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, June 20, 2003
 
The capture of Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti is really significant - probably the best chance anyone will have of finding out the truth about a lot of things. If there were WMD, he will know what happened to them. If Saddam is alive, he will know. Will be very interesting to find out what, if anything, they get out of him.

 
The Christian Science Monitor - an honest newspaper - has determined that the documents upon which it based its April 25 story about Geoge Galloway's relationship with Saddam Hussein's regime were forgeries. The aardvark is still patiently awaiting the Weekly Standard's apology for and retraction of its May 5 cover story by Stephen Hayes, "Saddam's Cash,", which took as proven fact the allegations against Galloway and used this as the foundation for a web of insinuation.

 
Ken Pollack finally answers his critics. He is sticking to his guns, resting his case on intelligence which predates Bush: we know Iraq had a weapons program then, we have no proof he got rid of it, therefore he had it when we went to war. He is harshly critical of the misuse of intelligence to sell the rush to war, which may surprise some people, but ultimately he sees this as an argument over timing, not the merits of invading (something which he did say in his book, to be fair). He responds to the straw man version of criticism, though - that Iraq never had a WMD program - which is an argument which no serious critic makes. The serious argument is over whether the WMD program that Iraq maintained in 2002 posed a threat which could not met by other means, not over whether Iraq ever had a WMD program. He has well-established views on the inspections' inability to meet the threat, views which he repeats here. That is something about which there can be legitimate debate. Crucially, Pollack agrees that Bush lied about the threat in order to sell the war, even if he continues to believe that the invasion was justified on its merits.

Thursday, June 19, 2003
 
I've now received reports on the proceedings of Stanley Kurtz's Title VI hearing from two different friends in attendance. From their overlapping notes, a basic picture emerges - only a couple of Congresspeople in attendance, one of whom seemed baffled as to the point of the hearing, and none particularly mobilized by Kurtz's agenda (you can see the preliminary press release here). Contrary to the aardvark's last post on the matter, Steve Heydemann of the SSRC did not in fact testify (I'm not sure why - he did appear on the amended list of witnesses - sorry about that). But it wasn't necessary. Kurtz was the only one on the panel going on on ideological rampage - apparently he repeated his NRO article almost verbatim, mentioning the UCSB reader (to which one Congresswoman said, puzzled, that individual reading selections obviously don't represent official policy), denouncing Edward Said, and calling for defunding of NRCs that don't accept NSEP money - and nobody was biting. According to one correspondent, "Stewart focused on the inadequacy of Federal funding for filling the international knowledge gap in the US. There was more positive interest in her suggestions -- more funding -- from the committee than in Kurtz's." Terry Hartle of the American Council on Education mounted a spirited rejoinder to Kurtz, noting that out of the 118 T VI-funded National Resource Centers, only 14 deal with ME studies. To quote from my correspondent, "He characterized this whole thing as an academic dispute over how to best understand ME politics and the anti-American sentiments that have become ever so pronounced after 9-11. In the wide spectrum, on one end there's the "Western world is at fault" idea represented by Said, on the other "West is blameless" represented by Bernard Lewis. Most ME scholars fall somewhere in between and the value is the rigorous interaction of scholars with various viewpoints; assertions of imbalance are unfounded." Another correspondent describes Hartle as "more polemical, calling Kurtz's charges "baseless and without merit" and highlighting Kurtz's hidden agenda of policing what is taught at Middle East studies NRCs. He pointed out that NSEP is not even in the jurisdiction of this subcommittee." There was some disagreement as to whether there was a boycott of NSEP, and an entertaining exchange about Edward Said - with Kurtz foaming at the mouth about this great enemy of the people, and ending in this delightful exchange, as reported by my trustworthy friend: "Hartle suggested that the committee write to NRC directors and ask them if they are brainwashed by Said, and Ryan (D-OH) said that was a good idea." So it looks like Kurtz's attempt to throw a bomb fizzled, but that doesn't mean that defenders of academic freedom or of the integrity of Middle East studies should relax. Kurtz is pretty low-wattage, just a foot soldier and not a very competent one at that, and he got a Congressional hearing. That can't be allowed to become a wedge for more potent attacks in the near future.

 
Hans Blix: "What surprises me, what amazes me, is that it seems the military people were expecting to stumble on large quantities of gas, chemical weapons and biological weapons. I don't see how they could have come to such an attitude if they had, at any time, studied the reports... Is the United Nations on a different planet? Are reports from here totally unread south of the Hudson?"

Comment seems superfluous.

 
And Michael Kinsley, who cuts to the heart of the matter as well as anyone: "As for settling the argument about WMD as a justification for the war, that argument is already settled. It's obvious that the Bush administration had no good evidence to back up its dire warnings. And even if months of desperate searching ultimately turn up a thing or two, this will hardly vindicate the administration's claim to have known it all along. The administration itself in effect now agrees that actually finding the weapons doesn't matter. It asserts that the war can be justified on humanitarian grounds alone, and that Saddam may have destroyed those weapons on his way out the door. (Exactly what we wanted him to do, by the way, now repositioned as a dirty trick.) These are not the sorts of things you say if you know those weapons exist. And if it doesn't matter that they don't seem to exist, it cannot logically matter if they do."

 
This is a must read: John Judis and Spencer Ackerman systematically and devastatingly review the debate over Iraq. You can not read this article, whatever your position on the war, and not conclude that the Bush administration at a minimum exaggerated the Iraq threat, and most probably lied. For context, they begin with a quote from the Iran-Contra Tower Commission: "The democratic processes ... are subverted when intelligence is manipulated to affect decisions by elected officials and the public." Neo-Reaganites, indeed. The punchline: "Whatever is found, what matters as far as American democracy is concerned is whether the administration gave Americans an honest and accurate account of what it knew. The evidence to date is that it did not, and the cost to U.S. democracy could be felt for years to come." A tip of the hat to Peter Beinart for publishing an article which puts a stake in the heart of a policy dear to The New Republic, and for his accompanying editorial (subscribers only).

 
I try not to, but every now and then... okay. So, Andrew Sullivan links to an article by PejmanYousefzadeh about the student uprisings in Iran. Sullivan's comment: "Pejman takes on the moral abdication of the Western left." But the article that he links to actually attacks the Bush administration and says not a word about "the Western left": "And a surefire way to get the press to pay more attention to the protests in Iran is for the Bush administration to talk more about Iran, and to make clear its support for the reformists who aim to change the policies of their country - as well as the regime that propagates those policies. It is puzzling why the administration has not lent more public support to the Iranian reform movement, especially considering just how much regime and policy changes in Iran could benefit the United States, and the international community at large." So, that's Sullivan for you, once again - in his histrionics to attack the Left, he doesn't even bother to read the article that he links to.

 
Some interesting points emerge from a story ostensibly about US success in rounding up allies to help occupy Iraq. Wolfowitz's begging for money - "Mr. Wolfowitz said the Pentagon would probably have to ask Congress to approve another supplemental spending request to pay for the costs of military operations in Iraq" and "Mr. Wolfowitz repeatedly asked lawmakers today for authority to spend $200 million to train and equip additional Iraqi police forces who would take over duties now performed by Army troops" - suggest that the Pentagon is running into resistance over the escalating expense of an occupation that isn't ending any time soon. Congress isn't quite ready to give a blank check for running Iraq. Nickel and diming an occupation which is already dangerously ineffective isn't going to help, especially given the escalating guerrilla war and the anger of most Iraqis over the nature of the occupation. Winning hearts and minds - much less establishing order, a functioning political system or an economy - without cash isn't going to be easy.

The lead - "Between 20,000 and 30,000 allied troops from more than a dozen nations will begin arriving in Iraq in mid-August to replace some of the American forces leading the military occupation there, Pentagon officials said today" - sounds good, until you start looking at the details. Very few of the countries involved are volunteering their troops with enthusiasm, and all will likely expect some quid pro quo. India is mentioned in the article, but there is a political firestorm in India right now over this question, which such a casual mention of their likely participation probably won't help. Wolfowitz mentions Turkey as one of the countries volunteering troops - "Turkey is eager now to assist us in the reconstruction of Iraq," Mr. Wolfowitz said. "That's just one example of a country that has begun to move in our direction." - which is very interesting, since one of the big diplomatic battles in the runup to war was over how to keep Turkish troops out of northern Iraq -they wanted them in, we wanted them out. I'll just bet that they are quite willing to now "move in our direction" and send troops into northern Iraq. New "allies" Honduras and El Salvador will, I'm sure, be quite useful - at least their armed forces have experience in counter-insurgency, right? Ah yes, the El Salvadoran military... just the kind of allies you want to help build a democracy. Good thing we have Elliot Abrams taking a lead role in Middle East policy now - how else would we come up with such gems?

 
Yitzhak Nakhash, who wrote one of the few good books about the Shi'i in Iraq, has a piece in the new Foreign Affairs on "The Shi'ite and the Future of Iraq." Sound bite: "There is a big gap, in short, between the Bush administration's vision of a new Iraq and the expectations of Shi'ites for the post-Saddam era. Whereas some members of the administration have envisaged a Western-style democratic Iraq led by a secular pro-U.S. government, Shi'ites (and many other Iraqis) appear to prefer an independent Iraq with a system of government that reflects their own culture and traditions and that does not serve as a base for U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf. The destruction caused by the war, and the delay in restoring services and security, has further widened the gap. Defining the new U.S.-Iraqi relationship will not be easy, therefore, and will require compromises on both sides." For another good analysis, Juan Cole's earlier piece for MERIP still makes for enlightening reading.

In the same issue, Ken Pollack weighs in on "Securing the Gulf." He identifies "three main problems likely to bedevil Persian Gulf security over the next several years will be Iraq's security dilemma, Iran's nuclear weapons program, and potential internal unrest in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to these problems separately, let alone together, and so difficult tradeoffs will have to be made." Overall, the essay looks like a sharp and thoughtful Realist analysis, which is what I'd expect from Ken Pollack - for all my disagreements with him over Iraq, I have always found him to be extremely sharp, knowledgable, and insightful. Those of you looking for an explanation as to why the "threatening storm" was not, in fact, quite so threatening, or as to how he could have so dramatically misjudged the extent of the Iraqi threat, will want to look elsewhere.

 
John Kerry discovers his backbone. Note that he still is covering his flank in case something turns up - very smart to focus on the deception rather than on whether or not some WMD turn up: starting to fight, but still nibbling: "John Kerry said Wednesday that President Bush broke his promise to build an international coalition against Iraq's Saddam Hussein and then waged a war based on questionable intelligence. "He misled every one of us," Kerry said. "That's one reason why I'm running to be president of the United States." Kerry said Bush made his case for war based on at least two pieces of U.S. intelligence that now appear to be wrong — that Iraq sought nuclear material from Africa and that Saddam's regime had aerial weapons capable of attacking the United States with biological material. Still, Kerry said it is too early to conclude whether or not war with Iraq was justified. There needs to be a congressional investigation into U.S. intelligence on Iraq, he said. ....Kerry supported the war and said Wednesday, "I'm glad Saddam Hussein is gone." But the Massachusetts senator has criticized the president's diplomatic efforts. ... saying Bush had alienated U.S. allies in the runup to war. As for the question about U.S. intelligence, Kerry said he has led the call for a congressional investigation and pledged, "We will get to the bottom of this." Kerry said he supported a congressional investigation because it was not clear whether Bush acted on poor, distorted or politicized intelligence. "I don't have the answer," he said. "I want the answer and the American people deserve the answer. I will get to the bottom of this."


 
Looks like Stanley Kurtz shot himself in the foot - by bragging about his little anti-Middle Eastern Studies dog and pony show in the NRO before the hearing instead of after, people got wind of it and stepped in. Steve Heydemann of the SSRC - who was NOT on the original lineup of witnesses, since he learned about it at the same time the aardvark did - is now on the roster, and he will be a tough and honest advocate for the forces of reason. Here's all the info on the hearing:

Hearing on "International Programs in Higher Education and Questions of Bias," scheduled for 1:00 p.m. in room 2175 Rayburn HOB. Witnesses scheduled to appear:
Dr. Foster Roden
Director, Center for NAFTA Studies Curriculum and Outreach Initiatives
University of North Texas
Denton, Texas

Mr. Stanley Kurtz
Fellow
Hoover Institution
Washington, DC

Ms. Vivien Stewart
Vice President for Education Programs
Asia Society
New York, NY

Mr. Terry Hartle
Senior Vice President for Government and Public Affairs
American Council on Education
Washington, DC

Dr. Gilbert W. Merkx
Vice Provost for International Affairs
Duke University
Durham, North Carolina

Steven Heydemann
Program Director
Social Science Research Council


Wednesday, June 18, 2003
 
Stansfield Turner, former CIA director, joins the chorus accusing Team Bush of misusing intelligence: 'There is no question in my mind (policymakers) distorted the situation, either because they had bad intelligence or because they misinterpreted it.'' This has to be approaching critical mass even for war hawks - and their increasingly hysterical responses suggest that they know this.

 
Inspired by a bit in Alterman today (and obviously with too much time, or more accurately too much work, on my hands), I went back to President Bush's March 17, 2003, speech to the nation about war in Iraq. Bush, as you all know, is accusing critics of his lies about WMD of being "revisionist historians" - what matters, he tells us, is that the Iraqi people are free. So, what did President Bush tell the nation was the reason for war? Using simple Microsoft "word count" technology, and coding by paragraph, President Bush gave a speech totalling 1768 words. Of those words, 1516 discussed the threat posed by Iraq in various forms, particularly its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Of those words, 252 - coded generously to include the entire paragraph in which the references appear - discuss the liberation of the Iraqi people. That sounds to me like the Iraqi threat, not Iraqi liberation, was the real purpose of the war, as explained by President George Bush on the eve of the war. Revisionism, anyone?

 
Fast response! A reader agrees with my overall analysis, but lets me know that in fact I understated the MERIP treatment of Iran in my post below (I've given up on permalinks... just look down a few posts):

"At the time of the protests last December, which were arguably larger than the latest round, Ian Urbina [of MERIP] co-wrote an op-ed in the NYT with living, breathing student protest leader Saeed Razavi-Faqih in which Saeed argued (contra neo-cons) that the students indeed want democracy, but their own form of it based on the original ideals of the Islamic Revolution, and definitely not "American democracy" imposed from the outside. Not what the neo-cons or, for that matter, the secular lefties of MERIP want to hear...but that's what most living, breathing Iranian students say they want. Of course, their voice is to be ignored, and replaced by the neo-con/Pahlavi supporter simulacrum of their voice. This is an analytical error as well as politicized puffery. Khajehpour's piece argues that the Western images of "reformist" and "conservative" in Iran actually evoke extreme poles at opposite ends of a much more variegated spectrum. To focus on their battle gives one the emotional highs and lows, but probably misses the underlying political dynamics, which are characterized by remarkable consensus on key strategic issues. Hence the Iranian system is not about to collapse. Again not what the neo-cons or, for that matter, the secular lefties of MERIP want to hear, but such is the serious analysis of a knowledgeable observer on the ground."

No further comment - except to add that it is notable that MERIP's articles have often been written by Iranians in Iran rather than by American neocons in Washington DC.

 
The LA Times reports: "A sweeping overhaul of the search for Saddam Hussein's suspected weapons of mass destruction is creating an operation with striking similarities to the United Nations inspection system that Bush administration officials openly derided before the war, according to senior military and intelligence officials here. Unlike the U.N. teams, however, the new weapons hunt will rely chiefly on "secret squirrels," as U.S. commanders call the growing army here of CIA and military intelligence operatives, National Security Agency eavesdroppers, British MI-6 agents and elite Special Operations teams whose very existence is classified. "

Two points. First, well, I guess UNSCOM and UNMOVIC weren't so lame after all, huh? I mean, it's been nice to see hawks trying to justify Bush's lies referring so frequently and reverently to the UN's reports as evidence that Iraq had a WMD program - they should refer to them, since those agencies did first rate work, but they should be at least a little bit embarrassed since they spent the last year defaming those same agencies as incompetent.

Second, well, I just *love* it that our secret weapon is... "secret squirrels." "Hey Rocky! Watch me pull a nuclear warhead out of my hat!" "Again? That trick never works." "Presto! Whoah! Guess I don't know my own strength!" "And now, for something that really works."

 
It isn't exactly hard-hitting critical journalism, but check out the very interesting PBS show on the emerging Iraqi print media. The emergence of a vibrant and genuinely free press is absolutely vital for there to be any chance of building an Iraqi democracy, and I heartily applaud any and all efforts to make this happen. A press alone isn't enough of course, and an unregulated press during a period of political transition can be inflammatory and destabilizing, particularly if extremists or outside actors have the resources and the incentive to flood the market (Jack Snyder and Karen Ballantine had a provocative article about this in International Security a few years ago), but these are good concerns to have to deal with, unlike, well, virtually everything else in Iraq.

 
Leave it to Andrew Sullivan to take a complex and important issue and turn it into a simplistic and exaggerated attack on the Left! Sullivan complains that the Left has ignored the story of the student protests in Iran, and this shows once again that the Left hates America more than it hates injustice, evil, whatever. Has the Left (whatever that is) ignored Iran? The aardvark hasn't, but I lay no claim whatsoever to be among this mysterious, mighty Left. What about MERIP, the premiere left-leaning journal of Middle Eastern studies? Hmm. The current issue has nothing... except for "High Stakes for Iran," by Kaveh Ehsani. The previous issue has nothing... except for "Last Efforts of Iran's Reformists" by Ali Rezaei. The issue before that? "Iranian Documentary Cinema Between Reality and Fiction," by Persheng Vaziri - which might not sound on target except for the highly political nature of the contestation of the Iranian cinema and its contribution to the reformist public sphere. And before that? An online article, "Protest and Regime Resilience in Iran," by Bijan Khajehpour So I think it is safe to say that MERIP, at least, has not ignored the struggle for reform in Iran.

So aside from the fact that Sullivan's charge isn't true, what might explain it (I know, I know... but with Sullivan you just have no choice but to engage in these counterfactuals, because otherwise there's nothing to work with)? Outside the world of Middle East specialists, my hunch is that most people don't know very much about Iran, they saw all the lies about Iraq, they saw the absurd axis of evil speech, and they assume that this is all just another neocon fantasy. This isn't entirely right, but you can understand the non-specialist's skepticism. Especially since it is common knowledge among specialists that neocons like Michael Ledeen have been wildly exaggerating the extent of protests in Iran for the last couple of years. With Ledeen saying that tens of thousands of angry students marched, and every journalist on the ground saying it was a few hundred students listening to a speaker at a podium, you tend to discount new reports as more crying wolf.

Most people who do follow things in Iran closely see what is happening there as a complex power struggle which has been going on for years, which has seen exhilerating ups and crushing downs for reformists. We've learned to not get too excited about the highs or too glum about the lows, and to focus on ways to strengthen the reformists over the long haul. And we tend to think that engagement strategies - relaxing the atmosphere to take away the conservatives' argument that the protests are simply an American insurgency attempt, rewarding signs of moderation and punishing extremism - tend to be more effective than confrontational strategies. The response the Right advocates - escalate American anti-Iran rhetoric, egg the protestors on - plays right into the hands of Khamenei and the conservatives. It "proves" that the reformists are just American pawns (they aren't, but Khamenei and company are every bit as gifted as Andrew Sullivan at smearing political enemies). Team Bush's decision to give up on Khatami as just another face of the regime really hurts the reformists by weakening the position of someone who actually has electoral legitimacy, even if most people have grown deeply frustrated with his failures.

In short, by encouraging a *revolutionary* solution which is highly unlikely, based on reports which have a history of only tenuous connection with reality (based on information provided by opposition figures in exile.. sound familiar?), the Bush/neocon approach makes *reform* less likely. I don't know anyone -- anyone -- on the left-leaning side of Middle East studies who isn't rooting for the Iranian reformers. Martin Kramer's silly book attacking Middle East studies took this as a major criticism, if I remember correctly - that we overestimated the prospects for reform, Khatami, Soroush, and so on. To say that the Left doesn't care about Iran isn't just untrue, it's virtually the opposite of the truth - we have been pushing for support for Khatami and the reform movement for a long time, while the Right preferred to ignore the reform movement and push for an anti-Islamist revolution. Whether reformists had a chance to succeed is a legitimate intellectual and policy disagreement, but for Sullivan to conjure the charge that the Left is ignoring Iran - and, of course, to have it rebound through the ever so tiresome conservative blogosphere's and media's echo chamber - is just another act of misdirection.

 
I don't usually link to cartoons, but Tbogg did it first, and it is very funny. "The goal was not to ride the Segway, the goal was to free the Iraqi people" Thank you, Mr. Toles.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003
 
Robin Cook says it well, in a country that actually allows open Parliamentary hearings when serious allegations of Executive fraud arise: "Mr. Cook said that his experience convinced him that "instead of using intelligence as evidence on which to base a decision about policy, we used intelligence as the basis on which to justify a policy on which we had already settled."" That, for those of you taking notes at home, is called lying.

And, the same article notes, " A poll in the Times of London said that 58 percent of the public now suspects that the United States and Britain exaggerated the threat of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction to win public support for the war. And the same survey reported that a third of the voting public say that the Iraq war has lowered their trust in Tony Blair."

 
In the course of my real work, which is why I haven't been blogging today, I came across what can be read as a very nice theoretical explanation for why most blog discussions turn ugly and stupid so quickly, check out (if you are academically inclined) Cass Sunstein's contribution to the edited volume Debating Deliberative Democracy (Blackwell 2003). Sunstein sets out what he calls "the law of group polarization," in which he advances the hypothesis that deliberation in the public sphere, rather than reaching rational consensus, will instead lead to group polarization: "members of a deliberating group predictably move toward an extreme point in the direction indicated by the members' predeliberation tendencies." This won't surprise anyone who has spent any time in blog posting boards, but it does pose a challenge to many more optimistic theories of deliberative democracy. Which is something for which I know all of you carry a deep, passionate interest - theories of deliberative democracy! Anyway, I think Sunstein overstates his case, but he does offer some extremely provocative arguments (mainly the pressures of identity and reputation, and what he calls limited argument pools), some really sharp examples, a plausible causal logic, and some useful suggestions for institutional designs which might produce better or worse quality deliberation.

 
Very busy today, and Blogger is acting up, so posting will be light. Sorry- maybe after lunch, maybe not.

Monday, June 16, 2003
 
Good piece in Newsweek about the discrediting of the neocons. With Iraq bogged down and heading towards quagmire, Chalabi sidelined, no WMD found, no Israeli-Palestinian peace flowing from the fall of Baghdad, no clear hawkish solutions to the problems posed by North Korea or Iran, and dramatically increasing anti-American public opinion around the world and especially in the Muslim world, the article argues, the neocons are on the defensive in Washington. That happens when all your predictions prove false and then people find out that you lied. People are finally asking hard questions about the validity of their assumptions. This is all to the good - although I think that claims that the neocon moment is over might be overly optimistic. And even if it isn't, even if we can look forward to a return to sanity in American foreign policy, it will still be a tragedy that these questions weren't posed one war earlier.

 
"The scene at the deserted National Library in Baghdad looks almost too staged to be true. ... Through smashed windows one can see blackened corridors and heaps of sooty debris. On the iron grill of the entrance, locked now to the pillagers who stripped the library clean before torching it, hangs this neatly lettered cardboard sign: 'A library has the sanctity of a hospital andthe holiness of a house of God. Behave here as you would there.' The sign appears to be the only intact article of literature left, out of a collection of one million volumes, twenty million periodicals, and many original manuscripts."
But it was all just a liberal media hoax, right?

 
Jonah Goldberg dismisses Eric Alterman's conservative media theory. It's absurd! It's a lie! It's a conspiracy theory! The good sense of the American people will protect them from the absurdity of the lying conpiracy theory! Okay, today's challenge: Go read Alterman's What Liberal Media? All of it. Then go back and read Goldberg. Quiz: does Alterman's thesis resemble Goldberg's characterization of it? Who better describes the state of American media today? Who provides more convincing evidence for his position? Extra Credit: does FAIR's study (blogged on June 6) that found "during three weeks of war on six networks, 64% of all sources appearing on-camera were pro-war; only 6% of all non-Iraqi sources and an astonishing 3% of all American sources were anti-war. CBS, amazingly enough, did worse than Fox - 3% of Fox sources were anti-war and only 1% of CBS sourcees (take that, Bernie Goldberg!)" support Alterman or Goldberg?

 
Daniel Pipes (US Institute for Peace nominee), Martin Kramer and Stanley Kurtz are getting their hearing from sympathetic Republican Congressmen about alleged anti-Americanism in Middle East studies. Basically, Kramer and company are upset that most scholars of the Middle East are insufficiently pro-Israeli, don't restrict their analysis of Islamic movements to denunciations of their Islamofascist evils, and often question American Middle East policy. Kurtz's re-presentation of his argument today demonstrates exactly what is wrong with this whole ideologically motivated attack. First, he - like Kramer and Pipes - radically overstates the influence and importance of Edward Said in contemporary Middle East studies. While Said has been important, he has virtually no real influence in the Political Science part of Middle East studies, as anyone with even the remotest familiarity with the scholarship of the last 5-10 years would know (if "anyone" had any interest in the truth, as opposed to rhetorical gamesmanship). Second, he "exposes" anti-American political views among the NYU faculty. Horrors! Faculty critical of the war on Iraq and the war on terror... how can this be? Quoting a few people out of context and then generalizing to an entire field to score empty partisan points... yawn. Third, he denounces MESA for its boycott of the NSEP, the new national security program to fund the study of Middle Eastern languages; but he neglects to mention that the next MESA meeting voted in favor of a proposal by Gregory Gause of the University of Vermont to leave this up to individual institutions. So what is to be done? Take the money away from the universities and give it to right wing think tanks! No, really. Could an objectively pro-statue aardvark make this stuff up?
UPDATE - okay, maybe I'm extrapolating the "give the money to right wing think tanks" part from between the lines and from things others in his cohort have written... he doesn't actually say "right wing think tanks" in this NRO article. He wants the money given to the Defense Language Institute. Fair enough. But he echoes the broader call to defund academic research on the Middle East, which has been central to Kramer's advocacy.

 
I always love Busy Busy Busy, but it is on a serious roll right now. Brings back the glorious age of Ted Barlow's light bulb jokes.

Some recent highlights:
Shorter John McCain: "It may be that the casus belli of an imminent Iraqi WMD threat was based on imperfect intelligence, but that doesn't really matter anymore since I can easily justify the war by simply counting all of its benefits and ignoring all of its costs."

Shorter Bill Keller: "I still feel good about the war on Iraq, but I'm a bit worried that the visible dissembling and flimflam issuing from our corrupted intelligence apparatus might hinder the marketing of additional wars. "

Shorter Charles Krauthammer: "The press's over-estimation of looted Iraqi artifacts was clearly mendacious, while the administration's over-estimation of Iraqi WMD was merely an honest assessment of the best available intelligence. "

It's like with Neal Pollack vs Andrew Sullivan: when you have this, so much shorter and so much funnier, why bother with the original?

 
Why does public opinion remain relatively sanguine about Iraq even though, objectively speaking, the military occupation is going quite badly, no WMD have been found and it is pretty clear that Team Bush lied about them, and no evidence whatsoever has surfaced of Iraqi ties to al-Qaeda? One answer, much beloved on the right, is that the good sense of the American people sees the bigger picture than do querelous elites. Here's another answer: the American people just don't know what's going on. The results of the latest public opinion poll helps resolve which of these competing explanations seems most accurate: asked straightfoward factual questions, "A third of the American public believes U.S. forces found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, according to a recent poll, and 22 percent said Iraq actually used chemical or biological weapons." Also, the "poll's data showed the mistaken belief that weapons of mass destruction were found "is substantially greater among those who favored the war."" Now one-third, or 22%, are not huge numbers - but it's a baseline of ignorance which has to put public opinion polls into perspective.



 
If you read one article today, make it this one. Rand Beers, who recently resigned his senior post in counter-terrorism at the NSC, lays out a withering critique of the Bush administration's war on terror and on Iraq. From the inside, he confirms virtually every critique made about Iraq and about Bush's national security policies. Some choice quotes:
""The administration wasn't matching its deeds to its words in the war on terrorism. They're making us less secure, not more secure."

""Counterterrorism is like a team sport. The game is deadly. There has to be offense and defense," Beers said. "The Bush administration is primarily offense, and not into teamwork."

"The focus on Iraq has robbed domestic security of manpower, brainpower and money, he said. The Iraq war created fissures in the United States' counterterrorism alliances, he said, and could breed a new generation of al Qaeda recruits. Many of his government colleagues, he said, thought Iraq was an "ill-conceived and poorly executed strategy." "I continue to be puzzled by it," said Beers, who did not oppose the war but thought it should have been fought with a broader coalition. "Why was it such a policy priority?" The official rationale was the search for weapons of mass destruction, he said, "although the evidence was pretty qualified, if you listened carefully." He thinks the war in Afghanistan was a job begun, then abandoned. Rather than destroying al Qaeda terrorists, the fighting only dispersed them. The flow of aid has been slow and the U.S. military presence is too small, he said. "Terrorists move around the country with ease. We don't even know what's going on. Osama bin Laden could be almost anywhere in Afghanistan," he said. "

There's more.

Sunday, June 15, 2003
 
According to British intelligence, the mobile homes of death were not, in fact, part of a biological weapons program. I don't know the truth here, but the basic principle of "if Bush says it, it must be a lie" seems to apply.

 
A final cheerful thought and then I'm really out of here... Bush might resemble his dad in another way. If he is removed from office in 2004 (I don't say "loses the election," since that is demonstrably not enough), Iraq could be his Somalia: a poison pill left over for his Democratic successor to deal with. People forget that Bush Elder went into Somalia for "humanitarian" reasons and then left Clinton to deal with a collapsing situation. A Democratic President will have to deal with Iraq, even if Bush has run it (along with everything else) into the ground, and this might pre-empt everything else on the new President's agenda. Cheers!

 
Really quickly (I know I keep saying that I have to go, and then showing up again, but the cub keeps falling lightly asleep, then waking up again, then falling asleep again.. she's so *yawn* cute) - the other rhetorical gambit now in common circulation is that the anti-war advocates must be deeply embarrassed by the discovery of mass graves and torture chambers and the like. Again, as with the attempt to turn the argument that "Iraq's WMD were not a threat" into "Iraq must not have had any WMD," this is a slick attempt to rewrite the reality of the debate to force the left to defend a straw-man position. Virtually nobody in the mainstream anti-war movement disputed that Saddam Hussein ran a horrible, nasty regime which heartily deserved to go. Few of us were surprised by the mass graves, especially those of us with long experience in the region who knew exactly how bad his regime was - anyone who argued otherwise should be embarrassed, I suppose, but to generalize from a radical fringe to the wider anti-war movement is such a tedious conservative tactic that it hardly deserves response. Most of us argued that the nature of the Iraqi regime alone did not justify a war, with all of its negative repercussions and implications, particularly when other, more multilateral and less internationally destructive, routes were available. And don't forget, the Bush administration did not make this argument either - it justified the war partly with the "liberation" rhetoric, but much more forcefully with the argument that Iraqi WMD posed an urgent threat to the United States that could not be met short of war. Nobody except for the most idealistic cheerleaders for the war believe (or pretend to believe) that the US fought the war for humanitarian reasons alone - certainly not Team Bush. The focus on the atrocities of Saddam's regime is important - it is to America's credit that it put an end to such a regime, and hopefully the Right will now be much more sympathetic to human rights activists and reports of atrocious regimes - but it shouldn't blind anyone to the wider political and strategic ramifications of the war.

 
A lot of great stuff over at Kos, as usual, but Steve Gilliard's latest, Bremer's Dilemma, is a must-see. The best thing to be said for Bremer is that he has been willing to recognize reality, that this is a military occupation. That's an important change from Garner's "we have liberated you, little birds, now fly free!" neocon fantasy. So score one for Bremer. But military occupations are tricky things. And recognizing that you are doing one doesn't mean that you are doing it well. Aircraft carrier parties aside, the war is not over yet, as the military on the ground knows perfectly well. The American situation right now is one that is all too familiar to Israelis trying to control the West Bank and Gaza (albeit without the ideological claims on the land or the settlements dispossessing the current inhabitants), the Soviets in Afghanistan, or the Americans in Vietnam. It's a tough one, which is going to require a lot of troops on the ground for a long time. And a mission, a clear mission - because if they don't start doing a better job selling a vision of a future, democratic, non-occupied Iraq to Iraqis really quickly, then it's going to keep getting messier. But enough... the cub is calling again, so off to more important things!

 
It's still the weekend, so won't be saying much today - the sun (!) and the cub are far more appealing. But wanted to quickly respond to a subtle rhetorical shift that I've noted throughout the Sunday papers. Defenders of the war are now attacking critics for arguing that the failure to find WMD means that Iraq never had WMD at all. This is a straw man, not at all what critics are saying, and nobody should allow the argument to be defined on those terms. Nobody is saying that Iraq never had a WMD program. That isn't the point. The point is whether Iraqi WMD posed a threat, and whether that threat could be met with UN inspections without a war. It's fascinating that many in the war party, who spent months dismissing UN inspectors as worse than useless, now happily rely on their findings as evidence of the Iraqi weapons program. I applaud this, of course, since UNSCOM and UNMOVIC remain our best and most reliable source of information about the weapons programs, and I appreciate that their former critics now retroactively admit that they were either lying or misinformed about those agencies - but it should be pointed out, again and again, that this information can not be used to justify war on the grounds of an imminent Iraqi threat. The total failure of the United States to produce any evidence of an active, dangerous weapons program which eluded the inspectors troubles all honest observers. It has forced the less honest war partisans to recraft their rhetoric, and to try to shift the subject to museums and "liberation." But that is changing the subject... not that they do any better on those grounds. But that's a subject for another day - the cub beckons!


Experiment!