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!

mail the aardvark!



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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Recent Aardvark Comments On MEMRI
On Iraqi censorship
On Satloff
On Ferber the neocon
On Iraqi TV
A new cub, or why we blog

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Friday, July 04, 2003
 
How exhausting is a baby aardvark? Here's an actual conversation a couple of days ago:
Friend of the aardvark: hey, what are you guys doing for the fourth?
Aardvark (panicked): the fourth what?!?!?

Happy fourth... of July! Now get off the computer and go watch a parade or something.

Thursday, July 03, 2003
 
Hugs and Puppies: "The attack suggested that the urban warfare that had so concerned military planners before the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime was materializing in unexpected forms. The attack against the three-vehicle convoy on Haifa Street was at least the second rocket-propelled grenade assault in broad daylight in Baghdad this week. In both cases, the attackers escaped. Whether out of fear or sympathy for their cause, bystanders and witnesses have done nothing to help coalition forces apprehend attackers.... Soldiers who arrived at the scene of the rocket-propelled grenade attack in Baghdad this morning crouched by their vehicles or pointed their weapons at the high-rise apartment buildings lining that section of the street. In the distance, an AK-47 rifle sounded. A crowd of people, meanwhile, gathered around the destroyed Humvee and looted it, taking whatever they could remove. Children and adults climbed on top, stomping on it and chanting, "God bless Mohammad!" Then someone set the vehicle on fire and the crowd backed away, watching it slowly burn. Children hurled rocks at the blaze."

It's scenes like this that make the prognosis for the occupation of Iraq so frightening. Whatever Bremer and Rumsfeld say, the occupation forces are not dealing with random, scattered remnants of the old regime who are spoiling an otherwise rosy picture. What jumps out from this description is that (a) the attackers enjoy sufficient support as to be able to vanish into the crowds; and (b) the willingness of regular people to engage in such open defiance suggests that they are neither intimidated nor amused by American threats and demonstrations of force. The more that the Occupation uses military solutions and collective punishment (and fails to get the electricity on), the more that these two extremely dangerous trends will intersect with the increasingly vocal demands of the major political parties. Combine this with the story that Juan Cole discusses about Bremer's thus far unanswered appeals for more troops, and you can see what's ahead. And of course now American "credibility" is on the line, so backing down is not an option because of the "signal" it would send to other challengers.... no, no quagmire here, nothing at ALL like Vietnam, just move along and check out this lovely statue. It took Rumsfeld and Bush long enough to admit that this is an "occupation," but eventually they bowed to reality. Military officers on the ground openly say "we are still at war," even if the political leadership won't admit it; but reality does have a way of imposing itself. Now why didn't anyone - anyone at all - warn that the occupation might go this way? Oh, that's right.


 
Neocon versus neocon : you lied, they lied, he lied, we all lied.

UPDATE: elaborate, you say? Okay - here's the cliff notes version of the great debate:
The New Republic: Bush lied - we can't believe it. We're still happy about the war, but - he lied!
The Weekly Standard: Of course he lied. How else could he get the war?
The New Republic: But lying is wrong, even if the war was absolutely right.
The Weekly Standard: What are you, twelve? "Lying" isn't "wrong," if Republicans do it.

 
Is it just me, or does NewBlogger make anyone else's computer crash a lot? I use a Mac and Netscape, and almost every time I open a second window, the whole system collapses - which makes it really inconvenient to add links. Anyone know if there's a quick fix to this (and don't say "get a PC" because I'll never be that desperate).

 
"President Bush yesterday delivered a colloquial taunt to militants who have been attacking U.S. troops in Iraq, saying "bring 'em on" and asserting that the forces in Iraq are "plenty tough" to deal with the threat." Does the aardvark just channel the zeitgeist, or what? (I'd say I fall in the "or what" category (and bonus points if you can identify *this* pretty obscure pop culture reference)). Just yesterday, the aardvark was snuffling on about Eliza Dushku, and here's the President standing up, thrusting his chest out and waving his pompoms, yelling defiantly "bring it on!" But, um, Mister President? I know you're busy not finding WMD and raising millions of dollars from grateful rich people for cutting their taxes and driving the economy into the ground and everything, but last I heard the guerillas were bringing it on, rather effectively, to the great distress of our soldiers in the field - who are, without question, plenty tough, but who do not deserve to put in a position of being randomly shot or blown up. Try again.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003
 
Hey, did you catch Meet the Press the other day? George Bush was on it, and Tim Russert gave the President a pop quiz about "his chief political obsession: Where are the weapons of mass destruction?" Russert asked Bush who was in charge of the urgent search for WMD. Here's the rest: "Turning to his Baghdad proconsul, Paul Bremer, Bush asked, "Are you in charge of finding WMD?" Bremer said no, he was not. Bush then put the same question to his military commander, General Tommy Franks. But Franks said it wasn't his job either. A little exasperated, Bush asked, So who is in charge of finding WMD? After aides conferred for a moment, someone volunteered the name of Stephen Cambone, a little-known deputy to Donald Rumsfeld, back in Washington. Pause. "Who?" Bush asked." At the end of this embarrassing episode, Russert stared for a long, long three seconds, and then exhaled and then said, in that imperious way of his, "Don't you think that as Commander in Chief you need to know these things?" The media jumped all over this - that darned Liberal Media - as the conventional wisdom quickly hardened: Bush just was not serious enough to be President. Other journalists, smelling blood, started pressing Bush about his other problems with the truth. And then, Eliza Dushku swung by the aardvark's place just to, you know, hang out.

NOTE - none of the above actually happened, in case you've been living under rocks or, god forbid, outside enjoying the sun. Well, the whole conversation thing did happen, but it was in Qatar, and except for about a zillion bloggers, nobody else seems to have much cared. The Meet the Press thing, well, that was Dean, of course - gosh, should the aardvark really have to explain his jokes? Oh, and Mrs. Aardvark says enough with the Eliza Dushku lines now, okay?

 
To follow up on the dialogue with Martin Kramer yesterday (hey, check out the permalinks - maybe this new blogger is okay!), I might suggest going back to a review of Kramer's book published in Foreign Affairs by Greg Gause, another political scientist. Gause makes many of the same points that I did, and a few others besides.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003
 
Be sure to read Juan Cole's analysis of Ayatollah Sistani's fatwa and Bremer's options. Here are some highlights: "Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has entered Iraqi politics in an unexpectedly big way. He has denounced US administrator Paul Bremer's plan to appoint a large constitutional committee to write a new Iraqi constitution. He insists that Bremer has no such authority, and that delegates to an Iraqi constitutional convention must be elected by the Iraqi people. Moreover, he says, the constitution itself should be subject to a popular referendum before it is implemented.... It is very suspicious to me that this fatwa was issued after Sistani met with Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress. Chalabi had been hoping for some time that the US would just hand Iraq over to him and walk away after Saddam fell. Jay Garner, the first American proconsul, seemed inclined to do just that. .... Garner tried to hand power over to the INC before he was deposed, but he was reversed in this by Paul Bremer, who is the State Department's man even if he ultimately reports to Rumsfeld. Bremer nixed the idea of early elections, an early handover to an Iraqi government, or an unsupervised constitutional convention. Bremer thinks he is going to rule Iraq himself, personally, through his appointees--Westerners and Iraqis--for at least two years. Bremer seems determined to sideline both Chalabi and SCIRI. My guess is that Chalabi and SCIRI spiritual leader Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim have decided that the best way to push Bremer back toward the Garner (aka Wolfowitz/Rumsfeld) plan is to enlist the aid of Sistani, the towering religious and moral authority for most Iraqi Shiites. Sistani is basically a quietist and would not have wanted to get involved, but somehow they have convinced him to do so. ..... What is remarkable to me is how little his fatwa appeals to principles of Islamic law. It cites no holy text or principle, at least as quoted in az-Zaman. It is a simple statement of the primacy of national self-determination. It echoes Jefferson and Wilson.... Sistani has thrown down a very heavy steel gauntlet. Lets see if Bremer picks it up. He ignores this fatwa to his very great peril."

 
Sanity sinking in? Via Billmon, a CNN poll which shows some signs of life in the American public. Key findings: " Only 56 percent of Americans think current U.S.-coalition efforts as going well, according to a new CNN/USA Today Gallup poll. That is much lower than the 70 percent in late May and the 86 percent in early May who thought things were going well." This only shows that they are paying attention - doesn't say what they think about it, though, or whether they think it's important. So check this out: " Although the percentage of those who believe going to war in Iraq was worthwhile has fallen to 56 percent from 73 percent in April, more than two-thirds believe having U.S. troops in Iraq now is worthwhile." Only 56% now think the war was worthwhile - and that is going to continue to fall as the guerrilla war drags on, as long as (and possibly in the unlikely event that) significant WMD are found. The more than two-thirds who say that having troops there now is valuable shouldn't necessarily be read as an endorsement of the war - more a recognition that someone has to clean up the mess Bush has made. And, at last, some signs that the American people do care if they were lied to: 53% now say that it would matter "a great deal" if Bush misled the public about Iraqi WMD, and another 22% say it would matter "a moderate amount."

 
Check out Tim Dunlop'svery interesting paper on blogging, public intellectuals, and deliberative democracy theory. He makes a pretty strong case for how blogging breaks down some unhelpful distinctions between citizen and expert, and also has some thoughts on different styles of argument which blogging makes possible. An essay after an aardvark's heart!

 
Don't miss Richard Holbrooke's impatient demolition of Newt Gingrich. I admit to being baffled as to why Foreign Policy gave Gingrich the cover of what is otherwise a strong issue (Robert Jervis on the logic of empire is particularly good.) Everyone agreed that Gingrich was swinging wildly, and missing, when he gave this talk at AEI - so why this, now? Here's Holbrooke: "With such a stunning mishmash of wild charges and reasonable recommendations, it is hard to know where to begin.... Gingrich's thesis can be summarized by quoting from the article's subhead: "Anti-American sentiment is rising unabated around the globe because the U.S. State Department has abdicated values and principles in favor of accommodation and passivity." Gingrich takes an astonishing swing at the State Department, writing: "We can no longer accept a culture that props up dictators, coddles the corrupt, and ignores secret police forces." Is this the same man who, as speaker, led the House in a 3 to 1 vote against President Clinton's Bosnia policy, the very policy that ended that four-year war and started a process that led to the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic? Is the "culture" he refers to the same one whose current leader, Colin Powell, eloquently focused on human rights in Burma during his recent trip to Southeast Asia?"

Holbrooke makes an important point here: " If one accepts Gingrich's central argument, his real target should be the White House, even the president, for being unable to make State and Defense work from a single script, especially in public. There, the disarray (which is worse than at any time in at least the past 20 years) seriously undermines America's political and diplomatic (but not military) effectiveness overseas."

Monday, June 30, 2003
 
Martin Kramer, a new fan of the aardvark (no, really!), writes in to say: "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--just the right tone." (he gave permission for me to quote him - it is polite to ask!)

I emailed back: "Hi Martin, "Attacked" is such an ugly word... couldn't we just say "energetically disagreed"?" Then I asked him directly: "I really do think that you exaggerate Said's influence in political science - do you do this for polemical reasons, or do you really think that it is as pervasive as you say?"

Here's Kramer's quite thoughtful response: "When it comes to Said, the Mideast political scientists are great dissimulators, probably because they are the least secure of all social scientists in their discipline. If you are in history, anthropology, or literature, you won't hesitate to quote Said, because it's done regularly in the wider discipline. It isn't done regularly in political science, and so Said gets few explicit mentions. But he is omnipresent. Here is a prime example: as a MERIP type, you should have the Stork-Beinin Political Islam book on the shelf. Read Yahya Sadowski's piece on "The New Orientalism and the Democracy Debate." This is pure Saidianism--the approach, the lexicon, the demonology. Yet Edward Said is not mentioned or footnoted even once. Sure, Mideast political scientists look elsewhere for theory--their disciplinary prestige depends on it--but at their initial point of departure, and because they also operate within the gravitational field of Middle Eastern studies, they have to posture themselves vis-a -vis the Orientalism debate, and its core question of "exceptionalism." Fred Halliday had the candor to do just that in his piece on Orientalism in his Islam and the Myth of Confrontation. Of course, now that the public is peeved by Middle Eastern studies, and Stanley Kurtz is quoting Said and Foucault to congressmen from Georgia, Mideast political scientists have yet another reason to disavow Said. I think they do protest too much."

AA: I think that Kramer's response on political science about disciplinary prestige is interesting and worth thinking about. How could you prove an "ethos," though, if it is unstated and unfootnoted? The influences that matter most these days seem to me - judging by the major books, journal articles, conferences and working groups - to be political economy, social movement theory, international relations, and theories of nationalism. Sure, Said and the Orientalism debate is part of the deep structure of the field, but the same is undoubtedly true for modernization theory, or dependency theory, or even rational actor models. Is Said more of an influence than those other uncited but pervasive reference points? I doubt it. "Ethos" aside, Kramer does seem to agree here that Said does not have an *overtly* dominant position in political science. That's my discipline, though, which is why the focus on Said seems so off-kilter to me. If you want to broaden the lens to anthropology, history, et al, then the picture might get cloudier - but I never got the sense that Ivory Towers (his book) was as interested in those disciplines as it was in political science.

Kramer also said this: "By the way, the reader of your last post on me might conclude that I spoke the words quoted in the last paragraph ("an interagency group!?"). That quote (and the idea of putting the CIA on a supervisory board) belongs to Gilbert Merkx, major Title VI honcho. (What in the world was he thinking?) Not important, but the next guy may not be so forgiving of such sleights of hand."

Aardvark: No sleight of hand intended - I said in the post that you *endorsed* the proposal, which was how I read what seemed to me to be an approving quotation (I guess I got confused when you said "Professor Merkx, you're on. The board (or panel) would need some appointees by the White House and Congress—after all, Title VI mandates "outreach" programs, and that makes the general public a "client" as well. But I'd be perfectly happy to have a board with a majority of members appointed ex officio from the agencies named by Merkx. I urge the Subcommittee to build on the opening offered by Merkx in his testimony, and to begin to work on draft legislation for the establishment of a Title VI board.") But if you don't really approve, then that's something we agree on, and I fully apologize and thank you for the clarification!

Anyway, the aardvark welcomes Martin Kramer to the fray, and hopes to have more interesting dialogues in the future!

UPDATE: Martin Kramer gets the last word: "Very interesting. Let me clarify my view of the proposed supervisory board for Title VI. In his testimony, Stanley Kurtz submitted the following:

"One possible structure for a supervisory board would be a ten person board: 1) Secretary of Education (Chair ex-officio); National Security Advisor (Vice-chair ex-officio); Secretary of State; Secretary of Commerce; Director, National Endowment for the Humanities; Commander, National Defense University; and four additional presidential appointees. All ex officio members could appoint designees to represent them. Again, given the existence of supervisory boards for many comparable federal programs, it is difficult to imagine reasonable grounds for objections to such a board."

Notice that Kurtz's proposal does not include the CIA, the Defense Department, or Homeland Security, whose representatives Merkx, in his testimony, suggested might sit on a supervisory board. Kurtz's composition (and it was worked out in consultation with me) is more considerate of academic sensitivities that the one Merkx launched. I strongly support a board. I prefer the composition proposed by Kurtz. I could live with that proposed by Merkx--as long as here are also appointees, and not just ex officio members."

 
David Corn has a devastating piece up at The Nation:

"George W. Bush misled the nation into war. Who says? Representative Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee. On the basis of what? On the basis of information preliminarily reviewed by the intelligence committee as part of its ongoing investigation into the prewar intelligence on Iraq.

"On June 25, during the House debate on the intelligence authorization bill, Harman delivered an informal progress report on her committee's inquiry. Her remarks received, as far as I can tell, little media attention. But they are dramatic in that these comments are the first quasi-findings from an official outlet confirming that Bush deployed dishonest rhetoric in guiding the United States to invasion and occupation in Iraq. This is not an op-ed judgment; this is an evaluation from a member of the intelligence committee who claims to be basing her statements on the investigative work of the committee. She is not beating around the bush. She asserts that the President overstated the WMD case, ignoring nuances and uncertainties in the intelligence reporting, and created a false impression about what was known about the threat posed by Iraq. She maintains that Bush rashly claimed Hussein was in cahoots with the evildoers of 9/11, when intelligence indicated otherwise. This is damning stuff. Never mind all the recent claptrap from administration apologists about the Iraq war having been fought for the good of the repressed Iraqis. The primary rationale for the war Bush offered in public was based on two notions: Iraq possessed ready-to-go WMDs and Saddam Hussein was in league with al Qaeda and could slip these awful weapons to Osama bin Laden at any moment."

I still find it extremely amusing watching conservatives tie themselves in knots to argue that this isn't *really* lying, that lying isn't *always* bad, that you shouldn't take what the President or his (wo)men say so seriously anyway... I just keep having these Clinton flashbacks, with the same people giving themselves coronaries to argue that his lies (about something totally irrelevant to national security, politics, or anything else other than his personal relationships) threatened the very sanctity of the nation. No reasonable person could disagree that this is the very definition of hypocrisy. But then, politics isn't about reason, is it?

 
Funny. Criticism is redundant.

 
Check out this Pew report on "The Internet and the Iraq War." Among the interesting (though fairly tentative, I would have to say) findings:
*77% of Americans used the internet in some way during the war - far more than after 9/11, although only 14% report going online more than usual because of the war, and only 17% consider the internet their primary source of news (although 26% said this during the immediate pre-war period, which may be a more important statistic, since that is when people were forming their opinions).
*Internet uses were more likely to support the war (74%) than non-users, more likely to think launching the war was a good idea, less apprehensive about possible outcomes, and more likely to think the war was going well. This is a bizarre finding, and the authors' explanations aren't very persuasive. I think that if this were broken down better by type of internet usage, the findings would look different. The highest category of usage reported in the study is "patriotic sentiments and materials" (29%), followed by "prayer requests" (25%). This is not the same as hanging out at Daily Kos or Instapundit. Usage of mainstream TV (32%) and newspaper (29%) and even US government sites (15%) is far more prevalent than usage of blogs (4%). Still, even 4% of Americans reporting going to blogs is pretty astonishing. The impact of the aardvark remains statistically insignificant, though (okay, the report doesn't say that, but you can draw inferences).
*And here is a really important finding, one which goes along well with my post last week about Cass Sunstein and the effect of deliberation among like-minded groups: only 6% of internet users say that their opinion about the war changed due to something they found online. All that hard work and argument... for naught (less 6%).

 
Neta Crawford, a very sharp political scientist with little patience for spin, has a typically incisive take on the WMD deception issue. Stepping outside the partisan attack game, she notes that " It should come as no surprise that the Pentagon may have exaggerated the Iraqi threat. Threat inflation has a long history at U.S. intelligence agencies, and it is a bipartisan pastime in Washington." After reviewing some typical examples - the Soviet threat, the bomber gap - she gets to her point:
"Why does threat inflation occur? And is the record of this administration any worse than the others? Threats may be exaggerated for several reasons. First, analysts could simply be mistaken. For instance, the fear of a bomber gap was initially prompted by a miscounting of Soviet Bear and Bison bombers circling in air parades. Second, there is a bias toward "worst-case" scenarios. Who wants to be the analyst that misses or underestimates a major threat? A worst-case bias is more likely if what is to be estimated is not what another side has but what they might get or want. There is a tendency to assume that if the other side might have the capacity to do something we don't like, they will develop their potential to the fullest. Third, a pervasive atmosphere of fear may cause intelligence officials to see only the worst possible behavior by potential adversaries, and fear was omnipresent during the Cold War. Each scare only heightened the fear on each side and made escalation more likely. Finally, threats may also be deliberately exaggerated for political and bureaucratic purpose — to win elections, push a favored policy or get new weapons. This is what Kennedy did to Nixon in 1960. He knew there was no missile gap, but he repeated the charge to boost his credentials as a hawk. Similarly, the spending gap was calculated to get Ronald Reagan elected, and the window of vulnerability was to be "solved" by the MX, which the Pentagon wanted more because of its accuracy than because it was "invulnerable."

"The first three reasons for threat inflation — an honest mistake, a conscious worse-case bias and the unconscious bias induced by fear — are understandable and often correctable. But the political manipulation of "threats" is more difficult to correct without external oversight. In the case of Iraq, mistake, worst-case bias and fear may have been at play. But the administration also may have ignored information that didn't fit its preconceived notions and exaggerated the intelligence it liked. Deliberate threat inflation is a breach of trust between the government and its people. It can have dangerous international consequences by potentially damaging U.S. credibility or causing the U.S. to take actions that are unnecessarily provocative or reckless. And it potentially creates more fear and hostility at home and abroad, fueling a cycle of arms racing and war mongering."

Food for thought.

 
Anthony Shadid is proving, day in and day out, why he's a great journalist and the Post was smart to hire him. You should definitely check out his book a few years ago, Legacy of the Prophet (I think) - an unusually good example of the genre of journalists writing on the Middle East.

Here's a bit from a typically sharp piece on Shia politics:
"Born to a family of seven in Baghdad's largest slum and brought to the Shiite Muslim seminary in Najaf "by the taste of faith," Nouri is the new, still tentative face of politics in postwar Iraq. In the shadow of a mounting guerrilla war and deep, growing disenchantment, he and his movement stand at the center of a far-reaching contest to lay claim to legitimacy -- and the authority and power that it brings -- among the country's Shiite majority. His movement brings with it a new style of politics, a grass-roots campaign for hearts and minds that, so far, has overshadowed any U.S.-inspired alternative. In its bitter rivalries, wrapped up in the community's symbols, history and ambitions, are the questions over where to draw the line between the religious and the secular. And at every turn is the issue of who in Iraq has power and the right to wield it -- a matter that embodies nothing less than a struggle over the soul of Iraq's fractured clergy."


 
Hans Blix basically got it right. "But with each passing day that the allies fail to find any "smoking gun" evidence of terror weapons in Iraq, the carefully calibrated judgments of Mr. Blix and his inspectors are looking ever more credible. Mr. Blix has taken fire from hawks who believe he should have raised a greater alarm about the danger of Iraqi weapons and from doves who believe he should have suggested more vigorously that Iraq probably had no weapons worth worrying about. In his precise and lawyerly way, Mr. Blix always stuck close to the available evidence." Wow. Funny about that. Who would have thought?

Sunday, June 29, 2003
 
Sunday is not a blogging day, but this story about Cat Killer Frist reminds me why I just love Republicans so much. Senator Cat Killer has announced his support for a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Morally reprehensible? Sure. Great way to change the topic from Bush's lies about WMD and the steady collapse of the American occupation of Iraq into open guerrilla warfare? You bet. Super way to rally the Red states by keeping the focus on culture wars instead of the horrible economy which, more or less, directly harms the Red states at the expense of a small number of very wealthy families who mostly live in Blue states? Absolutely.


Experiment!