues.

Anyway, I'm not committed yet, and I try to stay away from domestic politics issues. But I'm increasingly impressed by Dean. He's winning the much-discussed Aardvark primary.

" I'll tell you what's outrageous. It's not the fact that people are criticizing the administration; it's the fact that nobody is being held accountable for misleading the nation into war. " - Paul Krugman.

"If it turns out that the reasons the United States gave for invading Iraq were false, and the Bush administration knew they were false, it should be held fully accountable by the American people and their representatives in Congress. If President Nixon could be forced from office because of his coverup of a politically motivated burglary and President Clinton impeached because an obsessed prosecutor investigating a bogus real-estate scandal came upon a sexual impropriety, a president found to have lied about or distorted the reasons for going to war surely deserves to face at least similar sanctions." - Gary Kamiya

And most important of all: "Howard Dean opened his speech with the WMD issue and openly alluded to Watergate. "What did the president know, and when did he know it?" asked Dean. He often looks angry when he's talking about Bush, but this time he looked furious."


This is a common meme (quote from the AP): "Whether or not they find weapons of mass destruction doesn't matter, because the rationale for the war changed," suggested Republican pollster Frank Luntz. "Americans like a good picture. And one photograph of an Iraqi child kissing a U.S. soldier is more powerful than two months of debate on the floor of Congress."

Aside from being amazingly cynical, this also shows the vulnerability. Still not a lot of hugs and puppies for American soldiers in Iraq, people. How does Luntz's picture of an Iraqi child kissing a US soldier weigh against the pictures of dead American soldiers (eight in the last two weeks now?) and angry crowds screaming at US troops to go home? If only we had a liberal media to show those pictures in their correct context.

Monday, June 09, 2003
Fareed Zakaria quotes Richard Butler, the United Nations’ chief weapons inspector during the late 1990s and a supporter of the war: he "wrote last week in The Australian, “Clearly a decision had been taken to pump up the case against Iraq.”" Richard Butler! Richard Butler, who hated the Iraqis with a fiery, personal passion, who presided over the American takeover and destruction of UNSCOM, who stated flat out in his book that the Iraqis were lying.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch... the hunt for those pesky WMD is slowing to a halt, AP reports. Quote: "It doesn't appear there are any more targets at this time," said Lt. Col. Keith Harrington, whose team has been cut by more than 30 percent. "We're hanging around with no missions in the foreseeable future." Meanwhile, Bush insists that Iraq had a weapons program. This is true, but irrelevant. The question is whether this weapons program was a threat, and whether inspections could meet that threat. If the answers were "not really," and "yes, probably," then the question becomes uninteresting. Try again, Mr. Bush - this is weak.

I've been enjoying the calvacade of advice from conservatives, from Instapundit to Fred Hiatt to William Kristol to the entire staff of the NRO and Weekly Standard to Robert Kagan to... [continue as needed]... that the Bush lies on Iraq are a non-issue, are not gaining traction, and don't matter. As always, I find these conservatives ever so helpful in offering advice to their mortal enemies. Advice to Dems: this story is gaining traction, as anyone can see. The more the Right begs you not to throw them in the briar patch.... well, you know what to do. It's big. It's bipartisan. If true - as it clearly is - then the President and his men sent American boys and girls (men and women, actually, but the rhetoric of "boys and girls" is what they use so hold them to it) to die in Iraq for reasons he knew to be false. That is just about the worst thing a politician can do. And I think there are enough journalists out there who smell blood and want to be the Mike Isikoff or Jeff Gerth of the Bush Lied story that the steady drip of revelations will continue - especially if Republicans in the Senate insist on holding hearings and demanding answers.

For the record.... from the weekend:
Greg Thielman, who retired from the State Department during the run up to the Iraq war, describes the Bush administration's use of intelligence as "deeply disingenuous."

Judith Miller retracts her own story about the mobile homes of death, after Bush cites it as evidence that he was telling the truth: "American and British intelligence analysts with direct access to the evidence are disputing claims that the mysterious trailers found in Iraq were for making deadly germs. In interviews over the last week, they said the mobile units were more likely intended for other purposes and charged that the evaluation process had been damaged by a rush to judgment. "Everyone has wanted to find the 'smoking gun' so much that they may have wanted to have reached this conclusion," said one intelligence expert who has seen the trailers and, like some others, spoke on condition that he not be identified. He added, "I am very upset with the process."

Two senior DIA officials testify, according to the Washington Post: "The controversy over the administration's handling of the Iraq intelligence continued, however, as two senior defense intelligence officials discussed the issue behind closed doors with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The officials, Adm. Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and Stephen Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, were asked by reporters afterward about the classified Defense Intelligence Agency report on Iraq's chemical weapons. "What we're saying is that as of 2002 in September, we could not reliably pin down, for somebody who was doing contingency planning, specific facilities, locations or production that was underway at a specific location at that point in time," Jacoby said."

Blix is getting pissy with Blair, to Blair's detriment: "Angered by the way in which British ministers have used his reports to claim that Saddam Hussein possessed banned weapons, Mr Blix said: "The lack of finds could be be cause the items were unilaterally destroyed by the Iraqi authorities or else because they were effectively concealed by them." As a UN official, Mr Blix did not name Britain and the US. But there was no doubt who he had in mind when he said there was no evidence that Saddam had continued with his banned weapons programme after the 1991 Gulf war. This contradicted Mr Blair's warning last year that Iraq's banned weapons programme was "active, detailed and growing". A former UN inspector, Bernd Birkicht, 39, said he believed the CIA had made up intelligence on weapons of mass destruction to provide a legal basis for the war. He told the Guardian how supposedly top-secret, high-quality intelligence had led the inspectors on an absurd wild goose chase. "We received information about a site, giving the exact geographical coordinates, and when we got there we found nothing. Nothing on the ground. Nothing under the ground. Just desert." "

Der Spiegel chimes in: "A German member of the UN team investigating Iraq's alleged programme of weapons of mass destruction has accused US authorities of presenting false evidence against the regime, the German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel reports in its Saturday edition."

Times op-ed, which can't be Howell Raines's fault: "The latest vogue in Washington is the proposition that it really doesn't matter whether Saddam Hussein maintained an arsenal of unconventional weapons in recent years. American troops may not have uncovered any evidence of the weapons of mass destruction the Bush administration was warning about, the argument goes. But they have found plenty of
proof that Iraq suffered under a brutal dictator who slaughtered thousands, perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands of his own people, and that is reason enough to justify the invasion. We disagree. We are as pleased as anyone to see Saddam Hussein removed from power, but the
United States cannot now simply erase from the record the Bush administration's dire warnings about the Iraqi weapons threat. The good word of the United States is too central to America's leadership abroad - and to President Bush's dubious doctrine of pre-emptive warfare - to be treated so cavalierly."

The INC, once again, can't and never could cut it: "Former Iraqi opposition leaders, many of whom were brought back from exile by the U.S. government with the expectation that they would run the country, have been largely sidelined by the U.S.-led occupation authority here, which views them as insufficiently representative and too disorganized to take charge."

The Times has a bombshell, one more story which they can't blame Howell Raines for anymore: "Two of the highest-ranking leaders of Al Qaeda in American custody have told the C.I.A. in separate interrogations that the terrorist organization did not work jointly with the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein, according to several intelligence officials.

Spies are supposedly threatening to blackmail Tony Blair over his manipulation of intelligence: ""A smoking gun may well exist over WMDs, but it may not be to the Government's liking," said one senior source. "Minuted details will show exactly what went on. Because of the frequency and, at times, unusual nature of the demands from Downing Street, people have made sure records were kept. There is a certain amount of self-preservation in this, of course." (I wouldn't sink too much money into this one, though).

And lots more stuff I guess you blog-wise readers already knew.

Sunday, June 08, 2003
Go read this interesting take on the lies by Steve Gilliard over at Kos's place. I don't quite agree - laying it off on Chalabi is way too easy, it has more to do with Chalabi enabling Republican partisan politics in the 1990s - but he makes an important distinction between lies and willful self-delusion. I think he is right about the fantasy house of cards - Republican policy on Iraq developed exactly like this in the 1990s because they were safely out of power, and the INC helped them construct this elaborate scenario of how Clinton could and should be overthrowing Saddam but chose not to. When Bush took power, these beliefs - ideology totally internalized to the point where they really can't tell the difference between reality and their fantasy ideology world - led to action, even though no actual evidence backed up the beliefs. Is it better to be ruled by a liar or by a delusional ideologue?

Breaking the "no blogging on weekends" rule very briefly - wanted to mention Judith Miller's retraction of her own story yesterday, and a couple of other things, but Blogger was bloggered. Today though, just a quick take on Gary Schmitt, head of the Project for a New American Century, and a guy therefore with a lot to answer for. He goes after people attacking the Bush administration for its lies on WMD and advances the usual array of flimsy arguments - he was dangerous, everyone thought so, maybe he destroyed them to make Don Rumsfeld look bad, we'll find them anyway, blah blah blah. But with this paragraph he actually says something I agree with, and so it's worth quoting in full:

"There is something else going on. Opponents of the war — most of whom probably never had a good word to say about the CIA — are rushing to defend "the sanctity" of the intelligence process in an effort to undermine the legitimacy of the war and call into question a president's judgment that, in the years ahead, "the community of nations may see more and more of the very kind of threat Iraq poses now — a rogue state with weapons of mass destruction, ready to use them or provide them to terrorists." But since this was the assessment of President Clinton in a February 1998 speech at the Pentagon, Bush critics have a larger task in front of them than just going after the current administration."

Why do I quote this? Because this is something that the aardvark has long argued, which sets him appart from many other war critics, perhaps - Clinton's Iraq policy was pretty horrible too. The Clinton administration lied a lot about Iraq, played politics with the lives of the Iraqi people, defended and intensified the sanctions long after they had lost any justification or international support. The collapse of Security Council consensus came in the late 1990s under Clinton, and the 1998 Desert Fox bombing foreshadowed Bush's war. So my critique of US policy towards Iraq isn't just an attack on Bush - although Bush is a hundred times worse in every way - it's an attack on a systematically skewed policy in which domestic considerations too often trumped international reality, where the Iraqi people suffered immensely while the US moralized, where the US undermined the weapons inspections process in pursuit of regime change... so yes, there is more continuity between Clinton and Bush than many people are willing to admit. But not the aardvark.